Javier & Grant working on Piggy - Buenas Aires
With the heady socialising of the HU meeting over with we needed to make a mad northerly dash to Buenas Aires and Dakar Motos for inspection and any needed work on the engine management software and tuning system before heading south to Tierra del Fuego for Christmas.
Buenas Aires road system is like a giant plate of spaghetti though not as enjoyable. After several hours of getting lost, believing we knew where we were and then getting lost again we found Dakar Motos (www.dakarmotos.com) the buisiness premises and second home of Javier and Sandra.
Along the way many travellers had asked us if we had been to Javier and Sandras. When we replied no, the standard answer was "Every one ends up at Dakar Motos".... guess we too are a statistic now. We happily set up tent in the garden for two nights enjoying the company of Ronnie, Greg & Alexis who we had spent time with at the HU meeting.
As for Miss Piggy the fuel filters were cleaned and Javier & Grant with the help of the trusty workshop manual adjusted the throttle valves which were found to be completely out of sync.
Throttle valve adjustment
Eureka!! After many months of poor low speed running and cursing the wrongfully accused K'n'N washable air filter, Piggy now ran as smooth as new..... not bad for 95,000kms on the clock.
Harvest Time - Machinery rules the road
The clouds sat heavy in the sky, dark, moisture laden with the promise of an imminent storm. As we ride, watching the very core of the storm race across the horizon in front of us, it is as if a door had been suddenly opened. Within 100 meters the temperature dropped at least 20 degrees. A radical sensation at highway speed.
The beat of our large V-twin throbbed assuringly as we headed south on Ruta 3, 100kms per hour at 3,250 rpm, we are relaxed. The side winds usually constant through out this area had abated considerably.
Grant is singing Pink Floyd's 'Wish you were here' in his helmet and it feels great to be moving.
A Long Days Journey into Night
Suddenly with no warning a loud 'clunk' eminates ominously from the transmission of Miss Piggy and instantly the engine cuts out. The dash lights up, rather ironically like a christmas tree, with warning flashes Fuel Injection System Failure, Oil Pressure System Failure, and then all goes blank as we roll silently off the desolate pampas road and to a resolute stop.
"What was that?" Jules enquires nervously as she dismounts
"Don't know," says Grant "Is the chain still there?"
Ok, find a more convenient place to park Piggy and start working. After further investigation the chain is found to be still on, but just happens to be oh so tightly wrapped around the front sprocket, appearing impossible to disentangle from the transmission case and chain guides.
"That can't be good!"
Attempting to remove the sprocket, the nut is loosened with no problems, however, we are unable to remove it from the spline due to the entangled chain.
One hour ensues and Dave from California pulls up on a 2002 V-Strom 1000. We scratch our heads and dirty our hands for a further half an hour, finally Grant gets brutal, as Grant sometimes does in strained situations.
Twin V Twins
Nut re-tightened on the sprocket and Grant physically turns the sprocket grinding the jammed chain against the aluminium casings while Dave guides the loosened chain. Jules cringes at the eminating sounds.
Two Heads are better than One - Dave and Grant at work
Finally the chain becomes slack and drops pathetically onto the ground. Inspection reveals the clip type joiner link (non-standard link system) had snapped, fortunately the chain appeared ok more or less. A new joiner links is secured, the front sprocket replaced we adjust every thing accordingly and after three hours we can continue on our journey.
Packing in the wind
The long journey down Ruta 3 was punctuated by days of strong side winds, peaceful roadside stops in sheltered valleys where pink flamingos would feed in the shallow lagoons by the side of the road.
Quaint fishing towns including San Julian with its replica Spanish Galleon from Magellan's fleet. San Julian was the site of the first Catholic mass in Argentina, it was presided over by Magellen himself after he executed one of his crew for mutiny.
