Villa Union to La Rioja, Argentina – Feeling Down …


Route Villa Union, Argentina – La Rioja, Argentina (RN76,RN150,RN38)
Distance 277Km
Travel Time 5 hours
Road Conditions ood Tarmac
Weather Warm, Sunny
Terrain Dry, Mostly Flat, Passing Mountain Ranges, Long straights
Food and Petrol Patquia, La Rioja
Accommodation Hotel Savoy, La Rioja

We get up early to leave Villa Union and get the bike fixed in Chilecito or, that failing, up in Salta. Heading to La Rioja would be a backtrack of about 200km and we really don’t want to ride that road again. Additionally, we’ve tried to avoid the place deliberately a French family we befriended in Santiago warned us that it’s costly and not particularly worth visiting.

We push start, let her warm up and start saddling up. It’s an annoying exercise in the relentless sunshine. As we’re about to pull away, I disengage the choke and she dies on us. DAMN!

We attempt a few push starts with all the luggage on and fail. It’s all really tedious and tiring in this heat and we’re irritated that we’ve lost so much time already. On a further failed attempt I somehow manage to drop her and something snaps. I lose my temper and am ready for murder. I shout and curse and give her a good kick up the fuel tank with my steel capped boot. It produces a dent. She deserved it, the bitch! We’d been thinking of a good name for the motorcycle and today she’s just baptized herself – “Bitch”


We eventually get a helping push from the canaba owner and get her running, so we head off. A couple of kilometres out, at the town limits, we get stopped at a police control post. We tell the officer we’re headed for Chilecito. “Oh, via La Rioja,” he recons. “No, via the mountain pass,” we reply. “Not today, not possible,…” the pass is closed for dynamiting and road repairs, but it’ll be open from about 7PM tonight. SHIT! Do we stay, do we go? We hate the thought of back tracking to La Rioja, but we don’t want to stay up here for another night (and who knows what the state of the pass will be by tomorrow). We go to La Rioja!

We have to trace back our arrival route (ruta 76) about 120Km on flat, featureless terrain until we join up with the ruta 150 heading East. Strangely though, there is one huge rock astride the street which seems totally out of place.


This takes us all the way around the south of the mountain range we were hoping to cross directly over. Where we pass the mountains there are some impressive cliff faces, but then the terrain turns flat and monotonous again along the ruta 38.


Ruta 38 provides a gorgeous asphalt track though, on which you can motor down into the green planes surrounding La Rioja. Straight as a ruler and silky smooth!


Several hours, a service station and a helpful push from a friendly by-stander later, we reach La Rioja. We stop in at a bike mechanic on our way into town (Frontera Motors). They’re cool guys, friendly and honest. They check the problem and concur that the coil-thingy (solenoid) must be the issue, and replace it with a new one. I also get them install a new front brake lever, which snapped off when I dropped the bike. 150 Pesos later (30 for labour) I’ve got a working bike and a spare clutch lever as well, since it comes as a pair with the brake lever.


Finding accommodation in La Rioja proves more difficult than we expect. We ride around for over an hour, up and down the one-way streets, hardly able to identify any hostels, hotels, hospedajes with rooms available… and those that we do find are very expensive! 200 Pesos or more!

Then comes the cherry on top: the as we attempt to leave an accommodation we just inquired at, the bike fails to start! Just what we need. This is becoming a bit of a joke now. Ebru’s about to go over the edge. I get some passer-by to give me a push and we stop at a Honda dealer (Lucera) around the corner. I give him the history, he does some checks and determines the battery to be a problem. A new one (and they only have the Honda original) will cost me 500 Pesos – that’s about 70GBP – OUCH! Taking advantage of someone in need I take it…

It will only be ready by tomorrow. And since we won’t be able to do any shopping around and want to leave early tomorrow, we’re left with no choice. Ebru drops into a vortex of negative energy. All thoughts are on heading back to Santiago ASAP and selling the bike. It’s 9PM, the place will close in half an hour and we don’t even have a place to stay yet!


Leaving Ebru and the bike at the dealer, I go running around the area, stopping at a few accommodations mentioned to me by locals. Some don’t seem to exist, others are all fully booked. But finally I manage to get us a twin room for 150 Pesos at the Hotel Savoy (are you kidding??) two blocks away. Thank goodness for that! It’s not cheap (relatively speaking), but we fully appreciate the hot shower and stiff, clean bed sheets on our beds and a substantial buffet breakfast with good coffee!


The next day I get my new battery (and an emergency tyre repair kit while I’m at it) and everything seems to be working. Ebru spends the time using the Hotel WiFi and at about midday we saddle up to move on. An old couple walks by and as they see us, they approach us all enthused and ask about our journey. They’re lovely. They’re really excited for us and they’re patting us on the backs, gesturing encouragement and wishing us good luck and health on our way. This is not the first time we’ve had this kind of encouragement from people. And it makes me think to myself – especially after all the frustration we’ve been through: if this is the kind of reaction we get from complete strangers, especially folks of retirement age, maybe we are doing something pretty special here and, being in the position to do it, we should persevere with it no matter what.

We decide to give the bike another chance and head towards Salta and over the Andean pass to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. If we still have problems by then we can head back down to Santiago and end it.