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Werner Zwick

Patagonia - where the neighbor lives beyond the horizon

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From Buenos Aires to Santiago via Ushuaia and Antarctica by motorcycle and Cruise Ship

On our way south, we met a guy on a motocross motorcycle. We asked him for a good spot to camp. Before taking us to a beautiful lagoon with a wide beach, grass and trees, he invited us to his ice cream shop, where we had delicious Dulce de leche granizado and Banana Split ice cream. Argentina must have more ice cream shops than Italy. And the ice cream is delicious.

That night, a big thunderstorm moved in and before the downpour started, the low hanging, almost black clouds produced one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. The light was just magic.

Burning Sky at Pedro Luro, Argentina

Burning Sky at Pedro Luro, Argentina

South of Viedma, we took the first of many gravel roads along the coast with great views of high cliffs and the South Atlantic ocean. A large sealion colony at La Loberia added some more attraction to the already beautiful scenery.

For most of our way south, we took the only fully paved road in Patagonia, Ruta 3. It parallels the Atlantic ocean, usually in a great distance. At the Valdez Peninsula, we wanted to do some whale watching. But the season was already over, the whales had left for the cooler waters of Antarctica. The peninsula offers some of the most stunning wildlife areas in Argentina. Several Sealion and Penguin colonies skirt the coast, and the dry inland of this waterless place is full of Guanacos, a close relative to the lama, Nandus that resemble an ostrich and other animals. The gravelroads are in a good condition, fun riding.

Two hundred kilometers further south, at Punta Tombo, we had to drive right through the penguin colony. Half a million Magellan Penguins live on the rocky shores. Some of them are very curious, they even came sniffing at the motorcycles and at our boots.

South of Punta Tombo I had my first crash. On an otherwise very smooth gravel road I hit several deep holes at about 80km/h, came into the loose gravel and lost control. After that, my right foot hurt and one Aluminum box was dented. Luckily, neither the motorcycle nor me was severely damaged. The following days, I drove more careful than before. On these backroads along the coast, we did not see a car or a person for hours. The long, deserted beaches were great for beach-motorcycling.

Via the uninspiring cities of Comodoro Rivadavia and Caleta Olivia we entered the plains of the Patagonian desert. We had not seen a tree outside of towns and estancias for 1000km and it would go on like this for another 1500km. No trees, no houses, just dry grass for hundreds of kilometers. The westerly winds increased as we went south, becoming an incessant storm in southern Patagonia and on Fireland. There seems to be only the road, an occasional truck, the wind that wants to push you into the oncoming traffic and yourself, for hours and days.

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Zwick's Home

Stories and Photos -2000-1
Patagonia -
where the
neighbor
lives
beyond the
horizon
Northern
Chile
/Bolivia -
The Land of
the Condor
Peru -
Colca Canyon
and Machu
Picchu
Ecuador -
dream roads,
volcanoes and
the equator

More to come...
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We spent Christmas in Puerto San Julian, where Ralf and Klaus prepared a 7 course dinner, cooked on 5 campstoves and the BBQ-pit. Three windy and dry days later, we crossed the Magellan strait on the Punta Delgada ferry at Primera Angostura. Only 500km more to Ushuaia. The storm was even stronger on Fireland, we had a hard time to find a sheltered spot to set up our tents. To our surprise we saw trees, green meadows and blue lakes 150km north of Ushuaia. We had ridden 3000 km through the Patagonian desert searching for a tree. Further south we had to cross the snowcapped Darwin range at Garibaldi pass. For the last 100km Ruta 3, the desert road, resembled more the Alaska Hwy, passing glaciers, lakes and forests.

Ushuaia, the southernmost city on earth, surprised me with traffic jams, thousands of tourists and several cruiseships. It's a pleasant base to explore the end of the world and beyond. Ruta 3 continuos further for 30km into the beautiful Tierra del Fuego Nationalpar, passing lakes, forests and glaciers. At Bahia Ensenada I took the obligatory photo with my motorcycle and the end of the road sign. It is 3063km to Buenos Aires, and 17848km to the other end of the Panamerican Highway in Alaska.

