Ringing Mirrors on the Carretera Austral
Los Antiguos and its paved roads faded quickly into the distance as we headed south on Ruta 41. The ripio was sandy and corrugated (washboard) and the newly repaired fairing rattled more than I would have liked. Stopping, we contemplated returning to an easier route but a quick inspection revealed a loose mounting bolt. On the road again and things were a fair bit quieter as we rattled along. Around the fifteen kilometre mark we were stopped by the Chilean Police in the middle of a fairly inhospitable piece of real estate. A bit of sign language and ‘Spanglish’ we deciphered that a bicycle race was in progress and there would be around a 15 minute delay until all competitors had passed safely. Forty minutes later the backup vehicle appeared after around a dozen bike riders gathered around the Police vehicle and drank quickly from their bottles. They were looking a little spent as well as dusty and the ripio to Los Antiguos would certainly sap their last little bit of energy. Resuming, we road through quite different country side, that, although little better than Ruta 40, was more entertaining because of the varied track and scenery . There was flat country with stones and sand and steep climbs into undulating hills. Some of the higher roads gave great views of the arid terrain. Sheep, cattle and horses were the only animal life seen. Traffic was almost non existent and because of the open country, could be spotted a long time before they ever reached us. We rode down a very steep grade to the Argentinean border post. This place is so remote, and the officer processed our papers in record time. There were no tour coaches in this part of the world. The nine kilometres of narrow gravel that separated the border to Chile was rough and indicative of what was to come over the next sixty kms. Chile always takes a little longer with the paper work and they always like to have a bit a chat when they inspect our luggage and documents. The next bit of road was the roughest we had tackled so far and the corrugation (washboard) was teeth rattling stuff at any speed. Arriving at Cochrane we had just completed our first few kms of the Carretera Austral and what a dusty road pounded by the sheer volume of traffic, no doubt. Today we had only traveled just over 200 kms but it felt like a 1,000kms!!! Heading to the town square we met up with Thomas and Katharina from Germany who had been with our huge party of travelers at Ushuaia for Christmas and New Year.
The start of Ruta 41
Bicycle race on Ruta 41
View back to Lago Buenos Aires
A little bit of green in Argentina
Follow the yellow flower way
The road from Paso Roballos to Cochrane
We stayed a couple of nights in Cochrane although to say the least it was quiet town. The loudest noise in town was the Rock and Roll music blasting out of the Tourist Office on the town square. The way Cochrane was spoken of by other travelers we had imagined it to be a little bigger. We stayed at the Hostel Austral for a couple of nights walking the town on the spare day. Packing the bike was tackled early (for us) the following day for our 200 km plus ride to O’Higgins as we needed to reach a ferry service that crossed a span of water where no road existed around the edge of the lake. Our plans went completely astray when I noticed the rear sub-frame welded in Los Antiguos had broken again due to the severe road conditions between the border and Cochrane. Our handy little map obtained from the tourist office when we arrived listed a mechanic who obliged the community and many travelers in way of repairs. Inspecting the damage he tossed his head and said ‘no problema’ and promptly left me to remove all the obstructions to the job including the back-box and mudguard. In a matter of minutes several vehicles had arrived with flat tyres. He eventually got to the bike after six puncture repairs with my welding being interrupted twice for travelers requiring urgent tyre repairs. A very busy man. His welding albeit rough looked the business and to date has held even after some pretty severe roads.
Rio Baker near Cochrane
Our southern departure was delayed until around 3.30 pm and we had at that time a 115km ride to catch the last ferry at 6.00pm. We took off thinking we had a good chance of making it and things were going well until we reached the Tortel turnoff where the sign said 30 kms to the ferry. We had only twenty minutes and the kms to the port would have blown out to around 140 +. Once again the signage and maps did not correspond with the actual distance only being 21 kms. We arrived with the ferry about 30 metres from the dock and heading away at full speed. Our longing looks and waving did not reverse the Captain’s course.
