January 04, 2006 GMT
24th Dec to 1st Jan 2006 - Rio Gallegos to the End of the Earth

Mileage - 0 kms

Having arrived in time to prevent getting caught out for Christmas, and being booked into Hotel Sehuen until Monday on basis Boxing Day doesn't exist here and hence no problem travelling onwards we had little to do.

Had hoped to have an 'office party' and some drinks on the afternoon to unwind a bit and try and get into Christmas spirit as it's still completely bizarre being here in summer but Christmas.

Post the usual poor breakfast (oh for a fry up!) we had some maintenance to do on bikes, well, not ours on this occassion as I'd done a once over on valve clearances and air filter etc at Trelew.

Andy and Maya had arrived last night after we had left to go to dinner so we met at breakfast, it was great to have everyone together for Christmas.

Andy had discovered he had a charging problem on his outfit (same bike as ours, but a side-car) so we were all outside to try and locate and sort the problem.

After much swapping of parts (Cynthia had a spare rotot and alternator) it was serious scratching of heads time. Cynthia rang a friend in England in end - who was part way through drinks on Christmas eve - for advice. Remarkbly the finger was staright on the pulse and he diagnosed an earth problem likely on Diode board (for those technically minded). He was spot on right.

Behind the Diode Board two black earth wires were clearly fractured leading to bike charging, but not properly. Reconnected the charging system was restored. Though not able to all assist, there was always a possibility to pass tools, bounce off ideas, of just make coffee. Andy's tarp came in handy as there was a breeze and a bit of rain.

I had mainly been updating my log until going out to assist.

That job done we were all off to the internet cafe for updates and Christmas Wishes - the only part of the day that made Christmas feel like it was actually happening.

The place was closing up, early I think, as people wanted to get away, so we left. the Parilla had jacked it's prices up...but did tell us...so we decided to give it a miss. There was a Pizzaria open and that was our only option basically. They weren't brilliant they weren't at all Christmasy, but that was our office party. we should have put more effort in but there you go.

I think we sussed the local Christmas business when Nik and I went for a brief walk - most folk seemed to be having family meals around the table, and there were quite a few fireworks going off. All very relaxed really as even the decorations were somewhat subdued.

Several drinks later it was off to bed....until...at 12.00 when the Thrid world war started. I was whittling a piece of soap....OK...explanation. Yes, I'd forgotten to get Bev a Christmas Present, unforgivable at home, but I blame being here for it. So, anyway, I had to sort something at least so it was desparate meassures. Swiss Army Knife and soap and a bit of carving created a heart shaped present that was the best I could manage. And then the fireworks started ! Like a continental (or even British nowadays) New Years. i guess celebrating the birth of Christ. I went outside...Bev slept through... and watched and listened for half an hour. like being in Bagdad or somewhere, but without the dodgey overtones, quite spectacular.

Sunday 25th December

Rio Gallegos

Mileage - 0 kms

Well Christmas, but not as we know it ! We exchanged gifts, Bev had got Nik and I little tiny cow-bells from Belgrano and obviously I had the high quality ladies soap to pass on.

We had had quite a lie-in and were all down for breakfast for 10.00 There was nothing special to eat, and no real feeling of any change in staff's outlook or anything. Wished them all the best for the day anyway.

Andy had another bit of maintenance to perform on the outfit so in the best interests of watching someone else doing jobs you might have to to yourselves. In this case it was the oil-seals at the end of the push rod tubes. One was split and leaking. luckily Andy had spares and it was a 'simple' case of removing ancilleries and the heads and sliding the barrels out to get access to the seals. Andy made light work of it and had the new seal in in no time although he wasn't confident that it would work as the collar retaining it was too far down the tube - compressing the seal too much, but fingers crossed.


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Andy Santa working on sled Xmas Day


The rest of the day was spent doing very little until the Parilla was open. The price was back to usual, obviously Christmas Eve is the big day, and so we went in and ate far too much yet again before returning to the hotel for some drinks and bed.

Sadly Christmas has passed us by 'and nothing really hapened'. A very weird experience. Sure we could have got much more from the experience, but no-one elses fault but ours.


Monday 26th December

Rio Gallegos - Sierra Sombrero

Mileage - 170 kms

We left after breakfast, Andy and Maya had set off aheadas the outfit is slower on the road and we had no real plans to actually travel together anyway.

Nik was scouting for petrol station on way out but missed them and we had to turn around and head back in....which was fortunate as we bumped into Andy and Maya at side of road with a leaking seal.

They were happy to sort it themselves, but it seemed foolish not to hang around and help in any way we could. There was a Honda shop nearby and we asked if we could work there. they allowed Andy to pull bike into drive to work in piece.

This time the collar needed to be moved so the barrel needed to come off. Leaving the piston and rings in the barrel is the easier way to do it so the gudgeon pin came out and then Andy could move the collar. It was all together again in about 1/10th of the time it would have taken me to think about it. At least we were able to offer some assistance so it was worth waiting. We ate and then left together for 'the land of fire' Tierra del fuego.

The scenery was beautiful in the way the Hebredian Islands are, low rolling scenery with occassional corrugated sheet buildings, and the weather was on side. Little wind and blue slies, warm even with azure blue seas and distant heat haze creating mirages on the horizon.

The area is strangley split between Chile and Argentina and so you have four borders to get through to get to Ushuaia. The first border out of Arg was clear and easy (again Bev didn't need to come in to get the passports done) and the Chillian side was even easier.

The ferry across was a low landing craft type and as the weather was so settled we have a blissful easy crossing. From the helm, as was, we spotted a black and white dolphins (think was rather than porpoise as heard the dolpins hereabouts are beautiful), penguins, a sea lion, and a few other sea birds.


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Ferry to Tierra del Fuego (Nik, Cynthia, Fritz, Maya & Andy)


After disembarking we had a brief stop for coffee and sandwiches and chatted to a couple of English cyclists - now that must be hard work!

We heard from them that there was a place at Cerro Sombraro were we could camp. We got there fairly easy and checked for rooms too. Cynthia took one but at £17 p/p we decided on camping. The guy was very helpful and explained were the showers and toilets were - basic but OK - and were we could light a fire which we duely did which added greatly to the anbience.


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Campfire at Somberro


We enjoyed a few drinks round the fire with some fine weather and cool evening sunset (never really dark as well south so too early at 11pm.)

A reasonable night kip was had by all


Tuesday 27th December

Sierra Sombrero - Rio Grande

Mileage - 212 kms

After packing we were all on the road again.

Similar scenery, nothing too outstanding, and more repoi that seemed unpleasant to me, found it hard work with some loose stuff getting the front end too light for my liking. Maybe the new tyre, maybe me.



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Dusty repio


We continued down to Rio Grande to try and find a campsite that had been recommended, at the canoe club. Was a slight challenge but we got there in the end. Very welcoming host, Carlos, and great facilities. We were able to sleep upstairs in the gym rather than camp, which all bar Nik chose (Cynthia taking a room at the hotel) and we set about making it home for a couple of days.


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Canoe club and parking


Nice big steak and salad for tea, lovely. Played a nasty little joke on Nik as all our bikes are inside in the canoe store which is next to the eating area. After he went to bed a small amount of oil was placed on cardboard beneath his bike as if it was leaking. He'd been concerned about some misting between gearbox and engine case so that was left for him to find in morning. Not my idea but a gentle joke anyway.


Wednesday 28th December

Rio Gallegos

Mileage - 0 kms

Well the joke worked apperently - the hosts were in on it too and said Nik was concerned for a short while. He's heard of the trick though so no harm done.

The nights sleep was good for all....baring me of course. too lights and too many unfamiliar sounds for me to sleep right though. If only I could sleep easily, it's a bind, it really is. Still, nothing can be done for now, can get a hotel to catch up, but not til after New Year, if we don't camp in Ushuaia we'll miss the other travellers.

We met a Polish RTW traveller yesterday and there are loads of bikes coming the other way, presumably having spent Christmas there. Today we bumped into another Brit on his way from Alaska going end to end, Dereck. Also on Canoe Club site were very experienced retired couple in a trick Landie from Truro. Cynthia had met both previously on her route.

Nik set off for Ushuaia solo, as I guess did Cynthia as we never saw her this morning. Andy and Maya and us stayed on and spent a relaxing day in towm.

