Sun. Feb 25th, 2024

I’d been in Bariloche, Argentina for 4 months. I really like that town. It’s not exactly quaint, but still small enough that I remember it as such. I went down there to wait for the borders to open so I could finally leave the country but Covid got worse and the frontiers remained shut to overland travel. Still, I took comfort in knowing I would get to spend my first snowy winter in a town I love.

But the snow was delayed this year. A bitter cold gripped the town and I felt the sort of cold South Africans are not built to handle. It got so I rarely left the house, going out mostly for food and an evening run. But the snow stayed away and my hopes of learning to ski and having my first ever snowball fight seemed dashed. Still, the winter promised to be long, and time was on my side.

Even better, the rate of vaccinating the public against Covid was increasing as well. Several countries even seemed to be allowing vaccinated tourists entry and rumour was Chile would be joining that list. Health, safety, and travel made for 3 excellent reasons to be vaccinated as soon as possible. The word on the grapevine is life might just be returning to normal around September, especially for the vaccinated. And I was, and am, very eager to continue my trip.

Except Bariloche made no provisions for vaccinating foreigners. I went to the clinic and in order to be guaranteed a vaccine, I needed to register. That could only be done in Buenos Aires. I could technically be vaccinated in Bariloche, but I would need to show up every day at closing time and if they had spare stock I would receive a jab. That wasn’t guaranteed though, meaning I needed to keep trying in the hopes of getting lucky.

So the plan was to head back to Buenos Aires. Accommodation was arranged and paid for. And the day before leaving it snowed. It properly snowed. The back yard was covered in white and enough landed that I even had a snowball fight. It felt bittersweet leaving the next day, especially since what I’d been waiting for since March finally arrived, but it was time to go.

The next day, Saturday, we (Ana and I) packed, said our goodbyes, jumped on the bike and left. Three metres later the rear tyre went flat. Not three kilometres. Not three hundred metres. Three metres. And surprisingly, it went completely flat quite suddenly. Thankfully there was a service station just one kilometre up the road but I soon realized the tyre didn’t just go flat, it came off the rim. And the snow from the previous day turned the not too gentle hill leading to service station into an ice rink.

Slowly, very very slowly, and very very carefully, I rode a sliding motorcycle up a slippery slope, on a very busy road, in the hopes of solving the tyre problem quickly since the trip to Neuquen promised to be very long. Ana was dropped off be the side of the road and she headed to a cafe for coffee.

I made it to the station. The rear wheel was not a pretty sight. I was surprised I made it to the service station at all! In near freezing temperatures, Ana and I removed the wheel, assessed the damage, managed to reinflate and refit it. We had the pleasure of sitting in muddy puddles through the entire experience. Still, a reinflated tyre was hope of finally leaving. I did a quick test ride but on returning, those dreaded water bubbles appeared on the side of the tyre, a clear indication the problem was not solved. I needed to get it assessed by a professional.

Time was short. I set the hard limit at 2pm. Anything later and we would need to find alternate accommodation in the city. Leaving at 2pm, even without stopping, meant we would arrive at our destination at least 2 hours after dark, and things got really cold after sunset. I rode to the other side of town to a gomeria – basically a car and/or bike workshop for common problems like tyre repair – and asked if they could help me urgently. The owner said sure, but he just needed to do something quickly. As I waited outside for him to finish up his minor task, a teenage boy opened a garage door. Lo and behold, the owner drove out, two kids jumped into the vehicle and he left. I sat there waiting, the seconds slowly ticking away, and the situation looking ever more dire.