Camping at Puerto Yungay
Pto Yungay was an Army base with few facilities for tourists so we gestured to the soldiers we wished to camp and they pointed to an open piece of ground near to the boat ramp road. There were dark clouds rolling in and when the Captain spoke to us about using the ‘banos’ (toilet/shower facilities) he also indicated there would be rain soon. So we pitched the tent and made a cup of tea and sucked in the scenery and pondered ‘what if’. Our packet soup with a fresh bread roll from the Captain was enjoyed before we hit the sack. Not long before turning in we saw a vehicle roar in and head to the ferry ramp. Now 'they' were late. We noticed the Captain sprint down and escort them back up the hill and to an old house where we believe they spent the night. Shame they never offered us a room. But all was OK in our tent. At around 6.00am the following morning the rain started. Its rather nice laying in your sleeping bag listening to rain tapping on your tent… but only if you have no where to go. We packed our wet tent reluctantly and ventured down to the ferry 60 metres away. Several vehicles had queued but the bike was the first on. The crossing was a millpond and looking at the cliffs to the waters edge it would be years before the road to O’Higgins would be completed. Riding the remaining 100 or so kms was fun. The track was tight, rough and stony through the rain forest with the low shrubs clipping our mirrors causing them to ring. Numerous lakes, waterfalls and streams dotted the route and the bridges under construction indicated that this area would not be so isolated for very much longer.
Ferry linking Puerto Yungay to the O´Higgins road Ruta 7
The road to Villa O´Higgins
Bridge upgrades are happening all along Ruta 7
O’Higgins is a sleepy little village waiting for something to happen. The rain followed us intermittently into town and the clouds looked dark despite assurances from one campground owner that it would only rain a little now and the afternoon would be dry. We opted for Hostel Patagonia a family run place with atmosphere to burn. A shed to park the bike with a long haired German Shepherd to guard it. We spent the remainder of the day walking the village and buying some supplies. The following day (Saturday) there was a twelve hour boat ride to a Glacier O’Higgins, a recently opened excursion that is attracting many tourists. We opted to head out as the weather still did not look great and the road we came in on was riddled with cleared land slides with the odd rock still falling onto the road. Our aim today was to make it back to Cochrane and avoid the rain that appeared ominous. A side trip to Tortel was interesting with people actively pushing a questionnaire about the government’s intention to build several dams to provide electricity for industry concerns in the north. The feel was like Tasmania and the Franklin Dam saga. It rained in Cochrane that night.. and it never rains in Cochrane!!!
Waterfall on the O´Higgins road
Rain and mist ahead on the Carretera Austral
Cliff hugging road to O´Higgins
Rain forest area along Ruta 7 (O'Higgins Rd)
Caleta Tortel with its no roads, only boardwalks policy
The road out the next day was still dusty despite the rain and filling up on the outskirts of town, we spoke to a German couple whose approach to travel was a little different to ours.. a very large motor home. Sometimes we envy their comfort but sometimes I believe they envy our mobility. On the dusty road again we headed north on the famous Carretera Austral. The ripio was on a par with most we had ridden only with a lot more dust. Scenery included fast flowing rivers through undulating hills to huge blue lakes. There is so much fresh water in South America. The road wound its way through dusty sleepy villages often with patient backpackers sound asleep propped up on their packs waiting for the next bus or even a vehicle to hitch a ride. Pto. Bertrand to Pto. Tranquilo twisted its way through the hills revealing postcard views of Lago General Carrera or Lago Buenos Aires depending on what side of the border you lived.
Gravel on Ruta 7 north of Cochrane
The lovely blue Lago General Carrera
The wind joined us after Pto Tranquilo and persisted until we reached Coyhaique. We must mention the drivers along this stretch were a little fast for the conditions with overloaded minibuses searching for the smoothest, quickest piece of road exploding dust trails in their wake. Carol took to waving them down to slow them as we hit white-outs a couple of times. A recently rolled Pajero sighted on this route indicated many were not experienced with the conditions. The 100 kms of pavement from Villa Cerro. Castillo was a slice of heaven. The wind however was unrelenting and its strength was so intense that the bike moved sideways with each gust. Perhaps the government could consider wind energy instead of the dams!!