Good local museam with history of the tribes wiped out less than 100yrs ago by settlers, sad story, but happened in many places. Very interesting tribes. Museam was free and the people gave us lots of translations which was very helpful. Very friendly. Only bit that was given a berth by the hosts was the section on the Falklands. Many monuments hereabouts as obvioulsy bases for invasion. Sad to see pics of Brits captured, and the Union Jack taken. There is no problem and we've had no adverse comments, but it's an odd predicament really. Governments screw up, and we humble folk all know that.

Some good folk here too. cyclist and a couple travelling for year in a car - been to Falklands and had a great time.

Sheppards Pie for tea, nice to be able to cook properly with an oven. The weather has turned around today from surprisingly warm this afternoon to seafret and bloody freezing this evening. The news shows snow in England so it's not as bad as that anyway!!


Thursday 29th December

Rio Gallegos - Ushuaia

Mileage - 244 kms

The weather last night turned a bit grim what with a thick sea fret, a total reverse of the wind and a plumet in the temprature. All in all setting up nicely for 'The end of the world' ! Luckily it wasn't looking half as incliment by waking and in fact though we geared up with liners back in and thermals for first time for an age it was actually a little too warm on the bike for set off.

After breakfast the packing was made considerably easy after simply sleeping on the floor in the upstairs room and being able to cook and eat in the kitchen area. The Canoe Club has been an excellent base and for all of £2 each a night a bargain. The owner Carlos and his wife are charming too and it was hugs and kisses all round before the off and pics of us all with bikes on exit.

Andy and Maya set off at their own pace and we went to find a cash machine before leaving town. Ten minutes later we all re-met in the petrol station. A local asked if we needed any help and gave directions to get out onto Ruta 3 and advised of a local beauty spot we should try and see if we had time - great people allways.

Met Andy and Maya again on road and had a quick break, the scenery now including slightly higher hills and a return of trees ! First (in any number) for a long time, Patagonia is fair famed for the lack of any vegetation of any height and it's a welcome sight to see tree lined hills and valleys. as we werestopped another bike passed, a yellow plate but a large F writ on side, obviously french, a friendly wave and a thumbs up back from us to indicate no probs and he continues. We left separetly again travelling at our own speeds, Maya was on driving duty and it was odd to see Andy on the side taking in the views.

The weather looked like it would turn for the worse, and after leaving the tarmac and hitting the repio once again it was time for concentration and care. this was hard repio, little loose stuff, more like a finished road with the surfacing stripped off, quite easy to ride but the bumps and undulationms are hard on the suspension, and us of course.

A brief stop before entering 'the cloud zone' and Patrick pulled in behind us, he was the French biker on a Yam XT660 and a nice friendly guy. After sharing the cheese sandwiches we had prepped at brekkie and swapping tales of travels and bikes we continued together towards Ushuaia.

Shortly it rained, but only briefly and then surprisingly the repio gave way to fresh new surfaced road - whahey ! The rain had stopped as we climbed high above the lake with some significant vertical drops off to our right fortunately beyond safety fencing. Unfortunately the views were spiolt by the fact we were suddendly riding in dense fog...well actually the inside of the clouds to be honest. So the views were gone and caution was order of day lest we came apon a lumbering wagon, or a looney coming down the other way.

Quite staggeringly, as is the case on these occassions, we got to the high point of the pass and as we descended popped out of the cloud and into the 20 deg warmth and clear skies of the far side, remarkable.

The ride from here to Ushuaia was simply brilliant, mountains crested in snow and corries holding glaciers and pointy peaks to match the best, all adding to the feel of arriving somewhere rather special.


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On the way to Ushuaia


The valleys were boggy and forested so there were contrasts of colour against the snow capped peaks that meant once again we were in photograph land. We pulled over and explained to Patrick that we may be stopping quite frequently at this rate and said we wouldn't be at all upset if he wanted to push on and get settled. Another stop and a brief toot and we were once again traveling alone. We knew we'd meet in town anyway so no worries.

It was very pleasing to come upon Ushuaia and discover it was in a magical seting and obviously a place of character and not just a dumpy tourist hole with no sense of being.

I've never been to Alaska, but this would be what I'd expect there, the Beagle Channel seperated distant jagged snowy peaks on off shore islands, the roof tops and buildings were multicoloured and the port was busy with large bright coloured cruise ships, Antartic supply vessels (?) and naval craft. Nice not to be disappointed once here, most impressive.

We had some difficulty finding the Rugby Club campsite (Rio Pipo) but eventually found it, it's on far side of town and only about 5kms from the end of Ruta 3.

The roads here have kilometre markers - pretty frustrating when you are on the long drags through say the Pampas, or down the coast, but they have a multitude of uses, for instance, they are used in addresses. The estacias are so isolated a kms ref if the best way to find them. The reason I mention this is Ruta 3 is one LONG road, the kms makers I think were up to 2300 odd ! Imagine following those as we have from Veidma, all the way to a point 5kms from the end !
So anyway we're here, and so are lots of other folk. There are 12 bikes, of which nearly all are Britss. Excluding Nik they are all new to us, and all have been on road a minimum of 2 years so definately seasoned travellers.

My memory is poor, but hope I have some of this right:-
Peter (GB) & Martina (D) on XT 600 & freewind.
Chris & Liz (GB) on Africa twin
Derek (GB) on KTM 640
Andy (GB) & Maya (NL) on R100GS outfit
Martin (D) & Silvia (D) Arifca twin &
Alec (GB) on MZ Baghira
Nik (GB) R1200GS
us (GB) R100GS
honorable mention for Mica & Sophia (P) and their kids who have been on road 4 years in their truck and have been with the folk here for a couple of weeks

It has struck me a couple of times in the last few weeks that we haven't allowed ourselves enough time for this trip. We are very fortunate that our employers allowed us sabaticals of 6 months, but in reality it's not enough time for a continent such as South America. we could easily spend 6 months just in argentina. 12 months would have been a more realistic timescale.

Anyway, all the folk are friendly and there is no showing off or talking down which is brilliant.


Friday 30th December

Ushuaia

Mileage - nominal kms

A relaxed day down in town looking around. Very very Touristy mainly older aged European visitors coming for the cruises, and a lot of travellers who like us are here for New Year.

Pleasant enough town. Bumped into Cynthia who's up at the Ski Club campsite, and also Patrick the French biker who's in the hostal but already tired of the Israelies. They have a very poor reputation everywhere it appears due to bad manners and arrogance in the main, surprisingly never met anyone with a kind word to say on there behalf, think it's due to the culture and the problematic background of the country and peoples.

Got some tourist info and did a bit of emailing but generally not a lot. The weather pattern has remained similar, dry generally, showers later in day, but hot in sun and cold without it.


Saturday 31st December

Ushuaia

Mileage - 0 kms

Well as it is the day for the big build up we were never likely to do too much.

I have been trying to get the intercom lead fixed in a proffessional manner. Although Autocom can send one out to us here is the only spot we knew we'd be at, and for a while. But unfortunately due to the Christmas holiday it couldn't happen here, and we never know were we'll be in a couple of weeks future to get sent ahead. Hence, trying to get my crap repair (due top lack of equipement to od profeessionla repair) done properly.

Fabio, the owners son, is a diamond and has been such a help o everyone when ever they need advice on were to get stuff, or stuff done. he has a colleague who does computer repairs and hopefully can either do the repair, or knows someone who can.

It was s case of catching people at the right time tofind out but they are brilliant people for helping.

Aposse of bikes and the outfit went into town to gt supplies for tonights party. The outfit being ideal for the large quantities required for 16 people. Everyone mucking in.


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3 up on outfit for shopping


The room that works as a dining area here is large and they had tables set for the different groups. We had a big long table at head of room. During early evening we were made busy with food preparation as the plan was salad and kebabs of Squid, Beef or chicken..

It was quite a task to skewer 70 odd kababs with onion, pepper, courgette, tomatoes, and meat. Then there were pounds of potatoes for baking too.

Martine (Peter's German partner) and Sophia (Mica's wife) from the Portugese overland truck were responsible for the majority of the thought and prep with the rest of us adding bits when required.

Clearly the locals are not used to seeing ladies working the Asada and it caused quite a stir. The kitchen itself here is large and generally over populated with groups and individulas trying to prepare meals. Luckily everyone is couteous and it all works out. Plates and crokery are provided and glasses too, very good for £2 each a day.

People did prep or washing up, all was shared.


