Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Short Video from Yesterday

Back into Chile
We remained in Argentina for a few more days after el Calafate and the glacier. First stop of the way north was el Chalten, a village that sits at the base of the spectacular Mt Fitzroy. The ride in was a pure delight. The road north from Chalten through Tres Lagos, Gobernador Gregores to Bajo Caracoles was on the famous (or infamous if you hate gravel) Ruta 40. Much of the old road has been realigned and sealed so has lost a lot of its mystique. It was unsealed back in 2009. The idea of getting to Bajo Caracoles was to visit Cuevas de las Manos or the cave of the hands which is a site of an ancient civilization who left hand prints on rock walls near a cave. We got kinda lost getting there and made the last tour of the day and by the time we traveled the 50km of gravel back to Caracoles we were forced to overnight there. We really plumbed the depths of bad accommodation that night - ahhh!
Next day was a big day because we wanted to get to Cochrane in Chile which included 180-odd k of gravel and a border crossing. We made it by early evening. The road from Chile Chico to Cochrane is gravel and runs for most of its length along the shores and cliff faces of Lago Carrera. A hugely picturesque ride, it's just a pity the road was so rough after a summer of traffic had turned the surface into a washboard. We are in Cochrane for 2 nights. Finally, we have  made it to the Carretera Austral, the road we failed to do in 2009 because it was closed.
Just another magic moment in Patagonia

Mt Fitzroy. Told you it was a nice ride.

The dreaded Ruta 40

Bajo Caracoles. When the intercity bus arrives the population doubles.

An example of the many hand 'paintings'

Love these Argentinians. 100 metres of perfect road to nowhere.

The road to Cochrane
Two days without Fuel
The past few`days have been a mixed bag of events. We made it to Punta Arenas via Porvenir OK and booked into a delightful hostel called Hospidaje Miriam for two nights. I met up with Gerardo, a Chilean who was the guide on a trip I did back in 2013. It was good to catch up, share his news and hopes for riding in Alaska later this year. It is possible, with some orchestration, that we might be able to meet up there. Our recommended exit from Chile into Argentina was via a crossing called Casas Viejas (houses for the elderly) which for a while I thought was a wind up by my Chilean friend. But no, there was the name as bold as brass on the street sign. No sign of old folks homes either. The ride to the crossing was as cold as hell – we left Punta Arenas in 5 degree temps and my fingers were so cold I could not fill out the immigration forms. Thankfully it warmed up as the day wore on.
We got to Esperanza only to find the gas station had just run out of petrol. So ended a 400km day with a night in a scungy hostel. All next day we waited at the gas station until finally and after dark the tanker replenished the tanks but by now it was to late for us to continue so night two in the same hostel same sheets and towel also. Colin gave the place a D-8 rating, a passing reference to the size of the bulldozer needed to knock the place down.  For three days the wind blew and blew and blew 'til you wonder where all the wind is stored. And it was strong wind too. Finally we left for el Calafate directly into the wind and it stayed with us for the next 170km. Sixteen km/ltr was the best my bike could manage.
The road to Calafate was a great ride with some magnificent views of the Andes. En route we stumbled upon a guy on a scooter with all the gear necessary to tour and camp. The guy had ridden all the way down from Colombia – and here's us thinking we were the hard ones.
After our woes in Esperanza (which incidentally means hope) re fuel, we were to strike it again with Colin waiting in a queue for over an hour to fill up before we headed out to the Perito Moreno Glacier. All told today we had spend 6 hours doing just 170km. I have been to the glacier before so the magnitude of it was no surprise but for all that it is an incredible sight. What with park fees, lunch on site, fuel, diner and a room it was working out an expensive day. Least it was fine and it is starting to warm up to a balmy 12 degrees.