The main Plaza in Coyhaique
Rainbow over the hay stacks north of Coyhaique
We met up with Maria and Alistair in Coyhaique who were still waiting for parts from Germany to rebuild Maria’s bike after a collision with another biker just South of Villa Cerro. Castillo. We spent a few days here meeting a Doctor friend of our HU helper Mario from Santiago. It was fun socializing with everyone including meeting the Grey Nomads (UK) (XT 600 Tenere) who were heading in a similar direction. The batteries recharged we hit the road again. The rain in Coyhaique was sporadic but we left under a blue sky and hoped optimistically that things would improve the further north we rode. This was not to be and our ride to Puyuhuapi was our wettest to date. We made the wrong decision this time and what could have been a fantastic days riding turned into a shocker. The first 120kms was perfect pavement and despite the rain made for a pleasant ride. The ripio was another thing with the potholes filled with muddy water under the drizzling rain. The only respite was there was no dust. Vehicles were few and far between and the ripio was broken by a new piece of pavement but only for 24 kms. The rain continued as the ripio joined us again and the pace slowed to meet the conditions. The road narrowed to almost one lane as we entered Park Nac. Magdalena. Imagining this track in fine weather was hard but surely it would have been fantastic. Once again the encroaching rain forest clipped our mirrors causing them to ring as we climbed into the mist. We took to tooting our horn to warn oncoming traffic of our presence as they had ventured more than once to our side of the road on very tight bends. About 7kms from Puyuhuapi we were stopped at road works. The track was a mess with the loose soil turning to mud and trucks carting rocks and soil around us causing deep ruts. We sat for an hour in the drizzling rain until the track was cleared. Unfortunately the oncoming traffic moved first causing more damage to the muddy track. Sourcing accommodation was quick as the rain eased. We booked into a small family run Hostel and shared a room with two Israeli backpackers. A fun night as we shared cooking secrets from the road with the family and residents. Our Chilean hosts were intrigued to see a man cooking. This was an interesting home with the ladies gathered around a combustion stove chatting for hours as they tended their chores, ironing, cooking, drying clothes and plenty of talking. A different life style not seen too often these days. We stayed an extra night to ensure the rain had gone and to dry out a bit more. A short ride to Futaleufu today with more of the same road conditions, corrugation, stones and dust. The scenery was green with plenty of logging visible. The winter’s log piles dotted along the road with trucks collecting tons at a time to take to the towns nearby. Riding east from Villa Sta. Lucia we edged beside lakes and rivers and noticed trout fisherman at various intervals and as we drew closer to town the white water rafting companies tagged the road with their billboards.
Ruta 7 south of Puyuhuapi
The two girls were our room mates in Puyuhuapi
Petrol prices in Puyuhuapi
The view over the water at Puyuhuapi
The narrow Carretera Austral Ruta 7
Wood stacks onlong the road north of La Junta
German traveller heading south
Camping on the river was a must and we pitched a fair distance from the main sites anticipating some late night partying by the holidaying Chileans. Our view could not have been better and we could have stayed longer than the two nights if we had not other things to see and do. Departing we headed out the way we came in and back to the Carretera Austral. Unfortunately about thirty kms from Villa Sta. Lucia road upgrades were taking place and a grader had done its best to make a bad road better but in our books made it worse. After around twenty kms I ventured too close to the edge of the road searching for a smoother track when the front wheel sunk followed by the back and we did a deft little slide and a touch down, breaking the welds on the right pannier. A quick patch job with hose clamps, we were on the road again to be greeted by more road works on the Carretera Austral heading north. The conditions were compounded by more rain. Fortunately the distance was only around the fifty kms before pavement started and stayed with us till Chaiten.
Rafting near Futaleufu
Finger licking good but not KFC
Our campsite at Futaleufu
It was our plan to stock up with food and head to Parque Pumalin for two nights and come back to Chaiten to catch the ferry to Quellon on the Isla de Chiloe. Now due to our little spill we needed to find a welder and although we had collected a few possible hostels to stay at we were focused on one recommended on the HU site, Casa Hexagon. It was a little difficult to find but it was worth it. Our host and owner was away doing what we are doing but the casa was left in very capable hands (Rita and Mirian) and our stay here was up there with some of the best travelers rests we have enjoyed. We ventured towards an address to see if the welding could be done and when less than 60 metres away from the Casa, we saw a man standing outside his workshop with a major welding project nearing completion. Our nominated repairer was only too happy to oblige and after an hour of welding and two hours of coffee/talking we departed. Cost ….nothing. This is one of the great things about traveling.
Our welding man in Chaiten
The view from our room in Chaiten
Casa Hexagon in Chaiten
We enjoyed three nights in this haven as Carol was beating off a reoccurring stomach bug, this time with antibiotics. It had been with her too long and her stubbornness finally relented to take something. We missed visiting Parque Pumalin which we really wanted to see…. Another journey perhaps as we were booked onto the Chaiten to Quellon ferry on the Saturday.
