BMW Mendoza

Text: Davis Bales, • Photography: Davis Bales,

Motorcycling on one's own is perhaps never wise, but often it is inevitable. There was a time when I intentionally scouted routes alone, but I have since learned how much more enjoyable it is to share the experience, good or bad, with others.

For five years running, the BMW Biker Meeting has been a huge success in Garmisch, Germany, and for three years in the Vale de Aran, Spain, both of which I was fortunate to have enjoyed attending this past year. Having selected Mendoza, Argentina, for this big weekend event, BMW was surely starting something great in South America. So what would possibly keep my fellow BMW bikers here in Rio de Janeiro from joining me? I suppose traveling almost 5,000 miles roundtrip in a little over two weeks might be a good enough reason.

Long lonesome story (hard trip) short, my last stop before reaching the BMW event was Cordoba. Once home to Che Guevara and the site of one of the oldest universities in the Americas, Cordoba is now Argentina's second largest city. The Universidad de Cordoba's Law School sits across a walkway from the "Jesuit Block," which in 2000 was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Within that block is the University's administration, the Monserrat High School (open since 1614), and the Company of Jesus church, Argentina's oldest (1640).

From Cordoba and the heights of Alta Gracia, I had two basic choices for riding to Mendoza: the longer, more scenic way or the more direct route. Starved for some good riding, I decided I was in no hurry and opted for the former. Soon I was climbing in altitude as I wound my way through the Alta de los Cumbres, a dry, rocky region that reminds me of the great mountain riding in Southern California. Finally, it seemed I would have a day to round out my tires. But just as my elation was soaring toward its upper limits, the scenery and the riding changed as quickly as it might when one drops over those Southern California mountains into the desert of Nevada. And, in another remarkable similarity to that American desert, the posted speed limit is a ridiculous 50 mph. Even worse, for the next several hours I experienced a desolation I have never known riding on pavement. Only when I was riding in dirt and sand in the high desert of Bolivia did it seem as lonely, but at least there I had great companions, and llamas to photograph. If there is ever a stretch of road where it would be wise to stop at every gas station even if the next location is only minutes after the last fill-up, this is it. I came as close as I ever have to stretching my reserve to the maximum. The one gas station sitting like an oasis in this desert was the first with prices significantly higher than any I had seen throughout the ride. In my desperation, they could have taken me for even more.

With that full overpriced tank of gas and the reserve light finally off, I no longer had to ride at half the speed limit, and feeling I had earned the right, I finished off my afternoon doubling it. As I raced along wondering when the sand and sagebrush would end, if I would ever arrive, and what possessed me to set off on this trip, my eyes began playing tricks on me. Out of nowhere a mirage appeared - distant cloud-draped mountains and signs of green in the foreground. I knew the mountains must be the Andes, but what was the green in this arid no man's land? Vineyards.

I had finally reached the Province of Mendoza. I would be in the city and pulling into the Park Hyatt Hotel, headquarters for the 1st South American BMW Bikers Meeting, in no time. The beauty and charm of the city of Mendoza and the opulence and comfort of the Park Hyatt provided a welcome end to a long week.

Hard as it was for me to believe, within less than 24 hours of my arrival I had forgotten the many arduous miles and hours spent cursing my decision to make the trip. BMW surpassed any expectations even the most unreasonably demanding person could have. The opening reception, serving wonderful local wines, doubled as the first Argentine unveiling of the new BMW HP2. And they didn't simply pull off the cloth - the reveal was choreographed like a mini-Vegas show, followed by a sumptuous dinner buffet with outdoor seating under the stars and a great fireworks display ending the evening.

I signed up for the GS-only option of the two rides available the next day, although the surface-road option looked rather interesting, too. Both gave riders a taste of the Andes and they ended up in the same place for lunch. The morning was spent twisting and climbing a gravel trail up barren mountains with about three dozen others kicking up dust as thick as London fog. I would guess it was the testosterone of so many Latin men (only one female rider among us) that pushed the average speed of the group to 50 mph, quite fast for the conditions. Yet, there wasn't a single mishap - no falls, not a scratch. This group was competent, disciplined and respectful, thrashing any misconceptions of the ("crazy") Latin driver. The support truck and chase ambulance had nothing to do but eat our dust.

At the end of the trail I understood there would be a simple barbeque. Was I ever wrong about that! No ordinary barbeque, not even a typical Argentine cookout, this was a superbly catered gustatorial affair almost as spectacular as the views of the snow-capped Andes that served as our luncheon backdrop. To top the afternoon off, we had an exhilarating 60-mile paved ride winding back down the Andes foothills. Dinner that night could have been ham sandwiches and the event organizers would have surpassed my expectations. To my astonishment, BMW Argentina once again outdid themselves.

An allegedly prompt 9:15 p.m. dinner call had folks wandering into the dining hall no sooner than 9:30 p.m. This is Latin America after all, where dining is an experience routinely savored and rarely rushed (and the Argentines really push the envelope on that one). By the time everyone had finished their appetizers, it was sometime after 10 p.m., still much too soon for dinner. So how would we pass the time now that we had some food in our bellies? Two young couples, holding candles, took to the floor facing our tables. Accustomed to Brazilian traditions, I began to wonder if we were in for a voodoo ritual; but as strains of music I recognized from the "Three Tenors" CD rose and the two college boys in the couples opened their mouths, it sounded as though we were in for little more than a corny interlude of lip-synching. But, no - the two women began to trill along, blending their sopranos. And as far as I know, the operatic grouping of Domingo, Carreras and Pavarotti has never cut a disc with female counterparts. To my complete amazement these four were actually filling our salon with their own glorious voices.

It may very well have been the best, live vocal performance I will ever attend, certainly at such close range. Strolling among the tables, the quartet carried on directly in front of us, literally in our faces, breaking into classic Italian and Spanish folk songs and managing to get the entire assemblage at those tables to sing along. When the show ended and dinner was served well after 11 p.m., I sensed that everyone felt it was too soon. I know I could have skipped the food and listened to the singing all night long.

In most of the world dessert immediately follows dinner. Not in Mendoza, not that night; we needed time to digest our food and the performance we had just enjoyed. And, suddenly, a new sensation was thrown our way. I mean, what would a motorcycle event be in Argentina without a tango show? Three couples slid around and swung about the floor, and every man in the room must have wished he could be the smooth partner with any one of these gymnastic women flitting about his torso. I'm certain the few women in our group also harbored comparable fantasies, and those with enough spunk to step upon the floor were allowed to realize them. After their beautiful performance, the dancers broke off to dance with any willing amateur.

The evening was capped off with a champagne toast and a round of well-deserved compliments to the organizers from BMW Argentina. After most of the crowd had dispersed, a few couples remained to wear out the dance floor, and the rest of us guys split up, with some wandering into the hotel bar for drinks and conversation and others hitting the hotel casino. Regrettably, whatever our direction, it was inevitable this brilliant night would end. In my memory, it may go down as the best dinner gala I'll ever attend.

Helmets off to BMW Argentina!