After a great few weeks, we finally managed to leave Ushuaia. We were experiencing an unusual phenomenon; we had a deadline to meet! Helen & Bob, Em’s Mum and Stepdad, were meeting up with us in El Calafate in a couple of weeks, therefore to have sufficient time to enjoy the ride North, we had to get on the road.
Penguins & Pipes
Before we did however, we checked out the local Maritime Museum, located in the original jail and full of information regarding past expeditions to not only Tierra del Fuego, but Antartica too. I was particularly interested to note one of the most successful 19th century Antartic exploratory expeditions was in fact a Scottish Expedition, the captain hailing from Portobello no less.
First stop was Estancia Harberton, the first estancia (farm) to be established on Tierra del Fuego back in 1886, by Englishman Thomas Bridges. He devoted his life to working with the Yamana people (ref. Em’s last blog), compiling a dictionary of their language whilst providing a safe haven for them at Harberton. Today, the estancia is still in the family, run by great grandson, Thomas Goodall.
We continued some 10kms past the estancia before setting up camp in a top spot by the Beagle Channel, named after Charles Darwin’s vessel ‘Beagle’ when he paid a visit back in 1832.
Despite the wind, we lit a fire, dined on the pebble beach, whilst watching the sun set over the Chilean island, Isla Navarino. A magical location.
Unfortunately the following morning wasn’t so magical. Being good Europeans, we stopped off on the way back to the estancia to say ‘Guten Morgan’ to a German couple also travelling on bikes, only to get stuck next to their tent. Shizer!
After this rather embarrassing experience, we made haste back to Ruta 3 and onto Tolhuin for lunch; a tasty milanesa at the local parilla.
Rather than continue up the bitumen to Rio Grande, our destination for the night, we opted to ride the ripio (dirt road) via Lago Yuhin, yet another magical setting of lakes and snowcapped mountains, fast becoming the norm in this part of the world. We had a great ride past freshly whitewashed estancias and through rolling countryside before rejoining windy Ruta 3.
Em and a Tierra del Fuego tree cast for The Matrix IV
We found our friends Val and Adam back at Hostel Argentino, once again receiving a warm welcome from owner Graciela. We'd loosely planned to ride together to Lago Blanco, a remote lake on the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego, a region I'd later read to be "the secret haunt of Hollywood stars such as Stallone". If it's good enough for Rambo, it's good enough for me!
Check those out handguards...plastic bags!
So a couple of days later, after stocking up on food and wine, we set off in high spirits, looking forward to the prospect of idyllic camping and Adam catching the fish he'd been promising for nigh on a month. Unfortunately, about half an hour later it all went horribly wrong. Following Val along the ripio we helplessly watched in horror as her bike replicated an angry bucking bronco, before tossing her over the 'bars and into the verge. Poor Val had lost control in the soft centre, where all the loose gravel accumulates. Fortunately, after the initial shock, we established all to be ok, bar a few bruises and a black eye. The bike was in a similar condition, ok, bar a few bruises.
We were therefore runited with Graciela a little earlier than anticipated, returning to Rio Grande to have Val checked out by the Doc and to knock the bike back into shape. Literally!
Whilst Val rested the following day, Adam and I patched up Val's bike, ready for another adventure. I actually quite enjoy a wee project, so it was no hardship, nonetheless Val very kindly rewarded me with a bottle of Highland Park for my efforts. Mucho appreciated!
Now Val's a tough nut, but even she surprised us all by announcing that evening that she was ready to ride the following day. Respect! So with a certain feeling of deja vu, we set off the next day, albeit minus the eggs from the first attempt!
We were not to be disappointed by Lago Blanco. Despite its significance, no one was around, providing the idyllic spot we were looking for. If only Adam could catch that fish...
Whilst we chilled out, Adam cast his fly, disappearing for hours at a time, only to return empty handed.
We were begining to think the only fish we'd be eating was the tin of tuna we'd brought along, when Adam returned to camp grinning like a Cheshire cat, having caught a fair sized brown trout.
A certain cause for celebration, the Highland Park was cracked open whilst the fish baked over the fire. As if on cue, the sunset that night was spectacular, an array of golds, pinks and deep reds. I doesn't get much better than this; good friends, good spot, good times.
Our only camp visitor
With still another three days riding before meeting Helen & Bob, we had to get a move on, so saying good-bye to Lago Blanco, we rode the 250kms of ripio up to Porvenir where we'd catch the ferry to Punta Arenas. The traffic was horrendous...
We'd heard various horror stories about the Porvenir ferry; rough seas, bikes falling over, long waits...fortunately the sea was like glass, with a sailing only two hours upon arriving. Enough time for a beer and a milanesa.
We crossed the Magellan Straits for a second time, leaving Tierra del Fuego behind, bringing an end to a great chapter and the start of a fresh one. Named after Portugese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, who in 1520 was the first European to sail the straight which separates Tierra del Fuego from mainland Chile. He was also responsible for the island's name "The Land of Fire", as a result of the Yamana's continual fires.
After a brief night in a wet and windy Punta Arenas, we bid fairwell to our travelling pals and headed off in driving rain for Puerto Natales. Val and Adam had more sense and stayed in bed.
In what seems to be the way in this part of the world, the weather didn't last for long, the rain stopping as we turned off the bitumen for yet more ripio excursions. We hadn't travelled 500m when Em told me to turn round, she'd spotted an armadillo scurrying around at the side of the road.
Get off my land!
Half an hour later the next nature stop involved a defensive skunk. He was not amused to have us invade his space, performing a comical dance as a result.
Doc Nescafe & Em
By this time we were in need of a coffee, so stopped off at what we thought was a restaurant, but in actual fact a rural medical centre! Not to disappoint, the Doc insisted we had a cuppa in the surgery whilst informing us about the local health problems, in Spanish! Top bloke.
Mine's bigger than yours!
Before reaching Puerto Natales we bumped into Canadian Lucy, one of many cyclists we've met along the way. Hardcore nutters!
The following day we enjoyed a scenic ride up to the Argentine border, making our deadline to be in El Calafate. I don't think Em would have forgiven me otherwise! We're now enjoying catching up with Helen and Bob, checking out the glaciers and as is always the case with family, eating and drinking too much.
Next on the agenda is Torres del Paine National Park, where we'll say farewell to Helen & Bob, do a spot of camping and trekking, before continuing North. It's a tough life, but someone's got to do it...
We spent an excellent couple of weeks with my Mum and stepdad Bob, based in El Calafate (about 600km North of Ushuaia) in self catering cabanas near Lago (lake) Argentina. 'Cabañas Nevis' was run by a Ricardo Paterson - yep, you guessed it, another person of Scottish descent. They really do get everywhere... We enjoyed the luxury of the cabanas and took the opportunity to mend and clean various bits of kit, discovered our tent was still green under the layers of Aussie and Argentinian dust.
Mum and I talked non-stop for the first few days having not seen each other for a year. We all enjoyed catching up, and sampling some of El Calafate's excellent and reasonably priced restaurants, as well as demonstrating our asado techniques.
El Calafate's biggest tourist drawcard is its proximity to the Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciers National Park; a 250km² river of ice which edges forwards by two metres per day. This causes massive chunks of ice to drop off the end with resounding crashes and is an incredibly awesome sight.