Inside Casa Hexagon
Rita and Mirian who looked after us at Casa Hexagon
Peter and Sue (Grey Nomads) arrived in Chaiten on the Friday so they joined us for the delayed journey across to Quellon on Isla de Chiloe . The disembarking vehicles were hampered by a truck broken down on the ferry so we left about and hour behind schedule.
The ferry from Chaiten to Quellon
Mist over Chaiten
The five plus hour crossing was calm and we enjoyed a great conversation with Peter and Sue about roads traveled on our ‘old’ bikes. “Old people on Old bikes”. Not too many ‘old’ bikes doing what we are doing with the huge range of hi tech new ones now available. Quellon with its tight busy streets greeted us in the late afternoon sun, however our departure was swift as we headed to Chonchi around seventy kms away. Our guide book made mention of a pleasant Hostel on the water. A room with a view is always appreciated and due to the lateness of our arrival we ate out at a little restaurant nearby. The Salmon was delicious but Carol was still struggling with her tummy and could only eat a few papas fritas (chips). Our host Carlos, informed us of an annual fair that was taking place nearby the next day. Nothing like a bit of local fun and culture but the food vendors were the main places I wanted to visit! Parking the bike we noticed the Yamaha of our English friends Peter and Sue, who had camped down the road the previous night. They had also found the fair. We found them having a little camp under a shady tree. It was a very warm day. We did a little grazing on the local foods and drinks and headed back to town around 7.00 pm. Life’s tough.
Apple crushing for juice at the Fair in Chonchi
Preparing Chuchoca, Pan de Papa
Chuchoca, the end result
The next day we departed and traveled a mammoth twenty kms to Castro. A much larger centre with a very active town square. We did a few laps around town looking for a camp ground but most were some kms away from the centre so we opted for a cheap hostel only a couple of blocks from the supermarket and square. The pan flute music emanating from the square attracted our attention and we sat for and over an hour listening to this five piece band from Ecuador as they entertained passersby. The sun was warm and the day was easy and our planned sightseeing was postponed till the morrow. We have time!! The music was too good so we bought the CD. Hope it’s as good as the live performance. A taste of South America. Did a little more sight seeing the next day but had to move the bike when we returned as a load of chopped wood had arrived. Heating for winter. Must have been two tones of the stuff and all hand loaded and unloaded. It took over three hours..
Pan flute band from Ecuador
We could listen to this music all day
Castro by the sea
Firewood at the hostel in Castro
The early mist over the water lifted just before we left but it joined us again about ten kilometers out of town. We saw very little on the road to Chacao to catch the ferry to Pargua on our way to Puerto Mont. There was a little respite closer to the port but fires either side of the road were of some concern as we noticed plantations of eucalypts flourishing and we all know how they burn in a bush fire. The dreaded cigarette butt out the car window is very prevalent here.
Bonsai at Casa Azul in Puerto Varas
A wonderfull place to stay, Casa Azul
Inside Casa Azul
Fellow travelers advised us to stay at Puerto Varas on Lago Llanquihue rather than Puerto Montt and do a day- trip to the major port. Added to this advice was the meeting of a young German girl in Chonchi (Louisa) who worked at Casa Azul in Puerto Varas, so on checking out this Casa, we saw why it was such a hit on the back backers list. A two story wooden building with around a hundred bonsai trees decorating the Japanese garden and pond. Inside, raw timber walls and floors made for a warm atmosphere. Andy, our host has created a little slice of traveler’s heaven. We stay a day longer….its raining….
Tomorrow we will head to Puerto Montt when it’s fine.
Posted by Ken Duval at 11:27 PM
On the fifth of January it snowed which was to be our day of finally leaving Ushuaia, not that we wanted to leave. Despite the crazy weather we loved this place so we delayed our departure another day, finally leaving around 1.00pm on the sixth of January and headed to Rio Grande. The weather was sunny in Ushuaia but once in the mountains the skies closed in and around 70 kms from Rio Grande the rain started drizzling. In a fine patch of sky we stopped to check out a beaver dam that we spotted heading south a few weeks before. Alas the dam had been destroyed, possibly by the farmer as a lot of water had banked up behind it. Carol took this opportunity to have a wee stop….It was a very hurried one as the path beside the road was used by the local dirt bikers and she was buzzed by three bikers just as she was walking up the embankment!!
