Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 17 May 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970517.rpt
Sunday May 11 76074
I left by 9:15 and rode east to Santa Fe, the capital of the state of Santa
Fe. The countryside was more pampas, grassland with large cattle estancias.
The lanes into the estancias were more often than not bordered on both sides
by tall rows of beech trees, and many entrances had huge gates at the
Along the roadside between San Francisco and Santa Fe were several shaded
picnic sites which would have been fine for camping; and cheaper than the P10
Juan asked for this morning, although that included the 1 litre Coke he gave
me last night.
At several ranches bordering the road, 50-100 cars were parked alongside the
road and huge numbers of people were in by the ranch buildings. I don't know
what the occasion was, either a reunion or an auction? I passed two
different places holding motocross races today, and every so often I'd pass
trucks or cars towing motocross bikes. I was tempted to stop at one but
Santa Fe is on the Rio Parana, and after passing through the city the road
crossed several small islands via a series of bridges, before passing under
the Rio Parana proper via a tunnel with a US$2toll. There had been several
toll booths along the road from Cordoba, but motorcycles were free.
On the other side of the river was the city of Parana, but the highway
bypassed it to the north. I continued east on Route 18 across an area known
as Mesopotamia. It lies between the Rio Parana on the west and the Rio
Uruguay on the east and is between 210 and 390 km wide. Most of the area in
the south, where I was crossing, is pastureland.
Midway across, at the town of Villaguay, I turned off Route 18 to head
southeast to Colon on the Rio Uruguay. It was a Sunday afternoon and most
stores were closed, but on the southern edge of Villaguay I found a small
mini-mercado which was open, and I bought some bread, apples, and other food
supplies. While packing the stuff on the bike, a man walks by and stops to
talk. He has a Goldwing and also had a Garmin GPS unit. Earlier in my trip
when people would ask if Ihad any mechanical problems I'd respond no and that
would be the end of that subject. Now I had a long list of problems I could
discuss. I usually only mentioned 1 or 2; I didn't want to give people the
wrong impression of BMW reliability! :-)
At several areas along the road, scattered Yatai palm trees dotted the
landscape for some distance on either side of the road. My destination for
the night was Parc Nacional El Palmar on the banks of the Rio Uruguay, north
of Colon. "La palma" is a palm tree and "el palmar" is a grove of palm trees.
The park protects a representative community of palmares which had been on
the way to extinction, due to extensive cattle grazing in the area. The
origin of the palms themselves is a subject of debate among botanists. Some
believe the palm seeds were carried here by local rivers, others believe that
early Indians cultivated them, while others believe they are survivors from a
much earlier geological period.
At the intersection with Route 14, north of Colon, I headed north,
paralleling the Rio Uruguay, though at this point the river was some distance
to the east and could not be seen. In several kilometers I pulled over in
the shade of some tall trees for a lunch break. It was a pleasant 85F in the
shade with a slight breeze. On the other side of the road from where I
stopped was a large blue and white sign, similar to other official government
signs for parks and campgrounds, with a diagram of the Falkland (Malvinas)
Islands, and proclaiming "Los Malvinas Son Argentinas," (The Falklands Are
Argentinas." It seemed so improbable to see that sign here in the middle of
the Pampas north of Buenos Aires, that I had to get a picture of it with my
bike parked in front. The passing traffic probably thought I was British.
20 miles or so north was the entrance to Parc Nacional El Palmar with an
entrance fee of US$5. The 7 mile gravel road into the facilities had
recently been regraded and as a result had no tire lanes worn in its surface.
The surface was of a consistency which made the front end really squirm and
slide around. Not my favorite type of surface. When I arrived around 4PM
there were still a lot of people in the campground, but by 8PM most had left
for the weekend, and I only saw 1 or 2 other tents. Camping was supposedly
US$4, but no one came around to collect.
Monday May 12 76386
Over breakfast I read an English-language paper, The Buenos Aires Herald,
which I had bought over a week ago, but never read. I decide to spend
another night here, hiking a couple of the trails in the area and doing a bit
of work on the bike. Besides, camping is free. After breakfast I walk down
to the beaches on the Rio Uruguay. The old ranch buildings are now used for
the park administration and visitors center and are located on a high bluff
overlooking the river. Several trails led down to the river.