Stretching up and back into the Andes for 30 km and 5km wide, the glacier seems to be alive, with loud cracks and pops as the pressure mounts at the 80m high front edge. It is also one of the few glaciers in the world that is not retreating.
Mum and me taking in the view
Los Glaciers National Park holds the third largest amount of fresh water in the world (after Antarctica and Greenland) in its ice fields. We took a boat to see some of the glaciers in the park and had a great day sailing past huge icebergs, getting as close as we could to the front walls of other glaciers.
No trip to Argentina would be complete without a trip to an Estancia so the four of us spent a day horse riding, eating asado and walking in the hills near the farm. We rode near the lake with great views of the surrounding mountains and I was especially proud of Mum who'd only ridden twice before in her life and is afraid of horses.
Part of the day included a sheep shearing show, which turned out to be a man giving a lamb a quick haircut. Hame gave us his own sheep grabbing show instead! (Yeah Roddy, a bit of a worry)
We also visited El Chalten, a small mountain town built in 1985 to cater for the tourists who visit FitzRoy and Cerro Torro, two famous peaks in the Andes. We enjoyed a walk before heading back to El Calafate but Hame and I decided we'd go back in a few weeks to do some more serious trekking.
Mum and Bob have also morphed into twitchers so we took their new fangled anti-wobble binoculars out to a nearby bird sanctuary and bird-spotted for hours on end.
All too soon it was time for more farewells, which don't get any easier despite nine years of practice, and suddenly Hame and I were alone again and back in our wee canvas home.
We rode 200km South again to Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile and pitched camp next to Lago Azul, a tranquil campsite with fine views of the Torres. The Torres (towers) are huge granite pillars formed by forces of glacial ice as they eroded an ancient volcano.
First glimpse of the Torres
Spot the Torres in the background
The park is a hikers' paradise and Hame and I enjoyed some great walks around the lake, sighting numerous birds of prey, foxes, hares, hundreds of guanacos, waterbirds and on one occasion, people.
Hame also did his first paid work in ten months, he spent an hour or so helping Ramon (the park attendant) get his Suzuki TS running better by de-coking the exhaust. Ramon was so pleased that he rewarded Hame with a bottle of wine, some food and a free night's stay. I should whip him into action more often!
Dr Hame giving his diagnosis
We wanted to see more of the park so we reluctantly left Lago Azul before we ate all of our supplies and headed to Los Torres campsite, from where we could hike up to the base of the Torres.
Just had to get this one in
We bumped into Stefan and Sabine who we'd last seen in Ushuaia and swapped travel stories. The next morning we hiked up to the viewpoint and enjoyed stunning views of the Torres.
The last 45 mins were a rocky scramble
It was all so raw; massive granite pillars, waterfalls running into a greeny blue lake and boulders strewn everywhere.
It almost seemed you could see forces of nature at work, true, I suppose as the Andes are a relatively young and ever-changing range of mountains, part of the Pacific 'ring of fire' and full of active volcanoes and potential earthquakes. We've enjoyed exploring them immensley and look forward to much more as we travel North. The Andean mountain range stretches for almost 8000km, from Tierra Del Fuego to Peru, and is the longest continuous mountain range in the world.
Hame checked out the sunrise; I checked out the inside of my eyelids
After the hike my body was protesting too much to do little more than eat, chat to the Germans who were sharing our fire, and crawl into my sleeping bag. The next day we stocked up on supplies - no choice but to use the extremely expensive shop - before moving Southwards through the park.
We met two Spanish guys on BMWs
Our third and final campsite in the park was the best. Camping Serrano was a bit pricey but well worth it, if campsites had ratings this one would have been six-star. Soft grass next to a river, a shelter, an almost private shower - we could have stayed for weeks if we'd not eaten everything we had.
We spent three days fishing with a borrowed rod (no luck), reading and studying a bit. I put my 'Miss Emma' hat back on briefly, as Hame and I went through our Spanish school notes. Hame was a very naughty boy.
Behave or you know what'll happen...
We also had time to reflect on how fortunate we are to be able to do this trip at all and I can hardly believe we've been on the road ten months. It's been interesting to get to know myself minus all the trappings of society; no titles, numbers, job descriptions or roles to hide behind, just myself.
Hame and I have got to know each other incredibly well too (those of you who know us well can imagine some of the challenges!!) as we spend much of the day and night within one metre of each other, either on the bike or in the tent. On the whole it's been good but at times it's a bit like being on a DIY marriage guidance course - but one I wouldn't have missed for the world.
Another thing that has struck us is how little stuff you need to exist. It's refreshing and liberating to live with only what you really really need, just the bare essentials.
We left Torres Del Paine via a road not officially open yet, luckily we were able to open the barrier and sneak out before anyone noticed. We enjoyed some amazing views of the park.
Last glimpse of the mountains - for now
Don't let little things like barriers stop you
On the way back to Puerto Natales where we needed to buy supplies and fix our front door (the zip is a bit kaput) we passed the Milodon Cave. This is a 200m long cave where in 1895 remains of a sloth-like creature extinct for 12,000 years were found. There were theories that people and milodons coexisted in the cave for a while, with the milodons being domesticated. After standing next to a life-sized replica we think this is a tad unlikely.
After stocking up on supplies we're heading back into Argentina, to El Chalten, for some more walking. We're getting progressively healthy and a bit fitter than we have been; especially as wine and beer hasn't been widely available in the parks. Hame even had a moment of madness when he said 'I'm not really missing beer that much', but watching him sink the first one last night I realised he was talking total rubbish.
I forgot to mention this in my last blog but check out what Hame got up to in Ushuaia while I was hard at work at school...I don't know, leave him alone for five minutes and look what happens...
The Flying Scotsman
We've not got too far... read on to find out why!
The idea was to stay in Puerto Natales for a couple of days but it wasn't until a week later that we finally managed to move. Firstly it was a Chilean gaucho rodeo which kept us. Gauchos are South American cowboys who live and work on farms on the pampas. They are excellent horsemen and very, very macho.
We spent a day watching a competition between gauchos from Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. They had to stay on the back of a wild horse for 15 seconds with only the most rudimentary of saddles; if they managed to stay on two other men would ride alongside once the 15 seconds was up, between them grabbing the gaucho from the horse's back and return him safely to the ground. It was pretty amazing to watch.
The gauchos wore the traditional clothes we have seen throughout Patagonia, but to ride the horses they put on special boots made from the skin of horses' legs (which did seem a little weird).
One of the lads
At lunchtime we watched some traditional dancing before the next rounds of riding began.
Dancing before the Chilean flag
The gaucho culture goes back years, the term was first used around the time of Argentinian indepedence in 1816.
The next delay was pisco sours. A pisco sour is the traditional drink of Chile; delicious - and lethal. We'd met Fernando and Dilek who were backpacking around and we spent a few evenings swapping stories, one of them with two jugs of pisco. It was Dilek's fault really, she discovered that one of the ladies who worked in the campsite made the best pisco sours in Chile, so of course we had to try them.
Shaken, not stirred - just as my head felt the next morning
Piscoing the night away...