Victoria - Magellan's Ship - San Julian
Nearing the end of our southerly ride to Tierra del Fuego and Ushaia we meet fellow motorcyclist Brian at the ferry crossing of the Straights of Magellen. Brian a lovable 6 foot Pom from the Isle of Man was riding a Yamaha 600 Fazer, pure street bike, no pretences otherwise.
He rode rapidly on the pavement, more so than us, but not so fast on the ripio, and it was a continual leap frog as we travelled together to Ushaia.
Ferry Crossing - Straights of Magellan
The ferry crossing turned out to be quite rough, all of a sudden Jules skin colour turned a shade of Kermit. Piggy lurched and rocked as we steadily held the front brake fast. The semi-trailer parked close by occasionaly jumped with a resounding thud as the ferry pounded through the heavy sea crossing. After 20 minutes we were glad to disembark at Bahia Azul on Ilsa Grande Tierra del Fuego.
Brian the Rapid Rider - Not on the Ripio
Disembarking the ferry on Tierra del Fuego (the Land of Fire) the weather was cold and wet, we had 116kms of ripio (dirt) to traverse before entering Argentina and her paved roads. Following Brian for a few kilometers it was not long before Piggy wanted to go faster and we wanted to wear out the rear tyre.
Lupins at Lunch Stop
The muddy road took us over wind swept plains and skirted the coastline. This, the Chilean, part of Tierra del Fuego seems uninhabited apart from disgruntled newly shorn sheep, guanacos (animal related to the llama) and a plethora of birds and water fowl.
Arriving at the Paso de Grimaldi the weather grew colder, the sky darker and rain began to fall as we climbed higher into this the southern end of a great mountain chain we had been following since Alaska, this is the last part of the Andes before it dips into the sea and dissapears.
End of the World
To be finally reaching 'The End of the World' was quite emotional, especialy for Jules who experienced being snowed on for the first time in here life. The road was icey and the worn rear tyre only just hung on. (Yes we were still carrying those tyres from Mendoza!)
Parque National Ushaia
Looking forward to Christmas with other viajeros we descended into the pretty bay overlooking the Beagle Chanel and headed out towards the National Park.
A big red BMW appeared around the corner of the ripio road and immediately we recognised Emma and Hamish on Bertha. The four of us went out to the National Park camping ground where Hydaki, Jason and Peter had already settled in and had a roaring fire going. Not long after that Holgar, Martina, Mary and Mathias appeared and Christmas lunch preparations were underway.
Is it cold at night here?
Mary, Martina, Emma
The chicas took charge of organising the food preparation while the chicos took charge of it's cooking. It was decided that four chooks should be cooked on a spit over hot coals with the vegies spread about below roasting on a rack.
We had the rack.... we needed a spit!
After many hours of scrounging we had the materials and tools to put in place what seemed to be a workable rotating spit. Fire is roaring, chooks stuffed with an onion and not so delicatly speared with the spit, and over the fire it all went.
Hydaki - Smoke gets in your eyes
The solution - Grant
It looked good, in fact it looked fantastic.... one slight problem, as soon as you tried to turn the spit the chooks... they no turn!!!
Christmas, Champagne, Tables and Abba - Bad Combination
Jules and Emma
One hour of experimentation passed where the spit was removed and fine techinial adjustments were made such as trussing the chickens, wiring the spit, securing jubilee clamps, multi grips etc.
Brian, Jules and the formidible Yamaha Fazer
In fact the combined efforts and knowledge of two engineers, one builder, one metal fabricator and a computer technician were unable to overcome the inherent problems of keeping a chook from moving on a rotating spit. Oh well, we did try!
Eventually after much champagne we borrowed some roasting forks and the chickens roasted merrily along side the vegies! The outcome was delicious!
Bidding our mates farewell on a clear and almost warm day the scenery we missed on arrival revealed itself in all its splendid glory.
Parque National Ushaia
Tierra del Fuego
Stopping in Rio Grande it was time to change the tyres. After carrying the spares for 7,500kms (DON'T ASK WHY.... WE JUST DID.... OK!), finding a gomeria, half an hour later we had new tyres and ground clearance.