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New Years Eve, food prep


Our meal actually consisted of - if I rrmemnber everything.

Cheese, olive and pineapple on sticks. Bread and Martina's secret tomato puree, spring onion and garlic butter. Salad, full monte, The kebabs, baked potatoes and several condiments. Crisps and sweet peanuts for afties too.

The place wasa filling up with various groups of travellers and locals here for a party, New Year is bigger than Christmas.

The sterling job done by the girls on the asada meant we all had plenty to eat and there was a little left over which was handy as three American's turned up late (won't mention the war) and got well provided for when at a low ebb with a long cold ride and late to site.


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Just before twelve we were all ready with our local champagne, the locals popping their corks early to toast the New year in, us popping the corks for midnight.

I should mention that we'd already had two toasts at 8 and 9 for the folks in Denmark, Germany and France, and then UK and Portugal who shar the same time zone surprisingly.

Everyone was then toasting each other and kissing and offering best wishes to each other, and then to the locals. Shortly after the music was on and everyone (well not me) was up and dancing. bev enjoyed the fact the local men are good dancers and took the opportunity to have a partner compared to the hopeless one sat at the table talking travel etc.

By 03.30 we were half cut and ready for bed really. At least here it's easily posible to sleep in as long as you like, well even the kids don't really make any noise 'til mid-day which is welcome after a heavy night.


Sunday 1st January 2006

Ushuaia

Mileage - 0 kms

Yupp, a steady day really, just up afore mid-day and doing very little. There's a reason for that ! It's damn cold here just sitting about The trees give a lot of shade, so obviously the sun doesn't get to warm us up either.

Went to the end of Ruta 3 for the obligatory picture at sign at énd of world´, has to be done ! Great way to start 2006


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The sign



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Inverse tourism - locals want pics on our bikes


Posted by Simon McCarthy at 09:17 PM GMT
January 11, 2006 GMT
2nd Jan 2006 - Ushuaia

Mileage - 0 kms

I forget, but generally taking life easy and not doing a great deal, other than looking into excursions by boat to see penguins as we've failed to date.


Tuesday 3rd January 2006

Ushuaia

Mileage - 0 kms

The site quietened down after New Year but unfortunately there were some unwelcome arrivals from our perspective. A large German 'Hotel Bus' truck full of folk towing a three level dormer thing and a Exodus truck, small group adventure travel it said on the bus Chris suggested our version must be 'insignificant group travel' by comparison. Anyway that meant the kitchen was busy, and the eating area overtaken rather spoiling the ambience we had enjoyed over the near past week.

Wednesday 4th January 2006

Ushuaia - Harverton Estation

Mileage - 88 kms

After rain in night at least the morning was dry. The German lot were up early, a little later the Exodus lot too making the place far from quite and the toilets and kitchen were taking a hammering which seemed a bit unfair on all the campers but must be very useful for the site owners I guess. We were glad to be leaving with those things on site. Martin says he's seen the German 'rolling hotel' everywhere even including the Sahara, bit of bummer when you think you've got away from it all..

The slow process of packing began, always a lot slower after camping as just about everything is off the bike. Been camped for quite a while now so at least we've got more into the routine, but we've been on site here for quite a while. Making a trawl round the site we said our goodbyes and headed out for fuel. It would be a fair hike down to the end of the road, back, and on to the next fuel supply on route.

The road to Harverton Estasion was a little way back out from town which gave us the ability to relive some of the great forest and mountain views we'd had on arrival. The dirt road 'J' branched off after about 45kms and we found a nice running surface, but occasional mud which was still wet from the previous rain, and being often in shade from trees caution was the order of the day. Wet mud is akin to sand when riding two up - difficult. Anyway there wasn’t much, just an occasional patch of slime that would make the bike skittish and us nervous.

There was no rush though so progress was safe and steady, still 25-30mph anyway. The scenery was lovely with dense woods of deciduous trees and obvious sighs of beaver activity along the slow flowing meandering rivers.

We stopped after a while and were admiring the dams etc creating the mini lagoons when an arrow-head of ripples signified the owner was home. A beaver was paddling around without a care in the world! Nice to see. I think the beavers are an introduced species, but no real idea, just nice to see.


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Approaching Harberton


We had to get to the Estancia Harberton for 3pm for the boat so no rush. The place is still run by the descendents of Thomas Bridges a British missionary who protected the indigeous peoples here. It's the oldest estancia on the island and is set in a very nice spot. White walled and red roofed corrugated building nestle by the water side with flower meadows all around, a genuinely pretty place, even with grey clouds and rain blowing in, all very Scottish again

We were an hour early so it was into the tearoom for some sustenance. Home made cakes were the order of the day as it was a little early for the lunch menu. It was nice to discover that though the place is far from the road, and regular services, the prices were fair. An omelet for a quid, or the Te Complete for £2.50. That was my choice and for that I got a couple of pieces of toast and a great selection of home-made jams, some home made biscuits and a piece of cake along with the obvious tea. All very nice too.

I don't think we were wrong in our belief that half the folk there were the descendants of the original owner as the kids were so obviously English looking, and the guy walking around in the dungarees was I would thing his great grand son.

Our boat was a small Zodiac type inflatable and would take a max of 15. We were very lucky...it was just the 5 of us plus the driver and the guide (herself one of the descendant family) we were looking less lucky with the weather as it was chucking down intermittently. As it turned out we cleared the wet and entered dry sunshine before the island.

Maya had said, half joking I think, can I have a go, to the boats pilot, and he said yes, and just handed over the wheel and sat down! Even though maya couldn't see over the cover of the boat the pilot showed no concern and simply said head that way and left her to it. Bev also had a go, and being even more vertically challenged had no idea where the island was.

Our only sighting in advance of the island was a distant Albatross but what we had come to see was before us, a beach full of penguins. We drifted onto the shingle and carefully and slowly slipped off the boat and on to the island.

The penguins (Megellanic) were not at all concerned and simply stood, slightly sleepy, all around. We moved slowly so as to not cause to much interruption further up the beach towards the nesting area. Not before we'd seen a few Snipe at much closer range than I've ever seen in the UK. The animals here don't have a fear on humans as they see so few.


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Magellanic beach


The sounds (we'll ignore the smells) were magical, just like on television (as if that weren't real eh?) As they had there young only about a month ago I'd expected them to be much smaller and fluffier than they were, in reality almost the size of the parent birds. The nests are in shallow burrows, but most o the chicks were above ground and huddling near their parents. Two seemed average though a few solitary children.


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Magellanic with young


The walk was fenced but you got very close to the birds as they are quite unconcerned by humans due to having little contact and therefore no fear, and are a bit inquisitive also. No worries of needing some 600mm mirror lens to get good close ups. Most birds seemed either to have just woken, or be ready for bed, eyes half closing and looking as comical as you'd expect.

After a good walk around the nesting area we went back to the beach to wait for the boat and sit amongst the birds there. Interesting to watch them splashing in the waves and then getting back on land and the water falling off as if they'd never been in the water.

There was no real rush to move us on and it was a relaxed pace and an all road enjoyable trip. we saw other birds as well such as Skuas and the Snipe and several other smaller brightly marked birds that I couldn't identify, perhaps on return.

For 130 pesos or £26 each it was expensive, but worth it we all agreed.

The ride back was fine, a few penguins out to sea, but otherwise straight forward til back on land, and obviously back to tea room for more cakes.

We were set on camping wild so checked for info. As long as you register it's free and they'll let you know the best places (only two 'official' spots on the Haverton land. The facilities are nothing other than a space, so you have to bring everything in, so we'd shopped fit for two nights. Also you need to be able to filter the river water and create your own toilet facilities. There are always people who abuse the facilities and when we got to the site there were bags of rubbish people had left which is bad. There was a good area to camp and an area to light a fire with collected wood. Christina and hockim that had been at the Canoe Club were in the cafe and were camped with us.

We soon had everything sorted and a good meal on the way and a fire to share with everyone for the evening. A wonderful night in the sticks around the fire to finish off.


Thursday 5th January 2006

Harverton Estation to Moat

Mileage - 108 kms

The sun rises early here, by 04.30, though luckily we were able to sleep past that, not by 08.45 though when the sun was bearing down creating a miniature oven in the tent.

