Well we cheated a little, we have only ridden about 1500kms since Panama, the rest we did the easy way - by boat.
The start of our fifth month riding and we celebrate by arriving at the last stop on the way south. Well, not technically, but as far south as we will get. Ushuaia, a strange town that sells itself as being at the end of the world. We were surprised to find the place full of people when we arrived, where did they all come from? We hadn’t seen that much traffic on the road here. The weather was also surprising, sunny days, and little wind, is this really Tierra del Fuego?
International group at the end of the road. Peter, Yonni, Yuki, Sian, Arno.
From P. Natales we rode to Punta Delgada, where we hoped the ferry was running. We got there to find 2 other riders already waiting, Peter from Switzerland on a Teneré and Yonni from Israel on a DR he’d bought in Buenos Aires. The ferry soon arrived and the 5 of us were on the island of Tierra del Fuego almost before we had paid for our tickets.
The road was tarmac and brand new, still being built in fact. However construction had only progressed 20kms or so and then it was back to dirt. The road wasn’t too bad, a few dodgy places but we were able to speed along at 70kmh or so.
Needing fuel, we stopped at an outpost where the map showed a fuel station. After riding around the few deserted buildings and gas plant, unable to see were we could get fuel, we asked directions at what looked like a canteen. Bad news, the fuel station had already closed! It was late so we asked if we could camp out in one of the unused buildings. It turned out the canteen was part of the gas plant, the manager was consulted and we were offered the use of one of the dorms where the workers sleep. Warm and out of the wind, perfect, we were even fed dinner and breakfast.
Fine weather at the border in Tierra del Fuego
The next day, we fuelled up and headed for the border. Even though there were 5 of us, we were reasonably quickly stamped out of Chile, into Argentina and riding on tarmac towards Tolhuin. Here the road changed again and it was dirt almost all the way to Ushuaia. The scenery made it a nice ride though.
The five of us made it down to the end of Ruta 3, in the National park for the obligatory photo. It took awhile for everyone to pose with their bikes, by which time the rain stopped, the sun came out, so we rode to Laguna Verde and spent the afternoon lounging in the sunshine planning our next moves.
We left “the end of the world” in the company of Dieter, another Swiss rider, the others we hoped to meet up with somewhere along Ruta 40. Was a beautiful day for riding and we made good time despite stopping to take photos at every opportunity. We wanted to visit Punta Arenas, and so after the border took the other road towards Porvenir. An Italian cyclist we had met had said that the Estancia owners were generally pretty hospitable along this stretch of road and indeed this proved to be the case. We asked if we could camp out of the wind at one Estancia. We didn’t even have to get out our tent, we were able to sleep in a building and were again fed and watered.
Rain greeted us the next day, but we made it to Porvenir in time to catch the daily ferry to Punta Arenas. Stocked up with enough food for 4 days, the 3 of us headed to Torres del Paine to exercise our legs for a change. The road there was spectacular, wonderful scenery and a good gravel road.
A good gravel road plus spectacular scenery, moments to enjoy
The park had suffered from lot of rain in the past few days and the road up to the Torres Campsite was under water, so we decided to ride to the other side of the park and do some walks from there. After a couple of days riding around the park and doing some short walks, we went back to find the road rideable again. So the next day we trekked up to see the famous Torres. Amazing what you put yourself through to see some rock!! It was worth it though – just, and as a bonus we had great weather too.
Dieter and Arno, no motorbike in sight!
I was glad to get on my bike the next day though, even though we were heading for the first stage of Ruta 40. The border crossing at Cerro Castillo, was the fastest yet, it took longer to ride between the 2 border posts than it did to get the paperwork done. A new road was being built on the way to La Esperanza and we sneaked onto it until the turnoff for El Calafate and Ruta 40.
Our first encounter with the infamous Ruta 40.
The road wasn’t too bad, despite the recent heavy rains and we made good time. We were lucky too, that it wasn’t windy. Reached the tarmac stretch to El Calafate, a lovely ride with the road sweeping down from the plateau. After a few km’s, however, the tarmac really deteriorated, then suddenly ran out as we had to follow a diversion. It had been recently, very generously re-gravelled in large patches – my favourite!