D-8 accommodation in Esperanza. You should have seen the dunny

Our man and his scooter - from Colombia

Perito Moreno glacier

She's a big sucker

Somewhere in Patagonia

Seems we need to be prepared for wind

No half measures down here

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Goodbye Tierra del Fuego
19 Feb. Colin's BMW is having trouble starting and we suspect the battery. An overnight charge does little to resolve the problem so large sums of money later we are fitting a new Yuasa and by lunch time we are off on the road back over the Andes towards Rio Grande. We had intended to ride out to Estancia Harberton, a place we briefly visited on our boat trip, but our late start put paid to that. The ride to Rio Grande was cold and unpleasant and we were thankful to reach our hostel. But get this, the room we got was so hot and airless it was almost impossible to sleep. We were joined at the hostel by an American couple who were, like everyone we have met so far, on the last leg of their six month grand tour from the US to lands end in Argentina. We had supper with them and let them regale us with tales of their ride.
We were gone before they appeared next morning because we had 160 km of gravel ahead of us in order to make Porvenir and the 2 pm ferry to Punta Arenas. This time the border crossings were done in record time but again the ride was very cold and the strong wind did not add to our enjoyment. For all that there were moments when we rode next to the sea and past a foreshore with the occasional fishing shack and upturned boat which relieved the monotony of the otherwise featureless landscape. This place is pretty God forsaken in summer so I cannot imagine what it is like in the winter.
We got to the ferry in time and had a rolly-polly ride in a flat bottomed barge across the 20 mile gap that separates the two Chilean towns. We will spend two nights here where I hope to meet up with a couple of Chileans I met back in 2013.
We have met some interesting fellow travelers. In Ushuaia there were two couples, one Swiss, the other US, who had been on the road for in one case 21 months and the other 18 months. On our way north we bumped into a couple of American 20-something girls who had ridden Suzuki DRZ 400's all the way down from the US. They in turn had collected a rag-tag bunch of riders from miscellaneous nations that were riding with them to Ushuaia and the end of their respective rides. So far we have met no one going north on the start of their tour.
The ferry at Porvenir

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

All at Sea in Fin del Mundo
Today is our second day in Ushuaia and both days have been stat holidays so all the travel agents are closed hence no progress on finding a cheap trip to Antarctica. The general consensus is that I might be unlucky anyway but we will see what tomorrow holds. Yesterday it snowed on the hills behind the town - well actually it snowed on the Andes at the back of town and we shivered most of the day. For today Colin and I took a boat trip into Beagle Chanel to visit some of the local wild life. It was a great trip and the birds, seals and penguins might just have to do if the antarctic is off.
Later in the day we rode out to the national park and stood by the sign that announces your arrival at the end of the world - fin del mundo. It's a sign that appears in just about every video, blog and what have you of the adventure biking world - but not this one. Strangely this is my second time at this sign. Funny how things turn out.
The road to Ushuaia

Two old pensioners wondering what all the other old pensioners are doing.

A sign but not THE sign.

Adventurers at our hostel

Penguin Island

Cute little fellas

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ushuaia at Last
It's been a long 4,000 km since we left Santiago a week or so ago. Progress has been a little slow at times mostly bought about by the distances between accommodations. Not all towns on the map have places to stay so you are faced with 400+ km days or 800+ days. It was the lesser distance for us thanks all the same. We have also experienced some very long queues at border crossings and the same at petrol stations. The few border crossing completed have been an exercise in frustration. You are supposed to arrive at the counter with all forms completed but nowhere do you get to know what forms are needed or where you get them in the first place. Chile is a little better at organising things than Argentina but that really only means that some of their signs are in English..
We struck it wet and cold crossing the Magallan strait to Tierra del Fuego and later on, the worst gravel road imaginable. The pot holes were full of water and we got drenched a few times by trucks travelling in the opposite direction. We made Rio Grande by early evening and by pure chance arrived at the same hostel I stayed in a few years back. Then it was a tip but now it is up and running and was full.
It's quite cold now and so it should be. I am told that we are 1,000 km south of Invercargill and if you thought Invercargill was a cold hole then try this place. We will be here for a few days before we start the long journey north to Alaska.
Lunch at Millyways - restaurant at the end of the earth.