Then it was the rain. Every morning for a few days we woke to driving rain and stayed, thinking maybe it'd be better the next day.... One day we woke and there was a brief good weather window, so off we went.
Finally managing to break away from Puerto Natales, we crossed back into Argentina, stopping at Rio Turbio for lunch and an ATM machine, our last for some time. Whilst munching on our milanesa sandwiches, I noticed a local Land-Rover sporting a Scotland sticker. Walking over to take a closer look, not only was there a Scotland sticker, but a North Berwick one too, a small town where my Grandmother once lived. It turned out Duncan from Dumfries, had been farming in Patagonia the last 30 years, his wife hailing from North Berwick, hence the stickers.
Providing a windswept mixture of ripio and bitumen, the infamous Ruta 40 took us North to El Chalten, a small town nestling beneath the magnificent peaks of FitzRoy and Cerro Torre. Magnificent that is if they aren't obscured by cloud and darkness, as was our initial experience. As a result, camping lost a little of its appeal, a warm hostel easily winning the toss.
Enthusiastic pub singer
In El Chalten we were reunited with fellow bikers, Stefan and Sabine and met Tom, a young American who'd ridden his KLR south from the US. Yet another excuse for a beer or two with local pub singer, Juan, providing the entertainment.
FitzRoy at sunrise
Unfortunately, the local weather report was not conducive to our trekking plans, so we opted to cut our losses and move on the following day. However, waking early to clear blue skies the next day, we realised that not only Michael Fish gets it wrong! Our walk was on! Hiking up to Loma del Pliegue Tumbado at 1490m offered stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
Cerro Torre and FitzRoy
Named after the Captain of the Beagle, Darwin's ship which sailed around the Patagonian coast in the 19th century, FitzRoy was an impressive sight.
Winter is here
Like kids experiencing the first snow fall of winter, we had a great laugh in the snow, despite me copping the bulk of the snowballs of course.
Old fossil (34)
We left El Chalten with a definite feeling of satisfaction, at the same time stuggling to keep my eyes on the road and not at the mountain vista in my rear view mirror.
A sign of things to come
Back on Ruta 40, it wasn't long before the bitumen ran out and the ripio began. Despite the horror stories, the road wasn't so bad, the wind of course was ever present, but not gale force. Perhaps we were lucky.
Beck, Paul, Em and I
Pulling off for the night at Estancia Angustura, we met up with Aussie Paul and Kiwi Beck travelling aboard the equivalent of Bertha's grandaughter, a new 1200 GS Adventure.
Patagonia is a 900,000 km² area of Southern Argentina and Chile. Because of its size there are mountains and steppe, lakes and hills, dry pampas, forests... you would need years to explore it properly. In three months we've grown to like it more and more, and have fallen in love with remote abandoned farms, old houses in the middle of nowhere and the overall mystical wildness of it.
The Patagonian pampas is vast; like Australia there isn't much out there except farms and sheep. Overgrazing has affected the area, much of the original forest was cut down to make way for European settlers who claimed huge areas of land. The Indian population suffered greatly, after living in Patagonia for over 9000 years they were practically wiped out in less than 100 years.
Patagonia was named after the large people seen by the first Spanish explorers in the 16th century. Exaggerated stories of giants were taken back to Europe and the area was named after Patagons, legendary giants told of in stories of Knights and Dragons. The Indians - called the Tehuelche in this part of Patagonia - were big people; tall, strong, formidable hunters and horsemen.
We stopped at the remote village of Baja Caracoles from where we could visit the 'Cueva De Los Maños' (Cave of the Hands), a Unesco World Heritage site of cave paintings. The paintings were done by the Tehuelche between 3000 and 9000 years ago. The areas around the walls of the cave and the hillside were excavated recently (with lots remaining to be done) so the colours of the paintings are exceptionally vivid.
Depiction of Tehuelche hunting guanaco, on which their lives depended
The paintings were incredibly similar to ones we saw in Australia; the hand outlines and the dots. There were many symbols left uninterpreted however, as there is no one left to explain the meanings, unlike in Australia where the Europeans didn't manage to wipe everybody out and stories can still be told.
According to museum literature in El Calafate, 52% of Argentinians have Indian blood, but many of the old ways have been lost.
Following our policy of taking the road less travelled we'd decided to ride out towards the Chilean border, heading West instead of up Ruta 40. I was yet again amazed by Hamish's riding (although he will be horrified that I have written this). Not only were the roads difficult; being rocky, gravelly and sandy in turns, but unlike the previous day it was hellishly windy, to the extent we were blown off the road at one point.
Hamish calmly steered our 500 kg of bike and luggage into the wind, attacked the gravel and somehow we stayed sunny side up - although there were times I had to close my eyes. I've become much happier on gravel, Hame has chilled out a lot in the last ten months (read he's slowed down!) and consequently I actually enjoy the off-road bits now. This is a good job, as we plan to stay on ripio (dirt) for the forseeable future.
My chariot awaits!
Views towards El Tio
We headed towards the town of Lago Posada but there was nowhere to stay once we got there. We continued 30km to Lago Puryrreaon (no idea how you pronounce that one), down a very bumpy and hilly track and across a thin strip of land separating the two lakes. There we found paradise, 'El Tio' (The Uncle), a fantastic campsite run by an old man called Ruperto. Ruperto was 70-something, sprightly as a spring chicken, quite deaf and said 'Si, Si' to whatever we asked. This was fine if we asked about buying beer, but a little confusing when we asked where the road to Los Antiguos was.
We spent a great few days at El Tio. Ruperto showed us to fish with a tin and a line. He swung it a few times round his head, chucked it casually towards the lake and it sailed 50m out. We flung it about messily, got a bit tied up, and after I succeeded in catching my own trouser leg instead of a fish we decided we'd buy a rod as soon as possible.
We camped right by the lake, and watched the sun go down and the moon come up.
As usual we wanted to stay longer but as usual, had eaten up most of our supplies. We left with the intention of checking out the view further up the road and then heading into Chile via Los Antiguos/Chile Chico. On the way we saw signs we'd noticed for the past 30 km or so, for a place called Los Nires with 'Fantastic Tourist Experiences, Glaciars, Thermal Pools, Camping, Trekking'. We had seen at least eight signs on the way and decided it looked like an interesting ride, 20km up a steep windy track. With thermal pools at the end it was inviting so off we went.
The track was challenging, to say the least. It took us up a hill above the lake...
...along the side of a valley...
...across a small river...
...into some sand...woops...
...along the valley floor...
...and finally, to a padlocked gate with a very definite 'B***** Off' sign...
B*****! It seemed Los Nires no longer took tourists...
It was late by this point so we went back along the valley, up the river, down the hill etc etc to see Ruperto for another night by the lake. We explained what had happened. 'Si, si' he said.
We fell in love with Ruperto's place, fantasised about what we'd do if we could buy it and do it up a bit. However, being seven hours (at least) on gravel roads from the nearest town with an airport, we decided our families might not forgive us...
The Middle of Nowhere
We said farewell to Ruperto, tried to confirm the existence of what appeared as a tiny road on our map to the border ('Si, si') and headed off, after cup-a-soup and crackers for breakfast.
