Sunday, February 28, 2010

El Bolson to San Martin de los Andes - February 27

We left El Bolson late morning as I spent some more time catching up on the Blog and using the Internet at the hotel. 

The big news today is the earthquake in Chile.  We are still a long way south  of Santiago, but an 8.8 quake is huge and people in high-rise buildings felt it as far away as Buenos Aires.  Our room was on the ground floor - didn't feel a thing - but many locals did.  Hopefully there is not too much damage or injury in Santiago.

The Lake District is Argentina's resort playground.  We rode from El Bolson to San Carlos de Bariloche for lunch along twisting highway overlooking beautiful lakes surrounded by steep mountains.  Bariloche is a fair size city with lots of traffic, but with a little luck and the GPS updated over lunch, we had little difficulty.

Lunch was excellent, we ate a delicious meal at what turned out to be a family restaurant run by three brothers from Bogota, Colombia.  They have done an excellent job with the restaurant since opening 18 months ago - the decor is very stylish, clean and modern - it would fit in well in any major city.
Glazed Beef and Carmelized Onions with Passion Fruit dip for the roast potatoes.
Tomato Soup with Avocado and Potato.
Camillo (right) and his brothers.

Camillo was very friendly, and gave us some tips about Colombia - he feels the cities and main highways are very safe and strongly recommended staying a few days in either Medellin or Bogota.  We'll see what the road brings as we need to fly from one of those two cities to Panama.

We left Bariloche after 3pm heading to San Martin de los Andes for the night.  The road was spectacular up to Villa Angostura followed by a tough, sand and gravel leg for about 70km that proved quite a challenge - moving from low sun in the eyes to dark shadows, lots of dust, and traffic!  The last 30km into town was paved and was probably the most fun I've had on a motorcycle.

We pulled into town late, almost 8:30pm, with the setting sun, and were anxious about finding accomodation given the busy holiday season.  The Rough Guide and GPS came to the rescue again, and we were unloading 15 minutes later at an early 1900's hotel "con habitaciones doble - perfecto!"

Tomorrow we plan to ride Ruta 40 north - and hopefully find a spot to watch the hockey game!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Gobernador Costa to El Bolson - February 26

We're heading out of the dry pampas, north into Argentina's Lake District.  We rode into Esquel for lunch today and sat at a YPF fuel station for 3 hours as Petra ran some errands and I caught up on the Blog!

Esquel is a mountain resort town similar to Canmore, Alberta. As we ride north the geography is becoming more and more familiar, with the landscape reminiscent of the Canadian Rockies.
We're stopping in El Bolson for the night, so that we can lunch midday in San Carlos de Bariloche tomorrow.

We passed the 6000km mark yesterday and are feeling better about our shipping delays and lost travel time.  That's a riding day average of over 450km's per day (quite an accomplishment given what the road has thrown at us) and a trip average of just over 250km's per day.  At this point we can start to focus more on the journey rather than the destination!

Estancia Telken to Gobernador Costa - February 25

The temperature gauges recorded an overnight low of 2.9 degrees C, so needless to say we were up early to pack camp and get to the town of Perito Moreno for Cafe con Leche - some 50km north.
The ripio turned to pavement soon after starting out and we began to make good time.

I met a a couple of southbound riders on Honda Transalps while refueling.  An Argentine father and son from Bariloche, heading south to Ushuaia.  It was a very pleasant encounter, and we were able to exchange current information about fuel availabilty on the roads ahead.  They will have their hands full with the run south to Gob. Gregores (350+km's) as they only get 230km to a tank and they had already lost a spare fuel tank to damage from a fall the day before.  We talked about whether they would need one of our spares,  but they felt they could do without - possibly buying fuel from a local in Bajo Caracoles.

We were back on ripio right after Perito Moreno for 120km's to Rio Mayo where we had lunch.  The temperature had climbed into the high 30's, and even showed 43 degrees in the direct sunlight.

From Rio Mayo north for a few days we are on pavement (save for the occasional construction detour) so we will cover ground more easily -  even if it's not as fun!

Still the occasional battle with the wind to be had.

There was a fuel line-up in Gobernador Costa, so we topped up the tanks and stayed for the night in an an old 1920's hotel.  We've now added another criteria to our hotel selection list - esta agua caliente? - as an ice cold shower after 40 degree heat is a bit of a shock to the system!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Gobernador Gregores to Estancia Telken - February 24

We had a long-distance run between fuel stops today of almost 360km.  We would normally run about 420km on a full tank (21 litres), but experience has shown that strong winds can limit us to 330km or less.  We won't be in an area today where we can reasonably expect assistance if we run out of fuel, and for this reason we each carry a 5 litre jerry can.  With all tanks full we left town early but suffered another "detour" due to map scale and ended up travelling 50km in the wrong direction!  Topping up the tanks again in Gobernador Gregores an hour later, we headed off for Perito Moreno - the next known fuel stop north on Ruta 40.

