Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports

Date: 10 May 1997 
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list 
Subject: Trip Report - 970510.rpt

Thursday May 8

By the time I get to the shop in the morning, Carlos has already applied the
final torques to final drive unit, installed new brake shoes (my old ones
were oil-saturated and more than 3/4 worn), and cleaned the wheel hub of oil.
I add oil to the swingarm and final drive, install the rear wheel, and put
all my gear and bags back on the bike.

I check my email, using the phone in the shop and have a message from Mike
McQuiggan, filling in some details on the travels of Joachim and Annette
Ahlers, the German couple I had first met in the Yukon back in '92, and whose
card I had again seen in Bajo Caracoles along route 40 in Patagonia. 
Evidently, their '92 trip on a GS and a Honda 600, was their honeymoon, and
then later in 1994, they travelled for a year in South and Central America on
a custom BMW sidecar rig.  They were now divorced.  And so it goes, and so it

I also had a message from Sweetie, which always makes my day, or week(s)
given the frequency which I check my email.  The semi-mystery of our lost
email got partially cleared up as she finally received my emails, forwarded
from her account to her account.  Where it had been in
the interval is anyones guess.  I think she's just been too busy with her
consulting contract to check her email. :-)

Midway through the morning, Rafael stops by and I say my goodbyes to him
then, not knowing if we'll see each other again before I leave tomorrow
morning.  I can't thank him and the rest of the Beemer crowd here in Mendoza
enough for the hospitality they have shown me during my stay here.

I goto the ATM machine at the Bank of Boston, of all places, but can only
withdraw P500 (US$500), as that is the daily limit here.  I try another ATM
just to make sure, but it refuses to give me any more cash, so I stop at the
exchange house on Avenida San Martin and cash a bunch of Travellers Checks.

The exchange house is the same one I stopped at 10 days ago, where I met
Fernendez with the BMW, and which started this whole adventure,  When you
think about the whole sequence of events between then and now, it raises a
whole bunch of interesting, philosophical questions.  When I first stopped at
that exchange house, I planned to spend only one night camping near Mendoza,
before continuing on east to Buenos Aires.  But Fernendez, gave me the
address of Carlos' shop and told me to stop by there, and when I did, Carlos
invited my to the asado the next evening, where Julio and Daniel invited me
to go with them on the 5-day ride south to the hot springs,  Now on that ride
my timing unit failed.   If I hadn't of gone on this ride with these guys,
would it have failed?  Who knows, but my guess is eventually it would have,
given that I have more rough roads ahead of me on this trip.  But because of
this uncanny chain of events, it failed during one of the few times I've been
riding with other bikes, and not just any bikes, but BMW G/S's and GS's, and
what's more, these guys had the spare ignition control and timing units to
both diagnose and fix the problem.  Now I'm not an overly religious person,
but if that's not enough to make you believe in a Supreme Being, then I'm not
sure what is.  But that's not the end.  Because of the extra 5-day ride, I
needed to change my rear tire here in Mendoza, rather than in Buenos Aires,
where I had originally planned to buy a new rear tire.  As I result I
discovered the bad bearings here in Mendoza where there is a first-rate BMW
repair shop, stocked with a complete line of parts, including the seals and
bearings needed for the final drive, to say nothing of the timing unit I had
also needed to buy.  I doubt I would have been so lucky in Buenos Aires.  The
whole sequence of events is really amazing when one thinks about it.

I return to the shop and pay my bill which came to US$970, and itemized, was
as follows:

      25  oil pressure switch
       9  large O-ring for cylinder base, .2mm oversize
       4  two small O-rings for cylinder studs
      46  BMW metal sparkplug caps
     380  used ignition timing unit
      42  oil filter
      12  oil filter O-ring and large metal washer
     200  large wheel bearing for final drive
      46  small pinion bearing for final drive
      70  large oil seal for final drive
      15  small oil seal for final drive
       4  O-rings for brake shaft in final drive
      15  final drive cover (?) gasket
       6  gasket
       5  oil and additive for final drive and swingarm
      15  rear brake shoes
      30  old set of front brake pads resurfaced (Carlos had picked them up 
             and paid the bill)
      46  labor
     970  Total

I return to El Piezon (the clubhouse) to get my clothes, then back to the
shop to take a hot shower and put on clean clothes.  I don't think there is
any way I'll wash the oil out of this pair of jeans, and the "clean" pair I
put on also, by now, have irremovable oil stains in them.  Carlos has fixed
some pasta for lunch at the shop, and after we finish, I ride into town to do
my laundry.  It's about 4PM.  The laundromat is crowded and I have to wait
awhile before a machine is available.  In the meantime I update my journal on
which I've again fallen hopelessly behind on.  