The Chilean gravel, sans the potholes

Hostel Argentina - slightly improved since 2009

Welcome to Tierra del Fuego

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Fast Run South
We have been on the road non stop for a week now and are in Comodoro Rivadavia on the East coast of Argentina with just over 2500 km behind us. The first few days were a tiki-tour to route 5 ex Valparaiso. Route 5 (Ruta del Sur) is a toll road running the length of Chile and with its 120kph speed limit you can cover distance quite quickly. Many tolls later we turn left for Entre Lago and our last night in Chile. Chile at this latitude looks much like NZ so there is little of note to comment on and the road is frankly quite boring. The lady running the hostel in Entre Lagos was extremely welcoming but as usual I had no clue as to what she was saying even when she spoke louder.
The exit from Chile was easy but entry into Argentina was problematic because the Chilean customs should have left me with their cancelled import document to hand to the Argentinians. I got through well enough but my riding companion was not so lucky and was held up for ages.
Queueing at the bank in Bariloche
The ride over the Andes was cold and wet and I was well relieved to get to Bariloche. I think I slept for 12 hours, not helped by having picked up a stomach bug a couple of days back. Bariloche is the Queenstown of Argentina and the most expensive accommodation to date. It's a really nice town on the edge of a lake but touristy as hell - just like Queenstown. And our hostel was by far the best we have stayed in as well. Oh, and the woman spoke perfect English.
Watch out - dodgy food.
Next day the first stop was Teka for fuel and an hour waiting in a queue for our turn at the pump. We struck these queues on a number of occasions in Argentina.
Queueing for petrol - again
You don't pump your own gas here, an attendant does it and you pay him/her. Half the pumps were idle due to lack of attendants.
By days end we were well into Patagonia and overnighted
Gorbernador Costa

in a dusty wind swept non descript town and listened to the wind howl past the building all night. It takes a special kind of person to live down here. On the map there are recognisable names of towns from a trip I did with a bunch of others in 2009. Then, the sole purpose was to ride Patagonia and "enjoy" the experience. Now we just want to get through as quickly as possible.
The dreaded desvio (by-pass)
The following day the notorious Patagonia winds hit us side on as we headed to Comodoro Rivadavia on the east coast. The one saving grace is that on gravel roads the wind blows away the dust from the vehicle in front. So far the roads have been tar seal but when they need maintenance the Argentinians run a bulldozer down the side of the road and that becomes your by-pass. Sometimes they go on for a number kilometres and they aren't exactly smooth. No wonder their poor little French cars are so beat-up - this is Lada country.
Patagonia scenic overlook. Yep - nada.
We are taking a day off in Comodoro Rivadavia because we have been on the go since we got off the plane over a week ago. For all that we have done less than 3,000 km and still have another 4 days to go before we reach our destination in Ushuaia.
The Adventure Begins
5 February. We, Colin and I, arrived in Santiago just before lunch on the day we left NZ so it looks as if we are to have Tuesday all over again. My bike was supposed to be on the same aircraft as me so the next step was to find out where it was being stored, if indeed it was actually on the aircraft in the first place. After a few false starts we get to the receiving warehouse, find the bike is here then head over to the Customs office to get a temporary import licence. The customs guy feeds my passport number into the computer and “senor, there is a problem, where is the bike you imported in 2013?” He is satisfied that I did re-export it so issues me the certificate and by about 4PM we have the bike assembled and I'm ready to go. Colin, whose bike is already in Chile but in another city, is in the meantime humping his luggage around with the aid of a commandeered handicart. He gets a taxi into the city and I follow in its wake. I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
Next day, Wednesday, we have a leisurely breakfast at a small cafe and head for Valparaiso which is just over 100k away. I promptly get lost which is no help and I am in a delicate state fuel wise. I end up being on a motorway going in the wrong direction with all the gas stations on the frontage road. When I finally take an exit the gas stations suddenly disappear – aw just great. And to boot I am more lost than ever. I eventually find a gas station and fill the tank with about $25 of fuel which makes petrol about the same price as it is in New Zealand. By pure luck I find highway 68 and arrive at hostel Villa Kunterbunt (yea I know) just in time to greet Colin who came by bus. Note to self: buy a map. The hostel and its owners are well respected by the Horizons Unlimited motorcycle fraternity and right now they are helping an American ship his bike back to the States. They also helped Robin Goldsack with the import of his bike through the local port.
One has just finished as the other starts.

Today is Thursday and Colin has gone to the Customs office for what we hope will be a minor matter. With luck we will make San Antonio this afternoon, just a little behind schedule.