Cordoba to Fiamabala – 15 January 2013
Having met Daniel and Carlos the previous day and heard of their concerns about crossing the Andes at Fiambala, we decided to do it anyway. Carlos had already managed the trip on a previous occasion and we all felt up to it. After all, how much harder than Sani Pass or some of the other Lesotho passes could this be? The two big issues were fuel and altitude sickness. Fuel was a problem due to the fact that we had to cover a 500km stretch without access to a fuel station and also that we expected the bikes to be more thirsty due to the weight that we were carrying and also due to altitude. Altitude sickness was a problem as the pass was some 4700 m above sea level and that we would remain at altitude for some time due to the flat “plateau” between Argentina and Chile.
We decided that the fuel problem was easily solved by carrying additional fuel while the altitude could be handled by drinking lots of water, finding altitude tablets and being very careful. With the problems solved, it meant we could head north to Fiamabala and not west to Mendoza. We planned to meet Daniel and Carlos at 6am sharp (Meyer was keeping us on schedule) and to head north west stopping in La Rioja for additional fuel canisters before the final leg to Fiamabala. We needed to cross the border into Chile the day before the Dakar so that we could be assured of getting through.
We got going early and waited for 15 mins for the other two. We tried calling but with no answer we didn’t know if they were coming and decided to leave. It would be a long day on the road.
On leaving Cordoba we found a petrol station selling plastic canisters and acquired their entire stock, wrapping to them to the already laden bikes as best we could
Then it was time to start the long haul. We travelled north of Cordoba in surprisingly heavy traffic for that time of day. A short distance outside of Cordoba Mike’s bike developed a miss and stalled on him. We stopped in the parking lot of a small restaurant to try to solve the problem.
Everyone looked fine but the problem persisted. This could be something serious. So it was time to call Wayne. Wayne is well known in Cape Town for his expertise in BMW motorcycles, because of his helpfulness and just because he’s a great guy. With the time difference we were probably reaching him around lunch time. Mike and Wayne chatted for a while and Mike followed Wayne’s instructions in an attempt to repair his bike. We waited by the roadside and bought some apples from a local roadside vendor who was setting up shop for the day. Breakfast would be an apple.
After fiddling for a while it appeared as though we had sorted out Mike’s bike and we continued the journey. The bikes were all going well and so we continued to head north.
The riding was quite monotonous. We had expected to see more mountainous countryside after leaving Cordoba but after just a few hills we were again experiencing very flat countryside. The lush greenery of Rosario had been replaced by increasingly dry countryside looking more and more like the Karoo. The heat was searing and it was difficult to know whether opening the riding jacket for airflow or closing it for insulation from the hot dry wind was best. We kept consuming water to remain hydrated in his arid landscape.
Just past Quilimo we noticed a definite change in the scenery. Grasslands had been replaced by thorn trees and the ground cover was becoming increasingly sparse. The roads at this time were straight as far as the eye could see. I am sure that we sat on a dead straight road for 60km but will have to confirm that on the GPS when back home! At one stage we passed some large salt pans stretching left and right of the highway as far as the eye could see.
The temperature was fast approaching 40 degC and we suddenly realized that the next town was still a long way away. It seems to me that Argentinian countryside does not have quite as many refueling opportunities as is the case in South Africa. Even some smaller towns do not have petrol pumps as far as we could determine. So we slowed our pace to 90kph to conserve fuel and hoped to make the next town. At 60km away I became quite concerned as may on board computer indicated that I had fuel for 30 km. We stopped at a small settlement nestled under some thorn trees in a very arid landscape. After making a few enquiries in a mixture of poor single Spanish words and much gesticulating we found someone who would sell fuel from their own supply (at a premium of course). Mike, Gus and I each took five liters so that we could make it to the next station. Phew!
Some 60km further on we found another small settlement in what looked to be an arid sheep farming area. Some of the trucks carrying or towing motorcycles that had passed us en route also stopped for fuel.
Attached to teh station was a small convenience store that sold cold drinks as well pre-packaged sandwiches. This would suffice for lunch. After enjoying the airconditioned store we mounted our bikes once again to continue the push north.
We had expected mountains ever since we left Cordoba. All we saw were gentle hills in the distance but now we seemed to be approaching some mountians. It was at this point that I noticed Neil weaving his bike from side to side. A short while later he stopped. Apaprently his bike was cutting out intermittently from fuel starvation. It seemed as theough there was an airlock between his left and right fuel tanks. We fiddled with the fuel taps and shook the bike around for a while hoping to release the air-lock so that we could continue with our journey.
From the last fuel stop it was a last push through to Fiambala and time to look for accommodation.
All accomodation in the small town of Fiamabala was taken but a local offerred to lead us through to a small town 25 km north of Fiamabala where we would find five beds for the evening. We were grateful due to the fact that it was already quite late and that we were all tired and really wished for a good night´s sleep. So we followed him to teh town of Medinatos. It was a very small rural town and our five beds turned out to be a single incompletely refurbished room with some basic bathroom facilities. We were tired, this was a roof over our heads – life was good. As the sun set we caught our first glimpse of the massive statue of Christ on a hill overlooking the town.
Our bikes outside the ¨blue room¨. We enjoyed a cold beer here after 13 hours in teh saddle.
After dinner we would head home to roll out our air mattresses and sleep. Tomorrow would be another long day and we would have an early start. Little did we know that the heat, partygoers and locals who thought themselves to be Dakar competitors would ensure that sleep would be kept to a minimum.