Looking Good on Paper
Getting out of town through a foreign city's incomprehensible one-way-grids can prove problematic when you haven't invested in a GPS and you're relying on your pre-departure map-study. Which is where I rediscover some of my old favourite lessons from being on the Royal New Zealand Air Force's pilot's course in my youth; Proper pre-sortie-planning-prevents-piss-poor-performance. Roger that! It takes me a while to get used to a bike as big as Aroha having only ridden 250s in the past. Add all the extra weight of my gear I'm just not used to it and it makes me nervous plus loaded up Aroha’s so top heavy that if while I’m stopped she leans over just a little bit too far I can’t stop both her and I from toppling over. Getting back upright again takes two or three people.
Once out on the open highway it’s all magic scenery and zipping by trucks and everything is just great. Very first time I pull in to get gas I promptly drop Aroha in the forecourt like a chump as helpful locals scramble over to help pick me and her back up. Lesson number two, switch on Carsten. The first day is just a short warm-up to stretch the legs and I find great stabling for her and I in a pleasant catholic looking town called San Juan, where I initiate the soon-to-be very familiar ritual of park-shower-reconfigure-myself and go out to walk the grids explore and reflect. Which is when the benevolence of this whole lead-up to now really dawns on me, the series of consecutive miracles that had to occur just to get to this place, in this coffee-shop, in a place called San Juan, with Aroha safe at the hostel, and me quite emotional with gratitude.
Leg two was always going to be ambitious but there’s not much between San Juan and the next stop of Cordoba, the loftily-titled 'cultural capital' of Argentina with a gluttonous 7 universities and 200,000 students. Not much but 604 kms of highway. So we're up early and set off, the gas-station stops go better and I’m having lunch in a small town, stopping for pick-me-up-coffees in truckstops and pounding out miles.
And before you know it I'm rolling up to stop at my first Police check point, and boy do they see me coming, I can almost see them rubbing their pudgy little hands together, but then I was expecting this sooner or later. Officer short-and-plump asks me for my paperwork then motions for me to park the bike over there as he saunters on over to collect what he can only be thinking will be a fat bribe out of the gringo. But oh, I'm so sorry Officer, I’m playing a stupid-ignorant-gringo-tourist and “no entiendo” I don’t understand and “I don’t speak Spanish” shaking my head, shaking my head, I don't understand. Ok then son. Then why don't you come on inside the station-house for a wee chat. Uhm, okay. Inside the cramped hut, Officer sidekick looks me over and I can tell he's looking forward to playing fleece-the-gringo. But you know what, “I don’t speak Spanish” and I’ll just stand here shaking my head, I've got all day boys, I hate corrupt cops and you’re not getting nada outta me. Wills locked, they feint and probe to see if I actually do understand, don’t you, you little punk. But eventually it's somehow clear, while not necessarily stated, that 7-months dealing with corrupt Bamiyan police while deployed in Afghanistan means my lifetime’s supply of patience for this kind of bullshit carry-on is well and truly depleted, and you are not getting a mutherfucking peso out of me. So go ahead and arrest me. Eventually I am back on my bike and off on my merry way. Grimmy 1, corruption 0.
As I ride away it does bring home to me my precarious position with-respect-to having Aroha registered in some other dude's name. Explain that to Officer diligent at the inevitable next police-check-point in your crap Spanish. Shaking your head won’t get you out of that one. So I resolve to try and find a solution in Cordoba somehow.
Nightmare and Deliverance
I arrive on the outskirts of this huge city Cordoba and it's back to lesson number one, proper pre-sortie planning. I have a hastily-sketched-map from google of how to get to the hostel downtown but it helps me little after the first missed motorway-exit and before you know it I’m in the middle of my nightmare-Grande, lost in a foreign city during peak-rush-hour Friday-early-evening traffic on a fully-loaded-bike not speaking the lingo. Bugger. I pull into a gas station to calm my nerves and to get further directions and get another hastily sketched map off the young attendant, which again counts for nothing after another mere 5 minutes of slalom with the buses and missed turns. Darkness spreading and desperate, while waiting at a set of lights, I lean over and ask a kid on a scooter stopped next to me for directions to the hostel’s address, but he doesn’t just point and shout over the howling traffic noise, he says “follow me amigo!” and guides me there, all the way through 20 minutes of narrow-traffic-gaps and stop-lights to right outside the front door. Brother, you might not understand my words, but I am absolutely sure you can understand my gratitude for rescuing this gringo's tired ass.
So in the end, I've arrived just in time for a hot shower and an asado-bbq-dinner put on by the Columbian-family running the hostel and if there’s anything you need after a day like today it’s this, sitting around a table of big smiles and new friends.
History & Paperwork
Cordoba has a rich Spanish-colonial-plundering-history, and what my Jesuit University tour-guide has forgotten about the colonial-period is probably still enough to fill up a couple of Ph.Ds. Back in the hostel garage I tinker on Aroha as the hostel owners stop-by and follow-up on yesterday’s conversation about my paperwork situation. The son who works the front desk is currently studying to become a lawyer and is my translator, his Dad is a lawyer, and Dad’s friend who is also a lawyer walks in and the whole garage just fills up with lawyers. Who after the prescribed period of pontification agree that all I need is an officialised-stamp on the purchase-contract and to get some third-party insurance. No arguments here gentlemen, but will this be enough to get me through the Argentina-Bolivia border I ask? Mutterings, expounding of the universiality-of-civilian-common-law then finally the “as-your-lawyer” advice is you should be okay, but then you could always just bribe someone.
The next working day lawyer Dad and lawyer-student Son help me get that official stamp on the purchase contract Chris and I wrote up over some red wine back in Mendoza, which amazingly then flies fine with the insurance people and I manage to get me some cover. Sold! Later in the afternoon I’m out riding a sunny-sightseeing-excursion to pay homage to Che Guevara’s childhood home and of course I’m stopped at a police checkpoint where what-do-you, it's Officer diligent, who asks for my motorcycle papers, which this time I can hand over with confidence. And as I’m waved through with everything all in-order I'm again just marvelling at the beauty of trust and timing.