Before returning to the shop at 9PM, I stop off at El Piezon to organize my
stuff there. At the shop Marcello and Rafael are there and shortly thereafter
Daniel and his cousin Willy arrive.  Willy has lived in Miami for 17 years
and is a US citizen now.  He works at a company which builds catamarans.  He
is flying to Cordoba tomorrow, which happens to be my intended destination,
and he gives me the number wheere he will be staying and says to call when I
get in town and he'll introduce me to some of the people and I'll probably
have a place to stay.

In the course of talking it comes out that Helge Pedersen stayed here on his
trip through South America, when was that, in the late '80s I believe.  I
pass on the latest information I have about his and Andy Goldfine's trip to
Mongolia.  I haven't heard anything since I left the States so can't give
them any more detailed information.

I say my goodbyes to Marcelo, Rafael, and Daniel.  Daniel may be in
California in November for a conference and I extend an invitation to him to
visit me in Sunnyvale and tell him there is an extra GS there for him to
ride.  I hope I'm back there by then, :-)

Carlos gives me the addresses of 5-6 friends of his in Brazil, Buenos Aires,
and Paraguay, most of which are bike nuts, Beemers in particular.  One of the
guys near Sao Paulo, Bernd Holzberger, a German, has a shop, Fabrica BMC,
where he manufactures Brazilian "copies" of BMWs.  He's also an excellant
wrench on Beemers.    There is also a large national BMW motorcycle club in
Brazil, and Carlos gives me their address in Sao Paulo.

After everyone has finally left the shop, Carlos locks up and we ride to
Kovos again for dinner where again Carlos insists on picking up the tab.  
Afterwards, out front on the sidewalk, beside our two bikes, we say our
goodbyes.  Carlos tells me that if I need parts at any point during the rest
of my trip, to call, fax or send him email via Jose who I met on my first day
here, and he will send them to me.  Don't worry about the payment, we'll take
care of that later he says.  Again, as with numerous other friends I've made
on this trip, I can't thank Carlos enough for the hospitality and help he's
given me.  He and his shop are a first-rate outfit and any Beemer nut
travelling through South America should put Mendoza on their itinerary, if
just to stop in and chat.  I can't make any guarantees about being invited to
an asado at El Piezon, but if you're there on a Tuesday I think the chances
are great.   We ride back along the main drag, and where he turns off to go
back to the shop, we wave by, and I continue on several blocks to El Piezon,
where I spend my last night in Mendoza.

Friday May 9    75500

I ride north out of Mendoza on Route 40.  This is the same route 40 on which
I experienced the hellacious winds south of Bajo Caracoles.  It runs for some
4667 kilometers the length of western Argentina.  Not far north of Mendoza I
turned east, riding through Lavalle and Costa de Araujo before the road
turned northeast to Encon on Route 20. This area was primarily dry scrubland
and grassland.  The weather was sunny and, heading east I donned my
sunglasses for one of the few times this trip.  The temperature however was
cool and a morning mist hung over some of the fields.  The sun shining
through the yellow beech trees lining the road at places was pretty.

The bike was for the first time in many months, essentially oil-tight once
again.  Both cylinder bases were oil free, and the new oil pressure switch
eliminated that leak as well.  The fresh aplication of silicon sealant to the
two small holes in the driveshaft boot was also, for the moment, oil-tight.
It was nice not to have to look at an oily, dirty, mess on the right side of
the engine.  The bike was probaly in its best condition since leaving the
States.  In some ways better, since it now had new seals and bearings in the
final drive.

On either side of Encon I encountered police checkpoints since this was the
border between the states of Mendoza and San Juan.  They were straightforward
and I didn't even have to show my documents, just tell the official my
passport number, which I've finally managed to commit to memory.  The road
was good, two-lane asphalt, and would remain so all the way to Cordoba.

Midway between Encon and Lujan, route 20 turned left, while the main road
continued straight, running southeast to San Luis.  I followed Route 20
through Lujan, and several miles thereafter, Quines.  I planned to gas up in
Quines, and a hundred yards from the YPF gas station the bike begins to
squirm and I look down and see my new rear tire, with 230 miles on it is
flat!  I roll into the gas station, park the bike, remove the Jesse bags and
the Givi top case, and get my tools from under the seat.  That's when I see
that the flat tire is the least of my problems at the moment.

The top right 8mm bolt which attaches the rear subframe to the main frame has
sheared off, and the rear subframe itself is cracked.  The crossbrace tube
between the two siderails of the subframe, to where the fender is bolted, has
fractured an eighth of an inch from the right siderail.  This hasn't been a
good week for BMW durability.  But then I have a lot more weight on the back
of my bike than I'm sure BMW would recommend, so I can't fault BMW for this
latest problem.  Maybe I'll take back my previous comment about the bike
being in its best condition since leaving the States!