After several wrong turns, leading variously to locked gates, beaches and bushes we found what we thought might be the right road. With nobody around to ask it was a bit of a gamble, but with the arrow on the GPS pointing roughly the right way at each junction, we headed on. There was a distinct lack of signs.
The road took us through incredible scenery. Hills and mountains, dried lakes, wet lakes, the occasional green oasis of poplar-sheltered estancias and barren wildernesses up where mountains are made.
An armadillo scurried in front of us and flamingoes shone pink in the water where we stopped for 'lunch' (peanuts). We saw one other car all morning and it was an excellent ride.
Eventually, after 110km or so of wilderness, the road swung into a fertile valley and took us to Los Antiguos, the place old Tehueleche used to come to die, now 'cherry capital of Argentina'. After eating the remnants of our supplies we were hungry, we stopped at the first open restaurant and said 'Steak, por favor!'
The next day we were off to fill up our passports with more Chile/Argentina stamps as we crossed the border at Chile Chico. First was the obligatory empanada stop,
before we rode down one of the most stunning roads yet.
View from the top
Empanadas with a view
After a rollercoaster ride along the banks of Lago General Carerra, we began to feel every bump and jolt the gravel road had to offer. Being late in the day, we put it down to tiredness, beginning to wonder wether we could endure the further 80 kms or so south to Cochrane. The ride appeared to get worse, therefore I pulled over just after joining up with the Carretera Austral, my intention being to drop the tyre pressures in an attempt to soften the ride. It was then when Em spotted oil dripping from below the bike. I looked down to find the rear shock absorber covered in oil; the result of our uncomfortable ride. No seal, no oil, no suspension damping.
As mentioned already in an earlier blog entry, the front unit was already leaking oil. Now the rear had gone completely. After splashing out a not inconsiderable amount of cash on supposedly quality after market suspension prior to our departure almost one year ago, I was somewhat disappointed to say the least. If nothing else, they were still under warranty.
Taking stock of our options (limited), we spotted a nearby sign indicating a campsite seven kms away, so opted to head for there. Limping along the road, the shock topping out over each and every bump, we rolled into Bahia Catalina to meet with Manuel, the campsite owner, who announced hot showers and cold beers were indeed available. Suddenly life was looking brighter!
Change of transport
Camped under a tree, next to the lake, nothing could be done but enjoy a beer and the spectacular surroundings. Em got into the fishing once again, this time landing a cracking lake trout, only to return it to where it came from. Tinned tuna for tea that night :(
Manuel mentioned he had to return to Coyhaique in a couple of days, the nearest major town some 270kms to the North and offered us and the bike a lift in his small pick-up. This initially sounded a good idea until I ran into the nearby village with him the following day in order to call the suspension agent in Santiago. I realised then 250+kgs of motorcycle, strapped into the back of his pick-up, whilst bouncing along the Carretera Austral was not going to happen.
We decided therefore to accept Manuel's offer of a lift to Coyhaique, albeit minus the bike. We instead removed both shocks, taking them with us to send to Santiago for repair, leaving Bertha behind in a small shed within a horse paddock! Being Saturday the courier office closed at 1pm, however Manual managed to get us there by 12:45pm; just in time to get the shocks off to Santiago that day.
We were then faced with the unfamiliar task of finding a campsite without transport! How uncivilized! After some time we found a cracking little place on the outskirts of town, complete with personal cabins in which to dine. Luxury indeed.
Hartmut, me, Ritta and Annabella
Here we met up with some fellow bike travellers - it never takes long to make friends and share a vino or two.
So now we're hanging out in Coyhaique eagerly waiting the arrival of our rebuilt shock absorbers, looking more likely to be next week now unfortunately. The plan then is to be reunited with Bertha, install her new suspenders, before heading North along Ruta 7, commonly known as the Carretera Austral (Southern Highway).
Built by former president Augusto Pinochet between 1976 and 1988, to connect a number of remote communities in the South of Chile, the Carretera Austral is predominantly unpaved, winding its way through some reportedly breathtaking scenery, so we're looking forward to the ride.
On April 22nd, Em and I celebrate one year on the road. It hardly seems a year has passed since we left our home, pets and possessions for the trip of a lifetime.
We've experienced some amazing lands and the roads which travel through them, the people we've had the pleasure to meet along the way making it a memorable trip. Lines on a map that become adventures, situations that become experiences, strangers who become friends.
Looking ahead to another year on the road, we look forward to meeting with yet more adventures, experiences and friends on our way North through the Americas.
Whilst waiting in Coyhaique for our repaired shock absorbers to return, we made the most of the time by enrolling in further Spanish lessons. Whilst Em was able to conduct simple conversations, I was floundering badly. Patricio provided fun, easy to follow tuition which was of a great help to both us.
Em and Patricio
When our shock absorbers did arrive from Santiago, we were sad to leave Patricio and his lessons, however after almost two weeks in Coyhaique, it was time to be reunited with Bertha and get ourselves on the road. Carlos of Mototurismo, the Wilbers agent, managed a sterling job, the shocks looking as good as new. Long may they continue!
A first for the trip, we caught a bus (aghh!) back to Bahai Catalina and the Patagonian Workshop. After installing the shocks and taking in the scenery in this spectacular setting, we set off once again along the Carretera Austral.
Campsite with a view
Em takes it all in
Fortunately the weather was on our side, making for a breathtaking ride along the banks of Lago General Carrerra.
Words don't do justice to the beauty of the area, hopefully some of the pictures will.
If you cut and paste this address into your address bar it'll take you to a pillion's view...
Rolling into Cerro Castillo under an amazing sunburnt sky, we sought out a cheap hospedaje for the night, looking forward to the day ahead. Here the ripio changes to bitumen for a while, providing some great switchbacks just out of town, en route to Coyhaique.
Continuing North, it wasn't long before the bitumen finished and we were back to bumping along the ripio once again. For how much longer this will be the case who can say, as we came across a road gang further up the track laying pavement.
Ripio no more
Narrowing as it climbed through rainforest-like flora, the Carretera Austral wound its way towards Puyuhuapi, our destination for the night.
Of course you can't have rainforest flora without rain, which started about the same time we picked up our first puncture of the trip. Great. Fortunately the cause contributed to the solution. I screwed in the puncturing screw, preventing the majority of air from escaping and limped on to our camp for the night, where I could repair the tyre more permanently.
Wheres the valve?
Sitting out a day of rain in the tent, we dried out with condors before setting off, the sun coming out to provide yet another stunning days ride. The Carretera Austral has indeed been one of the highlights so far; breathtaking scenery and rolling roads make for a fantastic ride.
Hummingbird takes lunch
Turning off the Carretera Austral for Futaleufu on the Chile - Argentine border, we were reunited once again with friends Adam and Val. Hanging out with them for a week, we tried to put our newly bought fishing rod to use, but to no avail, the rod remains virginal.
With no success below the water, we decided instead to ride above it, taking a rafting trip down the Rio Futaleufu. Claimed to be one of the top white water rafting spots world wide, we couldn't pass on the opportunity, even if the river was a little low at this time of year. Poor Em was apprehensive to say the least, however after the first rapid was grinning from ear to ear.
