Mountain climbing

About a third of the way between Gobernador Gregores and Perito Moreno, I met Remco.

We were battling the relentless winds along this stretch of Ruta 40 in Argentina, and I happened upon him with his Royal Enfield Himalayan parked on the side of the road. I pulled up to check he was okay (which he was) so we chatted briefly and agreed to meet up at the next fuel stop at Bajo Caracoles.

To my surprise, the WR250 was faster in the headwinds than Remco’s Himalayan and I got to the wild west-looking servo/hotel/restaurant at Caracoles about 15 minutes ahead of the lanky Dutchman.

The lonely outpost of Bajo Caracoles.

After fuelling up, we grabbed coffee and snacks and talked some more. I had remembered seeing Remco twice the day before: at the service station in Gobernador Gregores and a bit later at the town’s campground. I’d set up there for the night and he pulled in, looked around and then left to find other accommodation.

He said he’d seen me the day before that on Ruta 40 between El Calafate and Gobernador Gregores. The Himalayan’s chain had fallen off and he had just fixed it when I rode past and waved in response to his thumbs-up. I didn’t recall that encounter, but it signalled more to come.

At Bajo Caracoles we exchanged the usual potted personal histories – where you’re from, where you’re going, etc, etc. Hailing from The Netherlands, Remco is a well-seasoned traveller on and off motorcycles. He used to be a mountain guide, and does all kinds of physically exertive adventuring.

He was in South America for three months, riding Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and wherever else he could get to. As we were both headed to Perito Moreno in search of cash and lodgings, we agreed to team up and split a hotel room.

I asked about his Himalayan. Purchased from a fellow traveller in Punta Arenas, it had Colombian plates, Rotopax fuel canisters bolted to the tank crash bars, copious scuffs and scratches, and a generally tired air. I thought it looked a bit of a beater.

The chain was terminally loose, hence it jumping ship the day before. The bike had no pannier racks, so Remco’s throwover bags had destroyed both rear indicators and were sailing dangerously close to the rear wheel. It was making several disconcerting noises from the back end. And it was perilously slow – even accounting for the Ruta 40 winds.

In stark contrast to his bike, Remco was friendly, good natured and the picture of health. He was upbeat about the Himalayan – more so than I was, at any rate. I suggested we ride together to Perito Moreno, just in case, and he readily concurred.

The rest of the ride was uneventful, albeit leisurely. We investigated a few accommodation options before settling on the Hotel Belgrano, a charmingly down-at-heel establishment on the main street, run by the equally charmingly down-at-heel Morile. If it weren’t for the flat-screen TVs in the rooms and the Wi-Fi, you’d swear the Belgrano had been untouched since the early 1960s.

In addition to getting cash, Remco’s main mission was to find a mechanic to look at the Himalayan and its noisy rear end. I’m certainly no expert, but a just a brief glance at his bike’s drooping chain and an alarming gouge in the swingarm just behind the rear axle had me thinking that would be a splendid idea.

Remco contemplates his ailing Himalayan.

Morile had put him on to one so next morning, for lack of anything better to do, I jumped on the back of the Indian thoroughbred to keep him company. Morile’s bloke couldn’t help, but he led us to another guy – Fabio – who possibly could.

Fabio ran his workshop from a small garage attached to his house on a dusty street a few blocks back from Perito Moreno’s centre. He dropped everything to get the hapless Himalayan up on the workstand for a look-see.

My Spanish isn’t very good, but it didn’t need to be. You could read the whole sorry story in Fabio’s facial expressions as he removed the rear wheel. His eyebrows arched higher the deeper he delved.

The rear wheel bearing on the sprocket side was shot. This thing looked like it had been tortured, beaten and hit by a mortar, then the remaining fragments collected and blown up again. As it went the disintegrating bearing had carved its final words in the axle spacer and wheel hub. The cush drive rubbers were half melted, half chewed and fully fucked. And that gouge on the swingarm, caused by the sprocket touching where it normally shouldn’t, turned out to be both fore and aft of the rear axle, and uncomfortably close to going all the way through the metal.

Remco watches Fabio remove fragments of the destroyed wheel bearing.
With the bearing toast and the spacer not spacing, the rear sprocket was chewing up the Himalayan’s swingarm.
The spacer. Eeeek… There’s a fragment of the bearing shell behind it and a remnant of the cush drive on the left.