Enthusiastic Weight Reduction??
Stopping at Gracielas 'Hostal Hotel Argentino' (www.hostelargentino.com.ar) we were greeted with home made cherry brandy and steaming hot tea. Graciela's warmth and generosity made our five night stay very enjoyable. Being able to use her kitchen to cook up big pots of lamb stew for ourselves and our friends made it memorable.
Irish Stew - Patagonia Style
L-R Mary, Mathias (behind Mary's head), Holgar, Martina, Virginia, Pee Wee, Jules
However difficult to leave this haven from the elements the north beckoned.
With 3000 kilometers between Buenas Aires and Ushaia, 4 border posts, 116 kilometres of ripio, a ferry crossing, gusting side winds and unpredictable weather we questioned our motives for this part of our journey. Had we become obsessed with 'Check Point Tourism', did we want to boast about travelling from Alaska to Usuaia, was it for the adventure or did we just want to spend Christmas with other travellers. Maybe it was a combination of all of the above but one thing was for sure, this is not the way we liked to travel.
Parque National Ushaia
Lago Azul - near Rio Gallegos
The view of sparkling blue waters in the caldera of an old volcano was the perfect setting for a picnic. Now to find shelter from the icy wind on a clear sunny southern Patagonian summers day!
The tranquil setting was beautiful for a hike down to the waters edge where wary Upland Geese took thier young to a safe hiding place. This was a nice start to our trek up the ripio (dirt) road of the famous Ruta 40.
As the Crow Flies - El Calafate
The picturesque town of El Calafate on the shores of Largo Argentina is filled with tourists both local and foreign. A place where serious trekkers meet and the others... well... pose in all thier pristine trekking gear to hike from the lavish hotels to the trendy shops, bars and cafes.
'Is the water cold?' - Lago Onelli
It is also the base for thousands of tourists to visit the magnificence and splendour of the Glaciers National Park.
Iceberg from Upsala Glacier
Being the 'un-touristy' type of travellers we broke with tradition and took a boat tour to Upsala Glacier ($Peso210/person + $Peso40/person park entrance).
We packed a picnic and jumped on the high speed cat for an all day cruise of the lake and glaciers. Every peso was worth it.
We passed countless icebergs, hanging glaciers, the Spegazzini glacier which has the highest front and finally Upsala glacier the largest, in this park, that converges on the waters edge.
A visit to Lago Onelli where three glaciers meet at the lakes edge, continually breaking ice into the water creating an icey wonderland surrounded by a strange and enchanting forrest.
Natural Sculptures - Lago Onelli
Although our day was cloudy, windy, cold and wet it was most memorable especially as this part of the park is only accessible during summer and by organised tour boat.
Great weather for a Boat Trip!
Several days later we approached the massive glacier of Perito Moreno, second only to Upsala. The wonderful ride along the glacial lakes edge included views of the snow capped mountains in nearby Chile and spectacular green summer forrests.
Parque Nacional Los Glaciers
Glacier Perito Moreno is easily accessible from the boardwalk. We looked in awe at the 60 meter high deep blue walls watching with anticipation for huge pieces of ice cracking thunderously and dropping into the waters of the lake.
Glacier Perito Moreno
And so we continued on with near perfect road conditions along Ruta 40.
The near perfect road conditions
As the sun decended below the surrounding mountains we presently came apon a rise of low hills where the road ascended for perhaps several kilometres and then narrowed as we thrust further into the rolling hills.
It soon became apparent to both of us that perhaps we were on the wrong road as it narrowed further to become no more than what can best be described as a farm track.
Picking up Sam
Soon we descended into a narrow green valley of pasture land and rows of tall poplar trees. In the distance the tiny flickers of light from the approaching town of Gobenador Gregores appeared and to our delight after the continous jarring, corregation and gravel a paved road.
