The last stretch…

Azul – Buenos Aires

We said good bye to our new friend Pollo and left the LaPosta around noon. It was boiling hot and the road to Buenos Aires was somehow unremarkable. This would be the last part of our incredible trip. Sadness slowly crawled upon us.

With the carneval going on the roads were surprisingly empty. Later we learned that the whole city goes to the beaches during these few days. That made the ride into Buenos Aires real simple and easy.

We found a hostel very close to the centre of town. We had a nice welcome from the great crew of the hostel and parked the bikes securely in the garden of the hostel.

The next day we went to DakarMotors who are very well organized in shipping the bikes. We spend an afternoon talking with Javier and Sandra and they gave us all the necessary information. All we had to do is to bring the bikes to the airport and pay the shipment the day after. The payment turned out to be a little bit a hassle. Due to the crisis in Argentina all major payments have to be made in cash. Problem is: you only get the maximum amount of 1500Ps (around 150€) at a time out of a ATM. So the next few days we ran around town to get the money for shipping the bikes. Since we had to pay around 20000Ps per bike we ended up with a whole backpack full of 100ps bills…. I never felt that rich!

In between we enjoyed Buenos Aires, good steaks, rode around the city on rented bicycles and did some sightseeing.

We enjoyed the last few days, even though our hostel wasn’t that good after all. The rotten smell in the bathroom didn’t hide long, but all the animals we shared our bedroom with only showed up one after one. At least the cockroaches seemed to have a sense of cleanliness. They took a bath in our shampoo..

After we have sent our motorbikes we switched to another hostel which was just on the other side of the road. Clean beds and airconditioned room made the last 2 nights a lot more comfortable.

On Thursday the 26th of February we finally boarded our plane back to Europe…

Our great adventure has finally come to an end.

It was fantastic and we are so glad that we did this.

 

Going east

Villa La Angostura – Azul

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The following day was offering a great surprise as we expected a little bit boring riding. Instead we followed the Rio Limay north in an amazing valley. Rocky needles and walls on both sides of the valley accompany a green winding river. The road is in good condition and so riding is a blast. When we stopped for gas the whole valley was covered in dust. The fine dust was everywhere in the air. A small and dusty dry riverbed crosses the valley of Rio Limay and the strong wind blows up the particles in the air and into the valley. We followed the cloud of dust for many kilometers until the valley opened up and formed a huge lake. The landscape became less and less hilly until it became what we expected: vast, flat, boring.

We stopped in little roadside hotels in little towns with nothing to offer. Except one thing: it is Argentina here! So we enjoyed the great steaks for dinner.

We past an area where they produce a lot of fruits. On both sides of the road endless fields of apple trees. Heavy trucks transport the fruits on the road. The heavy load is often secured very poorly on the trucks, so we keep our distance when we pass them. On one of the stops we meet Karl from Türkenfeld, not 30km from Munich. He is a great guy travelling the world without speaking anything else than Bavarian. We shared a coffee and had a great chat with him. He had quite some stories to tell.

The more east we got the dryer and vast the countryside became.

We stopped 2 more times before we reached Azul a little boring town with nothing to see, except La Posta and Jorge. But that is something for the next blog entry….

Back on the bikes

Puerto Montt (Chile) – Villa La Angostura (Region 7 lagos – Argentina)

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We are back on the bikes! Finally! It is fantastic! On a sunny day we leave Puerto Montt and ride the road back to the region of the seven lakes north of Bariloche in Argentina.

Christy is doing fine, but every time we stop we get funny looks from people. It is quite an unusual sight when Christy is taking her crutches off the bike and wobbling around on them in her biker dress.

We take it easy and stop for the night in a small roadside hotel. I will remember that place very well for the low door on which I bumped my head almost every time I passed it. Even though I got reminded of the low door with a quite painful event every time I just didn’t seem to learn it. It was great fun to put on the helmet the next day.

The boarder crossing to Argentina was quite busy but at least here Christy’s misfortune was good for something: we could pass the long line to get upfront so the crossing was done in no time.

We have seen it a couple of times on border crossings, that in between the Chilean and Argentinian customs there is quite some distance. But nothing like here. It is more than 30km from leaving Chile to entering Argentina.

Till here it was a pretty cold and cloudy day. But the Argentinian side welcomed us with nice and warm weather. We went 40km into the area of 7 lagos on the road to San Martin. The area reminded me a lot of the Black Forest, my home in Germany. There are many huge lakes and the road winds through them beautifully and making it a great day on the motorbike. A short gravel part stopped us (we didn’t want to risk too much gravel since for Christy’s foot it was still painful to get vibrations on the bike). So we turned back to Villa la Angostura. We found a nice campsite and had a relaxing evening with other local bikers.