We finally reached El Calafate and whom should we bump into, Asher. He and Arne Bomblies were staying at the same place, so we headed there too. Was nice to meet Arne as we had emailed a couple of times. Yuki and Rodi also turned up, and so we planned to ride together, to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares when the weather improved.
It was snowing when we got to the Moreno Glacier, but not for long thank goodness. It was a bit nippy however, so we glacier watched while wandering around the walkways to keep warm. It really was spectacular, no matter how many pictures you see, the real thing is just amazing. And the noise, I didn’t think ice could be so loud. Every time a chunk broke off and fell into the lake, it sounded like a 5 storey building collapsing.
Not just another glacier, getting really close to this one makes it worth the trip
Another group posing in front of the glacier, Arno, Sian, Yuki, Rodo, Dieter.
Arne and Asher didn’t like the idea of camping out, so left to go back to Calafate. Dieter, Yuki, Rodo, Arno and I hadn't lugged all our stuff to the park for nothing, and besides the camping was free now as it was out of season. The campsite was nice and sheltered, we strung a tarp between the trees, put up our tents and had a lovely evening, warmed by some Argentinean whisky.
The weather improved over the next couple of days and on the first perfect riding day, Yuki and Dieter left for El Chalten. We stayed on in El Calafate for a couple of days to catch up on stuff, eat lots of chocolate and to wait for Peter, due to arrive any minute.
The next day Dieter returned - in an ambulance! He had hit a sheep, 60kms from El Chalten and broken his collarbone and a couple of ribs!
Peter eventually arrived after some mishaps of his own and we tried to lift Dieters spirits. Arno went to El Chalten to fetch the damaged bike. He came back in one piece but it had rained on the Ruta 40 for most of the morning and the sheep had trashed the front mudguard so Arno was absolutely plastered with mud.
A muddy Arno after his ride back from El Chalten on Dieters bike
By the time the 3 of us rode up the Ruta 40 towards El Chalten to meet up with Yuki, the road had dried out a little but we still got stuck in the mud in some places. At one point we tried riding near the edge of the road where it looked more solid and stony, here however the mud was really sticky and our wheels were soon totally clogged up. We stopped, cleared out the mess and reluctantly rode back in the slippery mud.
Peter and Arno clear out the mud from Black Betty
We spent a day in El Chalten as the weather stayed fine and we could actually see the mountains. Arno was once again separated from his bike and dragged off to do some walking. But all too soon it was time to leave and face Ruta 40 once again.
The weather was on our side, the road had dried out and there was no wind. At Tres Lagos, we filled all possible containers with fuel, and headed out into the flat landscape. I had to concentrate on keeping out of the deep gravel and in the tracks, but without the wind it was quite an enjoyable ride. There was also no traffic, we saw only one vehicle the whole day.
We were able to camp wild, just off the road when it got dark and the next morning were treated to a spectacular sunrise and again no wind.
Thanks to the weather we were able to camp wild just off the road.
After fueling up at Baja Caracoles, we rode toward Perito Moreno, managing to miss the turnoffs to Cuerva de las Manos - don’t ask! - and ended up riding the last 30kms to PM in the dark. It now decided to rain of course, so it took a while.
The next day it rained and rained, so we stayed put and spent the day doing maintenance on the bikes. We left Peter in PM to wait for Yoni, who was somewhere along the 40 and rode back towards Chile and the Caretera Austral.
In Chile Chico, Arno and I decided to take the ferry to Puerto Ibáñez, while Yuki being the off road fan she is, took the dirt road around Lago General Carrera. We arranged to meet up at a campsite near Villa Cerro Castillo that evening. The ferry arrived at 6ish and we once again were riding as it got dark. It was actually more frustrating as the spectacular scenery was being enhanced by the setting sun and we just had to keep stopping to take photos.
The mountain of Cerro Castillo at dusk
By the time we got to the village of Cerro Castillo it was dark and we hoped that we would be able to find Yuki and the campsite. The road was now unpaved and rocky in places, so we had to take it slowly, after 30kms or so, a familiar big headlight came towards us, Yuki! She had been unable to find the campsite, but had seen a good place by the river, so we rode another 10kms and camped there. It’s nice being back in Chile, where it feels safe enough to camp wild almost anywhere.
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