The Tire Saga: Part Two / Yaniv Singer

Next morning I packed a big backpack and walked with Erika to the road. For 3 hours we stood there. Perhaps 10 cars passed but no one stopped. At 4 pm a bus passed. I paid 100 peso and got on. It was filled with tourists. Half Israeli and half not. They all wondered what town I just got on in. When I explained it was but a house they wondered how I got there.

The bus ride to Perito Moreno lasted 5 hours. It was the first time I was on a non-city bus since I commuted to Eilat for my failed thesis in Israel. I realized during this time what I had suspected for 7 months, that traveling by bus is very passive and boring. I felt sorry for all those people trying to take pictures with flash and automatic focus through the windows that won’t open. It is such a shame that the only thing they would remember from the epic route 40 was how hot and bumpy the bus ride was. I felt a touch superior to them. Some argue that bus versus bike is a matter of taste, but I argue that traveling in general is all about having new experiences that one cannot have at home. While people on buses (and I have nothing against them. In all trips before this one I was in fact one of them and I loved it) are stuck in a metal cage in between destinations we breathe in air molecules from any point on the road. While they are destined to talk to other travelers, which are usually the kind of people they could meet at home in a bar, we can and are forced to interact with locals along the way. While many bus takers tend to sleep in hotels near bus terminals when the bus makes a night stop, we sleep out in nature and on the lands of families that, because they are not city people, invite us to spend the night with them. In short, being on that bus I realized that Erika and I encounter daily experiences that travelers by buses don’t even know exist.

The bus pulled into Perito Moreno at 9 pm. All the tourists checked into the hotel where the bus stopped by, while I used the last hour the town would be awake to seek tires and/or knowledge about their whereabouts. No tires here. As for knowledge, it was once again confused and scattered with chunks of bad news.

The bad news was that it was Saturday night, and that on Sunday all is closed, no matter what city I would go to. The worse news was that conveniently, Monday and Tuesday was carnival in Argentina. So really, all tire shops in this great republic, wherever they may dwell, would be closed till Wednesday.

All the motorcyclists I stopped in town told me that the best place for me to go was Comodoro, 400 km east of Perito Moreno. After trying to hitch a ride in the general direction for an hour I went in search for a bed. I found a dormitory in the municipal camping, as well as 3 motorcyclists from Ushuaia. They confirmed that my best shot was Comodoro. I climbed into my bunk bed and spent an hour or two trying to fall asleep but only being able to miss Erika. We hadn’t spent a night apart in over a year.

In the morning I had coffee and media lunas (a very fitting name for croissants), and walked to the edge of town. There was a bus leaving to Comodoro at 4m, so I figured I could use the time to try and catch a ride. In three unsuccessful hours I developed and tested a hypothesis. The fancier the car was, the less likely it was to stop and ask me where do I need a ride to. Looking back at my hitchhiking past, I confirmed that I never got picked up by a Mecedes, a Lexus, a Jaguar, an Audi, or anything fancy like that. Readers who are aware of some statistical theory will note that this is the case because there are less fancy cars out there, and this could be true, but if I consider all brands of nice cars and 15 years of hitching I must confess that it is odd that not a single one stopped. By the way, in 7 months of asking families to camp on their lawns we are noticing the same thing. The nicer the house, the nicer the neighborhood, the nicer the car in the drive way, the more likely we are to be denied. I was finally picked up by a guy in an ’81 Ford Falcon with doors that wouldn’t close all the way.


I was lucky. Mauro, the guy who picked me up, was very friendly. We spoke of cars, peak oil, and corruption. He taught me how to make good mate, and throughout the 5 hour ride I prepared this Argentinian drink that we shared from the metal straw. How un-American I thought, looking back at all the times I got dirty looks in the states for wanting to share cutlery or plates or bottles in the US. For the first hour he drove 70 mph, but then we caught up with his truck, driven by a driver that worked for him, and were confined to 40 mph for the rest of the way.