Carol appearing from a wee stop just as a dirt bike rider approaches, that was close!
Graciela, Ricardo and Vanessa outside Hostel Argentino, Rio Grande
Graciela at Hostel Argentino was her usual amicable self. What a great place to stay, being very relaxed with plenty of travelers to chat to. We had a great night talking to an Argentinean couple, Ricardo and Vanessa on an Africa Twin who were heading south. We did not get to bed until 2.30am so we did not envy them as they packed their bike ready to head to Ushuaia in very wet and windy weather. Their pack was extraordinary. Huge duffle bags wrapped in plastic and so many layers of clothing they could hardly move. It took ages for them to get going, probably hoping the weather would improve. Reminded us of ourselves!!! We were told of a local printer who we used to make more business cards/stickers. The price was right so we took a photo of Graciela’s “Hostel Argentino” sign and had some stickers made for her. The Hostel was pretty full tonight as Ushi (DR 350), Denny and Silvia (R1200GS & 650GS) from Germany along with several bicycle riders and back packers swelled the international traveling numbers.
Leaving Graciela’s Hostel Rio Grande
Our departure for Porvenir then Punta Arenas was delayed as Ushi advised us of pending strong winds in the area. She was right… So we hunkered down for a day doing domestic stuff like washing, internet and diaries. We also enjoyed a conversation on Skype with our BMW club president in Australia. Nice one Tony.
Pink Flamingos on the road to Porvenir
Wind assistance, the road to Porvenir
Brazilian girl with the flat tyre
The ride out of Rio Grande was windy…again…but not the 90kmh of the day before. Being fine it was a pleasant ride to the border crossing which took a little extra time due to a couple of buses clogging up the system. The ripio was quite good after San Sebastian with little traffic. Flamingoes on a small lake added to the highlights of this ride and when the road swung down to the edge Bahia Inlet, it became even better. Around 40 kms from Porvenir we came across a young Brazilian girl riding a 250 Yamaha. She had a flat tyre and no tools or patches to repair it. She appeared to be quite overloaded and after a brief conversation discovered that her father had crashed on his bike that morning and was in Porvenir Hospital. Her father’s bike was at an Estancia nearby and after collecting some of his luggage was on her way to Porvenir when she had the flat tyre and crashed. A little sore but otherwise OK. We fixed the flat just as Denny and Silvia arrived. We had crossed the border with them earlier and the four of us eventually ended up riding into Porvenir together with the Brazilian girl. There was no ferry to Punta Arenas today so we booked onto the 8.00am service the following day.
Bikes aboard the ferry to Punta Arenas
Porvenir to Punta Arenas. Six bikes were bundled onto the ferry along with numerous vehicles. Glad we got there early as a few people missed out. The boat was packed with vehicles as well as many walk on passengers. The crossing was smooth…just as well as no vehicles were tied down for the 2.5 hour journey.
Andrew and Emily and another two Aussies!
Punta Arenas looked smaller than the 120,000 people advised by our guide book but we headed to our Hostel as recommended by a fellow traveller and promptly bumped into Alistair and Maria, motorcyclists who were at Ushuaia for Christmas. They were here to retrieve a tyre ordered through a local bike shop and being road freighted down from Santiago. We were also in dire need of a rear tyre and were hoping that something would be available in this major town. No such luck so we played the routine and ordered one from Santiago through the local bike shop. First attempt at this was on the Friday however there was a big motocross meeting on that weekend so nothing could be done until Monday. This exercise was to be a marathon with the final outcome being us leaving Punta Arenas without a tyre. Our request was to have the tyre air freighted down. The effort by the bike shop is to be applauded but the system, be it the freighters or the tyre wholesaler is appalling. We spent a total of 11 days in Punta Arenas!!! Our time here was shared with many travelers including Peter and Carol (R80RT), Ushi (DR350), Alistair and Maria (650 GS’s), Andy and Emily (Aussies on an R1100GS), Denny and Silvia (R1200GS & 650GS). Also at the hostel we met Phil and Deb from Spring Hill in Brisbane who were doing some hiking trails in Patagonia. It was good to hear a familiar accent again.
