February 04, 2006 GMT
Lighat at the End of the Tunnel

The Queen Mary 2 is a really beautiful vessel. I was able to do a direct comparison between her and the Regal Princess, a rather smaller and considerably less classy ship in port at the same time.

The QM2, of course, sports the correct livery of blue hull, white superstructure, and red funnel with those very narrow black horizontal lines. And by heaven she's big. Unfortunately I missed seeing her steam up the strait as I had to get the morning flight, but the sight of her moored in the port more than made up for that.

With both ships being in at once the town was overrun with more than 3,000 cruise passengers, and one side of the Plaza de Armas was coned off for the coaches (many of the poor dears were unable to walk the half mile from the pier to the town centre).

She's gone now, threading up the fjords to Puerto Montt, then to Valparaiso and finally Los Angeles in California.

Anyway, things are looking up. I was down to my last book ("South", by Ernest Shackleton - a cracking account of the Endurance expedition) but I found a little bookshop here in Punta Arenas which has a shelf of previously-enjoyed paperbacks in English; or did until I raided the shelf. And I went to the post office this morning and two very helful gentlemen checked the parcel tracking number and opined that my parts will arrive in Porvenir on Monday evening (they were confirmed as being in Santiago last Thursday). I suspect they may even be in the nose hold of the little Cessna I'm flying back on. I'll keep everything crossed.

Tomorrow I'm going on an excursion to Fuerte Bulnes and Puerto Hambre. Jolly interesting historical places, as Francisco said.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 04:16 PM GMT
February 08, 2006 GMT
And Not a Train Coming Towards Me

The pilot and I are chums now I'm a regular, so this morning I got a kiss and the co-pilot's seat for the flight from Porvenir to Punta Arenas.

Let me explain.

I went to the post office in Porvenir yesterday, to be told that I can only pay the import duty in Punta Arenas. Now, the usual thing is that they give you the bank account number and you pay in locally then fax the receipt through, upon which the parcel is released. Not here. So having missed yesterday afternoon's flight I came over this morning, went to the post office, then to the customs office. And for once I managed to persuade them not to charge duty as the bike's being exported again. Back to the post office where they released the parcel to me; it's supposed to be delivered to me in Porvenir, but once I had my hands on it I decided that I was better off keeping it in my sight.

Now, of course, I can't go back until tomorrow night as both this afternoon's and tomorrow morning's flights are full. Never mind, I'm spending most of today with Horacio who's been very helpful.

Let me introduce you to Horacio. He has six fully-Tourateched R1150GSs in his garage, and is starting an adventure tour company called Moto Adventure Rider (http://www.motoadventurerider.com). We met by chance, and as a quid pro quo I've translated the English part of his website into better English (I believe) as he understands the need for it to be as good as possible. We met by accident at the internet caff when he asked me if "Adventures and Rentals" is correct English as he wants to add these words to his company sticker. He's coming across to Porvenir on his bike to help me do the biz to The Old Dear.

So, a day's work (or less) to sort the bike, then pray my shoulder's good enough. My neck's still stiff so I can't do rear observations to the right (it's literally a pain in the neck), but I'll Do My Best.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 04:18 PM GMT
February 11, 2006 GMT
Yet Another Escape

Horacio was wonderful (such a nice young man).

He came over to Porvenir on his bike and having stayed the night helped me reconstruct the bike and did quite a lot of heaving to straighten pannier frames and panniers; then we beetled off back to the ferry and had a horrible 3-hour crossing back to Punta Arenas. It was only a 1-metre swell, but it's a small boat and although the bikes were roped to the side mine was threatening to over-centre on the sidestand. I found a baulk of timber, and while being soaked with seawater managed to insert it between the side of the topbox and the bulkhead so that the rope was preventing the bike falling to the right and the timber prevented it overcentering and smashing against the bulkhead. Nightmare.

Anyway, we arrived around 10pm, Horacio found me a decent hotel and we had well-earned G&Ts and dinner. I was knackered.

This morning Horacio turned up again as I was checking out and insisted on making sure the bike was still OK, and seeing me off. I think he felt really sorry for me having to stay in Porvenir for so long; either that or he wanted to make sure I really was leaving Punta Arenas and Chile.

So I'm back in Argentina (can't remember how many times that makes) and will be retracing my route back up Ruta 3 (on the east coast) to Viedma, where I'll see Oscar, do a service and get new tyres fitted.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 04:20 PM GMT
February 14, 2006 GMT
A Tale of Two Rides

I've started the right-wrist-stripe again. All riders get this. For some reason your right cuff rides up a little and you end up with a brown stripe around your right wrist from the sun.

And I have to remove the sheep from the seat if the car park has a guard dog. Generally the dog wants either to eat the sheep or shag it. Dunno why, as it's already getting pretty disreputable. It really is very comfortable, though, even when it's hot.