Great day all things considered, little cloud and still. After sampling the delights of the trowel dug toilet - no facilities here other than ground and river water - and a very professional job to, even a branch seat. Somewhat exposed though, not so much privacy so lucky there was no-one but us here, and only Alec up and already away on an early morning ramble. Thought I'd share that nougat of wild camping with you.

After a slow warm up in the sun we were joined by Alec who had come across a fox lair along his walk. We decided that sounded a good thing to see so the three of us set out for a peek.

A short way from the campsite and river in a secluded wooded area we got our first sight. Maybe 30m away stood bolt upright and not taking an eye off us. Managed to get to within about 10m before it said 'thanks alot ' and hightailed off, but not before giving a feel weird eagle like shrieks of warning. Quite magical.

The day continued leisurely until we decided to head out on the road and continue down the 'J' to the end at Moat Estasion. If anything the weather had improved by the time we left.

The road was pretty good, but not to wide and you had to ensure caution on the bends as there just might be some traffic. Some of the views were spectacular as the road climbed high above the coast and bays.

The end of the road was about 50kms from the camping and was marked by a small coastguard station, but basically a hut. So that was truly the most southerly road on the continent, rather than the Ruta 3 with the sign everyone sees. (for all the difference it makes, not worried about ticking the boxes)

The routine journey was exceptional. The three bikes set off separately as we would all have different ideas on places to stop.

Andy and Maya were stopped at a lovely bay, a little further Alex (we set of last) with his own bay, and then a little further we found one of our own.

We stopped to drink in the view and scan the sea and shore for interest. Alec pulled up and recounted an encounter he had just had on the beach. He's stopped to take a picture of a tree stump, and low and behold in front of him - right in front of him, a Mink appeared with a large fish hanging either side out of it's mouth. He had snapped a shot, a great one, and was just showing us when I noticed three Dolphins in the bay. The day was just getting better minute by minute. We rode a little further down the road to get a bit nearer to the dolphins and sat watching for an age.


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Dolphins


Next Andy and Maya pulled up and shared their bit of naturalism with us. What had they seen ? A Penguin ! What a day. It wasn't a Magellan either so it sounded worth further investigation. Three overland vehicles with Swiss plates turned up just then, one of which had been at the Canoe Club when we were, so it was 'Happy New Year' all round.

After a bit of a socialise we and Alec set off back the two miles to where Andy and Maya had seen the penguin. A bit of a search and we found the spot. as promised a solitary rather sleepy looking Penguin was stood eyes half closed back to the beach...odd.


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King penguin


It was very easy to walk up quite close with no concern at all from the penguin, in fact he could have cared less. A fit of preening and a snooze seemed to all he had booked for the afternoon. One thing became abundantly clear....this was not a penguin we had seen before. He had orange head flashes and a red or orange beak (I forget now) and black feet...that was the give away, definitely not a Gentoo, they had red (I think) feet. So, it was in fact we're almost certain and Emperor Penguin...which is odd....as they certainly shouldn't be here, they're Antarctic dwellers. Lot bigger than the Magellanic Penguins too, so not easily mistaken.


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Gentoo


Well it certainly was here, for whatever reason, whether ostracized and forced out, lost, or on holiday. A very strange and fantastically welcome surprise. We stayed a while and got some cracking shots before the Swiss turned up and we left in order not too crowd the fellah too much

You'd have thought that would be it for the day but we still had some treats in store, the late afternoon sun gave us fantastic views back the way we'd come and further along the road Andy and Maya were watching what certainly looked like an Otter paddling it's way down the coast. Close up it looked like an Otter, just a little too snub nosed and too large, but I don't know what else it could be. Black Backed Gulls were enjoying mobbing it as it swam along though so it must have been an unwelcome guest in the area.

Back at the camp site in time for tea and it was all hands to task again to get everything ready. Food to be cooked, water to be pumped and filtered, firewood to be collected, each to their task it was easy to accomplish. The water filter we brought, an MSR one seems to have gone up the swanny on second use, but assume it will be easily resolvable, handy thing to carry when camping like this. More disastrous was my thermarest sleeping mat, came back to discover it looked like a mole had come up under it-in fact it's blown. So now there is a six inch deep cushion across half the width, exactly in middle width and length wise, cracking. Why don't these things happen at home were you have the 10 guarantee and a supplier rather than when you have 4 months 'proper' use ahead ?

Martin & had turned up too, swelling out number on the site. the only folk here luckily, nice to have it to ourselves again.


Posted by Simon McCarthy at 06:32 PM GMT
6th Jan 2006 - Harberton Est to Rio Grande

Mileage - 200 odd kms

Up to wind and very light rain, packed without too much problem, to cafe for coffee and cake to save using stoves. we ride out, track very wet by end but safe for 50kph, wind and chucking down over mountain pass, dry but cold on other side, repio dusty as hell.

Uninspiring ride to Rio Grande and back to Canoe Club (Club Nautico Oniken) for welcome return, happy to see us.. That night lots of people turned up to doss on floor upstairs were we decided to sleep too instead of camping. 14 folk sleeping on floor, some snoring problems. Bad nights kip for some


Saturday 7th January 2006

Rio Grande

Mileage - virtually 0 kms

Decided to have a 'rest day' before moving on so chance to air and dry tent. Andy discovers the damper on sidecar wheel had become loose and the bearing had gon AWOL...oops. Typically everywhere was either closed or closed for lunch. Carlos's friend a mechanic came and took damper away and sorted bearing and Andy got all back together. bit of internet on their computer.
Feature of living in these places were there are proper kitchens and eating areas is the food we've had. Tonight Bev and Maya did full roast beef and veg, and home made Apple pie for afters. We've had a roast chicken with all trimmings, sheppards pie, tuna bake all things that you need an oven for.

Same again in evening, loads of folk turning up late, 5 at near 12, to dos down - 13 at end, but surprisingly good nights kip !


Sunday 8th January 2006

Rio Grande - Punta Arenas

Mileage - 240 odd kms

Well it's goodbye to the Canoe Club for the last time, Carlos and his partner whose name escapes me, are some of the kindest of hosts you could ask for. It is genuign the responce you get on return, and the hugs and best wishes when you leave, really, really nice people, can't recommend highly enough based on the kitchen facilities and warmth of the hosts. I think I'd put my tent up at w/e's during the holiday seasons if you don't fancy dossing down with a whole group of folk upstairs.

So it was out of town the same way we'd come in for quite a way, at least until past the border and onto that wonderful (ulp) repio.

Fortunately the border was considerably easier on our passage through that way, the Argentinian side was quick (especially compared to last time) and the Chilian side, though more 'firm' was no problem either and our temporary import document last until April some time. Of course that's of no use what so ever which will become abundantly clear when you look at a map of the area. Though we're in Chile, we will be back and forth through Argentina several times before we eventually reside in Chile semi-permanantly. So basically, bloody paperwork, with only days use.

The repio didn't seem so bad going back, probably due to the off road down at Harberton. Up to the turn off taking us onto virgin territory was hard packed repio anyway, after that very variable.

A few further words on repio.

To try and paint the picture imagine this. You have been asked to ride down a slowly meandering narrow garden path at 70kph with deep ornamental gravel either side. Not easy. At times you have 2 to 3 foot of safe passage with the build up of loose chippings either side. At other times the width you are safely riding on can be as narrow as 2 or 3 times the width of your rear tyre. The reopi varies hugely over quite short distances so you can never truly relax (well, we can't, as it effects us both). Sometimes it is gritty stoney material, sometimes a bit of clay content which is no fun if damp like at times today, and other times almost like polished gravel or small pebbles - that's the worst, almost like ball bearings.

We appear to have got the intercom working, in an occasional manner and it is fantastic to be able to have a conversation again....without shouting over the shoulder. Anyway the reason for saying all this is that when Bev says something, at times I'm unable to answer for a couple of seconds as it takes that long to check the road and compose an answer. I know there's that old adage of men not being able to do two things at once, but on this type of occasion it does take some thought as the old brain is working overtime balancing huge amounts of incoming sensory information and trying to get the body to minisculy adjust the riding. Poor old Bev says 'look at those Guanaco's over there' and I just can't look until it's nearly too late, and then it's the briefest of looks unless the bike moves more than a few inches.

The repio really does focus the mind, what ever speed you're travelling at. The concentration required at times is ridiculous, but the risks are considerable. Sometimes the gravel is only an inch or so deep at times, but then can change to 6 or more inches, which is not something you want to touch.

