Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chilean archipelago, Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls and the Pope

Hostel and hotel selection is a real hit and miss game in my experience. Guide books help, as do the various websites, but often one arrives in a small town or village and it is a matter of driving around, knocking on the doors of establishments that look about right in terms of  appearance, budget and availability. I have enjoyed very comfortable stay for between $5 and $10, with good beds, clean en-suite bathrooms, hot showers, fast wifi, good breakfasts, stunning views and friendly hosts. On the flip side one can end up in a pretty grotty cell-like endurance for 5x that. The latter has one leaving for an early morning start, the former makes any chance of a large mileage day out of the question as wrenching oneself from the haven either fails and one stays another day, or check out time is the motivator, 12 noon in some cases.

The prompt for writing this was in El Calafate (which is were the last post ended) the only place I could find was the Upsala Hotel, perfectly nice and presentable, quite expensive at $50 per night, it was in peak holiday season near one of the country's top tourist attraction, the Perito Moreno glacier. However when the bags where in the room, it rather dawned on me that it was rather like an old age people's home. Not only were my fellow guests well beyond retirement age, it was the intense heat from the radiators that really made the parallel. This was in no way a complaint, as I arrived wet and cold. The rapid thaw was a great blessing. My sodden boots were perfectly dry and toasty for the next day, a most important mood maker for any motorcyclist.

There was only a couple of hundred miles to go before reaching the most southerly point that Batty was going to get to in South America. One can spend hours researching roads and routes, and of course sometimes that is necessary on a new and precarious route. However the map told me what look like pretty good roads all the way, so I did no checking beyond that. Had I, it would have been apparent that a 50 mile section of Ruta 40 can be a mud fest after rain. It had rained heavily for the last few days. What I had thought would be five or six hours to Puerto Natales took at least 2 hours more because of that 50 mile stretch.  So thick and sticky was the muddy gravel mix that it filled up the gap between the front wheel and the mudguard forcing the bike to a grinding halt. After a couple of attempts digging the mud out to free the damn thing, I gave up and took the mudguard off altogether. Problem solved but it did make the rider and bike somewhat mud covered.

Gordon had made it to the ferry, so after a day, changing the oil and doing various other bits and pieces on the bikes we boarded the Evangelista,  our home for the next four nights along with about 100 other passengers on the way back north to Puerto Montt. It is a stunning journey as this weekly service wiggles its way through the Chilean archipelago for about 1000 miles, only coming out into the Pacific Ocean for about six hours in all that time. Glaciers, mountains and beautiful fjords on remarkably calm waters made what had been first suggested by David in Thailand, and then enthused about by Hugh a few weeks before, a great thing to have done.

It doesn't take long to start meeting fellow travelers, particularly when armed with the 4 smuggled aboard bottles of rum that Gordon had so wisely suggested. The evenings' drinks started early, at about tea time. In fact the sun over the yard arm was not going to happen till 8 or 9 o'clock at night, being so far south, so that was a rule quickly side stepped.

One of the glaciers we passed by. The ship cleverly scoops up some of the fallen ice and serves it in the drinks. Each lump a one in a thousand year experience...or something like that

The 1970s boat had a 1970s disco. Shocking, but somehow it worked...

In Puerto Montt, having arrived at 7 o'clock in the morning, Gordon took me to a mechanic that he had used on his way south. Batty had a bent rear suspension lug, and a seat spring loose. When time allows, I'm going to count the number of times I have been in a welding shop with Batty. It must be around 20 times. The great thing is that it never takes very long,  a quick weld is a great fix and a joy to watch being done well. What started off as a annoyance and concern earlier on the trip, is now something I rather enjoy needing done.