Needing to service both our bikes, Adam and I thought it to be more civilised if we enjoyed a beer whilst doing so. Now as it was only one beer, we thought this wouldn't pose a problem. Not until I took a swig of the gear oil stored in an identical bottle that is! Somehow 80W-90 doesn't taste quite the same as Pilsner!
We managed to tear ourselves away from Los Troncos eventually - but it was hard, with a comfortable bed, homemade breakfasts and a lovely clean house (all for a fiver each!) and the laidback lifestyle of Futaleufu.
House in Futaleufu
Saying our goodbyes to Adam and Val with vague plans to meet further North, we headed off, back to Argentina, the land of big steaks and cheap beer.
After filling up with fuel we got chatting to a Chilean couple on holiday. They tried to give us a puncture repair kit. We have three, so said no politely. At this point they went back into their camper van and looked for something else to give us, coming out with a lovely bottle of Chilean red. We continue to meet kind, friendly people and are always touched.
On this trip we've been invited to Northern Argentina to stay with a couple we met in a campsite, to Uruguay to stay with another couple, to Santiago to stay with two different families we've met.... we feel very lucky.
We rode into Los Alerces National Park which was beautiful, and camped out next to the river. On the way we met met Guido, an Argentinian/American who thought we were bonkers for riding two-up on the ripio!
Los Alerces National Park
Exiting the National Park we headed towards El Bolson, which would be the first biggish town we'd been in since El Calafate. It was a shock. We'd been told El Bolson was a sleepy little hippy town, but as it was Easter half of Argentina seemed to be on holiday there and the place was packed. Hame and I both suffered Traffic Shock, or something, and blanched at all the people everywhere. If there was any doubt at all we are total country bumpkins who love big empty spaces, there's none left now.
However, we'd also been told El Bolson was famous for beer, so there were some compensations. We spent an evening in a small pub trying various flavours...
...despite this flavour my favourite was honey beer. Yum!
The population of the campsite swelled hugely with our neighbours arriving at midnight (noisily) and six in the morning (even more noisily). Time to go and find somewhere quiet for Easter weekend.
With our growing obsession for the route less travelled and tiny roads on the map, we headed off towards the Chilean border again. A fantastic ride past amazing rock formations took us to Villa Traful, a tiny village on the shores of a massive lake.
A top spot...
We found yet another marvellous spot to pitch the tent next to the lake and enjoyed a couple of days of peace (because life has been soooo hectic recently). I made bread on the fire - amazingly it was edible - and we fished, yet again, without success...
Check out a video of this spot, cut and paste this address into your address bar and have a look!
A rather inebriated gentleman came over to say Hi. Under the mistaken impression we spoke Spanish fluently - we assured him we didn't - he spoke to us on various topics from corruption in the government to the Malvinas (Falkland Islands), asados, his family... every now and again we'd realise he'd asked a question and, hopefully, we gave an answer.
Sooner or later it must have dawned on him that we didn't understand a damn thing beyond every tenth word, and he shook our hands, touched his heart, said he'd enjoyed the chat and wandered back off to his beer. We breathed a sigh of relief.
The road continued to be interesting and we enjoyed the ripio roads and the scenery. We headed towards an interesting looking border crossing involving a ferry, with the intention to going back into Chile to check out some volcanoes. We stopped for lunch in San Martin De Los Andes; quaint, if a little touristy. The lunch took ages, appearing just before we began to chew on the table. Afterwards we rode to Toursit Info to check out the ferry times, and discovered we had an hour and a half to ride about 60km on ripio to catch the once a day ferry. Uh-oh...
I made Hamish promise he'd not race to catch it. With a glint in his eye that I know too well he lied blatantly and said 'Of course not darling' then rode like a bat out of hell towards the border. Hmmm.
Needless to say, we missed it by fifteen minutes, and found ourselves stranded in the tiniest port in the world, Puerto Piriheuico. We planned to camp, but as I was checking out the sites Hamish went off and got a bargain; a whole cabaña (in a field shared with a family of pigs) for a good discount, so we had a night of luxury. It was a good thing we did, because it began to rain buckets (we didn't see dry weather again for almost a week).
23 hours and 45 minutes later we got back on the ferry. I'm sure it would have been a stunning sail, but all we could see was clouds...
We wanted to climb a volcano. Pucon, a touristy town further North, is famous for many outdoor sports and has lots of guides willing to take you up nearby Volcano Villarica. We decided to opt for the non-touristy alternative, a tiny village further South called Choshuenco which is also close to a volcano that you can climb.
The rain continued so we found another hotel and made loose arrangements to hike up the volcano (which was hiding under a big cloud) the following day. Nature had other ideas so we left next morning in the rain and rode on all the little roads we could find towards the North.
Chilean village house
It rained, and rained.
In a couple of days we were close to the Argentinian border once more. Again, we'd decided on the road less travelled, this time it was a big mistake! The pass through the Andes we'd decided to take this time was 1800 metres high, and at this height all the rain we were experiencing became snow. I'll let the pictures describe it.
Fancy Christmas trees
We thought it was quite fun despite being freezing cold, and it certainly was beautiful at first as we were riding thorugh an Araucaria (monkey puzzle tree) forest. We stopped in an Araucana (Indian) settlement for warming hot chocolate then set off, in all innocence, for the pass.
We checked out of Chile (again) and began the 22km climb across the pass to the Argentinian side. At first it seemed okay, but then the wind started, then the snow fell, and pretty soon the temperature dropped to one degree.
Hamish's fingers froze, I lost the feeling in my feet and riding became trickier and trickier. At one point the road was across the top of an embankment, with a ten foot drop to either side. The wind whipped meanly across it and I suddenly got scared, yelling at Hame to STOP!
He put the brakes on, put both feet down and... we didn't stop. Luckily, for we were being blown straight towards the drop off at the side of the road, we fell off and landed in a pile of snow. A lorry driver drove past - laughing his head off - as we were battling against the wind to get the bike upright again.
We got the bike up again, hopped on before we froze, and managed to get going, but not for long. We fell off again (this time on the other side), in snowy mud. Another lorry drove past, we must have looked pretty pathetic because this one stopped and gave me a lift. Hamish managed the rest of the pass more easily and I thawed out in the truck's cab, leaving a puddle of mud. My saviour was called Arnando and he chatted while giving me 'mad gringo' looks.
We came to the end of the pass, checked damage to the bike (not much) checked damage to us - nothing apart from frozen digits and mud splatters. In actual fact Hame had numb fingers for days afterwards.
Riding back into Argentina was like riding into paradise. Within an hour of being in nasty weather and one degree, it was 20 degrees and blue skies, a complete tranformation.
One hour later...
We stopped at Las Lajas where we got a room with a telly, cracked open a congratulatory beer and slowly warmed up. The next day we were back on Ruta 40, a bit we'd ridden on the way South in December. It was just as beautiful and we enjoyed the multi-coloured hills even more as they were now surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
Goats on Ruta 40
Amazing clouds on Ruta 40
Stopping at tiny places sometimes gives the best travel experiences. Bardas Blancas, where we stopped for the night, was one such place. Nothing but a few farms, a restaurant, an hosteria and a dinosaur park (honestly!), Bardas Blancas was a little village nestled below wonderfully formed rocks.
