Rain and Snow, Winter is Coming
Puerto Madryn is used as a base to access Peninsula Valdes so it was no surprise to find backpackers discussing the attributes or lack of in using a day tour to sight the wild life on Peninsula Valdes. Some had already been and were extremely disappointed that less than an hour was given to get a chance sighting of the killer whales in action. This rarely happens and we encouraged a few to combine forces, hire a car and head out for a whole day or even more as this would be the best way to get a possible sighting providing the tides were suitable. We spent an enjoyable few days at a very comfortable Hostel close to town talking to people about our recent experience and convincing them to spend the money and make the effort to see this phenomenon.
Washing day in Puerto Madryn
Taking in the sun
Servicing the bike is always interesting and this time was no exception. We usually buy our oil from a garage then do the service there. Persuading the staff that auto oil is suitable for the motorbike is the first hurdle and then they say we need to go to a bike shop but we are generally able to convince them that I am a ‘mechanic’ and can do the work. The procedure always generates an audience and plenty of helpers.
A huge Parrillada meal in Choele Choel
Breakfast under the gum trees in Choele Choel
Our tasks completed we headed back towards Chile on Ruta 3 to Choele Choel communicating constantly with Daniel Todd whom we hope to meet somewhere along the road. These roads crossing Argentina although well surfaced are long and can be quite boring. We try to maintain a 100 to 110 kph speed limit to conserve fuel and subsequently are passed by the local vehicles that usually travel around the 140 kph mark. There is very little wildlife to be seen and traffic is generally minimal until the small towns dotted along the highway.
After 8 years we finally catch up with Daniel Todd
Eventually we met Daniel in Neuquen on Ruta 22 and it was really great to hook up with him again. It was in the latter half of 2000 we first met in Islamabad, Pakistan, all be it for a brief time, however we have remained in constant contact as we followed his traveling exploits over the past eight years. Some serious talking for several hours over a day or two and Daniel departed for Zapala where he is looking at a new job prospect. We need to stay another day in Neuquen to organize a new rear tyre.
The Tourist Information came to our rescue with directions to an area where there were numerous motorcycle shops. We scored a Metzler Enduro3 at the first port of call and adjourned to the Hostel to fit it. The purchase and fitting went so smoothly we could have left town around lunch time but we had committed to stay for another day so we caught up on some emails at the YPF (Repsol) garage across the road. A lot of these garages with cafes have great coffee and free WiFi.
Museum in Plaza Huincul
Continuing west on Ruta 22 we stopped at Plaza Huincul to look at the Dinosaur Museum. It was a very small display but with some great skeletons and mock up creatures. Our hosts were very helpful with information and also allowed us to park the bike on the premises for security reasons. We doubt there would be a problem but it is always good to know someone is watching the bike while we wander off. Exiting the display we could not believe the transformation in the weather. In a matter of 45 minutes the blue sky and brilliant sun had disappeared in what looked like a dust storm. Rubbish and dust flew into our faces and we had difficulty in seeing the end of the street. The westerly head wind was gusting as we headed across the treeless plains towards Zapala. Our sympathies were with a lone bicycle rider who appeared to be enveloped in a dust and sand cloud that was probably bead blasting his face. This is oil country and numerous mechanical chickens dipped slowly into the earth sucking up its precious fluid. Argentina appears to be very rich in black crude.
Dust storm on the way to Zapala
Arriving in Zapala around siesta time we rang Daniel who was staying at a house on the edge of town. We stalled our western push for another few days as the weather was looking a bit damp and the winds were also making traveling very unpleasant. Daniel’s KLR 650 was experiencing rear wheel bearing problems also, so we spent a bit of time trying to get it sorted. Luck was not with us however and eventually Daniel had to make a direct ride to Santiago Chile where he hopes to get the necessary repairs completed.