Eric Haws at the Millenium Motorcycle Travellers Meeting in Ushuaia

Eric Haws at the Millenium Motorcycle Travellers Meeting in Ushuaia

At the campground at Laguna Verde more than 40 motorcyclists from all over the world had set up the southernmost Millenium Motorcycle Meeting. Every newcomer was enthusiastically greeted. Some had already spent Christmas on the site, others had come in the past days. Every night we had a campfire with gluehwine (hot spicy wine) and many stories told. During the day most of us explored the various lakes and bays of the National Park or went for a dose of city civilization to Ushuaia.

 

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A local Transalp rider visited us and he organized a football match. But that night it rained nonstop. This did not deter the Argentines who showed up with 20 players. But only 5 of us wanted to play under these circumstances.

International Motorcycle Travellers Millenium Meeting, Ushuaia, 1999-2000

International Motorcycle Travellers Millenium Meeting, Ushuaia, 1999-2000

On new years eve, there was a big party in Ushuaia. The fireworks were very impressive and the following open air raveparty downtown was loud and hot.

Antarctica!

On New Years day, we heard about a last minute offer of $1,500 for a 11 day Antarctica cruise instead of the normal price which started at $7,000. Several of us took up the opportunity and went down to the frozen continent. First, we visited the barren Falkland Islands, very british, but had to return to Ushuaia to pick up some special oil. We crossed the stormy Drake passage between South America and Antarctica. These were the only days when I could not take part in all of the 5 course lunches, the 7 course dinners, the impressive breakfast buffet and the delicious cake buffet in the afternoon.

the MS Bremen in Antarctic Waters

the MS Bremen in Antarctic Waters

 

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The MS Bremen was fully booked, with 123 passengers from 16 nations and 4 continents. Among them were about 30 backpackers and motorcyclists. We pushed the average age from a normal cruiseship 60+ down to 40 years. 100 crewmembers, among them 8 cooks cared for the passengers.

Cruising Lemaire Canal, Antarctica

Cruising Lemaire Canal, Antarctica

5 naturalists gave very interesting lectures on flora, fauna, history and geology of the Antarctic continent.

We passed icebergs, unbelievable white mountains of ice, drifting in the sea. We visited several research stations, traveled through the spectacular, glacier rimmed Lemaire and Neumayer straits, often covered with ice and dotted with icebergs. The weather was sunny and clear, the sea was like a mirror, where you sometimes could not tell the difference between the mirror image and the original iceberg or mountain.

 

Port Lockroy, Antarctica

Port Lockroy, Antarctica

 

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Each time when we left the ship on the heavy duty inflatable boats, called zodiacs, to visit a penguin or sealion colony, we had to walk through deep snow and ice. At the Argentinian Almirante Brown station at Paradise bay, we climbed a steep hill and slid back down through the deep snow.

At volcanic Deception island, where the caldera is filled up by the sea, we went to warm springs on the beach. Although the air temperature was only 3 degrees and a cold wind made it feel even colder, many passengers went into the warm (24 degrees) waters at the beach. Getting out of the water was even harder than getting into it. In the wide Gerlache Strait we encountered several whales before we went back towards Ushuaia. Cape Horn was stormy as ever, and Ushuaia greeted us with clouds but mild weather.

Chinstrap Penguin

Chinstrap Penguin

 

 

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Riding north

My Honda Transalp was safely parked at Duarte Sur motorcycles, the southernmost Honda dealer in the world. With Ellen and Gerd, I started the long way north along the Andes. At the Punta Delgada ferry we were delayed for 10 hours. It was election day in Chile, and nobody works during the elections. We did not stop except for filling up our motorcycles as well as ourselves and for sleeping until we reached Puerto Natales, the gateway to the Torres del Paine National Park.