The paved road was to be short lived, of course being soley for the convenience of Gobenador Gregorians, yet we stayed in this town for three nights whilst Ming mended his bruised ribs caused by a slow fall in a deep trough of gravel.
"This tastes like grass clippings!" - Mate Time
After the first day we had apparently become a talking point of the town and in the morning of the second a car appeared at our camp from Channel 7 local news with the express purpose to interview we 'famous' international motorcycle travellers.
It was all quite amusing. The four of us Ming (USA - Suzuki DR650), Grant & Jules, and Sam (Ireland - KTM640) milled about uncomfortably as the camera scanned back and forth whilst Jules did an excellent job of story telling, in Spanish, for the group.
It was unfortunate that we were unable to view the segment not having the convenience of a tele, or maybe it was fortunate as we were quite the site with Ming suited in his normal riding gear of light rain coat and trousers, socks and sandals. Jules sporting spectacular motorcycle camping fashion with motorcyle jacket, black thermal leggins and riding boots, Grant complete with two weeks growth on face, shabby uncut hair and wearing jeans that were capable of standing by themselves. Only Sam looked the part, as he was leaving almost immediately after, decked out in full riding gear!
Sam heads off
On that same morning, with Piggy packed and us eager to move on, we donned helmets and jackets. Grant turns the ignition to on and with one stab of the starter button a resounding UUURRRrrrrr.... r ... r .. . eminates.
Oh... we seem to have a flat battery, must be the extra cool evenings. We unload and push start the bike surprisingly easily. After a short run the battery appears to have a healthier glow. It turns out that Ming is a bit of an electronics wizard, and therefore shall now been deemed 'Marvellous Ming'... by us at least.
'Get back to work and finish those dishes!' - Grant and Ming
After a brief visit to the workshop manual he checks, with our multi-meter, the charge rate on Miss Piggy which rather pessimistically reads low. We finally deduce that while the charging system with all lights off still, more or less, works (a new generator coil necessitating) the battery is indeed STUFFED!
At 98,000km on the clock we were kind of expecting the generator to need some service soon... just not on the Ruta 40! We were very disappointed, however, that after only one year of service the very expensive no maintenance battery had failed.
Canyon - near Cueva de las Manos
We continued north over the wind swept plains and rolling hills of Patagonia, which reminded us of the areas of Coober Pedy in Australia, except of course for the Ruta 40, which whilst servicable proved a little demanding two-up and carrying a load.
Eventually arriving at the small village of Bajo Caracoles we continued a further forty kilometers off the Ruta 40 where the remarkable 9,000 year old cave paintings 'Cueva de las Manos' stand situated in a wonderful series of volcanic canyons.
Cueva de las Manos
It was a lovely end to a long days ride and returning to the spot of a village, Bajo Caracoles, we were again to meet up with Hediki who we first met in Ushuaia.
As with all of the dirt section of the Ruta 40 the final stage to the town of Perito Moreno needed a conservative approach to riding.
Wide open plains of Patagonia - Argentina
Marvellous Ming showed his marvel by pushing Piggy first thing in the morning and prudently along the way we would find a small rise to park the bike for picnics and rest stops, though thankfully a bump start was not necessary during the day.
Staying several days in Los Antiguos, the cherry capital of Argentina, Chile and the Carretera Austral beckoned.
Piggy with Lupins - Carretera Austral
Increasingly our Suzuki failed to start first thing in the morning, and so after much searching, without success, for a battery charger or new battery in Los Antiguos (Argentina), a night of vino and Ming's confidence inspiring pep-talk we ventured on, although with some trepidation, along the Carretera Austral and north into the Chilean Andes.
The road leaving Chile Chico hugged the side of Lago General Carretera like a roller-coaster with steep climbs that plummeted down the other side, tight curves and frightening cliff drop offs.