Owner and mechanic conferred, with the upshot being Fabio was confident he could fix it. As long as a new bearing could be obtained. And a new spacer. And some careful cleaning and resurfacing of the bearing seat in the wheel hub. And a new cush drive and chain. And the sprocket? Nah, that was good for a few more miles. Let’s not go overboard…

There is a bunch of Royal Enfield dealers in Argentina, and Remco and Fabio spent the next hour fruitlessly trying to contact them in search of parts. It was around lunchtime, so no one was picking up the phone. Faced with the great wall of siesta, we decided to follow suit and grab lunch ourselves, then return later in the day. In the meantime, Fabio would keep trying.

Remco and I headed back to Fabio’s lair about 6pm, but the news wasn’t good. No parts available. In a flash of inspiration, Fabio piled us into his decrepit Peugeot 505 and we hit a few of the local auto spares shops for a bearing. Still no joy. By now, Remco was still cheerful, but there was a hint of desperation in his eyes.

If your piston looks like this, you have a problem. Thankfully, this wasn’t from Remco’s Himalayan. That has enough problems.

After breakfast the next morning, Morile said a bearing shop in Comodoro Rividavia – a mere five hours away by bus – might be able to help. Remco’s other plan also involved a bus – to Buenos Aires where five of the Royal Enfield dealers were located. Either way, he was going to be sitting on his arse looking out a window for quite a while.

We whiled away the day harassing the post office to give us our Western Union cash before finally coming up trumps mid-afternoon. Flush with pesos, we treated ourselves to a decent lunch, beers and the Morocco-France World Cup semi-final. It wasn’t a bad game, but I could tell Remco’s thoughts were increasingly concentrated on his Himalayan predicament.

In the early evening, Remco went back to Fabio’s for another confab while I got my gear ready for departure the next day. When he returned, the affable Dutchman was downcast. The parts situation was dire and he felt he had no option but to leave the bike with Fabio and head to Buenos Aires to suss things out for himself.

While keen to keep moving north, I was happy to hang around if he thought it might be of any help. He thanked me, rightly pointed out there was not much to be done unless parts were forthcoming, and urged me on my way.

We had breakfast together next morning and after I’d packed, he bid me farewell with a firm handshake and a hug. I really felt for him being stuck out on a limb like that, but it seemed a good night’s sleep had worked wonders. He was back to his cheerful self and expressed confidence everything would work out.

I headed up the road towards Esquel, and left him sorting out a bus ride to the Argentine capital. When I checked in with him via WhatsApp that night, things had changed. Fabio had invited him to stay at his place and put on a true Argentine asado to lift his spirits. And he wasn’t going to Buenos Aires – at least not straight away. With Fabio happy to store the bike, Remco had opted for a bus to Bariloche instead, and did I want to meet him there?

Fabio prepares the asado (photo by Remco).

Initially I said yes, but when I got to Bariloche I couldn’t find any affordable accommodation. The town was overcrowded, overpriced and not particularly enticing. I headed 100km up the road to Villa La Angostura and set up camp on the shores of Lago Correntoso instead.

I got in touch with Remco on Christmas Day to wish him the compliments of the season and find out where he was at with the bike. He was in Uruguay. The bike was in Perito Moreno. After trying all five Royal Enfield dealers in Buenos Aires, and even reaching out to dealers in Germany and Holland, there were no parts to be had.

He was philosophical.

“For now, there is no movement to continue,” he wrote.

“Uruguay is nice for a few days. There is not a spectacular thing to see, but it is quiet and peaceful. But I miss being on the road with the bike. I even miss the wind.

“I enjoy in the meantime.”

The bus to Bariloche (photo by Remco).


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2 responses to “Mountain climbing”

  1. Gregory Nield Avatar
    Gregory Nield

    Poor Remco. I’m sure he appreciated your help and company Pete. Let’s hope he found a part for his RE and got to continue his trip.

  2. Vik Callaghan Avatar
    Vik Callaghan

    Great post Pete. Mum Ben and I are all reading this together. Love your work. Glad you haven’t had such a misadventure. Love you from us