The whole area, a wide strip of Argentina from the Andes to the East coast, is strewn with fossils and dinosaur bones. The owner of our hosteria had his own collection, and it was amazing; it made me want to go out fossil hunting immediately! I gave him a piece of Coober Pedy opal and he gave me an Indian arrowhead which I shall treasure. We chatted with a few locals before heading on our way.
Bertha with police bikes somewhere on Ruta 40, very friendly guys
Californian Jossie, one of the many cyclists we have met, on her way South from Alaska. Respect!
Video of a slice of Ruta 40... cut and paste this address into your address bar and have a look!
Another day's great riding brought us back to San Rafael, full circle for us. We'd been in touch with Grant and Jules, the bikers we met in Ushuaia who we've been in touch with by e mail for months. Grant and Jules have been living here for a few months in a cabaña, so we checked in, to find they'd cooked us roast chicken and veg. It felt like a homecoming. Val and Adam arrived two days later, so it's been like Coronation Street, with us sharing meals and popping in and out of each other's cabañas all day long.
Hame and Grant working hard
Hamish bashed the panniers back into shape with Grant (well, with a piece of wood actually) and his latest project is building a 'rocket launcher' - a big tube to fit somewhere on the bike in which to store the heavy tools and get the weight out of the panniers. He's back in bloke heaven, inventing and designing bits and pieces with Grant.
Hame's rocket launchers!
We'd planned to meet John and Annette who have been living here in San Rafael on a finca (farm) for the past year, buying it after finishing their own bike trip and wanting to continue their adventures by living abroad. We'd heard about them from many people and had been looking forward to meeting them. We'd planned to go out there next week after getting a few jobs done on the bike but met them sooner than anticipated as Annette phoned with a Grape Emergency!
Rain was forecast, so Annette and John needed all the grapes picking before this happened. The six of us went out there and helped them out by picking the grapes for an afternoon, in return Annette cooked us Thai green curry.
We've arranged to go out next week - Annette and John have a loose arrangement for passing bikers; in exchange for helping out on the farm we can stay a week or two. We're looking forward to an insight to a different lifestyle, even if it involves that strange concept of 'work'!
Journey so far
(Emma) (Not the best written blog ever but I hope you enjoy the pics!)
Quote of the week, kindly leant by Jamie who included it on his website when he travelled here on a bicycle a few years ago:
"The art of living successfully consists of being able to hold two opposite ideas in tension at the same time: first to make long term plans as if we were going to live forever, and second, to conduct ourselves daily as if we were going to die tomorrow."
Karla Young White
This month it's all been about tractors!
We hung out at the Cabanas in San Rafael for another week or so, and enjoyed being with friends.
At Cabanas Calderon
While there we sampled the local nightlife with Val and Adam, dancing til dawn at a local disco (and I got chatted up by a 25-year-old!) We also went for a fantastic ride along Canyon Atuel which was a great way to spend the 'year on the road' day.
Amazing rocks! With Grant and Jules in Canyon Atuel
This immediately went down as of one of my most amazing rides; it was stunning. The road through the canyon wound its way through gullies and around multi-coloured rocks, past flooded valleys - flooded for hydo-electric power - and twisted its way along next to the river..
We then took ourselves out to the finca for a few days - and stayed almost a month! It was great. We helped out with all kinds of jobs and thoroughly enjoyed a different kind of lifestyle for a bit.
Phil's birthday on the finca - good to catch up with him for a few days before he left for home
Hame and John fixing up the shower curtain, Annette and I painted the walls; Phil did the tiling
Makin' more stuff
The finished product. House security a la John and Hame! They managed to get every window and door done.
Annette and I making cement for a new patio
Hame enjoying the tractor!
Oops... Hame did manage to get it stuck however...
I think Hame fell in love with the tractor. While he was ploughing between the olives it was hard to get him to stop once he'd started. And both he and John developed rather a passion for reading 'Tractor and Machinery' magazine...
Ooh, Massey Fergusons! John Deeres, ploughs!!!
It wasn't all work though, Annette and I sneaked off a couple of times to play golf...
John and Annette bought the finca over a year ago, and have worked incredibly hard on it. When they bought the farm it had walnuts, vines and plums planted. Amongst one million other jobs they have planted one thousand olive trees, more plums and modernised the house. They've also dug lots of new irrigation canals and cleared up the land. It has been hard work, but the place looks great and I hope we get to see it in a few years when its all finished!
Just behind the finca, at sunset, Andes in the distance
Hame and I found it all very interesting and made us realise we'd enjoy a similar life, though who knows where! Water day was particularly fascinating. Water is channelled for 23 1/4 hours once a week, and has to be carefully channelled all over the farm to make sure everything gets watered.
John building dams on water day
Last is filling the pileta - the tank which supplies water to the house, for everything but drinking (drinking water comes from a tap in a nearby service station). Hame and I did some of the watering and enjoyed it a lot.
We bought John and Annette six chickens as a leaving present (although we didn't leave right away) to go with the two ducks, three dogs, cat and rabbit.
One of the ducks enjoying water day
I loved the ducks, they were top of the pecking order and bossed everyone else around!
A new addition to the family
Annette introducing the quacks to the chooks!
The food on the farm was fantastic - Annette made sure we left with several extra kilos. We had to leave before we grew out of all our clothes...
Notice the strap used to keep Hame's trousers together - after he became unable to do them up!
Which brings me to my pic of the week, something Jules and I found in the local supermarket...
It was sad to leave as we'd enjoyed the farm very much, but as Annette said, there's a time to arrive, and a time to leave. We arrived as strangers and left as friends, and had a really great few weeks. It was also getting bloody cold and as we've been following the cold weather North for the last six months, it is high time to find some sun. Thanks guys, for such a fab time.
John and Hame at the top of the pass into Chile
John rode with us as far as Los Andes in Chile where we shared a Chinese meal before heading off the next day. Luckily the pass wasn't as cold as we thought it might be, but it was a tad busy...
Trucks on the pass
We continued to Santiago, to see Heather and Richard (we stayed in their flat last time, back in November, although they weren't there), and their son Michael and his wife Nina; also to collect parts for the bike and a package from home. It was good to catch up with the Davies family and we were made very welcome.
The Davies family, with Richard and Heather at Michael and Nina's house (
Hame taking Richard for a ride
Thanks to Heather's cooking I had my first encounter with chocolcate mousse in rather a long time - it was delicious!
No, I didn't eat the whole bowl. But I could have done!
Heather and Richard also took us to their weekly Scottish country dancing lesson. Fortunately there are no photographs because Hame and I were pretty atrocious! Richard took me golfing which was great fun, although I didn't win any prizes...
Hame and I rode out to Carlos's house to say thanks for all his help repairing the shocks (Carlos is the Wilbers agent in Santiago) when we were in Coyhaique. His house seemed to be an informal bikers' club.
Phillippe, Carlos and Hamish
While we were there we met several interesting people, including Phillippe, who took us out to the BMW dealer. Phillippe had five bikes, including a new BMW 1200GS and a Yamaha MT 01, the latter being the only one on the road in Chile. It was a 1700cc monster and Philippe foolishly suggested Hame had a go... fortunately he behaved himself and came back beaming from ear to ear!!!