Of course the other factor in all this is that the roads are narrow and two way, but often the wheel tracks are only two, ie the oncoming vehicles use the same tracks...until a vehicle comes the other way. There have been numerous serious accidents when vehicles have met on crests, we always slow and move to the right for hills.

We also slow down whenever anything is either coming towards us, or when something is catching up, just to be sure.

The landscape headed for Porvenir was not disimilar to - you guessed it - Scotland, for a while, and the road was quite attractive as it dropped to the seashore in a sequence of bends and rolling hills. At various points we saw Guanaco's, and at one point a wild horse was running full pelt along side us, at once impressive, and worrying - but it kept to the verge fortunately.

Povenir was a much larger place than we expected, even had petrol and hotels. We aimed straight for the ferry terminal (Ok slipway and cafe) and as it was only 3pm where surprised the boat was already there.....along with what looked like more vehicles than it could hold.


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At the starting gate


We hoped we could slip on in the way they manage to get room for bikes, but weren't entirely sure. Hannas and Christina pulled up in their car too - they arrived the day before and were booked. The booking offoce was closed but the girls went with Hannas oin the hope of using his excellent Spanish to wangle us a ticket.

Just aftre that the captain and loading guys came off theboat, looke our way, and said theose magic words "moto's". No check for tickets, Andy and I thought fine, and rode down onto the boat.

They wanted us at the far end in a lower portion out of the way of cars etc and so began the familiar comic routine of trying to get things in spaces not realy meant for them. It was the usual disorganised chaos (can chaos ever be organised) that we have become so familiar with, but as usual, it all worked out in the end.


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Disorganised chaos


Our bike was wedged in and the outfit was manhandled into the space behind it, neither of us was going anywhere. The girls weren't too surprised to here we were on board, and they'd got tickets. We seem to have saved a small amount as everyone else has paid for bike and a rider, but in fact the price is a bike and rider, and any pillion extra. A guy in the queue pointed it out, saving £4. Everyone else we spoke to had paid for the bike and themselves. The bike and rider was actually £7. Not bad for a two and a half hour crossing.

We were first on board and so took seats upstairs, but soon the boat filled with a large amount of foot passengers. A couple of vehicles on the dock didn't get on. Well worth booking if you can, we tried the internet but got no response, better trying an agency in advance for certainty.

The journey was pleasant enough as we caught up with Hannas and Christina and watched the sea in now pleasant sunshine...we'd had heavy showers on land earlier.

As we left Porvenir we were treated to one further site, a black and white dolphin lept clear out of the water three times ! i could hardly believ my eyes and was amazed no-one else on the deck saw it before me. magic.

Disembarking was another laugh. We got our bikes out ourselves, easiest option, and watched the rest attempting to get their cars off. quite interesting.

Punta Arenas was quite a surprise as the buildings were grand all of a sudden and colonial French or Belgian looking. Some money there at the turn of the century. Hannas offered to show where there was camping in a park outside town (no campsite surprisingly) after leading us to an ATM and the supermarket for supplies.

The Chilians were at once a different people. Much less forward and much less friendly, not unfreindly, just not forthcoming. The Argentinians have been brilliant.

After following Hannis to the park we were greeted by a very glub faced official who told us the park closed at 20.00 abd we would not be able to go in. bugger. So, 9pm, no campsite, and no place to stay at this time. Hannis asked about camping and the guy said people do wildcamp but he couldn't say were.

He left and we effectively camped outside the gates were a Chillian family had been set up for there Sunday evening asada and campfire. they were very helpful and said it wouldn't be likely to be a problem camping there. As we had food etc it was probably our best option but not ideal with the amount of rubbish litter and worse in the area. Still, needs must.

It was bitterly cold and we got the tents set up quick before dark. The family had left a fire going and we set about finding more wood to keep it stoked. The view over Punta arenas - we were on a hill - and over the water to far side was quite impressive.


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Ging-gang-gooly-watchers


We soon had a plate of hot food in front of us and a warming fire burning. turned in tired and slept fairly well. a vehicle had pulled up just after we all climbing into our bags but never caused any problem.


Monday 9th January 2006

Punta Arenas - Puerto Natales

Mileage - 340 kms

After not too bad a night kip we were up a little early at before nine, since it was 1am when we'd finally crashed. We were all a bit knackered as we had little water and so were quite dehydrated. There was only a litre of water for breakfast so not great, no local water around either, if there had been it would have been dubious to say the least.

So we broke camp and with blackening skies headed for the road to Puerto Natales At least the road was not repio, it was concrete all the way, bliss !

The weather was suspect with strong mainly side-winds and occasional showers and the scenery for most of the day wasn't too inspiring. The highlight was stopping for lunch at a small family run place were the hospitality was as warm as the food.

At last we were able to find that the Chileans although perhaps more reserved are a friendly bunch. the lady owner was very friendly and made sure we were happy with everything.

The menu prices almost looked a mistake even by argentinain standards. The plate of the day for instance was £3.50. for that we got salad, steak or chicken, blancmange (?) and nice hot chocolate and cups of tea that tasted like tea (a welcome return) She also brought a local liquer out for us to try and the quest book.

It was a great place to stop and very welcome.

We continued on our way and fairly easily got to our destination. Finding the camping was more difficult thought. The book had one, Josmar 2, in town which seemed unlikely. We fancied a room as they also had supposed cheap ones. Finding the place was the usual nightmare with the grid blocks as we always ended up wanting to go down a round that was one way...the wrong way. Eventually we found the place and it looked like a corner house. It was the camping though, out back were plots and quite nice. I asked about the rooms and the old guy showed us a room with three bunk-beds that we could have for the four of us for 4,000 Chillian Pso's p/p p/n, so say £4. Camping was £2 so it was a bargain.

Nice enough place, little run down, uineven floors, but helpful people and a restuarant. We decided to eat in as the price for Salmon and chips was 2,500, bargain, and it was. we had more besides, including beer and the local hooch, pisco sour and still only paid about eight quid each to be stuffed. Pisco is the Chilliian grape based drink that is mixed with lemon juice and egg white and icing sugar to create Pisco sour. For citrus haters like Bev, the alternative is Piscola which tastes better than it sounds !


Tuesday 9th January 2006

Puerto Natales

Rest day after a great nights kip. Quick tour of the bizzare flora and fauna museum which was basically a large collection of stuffed animals from a few years ago based in a Silisian church college. Nearly all buildings here are either corrugated, or galvanised sheets over assumed timber frame. Rare to find a house more than one story high and near all are very brightly painted.

The town is basically a base for entering the National Park Torres del Paine as there are no shops etc in there. Many tour companies, kit hire shops and other supplies. Interesting for about half a day. Some nice Black Necked Swans and some other smaller ducks on waterfront, and the supposed impressive mountain views obscured by cloud. Cold too, biting winds.


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Posted by Simon McCarthy at 06:36 PM GMT
January 26, 2006 GMT
11th Jan 2006 - Puerto Natales - Hosteria Los Torres, camping

Anyone following this as a strict and accurate record may have noted days and dates out of order on last entry. It's simply because we have no idea what day it is half the time, this is our only reference - really !

150 kms

After two days relaxing in the comfort of a room it was time to enter the National Park Torres del Paine and forgo most luxuries. The park has little in the way of facilities - unless you want to pay through the nose in hotels - and so you need to stock up before entry. There are no real shops after Puerto Natales and so we shopped before leaving to get the supplies for a few days, not easy as we have very little room on our bike as we're fill to bring and I don't want to strap stuff all over loosely. In a strange quirk the food we bought managed to go in the panniers and Bev's rucksack. Supplies for a few days, but no room for excess or luxury.

The ride out of town and too the park varied, but the common thread was that the road was bloody hard, bloody hard. Real vehicle destroying stuff. OK it's not the same as you'd expect in say Bolivia, but bad for here. From excellent repio capable of 80kph to suddenly deeper gravel at 35 to chassis breaking corrugations that were hard on the riders as well as bike. It's scarey stuff when you start to think about the bike, so much hammer. I guess you'd say just go slower, but it isn't that simple as on corrugations the slower speed is hard on bike and people too, higher speed works better.

We got towards the park and the views were stunning, absolutely amazing, more than I ever would have expected. The Torres live up to all the tales.


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Torres



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A Powerful View


The road into the park was pretty atrocious too, and the entry fee of £10 each almost as bad, but, you can't escape it, so you have to pay it.