In the park, we were pushed off the road by the storm which gave us a hard time to stay on the roads. But the splendid mountain scenery, with blue, green and turquoise lakes, glaciers, and abundant wildlife made up for the difficulties. We did an overnight hike but were caught by the incoming rain before we reached the viewpoint at the foot of the Trres del Paine cliffs.

Blown over by the storm, Torres del Paine NP

Blown over by the storm, Torres del Paine NP

After Torres del Paine, I went on my own to Calafate. The impressive Perito Moreno glacier unraveled its splendor despite low clouds and a light drizzle. I still cannot decide if Perito Moreno Glacier or Childs glacier in Alaska is more impressive. Then came the worst gravel road of the entire trip. Ruta 40 is famous for its isolation, it covers western Argentina from south to north. In large parts, it was easy riding on quite good gravel, but for about 150km there was deep loose gravel , difficult to ride in the strong westerly winds.

Afterwards I crossed the border to Chile and continued on the famous Carretera Austral. The weather was sunny and clear for 3 consecutive days. The narrow gravelroad winds through dense forests, along blue lakes and skirts snowcapped mountains. I was able to enjoy 900km of this great part of the world before going back to Argentina at Futualeufu. In Esquel, I saw the old Patagonia Express.

While in the Los Alerces National Park, I found the most beautiful camping spot on a lakeshore with beautiful views of the mountains. In Bariloche, I was stunned by the huge chocolate factory salesplaces, souvenir shops and thousands of tourists. This is the largest tourist destination in the southern Andes, with a well-developed tourist industry to explore the beautiful countryside of mountains and lakes. It reminded me of the Swiss Alps. San Martin de los Andes, 200km north of Bariloche, has similar but smaller shops and seems to be a quieter place.

I had the choice of three roads into Chile. I did not want to miss one of them, so I went to Chile on the main Hwy to Osorno, visited the German settlements along Lago Llanquihue and went back to Argentina via the steep, narrow and lonely Carrine pass which had some difficult sections.

On the way back, I took the 2 hour ferry across lake Pinhuelco back into Chile. The lake district of southern Chile is stunning. Many Volcanoes rise above blue lakes. Green meadows and dark forests dot the countryside together with beautiful wooden mansions, built by German and Swiss immigrants hundred of years ago. One of their legacies are good restaurants and cafes with delicious cakes. Travelling the lake district is like travelling the alps before they paved the roads 50 years ago.

 

 

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Conguillo NP, Volcan Llaima, Chile

Conguillo NP, Volcan Llaima, Chile

In Pucon, the outdoor tourist center of Chile, thousands of young tourists enjoy the black sandy beaches and the numerous adventure opportunities. Another reason to visit the region are more than 10 thermal spas to relax and spend a day in hot waters.

I left the tourist traps of Pucon behind and visited the backwater region of the Lonquimay volcano. A young couple from Switzerland has created a small bed and breakfast place with campground. It's a great place to spent a couple of days in a cozy atmosphere.

The hike up to the 2890m Lonquimay volcano is rewarding, with a view to 10 other snowcapped volcanoes in the distance and devastating lavaflows from the latest eruptions in 1988. The nearby Sierra Nevada and the beautiful Conguillo Nationalpark that surrounds the still active Llaima volcano are also worth a visit. Although the weather was far from perfect, it rained 3 out of 5 days at El Encuentro, I enjoyed my stay there.

Further north, I parked my bike near Concepcion with a friend to come back later and visit the northern part of the country. With the night-train, in a Pullman sleeping car from the thirties, I reached Santiago. It was hot and dry, and I explored the bustling center and the relaxing park at Cerro Sta. Lucia with splendid views of downtown.

After 9 weeks, 10,000km and 67 rolls of slidefilm, I went back to work in Germany, longing to come back.

Werner

Next-Northern Chile / Bolivia -The Land of the Condor

 

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Story and photos copyright © Werner Zwick, 2000-2001.
All Rights Reserved.
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