Philipp , Tina and I arrived in Ushuaia in time to celebrate my birthday on the 17th of February, complete with some bubbles in Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego - great. Almost didn't make it though, as I gave to birth to a kidney stone in a place called Piedra Buena...
Funnily enough "Piedra Buena" means nice rock in Spanish. I can laugh about it now, but when they say a kidney stone is as close as a man gets to knowing the pain of giving birth, they ain't kidding. I landed in hospital there for the day, and an ugly bruise on my forearm from the IV gave people the impression I was a druggie for at least a week afterwards.
Amateur Day for the IV Man
Worlds end, or Fin del Mundo, is a mecca for motorcyclists and travellers alike, and it was great to meet people from everywhere you'd care to mention. Scarce as a Harley Davidson on a rough road however, is the amount of Kiwis in this neck of the woods. Strange.
click for larger image
Mauro and his team proud of their work on the F650
Just to prove it, Click here for a larger view
From Ushuaia we travelled across the Argentina / Chile border at San Sebastian, and instead of taking the handy but expensive hostel there, we spent the night in a farmers house, greeted by three real "Gauchos" the next morning - complete with the boots, pantaloons and french style caps...
Via Puerto Natales we drove on to Torres del Paines national park, practically freezing in our tents prior to ascending the hill the next day. Here we met Mariola Chicon, an American / Pole doing RTW by herself on a KLR 650. www.rideoftheheart.com . Real nice, real crazy lady - quite motivating to meet her (and her machete). The climb the next day to see the towers was well worth the effort, but man did our unused motorcycle legs suffer going up and down !
Mariola, me, Tina and Philipp
Upon arriving back at our tents, I broke the news to Philipp and Tina that I would be continuing the journey on my own. It was clear to me for a couple of weeks it wasn't working the way I'd expected, and I have to admit I relish the independance now - good times and bad. Philipp took it ok, and it was all a bit emotional as we said our goodbyes. Perhaps Philipp and I will still do Colombia together in the interests of safety.
I holed up in Calafate for 4-5 days trying to kick a nasty flu which left me absolutely wrecked. I actually encountered my first Kiwi here doing Alaska - Ushuaia by bicycle, and he gave me plenty of route info. I spent one day visiting the Perito Merino Glacier, which you could practically drive right up to. Quite breathtaking listening to the monster creek and groan, and occasionally watching huge chunks crashing into the water.The last night in Calafate I managed to buy a much lighter tent off a Ukranian guy called Bohdan who said his tenting days were coming to an end ( he'd rather be on a boat ). This has saved at least two kilos and a lot of space, both of which are at a premium on the bike.
Perito Merino Glacier - Click here for a larger view
On the way to El Chalten I stopped to help a Japanese guy called Yoshi on his XL250 Baja - poor guy was dealing with his third puncture in two days. ( Touch wood I havn't had any yet). Eventually I gave him my can of tyre pando so he could make the last 100 km's. What stunned me about Yoshi was the speed he threw himself down the gravel road, easily leaving me behind as my heavy F650 snake tailed it's way along. I couldn't help but say to myself "Banzai !!!! " as he dissapeared from view.
The next day was my first real taste of the Ruta 40, a notorious stretch of wind swept gravel going north through Argentina. Scoring a good 500km's on that road and I was patting myself on the back as I emerged without mishap. At times the odds are against a heavily loaded motorcycle :- narrow tracks that run between 10-15cm high gravel ridges which sometimes vanish , rocks the size of volleyballs here and there, and constant wind gusts which actually push the bike right across the road. Topping off this tasty menu are the ceaseless corrugations designed to destroy man and bike alike as they vibrate you into oblivion....
Demanding riding, but ultimately satisfying at the end of the day.
After overnighting in Chile Chico I rode the Carretera Austral (Chile) for the first time, a real slice out of New Zealand's west coast, resulting in frequent photo stops. The road itself was full of corrugations, which eventually snapped my chain guard
Beautiful Scenery on the Carretera Austral
Now the comes the roll part. Heading from Coihaique towards the thermal baths of Puyuhaupi, I was enjoying some great riding through the National Park on Chile's Ruta 7, varying in speed from 5 to 80 km/h as the hairpins and straights unfolded. The ruta 7 has it's own challenges, truckdrivers who own the road, and never ending potholes which are of course surrounded by corrugations. Keeping right within reason, there I was cutting the apex of a right hander when the unthinkable, yet inevitable happened. With a 'Thump!' my right hand luggage box slammed into a protruding rock, and I was airborne heading for the other side of the road. Bike and I landed against a bank of gravel and foliage, and I realised after a few seconds that I had in fact just crashed. Surveying the scene I had travelled partly airbourne a good 20 metres, and the contents of the box were strewn over the road like an aircraft crash scene. Not detecting any injury, I had to resist the chance to take a photo as I noticed copious amounts of fuel leaking, and I had instant visions of my bike going up in flames. I ripped off the luggage and picked up the bike - thanking my lucky stars I'd come out of this unscathed. I guess the St Christopher chain from Mum around my neck had done it's job.