Well, one problem at a time, so I turn to the easiest of my problems, the
flat tire.  One bead was already popped, which made pulling the tube out
easy.  I examine the tube and see, that while my luck hasn't been that great
this week, the gods are at least giving me a bit of a break. This tube was
one that had gone flat back in Texas, and which I had later patched, and
installed when I had my second flat in Guatemala.  The old patch had finally
failed and was leaking at the edge.  I peel back the old patch and see that
the original puncture had actually grown into a 1" tear, one end of which had
finally reached the edge of the patch.  I install my other patched tube, the
one I removed in Guatemala.  I still have brand new front and rear tubes
which I've yet to use.  Knock on wood.  The station itself doesn't have air,
but across the street is a Gomeria (tire repair shop), so I walk over there
with the wheel and inflate the tire.  A couple iterations and the bead is
seated properly.

Now for my other problems.  It's now 1:30 and I'm told the Ferreteria
(hardware store) in town, where I hoped to buy another bolt, is closed for
lunch until 4 or 5 pm.  It's times like these when I curse the laid-back
lifestyle which allows such long siestas and lunchbreaks.  The gas station
attendant gives me directions to a taller (workshop) a couple hundred meters
down the road, which he says does welding and may also have the bolt I need. 
I leave my luggage at the YPF station, where the attendants say they will
watch it for me, and ride to the taller.  It's at the third house in a long
row of identical small, white, single-level houses along a dirt/sand road. 
Parked out front is a dune buggy.  A small girl watches from the front window
as I park the bike, and I ask her if her father is home.  She says yes, and
disappears from the window, and I hear her call her father from the back
door.  Shortly he opens the side gate beside the house and I introduce
myself.  His name is Beta. I describe my problem as we walk to the bike.  He
looks at it and says he can fix it, so I push the bike to his shop behind the
house.  In 45 minutes we have the remnant of the old bolt extracted, the
subframe welded, and a new bolt installed.  While we were working, his wife
and their 3 kids come out to watch the work on the gringo's bike.  I ask the
little boy if he'd like to sit on the bike.  He's a bit reluctant, but Beta
picks him up and sets him on the seat, while the boy squirms to get off. 
Both parents and the older girl get a laugh out of this.  The bill came to P5
(US$5).  I thank Beta for his help and ride back to the gas station, where I
gas up, eat some bread and an apple for lunch, and reload my luggage onto the

It is now 3:30 and I still have three to three and a half hours of riding
before I get to Cordoba. From Quines, the road continued northeast, skirting
the base of a range of mountains to the east, to Villa Dolores and Mina
Clavero, where the road begins climbing up and over the Sierra Grande, the
central and largest of three mountain ranges lying west of Cordoba, and
running roughly 500 km from north to south.  West of Cordoba the three ranges
are roughly 150 km wide.  The road climbs the western slopes in a series of
easy sweepers, finally cresting at 7100 feet, before dropping down slightly
to the Pampa de Achala, a huge desert plateau of grey granite, to the small
village of El Condor.  This is the easternmost habitat of the condor, and
true to the village's name I saw several condors, albiet from a great

Cresting the summit, the weather changed, and high-level clouds obscurred the
sun, and it became windier.  The ride across the entire plateau was cold, a
fitting match to the barren, but scenic, landscape.  I stopped to put on
another long sleeve shirt, but wasn't cold enough to put on my Aerostich

The road dropped down off the eastern side of the plateau in a series of big,
looping, sweepers, perfect for blasting through at 70 mph.  As the road
dropped lower the turns began to tighten up into a series of wonderful
twisties, eventually coming to the resort town of Villa Carlos Paz on
man-made Lago San Roque, 36km from Cordoba via a good, 4-lane divided,
limited-access, highway.  

The stretch of road from Mina Clavero to Villa Carlos Paz is a motorcyclist's
wet dream, a great road with a good surface, a combination of sweepers and
twisties, and great scenery.  Don't miss it if you're in the Cordoba region.

I arrived in Cordoba just after dusk at 7:30PM, and from a gas station pay
phone called the number Willy had given me the night before.  I got ahold of
Graciela, who spoke good English, and said I was a friend of Willy's, that he
had given me this number and said to call, and asked if he was there.  I also
said I was travelling by motorcycle and had just arrived in Cordoba.  She
said he was not due to arrive by plane until 11PM that night.  She asked
where I was staying, and I said I had just got into town and would be
probably camping somewhere in the region, and asked if she knew if there was
a municipal campsite in Cordoba.  She didn't know, but said there was camping
in Villa Carlos Paz, which I had come trough 36km west of Cordoba.

