I finally managed to get new fork seals fitted at Ctorq in Bariloche for 240pesos so we were able to leave Bariloche around midday. We took the route of the 7 lagos which was pretty nice, but once you've seen one lake...
Stopping briefly at San Martin de los Andes at another fairly non-descript campsite, our plan was to try and cover a decent few miles because we've been moving a tad slowly of late, Our plan was to make it to Chos Malal, basically somewhere on the map to stop. The scenery en-route was very reminiscent of westerns, total cowboy country in fact with several goucho's on horseback. As we were aiming to cover some distance, it was a listening to mp3s-on-shuffle day. Quite bizzare then riding through this landscape to hear 'what it is', that Mark Knopfler song about a Geordie night out in Newcastle.
Anyway, as usual when I have my earphones in, we got stopped at one of those rather pointless police checkpoints where they want to ask you where you're going and see your passports etc. Naturally I couldn't remember the name of the place we were going to but Chav Mahal seemed to cover it.
At the towns municipal campsite, we met the attendant who was incredibly efficient, though inevitably incredibly hard to get rid off. I noticed there had only been 5 other people staying there this month so I guess he was pleased to see somebody.
A fairly productive evening involved getting Michelle's spare tyre fitted and having a mini asado of our own with really tasty chicken. Michelle has a compact little folding grill which has been excellent and worth carrying as the meat here really is not too bad.
Anyway, as we're munching away, this small boy on a bike shows up asking lots of questions but as usual, we do our 'no intiendo'. Not long after, a scruffy looking old guy with a slightly insane grin comes along with some keys. He's telling us something about the banos and we eventually work out he's some sort of night watchman so we're obviously in safe hands. He begins motioning at the bikes and is apparently suggesting we lock them together. I ask if there are likely to be any problems and his response sounds like 'yes, I'm your problem now', however he actually turns out to be fairly harmless although he does have a touch of 'gary glitter' about him when he is speaking to the small boy.
The following day, we were aiming to get to San Rafael however after a very tedious ride along some nasty stretches of gravel, we only make it as far as Malargue. On the way, Michelle's carbs flooded on a really remote road as we were taking some pictures and in the intense heat, it wasn't too funny however after what seemed a considerable while we got it running again. I think the scene must have amused the farmer who´s mud house we were photographing moments before.
It was an easy two hour ride to San Rafael the next day through quite a number of lovely vineyards. This whole area really is a major wine producing area so it woud be rude not to visit one or two wineries while we're here'. We got a pretty cheap room for 45pesos with cable tv and even a ceiling fan! We also found a local guy, Louis, to clean out Michelle´s carb and make a small screen to replace the last one that became ever so slightly 'detached' a few weeks ago. While hanging out at Louis's garage, a couple of local police popped in to say hello as they'd seen my bike outside. I initially bricked it as I tried to remember which one of my most recent traffic violations could have prompted this visit but it thankfully turned out to be a purely social one. One guy was in a car but the other was on a BMW650GS so he was keen to have a look at mine. I must say that the Police here really don't give their guys the best kit. He just wore a shirt with several radios and objects sticking out, light trousers with only boots for some protection and his open face helmet was all scuffed to bits. His scratched, matt black bike did look quite cool though and it even had ABS which was something.
We did visit one winery. It was actually started in the late 1800's by French guy who shipped over all this wine making equipment. San Rafael didn't really exist back then and once he's set up his wine production, he spread the word back home and invited a lot of his French pals over to do the same and the town started taking shape. After our very informative tour, we splashed out on a 1GBP bottle of vino blanco and headed off to the large park at the other end of town. We thought we´d get some empanandas on the way but failed to find a single place that had any so we carried on regardless. To say it was hot is an understatement and I was looking forward to finding a large fountain or something to cool off by. Unfortunately the park turned out to be a huge disappointment. Walking past the gypsy camp at one end, it reminded me of a school playing field that had been allowed to become overgrown for about 10 years, and there were just a little too many large ants for my liking so we decided to skip it. It´s a rather nice town actually but like most of these places, nothing really kicks off and gets busy until later in the day when it cools down. The streets then come alive with families and people with shops open well into the evening. We met a few north American guys how seemed to think this was the place. One guy has a plumb farm outside town which sounds like rather a nice existence to me.
We stayed a couple of days in San Rafael before heading on to Mendoza. On the way, we took a small detour via Tupungato that was supposed to give a great view of the Andes however the weather decided to mess with our plan and placed some rather large clouds over most of them.