In the afternoon I tackle some of the work on the bike, adjusting the clutch
free-play, and then checking the torques on the cylinder studs. It's been
about 700 miles since I installed the new base O-rings on the right side.
The torques on both sides check out OK, but both exhaust valves continue to
perplex me, as the clearances on both continue to tighten up between
maintenance intervals. They had tightened up by almost .1mm! Something
still is not right, but I'm at a loss to explain it. With the new valves
installed in Santiago, I'm not real worried about an imminent problem, in
fact, I think it will be OK until I get back to the States, but at that point
I'll have to look at them again.
My battery has been giving me increasing problems in the mornings, and this
morning is very low. Not completely dead, but low enough not to start the
engine. I suspect that it may have an internal short which, overnight,
slowly drains the battery. During the day, after I've ridden for a while the
battery charges and starts the bike with no problem. I suspect a new battery
may be my next major purchase. Tomorrow evening, after a full days ride,
I'll immediately disconnect the battery and then, in the morning, see what
the voltage is. That should tell me if the problem is with the battery or if
I have another short somewhere in the electrical system which is draining the
I discover the source of the tinny, vibrational sound which has been plaguing
me intermittantly for the last several weeks. The right header pipe is a bit
loose at the cylinder head. As anyone with an R-bike knows, the threads on
the head and the finned nut are a pain-in-the-butt and care must be taken
with them to prevent damaging or stripping them. The threads on the
right-side head were not in that good condition when I bought the bike. When
I removed the nut in Santiago, the threads seemed to be a bit worse, despite
my use of anti-seize compound and liberal application of lubricant when
removing the nut. Several of the threads on the head were not looking too
good, and I was very gentle in reinstalling the nut then and in Mendoza.
I guess I didn't torque it down sufficiently to compress the compression ring
which grips the header. As a result the header slowly backed out just enough
to cause the vibration. I tighten the header nut a bit.
In the late afternoon I take a walk along el sendero "El Mollar", a short
trail near the campground, in hopes of seeing some "carpinchos" (capybaras).
Several "families" are known to frequent the stream and bordering areas.
However I fail to see any. There is another area which I'll stop at tomorrow
on my way out of the park.
Tuesday May 13 76386
Two birds in particular are very common here in the park, especially around
the campgrounds. The Urraca, if I had to guess (not being a bird nut),
appears to be in the jay family. It's a very striking bird, with a yellow
belly and underside of its tail, black breast, neck, and head, and a blue
back. There are blue rings around its eyes. The other bird is the Ypacaa,
which, for lack of a better analogy, appears to be a cross between a chicken,
partridge, and grouse. Despite that characterization, it is a pretty bird,
with long red legs, red eyes, and a long green and yellow beak. It has a
long neck which along with the breast are gray, while the belly is a
pinkish-brown, and the back is a brownish-green. It has a short, black tail,
which jutts straight up and twitches when it walks, while the neck and head
bobs forwards. It primarily walks along the forest floor pecking for grubs I
guess, but is not shy about hopping up onto the picnic table if you are not
I pack the bike up, but before leaving, take a short hike along the Rio
Uruguay to the ruins of a lime and limestone quarry which provided many of
the materials for the early buildings in Buenos Aires. The materials were
shipped down river from here to Buenos Aires.
Back at the campsite, I find the battery, while not dead, is too low to turn
over the engine. And despite any previous statements I may have made about
having now mastered how to kickstart the bike,this morning it proves to be
very cantankerous and I have difficulty starting it. I had an easier time
kickstarting it when the outside temperature was colder, where full choke and
slightly cracking the throttle seemed to consistently do the trick. I
finally get it started after working up a good sweat. Reminds me of fond
memories of my XR600R.