Obsessed with tires, and learning that Mauro rides dirt bikes, I asked him how much he thinks a set of Metzler Tourances would cost here. He guessed around $600, and the daily dilemma that makes you sick on the inside was tossed on my lap. If it was really $600, and I need two sets, that’s $1200. In Chile I remembered seeing a set for $300, so for a difference of $600 I might as well use the two days I have to spend in Comodoro hitchhiking to Chile. Of course, this would not be a dilemma if I knew that this was their price. The problem was that I wouldn’t be able to find out for sure till the shops open on Wednesday. And it was only Saturday. After an hour of thinking in loops I was almost saved. We saw a group of five riders going the opposite direction on big bikes. They were stopped at a checkpoint. I asked Mauro to pull over, and went to talk with them. They had BMWs with Tourances, but unfortunately they were all from Uruguay. One said that the rear tire alone should cost around $300 in Argentina, but he was not sure.

Mauro dropped me off at a hotel he said was cheap, and took off. It was 220 peso a night, so I decided to use the wifi for a while before I search for a different hotel. I used the time to research the Sahara. This is something that I absolutely love about the internet. A consumer with access to it is no longer in the dark. You can make yourself an expert in any specialized field very quickly, and you can read real unbiased reviews for any product under the sun. I knew the Saharas were good, since they are made by Metzeler, but what I found out was that they are really designed for people who do a lot of dirt roads, and that they would be wasted on us, who are about to exit Patagonia with its multitude of dirt roads. Because it designed for dirt, it is softer, and therefore has a range of only 5000 miles or so. As mentioned above, we covered 15,000 miles on ours, and I don’t want to buy more tires before the end of the trip. I decided to go and look for a cheaper hotel, and if I can’t find one, to buy a ticket for the night bus. After walking for a few blocks, however, I spotted Mauro’s car, and peaked into a store front with some kid party going on in it. Mauro saw me, and came out with his wife. She immediately invited me to spend the night, and within 10 minutes they had dropped me off at the house with a pile of beef empanadas from the party and a bottle of coke, upon which they left the house again, telling me they would be back in a few hours.

first night in Comodore

mmm, empanadas

I sat there watching Sherlock Holmes on pirated HBO, munching on the most delicious empanadas I had in my life, thinking about how much I love Argentina and how lucky I was. I thought back of the time when I was travelling through the US, and when I asked some woman in Indiana if I can park my van in her driveway and sleep in it for the night. She said yes and closed the door, but within 10 minutes three police cruisers shined their spotlights on my van. As I stepped out from the car to see what happened they drew their guns and called out from a loud speaker: “Step back into the vehicle and put your hands on the steering wheel, Sir.” I spent the night in a homeless shelter, thinking about the term ‘sir,’ how originally it was used as a sign of respect, and how in my 5 years in the States I seldom heard it used with that intent. How different things are here. Mauro knew me for 5 hours, his wife, Karina, knew me for 5 minutes, and they left me in their home with all of their stuff. When they came back they gave me a mattress and told me I can stay in the living room for as long as I needed to. I fell into deep and uninterrupted sleep.

My three days in Comodoro were spent in sweet idleness. On Sunday night we went out to the butcher and bought 7 kilos of sheep. As I was teaching Mauro to drink wine, he was teaching me the patient way of the Parilla, the Argentinian barbecue. It all starts with the animals. In the thousands of miles we covered in Argentina the only form in which we saw cows and sheep was out in pastures, roaming freely and happily through the vast lands, never in a cow factory confined to cages, as in the States. This is the only reason I can think of for why the meat here tastes so much better than in the States. Yes, the animals die, and are eaten, but it seems that unlike in the States, they are happy during their lives, and so their happiness must pass into their flesh. Next, the meat is never stuffed into a freezer. The Gauchos sell their cows directly to the butchers, who sell them directly to the people. Finally, when people here fire up the barbecue it always takes a lot of time. No one uses gas barbecues, as they are commonly used in the states, only wood and charcoal. They wait till the coals are ready, remove them all except for a lone coal for every square inch or so, and grill the meat over low for a long time, taking live coals every now and then to replace the dying ones. By the time the entire family and I sat to eat it was past midnight. By the time we finished dessert it was past 2 am. Aside from eating to my heart’s delight, I played PlayStation with the kids, saw lots of movies, and almost finished reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, slowing down only because every chapter made me sadder than the one before, and it was really quite overwhelming.