On a quiet day Peter, Carol, Alistair and Maria along with us rode to Seno Otway to have another close encounter with a colony of Magellanic Penguins. These breeding birds had chicks that were far more mature than what we had seen before and some had lost almost all of their down and were trying a few swimming lessons. While there we met Denny and Silvia who dropped in for a quick look enroute to Puerto Natales.
Magellanic Penguins at Seno Otway
Penguins at Seno Otway
Loads of bikes with loads
Road to Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park
Leaving Monday after being told by the bike shop that the tyres (note plural one air & one road!!) would be there definitely tomorrow!! This line had been sold to us for the past week. We were given our refund and left hoping our balding tread would hold. Our plan was to ring the following day from Puerto Natales to see if the tyre had arrived and the bike shop would bus it to us. Somehow we had lost faith in the system. We tried to ring from Torres del Paine but our phone could get no reception. Our decision then was to contact Dakarmotos in Buenos Aires and have the tyre bus freighted to El Calafate in Argentina as this procedure had proven successful with other bikers we had been in contact with.
View from our campsite at Camping Pehoe
Our ride of around 250 kms to Puerto Natales would have to be in the top two windiest rides we have done. We passed a motorcyclist on a KLR 650 who had stopped for some respite from the wind and four bikes heading to Punta Arenas were leaned at an extreme angle to combat the force of the gale. Fortunately the road was paved.
Narrow bridge near Laguna Amarga
Metal on metal, did not sound good!
Camping in Torres del Paine National Park at Camping Pehoe under the shadow of Cerro Castillo was picturesque to say the least and the warm sunny weather was more than welcome. Facilities in this expensive park for the independent traveler are limited but with a little preplanning we brought with us from Punta Arenas a couple of home cooked frozen meals to see us through. We ventured out on the ripio doing a 100 km loop checking out the various sights including Salte Grande (waterfall), Laguna Amarga (narrow bridge), Las Torres (part of the “W” for hikers), Lagos Nordenskjold (foxes) and Cascada Paine (waterfall).
Guanacos near Cascada Paine
Car drivers hand feeding foxes
Salto Grande waterfall
Grey Glacier, after riding a really rough road was a bit of a let down after seeing so many spectacular pieces of blue ice in Antarctica. Walking some distance in hot bike gear to see a glacier over ten kilometers away was not fun. Perhaps Glacier Moreno will be better. On returning to the camp site we thought an ice cream would be a nice treat in view of the heat. Sorry no helados (ice cream). Now there’s an opening for some entrepreneur. The store did not even have its fridge on to cool the soft drinks. We were directed to the restaurant where we paid exorbitant prices for a couple of cold drinks!! We camped for three nights and enjoyed great weather. Summer is here at last!!!
Road beside Lago Toro
Grey Glacier… A long way away
Returning to Puerto Natales we were greeted with the news that our tyre had been sent from B A (Friday) and would be in El Calafate on Tuesday… So Saturday we hit the road to tackle yet another border crossing back to Argentina…. Would it not be all great if the world was like Europe now. Border crossings, a thing of the past, just a sign welcoming you to a new country, new cultures, new foods and new people. It sounds so good and so easy. Maybe one day!!!!
The border frontier with Chile was a breeze, but we were greeted with a bus load of tourists at the Argentinean side so we waited patiently for our turn but something was lost in the translation and the aduanes (customs) sent us to the ‘exit’ sign instead of the ‘entry’ sign. Our protests were ignored when we said Si (yes) El Calafate, sin (no) Puerto Natales. The aduane officer assumed we were traveling with another group of motorcyclists heading the opposite way. Eventually it got sorted but by this time everyone else had left even if they had arrived after us!! They were very apologetic about the stuff up and were impressed by our adventure on such an old bike. Some how we were always able to convey our anticipated journey in our very poor “Spanglish”.
The paved road appeared shortly after the border crossing but was not listed on our map so when the sign to turn towards El Calafate had us back on ripio (Ruta 40) we looked enviously at the paved road (Ruta 7) heading to Esperenza. Our dilemma was how long did it last? We took the Ruta 40 route of 70 kms of ripio and found out later that the paved road albeit longer went all the way to El Calafate!!!