Autumn leaves as the weather cools
We rode to San Martin de los Andes where we met up with Annette our English friend from the finca in San Rafael who was giving her old boss from the UK a quick guided tour around a small portion of Argentina. We rode into town as the heavens opened up. Our days of bad weather are starting to accumulate and after a warming drink organized some accommodation. Carol found a great place at a really good price (off season) so we settled in and hoped the weather cleared in a few days. The four of us enjoyed a huge meat dinner (parillada) and a lot of laughs. Our hosts at the Apartment hotel however advised that the weather would be cold and wet for another day then should improve so we bide our time hoping to see a little sun.
The road from San Martin to Paso Huahum
A couple of days later the weather was fine and we pack slowly as there was plenty of time to ride the fifty kms of ripio to Puerto Pirihueico via Paso Huahum and catch the 5 pm ferry. Leaving Ruta 234 just outside San Martin we are greeted with our nemeses of freshly graded ripio and two graders providing added entertainment with high mounds of soft soil to jump to avoid their neat maneuvers. We survived the ride and stopped on the edge of Lago Pirihueico after negotiating another Argentina to Chile border crossing.
Welcome to Chile, again
A bullock wagon backing up to the ferry to unload bags of apples at Puerto Pirihueico
Two trucks loaded with wood joined us at the ferry ramp around 4 pm and we confirmed with the drivers in our poor Spanish that the ferry was due at 5 pm. While the ferry was disembarking several more cars arrived which included some of the customs and immigration officials that had just processed our papers on the Chilean side. The lake was like a millpond but Carol noticed fresh snow falls on some of the surrounding peaks. This no doubt fell over the past few days when we were in San Martin as the weather there was very cold. Docking at Puerto Fuy we noted most of the passengers left town immediately. We decided to stay however and rode the seven or eight dirt streets in relative darkness as the smoke from hundreds of heating fires and stoves enveloped the town. Booking into a little Hostel we organized dinner and breakfast and settled in beside the fire. This village was very damp and cold. The gentle tapping of rain awoke us around 6.00am and we contemplated staying another day over breakfast as the rain increased. By the time we were sugaring our second cup of coffee little white fluffy balls were falling outside the dining room window. We were unfazed at first but them it began to settle. The black bike cover was looking more white than black!! I expressed concern to Carol that we should move today in case the snow gets to a point where the road is closed. So we hastily packed the bike as the snow increased and removed a one kilo lump of ice from the folds of the bike cover. Frozen rain… this is cold…..
Snow on the bike at Puerto Fuy
Number plate from Queensland Aus. at La Torres Suiza Hostel
We rode for around 15 kms on soft ripio before the snow stopped. Concern that the puddles of water would freeze over did not eventuate and for almost 200 kms, drizzling rain and cold accompanied us to Villarrica. We found out later that Puerto Fuy is one of those unique places in South America with a micro climate and it was probably the only place experiencing this extreme weather. No wonder all the other passengers did a runner when the ferry docked the previous day.
View from our room of Volcano Villarrica
Beat and Claudia made our stay at La Torres Suiza hostel in Villarrica very pleasant. They also are Swiss bicycle travelers who have settled in South America. Tom from La Suizandina (see our 2nd report) just north of Villarrica was visiting while we were there. It was good to catch up and ask him about the fire works from the erupting Volcano Llaima in January. Pucon was under 30 kms away and being off season, was very quiet. The road along Lago Villarrica has numerous campgrounds and plenty of top end Hotels down to hostels but most were closed or looked empty. Our hostel however still had a few people floating through and it is always good to get up to date information from other travelers. Weather, although quite cool was fine so we departed feeling that things may be improving. Our original destination was to be Valdivia but our good friend from Santiago Mario, would be in Osorno for a short time on business so a small detour had us checking out the sights of this busy city.