Wednesday morning finally came, and off I went to the tire shops of Comodoro. Since I decided to avoid the Saharas, I didn’t go to Mauro’s friend’s shop. Instead, I went to the dealers of Yamaha and Honda in town. Honda only had super pricey Michelin tires, but Yamaha had the Metzelers I was looking for, well, at least the rear ones, which was fine, since I decided we can get front ones when we return to Chile. As I was comparing the numbers on the sidewall of the new tires with what we had, I again sunk into a state of disinformation.

Here is the writing on our old tires:
130/80 R 17 M/C 65H Made in Germany Tubeless-for tube type rims use tubes
And here is what was on the new ones:
130/80-17 M/C 65S Made in Brazil For Tube Type rims

In other words, I was missing an R, instead of an H I had an S. The tire salesman did not know the significance of these letters. Their cost was 680 pesos, or $160. He said that he doesn’t stock the made in Germany ones, but that if he did, their price was $350. He admitted that the ones from Germany were better made. As I went to find WiFi to research the significance of the letters I wondered why one tire could be used both with and without a tube, while the other needs a tube. They looked exactly like our tires. I also wondered how a company like Metzeler would allow for two tires to be made, with identical model names, and yet for one to be better than the other. With everything I buy, I’m used to associating certain brands with certain level of quality, without having to read the label of where they were fabricated.

Since it took me quite a while to find information of the significance of the letters and numbers on the sidewall of the tires, I decided to leave out everything that I found there, the addition of this conversation thread would leave people confused. Maybe I’ll post it else where later.

Not having too many options, and still having faith in the brand, I bought two rear Metzeler Tourance tires, and Mauro took me to the bus station. I thought of hitchhiking, but Comodoro was a very big city and I was in the center of it. It would be like trying to hitchhike to Boston from 38th and 5th in Manhattan. I bought a ticket for San Julian, a town down the coast East of G. Gregores, on a bus leaving the following morning. That night Mauro and Karina left for a party, so I volunteered to make dinner for the boys. I recalled my favorite dinner as a child, and made them French fries, fried eggs, hamburgers from beef that was just ground, and a salad to ease my conscience about giving the kid a heart condition. It was simply delicious, and the salad especially was something that they were really impressed by. It was Erika’s salad, but I passed it off as mine. I was glad I was able to give something back to the family that has giving me so much.

hamburger fixin’s

a different kind of view

The bus left at 8:30 AM and arrived in San Julian at 2 PM. It was empty, and I sat on the second floor in the front row, enjoying my last day of passive traveling. San Julian had a bus for Gregores, once a day, at 10 PM. It was Thursday, and I resolved to spend the night with Erika, and since after Gregores I still had to find a way to cover the 100 km west to Tamel Aike, I decided to hitchhike instead of waiting for the bus. One Toyota Hilux took me to the intersection of the paved highway with the dirt road that led to Gregores. I waited there for an hour hiding behind a sign from the fierce wind without a single car passing. The first car that passed was also a Toyota Hilux that took me 150 km towards Gregores. I still had 50 to go. After a half hour or so a third Toyota Hilux with the logo of AGVP, the road company that owned the house where Erika was staying, slid to a halt next to me on the gravel road. Though they were not going to Tamel Aike like I was hoping, they took me to Gregores. At some point they started telling me something about how Tamel Aike has been shut down in the last week. If I knew with certainty that this is what they said I would have panicked. But they all started laughing. They saw the tires, and guessed that I was going back to Erika, whom they either met already or heard of. So they decided to pull my leg. I realized that although Patagonia was enormous, it had so few people that really everyone knew everyone else. They dropped me off at the gas station in Gregores. They were going to Tamel Aike the following morning, but even though it was already 7 pm, I decided to take my chances and hitchhike out of town.