The climate has changed dramatically as we've travelled north.  The nights are still cold or at least cool, but daytime temperatures can exceed 40 degrees C in the sun, and it's often above 30 degrees C even at speed. Most of the days ride was on ripio and hard-pack, with an occasional section of pavement.

Along one section of ripio, we were flagged down by a cyclist looking for water.  He had misjudged the heat and distance and was running out of drinking water.  We were carrying two litres for ourselves - more than enough if we didn't experience any problems - and so following a cross-examination of the cyclist regarding the road ahead, and a careful consultation of our maps, I gave him most of my water in anticipation of refilling at Bajo Caracoles some 75km (1 to 2 hours away).

We reached Bajo Caracoles without incident, ate lunch and refilled water. 
Discussing the water shortage.

I also met Juergen in Baja Caracoles - driving his customized Mercedes Unimog truck - not your average SUV!

We carried on for a few more hours in the dirt and ripio, and eventually set-up camp on a hilltop beneath a unique rock formation somewhere on the Estancia Telken.


El Calafate to Gobernador Gregores - February 23

We stopped for Cafe con Leche at a YPF Service Station before leaving El Calafate and were not surprised to see the pumps closed given the line-ups by the locals the previous evening.  It is not uncommon for Argentinian towns to run out of fuel due to the remoteness of parts of the country.
The first section of Ruta 40 to Tres Lagos was paved  and an easy ride taking us past Mount Fitz Roy with a spectacular vista.  Mount Fitz Roy is also known as El Chalten, which means "smoking mountain" attributed to the cloud that forms around the mountains peak.

The next 25km was the most difficult ripio we've experienced yet - long sections of deep, loose, tennis ball size stones, punctuated by sand, deep ruts, and the occasional watermelon size boulder sticking up out of the ground.  We stopped for a breather and a road side snack and just before mounting up I realized the ripio had done a number on my bike.  Two bolts connect the lower sub-frame to the frame behind the transmission, but in my case the left bolt was gone and the right bolt was resting in place but the corresponding nut welded to the frame had sheared!  I had pulled over for a rest a few moments ahead of a much more sudden stop.
The arrow points to the location of the missing bolt.

Fortunately, we had a proper size spare nut and bolt along, and with the help of an old piece of 4x4 post from a nearby broken sign I was able to lever the subframe into alignment and replace the missing bolt. 

Following a once over to check for any other rattled nuts and bolts, we were about to get underway when another rider approached from the north. We were surprised to see it was another Canadian!  Greg George has been riding for four months, having left New Brunswick in November.

We stopped for lunch of empanadas and cerveza at an Estancia near Lago Cardiel, where I made another new friend to share my lunch and a siesta with.
The rest of the days 200km of ripio was far less challenging and we arrived in Gobernador Gregores by 8pm and put up for the night.

Perito Moreno Glacier - February 22

I spent the morning trying to catch up on the Blog and doing some hand laundry, then we headed up to the glacier mid-afternoon. It's a 50km ride to the Park gate where the charge for entrance is 75 pesos per person, about $18CDN.  Not cheap by Argentine standards, but worth the price for the 30km's of beautiful twisting paved mountain roads up to the glacier.

The glacier is spectacular.  It is one of the few still advancing, and with patience you can watch vast chunks of ice "calve" and fall into Lago Argentina with thunderous booms.
On the ride back into El Calafate I noticed a long line of distinctly "local" looking cars at a gas station.  Realizing this could be a sign of a gas shortage we jumped into the line and fuelled up for the next days ride out of town.
Flamingos on Lago Argentina in El Calafate.

We had a nice steak dinner and an early night as tomorrow we head north for a long stretch of Ruta 40.  It's a famously difficult road to ride due to isolation, poor condition, ripio and crosswinds - so we've not set any objective and are prepared for remote camping if necessary.

Torres del Paine, Chile to El Calafate, Argentina - February 21

It was a hard ride away from Torres del Paine. It was cold, and the road was tight mountain curves with a loose gravel base.  As we neared Cerro Castillo, the road base changed to hard packed dirt and we were able to open up the throttle a bit.

We ate lunch in Cerro Castillo and checked out of Chile at the border post then crossed the frontier to the Argentine Border at Cancha Carrera.

The famous Ruta 40 was a mix of pavement and ripio. We made El Calafate by 6:30pm and found a hotel promptly from a recommendation Petra found in the Rough Guide.
Raptors nesting roadside along Ruta 40.

We'd had a couple of hard days on the bikes, so decided we would stay in El Calafate an extra day to allow us a day trip to the Perito Moreno Glacier.

Pali Aike, Chile to Torres del Paine

The night in Pali Aike was cold, the wind was actually blowing through the wall beside my bed, so we were glad to be up and out early.

We rode through San Gregorio, an abandoned Town (some kind of company town presumably as all the buildings were of the same scheme and vintage). 
 The Town was also home to two shipwrecked hull.  The Vapor Amodeo above, wrecked in 1932.
The Barca Ambassador was wrecked in 1899.

