|Our campsite by the side of the road, at sunrise|
(If you're just coming to the blog and want to read from the beginning of the trip, start here.)
Day 7: Pozo Hondo to Villa Maria
Distance: 728 kilometers
We woke at our campsite by the side of the road in time to see the sunrise. We had a visitor:
|Visitor at our campsite in the morning|
We were on the road by 7:45, and got breakfast at a service station in La Banda. We were very close to the city of Santiago del Estero, and needed cash, so we followed someone's instructions into the city to find an ATM. We passed two which had lines down the block, and didn't have an hour to waste standing in them.
So we tried to get back on route 9, but got lost in the quagmire of Santiago del Estero. We realized at that point that our plan of taking rt9 straight around the city wasn't actually possible, because the road stopped being a highway at either end of the city, and was instead a very slow truck route cutting through. There were few road signs, so the map was useless; the GPS was useless because roads were inexplicably closed; and the drivers were rude, aggressively cutting us off. One car in front of us threw a soda bottle out the window towards us. It didn't help that it was baking hot, and leather doesn't bake comfortably.
At one point we got off the bike to check the map, and a older fellow, a town employee, stopped his car to tell us we were in a very bad neighborhood and should follow him out. With his help we found the way back to rt9. (And at some point that I don't remember, we found an ATM with a shorter line, the reason for being there in the first place.)
After at least an hour wasted in that hell hole, we were back on the road. A big Air Force plane was mounted on stilts a few kilometers outside the city, not sure why, but we didn't stop to take a photo. The road started to descend in altitude, and the terrain became shrubby and full of cacti. Several roadside stands were selling wood figures shaped like cacti. Signs advertised se vende tortuga - "turtles for sale" - though I'm not sure if these were actual turtles, or if a tortuga is a type of sandwich.
Then even the cacti disappeared and the terrain became barren. We were near salt flats again. The lack of trees (except the occasional olive tree) made it very windy. Herds of goats wandered by the road - sometimes crossing it - and I wondered if they were all owned by someone, to be collected at the end of the day, or if they were just wild.
Then we reached the top of the next hill, and just as I was about to pass a pickup truck that was slowing down, I realized there was a police checkpoint. (We passed dozens of these along the way, so it wasn't unusual - sometimes they inspect trucks, maybe sometimes they're supposed to deter drug trafficking or smuggling - usually we were waved through.) The cop told us to pull over along with 2 other motorcycles that were racing the hill. We weren't being stopped for speeding, though - it was a random breathalyzer inspection! The cop handed me a plastic mouthpiece to put on his handheld device, I breathed into it for seven seconds, the result was negative (we hadn't had alcohol in days), and we were back on our way. (It should be noted that all the policemen and municipal employees we met were professional and/or friendly, and despite warnings about corruption, we had no actual police trouble at all.)
As we approached Cordoba, I was feeling pretty exhausted. We could have stopped north of Cordoba and had a longer [final] next day, but that was already going to be exhausting, so we wanted to get further south. We stopped at a service station for a rest. I had a large coffee and felt recharged. So we made the call to push on, put Bon Jovi on the stereo at full volume, and hit the road again - now dark - for the final stretch past Cordoba to Villa Maria. There we found a motel and fell very fast asleep.