Going north

Ushuaia (Argentina) – Puerto Montt (Chile)

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It was a strange feeling. After Ushuaia we would go north. Of course, there is no road going south from there…

We had arranged to bring the pick-up back to Puerto Montt. From there the roads to Buenos Aires are all paved and we hopefully wouldn’t hit strong winds. With Christy still hobbling around with here crutches we didn’t want to risk her not feeling safe on the motorbike.

We had to cover 2300km. It was mainly flat and vast country we drove through. Unusual for this area we had very little wind. And so it was a very relaxing driving. Little traffic, straight roads, no wind, nothing to destract you from driving. For some time even Christy took over, driving with cruise control. For me it was a nice break and I enjoyed not having to concentrate on the boring road.

But the landscape had its elements. The incredible vastness is something that just makes you dream and take it easy. It is like a visual relaxation program.

The last few hundred kilometers became actually really nice. The area gets hillier, and finally the hills become mountains. We didn’t stop in Bariloche but continued to a hotel next to one of the lakes in the Argentinian Lake District. A very beautiful area with dark forests and lots of lakes.

Finally we arrived in Puerto Montt where we dropped the car. For the next day we planned to visit a doctor another time to see what he says. He instructed us to wait another week and then we would have green light. Soon we would be back on the bikes again…

 

 

Penguins

Even though penguins are are to be found many thousands kilometers north as well, the proximity to Antarctica is making Ushuaia one of the best places to see penguins.

So we book a tour on a boat to see these wonderful animals.

It was a fantastic day. Lots of animals, not just penguins on a relaxing boat trip.

We were really enjoying this a lot.

Ushuaia: To the end of all roads

Puerto Natalaes – Punto Arenas – Ushuaia

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When approaching the southernmost point of America you have to cross the border of Argentina. Even though the southernmost point of America is in Chile, the southernmost on-land accessible city is Ushuaia in Argentina, which again is only accessible in a car via Chile. It is a result of the boundary treaty of 1881, when the two countries defined their border in only 7 articles.

The ride from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas was kind of unremarkable. The only interesting thing is the vastness. It is flat and the flora is very reduced. This open land is dong something with your mind. Every time we stop I get on the road and look in both directions. These long lines of the road going all the way to the horizon make you wanting to follow these lines. They pull your mind away. It is quite an experience.

The wind is very strong. The few bushes that are growing here are forced to grow into the direction the wind pushes them to. There is a penguin colony with king penguins on the way. But after we have approached the entrance we realize that the wind is too strong for Christy. It is impossible to walk on crutches in this wind.

Punta Arenas has a big harbor and lots of bikers start or end their trip here. For us it is only a short stopover and we continue the following day to Ushuaia

Again the landscape is pretty flat with little vegetation. The amount of Guanacos we see is getting less and less. We saw a couple of foxes though. Just 50km before Ushuaia the landscape changes though. First the trees start. They are covered in moss hanging from their branches like old spider webs. It gets more green and hilly. The road changes from a boring straight line to a fantastic mountain road, crossing a small mountain pass just before reaching Ushuaia

The road continues a little bit further on into a little national park. This is where the network of streets of South America ends.

You can not get further south on a motorbike. But you don’t really understand where you are until you have a look at a world map… That is what really blew our mind.

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A perfect day

We’d been riding two days in cold pouring rain, followed by one with sidewinds and gusts of up to 80 km/h. At least our clothes were finally dry and it was a relief to get out on the road in fair weather again.

What made this day seem perfect: the previous three days

The Carretera Austral is a picturesque and special road, with mountains, fjords and glaciers all around. It is connected by ferries to the regular Chilean road system and in this region, it is the only north/south road. They say if you are trying to go fast, you won’t get far. You have to take it easy and go with the flow here. The conditions of the road seem to have changed a lot according to accounts I’ve read. It’s in pretty good condition and improvements are continuously underway.

We left the Carretera Austral briefly on a little jaunt out to see Futaleufu and back, but as we returned and continued south, we were warned by oncoming travellers of a roadblock ahead. It’s normal to expect construction and even regular daily closing times in some sections. This one, however was different. There was a rockslide and no one knew how long the closure would last. It would only be possible to open again if the rain would let up and that didn’t look likely for a few more days. We decided to track back again, covering the road off to Futaleufu a third time in order to cross over to Argentina and continue south a bit. We would cross back over to the Carretera Austral at the next chance.

Our detour took us through the unremarkable Argentine towns of Tecka and Rio Mayo. The ride between these two places was paved but quite often difficult. Westerly winds swept us into a slanted position all day. It was a bit unreal. We had experienced strong winds in the desert and on the coast of Peru, but in this vast open flatness, the wind seemed even more brutal. Whoever rode second got the best view of how crazy the wind was and that’s how Andy saw me leaning just a little bit to the right in order to make the left curve. Luckily there were few curves and even less passing to do. The gusts just made it very tiring. Rio Mayo was our first chance to cut back over to the Carretera Austral and we took it. I was eager to get back to that beautiful, enjoyable, legendary road.