My options were limited, so I waited. He returned around 20 minutes later. There was no point being angry. Too much had already gone wrong. He removed the wheel, inspected the tyre, and informed my the wheel, not the tyre, was defective. This was bad. Getting a new wheel in Bariloche may take a week or three. And oddly, the wheel seemed to be perfect. Even the mechanic couldn’t find any fault. Yet the little water bubbles were still there. He had an idea. He removed and refitted the tyre the wrong way and rechecked. Thankfully the bubbles were on the other side of the wheel! The wheel was fine, it was a defective tyre! It didn’t look defective at all, but he defect – whatever it was – caused the tyre bead to break off the rim resulting in spontaneous deflation. I had ridden for 700km on that tyre without problems. I may never have the problem again, or experience another blowout in the next 5 minutes. There was no way to tell. Still, a defective tyre was a much better problem to have than a defective wheel since tyres could be found relatively easily. Except it was Saturday, and after 1pm. All the stores were closed by now. I would need to get it fixed on Monday.

Our previous landlord didn’t have space, but thankfully knew of an apartment in town. So we headed off to the other side of town, pretty down in the dumps, wet, and frozen, and grudgingly ready to pay a small fortune for 3 nights accommodation in a town we very much wanted to leave at this point.

Argentina won Copa America that evening. After 28 years the cup was once again coming home and the country went crazy, with celebrations continuing well into the morning. It made our shitty situation feel a lot less shitty. I was thankful for that.

On Monday I replaced the tyre and early on Tuesday we said goodbye to Bariloche again. I was not prepared for the cold that followed. I wore 3 pairs of pants, 4 jackets, a beanie, extra thick winter socks and two pairs of gloves, but I still felt it. I have hand guards on the bike, but the wind still hit my fingertips and even with hand warmers, my fingers froze. Initially they were just cold, then very cold, then painfully cold, then so painful I could barely feel anything. The ride was through the mountains towards Neuquen. It was the most direct route, and we had to get through, so I pushed on. The pain eased off, and 2 hours later we exited the mountains, my fingers frozen, but with a warmer, sunnier ride ahead.

We stopped by the side of the road to take in the view. I marveled at how well my hands survived the cold when the pain hit. My fingers ached like they were being crushed. That’s when I realized how bad things were. I tried to heat my hands by placing them near the radiator and near the exhaust but it made little difference. A week later I hadn’t fully recovered feeling, and two weeks later the skin cracked and started peeling away. After a painful few days my fingers are finally back to normal.

The trip to Neuquen continued uneventfully until, with just 40km to go, we were stopped at a routine police checkpoint. It was one of those license and insurance scenarios. I produced the paperwork and to my horror, my insurance had expired. I hadn’t been on the road for so long that I completely forgot to check. No insurance meant the vehicle was not allowed on the road. We would need to leave it at the police checkpoint until the problem was resolved. This wouldn’t have been an issue earlier in the day, but it was after 6pm and the insurance office had closed. I contacted my broker who was able to convince a lady working at the insurance company to go back to work and renew my policy immediately. After a tense 90 minutes, the problem was resolved and we arrived in Neuquen in tact, though much later than expected.

Waiting at a police checkpoint for insurance problems to be resolved

Check-in was a breeze and we settled into our new apartment for the next few days. It was a nice spacious place, with a great Internet connection which was a welcome change after the last few months. Things were looking up, finally. After tyre blowouts, and unexpected expenses, and frozen fingers, and insurance problems, we could finally relax. I went to the kitchen for a snack later that evening and … roaches. Everywhere. They hung out in the bathroom too. Apparently the previous tenants were not too clean and left meat in the microwave that had gone moldy. As a bonus, the apartment hosts didn’t seem to be paying careful attention to the cleaning lady who wasn’t doing her job properly.

And that’s how the story ends. With roaches. One of the hosts showed up the next day and very apologetically set a variety of cockroach traps which made the situation much better, but the roaches were still there. It was just 4 nights so we didn’t move. The rest of the trip included an uneventful week in Santa Rosa, La Pampa and an overnight stay in Bragado. Ana and I are now back in Buenos Aires waiting to be called to receive our vaccines. Getting here was really no fun.

Like the title says, some days just suck.

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