Part 7 - Oil and Icebergs (Tres Lagos - El Calafate)
Ruta 40 doesn’t change. It’s as if the whole world is made of bloody gravel. We cross the Rio Leona, and find the same gravelly hell on the other side. The Rio Santa Cruz is no better but, at last, after five days of suffering, the gravel ends: we’re back on the old blacktop. The blessed asphalt, smoothest of all road surfaces, black stairway to V-twin heaven, praise be to you! We can even shift up a gear or two, and the road rushes by.
El Calafate is the centre of Patagonian tourism, and here we meet Tommy on Sunday. The rear gate on the flatbed truck has jammed, but we lift the bike over by sheer brute force and willpower. All we need now is a new gearbox. It doesn’t turn up on Monday, and on Tuesday we find that it’s stuck in Customs at Buenos Aires because of a problem with the documentation. Unbelievably, there is a law in Argentina that prohibits the import of reconditioned gearboxes! Several faxes, one customs agent and $200 later it looks like the problem has been sorted so we take a day off to visit the Perito Moreno glacier not far from the Chilean border.
The Perito Moreno, which looms over Lago Argentino, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the few constantly advancing glaciers in the world. It’s like a living creature, noisily moving at the rate of two metres a day, while house-sized chunks of ice break off and thunder down into the lake. The ice at the fringe of the glacier has an amazing deep cobalt-blue quality, caused by the density of the ice which has been crushed for the last 400 years until virtually all the air has been squeezed out. Consequently the lake is littered with a series of stunning cobalt-blue icebergs.
Back in El Calafate the gearbox was supposed to arrive on the afternoon flight. It hasn’t. A furious Tommy is then told that the gearbox will be at the hotel at 8pm - at extra cost. By now we don’t care, but we’re still a little surprised when it does actually turn up on time. Although the light is fading, we start work. The next morning the last nuts and bolts are torqued down with makeshift tools - the socket for the primary sprocket is substituted by a chisel from the corner hardware store. But it works … VVrrooommp-vrrooommp! Ruta 40, here we come.