El Calafate, What a contrast to Puerto Natales. The place was really active. Travelers everywhere with numerous sidewalk cafes, souvenir shops, assorted accommodation, in other words touristy. Some people don’t like this but we enjoy both the quiet places as well as the active places. Puerto Natales, a very quiet town was the entry to the famous Torres del Paine National Park. El Calafate was really busy and the entry to Glacier Moreno. Strange they could be so different. The weather was fantastic so we opted for a garden camp at Hospedeja Jorgito with cherry, plum and apricot trees to pitch under. The first night there were 18 tents in the back yard. Fantastic. This sight greeted us after we returned from a buffet asado in town. Lamb done the asado way does not get better.
I turned 55 today…. I can officially retire!!! It was a relaxing day cruising the streets of El Calafate, empanadas for lunch, a little internet with a couple of conversations on Skype to Australia. Aaarrgghh technology isn’t it great. Bought a cooked chook (chicken) and a nice bottle of red for dinner and all was good in the land of Argentina.
Glacier Perito Moreno very big and very close
Time for more ice and we mean serious blue ice here. Glacier Moreno is WOW!!!. This is impressive stuff. We have seen this lump of blue on TV before, but somehow I always imagined the shots they had were exclusive. Like, some special access was given to the reporters and camera man, but what you see on television is what you get as ‘joe’ public. From the viewing paths we spent close to five hours staring at this wonder, watched the tour boat motor across the face as lumps the size of transit vans crack and splash into the milky blue waters. We contemplated doing the boat ride but when the lumps started falling off in front of us there was no point. People cheered as large chunks cracked and fell with a huge boom and tidal surge. Sometimes I was saddened, as this could be the death of a glacier until we were told that this one is actually still growing. If this is true that’s good news. We found it hard to leave, anticipating there would be another chunk to fall at any moment and we would miss it. The strange ones were the pieces that broke off under the water. You could hear the crack of the break and strange phishing noises and then a blue lump the size of a car would bob up amongst the carpet of broken ice pieces directly in front of us. We could easily return to this wonder.
Blue is beautiful
Big and blue is better
Returning to El Calafate in the evening (6.00pm) we called into the bus station to see what time our ‘bus with tyre’ would arrive the following day. The day just got even better. The tyre was already there, a day early. We parted with the necessary pesos for the freight and I am sure the staff at the depot had no idea why I was grinning so much.
Muchas Gracias, Javier at Dakarmotos. On the way back to our camp site we passed a gomeria (tyre shop) so we made a hasty return and paid the few pesos and had the tyre changed. We could leave a day earlier. As we rode into the campsite we were greeted by Mick the Englishman who had spent New Year with the over landing motorcyclists in Ushuaia. He had bought an Antarctic trip ticket in that fair city and after enjoying its wonders headed north. Our delays waiting for the rear tyre in Punta Arenas had allowed him to catch up. It is a shame we had received our tyre early as we could have enjoyed some time with him. Our ease at getting the tyre however, had inspired him to tackle the same problem in an identical fashion. So the next day we headed to the internet café to thank Javier for his help as Mick ordered his tyre!!!
Camping with Mick at Hospedaje Jorgito El Calafate
Wind warning signs, we see plenty of these
Dippy road to El Chalten
Mick had been to El Chalten four years earlier and advised us that it was a very small place unaffected by tourism. His fear that now the road was paved it would turn into a Mecca for tourists and remove its original charm… Such is progress. The road to El Chalten was punctuated with 40 kms of ripio which was a little unexpected but not out of the ordinary. Some 65kms from El Chalten two Argentineans in a small Citroen diesel van had broken down. We stopped to give assistance but because of our lack of Spanish we were unable to help. Carol being quick said, write a message, and we will deliver it to the appropriate people in El Chalten. They were all smiles. About 10 kms from town road works commenced and these were prevalent throughout the town. Progress was on its way big time in El Chalten. Delivering our message to the tourist office we were assured that all would be taken care of. The free camp grounds on both sides of town were dust bowls so we opted for a hostel. We may be getting a bit soft but the facilities appeared a little stretched with the volume of campers. At the first campground on the south side we saw our Swiss friends in the Pajero from Ushuaia so the next day we dropped in to say hello. They had heard about our tyre problems from the motorcycling community and we enjoyed a coffee with the exchange of travel woes and pleasantries. That afternoon we rode out to the end of the road …ripio all the way…. to Lago Desierto. A great ride with noisy rapids and waterfalls. Taller trees had clumped to become forests, a pleasant change after the barren plains of the past few days. Bicycle riders, travelers and hikers cross the border here after a short boat ride and a hike/ride through some rough terrain. We were greeted by the Argentinean border control who advised “NO Motos” indicating we could not proceed any further.
