Part 6 - Fatal Puddle of Oil and Lucky Somersault (Bajo Caracoles - Tres Lagos)
Leaving Bajo Caracoles, we plan to cover 230km today. But, just 50km down the Ruta, Tommy’s rear wheel locks up and the bike comes to rest in a large pool of oil. By divine intervention a pick-up truck driven by a couple of German climbers we had met the night before arrives a few minutes later, and they ferry the Panhead back to Baja Caracoles. There we find that the gearbox housing has broken from top to bottom, right through the mainshaft bore. It’s a serious – and expensive – setback. Using a satellite phone we arrange for a replacement gearbox to be couriered from Germany to El Calafate, 400km down the road. It’s the nearest place that anything can be couriered to, and we also have to hire a truck to get Tommy and the bike there, too. The only alternative is to abandon him and the Pan in the middle of nowhere. It doesn’t cross our minds. Honest.
The next day the rest of us leave Baja Caracoles – again. The gravel gets the better of Volker and the Sportster at one point, but the only casualty is a broken indicator and a dented tank. For the night we head for the Estancia Las Tunas, which is supposed to be “right by the roadside” but turns out to be at the end of 28km of dirt track. But it’s worth every metre. It’s breathtakingly quiet, and the inn – the estancia – looks out over the Lago Cardiel – or Lake Cardiel. Dinner is champagne, pumpkin soup a la crème, steak in breadcrumbs and eggplant stew. For dessert there’s lemon sherbet and coffee. We sink into our beds, the happiest men on earth.
It’s a real wrench to leave this idyllic place and get back out on the Ruta 40 again the next morning, but the vintage bikes are far less fazed by the gravel than the riders. 140km takes us to Tres Lago (probably Spanish for “lots of gravel so far”), and another 15km to the estancia “La Margerita”. Fabio, the owner, is delighted to see us, while we happily forage among his collection of ancient, rusting machinery which includes the original REO Speedwagon (the car, not the band) that Fabio’s predecessor drove down from Buenos Aires over 70 years ago