It was a 1200 mile ride to Buenos Aires. The first couple of hundred miles was back over the Andes, crossing the Chile/Argentine border for the sixth and final time. My passport is completely full and the poor immigration officers struggled to find a place to stamp. The second day's ride was delightfully enhanced with lunch with Hugo, Jessica and Victoria who had come out from Baroloche to a excellent restaurant that they knew, that so happened to be on my way. Later that afternoon I ran out of fuel again, having failed to spot the planned for station (they can be several 100km apart). Whilst a bit annoying at the time, new adventures always start with such happenings. I locked up the bike and after about 10 minutes my raised thumb yielded a lift with Santi, a kind English-speaking man who took me to a garage he knew half an hour further on. By the time I got back to the bike and then back to the town where I've got the fuel from for the night, it was about 9 o'clock in the evening.
Batty with her tank tipped up...trying to squeeze a last few miles from it.
The next days were just all about sitting and riding a very flat landscape. Pretty imparts, but really just huge open plains, massive skies on a bike that is going perfectly well, but has now decided that 45 miles an hour is her top speed. I think something must have adjusted itself in the inaccessible throttle mechanism, it would take a day to sort it out, and at the moment don't feel it is worth it for a few miles an hour more. Anyway I have enjoyed listening to a biography of Abraham Lincoln, along with my staple podcasts of Desert Island discs, From Our Own Correspondent, Business Daily, Peter Day's World of Business, Click, Great Lives, The Bottom Line, the Harvard update, to name a few.

A the fox/jackel beyond Batty, my constant ever food hopeful companion that eve.

In total it took five days, the only other adventure being my first puncture. Again I took to hitchhiking with the offending wheel and was back on the road within an hour and a half, which I was amazed about. Hitchhiking with a flat tire engenders rapid sympathy it appears.
Puncture camp
  I was only in Buenos Aires for a day on the first visit and went on a "free" walking tour of the city. Free means "a tip would be greatly appreciated". I have done a few of these in various cities, and they are a great way to get to know the city a bit, not only the history and sites, but also the politics and the places to visit by oneself. I wish I'd done it more often, as they seem to be common in most cities nowadays.


A good example of many of the decorated homes here
The Pink House...the President's office
Carlos Gardel seems to adorn every wall and garage front in the Tango district
 Alejandro was a friend from the Entrepreneurs Organisation in London, and has been a super friend to me here in Argentina. He encouraged me to come up to his new place 600 miles north of Buenos Aires, which I did. He has recently started trading in Yerba, the plant behind the omnipresent drink called Mate, seen in the hands of  thousands and millions of Argentinians, Chileans, Brazilians, Uruguayans, and Paraguayans. It smells like hay, tastes a bit like it, however it does contain three times the amount of caffeine that coffee has, which may account for its almost addictive status.

Alejandro lives in a very splendid house in the heart of Yerba country in an area called Misiones, a spit of  land surrounded by Uruguay, Brazil, and Paraguay. It's most famous sight is the Iguazu Falls, the biggest waterfalls in the world in terms of breath and scale. I was kindly taken there by my host over a couple of days, which gave us the chance to see it both from the Argentinian side and the Brazilian. Both fantastic as they are different. Had I gone there alone, it would not have occurred to me to see both sides, I'm very glad that we did.

Alejandro at the falls

After a few days seeing how the Yerba business works and many great conversations and times, it was time to head back to Buenos Aires because it was Maria's birthday, Alejandro's lovely girlfriend. I took one of the sleeper buses, which are incredibly comfortably and takes one on a 10 hour overnight journey. It was so comfortable that at least seven hours were spent asleep, with time enough to read a few chapters and watch a movie. It makes me wonder why such services are not available between London and Edinburgh/Glasgow, far more comfortable than the train sleeper. The only downside was that I left my camera by the seat, never to be seen again.

Batty needed a new chain and rear sprocket rather desperately.  I rather cheekily asked Jorge if he minded  me using his address to send the parts to. I had met him in a fuel station in the Andes, he having bounded up to me saying "I've got a Royal Enfield in BA, please get in touch when you get there".  He owns a garage and to my mind could make it a bit more efficient with the delivery, having had to jump through various hoops historically when receiving parcels from England. Amazingly it only took three days, full marks to UPS, and Henry - ever the efficient dispatcher of needed parts.
The real bonus was having a very pleasurable two-hour lunch with Jorge.

The day ended in a rather similar theme, although this time it goes back to a delightful meeting with a lady called Fabiana, who I'd met 18 months ago in Rajasthan, India. We had spent a few days in the same hotel including camel riding together. I had promised to get in touch when in BA, and did so. The problem was that Fabiana had not finished traveling and was in China. Such is the enthusiastic and generous nature of this friend, she emailed lots of her pals and I have been enjoying their company both actual and by email since. Dinner with Ramon that evening, with other plans afoot.