On my way out, I ride to several other areas of the park, stopping at several
miradors offering good panoramic views of the palm groves and gallery forests
surrounding the arroyos. I hike a couple of the short trails along Arroyos
El Palmar and La Glorieta, and spend an hour at the former, quietly watching
for capybaras along the stream bank. I see lots of tracks in the mud and
many piles of turds, but no capybaras. It's the wrong time of the day, being
about 1PM. They are more active in the early morning or late afternoon.
While siting by the river I do see several huge fish, a foot and a half in
length, jump clear out of the water right in front of me.
Back on Route 14, I head north 65 km to Concordia where I gas up, buy some
groceries, and get some dollars from an ATM machine. Many of the ATM
machines labeled with the red "Banelco" signs give you a choice of receiving
either dollars or Argentine pesos. Not knowing if there would be ATM
machines in Uruguay, I get dollars, since the exchange rate to Uruguayan
Pesos is better from dollars than from Argentine Pesos. Back at the bike a
group of 5 teeneage boys are gathered around the bike, examining it closely,
and I spend a half hour talking with them before heading for the Uruguayan
frontier at the Salto Grande dam just north of Concordia. Annoyingly the
header pipe was loose again and I kicked it back into place. I'd have to
look at the problem closer tonight.
Border crossing formalities for both countries were in the same building on
the Argentine side of the Salto Grande dam and were straight forward. A long
counter with four stations. First was Argentine immigration, followed by
Uruguayan immigration, then Argentine customs, followed by Uruguayan customs.
This order led to the interesting effect of me being officially stamped into
Uruguay before my bike was officially stamped out of Argentina, probably the
only border during this trip where that will happen. The road crossed the
river on the top of the dam. Midway across the dam and I was in Uruguay, the
first time I was in another country other than Chile or Argentina since
February 27, more than 2 and a half months ago when I entered Chile at Arica.
I stop in Salto and exchange US$50 for Uruguayan pesos. The exchange rate is
9.25 Pesos Uruguayan per dollar. I only plan to be in Uruguay for several
days, crossing over to the coast before heading north up the coast to Brazil.
I seem to draw more attention as I ride through town, than i did in most
Argentinian towns. Not just kids, and men and boys, but old ladies as well.
I get the impressiion they don't see a lot of motorcycle travellers go
through Uruguay since it's not really on the tourist track, being so small.
I note the following, only because I'm surprised it took this long into my
trip to occur, not because of any sadistic tendancies on my part. I, or the
motorcycle to be exact, picked off a bird in flight, for the first time this
trip, if my memory serves me correctly. It was one of those swallow-type
birds which flits back and forth across the road catching insects. I thought
this one was going to make it across in front of the bike from left to right,
but at the last moment, it turned left. in the same direction I was going.
Unfortunately it wasn't flying as fast as I was moving, 75mph, and it bounced
off my windscreen.
I arrive at the Termas (hot springs) de Guaviyu, 70 km south of Salto, just
as the sun was dipping behind the hills in Argentina, across the Rio Uruguay
to the west. Camping was only P23 (US$2.50). There were six pools of
different temperatures and after dinner I soak for an hour or so.
There were cabanas for rent and a large, grassy camping area with fireplaces
and picnic tables. The campgrounds were large, mostly empty, but there
were a surprising number of people here for a Tuesday, unlike most of the
Argentine campgrounds I had stayed at mid-week.
Wednesday May 14 76510
In the morning, while cleaning out my wallet of old receipts, an old man in a
well-worn suit and tie, wearing an old hat, and carrying a beatup old
briefcase walks up to picnic table. He is from Cali, Colombia originally and
is selling magnesium bracelets, decorated with simple geometric patterns. He
says wearing one, will in 5 minutes relieve me of any pains I may have and
any internal ailments. He warns to remove it when riding the motorcycle as
it causes "tranquilidad" and tends to make one sleepy. For Argentinians the
price is P5 Argentino, for Uruguayans the price is P40. We talk for a while
and I'm trying to think of a reasonable excuse why I won't buy one, but he
reaches over, takes my right wrist, and places a bracelet on, and says it is
a regalo (gift), a remembrance of Uruguay. He wishes me luck on my journey
and walks toward the next tent.