I guess it's the views you're paying for, but at least we can still have them for free in the UK and most of the places in Europe...consider ourselves lucky....it might not always be that way.

As we arrived outside the camping Peter sprang out of the field opposite and we had a great reunion as he and Martina were camped on site. So too were Pierre the French Canadian, Norman and the Venezuelan Richard. Once again our paths were all crossing.

The camping is in a great location, and ironically this is far warmer than Puerto Natales which is good. The water is hot in the toilet block and the views sublime, so even at £3.50 a person it's good (I know, I know, but £3.50 here is about £10 at home as far as I see it)

Thursday 12th January 2006

Hosteria Los Torres, camping
0 kms by bike 21 kms by foot !

Well firstly I should paint the scene for how today’s entry comes to you. Bev and I huddled (in comfort) in our doss bags with me typing by head torch - light too dim now to see keyboard - with rain hammering down outside. But what a day we’ve had up till this evening !

We rose early, 8.30 is early for us, remember we're on 'holiday', mainly due to fact the sun was slowly building the heat in the inner tent to atomic levels. It wasn't clear blue skies outside, and it was still a bit nippy, but tents superheat with any sunshine. Anyway, ironic that now eh !

We had expected to try and get out on the 'hills' today, but weather dependant, seen some poor forecasts. Anyway obviously it was looking OK at moment even though the towers were part obscured by cloud.

The supplies we brought in included one of our favorite camping breakfasts....no not bacon and egg....something much better. A great way to start the day is to boil the water for coffee and take the spare with some milk powder and chuck in some crunchy muesli and wait for an excellent warm start to the day. Bev made up some rolls and we have some snack bars so along with a litre of water we were fit for the walk. We have only a small rucksack and bumbag with us, and only some cagoules we use over the bike gear as waterproofs, but at least we have some wind-proof pullovers and light trekking trousers and fleece hats and gloves.

Today was a first real opportunity to try the boots out. We bought lovely made Altberg bike boots as they have a walking last and are extended for m/c use. This means you can use them as walking boots too - no way you’d have two pairs of boots on a biking holiday.

I say all this by way of the fact we can't have all our favorite walking gear that we'd use say at home, but we did manage to bring stuff we could use.

The walks here are very popular and the accents you hear are from all round the world, US, Japan, UK and most other European countries as well as South American of course. The park gives you a map with your £10 entrance fee (very big of them) and they are marked up with walk lengths and times and details of wild camping and refuges.

Leaving the camp site we walked a kilometer to the start of the actual walk. Here were lots of folk about, and it was obviously a popular route (lots of international groups on our site too). We could hardly expect have it to ourselves of course.

Initially the path lead up hill, then a little steeper as it climbed the valley but had to go high to avoid erosion and slips caused by the river. Very reminiscent of walking in to the hidden valleys off Glen Coe. The wind would gust occasionally, without warning, and blow dust straight at us, especially higher when it was a right pain.

After I guess an hour of so we were at the refuge, or would be if we crossed to it, which we never. You can get food and drinks etc there, but they're expensive so we didn’t' bother even calling in.

The next section was more gradual as it followed the river and wound mainly through deciduous forest with some steps and little rustic footbridges. The weather was mix of sunny; of partial sunny, even with the breeze is was warm going.

Following this was the ascent proper to get the view of the towers themselves. This was harder going as we had to ascend a boulder field and the path wound around and over stones of all sizes. It was definitely the hard part, and a few of the faces around showed whether they had this sort of experience or not. A note on our fellow walkers here, we had no one with us, I mean the other people on the hill. What a generally miserable and ignorant lot they were. The locals walk like they drive and shop, no moving over, no grace, and no manners, not all, just 95% of them. You can generally tell the other nationalities by their manners, let's face it, generally the Brits are pretty well mannered, Americans generally too, and he Japanese faultlessly so. Other European nations lived up to the preconceptions generally, funny old world.

As we reached the top the wind and cold built, like it always does, then suddenly the first views of the giant fingers of rock loomed into view. Let’s just say they weren't disappointing. As we crested the climb they revealed to us in all their glory. I hadn't realised there was a turquoise lake at their feet so that was a surprise.


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Bev reflecting on the View



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Torres



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Torres


The view was stunning.

I've seen these towers features in many a climbing article or film, and I've been to a couple of lectures were people have described their ascents of these towers, so they have always held a strange fascination for me. As with most things I never thought I'd one day be stood looking at them. It was a time to be savored so we walked but 50 yards from the crest and found a lovely little shelter amongst the rocks were we could be comfortable and enjoy our lunch and admire the views.

We could hear the sound of fairly frequent avalanches or rock falls, but otherwise it was quiet - it's amazing that all the time we were there only two people bothered to walk that 50 yards to where we were, people are so unadventurous generally (and we're not complaining at all).

Sticking all our clothing on to be comfortable whilst stopped we were able to enjoy lunch and really spend some time looking at the towers in more detail through the binoculars. They are immense. I can't remember how long it takes to climb them, days and days of living on portaledges suspended over shear drops of hundreds of meters. I may be wrong, but I think I recall that they are nearly a kilometer vertically high, and they look it ! Through the binoc's you could see the formations and slabs of rock on their faces. They are way beyond my climbing capabilities and I'll never be closer than this.

We were lucky the cloud had lifted, from campsite their tops were obscured, but we had the advantage of the tops occasionally 'smoking' as clouds formed around them. When the sun shone (briefly) the turquoise lake came alive with colour - obviously at that point we had our lunch in our hands and the camera's away - obviously !

A few piccies were taken, and we couldn't stay all day anyway so we had to leave after about and hour and a quarter. It had taken three and three quarter hours to get to the top, so we had quite a walk ahead to return.

The descent was more of a pain due to the amount of people coming up. We had hardly set off early, but these folk must had set off very leisurely to be coming up at gone 4pm. We replenished our water bottle from a stream and got much fresher, unchlorinated water in exchange.

The descent was basically a reverse of our route up, but still enjoyable until about the last third when we were flagging a bit. To add to the fun you can also get horses to trek up to the refuge and back, great, except they use the same path as walkers, and in fact, on descent, are slower than a fit walker. They passed us and then we had the scent of horses arses for a good distance before we decided to break and let them get ahead. Stupid idea that is having them on the same path. In general the paths are surprisingly narrow, and not too eroded. And it was very welcome (and a bit astonishing to be honest) to see no litter anywhere, a very pleasant surprise.

The last bit of descent though not steep was a bit tiring and we were pleased to get back down to the valley floor. The wind had picked up substantially after the refuge, grit blasting us from behind, and the rain that had been very intermittent on the last bits of the descent was now getting stronger. There were still people going up, but in main those going camping to do the longer walks, but their faces were understandably long.

We called at the 'kiosk' to get some supplies. Had no pasta left. We knew it would be costly, but it's still a surprise to pay £1.50 for pasta and £2 for a loaf of bread. I know its difficult getting stuff here, but someone’s doing very nicely out of the park thank you. The last beer (£4) had been sold though so not a chance to toast our day on the hills.

At the campsite it was raining proper and apparently the wind had been getting up during afternoon and taken a few tents out. Ours was OK I'm pleased to say, and we set about making some food. another good word for a good product here, the Hilliberg Nallo GT. Great for this weather and cooking. We climbed in side and unhooked the first part of the inner and pushed it back to create a huge vestibule to easily sit and cook in comfort. A simple meal and some bread and we were happy bunnies, a quick shower before dark, and retire to bed to listen to the perpetual hammering of the rain on the tent.


Friday 13th January 2006

Hosteria Los Torres, camping

0 kms, rained off

Well we woke to a warm tent, but still rain. Off to the East it was grand weather but the Torres create their own weather and we were in it. Not a day for doing much, in fact, until afternoon there was no point even thinking of going out for a ride.

One thing I haven't mentioned, but should be obvious from the pictures, is how often we are traveling in company. In fact somewhat surprisingly we haven't actually traveled on our own at any point on this trip yet!

We were with Nik for 6 weeks odd, arrived in Ushuaia together with Andy and Maya, who we're still camped with at present, and also traveled with Alec from Ushuaia to Rio Grande.

It's not the fact we have actively sought company, it's just the way that it has turned out. In past travels, simple holidays, we have rarely had company, and in fact would avoid it, but here it is different. After time you find you will bump into people, and then you meet again on the road. There is really a 'circuit' here, however we like to think we're all global warriors cutting our own paths we're generally like minded and traveling through and too the same points of interest, or someone is riding the same path you are and your paths will cross.

