A Journey Through Latin America on Norton 500s
(Page 2 of 6)
The adventure begins
After a year of planning, sourcing bikes, settling on a route and sorting out a thousand other issues, the two Nortons were crated up and sailing over the Atlantic in late December 2008. Sandford and Holmes would fly out to meet them at Buenos Aires on January 10. Or at least that was the plan; it took nine days for the bikes to clear customs, and to add insult to injury, the authorities charged them for nine days’ storage expenses.
January 18: More than a week behind schedule, the pair finally set off from the site of Che Guevara’s old apartment at Calle Araoz 2180 — the exact spot where the original journey began. A last minute surprise was the appearance of Gustavo Agra, who turned up to wish the pair luck. Agra built the replica 1939 Norton for the The Motorcycle Diaries movie.
Cheered on by Gustavo, the Argentinean press and a crowd of locals, the boys finally started out on what would prove to be the adventure of a lifetime. Holmes noted in his diary: “As we headed away from Buenos Aires I had the grin factor. This is why James Lansdowne Norton had created this machine all those years ago. It was an amazing feeling.”
That “amazing feeling” was soon replaced by a serious concern over the bike’s handling capabilities, laden as it was with at least 155 pounds of luggage, but they pressed on. Riding into Bahia Blanca, Argentina, the pair was again accosted by news crews and journalists.
As in Guevara’s time, the roads through Argentina were demanding. “Riding here you need to concentrate 100 percent, all of the time,” Sandford wrote in his diary. “You’re constantly scanning the road surface for the best route to take around the bumps, lumps and holes. Even so, sometimes there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do but just hang on, grit your teeth and take the jump, both wheels in the air.”
Leaving the Atlantic
January 23: The duo turn their backs on the Atlantic and head inland towards Patagonia. After a 200-mile ride on a road that only had two corners, Sandford and Holmes started looking for a place to camp in Choele Choel. “We rode up to the campsite, which was in a beautiful setting on a small island on the Rio Negro. We were mobbed by families who were enjoying barbecues, and before we could dismount, we had each been given a cold beer and invited to join the family get-togethers.”
Four days and 250 miles later, they were in the foothills of the Andes. Despite the rigors, the bikes were holding up well. “The Nortons responded to the challenge and any questions asked of them,” Sandford says, adding, “and for the first time I felt at one with the bike.”
Leaving San Martín de los Andes in Argentina, the roads got worse. “About 20 miles out of town we rounded a bend and the road turned into a dirt track with deep ruts, rocks, gravel and great chunks of fallen trees. If it wasn’t for the other traffic, I would have thought we’d taken a wrong turn. It was almost fun for the first mile — the only way to stay on the bike was to stand on the footpegs all the time,” Sandford says. “At one point I looked back and Steve was gone. I waited awhile and he eventually thumped into view, minus his headlight lens. His light had flown apart twice in 50 yards. Both of us were thinking to ourselves, ‘This could be the end of the trip, there’s no way these old bikes can take this punishment.’ But 37 miles and three hours later we emerged from our worst nightmare and were back on terra firma. When we stopped for gas and took our goggles off, we looked like those old shots of Stirling Moss with the panda eyes.”
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