I decide to work on bike here today. I won't find cheaper camping and there
are hot springs for when I'm done. I take the cantankerous right header off
and carefully clean the threads. It's always disconcerting to see bits of
aluminum on the rag after cleaning them. Without the header in place, I
carefully screw the nut back on, and see what the problem is. Evidently the
threads were now binding a bit, and at the point where I stopped torquing the
large finned header nut, the compression ring which grips the header was not
sufficiently compressed to firmly hold the header in place. Rather than risk
stripping the threads by forcing it, I fashion a 1/8 inch spacer washer out
of the epoxy putty I carry. This would permit the compression ring to be
compressed without having to turn the nut past the damaged threads. While
I'm waiting for the epoxy to harden I read up on Uruguay and Southern Brazil.
Next I turn my attention to the problematical battery. Having disconnected
it last night, its voltage this morning was fine, down only .25 volts from
the level last night. Looking further I discover a .5-.7 volt potential
between the engine case and disconnected negative battery terminal. I trace
the problem down to the starter motor circuit. When the large cable from the
starter to the positive battery terminal is connected, the potential exists.
When this cable is disconnected, it doesn't exist.
I suspect there are dirty contacts in the starter solenoid, providing enough
continuity to cause the voltage potential. Further diagnosis was more than I
wanted to tackle today, so I put the bike back together. In retrospect, I
should have tested the continuity and/or resistance between the positive
cable and engine case, which might have given me more clues as to the
In the meantime, until I fix the problem or it goes away (wishful thinking)
I'll simply disconnect the cables from the negative batery terminal each
night. Kind of a pain, but .... I had hoped I might be able to just
disconnect the large negative cable where it bolts to the back of the tranny,
but there are enough other ground paths that simply disconnecting it was not
The brake light is not working again. The bulb tests OK, as does the front
brake switch, but no light. By this time it's getting dark so I call it
quits for the day. I have to leave some problems for tomorrow. These days,
I'd feel lost if I didn't have some bike problem to ponder about or deal
I soak in the hot pools for an hour, then take a shower, fix dinner, and call
it a day, since by then it's 9:45PM.
Thursday May 15 76510
As it was yesterday morning, everything is covered in dew. That is an
annoyance I didn't have farther south.
The battery is down a bit more, though I think that's from my electrical
testing yesterday. At least I hope so. I guess I'll find out for sure in
the next several days as I disconnect the battery each evening. At any rate,
this morning the bike won't start. It turns over several times, but before
it startsa the battery is too low. I try kickstarting it, but again have a
hell of a time getting the right combination of choke and throttle settings
for it to fire. 2 men walk over and offer to help push start it, so we push
it up to the top of a very slight grade, but with a relatively slippery
gravel surface, and on the 2nd trip down it fires. I thank them for their
help, don my riding gear and pay my bill on the way out of the campground.
They had been holding my passport as a guarantee of payment.
I continue south on Route 3, along the Rio Uruguay, towards Paysandu, but
turn east on Route 26 several kilometers north of town. Then it's a blast of
200 km east to the next town of Tacuarembo, where I stop for some bread and
groceries. This route was over mostly gently rolling hills of pasture and
farmland. Many of the telephone poles along the road have birds nests built
among the wires and crossbars at their tops. They looked like round balls of
twigs with a hole in the side. I have no idea of what type of bird built
>From Tacuarembo, I stayed on Route 26 as it turned and headed southeast to
Melo. From here it was only 40 km north to the Brazillian border at Acegua,
but I planned to head south to Treinta-y-Tres and then southeast to the coast
of Uruguay, and then north up the coast, crossing into Brazil at Chuy on the
Along the road to Melo I saw, what I believe were hundreds of parakeets. They
were bright green with short wings and medium length tails. They would be
feeding alongside or on the road in flocks of 10-20, and as the bike
approached, take off in a flurry of flapping green feathers. They flew so
fast it was difficult to get a good view as I passed by at 70mph.
In Melo I gassed up, and as I had put more than 320 miles on this tank, my
gas bill, at a dollar a liter, was about 330 pesos (US$36). This wiped out
most of my Uruguayan currency, so I stopped at an exchange house several
blocks away and exchanged another US$50. As luck would have it I parked
right out front of the post offfice, so was also able to buy several
Uruguayan stamps to add to my collection.