As mentioned, it is very rare you get to meet the wrong people so it is welcome. This afternoon we had two Brazilians on step through 100cc bikes pull up, we first saw them (not to speak too) on the road from Ushuaia, them heading south and us north. they gave us huge waves in passing. They recognised the outfit and so came to say hello. Although on their way to Calafate, they decided to stop. Later on Martin and Silvia turned up, they didn't expect to see us here (any of us) but in the way of the world here we all are.

It seems completely a surprise to spend so much time in other peoples company, but I guess it's the common kinship that bonds the friendship and makes it so good to spend time together. Every time we think we'll be off on our own we seem to end up in company, and with no regrets.

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 07:09 PM GMT
14th Jan 2006 - Hosteria Los Torres, camping - Grey Glacier

140 kms

Using the campsite as our base, and having the weather revert to sunshine we decided to have a team ride out to the Grey Glacier.

What I should of course mention was it was Andy's birthday (21 again) today, so we had a bit of fun as Maya had decorated the outfit with balloons and got Andy a few presents she had hidden away, and Bev knowing of the event had also got him a little something too.


So the ride out was with picnic too.

The road was bloody rough - and I don't care how often I get told you won't like Bolivia then - it was hard.

Bought extortionate juice at 1100 (550 normal) to ensure we’d get everywhere and some more reasonable priced supplies before going on.

Eventually we got to the viewing area (well after 20 min walk) and saw Icebergs floating in the water in fantastic hues of blues and sculpted into fantastical shapes by the thawing actions of wind and water.


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Bev and Martina sat and took in the views and Peter and I wandered along the beach, he to the far end were views of the distant glacier could be had, and I wandered SLR in hand looking for those elusive arty shots of blue ice and contrasting scenery.

I found a small piece of a melted berg at the shoreline and we took it back and each had a bit to suck. Wonder how old that was, and whether there was some incurable disease frozen in it!

It was a magical place and there were few people there, making it more magic.

At long last we got one of our eagerly awaited wildlife sightings, Austral Parrots! The most southerly breed of parrot in the world, and as comical and mischievous as any other parrot. Before this trip I'd never expect to see parrots or parakeets this far south, but there we have it they are here in abundance !


Sunday 15th January 2006

Hosteria Los Torres - wild camp on way to El Calafate

90 kms

Set out 'bout 13.00, Peter got a rear wheel puncture after a spoke snapped. just at border so stripped, changed spoke and repaired tube and stuck back together in a short time considering. as too late by time we exited Chile (very easy) at Cerro Castillo, the Argentina side was a little more trying, but the firm faced front was soon dropped and necessary paperwork completed without too much difficulty. Pain in the arse though as we'll be back into Chile again before we know it. If the two countries got on better I'm sure they could resolve to issue a 30 day pass or something. As it is foreigners have to register the vehicle on entry, then the paper is chucked on exit, and the next country does the same. if you look at the border down here it really is a bit of an inconvenience, still, locals don't have the same problems and we're in the minority. Chile is on elections at the moment so they're quite excited and TV is on everywhere in true election fever mode.

The spot we stopped at where Peter had his puncture had a small shop and cafe, but being Chile, the prices were frightening. £3.50 for a burger, even bare bread rolls were 28p each. I appreciate the places here abouts are rather cut off, but the costs are horrendous in comparison to Argentina, but then before their crash, the same would have been true of Argentina too I guess. Anyway it comes as a shock to pay more than you would at home.

As we were still a long way from destination and it was 18.20, El Calafate was too far. Absolutely bugger all about here by way of habitation - there was one hotel (run down) that we passed. I'm sure Bev and I would have been knocking on their door but seasoned travelers Peter and Martina naturally suggested the natural option was to wild camp.

The only problem was where. Where there's a will there is always a way, and though the roads here are built like British motorways with wide verges and long back set fences there are occasional estancia's and the like. It's not like back home were you'd find a small back road or a wood. A wood...now that's a laugh ! The only trees in Patagonia after the bottom bit are the ones planted by the farm buildings, and they're inhabited. The place is just barren sun-baked (don't get the idea it's too hot either !) pampas grasslands. So we found the turn off from the Ruta 40 (shockingly new tarmac which was a surprise after the initial repio at border north until there is a shortcut) which cut the corner, and was, yes, repio and found a petrol station.

After filling up we asked if there was anywhere to camp. They suggested behind the police point over road that had some trees and cover, but there were some others on the other side that looked favorite. We asked if it was possible and they said it was estancia land but probably OK.

We set up camp for the night and made tea, and all was well


Monday 16th January 2006

Wild camp on way to El Calafate to Lago Roco Nr El Calafate

208 kms

Packed, bloke walked past with no problems

Repio, some unpleasant some good eventually got us to el Calafate, a real tourist town set up just for the glaciers really. Got some shopping and headed off to camp in park - one 'proper' site, one free.

After getting there on a great tarmac road we discovered the campsites were no more, and nearest one was over 40kms away, down a repio road. We could have stayed in El Calafate and got down the tarmac road quicker, bugger.

Anyway it turned out that Lago Roco is a great camping spot with the best showers we've encountered over here (a great selling point) and loads and loads of space at each pitch and all for £2 each a night.

As we set up the asado who should turn up? Martin and Silvia, it’s a small old world at times!


Tuesday 17th January 2006

Lago Roco Nr El Calafate

126 kms

Well today we went to one of the premium tourist hot spots in Argentina and probably South America as a whole, the Moreno Glacier.

It is justifiably talked up everywhere, an immense wall of blue ice slowly crawling down 14 odd kilometers and just abutting the headwall of the opposite side of Lake Argentina.

After all the farce with the campsites in the park being closed, and the signs saying the road was closed to traffic from 12.30 to 16.30 we were a little concerned about making sure we got our visit in. With an entrance of 60 for us both that's about £12 you want to be sure of getting a quality time there.

We rode up with Martina and got there for about 12. The road wasn't shut at any point, so useless signing, and blow me if we didn't run into Andy and Maya just by the parking.

The place is certainly tourist hell, but you have to expect it really. The car park was full at the top (in fact at peak times private vehicles can't go there I think) and so we had to park lower and await the free mini buses. The queues were long though and we all agreed to walk the less than 1km. Lucky we did ! On the way we saw a path to right that showed a spectacular sight of the glacier but warned 'no entry without ranger advice'. we were in luck, a ranger appeared and we joined his group, and picked up some details as we got to the fantastic views you wouldn't otherwise get. The wall of ice is around 60m above water and 160 below (Get this, the Upsala Glacier a lake away is 600m deep below water level). The glacier looses 2m a day at the front, but is no longer advancing or retreating, it's fairly stable, in the eighties it was one of the few advancing glaciers in the world.

There were a few other snippets we picked up, but what was more important was the sheer magnitude of the thing itself and the stunning beauty of the formations and colours of the ice making up the walls.


moreno1.JPG

Moreno



moreno2.JPG

Moreno


The sounds were also magnificent with creaks and groans, but mainly bangs, crashes and splashes as sections moved and broke free and fell. No huge sections fell off whilst we were there, but a few fairly large ones did.

The pictures do more justice to the glacier than words, but its magnitude is hard to comprehend even in pictures....take it from us, that thing is BIG !


moreno3.JPG

Moreno



moreno4.JPG

Moreno


Back at base it was asada time and we had the whole gang again for a meat feast like you can only afford to do over here.


Posted by Simon McCarthy at 07:11 PM GMT
18th Jan 2006 - Lago Roco Nr El Calafate to past Tres Lagos Ruta 40

268 kms

You find your humble scribes at Km 53 after the YPS station at Tres Lagos on the Ruta 40, in the middle of bugger all, having had tea and with a lovely camp set up. The reason I mention this is for the benefit of others passing this way. There is little accommodation available for quite a way before and after here. This is also the fabled 'long bit' so far as juice goes. Some 340 miles between stations, unless you add 60kms to the route on a spar. Everyone down this way knows were these two petrol stations are - or needs too, as without them you're buggered to make the distance by bike - and in fact with many standard capacity tanks you would be too, this is one place the 43 liter tank will be used.

