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September 23rd, 2011 - The bees, trees, and a dead cow

When I find a road that is not on the map, my first reaction is to always roll on the throttle and ride straight for it. This time I found a road that was not charted, was reasonably short, and from the GPS Topo maps, it seemed to be passing through some beautiful landscape. Little did I know that this 50km section would prove to be one of the most isolated, hottest, and sandiest roads in entire Argentina.

When we left Cafayate, the only way back was to ride north for Salta again, and go east from there. But not wanting to double-back, I steered the bike into a single lane road which was a shortcut that would save us 150km of redundancy. We rode until sunset but finding a spot to camp became a problem. Before dark, we found a campground, but when I was told $15 for the night to pitch a tent, I bolted out of there. We finally found a nice spot by the lake at sundown and pitched the tent. It was a quiet place, the weather was cool, and not a single soul around for miles. I headed into the bush with my axe and headlamp, chopped some wood, and we settled in by the campfire. I skewered some meat, made a pot of rice, and since Lourdes had never made a fire before (City Girl), I put her in charge of the pit. Mate and a couple of guitar tunes later – we passed out for the night.

I woke up to a strong buzzing noise all around the tent, and I immediately knew what it was. The night before, in the dark, we pitched our tent under a low hanging tree which happened to host a giant Africanized bee nest. Call me a wimp, but I spent most of my life dodging Asian Giant Hornets. Almost unknown in US, these gigantic killing machines were the most fearsome intruders of my childhood. At two inches long with a wing span of three inches, these hornets are the deadliest and most feared of any flying insect. If the sheer size of these bugs doesn’t give you nightmares, they have five eyes – two on the sides, and three on top of their head- a stinger the size of your pinky, and they can fly over 50 miles a day. They attack in groups and they spray acid in your eyes before proceeding to tear your limbs apart. I was attacked twice in my life by these out-of-this-world bugs and I have a scar to show for each one. So it’s safe to say that I systematically avoid anything that flies that’s not a bird.

I crawled out of the tent slowly and looked around for the source of the buzzing. I found a bee-ball a little smaller than a football, (American) and they seemed to be on the edge for some reason. As I was taking pictures and showing the nest to Lourdes, they went apeshit, and 100’s of bees started to swarm around us. I didn’t care what they were selling – I didn’t want it – so I started to run for my life and Lourdes followed hopping on one heel (One of her boots lost a heel early on the trip). We stayed by the lake until the bees were gone, then packed up and got the hell out of there.

The hot weather turned for worse and our water ran out. The pavement ended abruptly and the road started downhill which twisted and turned at a steep grade, and what covered the road was only loose gravel and sand. We were riding on a side of cliff, and the bike kept shifting towards the drop-off. As calmly as I could, I told Lourdes that if I tell you to jump, don’t think twice, just jump off the bike if the bike starts to go down. The sand was unnerving. It would get very deep around the corners and my bald rear tire didn’t have a prayer. As we descended into the valley down below, there was no going back. The road we came from was too steep and sandy for the heavy bike to climb back up, and not having good tires made it impossible. We had to ride this road out, no matter what.

If the road condition was dreadful, the valley was unquestionably beautiful. A turquoise swift river ran through the landscape, and tall cliffs surrounded the road – wild flowers, cactuses, occasional birds, and no sign of a human life anywhere. At the lower parts of the valley, the river had washed off to the road, and river crossings became the new challenge. As I was filming, I had to set the tripod and the camera, cross the river on the bike, and have Lourdes ferry the rest to the other side. Before and after every river crossing came a long section of deep sand as fine as table salt, and the road would climb up again yet for another hill.

We started at 9 am and it took us five and half hours to cover 50km. When we finally got out of this paradise, I wanted to kiss the asphalt. We were on the verge of exhaustion, hungry, and severely dehydrated. We found a roadside Parrilla (similar to steak house) and parked the bike. I told the waitress to bring on the drinks with as much meat as she got. She showed up with a giant platter, and we ate and drank for as long as I remember. The bill was the most expensive I paid on this trip: $25. That was for two 40 oz. beer, soft drinks, two racks of ribs, five sausages, two steaks, unlimited salads, and bread. We stayed at the grill for hours before heading back into the boiling inferno. I looked at the GPS and the closest town was called Joaquín Víctor González, (named after a politician of the same name) and the next was called Pampa del Infierno (Land of Hell), so I figured we had enough hell for today so we headed for González.

On the road I started seeing big nice yellow lemons here and there, and wondered where they came from. Then I started to see them more frequently, until I saw something that stopped me on my track. A semi trailer had flipped over on the road, and yellow lemons covered the highway. We apparently got to the truck just minutes after the accident, as there was no one around. The driver was OK but very frightened, and rightfully so. The air smelled like lemonade factory and besides the misfortune, it was a beautiful scene. Then people started to show up and proceeded to steal lemons. The driver seemed not to care or if he did care, there was nothing he could do. Ten ton of lemons that takes a crew of workers a few hours to load, disappeared in front of our eyes in matter of minutes. Things disappear in South America without a trace, and the driver knew it too well to try to stop it. Stay tuned.

There are 3 Comments

  1. September 24, 2011 at 8:45 am

    What amazing place! When life gives you (a lot of) lemons, make (tons of) lemonade. Nice Pics.

  2. September 26, 2011 at 8:02 am

    Wow Chris… What an adventure you two are having… I’m sure Lourdes by now is questioning what the hell she got herself into… :-p

    As usual: Great writing and fantastic photos
    Now… Get your ass to Brazil man 🙂
    And take care of your guitar… You’ll need it once you get here.


  3. azr
    January 22, 2012 at 1:59 am

    Chris, I can’t believe the roads you take that old GS on. And here I say to people “oh, that road is not paved? I can’t take that one.” shameful, just shameful.

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