Fort Niebla near Valdivia
Once again our comfort zone has been encroached and we find the city very cold and windy with a lot of pollution from wood fired heating and cooking. We share a couple of meals with Mario and his business partner and bid them farewell indicating we would be in Santiago within a week or two depending on the weather. Overcast skies and cool was the order of the day enroute to Valdivia. Our routine of visiting the Tourist Office for accommodation info was fruitful and we booked in Hostel International with secure parking, warm rooms and hospitality to match. Rain was forecast the next day but we took the chance and visited Fort Niebla. The weather obliged by fulfilling the forecast so on the return journey we stopped off at the Kunstmann Brewery having heard of the good food served there. We were not disappointed and struggled to get into our wet weather clothes to ride back to town.
Sea Lion Valdivia
Fish Market Valdivia
The next day saw a distinct improvement in the forecast so we walked into the city and over the bridge to the history museum. Alas, all was in Spanish but the photos and period furniture was still very interesting. Highlights of our walk were the sea lions being fed with scraps from the fish markets on the river. Perhaps a dozen or more of these animals gorged themselves for hours then rested on the platforms placed conveniently on the rivers edge. To have easy access to these noisy overweight mammals was a real people pleaser for both tourist and local with the audience growing substantially during the afternoon as the sun made a brief appearance. My dark bike clothing caused a couple of the older larger sea lions to make threatening charges towards me when I moved too close.
A short journey to Temuco the next day once again had us in the drizzle. We are really a little late to be traveling this far south in Chile. Finding a suitable Hostel in Temuco also proved a problem as it was Sunday and the Tourist Office was closed so we were relying on bits of information extracted from Guide Books and travel brochures. We stumble across one with secure parking and settle in for a day or two. Unfortunately the past cold weather and poor air finally caught up with us and we both came down with really bad colds. We spent four days, most of it in bed, trying to get well in a climate that was both very cold and polluted. We needed sunshine and lots of it. Thinking back over the past 6 months we really have not had a summer this year. The South American summer experienced in the Patagonia was generally much worse than our winters in Brisbane.
Dancing in the streets of Chillan
Venturing north again we chase the sun and hope to find more than glimpses in Chillan. Not much luck though with a short journey in cloudy cool conditions. We booked into a hostel only two blocks away from the Tourist Office then emailed Jimmy, a man who introduced himself while we were waiting to catch the ferry from Chaiten to the Isla de Chiloe some weeks earlier. Heading to town the next day we found the streets were closed for a parade. Nothing like a parade in a foreign city and it was the 25th April too which is ANZAC Day in Australia. No news from Jimmy so we ventured to the local markets and spent a few hours checking the local handicrafts, flowers and food.
Meat Market Chillan
Fruit and vegetable market
It must have been around 8.00 pm when there was a knock on our door at the hostel and we finally catch up with Jimmy, his partner Marisol and their children. We were taken to a restaurant for dinner and enjoyed a huge steak. Our newly found friends have dreams also of traveling, but now the family comes first. We cannot thank them enough for a really great evening and we vow to keep in contact. We find this hospitality one of the great things about traveling as we spoke only a few words to this man while waiting for the ferry at Chaiten.
Marisol and Jimmy
Our internet weather radar indicated that the climate was always warmer in Santiago so we sent a text to Mario advising we would be arriving Saturday afternoon after riding directly north on Ruta 5. He advised that things were getting cooler there as well but we considered it was no where near as bad as what it was like here in the south. My walking, talking, smiling GPS once again guided us to our destination without a hitch.
Some of the puppies
Some of the members from Aperrados Moto Club
Our days spent with Mario were fun as he now has 12 young puppies to keep him occupied. Talk about chaos at feeding time. Also, we were invited to his motorcycle club’s (www.aperrados.cl) anniversary ride and lunch. One of the clubs members was also a computer whiz and he sorted out our WiFi gremlins at a recent club get together. Many thanks Patricio (Warlock). Meeting up with our friends Bob and Gloria was once again a really fantastic. In all a great time with everyone and we could have easily stayed longer, however we need to keep moving as the sun is shining ever brighter in the north. We vowed to return to Santiago in January next year to catch up with everyone again.
Ken with Gloria and Bob
Aperrados Moto Club ride to Las Cruces
Posted by Ken Duval at 12:50 AM