Anyway, back to the campsite. It looks like it's an old garage or homestead with a couple of fallen down buildings and some abandoned concrete hard standings. Another interesting feature is the recently dead horse with rigor mortise by the entrance. It's well down wind of us (could smell on road before seeing) and will detract from our presence.. There is a stream besides the willow hedging that protects the tent from the fair old breeze and as people have stayed before a bit of a fireplace that we are utilizing, all round very nice.

Theses places are few and far between - we'd been looking for 50 kms for anywhere we could pull in that had shelter from the wind and a source of water, this was the first place. The road has obviously been pretty bad in recent past (Niks blog said he's had an epic here a week or two ago) with heavy rain, but is at least dry now. But the weather was looking mixed earlier and hence our seeking out a spot rather than going endlessly onwards. This is a long stretch and not one to push your luck on. Since being here eating tea until now I don't think one vehicle has passed you'd be lucky to get immediate attention hereabouts !

I should say for those not in the know, the Ruta 40 is a classic for all the pre mentioned reasons, and always comes up in motorcycle travel tails, but don't go thinking it's some backwater track - This IS the main road over these side of Patagonia, the Ruta 3 on other side is main one used by HGVs etc I guess, but this is about the class of the old A1. Think London to Carlisle with petrol at each end, no real habitation between and all off road and you'll be having the right picture in your mind.

Well funny old day today as we had decided to head on up the road, but everyone else was staying for one reason or another, Andy to fly fish after the guy that gave us a fish for the asada last night loaned him his fly fishing gear - imagine that at home. Peter and Martina are trying to source a rear tire for his Tenere as a lump of tread has left the canvas well exposed, and Martin and Silvia left at 5am to see the glacier at early doors.

So, unbelievable as it sounds, we're about half way through our trip and today is the first time we've ridden on our own, we never expected to seek company, but have greatly enjoyed it and will miss it for know....but just up the road could be more friends united, or new friends !

You build up strong relationships quickly on the road and we both felt very sorry to be leaving, but we have 3 months left, and others no limits so we need to go at our pace occasionally.

The ride out was the usual mix of great gravel roads and horrendous ones, the variety is far from the spice, it's a fair old pain in the arse (quite literally)

This stretch, once past the road for Cerro Fitz Roy is blank, blank, blank. occasional fine sedimentary rock strata and glacial green rivers, or Rheas or Guanaco's but otherwise like the blandest dales views for hundreds of miles....the attraction soon wears off I assure you.


guanacos.JPG

Guanacos


It's hard to explain how you view your existence in these places as the combination of the weather (strong side winds today) the lack of humanity in the form of buildings or even cars for whole portions, and the appalling road conditions get you thinking about what would happen if something did. Concentrates the mind somewhat I have to say.

The other surprise today was we dropped the bike. First time, and in fact not an accurate description - we fell off ! I was turning around on a very windy section with three piles of deep gravel between wheel tracks and I simply lost the ability to hold it up ! Of course I should have asked Bev to get off first etc but there you go. As our first spill I don't think it even counts in the bigger picture really does it !

Anyway it's great being here round our fire with a good spot, assuming no stampede of stock in the night or lunatics on the loose it'll be great, so much for all those comments on taking rooms. But we'll be due a spoil soon enough


Thursday 19th January 2006
past Tres Lagos Ruta 40

300 kms

Luckily woke to a clear warm day with less wind but still what you'd call a fresh wind at home.

Having failed to get any spread or the like for the bread we managed to get yesterday we had to have bread dipped in coffee for breakfast and then a fairly leisurely pack before off about 11.30 - very relaxed eh !

After we left we counted the cars and got to a whole 20 oncoming and 15 the opposite way in the whole day, which was about 7 hours of riding - you wouldn't want an 'off' out here....more on that later.

Frankly the scenery was bland until the end of the day, but seeing as the road was a bit mixed my vision was limited to about three foot wide by as far as a few hundred metres plus the odd glance further up the road. To see more I had to stop.

The few things that happened during the ride where a bit limited but we did get the odd wildlife sighting. There were many rheas about at times. A single or pair of birds look after the whole brood as a crèche sort of affair. We saw about three groups of young with a parent bird crossing the road or hightailing it up the verge. Quite comical birds and a worthy distraction - the necessary slowing allowed me to see that much !

There are also Skunks hereabouts, we have seen (ahem, and smelt !) them twice, but not alive. they live up too their reputation dead at least we can confirm !

We did actually see a couple of other places worthy of being able to wild camp, ie some wind break and water, but they are very few and far between, very. there were also a couple of estancia's offering services, but all bar one were around 60 or 80kms off the road, which is not too helpful when you're stretching out your meager fuel as far as possible.

The main event of the day was exactly what we didn't want, and fortunately didn't directly affect us.

In the middle of nowhere - like anywhere on this road isn't eh - were a Parguayan 4x4 and an Argentinean one, and two Brazilian bikes (Honda 250's, made there I think). We slowed to pull up to check all was well, and clearly it wasn't. One bike had gone down and the rider was sat propped against the car in discomfort.


ruta40accident.JPG

Honda Rider Accident


He had obviously come off, and as we stopped and dismounted to see if we could be of any assistance it was obvious he had been hurt. His bike was mashed around the indicators and instruments and bars and he had gone down heavily. He had a full face on, but had still sustained what might be a broken nose, and a quite a bad cut to the back of his head. Some of folk on bikes routinely ride around without lid´s on and I always wondered how they can do it - particularly on repio. Maybe if they´d been here they´d think twice....or not.

So even with the right gear on he had suffered quite a knock.

It turned out the Argentinean lady was a nurse, but whether for litigation purposes or whatever, she hadn't been much help. The poor guy was in the wrong position and going into shock from what we could see.

Bev immediately made use of her first aid training (and the reason I had wanted to do it also) and got the guy into the right position and checked him over.

Possible broken nose it seemed, and the wound on the head was cleaned and Bev tied bits of his hair together to try and pull the skin together.

The guy almost immediately started to recover and come out of the shock. The other people there though well meaning had not inspired his confidence and so left him in a bad way. After this happened the 'nurse' got out her equipment and took the poor guys blood pressure which was a bit pointless as it would be a bit false and now real help.

There was no sign of any further head injury luckily, just bruised ribs and a few knocks. The nose was flowing fairly well though and I wouldn't want to don my crash hat and ride another 150kms, but needs must.

As it was a long day ahead, and all was in control now, we were able to leave as nothing more we could do, they would continue after some mechanicals. In fact we met them at the petrol station village not more than half an hour after we left, not hanging around these guys.

Obviously they were grateful and Bev was happy to help.

As we left it felt a bit of emotion as - though I never forget - it brings home the dangers out here.

There was a lot more 'nothing' before the end of the day, but still a couple of surprises.

About 50kms before the village was a solitary hotel (I thought it was abandoned at first, but not) that would have been great to stop at excepting we were all day battling with the fact the skies were a bit leaden and at times showers were heading right our way, nearly all missed us. The one that didn't, we caught the edge of it, was sleet ....good God eh ! It was as we passed the place so kept going.

The first half of Ruta 40 today was pretty poor, but most of the second half was pretty excellent. Our average speed for the 300kms odd was about 65kph which was very reasonable considering the mixed conditions. You have to make progress on stretches like this, but you can't compromise safety, especially two up (we see very few folk two up, only one English couple so far)

The end of the day brought some great distant views of the mountains and I think the one our hosts in the Lake district (Arg) recommended. it was one of the nicest and littlest visited - no wonder as it was 100kms off route in the middle of the stretch. Shame to pass, but best plan with weather etc taken into account.

The village here is miniscule, but attractive in an obscure way. a petrol station, a hotel (full) with supplies, and a hostel with camping. Camping was 12 for both of us, a bed in a four bed room 40 (£8). as we wanted to guarantee some peace and a good night’s kip I tried in my best lingo to get a deal. In the end we got the room for just us for 50 or £10 so not bad, breakfast is about a quid each and evening meal £3 each and we can even have wine, which we might!

A hard days ride, but interesting in some ways you'd prefer not to encounter, and our first day by ourselves (well day two actually). We could have bunked up with the Brazilians and saved a small amount, but one snored so we said no thanks to that. There was room at the inn for them anyway so no problems, if no space we would have sacrificed our comfort as matey boy must be in some discomfort really.

A great day I guess, but an odd one all round.

Posted by Simon McCarthy at 07:13 PM GMT
 

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