Of course the great news in Argentina is the election of Francis as Pope. The country is in complete surprised elation, he is a hugely respected and admired man here anyway, and being the first non-European Pope brings a new focus on South America as a whole.
Everybody I have spoken to, from taxi drivers to business owners, motorcyclists, to barbers, the feeling is that at last there is a stronger counter power to that of the current president, Cristina Fern├índez de Kirchner.  Her popularity is very mixed, and to those I have spoken to, her populist policies are leading this country into a land of over-regulation, mass inflation and increasing corruption.  Now, the thinking goes, the church which has not supported her, could feel more emboldened in their exposures of human rights etc, which in turn would embolden the business community (who fear vicious tax inspections etc given a word of dissent) and some of the unions to bring greater opposition to the regime and perhaps bring about the beginning of the end of her premiership.  It will be fascinating to watch how this troubled land, of extraordinary abundance, tackles the coming years.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Patagonia, roads from heaven and hell.

What a change of pace. Having enjoyed a few nights camping, my next stop was with my old Devonian friend, Binny, and her family at the farm they escape to from Santiago for a month or so around February time. With faultless instructions I found myself driving down a private road a few miles before finding the house right on a gorgeous lake and in immaculately kept grounds. 
The view down the old a polo practice ground

It was so good to see Binny and her husband John Paul, along with other members of his family.
To top it all the bonus came in the ever delightful guise of Binny's mother, D. She was flying in the next day on her annual visit, along with a couple of her grandchildren returning from English schools for half term.

Everyone I've met, and certainly mentioned in this blog, will hopefully be friends from now on. However there is something very special about home friends. The conversation is not about getting to know one another, but about family and friends, common memories, future hopes and feelings etc. So thank you Bin for topping up those particular tanks.
Astride for a 3 hour ride up over the hills above Chanchan

 I was royally look after, not only in the mouthwatering victuals, perma-glass in hand, very comfortable bedroom, saying nothing of the great company. How did I repay these giving hands? I broke the only ignition key of their car, rendering it immovable an hour's walk from the house. Of course it wasn't intentional, it happened because we had had a puncture and to get the spare tyre out, involved unlocking it. Unfortunately the lock did not want to yield, and after half an hour of jiggling to try and free it, my turn came along to have a go, and I promptly snapped the key. A very red-faced moment generously brushed aside by my hosts. I saw nothing of the great efforts to remedy the situation, but I do know that somehow a spare key was sent down from Santiago and the car was back home a couple of days later.
Moments after the thinking I had managed to release the lock, only to see I had snapped the key....aaagh

Batty with Jean Paul, Bin and D

After a couple of days of this heaven, it was off to Argentina to meet Hugh the half brother of a good friend (Lawrence), and his wife Jessica who lives just outside Bariloche at the northern part of Patagonia. It is high season in this part of the world, with school• holidays almost three months long!! I na├»vely thought  that finding a hotel in the fashionable town of San Martin de los Andes would not be a problem, even at 10 o'clock at night when I arrived having encountered various ferries and drawn-out customs crossings etc. After a few hoteliers told me very clearly that there was no room with them or anywhere else in town, I resignedly accepted the camping option. However my blessed GPS had me going through the night on very rough tracks in search of campsites which were supposed to be only a few miles from the town. I guess I was tired and not thinking about what it was doing, and it took until 12 to get the tent up and the zip closed for the night.

 Hugh and Jessica have lived in Argentina for three years just as Victoria, their daughter, emerged into the world.

A view over what the German locals call Swiss, about 15 miles from Bariloche

Hugh had been feeding me many emails suggesting routes and sites to see and take on my way since we made contact in Ecuador, many of which I did. So not only was I very keen to thank him in person, but also meet them. I had little background, but knew the company would be very good knowing the other side of his family. For three days encyclopaedic knowledge of all matters South America were imparted, along with the extraordinary career Hugh has had fighting the corruption and malpractices in the micro-finance world. His recent book, "Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic", has rocked that industry, and although no one has countered any allegation, physical threats have been made. This has not stopped his campaign that damages and exposes a few banks and organisations like Kiva, but in turn hopefully saves many from the horrors of insane interest rates and ghastly consequences of failed repayment.
Jessica's work with various woman's charities around the world are highly complimentary, what a team they make.
We Dined on the world's finest lamb
In great company

Sinclair family
He is also a biker, and has set and held the Guinness Book of Records for the fastest drive on a bike between the top of Alaska and the bottom of South America 12 years ago. Although there are claims to have bettered his 35 days, these were not done with the Guinness Book of Records strict rules about a daily routine of three signatures from authoritative and trackable persons, stating that they had indeed been at that spot on that day, along with photographs beside recognisable places, and of course not breaking any speed limits.