At 7:30 pm a pick-up truck with a strong smell of alcohol leaking through its windows pulled up. In the States I would have not entered such a car, but I was freezing and eager to see Erika, so I got in. Besides, one thing that I learned from our voyage and even from the past week, was to accept whatever comes, and not to worry about it too much. I often wonder at the timing of things. For example, I wonder what my week would have been like had I been picked up by another car and not Mauro’s. Would I be invited to stay 4 nights in their house? Would I have ended up in Chile for another adventure? Would they have an accident? Anyway, off we went into the sunset. The sun was right in our faces, and I couldn’t see anything threw the dirty and cracked windshield. I wonder how the driver saw. They had to stop every 10 or 15 minutes to pee, explaining to me that they just had lots of beer. I was glad that they were honest, but now I knew for sure that both men were drunk, and not only the one sitting between the driver and myself, as I had hoped. I finally understood how the driver was fine driving against the sun in blindness. He was simply too drunk to notice details and knew the road more or less by heart. For a moment there I thought of not accepting whatever comes, and stepping out of the truck, but a few minutes later we were all passing a beer between us, feeling happy with the sun finally gone, leaving only its afterglow.

ummm, salud?

damn, the road was there just a second ago

They arrived at the entrance to their estancia, or farm, which was 10 km away from the dirt road. It was almost completely dark, and suggesting that I won’t find another ride for the remaining 40 km that separated Erika from me, they invited me to spend the night. Under any other circumstances, I would have. But I had been away from Erika for a whole week, and was really aching for her. So I stepped out of the truck, and saw them disappearing into the hills.

encroaching darkness

It was freezing and dark. After a half an hour of walking in circles so as to keep warm and without any sign of a vehicle coming my way I lamented my decision. I should have gone with them. After an hour I used the light of the iphone I had with me to try and find a flat place for me to put my sleeping bag. Erika had the tent. In the darkness and silence of my surrounding I came to accept my fate as a price to pay for an unbelievable love, and instead of complaining to myself that I don’t have food, a flashlight, or a tent, I started to see that I had a warm sleeping bag, an iphone for music, and water, and that everything is still and beautiful and perfect. In this moment of acceptance, I saw a ghost of light in the distance that soon disappeared. Then I saw it come on again for a minute, and again disappear, in the same spot it had before. I didn’t think it was likely that some house that I hadn’t noticed on the way was turning its lights on and off, but on the other hand, if it was a car passing through the hills that were blocking its lights from me every now and then, why is it not moving. Five minutes later it began to show up in different places, and I realized that when I first saw it it was coming straight at me, but from very far away, and that’s why its location hadn’t changed. After another five minutes it was coming up the bend near where I was. I used the iphone application of a strobing light to announce my existence in the night, and thanked my good luck.

It was a 1964 Ford F-100 truck, driven by a local Gaucho who not only knew English, but also knew where Chico, CA was. He dated a girl from the University of Chico, and aside from raising cows on his 300 Hectares he was also running the Argentenian branch of some American law school. I was so happy to finally be able to talk to someone without language constraints. At 11 PM he dropped me off at Tamel Aike, after the truck had run over four hares that surely came to sacrifice themselves for the magical lights that came sailing through the darkness and that they confused for their god. I was finally back home.

The next morning Erika caught a ride with the new tires and the old wheels to Gregores to have them replaced. By the time she came back we decided it was too late to leave, and that we would pack and go tomorrow. We spent the night watching incredible footage from the Japanese Tsunami. The next morning we overslept, and by the time we started packing it was 3 PM. We asked if we could spend another night. The following day at noon, after the bikes spent 10 days in its hanger, we finally left Tamel Aike. I think it took us that long to leave because we really didn’t want to. We’ve gotten used to playing with the cat, eating amazing meat twice a day, and playing with air guns and bigger .22 caliber ones. It felt like we were leaving home to a trip that frankly both of us became kind of sick of.

As we were riding down the road and I was enjoying being in control of my motion again I wondered how long the front tires would last us, especially considering the new fact that I discovered while installing the wheels and that totally blew me away. Our front tires, the ones that were outliving our German-made rear ones, were made in Brazil. I rode the remaining of the day not being able to decide if this was good news or bad news.
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