A Lost Friend in Mendoza


My brief stay in Mendoza is coming to and end. Tomorrow I will complete my last day of Spanish classes here, and with itchy feet I will have no good reason to stay longer. I want to get back on the road. Mendoza is a pleasant city with a welcoming feel. I’ve enjoyed my time here – the chance to establish a routine has meant I have been able to eat well and train on a daily basis in the impressive Parque St Martin (think Hyde Park, including Mendoza’s equivalent of the Serpentine) – but the urban life is not resonating with me. I am now suffering withdrawal symptoms from the lack of riding dirt roads through the mountains and camping in the wilderness.

However, I must continue to bide my time for one week more and face one more urban onslaught. Somewhere between leaving Mendoza last month and returning ten days ago, I managed to lose my GPS – I have no idea where or when it was lost. Having ridden with a GPS almost daily for the last year, I have come to value its assistance. In Argentina and Chile the mapping is very accurate and has made navigating even Buenos Aires a breeze. In Bolivia, the main routes at least have been marked. And in Peru… Well, I mostly got a blank screen there.

But even when the mapping is non-existent, the GPS has many other uses. Since I was a boy, I have always had a compass in my pocket when venturing into the wilds – I feel incomplete without one. So the electronic compass on the GPS has been a blessing. On occasions it has been essential for navigation: when in Bolivia, I rode 70km across the utterly featureless dry salt lake at Uyuni as the sun was setting, to camp on a small island – without an accurate bearing to guide me, I may have missed the island completely. On other occasions it has simply entertained me: at the start of my trip when I rode down the east coast of Argentina, I once measured a stretch of road where the bearing did not deviate by one degree, literally, for 60km – which left me in admiration for the engineer who built it.

It also tells me how far I have gone and what speed I am driving at. You may think that the moto’s instrumentation would tell me that. Not so. Motorbikes generally lie about their speed, and I have compounded the error by changing the gearing on my bike with a smaller front sprocket. The bike’s odometer therefore tells me I have gone about 10% further than I actually have, which is a big deal when you are navigating in featureless terrain with a dubious map. And the speedo makes me think I’m riding like Barry Sheen – which I’m not, of course.

And there is more. It tells me the altitude. Terrain and landscapes have always fascinated me, so I enjoy knowing how high I am as I cross mountain ranges or wander over the altiplano. The altimeter also lets me know when I am in for a cold night in the tent. When I start to see 4000m on the screen, I know I need to don all my spare clothing and tuck my water bottle away to stop it freezing. It also records where I have been, making it easy for me to retrace my steps. It tells me when sunrise and sunset will be. It even talks to me.

So given all of this, I decided that I must replace the lost GPS with a new one. Once again, my biker chum Martyn has come to the rescue. He happened to be in England on a business trip and I was thus able to order a new GPS which he has brought back with him. But here’s the rub. I have to return to Santiago again to collect it. So instead of setting a northerly course and heading through the mountains towards Bolivia, I shall leave Mendoza tomorrow afternoon and head west, crossing the Andes and returning to the urban cauldron of Chile’s capital. A third visit. I was right when I told myself, “never say never”, as I left Santiago for the second time last month. The maxim that has underpinned this entire trip has once again been proven true: the only realistic plan is to have no plan.

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