We went on a tour around Baroloche. A large number of Germans lived in this part of the world, many apparently from the post-Nazi era. Many conspiracy theories abound, the most extraordinary being that Hitler did in fact end his days there, rather than in the bunker in Berlin. The basis of the story being that the charred remains of Hitler and Eva Braun, were never proved to be them. This may or may not be the case, but it does enrich the area from a touristic point of view.

I had the pleasure of Hugh's company back over to Chile for my ride south. It was only going to be for a day or so before he had to catch a flight to Ecuador, where he works for one of the "good guy" banks in micro-finance. It was bucketing down with rain, and this less than ideal was promptly compounded by Batty's rear wheel bearing collapsing (after 20,000 miles) at the same time as the throttle clasp breaking in the most impossible to get at place. Of course we were miles from anywhere, but with some ingenuity we managed to get to a mechanic shop who allowed us to spend five hours stripping down the primary case etc and putting her to rights. It has constantly amaze me how often common parts are available around the world, and this bearing was the same as many used in Japanese cars, so what could have be a lengthy show-stopper in fact was managed within the day. Poor Hugh had to put up with greasy hands and a lost day while the strains of Batty's journey bubbled up.

The next day Hugh zoomed off on his Africa Twin to do his work, and I carried on down what must be one of the most beautiful roads in the world, the Carretera Astral. A road framed by snowcapped mountains, milky blue rivers, lakes, and forest.

This road is just plainly called number seven on the map, but it runs all the way through Chilean Patagonia. Alas I had to cut across back into Argentina halfway down as it runs out before the bottom of the continent.  I have elected not to go to Ushuaia, which is the southernmost town that one can drive to, but to Puerto Natales, a port a few hundred miles north that has a ferry service that connects to Puerto Montt, halfway up Chile, over four days. Apparently the last few hundred miles are relatively less inspiring and I have concluded that my medium is "around", not "up and down".

We  went up to see the captain, poor chap has to put up with an awful view from the office window.

As Hugh had suggested, the road would be a mecca for other motorcyclists, and along the way and particularly at the various ferry crossings and takes as the road is joined up between the Lakes and fjords. Many delightful guys from Chile, Luis, Daniel and Manuel, and also another Luis from Portugal. A large team of Argentinian riders also helped swell the ranks. But much more than motorcyclists, it was the much greater number of bicyclists and hitchhiking backpackers that really stood out. Although some of the road is asphalt, majority is gravel. Batty does not have a great relationship with gravel and although we struggle along, it is all consuming concentration wise and on more occasions than one I heard myself saying "going going going" but for Batty to find her feet at the very last moment before calamity. I am always amazed when other bikes roar past me doing twice the speed, I guess their bikes are more set up before this sort of surface, but I think it's as much to do with the confidence of the rider as anything else.
Manuel and Luis. The skeletal trees behind are a result of a local eruption a few years back

With Alicia. She is at the end of a solo round the world trip as well, She and her fella, Andres, were great fun and we shared a lot of overlapping stories
Back in Argentina for the final push south one gets onto the Ruta 40, which is famed in Argentina for running the whole length of the country. Again this was a lot of gravel, although the promise of asphalt all the way in two years time may be a horror for some, but to me it would be a blessing.
I was a day behind due to the problems with the throttle cable and the rear wheel bearing, so I missed out another prize along the way in the form of El Chaltein.  It is a world climbing destination, but will have to wait for another time.

A great joy along the way, was having stopped for the night at a very remote spot called Bajo Caracoles, where a simple room costs the equivalent of about £40 where anywhere else in Argentina would be less than half that, two motorcyclists rolled into view. It was Gordon and Ben, who had driven like the wind from Santiago in three or four days in a desperate bid to get to Ushuaia, and then back to the same ferry that I'm taking, giving them just four more days. We dined heavily on beer and wine. Somehow the next morning they were away at an early hour.

I carried on down to a place called Cafayate, where one can go and see the famous glacier, Perito Moreno. It is amazing and had the sun been shining and not rained all day it would have been all the more so.

