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Days 67-68: Fun with Lemons

In which Pete discovers he is stuck over a holiday weekend where everything is closed, manages to locate the only place with internet in town, makes new friends, explores the countryside by 4x4, and gets much needed attention for Red.

Day 67
Location: San Jose de Jachal, San Juan, Argentina

I was up and out the door shortly after 9:30AM, puttering around town on Red as we carefully looked for a mechanic and some spares. A quick drive down the main street showed something unexpected – everything was still closed! At first I thought the day was simply starting slow, a sort of hangover from Sunday, but as time passed and I continued to circulate the town looking for signs of life I began to get a bad feeling about things.

Out near the highway I found the local gas station was open and it only took me a moment to confirm that sinking feeling: today was a holiday, and everything would be closed the entire day except for maybe the super markets which would open in the morning. It was frustrating to realize that my single extra day of laziness in Mendoza, a luxury I chose to take at the last second before leaving, came at a price of two additional days lost.

Normally this wouldn’t mean much, but one of my best friends and her very cool boyfriend are flying into Lima at the end of June for a week and I am planning on joining them to hang out and catch up. I had hoped to make it to La Paz by the end of June in order to catch a cheap flight to Lima, but after all of these problems it looks like I’m going to have to fly out of Salta, a much more expensive proposition (as I must connect through BA, a very expensive airport).

On the plus side, I found a nice Apart Hotel so I can do some very minor cooking (this one has no stove, but I can use my camp stove) and relax in a bit of luxury. I took Red back to the hotel and hit the streets looking for two things: supplies and internet. I found some sodas (including the awesome luxury of Sprite Zero, allowing me to mix Sprite and Coke in a perfect zero calorie drink for chillaxing), some pasta sauce, polenta, and some spices for snacking but didn’t have any luck on the internet side – no one I asked had any ideas either.

In a moment of genius inspiration, I walked back out to the gas station by the highway which had a small café and hit paydirt – internet! Lots of the gas stations here in Argentina have wifi and that is a very handy thing, though about half of them I’ve found don’t actually work properly.

This one was a pretty bad connection, dropping off frequently enough that I couldn’t get my blog to upload properly because the smallest connection problem kills it all. I was able to update my thread on ADV and do a bit of quick research before heading back to the hotel to chill for the afternoon.

When I came in, a guy came up to me pretty excited about my moto and wanted to talk about it. I almost brushed him off because I was in a bit of a sour mood (and it’s extra hard to think in Spanish when I’m like that), but something about his friendliness put me at ease and we began to talk. He was named Daniel and it turned out he owned the Apart Hotel I was staying at and liked to race enduro bikes, so he was very keen on motos.

We talked for awhile and I found out he had gotten together with some gearhead buddies just yesterday and gone out to the countryside to race around and have some BBQ and we both wished we had met the day before so I could have joined them. He was going out to the countryside this afternoon to meet a friend for a bit and asked if I wanted to hang out and see the local color. I’ve passed up a few opportunities to hang out with people on this trip because I sometimes get overwhelmed by even a little contact with people since I’ve been spending so much on my own, but I decided not to pass it up this time.

He picked me up later in the afternoon and we went tearing out to the countryside. It was so awesome to shred some gravel in his amazing Toyota Hilux (one of the coolest trucks on the planet in my opinion), 90kmh felt obscenely fast. We visited a couple farms in a local cultivation area before heading out into the very remote countryside to meet his buddy.

Getting there took us way offroad, up a valley on what could barely be called organized ruts, but the Hilux tore it all up without much worries (and during the process I learned the Spanish word for slipping/loss of traction – good to know). Daniel’s buddy is an older guy who lives completely alone up on the mountain in a small brick house he built himself with a bunch of goats.


It’s a very simple place and an incredible contrast with the way most of us are used to living. He has a small solar panel and some batteries that charge during the day in order to run a couple small CFL light bulbs inside his place at night, but Daniel had brought a Honda generator out with him for his buddy to check out – apparently a move towards a gas generator and possibly the purchase of a TV are in the works for this guy.

Water comes from a small seep up the mountainside, where it’s collected in a hand made pool and piped in via gravity feed and a small rubber hose. I followed the hose up the hill to find the little pool and couldn’t believe how small the seep that fed it all was.


We hung out for awhile and shared mate and talked about the differences in our lives, a somewhat surreal scenario. Daniel obviously fits strongly in the upper middle class for this area, but it’s still incredible how different their lives are out here compared to those in more accessible towns in Argentina – let alone the level of difference between them and the typical rural American.


I also confirmed that Jachal is growing massively after a large slump, apparently partially due to the large amount of gold and minerals in the nearby mountains. From what I understood, a lot of the profit of the mining, which is often done using horrible archaic unsafe methods, goes to foreign investors. There is at least some trickle down effect locally though, as it has been boosting the local economy.

We get back to town well after dark and Daniel drives me around to meet a couple of his buddies. One guy, Sebastian, has a cool four track that he custom built and they had torn up the countryside in it the day before – Daniel jokingly called it the “Hammer of Argentina.” Then we swung by another buddy’s place, where we pulled up right as Fabian and his wife were getting back from spending the holiday in San Juan.

Fabian is apparently an expert motorcycle mechanic who has moved into cars because there’s more profit in it. He doesn’t work on motorcycles any more but Sebastian and Daniel both agreed that he’d be the best guy to work on my bike and by now I trusted these guys quite a bit. After some quick discussion Fabian agreed to look at Red tomorrow morning around 9AM, so I was able to rest easy knowing he’ll be in good hands soon.