Er, can I have my bike back please?
A few days later our parts arrived. Many thanks to Adam and Yvonne for sending them from Houston.
Throttle body rebuild kit
For a while now the throttle bodies had been rattling; a result of the butterfly shafts wearing out. No big deal, however if left, would wear out the throttle bodies themselves, an expensive replacement.
After contributing a considerable amount to Chilean Customs, I collected the new shafts and intake manifolds and headed back out to Carlos's place, who kindly let me use his workspace to rebuild the throttle bodies.
An afternoon later, no more rattles! All that remained was to balance the throttle bodies the following day. Carlos introduced me to Jose, a reputable BM mechanic who possessed the neccessary vacuum guages. Half an hour later and the bike was running as sweet as it ever has. To celebrate (as if an excuse was needed), I shared a beer with Carlos and his partner Marie. Many thanks for your hospitality guys.
For anyone travelling through Santiago, in need of 'moto TLC', I'd recommend both Carlos (www.motouring.cl) and Jose (www.aat.cl). Top blokes!
We took a day trip to Valparaiso, a port about an hour and a half from Santiago. It was a fascinating town of jumbled up multi-coloured houses stacked on top of each other up the hills, beautiful old colonial buildings and a huge port. We stopped for fresh empanadas at a local cafe and discovered the owner had a Scottish grandfather... what a surprise!
Garage in Valparaiso
A house in Valparaiso - they come in all shapes and sizes...
Trolley bus, Valparaiso
View of houses on a hill
One of the many vernicular railways in Valparaiso
The police in Chile are pretty cool, they whizz around the streets on XR 250s, occasionally popping a wheelie at traffic lights...
Our plan from here is to ride back over the pass to Argentina, heading roughly East to Buenos Aires. We hope to hook up with Grant and Julie on the way. We'll then ride to Iguazu falls, into Uruguay, up into Brazil and across to the Pantanal, then Bolivia, Peru and then finally North... it's all very exciting and we're looking forward to exploring it all. Having said that, the way our plans pan out we might find some other fab place to spend a month or so...
We've had an adventurous past month, travelled with friends and even made a bit of headway. Irrespective of the fact it's been in the wrong direction!
Click below to read more...
Leaving Santiago the plan (I use the term loosely), was to return to Argentina and take an easterly meander towards Buenos Aires. Only it didn't quite work out that way...
The ride back through the 3850m high Cristo Redentor tunnel into Argentina was a cold one, our high-tech fish tank temperature guage indicating zero at one point. I was kicking myself for not investing in those heated grips in whilst in Santiago.
As a result of the recent snow fall, the pass was closed the previous day, hence the massive back log of trucks winding their way up the pass.
Click on the link below to see us in the snow...
After going through the motions at the border crossing, it was on to Uspallata for the night, arriving just as the sun was going down. The Youth Hostel stove was met with a welcome, even Bertha got in on the act.
Bertha at the bar
Opting once again for the ripio, we rode to Mendoza via Ruta 52, part of an old trading route to Chile. Stopping was a must for spectacular views of the Andes and Aconcagua, at 6959m South America's highest peak.
Looking towards Aconcagua
Once over the pass the road wound ever downwards, hairpin after hairpin, to the plains below, not a bad way to spend a Monday morning!
Click on the link below to see our Monday morning...
Instead of living up the nightlife in Mendoza, we opted for a pizza and a bottle of plonk in front of the telly, we must be getting old!
Going round in circles, we returned to Uspallata via the bitumen this time, to take the Ruta 412 north to Barreal (ripio of course). Just before Barreal we came across the Barreal de Leoncito, a 3km wide, 12km long natural fossil sand flat. It was of course too good an opportunity to miss. Riding onto the flats I stopped and turned to Em, "Now's your chance to take the bike for a ride!" After removing the panniers, Em took off over the flats with surprising confidence. After all, Bertha ain't any Kate Moss! She was as chuffed as I was proud of her, that's ma girl!
Em goes for a ride
Riding into the village of Barreal we opted for the first hostel that came our way, with no other guests and an open fire in the room it was seemingly appealling. It wasn't until later that night we realised there was no glass in the door, what little warmth the fire provided disappearing rapidly outside. With a less than concerned caretaker, we resorted to nailing a blanket to the door ourselves. No wonder there were no other guests!
We'd read tours were possible of Argentina's second largest observatory, located nearby in the El Leoncito national park, so were keen to check it out. Proudly boasting 300 clear nights a year, the odds were good for star gazing. Unfortuantely we picked one of the 65 days a year...
Not to be deterred, we were upbeat of seeing a planet or two at least, what with that massive telescope it must be possible! Em was somewhat disappointed to learn a little later that we weren't actually getting to use the wopper-scope, instead its little sister out in the carpark.
Not that one, that one!
Despite the cloud cover, we managed to see Jupiter's stripes and Saturn's rings, along with a few constellations, so all was not lost. We had an interesting chat with Arturo, our English speaking guide and DJ in his spare time. I was to learn of Cuarteto and Cumbia, (latino pop) and their respective social devides.
Well versed in the Argentine skies and music scene, we departed for San Juan, coming across some interesting rock formations along the way.
Seeking out a cheap hostal with parking for the bike was proving to be a problem in San Juan, the tourist info unusually less than helpful. So what to do? Ask a biker of course! Stopping off at Pablo's Moto-Cross, I was immediately directed to Zonda Youth Hostal, complete with secure parking - result. Intending to spend only a night (the story of the trip), the effects of beer, rugby on the telly and swallowed ATM cards saw us stay three nights.
Replacing Em as pillion, fellow traveller Alfonso joined me for a ride out to the Ullum valley and later to check out a local moto-cross race. I was instantly jealous, wishing I was fanging it round the track with the best of them. Perhaps if I was ten years younger and ten times fitter I'd have a chance!
Bertha gets left behind
Having at first retrieved my retained ATM card, we set off for San Agustin, our stepping stone to the Ischigualasto (Valle da Luna) and Talampaya national parks. Along the way we stopped off to check out Argentina's most loved pagan saint, the Difunta Correa. According to legend, the Difunta Correa's child survived at her breast when she died from thirst in the desert. Throughout Argentina we'd spotted the mounds of plastic bottles left as offerings to quench her thirst and therefore provide a safe journey.
Arriving in San Agustin, we immediately became organised (an unfamilair concept) and booked a tin box (mini-bus) tour of the parks for the following day. Although able to ride round Ischigualasto park whilst following a park ranger, Talampaya park is only possible to be visited by mini-bus. We were forced to comply. Having been spoilt by the wide vision the bike offers, the view from the bus was the equivalent of looking through a letter box, however we were able to disembark and wonder around the quite stunning rock formations. Despite the four wheels, a good day was had.
Em takes in the view
Bidding a fond fairwell to Tony at Los Olivos, we made a bee-line for La Rioja, where we hoped to hook up with fellow travelling friends, Grant and Jules. Stopping off along the way, I noticed the left hand brake caliper leaking - bummer. I suspected a similar scenario to that of the right hand capiler whilst in Ushuaia, where the o-ring mating the two caliper halves disintegrated. Saying a prayer to the Difunta Correa, I nipped up the caliper bolts and pressed on to La Rioja.