South of Melo the country became more hilly and the road wound through the
countryside, at times along the crest of the hills, at other times in the
depressions between the hills. It was a fun road through beautiful
countryside. It reminded me a bit of Pennsylvania farm country.
I reached the town of Treinta-y-Tres just before sunset and found my way to
to the municipal park which had a nice campground, with grass sites for
tents. It wasn't clear if I had to pay or not so I set up my tent and waited
for someone to come to me for payment.
Treinta-y-Tres (33) is named for 33 patriots, headed by General Juan
Lavalleja, who, in 1825 drove the invading Brazilians out of Uruguay.
Friday May 16 76853
I became sort of a local celebrity today. The park manager, Eduardo Sosa,
stopped by in the morning to chat, and a half hour later returned with
another park manager and some brochures on the park and several other nearby
recreational sites. He gave me 4 copies of each, for your friends, he said.
No mention was made of a camping fee. I could see the park office from my
campsite, and an hour later I see a moped pull up, and then Eduardo and the
rider walk over to me. The rider, Victor Nunez, clad in a black leather
jacket, worked in the news department of the local FM radio station, and he
wanted to tape an interview with me. So I answered questions into a tape
recorder for 10-15 minutes, about my trip, where I had been, where I was
going, what I did in the US.
It must have broadcast, because an hour later four men come by who have heard
the interview on the radio and want to see the bike. We talk for 30 minutes
or so. In talking about going to Brazil and the language problems I'll face
there, not knowing Portuguese, they say I'll need a muchacha (making curvy
motions with both hands) to help me learn the language.
A half hour later a father and son drive by in a pickup and stop. They have
also heard the interview and just want to meet me, see the bike and chat.
Nothing like having a whole town of 28000 know that you are camped in the
municipal campground. But everyone was very friendly and wished me luck
during the remainder of my travels.
Around noon Eduardo, returns carrying a radio, and in about 10 minutes I hear
the leadin material by the broadcaster describing that a motorcyclist from
California, on the road for 9 months, has stopped in their city and is camped
in the park. Then I here excerpts of the taped interview I gave earlier in
the morning. I could, at least, understand what I had said in Spanish. I
had apologized for my poor Spanish to the other people who had stopped by
after hearing the interview, though they all said they could understand me
very well, unlike some other American travellers they had met. They probably
said the same to all the gringo travellers they met. :-)
Several other people who had heard the broadcast stopped by and it was after
2pm before I had the campsite to myself again. I decided to stay another
night, rather than pack up my gear, which was still spread around the
campsite, and leave after 3PM. Shortly after 3:30 a guy walks over and
invites me to an asado he was having with his family in the picnic area of
the park, and after throwing my gear into the tent and saddlebags, spent an
enjoyable hour and a half with him and his family. He had two grade-school
age children, a girl and a boy.
Later, around 6pm, back at the campsite, a family in a car drive by and stop
to chat. They too had heard the broadcast on the radio. Several times
during the afternoon, people I had never met would walk by or ride by on
bicycles, and wave and shout greetings.
Saturday May 17 76853
This morning the bike started on the 3rd kick. Full choke, crack the
throttle. I'm starting to suspect again that the batttery may be going bad
also. The voltage had dropped from 12.88 when I disconnected it two nights
ago to 12.21 this morning. If it would start like this every morning it
wouldn't be a problem.
I was on the road be 8:45AM and had numerous people wave to me as I rode out
of town. I suspect some of them had heard the radio interview.
I continued south on Route 8 until I came to Route 14, where I turned left,
heading southeast. This area reminded me a bit of the English countryside,
with rolling hills, fields full of rocks, and the road winding among them.
The term bucolic comes to mind. For some reason I remember learning that
word in grade-school vocabulary class. Or was it in Junior High?
I picked off another bird, this one with my left kneecap. I was glad it was
just an ordinary-looking brown bird, and not one of the bright green or
yellow ones I've been seeing frequently along the roadside. I take this
latest incident as more evidence that most motorcycle travelers avoid
Uruguay; not even the birds are used to such large, fast motorcycles.