Road to Lago Del Desierto and Fitzroy Range
Road to Lago Del Desierto along Rio De Las Vueltas
Waterfall on the Rio De Las Vueltas
We made a major decision the night before … to tackle a large chunk of Ruta 40 in one hit. Departing El Chalten we waved good bye to our Swiss friends who had not left the day before as they advised. Our trip was made difficult by the knowledge that there may not be fuel on this route and some changes could be necessary. I had calculated that we could do the distance of around 450kms providing the winds were not too strong and there was fuel at either Gdor. Gregores or Bajo Caracoles. We could not find the fuel station at Tres Lagos and did not push too hard looking as we had heard that a lot of these remote places were running out of fuel due to a truckers strike.
Road to El Chalten and the Fitzroy Range
La Siberia on Ruta 40 and the Beta Bike Tour
Crash and repair team Ruta 40
Fibreglass repairer wanted
The Ripio was bad but we had ridden worse. The wind was the most annoying part however we seemed to be doing it easy and maybe I had gotten a little too confident after we had picked up extra fuel at La Siberia, a restaurant campsite near Lago Cardiel, in the middle of nowhere. A really pleasant surprise was meeting a group of dirt bike riders (Beta bikes) from Spain there. It was around the 300 km mark that we got into a bit of a tank slap in some deep gravel and every correction I made a gust of wind blew me in the opposite direction finally biting the dust in a very soft bit of soil and stones on the edge of the road. The damage to the bike was mainly to the plastic bits so we stood the bike up removed the screen, turned my flip up helmet into an open face and took off. This took around 1.5 hours and only two motor cyclists offered assistance…no four wheelers which was a little disappointing. We made it to Bajo Caracoles after clocking 508kms for the journey. Our map kms added up to 448kms!!! Maps and road signs here are not good. Our fuel consumption was such that we did not need the 10 litres purchased at La Siberia. Feeling a little jaded we filled with fuel and booked into a Hostel for the night and slept really well.
Hostel at Bajo Caracoles
Please don’t rain on us, Ruta 40
Ripio on Ruta 40 north of Bajo Caracoles
Colours like Australia
And the ripio goes on and on, Ruta 40
Looking at the damage the next day we decided to head to Perito Moreno as Bajo Caracoles was not much bigger than an Estancia and we needed a few bits and pieces to stitch the bike back together. I was concerned about my helmet that had received a fair knock and was feeling very spongy around the hole. Not much protection left there!!
Arriving at Perito Moreno around siesta time we headed to garage for a bite to eat where Carol suggested I pinch a few bits off her helmet to make mine a little more effective. My life inside the helmet improved dramatically and it is just as well. What a head wind we road into as we headed to Los Antiguos. We decided on this route after talking to a couple at the garage who had a holiday home there. Sonia and Carlos were from Comodoro Rivadavia on a summer holiday. We rode around town looking for suitable accommodation then headed to our new friends place for coffee and pastries…yum.
Carlos rode a very smart dark blue Honda 100. Ours looked as clean as his bike when we started this ride but it looked very sad now. Sonia spoke excellent English and offered any assistance we may need. We did, and thanks to them we were able to source several items and help to patch up the bike. Took a few days but repairs were done including a little welding on the rear sub-frame near the seat lock. It was time for a major service to the bike and we combined this with our repair schedule. Los Antiguos is renowned for its cherries and they have a cherry festival every year in January. Sadly we had missed it… maybe another trip.
What kind of wind puts surf on a still water lake (Lago Buenos Aires)
Carlos, Sonia and family Los Antiguos
Fixing the screen
Pleased with the results of the repairs we decided to tackle Ruta 41 south, a road recommended to us by several people, and cross the border back into Chile at Paso Roballos. We were to tackle this track on our way north but due to the spill decided on an easier route direct to a place where repairs could be done.
Repaired head light protector
Inside of screen
More ripio…here we come!!!
Posted by Ken Duval at 11:20 PM