Praying to Difunta Correa
After a few laps round the plaza we spotted Grant and Jules, joined them for a drink and began plotting our route from there on in. This is where the plan began to go awry...
Struggling to make a directional decision, I noticed an X marked on our map further north and remembered friends Adam and Val recommending this particular road. (Quite why we'd ask ourselves a little later!) It seemed a good enough decisive factor. Decision made, we next headed north together with Grant and Jules, once again through some spectacular scenery.
Stopping by the road side for lunch, I realised the left hand caliper was covered in brake fluid - shit! Where was the Difunta Correa when you needed her! Not having any brake fluid I was unable to carry out a road side repair, therefore upon Grant's suggestion, I instead made do with a prophylactic solution.
Arriving in Belen for the night, I found a ferreteria (hardware store) selling DOT4 brake fluid, a bit of a result, and rebuilt the problematic caliper with a spare o-ring I'd carried from Ushuaia.
Problems solved, we took in El Shincal, a former Inca settlement from around the 15th Century.
Em and Jules, El Shincal
It was then once again decision time, uh-oh! Do we take the relatively easy, partly paved Ruta 40 direct to Cafayate, or alternatively, take Adam and Val's hot favourite, the ripio Ruta 46 to Andalgala and then the Ruta 47 north? Ruta 47 resembled a wiggley line on the map, a sure sign of mountain roads and lots of fun. The only thing was it ran out half way, but hey, a track continued. It must be possible!
X marks the spot
Unable to convince my fellow travellers, the unanimous decision was to take Ruta 40 north. Oh well, fair enough. Filling up with fuel the following morning we bumped into local rider Javier and his two riding companions, en route to Ruta 47, a cracker so they'd been told. "What d'ya reckon?", I asked Grant as we fuelled up.
Before we knew it we were riding east along Ruta 46 and not north, along Ruta 40. What we failed to observe was Javier and his mates were on unloaded dirt bikes, their partners safely left at home. Instead we were on large, glorified road bikes, having our houses and spouses loaded on behind!
Click on the link below to see us ripio riding...
Loaded on Ruta 46
Rattling and rolling along the sandy corrugations to Andalgala we questioned why Adam and Val should recommend such a road. Indeed, it is a point I wish to discuss with them personally when we get to California! Arriving in Andalgala covered in dust and later than expected, I felt somewhat sheepish at swaying the decision.
After a late lunch, we departed north on Ruta 47, a narrow ripio road, winding ever upwards. In fact two hours later we were still climbing, having made only 50kms or so, but a least 2000m in elevation. Needless to say the views were stunning.
Somewhat concerned at making it much further before the sun came down, we were relieved to come accross a hosteria signposted at the 3100m las minas de Capillitas pass. The mention of "servicios de bar" was enough to clinch the decision! Riding the rough 5 km track to the hosteria was entertaining to say the least, although more so for Grant and Jules!
How not to go up hills... sorry guys, just had to put this one on...
Click on the link below to see Grant and Jules having fun!
Expecting a mountain refugio, we instead came across a surprisingly plush hotel, inclusive of balcony, bar and roaring open fire, located by Argentina's largest Inca Rose mine. Yet another result. A few drinks later and the fact the road ran out at the pass didn't seem to bother us.
Grant and Jules take on Ruta 47
Taking off the following morning the road as expected deterioted into a track, winding its way down to an amazing plateau of cactus, sand and river stones. Of course, this made for "interesting" riding. Holding onto a loaded 1100 motorcycle with pillion whilst squirming through sections of sand and river stones can be fun!
View over the plateau
Adopting a technique we established in the Australian outback, Em would look ahead and pick the best line, shouting "far left" or "far right" as the case might be. Before long we ended up in hysterics as Em would change her mind at the last minute trying in all earnest to find any good line at all, the bike waltzing around as a result.
Hitting the pavement of Ruta 40 we stopped and celebrated the completion of our breif adventure by attempting to fly Grant's kite, as you do.
Kite flying attempt
Having less success flying the kite than riding Ruta 47, we continued north to Santa Maria for the night, before continuing north to the ancient settlement of Quilmes.
Quilmes not only is Argentina's national beer, but an ancient settlement, once home to 5000 or so Quilmes people. Whether they were Argentina's first brewers or not is open to question. Nonetheless, they did manage to survive the Incas, but unfortunately not the Spanish, who in 1667 marched the surviving 2000 all the way to Buenos Aires. Apparently few survived the journey.
Pressing on to Cafayate, an idyllic small town surrounded by vinyards, we found ourselves grind to a halt, the al fresco steak and wine too good to miss.
One evening, having gone to bed before midnight, (still unable to get to grips with the Argentine nocturnal habits), we were soon to hear shouts and horns in the street. Getting up to take a look we realised Argentine footy team, Boca Juniors, had won the Copa Libertadores the reason for all the festivity. Football being somewhat of religion here in Argentina, we joined the party, had a beer and watched the dwindling procession circle the plaza.
For the first time in a while we noticed the increase in temperature, we must be finally moving north! Eh, but that wasn't the plan was it?
To complicate matters further, Grant one night spouted, "Since we're this far north, why don't we go to Bolivia?". Why not indeed. We'd need a rear tyre before we did, but we'd be sure to find one in Salta, further to the north.
How did we get here?
And that's the beauty of travelling, not having a plan, a deadline or knowing what lies around the next corner.
Opting for the ripio of Ruta 40 versus the bitumen of Ruta 68, we left Cafayate and enjoyed a great (if not breezey) ride to Cachi.
En route to Cachi
Mud bricks drying along Ruta 40
Riding the 40
With its narrow cobbled streets and colonial architecture, Cachi was the quintessential Latin American town we'd envisaged.
However, the colonizing Spaniards hadn't factored in motorcycle access into their design!
Where there's a will, there's a way
Taking a walk around town, it was obvious that local elections were about to take place.
Fanny for Governor!
Cachi footy strips
Leaving Cachi for Salta it wasn't long before we reached the 3348m high Piedra del Molino pass and were presented with stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
En route to Salta
Piedra del Molino pass
Winding our way down the Cuesta del Obispo made for a stunning ride. We lost count of the number of bends.
Click on the link below to see the Cuesta del Obispo...
Cuesta del Obispo
Arriving in Salta, Grant and Jules lead us to a hotel they'd checked out on a previous visit, inclusive of foyer parking - result!
Over the next few days, Grant and I treated the foyer as a workshop, checking valve clearences and changing oil amoungst the pot plants and bemused fellow guests.
It's been refreshing to travel with kindred spirits Grant and Jules. As with us, they adopt the "loose plan" theory, so we've had a great couple of weeks, stumbling our way north, not always knowing what lies ahead. Check out their blog for their version of events; link below...
Thanks for the pics guys!
Team Loose Plan
We've taken in the sights of Salta...
...and the beer too!
After our less than successful star gazing experiences earlier on in the month, Em finally got a view of the moon on the streets of Salta.
Grant moon gazing
Having serviced the bike, sourced a new rear tyre and caught up on the blog, we're now ready to tackle adventures new. Bolivia here we come!
The route so far
Em's pics of the month...
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