The scale of this advancing wall of ice is staggering. Huge chunks drop off with a rifle crack sound

Monday, February 11, 2013

Into Argentina, Falklands?, Wine

The hope had been to leave Uyuni in Bolivia to get to Argentinian border on the Sunday, giving a day to cross during Monday. What I didn't know was that the rain, that had been almost non-stop for the 4 days I had been in Uyuni,  had caused a couple of rivers to burst their banks. The discovery of this took an hours drive along the very muddy and gravely road…Batty speed being reduced to between 5 and 20 mph.
 Attempts to find another route around the first flood held some promise, until a guy in a 4x4 turned up, he had been the first sign of life for an hour, he told me that this river was not too bad but the next one nothing was not getting through. The lack of traffic was a hint. Previous experiences told me very loudly to about turn and accept the extra day's travel and go back the way I had come via Potosi. Argentina was not going to disappear, unlike my fingers and toes which got colder and wetter than anywhere else on that sleety 6 hour ride.

The debate still rages in my mind as to whether the copious amounts of coca leaf Mojitos that Carmen and I had drunk the night before putting the world to rights, helped or hindered the day. Whichever way it had been great to connect again having not seen her since Columbia. She and Michael had ridden very quickly to the tip of the Argentina, Ushuaia. Michael had to get back to Germany, leaving her to explore the continent a little more with a backpack.
On the way down to Argentina...the glory of green and warm lands embraced.

Stunning rock forms framed the road for hundreds of miles
The contrast between the previous six weeks in very high country, usually around 10 or 12,000 feet, and the descent into Argentina was a fantastic experience. Being cold and wet on the bike had sometimes been testing, albeit in staggeringly beautiful landscapes and often with good company, had warn me down a bit. Certainly once the sun's heat and the extra oxygen hit started working, one's feeling of good health returns with vigour..

It would be erroneous to claim that I was not wary of the political tensions between Britain and Argentina, and had been advised to stay clear of the subject as much as possible. It took me five hours to get across the Argentinian border, a confusing system that did not really conform with usual crossings. This combined with large numbers of people and a final hick-up caused by my lack of 3rd party insurance and a 9 o'clock at night to scurry around to print off a worldwide insurance that I had. This insurance wasn't sufficient for Argentina, but absolute promises to buy some in the morning eventually got us through. The poor fellow at the border wanted to go home to bed. Anyway the point was that I met nothing but good humour and enthusiastic conversations about the Malvinas right from the start…initiated by others. The 2 Union Jacks on Batty may have prompted the conversation, and I had toyed about taking them off, but thought to see how things went. Nothing aggressive but a seemingly deep trench attitude of absolute claim that goes back 200 years.

Salta was a very pleasant overnight stop, like being in a classic southern European city, full of grace and architectural delights, saying nothing of the stylish and often very beautiful inhabitants. The next day was probably one of my favorite journeys particularly between Cachi and Cafayate. Although not paved, every new turn as it followed a river, had endless new forms of landscape intrigue. Nothing particularly high, but just beautifully honed forms, courtesy of mother nature.

Scenes between Salta, Cachi and Cafayate
It was along this road that I met Ross and Judy. They were in a hire car having had a nasty accident on their bike two days before. Going down the road on their backsides at 60 or 70 miles an hour was no joke, but they were fine apart from the odd bruise and their spirits were ok at that stage, all they want to do was to get back on a bike. Theirs had been completely written off in the accident, caused by a glass-like surfaced road which combined with rain and doing a very normal overtaking manoeuvre.
Ross and Judy
A small roadside cafe emptied to see Batty and I off after a lunch
I was to meet them a couple of evenings later, and over a bottle or two of excellent local wine heard more about their lifelong plan of driving from Alaska to Ushuaia, only to be dashed by the crash and their profound disappointment by the turn of events. A couple of days later I saw on Facebook that they had given up trying to drive in the car all the way south and were flying home to Australia from Santiago.

The word Mendoza I had seen on countless bottles over the years, and driving into the city surrounded by thousands of acres of vineyards held great promise. But before the testing, there were some rather urgent requirements on the Batty front. For two months I had put her through and on roads way outside her comfort zone. The frame had cracked again in front of the engine so before the day was out I found myself at Ariel's workshop. It was Saturday afternoon, and he was closed although happy for me to leave the bike with him over the weekend. Then he handed me a beer and along with his neighbour George and various other people dropping by,  the next six hours was one of much humour and loads of nationalistic quips. This hospitality extended to dinner, or I should say Asado, the grilling of meat over hot coals…barbecue Argentinian style.