We  stopped for fuel at the intersection of Ruta's 255 and 9, but were rightly refused service as we didn't have any Chilean Pesos.  We had not seen a bank since entering Chile as there were no larger Towns along our route and we had been allowed to pay with Argentine Pesos to this point. Facing a 200km detour to Puerto Arenas and back, we were saved by three old gentlemen in an old ford pick-up who had also stopped for fuel.  The head-man amongst them agreed to fill our tanks for a US dollar exchange ($23USD total) so we were able to continue north without delayand stopped in Puerto Natales for Chilean cash, lunch and more gas.  It seemed strange to withdraw $150,000.00 from a bank machine, but the Chilean Peso runs about 500 pesos to the dollar.
Chile is a beautiful country, but be careful where you camp!

The ride to Torres del Paine was spectacular, with about 125km of paved sweeping curves and the last 110kms to our campsite hardpack and gravel tight turns.
First views of Torres del Paine.
It was late by the tine the tents were up, so dinner was hard cheese and dry sausage, but washed down with a bottle of beautiful Chilean wine purchased at the park store.

Ushuaia to Pali Aike, Chile - February 19

We met Ingo, Markus, and Mireille at breakfast. They had returned to Ushuaia and arranged transport for their bikes back to Germany.  Markus donated a few things from his gear, including cleaning clothes, some chain lube, and even a foam bed roll that will  compliment my Thermarest - MUCH APPRECIATED!
  Markus & Mirielle's Suzuki DR650's.

It was only 6 degrees and drizzling in Ushuaia when we departed, but we soon left the rain behind even if it didn't warm up much on the road to Rio Grande.

We left Argentina again at San Sebastian, and re-entered Chile for the "ripio"run to  the Bahia Azul ferry.  We took a slightly different route, via Cerro Sombrero and the ride proved much more scenic, and much easier than the ride south.
The road to Cerro Sombrero.
    Chile's Ruta 257.

Petra lost her sunglasses after a fual stop, but I rode back 10 or so kilometres and found them on the side of the road.

Once again we pulled up at the ferry terminal and loaded right away.

It was getting late, so we stopped for the night at a hotel in Pali Aike ( the same place I had the Shepperd's pie on the way south).

Ushuaia - February 18

The days "to-do" list consisted of: 1) a visual inspection of the bikes; 2) LAUNDRY!; 3) finding a replacement spare tire tube; 4) finding some white fuel or kerosene for the campstove; and, 5) looking for stickers for the panniers.

Laundromats are non-existent, presumably since labour costs are cheap, so we dropped off our dirty clothes at a laundry service and got them cleaned for 30 pesos.

We walked all over Ushuaia looking for the tire tube and stove fuel - it's a beautiful town and a lot of residents show real pride of place.

Eventually, we found a store that sold the same stove that we are carrying but not the fuel, however, we were given a tip, that "solvente" can be used - and where to find it.

We struck out with the tire tube despite trying a dozen garages and stores, and even being chaffeurred around by a generous and friendly off-duty hire truck driver when it began to rain.  We'll try again further noeth, and in the meantime I'll carry the punctured tube and patch it if we have need to.

We saw Phil and Liz again, walking along the seafront.  They are getting ready to begin ther cycling to Alaska, and were on their way to meet-up with another fellow who had just bicycled down from Alaska.

Tomorrow we begin our own journey north - and home!

San Sebastian to Ushuaia - February 17

We left San Sebastian at 8:30am and rode south to Rio Grande by 11:00am for our first fuel stop.  Following the fill-up, Petra's electrical system had quit again.  We assumed the temporary fix had come loose and began to disassemble the bike in an out of the way spot in the parking lot.

Not long into the exercise, two guys introduced themselves as Markus and Ingo from Germany.  Markus and his girlfriend Mireille had ridden from Alaska to Ushuaia, as had Ingo - they are well seasoned long-distance riders, and were in Rio Grande deciding how and when to end their journey, particularly given a broken frame on Ingo's bike.

When I explained Petra's battery terminal problem, Markus quickly offered a new post from his spare parts kit that fit the bill perfectly.
Petra and our new friends shared road stories and coffee while I finished the repair.

Markus recommended a good hotel in Ushuaia and said we would probably see them there the next day - and we were off on the road again.

South of Rio Grande, the landscape changed dramatically as we entered first the foothills and then the Andes for the first time.  Climbing through the Garibaldi Pass was cold, but spectacular.
 First view of the Andes.

Arriving in Ushuaia marks the end of our southbound journey - just over 3400km's, 3048 of which were on Ruta 3.  We made our way to the hotel with little trouble and were checked in by 4:00pm.  Markus had also recommended a local welder so I headed out to get my side stand lowered 3cm to adjust for the weight of my gear.  An hour later the job was done - the shop actually brought in a shipwright to do the job extremely well, and in about 3 minutes - and all for 50 pesos.
Rainbow over Ushuaia on our arrival!
 Cheese and cured meats for the road!

We wandered around town and found some dinner - the first properly prepared steak I had eaten in Argentina - and then made a to do list for a planned day off of the bikes tomorrow.