THINGS YOU WON'T NEED IN PATAGONIA
Words by SCOTT LEE photos by rob watt
We have all read, at minimum, 27 articles from folks who have ridden through Patagonia – ride reports of dramatic weather encounters pushing riders off the road into a pentecostal parallel time warp, horror stories of riders being attacked and brow-beaten by a herd of leper guanacos, couples who fall deeply in love after having just sworn off any and all romantic love – it’s all out there. Instead of injecting another dose of Patagonia pandemonium into the internet, I think it might be beneficial to impart what you actually need in this stunning corner of the world by telling you what you will not need. Shall we discuss four of the most important things you will not need when visiting this wonderland? We shall.
In no particular order, let’s begin.
You will not need a trendy, slim, front-pocket wallet. If you have been alive for the past two years or so, you will have undoubtedly seen ads for the “Ridge Wallet” and similar products on social media. There must be a massive markup in the wallet industry because how in the world can these companies afford to advertise on so many channels with such intensity? Are their wallet cartels that I know nothing about? Granted, these new-fangled wallets are all the rage for good reason. They do look pretty sweet, and who wouldn’t want to carry their entire financial whereabouts in the front pocket of their vintage-torn, 1980s Def Leppard Jeans? The reality of moving about and conducting business in Argentina and Chile, however, will leave your need for such a wardrobe piece of little use.
At the writing of this article, the current exchange rate for Argentinian Pesos to American Dollars is 3.7 to 1. This means that each 1000 Peso bill is worth approximately $3.70. That doesn’t sound so bad until I tell you that the largest bill used in everyday commerce is the 1000 Peso bill. This means if you plan to exchange, let’s say $750 dollars for your 7 day trip, you will need a shiny 55-gallon drum to carry around all of your 1000 Peso bills. That fancy, front-pocket wallet doesn’t sound so useful now does it?
Undoubtedly, there will be a few well-traveled folks out there now saying, “Well Mr. Lee, the best way to pay for goods on an international trip is with a credit card.” Normally, you would be correct. However, in Argentina, credit cards get taxed at almost 100% in most places. Your go-to McRib sandwich in Mendoza, paid for with cash, will be about $3.99. If you pay with a credit card, it very well may ring up $7.67. Argentina is a cash country. They like cash, they deal in cash, they prefer cash. You will find many, if not most, places will not even take a credit card (especially if you are traveling outside big cities). So, bring your 2” ratchet straps my friends, because you’ve gotta strap that metal drum to your bike!
You will not need the ability to confidently approach a set of double entry doors. I know what you are saying. “I didn’t even know I had an ability confidently approach a set of double entry doors.” Well you do, and here is a little pop quiz to help you realize your innate skill:
1) When approaching a set of double entry doors, which door do you walk towards? Left or right?
2) When approaching the above mentioned door, do you analyze the handle placement to see if you need to push or pull?
3) After analyzing the placement of said handle, what design element tells the correct entry method?
Most of you, at least those who have graced the presence of a populated community with a “built-to-code” structure or two, should have known how to answer those questions. Throw your answers out. 97.4% of the time they will not apply in Patagonia.
This lesson was swiftly learned on my visit to our first hotel. Having proudly exchanged money and purchased a coffee with what felt like impeccable Spanish, I was walking to my hotel with a stagger akin to the Latin American men bartering taxi rides outside the airport. I had this South American thing down and was about to kill Patagonia on two wheels. I approached the entry doors, coffee in hand, as I normally would in the states – gaiting to the right door, analyzing the handle placement for my push/pull maneuver, when bam! The right door introduced itself to me as the South American standard non-entry door. I responded to this introduction by smashing my coffee cup across its face allowing it to flow down the door in a rather non-symmetrical manner.
Let me save you the embarrassment and explain that entry doors down in South America seem to share no rhyme or reason in regards to their position nor their operation. There are only four options for entering a set of double entry doors, and you will find all four options in use somewhere along your trip. Be ready, plan ahead, and don’t feel bad when you mess it up. It WILL happen.
You will not need the ability to analyze and implement process efficiencies. If you are like me, you can build an IKEA bookshelf with the speed and fervor that no one else in the history of European furniture has ever been able to achieve. Just throw the instructions aside, the quickest way to a land speed record is to set (and then screw) all the bolts in place for all of the shelves. For goodness sake, don’t build them in finality one at a time – that takes FOREVER! Assembly-line them baby!
Having owned several businesses here in the US I know how to evaluate a process and quickly realign each segment for greater efficiency, and therefore, improved customer experience. This skill, however, has no place in South America. Locals don’t care. As a matter of fact, some take offense when you suggest how a modest process alteration might speed up their work resulting in more business. They. Do. Not. Care.
Gas stations – They require you to get off of your motorcycle and the attendant must fill it for you. Incredulous! Restaurants – Sit down and bring a book because your waiter has more interest in hearing the random guy at the bar’s backhoe story than coming over to take your order. Border Entry – Don’t even get me started on these. I watched two locals play an entire game of Parcheesi while I was trying to get into Chile. Take it from me, there is nothing efficient south of the equator. The only thing fast in Patagonia are the pumas.
You will not need the ability to ride upright. Last but certainly not least is this gem. When Bob Dylan wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind,” he was writing specifically about his southern Patagonia motorcycle tour with Cyndi Lauper in 1963. Not really, but he very much could have. To say Patagonia is windy is like calling the Pope, Catholic. They are one and the same.
If you fancy yourself an accomplished, stable, well-balanced motorcyclist, you possess a skill that will provide you zero benefit down in Patagonia (well, maybe a wee bit). I have never in my life had the opportunity to ride 70mph with a 60mph crosswind until I visited this wonderland. I compare it to one of my other top-shelf skills – playing golf. I play golf to see the beautiful course. I mean all of the course. I play from one side of the fairway to the other, then back again, and of course back across one more time. Riding in this kind of wind requires you to ride crossways into the wind, get pushed back across the road, then refocusing again into the wind making your way over to the other side once more, just to repeat the entire process over and over again. It is tiresome… and quite fun.
So there you go my friends. I hope that by showing you four things you will NOT need, I have helped you discover a few items that you WILL need. Patagonia, is a playground for adventure-seekers. It is beautiful, it is harsh, and it is a remote place full of revelations just waiting to be discovered. I hope your adventure down south provides you as much muse as mine did. I am a better person for having experienced it. Except for my Spanish and golf game. They are dreadful.