Actually, lots of the animals here are rather interesting. I've seen lots of guanaco and ņandu, a few armadillos, various unidentifiable and flattish dead things being eaten by birds with which I'm unfamiliar, peregrine falcons stomping around hungrily, and rather strange large black beetles legging it across the road from time to time. They're quite large - you can spot them a hundred yards away. The ņandu are funny creatures. The chicks - if you can call them that as they're three or four feet tall - are looked after en masse by one of the dads while the rest of the dads and the mums go off foraging. They hang around at the side of the road looking for stray motorcyclists to leap out in front of.

So, yesterday was 440 miles, from Rio Gallegos to Caleta Olivia. A great ride. The wind was generally behind me, the bike's going really well (moving average for the day was 60mph), both fuel stops were there (Piedra Buena and Tres Cerros). I know the distance is right as I did it southwards with GPS. Mind you, it's pretty boring, as the pampa/steppe makes Norfolk look positively mountainous. A lovely ride, though, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Today I rode 282 miles from Caleta Olivia to Trelew (oh no, not Welsh cakes again). It was horrible. The legendary Patagonian wind was doing its worst, mostly from the left. No wonder the tyres wear strangely as you're hardly ever upright on a perfectly straight road. Every time a truck passes in the other direction, flashing and waving in the usual friendly fashion, you hunker down to mimimise cross-section, and still have your goggles and specs nearly blown off as you wrestle with the bike to keep it vaguely in a straight line and generally on the right side of the road. The temperature rose to 37C. On the approach to Trelew the oil pressure warning light kept coming on at low engine speeds (< 2000 rpm). Trelew is death by traffic light (felt just like Thatcham) so I kept the revs up to keep the oil pressure up. I knew the oil level was OK (I check that and the tyres every day), so it must have been the heat. The bottle of water on the pannier lid went from very cold to scalding in one hour, as I found to my cost when I stopped and poured some over my head. Ouch. I decided I'd better a) let the engine cool down a bit and b) buy some oil. The first two petrol stations in Trelew were closed, but then I arrived at a crossroads full of car dealers. On the fourth attempt the Renault dealer supplied a 4l container of 15/40. Good enough (I had to explain it's not a bike, it's a BMW, the engine oil doesn't bathe the clutch and gearbox as well, it's really a car, you know, all that stuff) so I waited a little longer, put about half a litre in and checked the level. Looked high to me, but there you are.

By this time I'm soaked. I've had to walk around in my suit carrying my helmet in this heat. So I went to find the hotel I was in before, mainly because I know it's secure shady parking and I know where it is. And as many such horrible days do, it ended well because the receptionist remembered me from two months ago so I didn't have to check in and could ride straight into the garage and then go straight up to my room. And have a hot shower and a cold Quilmes. And then come and tell you lot all about it.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 04:23 PM GMT
February 17, 2006 GMT

I've had a wonderful find. Castrol GTX is newly available here in SAE25W60 grade. Bloody wonderful.

Oscar and Nancy have been wonderful. They found me a hotel room (Viedma is full at this time of year), and The Old Dear is comfortably ensconced in Oscar's workshop. Oscar has straightened the topbox and welded the pannier frame, so the only other thing is to have the right-hand panner repaired (yet again). Did loads of stuff yesterday like oil/filter change, tappets etc. in extremely comfortable surroundings, lubricated by a rather decent Malbec (not sure of the grade).

Chino (Africa Twin, Ecuador) is around, as is Balam (KLR, Mexico) and various other local bods with and without BMs, including an ex-police R60/5 in jolly nice nick. Not to mention that lovely Julian who gave me the dead sheep. Claudio at the casa de cambio recognised the Horizons Unlimited logo so I got a slightly better rate for my left-over Chilean pesos - he has several bikes, according to Oscar.

Chino has quizzed me very closely about road states in Patagonia and marked up his map - another guy with bad experiences on ripio.

I've also managed to organise myself a new GPS in Buenos Aires - the more-or-less latest upgrade of the Map76 I have (for the anoraks, I'm getting a Map76CS as the CSx isn't available in Argentina yet). Roger's suggestion that I prise open the dead thing and see what can be done has hit a bit of a brick wall as it so far refuses to yield up its secrets. I may have to resort to a Brummagem screwdriver. Still, I can't make it any deader than it already is.

The only thing I haven't yet arranged is a new System 4 (or similar) helmet, as the BMW dealer in B.A. has yet to honour me with a reply to my eamil enquiry. I'd really like a 4 (or Evo or 5) for the convertability - I mostly ride open-face with goggles, as you may have seen in the pix, but it's nice to have the full-face option for filthy weather.

The only other thing I have to organise is tyres, and Oscar knows exactly where I can get Metzelers or Pirellis so that isn't a problem. I'm rather disappointed that the back tyre has only lasted about 5,000 miles, but the combination of appalling ripio and the very straight roads really does tyres in.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 04:25 PM GMT

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