Point of impact...
Score : Rock 5 , Touratech box 0
Unbelievably, there was zero damage to the bike, although the box was buckled and the mounts had ripped off. I could see now why the mounts were made of plastic, perhaps designed to break on impact rather than twist the mounting frame or the rear subframe of the bike. I strapped up the case and my ego and continued on to Casa Ludwig at Puyuhaupi.
Moral of the story ? At just over 1 metre wide, I have to remember I'm riding a bus, not a motorcycle.
Temuco, Chile - 8092 km's to date.
Late addition >> Under extreme duress I must admit meeting 4 Americans at Torres del Paines in Chile. There are no better words to describe them other than thier own....
"I enjoyed reading your update, but I couldn't help but notice the
omission of your encounter with three of the most enchanting, humorous, not to
mention good looking Americans you could ever meet. Perhaps you didn't
have the words to accurately describe our time spent together. Anyway, there
aren't any hard feelings( as long as this is rectified in the next
The 4 in question were Brian and Kristen Applegate, Amy Frederickson , and John.
Riding through three days of SOLID rain I slipped into the Chile’s capital , Santiago. The mode change in driving was severe , definitely every man for himself, with any displays of courtesy or caution greeted with blasting horns and screetching tires...
Still, I spent a relaxing week in Santiago, seeing the sights and catching a few movies including the incredibly toilet-fodder-ending Lord of the Rings. ( My fault – never read the book. ) At 15.000 km’s I treated the F650 to a full service at WBM BMW. Touch wood, the bike hasn’t missed a beat since replacing the water pump in Buenos Aires, and more and more I think I made the right choice of bike – quite a relaxing thought with at least 20,000 km’s waiting for me.
I celebrated St Paddys day in one of Santiago’s Irish pubs with an Australian guy from my hostal – would you believe they’d run out of Guinness ! – humph !
At the Argentina / Chile border I met a Brasilian 737 Pilot on his Honda 250 – Marcelo . I had to laugh when I saw the gear packed on his bike, or rather stacked. After loosing his plastic panniers on those notorious corrugations, he’d resorted to the elastic netting tower approach. It looked exactly like the 'How not to' picture in Chris Scott’s Adventure Motorcycling handbook. Even Marcelo had to laugh. We rode together across the border and a rather weird downhill tunnel at an altitude of 4,000 metres, and on to Mendoza.
Marcelo and his steed
Mendoza was a refreshing change to ‘back-water’ Chile, and a great highlight to top off the 9 Peso all-you-can-eat restaurant was Parapenting with Tato, a former Chilean Hang Gliding champ. When he put that chute into a series of spins the g-force was just incredible…
There was of course an even bigger highlight – I had the honour to meet Chris and Erin Ratay ( www.ultimatejourney.com ) , a fun loving whacky couple 2 years into a RTW trip on a pair of BMW F650’s. We swapped tricks and tales over lunch with another F650 rider, Annet from Germany. Having been through New Zealand, Chris gave me a Kiwi Motorcycle rider sticker which now rightly rests in the middle of my windscreen.
Chris, Erin, Annet and me in Mendoza
Onwards from Mendoza I traveled to Tilcara, but not before getting stopped by three roadblocks within 20 minutes south of Rosaria de La Frontera. The blockades were trees and burning tyres laid down by some obviously hard done by locals, and only a donation would see the way cleared. I got real nervous having to dig into my wallet – especially when 8 guys surrounded me. I managed to get through two more without paying anything, but I never expected that kind of stuff in Argentina !
In Tilcara I was lucky enough to get my timing right for a local religious festival. The murals made from flowers were quite stunning, but the cacophony the locals produced on their pan flutes and drums would turn anyone to Britney Spears.
At 2,000 metres Tilcara was a smart step to start the process of aclimatization to the coming high altitudes of Bolivia, and thankfully that gave me no problems. The local ‘helper’ for easing the effects of altitude is chewing coca leaves with a dash of Sodium Bicarb. As the t-shirts say however, Coca leaves ain’t Cocaine – and all I could sense was a green tea taste and a numb mouth. The funny thing was how I got the leaves – from a German mother of two after she’d spotted my Munich license plates. Couldn’t believe it….
While my bike is fuel injected and theoretically less susceptible to the altitude, the lack of Oxygen showed approaching 4,000 metres, as I realized I had the throttle twisted to the max on more than one occasion. Have to admit I was kinda bummed when bunch of Porsches blasted by. Still – despite the warnings of a kind hearted pub-owner in Argentina – it seems like Bolivia won’t be a problem.
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