The E-Bike Diaries

Electricity and the lack of it

/ Argentina

53 years old Juan Carlos Rivero with his mule lives in a place called Matagusano or Worm killer in the department of San Juan. His next neighbours are 25 Km away he doesn’t know them. He has 7 children and raises cattle and horses for a living. Solar panels provide him with electricity. According to a Wikipedia article 30% of Argentineans living in rural areas still lack electricity but a government program is trying to change the situation.
High voltage electricity running trough the Pampa
7 of the 8 – 400 Wh FLYER eBike batteries under charge.

In the town of Zapala with my mother Pia and plenty of travel days still at our disposal, we decided to travel south and see San Martin de Los Andes. To tour the Route of the 7 lakes, one of Argentina’s scenic wonders. Police informed us that the last spot where we could charge our eBike batteries would be 50 Km south of Zapala, at a police post by the bridge, over the river A Piccun Leufù on the RN 40. After the bridge we’d have 200 Km without electricity. So far in Chile we had managed 165km in one day, in favourable windless conditions, without emptying the four 400 Wh batteries, available to each FLYER. 200Km, which translates in 8 hours on the saddle, sounded a bit risky but worth a try. We left Zapala late in the afternoon with a strong headwind and seeing that we only had to travel 50 Km south to the next charging station, we happily emptied four batteries in the Turbo mode. All the way brand new electricity pylons, interconnected by shiny silvery cables accompanied us on the left hand side of the road. Until the cables began to hang from the pylons and finally disappeared, together with our happy mood. We found the new police station empty and could not see any electricity cables going into it. At that moment the lack of electricity seemed the worst form of underdevelopment. If this was happening in comparatively wealthy and developed Argentina how about in much poorer Bolivia? We approached the only other visible building on the south side of the bridge noticing first two square meters of solar panels catching the last rays in the sunset. The panels belonged to a farmhouse surrounded by poplars full of screaming parrots, a small vegetable garden a chained unfriendly dog, two fattening pigs behind walls and a toothless man in a red shirt sipping mate an spitting it while rocking in a chair. We explained our situation and after sharing dinner, Luis agreed to let us sleep in his home and let us try charging the batteries. Electro panic leads to electro greed, I immediately plugged the four empty batteries on Luis’s regulator attached to two big truck batteries hidden in a box. At first the green blinking lights on the side of the battery that in the dark look like glow-worms, blinked nicely accompanied by a buzzing sound emanating from the regulator. Then disaster struck, the buzzing stopped the glow-worms gave up the blinking, the kitchen light faded the fridge and the radio went silent. I thought I’d damaged the regulator but Luis unworried simply said that we’d have to wait for the next day, sunlight will recharge the batteries and spat some more mate on the floor. Later before going to sleep I tried switching on the kitchen light again it worked. I tried to plug in one battery silently not to wake Luis and carefully in almost religious respect hoping against hope that the glowworm would appear. It worked the buzzing was back on and in a night interrupted by three hour intervals (about the charging time for one battery) we managed to fill the four empty batteries. Finally we decided to go back north to Zapala and continue the journey to Mendoza, a detour to San Juan de Los Andes with the prospect of having the full weight of the eBikes without battery power under us looked too risky.