Lago General Carretera - Carretera Austral
Every plant flowers profusely knowing it has but a short window of opportunity to reproduce before the fleeting summer disappears for a long cold snow draped winter. Wild roses give off thier distinctly sweet perfume, brightly coloured lupins paint the landscape and tiny fuschias entice bees to their nectar.
Which came first? The shed or the rock?
Breathtaking panoramic views of craggy mountains covered in snow, glaciers melting producing spectacular waterfalls, fjords, lakes, rivers and streams surprise us at every corner.
Tributaries of glacial melt
Our journey is slow stopping frequently to admire and appreciate what the Carretera Austral has to offer including the delicious fresh salmon lunches on offer at every small restaurant.
Lago General Carretera
We meet Mary & Mattias, a German couple, whom we first met in Ushuaia travelling in the opposite direction before coming upon the small village of Puerto Tranquillo.
Our glorious sunny day turned into a cold damp ride and the three of us decided to take a cabin with a log fire for the night as the tent did not appeal one bit.
Peering longingly through the butchers window at the lamb carcas hanging on display. The loin chops, fat and tender, were waiting for us to turn them into a lamb stew.
Hearing us knock on the butchers door, the old man next door poked his head out of his window into the drizzle.
'The Butcher, he is out' he yelled into the wind
'Thank you Sir, do you know when he will be back?'
'When you see the pick-up in the driveway, then he is back' came the reply.
With this sort of precision timing we decided lamb stew was off the menu!
Pee stop in the wind
Our trusty guide book described Puhuhuapi as an idillic town nestled at the end of the fjord of the same name and famous for the hand woven carpets of the founding Hopperditzel family. Whilst the scenery was beautiful it was cold, damp, swampy place full of mold... and the weaving houses were closed for holidays! So, once again, off we go north, though not before re-inflating our rear tyre and push starting Piggy.
Ming & Grant at Puhuhuapi Fjord - Photo courtesy of Ming
The Carretera Austral is kept in far better condition than Argentina's Ruta 40, with fewer sections of heavy ball bearing type gravel and with the big Suzuki feeling just so good in these conditions, we made good time and soon the town of Coihaique appeared where the three of us shared a comfortable hotel room, though in the somewhat faded Hotel Lebanon, placed high upon metal beam stumps. With every passing of a fast moving heavy vehicle the whole building would sway precariously and quiver as if an earthquake was occuring.
Road to Coihaique
Jules whipped up a feast of Mexican Nachos for we three on our trusty trangia, and with sumptuous creamy chocolate for sweets we had the best sleep in several days. Maybe helped along by our swinging hotel!
Glacial Waterfall - Parque Nacional Quelat
Global warming is in stark evidence as we continued to follow the Rio Cinses north. Huge tracks of forest laying in low lying land have recently been covered by glacial melt. Here many of the trees are dead or dying leaving only a ghostly skeleton of bare timber within the fast flowing waters and is a testament to the fragility of our planet.
The Carretera Austral is a truely stunning ride. We picnicked on the edge of a lake on our last day in Chile and with an ominous warning, for the first time, Miss Piggy would not start after a half days ride.
With Ming's assistance, we easily push started the loaded bike and headed for the border at Futaleufu and Grant did not dare to turn off the engine in fear of not being able to re-start at all. Jules explained to the amiable border officials that Grant was not present as we were unable to shut off the engine. This was readily accepted!
Filling the Marvelous Ming's Magical Oiler - Photo courtesy of Ming
By this time, the battery is in a death roll and all manner of wierd happenings were occuring with the electronics. The digital readouts would constantly zero whilst the speedo and tacho behaved as if under demonic possesion.
Glacier in distance
All in all we had travelled 1600kms (1000 miles) of ripio from Tierra del Fuego, in that time we developed three punctures in the rear tyre, leaking fork seals, one stuffed battery and steering head bearings in need of replacement, however, none of it stopped us from continuing our journey and enjoying the experience immensely.
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