Ariel found lots cracks on the frame...none as bad as the front one, but he did fix them all up.
Ariel's father in law, became a great pal as we worked together cleaning and sorting out bits and much so that I asked his name about 5 times...but I just could not get it...such was his dialect and my poor ear.

Machine like welding of Ariel's

Extra metal under the seat...a crack that could have been alarming had it gone completely.
Unfortunately I must have swallowed a dirty fly or some such, and for the second time in the 19 months I've been away, my stomach rebelled and sleep did not come until 5 o'clock in the morning.

Because we were having our annual 2 day work meeting, I had booked into a more comfortable but rather functional business hotel for the week. Catching up with the cream of the Illustration world and lots of other folk was, as always, stimulating and only excited me all the more for my return.
A slight distraction from work...the hotel was having some form of Miss Mendoza competition
I did manage to get a city tour in, as well as a wine tour. On the city tour there happened to be a couple of schoolgirls visiting from Buenas Aires with their parents. They were dispatched to talk to the English man and practice their English. They were lovely and friendly, and I don't know if it was just their politeness, but they did say that the one country in the world that they wanted to visit was Britain. I think a lot had to do with various heartthrob boy band idols.

One of many delightful squares adorning Mendosa
On the last evening Arial and his lovely wife Paola, and enchanting Adrianna, their young daughter, invited me for dinner again. This time with about 10 others and a goat kid as the menu topper.

George was there again and as chief chef. A delightful and funny man, he led the charge on the only Englishman present. As each delicious morsel and beer came my way, I must confess to conceding a little bit more of the Falklands much to the delight of the assembled. The call for "Malvinas para Argentina" met with little truck from my suggestion that the Falklands should be for the Falklanders.
It was not a debate I was going to win, but it was in very good humour and nobody wants any more blood spilt. The only concession I did get was the acceptance that it was currently a political smokescreen to disguise the unpopularity and failing economic policies of the administration.
As the evening wore on George became braver, and ended asking me how many prostitutes I had been with on the trip. What do you say? If I told him the truth he would not have believed me, so I told him about a 1000….great excitement….then he asked how much did it cost each time?…$1000 on average I confessed, where upon he offered me his backside.
George busy joking and cooking
I crossed over to Santiago in Chile and met up with various different friends that I had met along way. Georg, Jacek and Markus on the first evening, Gordon and Ben a day or so later. All in fine spirits and it was great to hear all their different tales of their journey to date, some too fruity for this family blog.
The road in to Chile from the Argentinian border

Pack horses sharing the road

With Georg and Jacek in Santiago

Loads of graffiti in Santiago. Went on a 'free' walking tour of the city. a fabulous invention that has the guide well funded by tips
Gordon was just back from a record breaking assent to 5700  meters on Sean Dillon's 90cc Honda Cub, along with his brother Gavin Dillon (Still riding to Santiago by the time I left, sadly). The Guinness Book of Records are refusing to acknowledge it…brutally saying that it was not that much of an achievement, although accepting that it was a record for the machine…. See to be your own judge.  It doesn't really matter what Guinness editorially think, the fact that three Buccaneer type guys decided to do something extraordinary with no backing or equipment beyond what they already had, is enough for me. Not only did they succeed, they were also only a few hundred metres off the altitude record for any bike (6300m) reached, which was made by a highly resourced team last year, and the three were only prevented from beating this record by unseasonal snow.

On a 2 day, 500 mile ride south of Santiago into the Lake District, and at a stop for fuel etc, a guy on a large Yamaha came over for a chat. Juan Carlos farms 200 kms south of where we were. Such is the kindness of the man, he offered his plane if I ever needed spare parts flown in on my trip south. Hopefully nothing like that will be needed, but the offer has been completely in keeping with all that I have met in Chile.

Under Volcan Villarrica

My camping neighbours, Claudia and Georg...much shared wine, food and fun
Next is a few days with my old Devonian friends, Binny and Jean-Paul and their family. A visit 20+ years in it's making, since their wedding. Then a 2 week push to the bottom of Chile, hopefully joined in part by Hugo and maybe Gordon if we cross over.