Mar. 21 – A day in Rio Mayo

2009 April 22
by joe

We get up early, anticipating a long day riding south on gravel Ruta 40.  We consume our crappy free hotel breakfast (stale white rolls and instant coffee), and then head out into the cold, windy morning to load up.  As we are about to do chain maintenance and head to the gas station,  Levi notices that his rear sprocket has again moved away from the rear hub, and is again eating it’s way through the swingarm.  When he shows it to me, I feel like sitting down on the sidewalk and crying. I stand and stare at the damage for several moments in silence, unable to accept what I see.

We are now in an even worse situation than we were when we had this problem before.  We are not out on the highway, but we are in a tiny town, with next to no services, and hundreds of miles from anywhere that we are likely to find parts or help.  The fix that was done in Curico by Chalaco-Lopez is completely un-done;  the new bearing he installed in the sprocket carrier assembly is destroyed, and even more damage has been done to the swingarm and associated hardware.  Levi and I stare at each other, trying to come to grips mentally with what our options are now.

We unload the bikes, and put our stuff back into the room at the inn that we had just vacated.  We  push the green bike across the street into an empty lot, and lay it on it’s side on the ground.  When we remove the rear wheel axle, the ground-up remains of the bearing just pour out onto the ground.  The aluminum casting that holds the rear sprocket is now so chewed up that even if we had a new bearing, it would not stay in the casting.  The inside of the swingarm on the left side has been ground into about half way through the frame, and the sliding collar that allows for chain adjustment is completely worn away on it’s inner surface where the spacer was turning against it.  Very depressing.

While we are dealing with dis-assembly,  fighting off the many stray dogs and keeping the constant wind from blowing our loose gear away, we get visited by lots of curious locals.  Many people have advice and try to help, some even bring us spare parts and bearings that they happen to have laying around their garages,  but no-one can really tell us where we might find a mechanic or machine shop.  It is Saturday morning, and almost everything in town seems to be closed.  With the pitiful  remains of the destroyed bearing wrapped in a rag, Levi is sent out to wander the few dirt streets of this mudhole town, looking for an auto-parts store, or a mechanic’s shop, or anyone who can advise us on how to get what we need to get back on the road.

The first pass through town produces no results.  People that Levi talks to send him here and there, often to shops that are closed, or on wild goose chases to nothing.  When he returns to where I sit waiting by the fallen machine, we discuss the option of busing to the nearest ‘big’ town for a new bearing, which is almost 100 miles away.  The bus goes and comes only once a day;  we have missed the Saturday bus, and the Sunday bus leaves too late to go and come in a single day.  Not an attractive option.  More looky-loos stop by and offer their advice, and we continue to hear about a real mechanic/machine shop somewhere in the town, that we have not yet found.

Levi heads out for a second tramp around the town, taking one of our radios with him, so we can keep in touch.  This time he finds a few more people out and about, and gets told by several citizens about someone known as ‘el Tano’, who, we are told, may be able to help us.  After much searching and hunting, Levi does find a machine shop tucked away in an un-marked building, where the owner, el Tano himself, says that if we bring the bike to him, he will see what he can do.  At the same time that Levi is talking to this man,  I am approached by a young man and his wife, who stop by the empty lot in their green jeep, and come over to talk with me, matte cup in hand.  He is very friendly, speaks just a bit of English, and offers to help us find the mechanic known as el Tano.  When I radio Levi, and tell him that we have someone who can lead us to the mechanic, I find out that he is already there!  Our friend in the green jeep leaves and joins Levi at the shop, and soon they return to collect the bike and take it to el Tano.  It proves to be too difficult to load the bike into the back of the jeep, and so we decide to just take the rear-wheel assembly to el Tano, and see if he can do anything with it.

‘El Tano’, we  learn later, is Argentine slang for a person from Naples, Italy.  When Levi returns to the shop with the rear wheel, el Tano says that he thinks he can get us back on the road, but he cannot work on it until after 3:00 pm.  It turns out that his mother-in-law has just passed away, and the funeral is today.  He tells Levi to return after 3:00, and he will see what he can do for us.  So our friend with the jeep, who we learn is a major in the Argentine army, stationed at the base in Rio Mayo, and Levi return to our hotel.  Our friend goes home. and Levi and I walk around looking for a place to have lunch.  Very slim pickings indeed, and we wind up eating microwave sandwiches at the one and only gas station.  As we are enjoying this gourmet repast,  we get to watch our friend el Tano walk by, still dressed in his shop clothes, as the funeral procession for his mother-in-law comes down the town main street on it’s way to the cemetery.  Weird.

We nervously kill time until after 3:00 pm, and then our army buddy with the jeep shows up and he and Levi head back over to the machine shop.  I get several excited radio transmissions from Levi, telling me that el Tano is working away on the sprocket assembly, and it sounds very encouraging.  He re-works the casting to take an over-sized bearing that he had, and builds up the aluminum where it has been worn away.  He then fabricates a new left-side spacer, much heavier and with a stiff shoulder, which should prevent the bearing from being destroyed by side-load, as we suspect the last one was.  The work takes a little over an hour, and requires some back-and-forth from the shop to the bike for trial fitting and some re-working of the slide-spacer.  But in the end, it looks like we have it repaired, and better than before!   Levi is excited and optimistic, and even the shock of el Tano’s bill ($100 USD!) does not dampen our joy at the prospect of being able to get out of here tomorrow.

We try to celebrate our good fortune by finding a decent dinner, but such is not to be had in beautiful Rio Mayo.  We spend over an hour searching for a place to have dinner, only to find that we have to settle on El Gordo’s for another meal.  No pizza tonight (ugh), just empanadas and beer.  We are more than ready to be done with this place!

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