In the small town of Lascano I pick up Route 15 south towards Rocha near the
coast. In Velazquez I stop at a Panaderia and buy some bread and cheese. I
ask about the road to Rocha, which someone, several days ago, had told me was
dirt, but she said it was paved the whole way. She added it was twisty and I
replied, with a smile, that that was good.
Indeed, the road was nice and twisty, and I stopped along the roadside on a
hilltop overlooking the countryside for a snack break. I passed through
Rocha on my way to La Paloma on the coast, stopping only long enough to gas
up at the Esso station on the main north-south highway.
This area of the coast has numerous small fishing villages, which in the
summer are beach resorts. However, in the off-season they are largely
devoid of tourists and most of the tourist-related businesses close, giving
the towns a bit of a deserted feeling. La Paloma is the largest of such
towns along the northeast coast of Uruguay and has a Casino, which also was
closed at this time of the year.
On the way into town, in a nice wooded area, was Park Androcito, with a
camping area and cabanas for rent. However I wasn't ready to stop for the
day yet. I passed a small mercado where I bought some dinner supplies, then
continued on out to the beach. Along the roads near the beach were large,
luxurious vacation homes. I continued past the lighthouse and rode south on a
small dirt road, shielded from the ocean breezes and the beach by sand dunes
which here and there encroached onto the road. It was a bit windy, but sunny
and warm. There were few people on the beaches, despite it being a weekend.
Several families and some surf fisherman farther up the beach.
I continue north on the coast road, Route 10, and in 10 km or so, detour into
the small fishing village of La Pedrera. Here as well, most seaside
businesses are closed for the season. I stop at an overlook on the bluff
above the beach for lunch. Two couples are on the beach below and some surf
fishermen on the rocks a bit up the coast.
While eating my lunch and enjoying the views of the pounding surf a car
passes by, the driver looking at the bike, then a bit later returns and
stops. The couple get out and walk over. They are from Grenada, Spain, and
he, Jose, is here with his wife on a combined business/vacation trip. He is
export manager for a plastic tubing company in Spain. But the reason he
stopped is that he has a '92 R100GS-PD in Spain. He tells of riding in
Morocco and Tunisia and says it is great riding. When I sya that Europe and
Africa are destinations on my next big trip, he gives me his business card
and says to contact him when I get to Spain and he can get me information on
northern Africa and put me in contact with other BMW riders in the area.
That's what I like about travelling by motorcycle, the chance encounters with
a global motorcycling community.
I continue north, detouring into Agua Dulces. It is a much smaller fishing
village, summer beach resort, but it too has the feeling of a ghost town and
doesn't grab me, so I move on. On the road out of town I pass Jose and his
wife going the opposite direction, and we wave and honk our horns as we pass.
All these small villages, now have many expensive vacation homes for the
rich from Montevideo.
I continue north on Route 9 to Parc Nacional Santa Teresa, a huge park on the
coast with palm-lined avenues and expansive grass lawns. At the north end of
the Park is the large colonial fortress, Fortina Santa Teresa, dating from
the mid 1700s. The park has numerous campgrounds, some in the dunes on the
beach, others in the forest bordering the coast. Most have few amenities
(i.e., firerings or picnic tables), and many of the bathrooms are apparently
closed for the season. It was fairly windy at the beach sites, so I choose a
site inland in a wooded area that had massive granite picnic tables and
benches. Despite it being a Saturday, I had the whole campground to myself.
I had only seen 4 other tents on my circuit through the other areas of the
I've only spent several days in Uruguay, and didn't go into Montevideo, its
largest and capital city, but the country has a completely different feeling
from the other Latin American countries. Very tranquil and relaxing, and the
people are quick with a smile, a wave, or a greeting. Its a small respite
from travelling in the other countries where the pace is a bit faster. Its a
bit hard to put into words. Its just a feeling one has while travelling
through Uruguay, that was not present in the other countries. I regretted a
bit having decided to skip Montevideo, and not having more time to get to
know this country and its people.