It was another situation where I didn't feel comfortable in outright asking
if I could spend the night there, and she didn't extend the offer, and
sugested I call back in the morning to talk with Willy.  I said I probably
would call back, even though I somewhat doubted I would, since I didn't want
to spend another night in Cordoba, and wanted to keep on travelling to the
east.  I thanked her, then debated whether to look for camping here, get a
"cheap" hotel here in Cordoba, or ride back the 36km to Villa Carlos Paz and

I finally decided to ride back to Carlos Paz, and once there easily found the
ACA campground, immediately where the 4-lane divided higway ended at the
outskirts of town.  P4.5 for the night, and I walked 4 blocks down the street
for dinner at Ty Marias, an all-you-can-eat restaurant, for P6.90.

Saturday May 10 75910

In the morning while checking various nuts and bolts on the bike for
tightness, I discover that the rear mounting bracket for my Stainetune
silencer has fractured.  The bracket is welded to the silencer at two places,
and one of these has completely cracked through.  I use several hoseclamps to
support the silencer and prevent the other weld from breaking until I can
find someplace to weld the broken bracket.  Given that it is stainless steel
which is a bit trickier to weld, that may be a while.

As I fix this, I wonder what is going to break next.  This past week has
certainly been rough in terms of bike problems.  I wonder if the rough roads
of Patagonia and the Carreterra Austral are finally taking their toll on the

Till I finish diddling with the bike it is after 2PM, and I pack up and
leave, stopping at a farmacia (pharmacy) on the way out of town to buy some
things.  You'd think after 9 months of travel I'd remember the word for
toilet paper, but I have a hell of a time with that word.  It is "papel
higienico", but I can never remember the second word, or if I do, how to
pronounce it, so I always just "papel para el bano", which usually works.

I come out from the pharmacy to find a car parked next to the bike, and the
two occupants, a man and a woman, looking at the bike.  They strike up a
conversation and I talk with them for a while.  That in an of itself was not
unusual, it happens all the time.  What made this particular occasion
noteworthy, was, how shall we say, the attire of the two occupants. He was
shirtless, and she was wearing a very low cut blouse and a miniskirt, which
sitting in the passenger seat, well, left little to the imagination.  She was
draped all over him, and in talking with me, standing on the sidewalk on the
driver's side, would lean over to look out the window, also leaving little to
the imagination.  We talked for a while, and then she got out of the car and
went into the pharmacy, while he and I continued talking.  Several minutes
later she returns, making no effort to conceal the box of condoms she has
just purchased.  They wish me luck on my travels and drive off, presumably to
the local love motel.  I didn't know if I should wish them luck or not.

I rode back through Cordoba and continued east to San Francisco.  This area
was flat grasslands and huge herds of cattle could be seen grazing at
frequent intervals along the road.  The highway was for the most part
arrow-straight and passed through a handful of small towns. At the entrance
to each town the road would make a sharp 90 degree turn to the left or right,
followed by an immediate 90 degree turn in the other direction, then proceed
straight through the town, and repeat the jog at the other end of town. 
Presumably to slow traffic down.  Speed bumps, called "Lomos de Burro" (back
of the donkey), were also prevalent along the main drag in most towns. After
hitting the first one at speed I figured out what Lomos de Buro were!

It was getting dark as I rode through San Francisco, and on the far side of
town I spot a sign saying camping, but can't read the rest before I pass by. 
I turn around and ride back and see it says "Camping - Choferes de Camiones",
literally, "Camping - Truck Drivers". Some kind of campground for truck
drivers.  It appears empty, but as I park the bike by the front gate, I see a
man walking out the lane towards the gate.  I open the gate and meet him
halfway and introduce myself.  I ask if I can camp here, and he immediately
says yes, and tells me to pull the bike inside and follow him.  He leads me
to a covered, lighted, pavilion, where he indicates to park the bike, and
then leads me to another covered rec hall, with a kitchenette at one end,
where he says I can sleep, rather than pitch my tent.  It is a campground
just for truck drivers and their families, and has a swimming pool, picnic
area with fireplaces, playground for the kids, and camping area.  During the
summer, Juan says it is usually crowded, but now during the late fall is
usually empty, as it is tonight.  There is a network of such campsites
throughout Argentina.  Juan asks if I want a Coke, and returns shortly with
one, and we talk while I eat my dinner.  He jokes that if I had a woman I
could stay at the love hotel which is next door.  I wonder if it is a
coincidence that a love hotel is next door to a truckers campground.