I was really impressed at the hospitality all of these guys showed to a complete stranger – it really does illustrate how generous some people can be, something I hope I never lose sight of and a goal for my own actions in the future. The world is a pretty amazing place.

Day 67
Location: San Jose de Jachal, San Juan, Argentina

I woke up pretty excited this morning, knowing that after a few days of idleness I would soon have a reconditioned moto and be able to get back on the road out of here. Too much of this trip northward has been interrupted by problem after problem, I try to keep a positive outlook but at times it grates a little.

I met Fabian at his garage and we started going over the bike. He confirmed that my plugs were beautiful and perfect, so it wasn’t likely to be a lean/rich condition. The first thing he checked was the air filter, which we noticed had way too much oil inside it – oil seems to be leaking back in through the feeder tube, soaking the filter and reducing the flow rate. For now the solution is to get that filter clean every night; he also recommended that at altitude I not apply any filter oil to it at all.

Next, he cracked open the top of the engine and it was immediately apparent that it hadn’t been opened before in spite of my asking two different mechanics to check the valve clearances in the past 6000km – so the valves hadn’t been checked for 14,000km, way past the interval. It only took a moment to determine the most likely cause of my engine troubles: the valves were way too tight, the requisite .08mm shim (according to my manual) wouldn’t even fit.


Fabian adjusted the clearances and put everything back together and immediately the engine sounded better. Revving at idle up to 10k was smooth and fast without any of the previous signs of death around 6000RPM. A quick spin around the block, first by Fabian, then by me, confirmed that things were considerably better. Thank goodness it turned out to be something so simple!


Next up was the scary bit – the oil leak. When I first showed it to Fabian he looked at me kinda funny and told me there was no oil there, so it couldn’t be a leak. I didn’t understand at first, but I pulled up my manual and confirmed what he was trying to tell me: that side of the crankcase had the stator and flywheel for the electrical bits and yeah, there shouldn’t be any oil in there! Suddenly I understood why mechanics had kept telling me not to worry about those cracks… but oil is definitely coming out!

I had wiped it all clean before the test run and after the test run you could see oil dripping out it, though, so there’s no doubt something was quite wrong. Fabian tore the cover off and the stator, flywheel, coils, and other electrical bits that I don’t know the name of (again, not a mechanic!) were all completely covered in oil, easily a quarter liter of it sloshing around in there. Apparently there is an o-ring seal between the two sides of the crank case that’s leaking, spilling oil into the critical portions of my electrical system.

Fabian was pretty certain that we wouldn’t be able to find any seals in town, but since it’s not an actual piston/engine leak problem he felt it was safe to keep driving as long as I made sure the oil level was good and cleaned it out every day or two. The next major town of Salta isn’t too far away, and they will definitely have what I need.

While it’s not a perfect final resolution, it’s nice to have the valves checked and at least have a feeling for what’s going on with the oil leak. I’m learning so much more about the workings of bike motors every day on this trip it seems like!

After working on my bike for nearly three hours, Fabian only wanted 50 pesos ($12) which I thought was ridiculous, and I told him so. His bemused response of “Wait, you want me to ask for more money?” had me laughing and I gave him a hundred ($25) still feeling like I ripped him off.

He took me around the corner to have a buddy look at my next problem, the cracked frame members. It felt a little weird to rip off all the tape that had held these together, sort of like exposing a festering wound, but it was so difficult I now have all sorts of new respect for sports tape.


An hour of hammering, wedging, and welding later the local welder finished up with my frame, rock solid and totally secure again for the first time since it started to fall apart south of Mendoza on the 40.


The welder didn’t want to charge me anything because he had burned a teeny hole in my seat, which I was too lazy to remove. I felt like this was my fault because I had told him not to worry about it and I honestly didn’t care about the seat, but he apparently had his professional pride. He even went out of his way to find a little patch and some glue and patch the thing up even while I kept telling him not to worry about it.

After a little bit of argument I finally got him to accept 20 pesos ($5), which even then seemed like a hard pill for him to swallow. I appreciate that kind of integrity, but no way am I going to let someone work for an hour on my bike and not earn something for it. Mouths to feed!

I picked up some extra oil and headed over to the gas station with internet to try again at uploading my blog and catch up on some e-mail, but their connection was even worse today, constantly dropping. I gave up quickly and decided to finish the day off relaxing in my room and preparing myself mentally for the next few days of doubting and wondering at every hiccup.

Later in the afternoon as I was watching Supernatural (since I was safe in a hotel room), I was surprised by a knock on my door. Then even more surprised when I opened it to see Sebastian, who I had met the night before, outside! He and his beautiful wife Anna (and adorable dog Tota) were taking the “Hammer of Argentina” out for a spin in the nearby desert and wanted to know if I’d like to come along.


It only took me a moment throw on some clothes and out we went. It was a pretty amazing afternoon – Sebastian and Anna have a dream of building a small adventure hotel out in the desert nearby and luring people in for the scenery and exploration. I’d definitely go, the area was amazingly beautiful and certainly the type of place you can explore for days.

On one section of mud flats that looked like an ancient river or sea bed, we got out and explored on foot for awhile. The native pre-Spanish indian tribes used to bury their dead out here in giant clay pots, and the remnants of these are everywhere if you look carefully.


With the sun setting slowly, we swung by town to pick up some beers and then went out to a nearby hilltop to watch the end of daylight and take in the lights of Jachal. It was an absolutely amazing time and I’m so grateful to everyone here in Jachal who has been so hospitable. I really hope this town continues to grow, in a few years it may be a critical stop on anyone’s route down the 40!


The lemonade tasted good today.


Jeremy said…
Way go to on the lemonade, Pete. Thanks for sharing your stories of meeting the locals - that's the kind of thing you will remember forever.

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