A perfect start

The route from Rio Mayo, Argentina over to Coyhaique, Chile isn’t paved and it promised to be a long afternoon of dust and gravel. Despite sleeping in what might has well have been a jail cell (seriously, we had view of a bricked in-window). I was in a great mood, happy to return to one of our trip’s highlights. We didn’t know yet where we’d be for the holidays and with all this warmth and sunshine, it wasn’t feeling much like Christmas, but for some reason I was giddy, singing carols anyway.

The road required a lot of concentration, because it changed quite quickly and unexpectedly. Some parts were just normal gravel, some a bit deeper with big grooves to navigate, but some areas were very surprising layers of large rocks piled up on one another. I found the best way to deal with these surprise patches was similar to how I managed the slipperiness of sand: roll on the throttle a bit, lean back and get it steady. The bike might swerve a little right and left, but we mostly had the road to ourselves, so there was nothing to fear really. It was working out well and this day seemed perfect.

It was about halfway to Coyhaique that my bike became unstable, I couldn’t make the save and I fell. It happened really quickly, a right-left-right-left over big smooth rocks and I about had it, but then it seems hit the one rock in the road which wasn’t moving, my steering turned and I was sliding sideways on the right side with my foot pinned under the bike. My leg was turned back, my foot was being dragged under the foot peg and I had a pain in my foot which I knew wasn’t good. I remember thinking that this would have to change soon, I couldn’t take this position much longer. About then, the bike popped up for a split second, my foot was freed, a 180 degree turn was completed and the bike bounced from the right pannier, then landed on the left and that was it.

I got off the bike and just wanted to remove my boot. I poured some water on my foot and laid some of the cold rocks around it for a few minutes. It hurt badly and it was swelling, but I could still wiggle my toes, so I assumed it wasn’t broken. I had never broken any bones. The leather on the front top of boot around the big toe was badly scuffed, so I thought maybe it was just a bad sprain from the twisting.

We had about another 100 km to go in either direction. Return to Rio Mayo? I couldn’t even think of going back over that horrible stretch of road again. Coyhaique is sort of isolated over on the Carretera Austral, but it should be a town big enough to have whatever we need, so I wanted to continue on.

Riding was tough. Singing helped. Standing was difficult, only possible if I put most of my weight on the left foot and only had my heel on the right peg. When sitting, I could kind of brace myself and hold my right leg out away from the bike to avoid feeling the big bumps. Stopping at the boarder crossings and trying to walk was the incredibly painful part. Walking was not working. Soon though, there was paved road into Coyhaique, at least it was a smooth ride for a little while.

Andy did the checking in at a hostel. Our room was upstairs. I was moving slowly, not knowing how exactly to get up there. The receptionist looked at me strangely and asked if I was sick as I hobbled sideways up the steps. “Si, un poco.” I didn’t have words to explain in any language, I just wanted to finally lay down and call it a day.

 

Walls of ice and rock

Perito Moreno – Torres del Paine – Puerto Natales

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Perito Moreno is one of the main attractions in Patagonia and so there are loads of people visiting it. We had Christys foot re-checked with a doctor in the morning and so we arrived at the glacier in the late afternoon. That turned out to be great because most visitors and all the organized bus tours had already left. So it was a very nice afternoon.

You get very close to the glacier on solid ground here, since it does calve into a lake, but its tip hits a little peninsula where a walkway brings you as close as 100m to the glacier.

We continued to follow the Ruta 40 down to the National Park Torres del Paine. The road is nice but very repetitive and we has lots of wind. We were truly happy not to be on a motorbike. You really have to say, that even though we see more motorbikes than ever on this trip, this area is not a great place for motor biking. Too boring, too windy and therefore too dangerous.

It got dark and so we started looking for accommodation for the night, still outside the national park Torres del Paine. We saw a sign of a hotel and followed a gravel road to get to it.

The road looked real nice and the hotel was nicely integrated into the natural contours of the area. It looked pricy. But we didn’t care. We were tired, we knew the Torres del Paine is expensive so we didn’t care for the costs, it is only one night!

Well, I changed my mind when they actually told me the price: 487US$. That really is out of our budget. They were very friendly though and called different other places and finally found something just a little bit outside our budget: 175$, but that would be in a dorm with shared bathroom. WHAT???? That is CRAZY!

We thanked, continued and finally found a simple room for 50$ just before the entrance to the park.

That’s where we met John. He is a retired UK soldier and travels already since 6 years on his motorbike. He is a great guy. We had a beer in the evening, had a great and fun talk and went off to bed quite late.

The next day we drove through the national park. There are tons of people at every bus stop and you just need to have a look at the amount of backpacks here to know the trails are packed. No need to do this….

Instead we stayed on the road that offers great views on the mountains.

Again I am experiencing the feeling that “supersights” like the Torres del Paine almost always disappoint me a little bit.

Too many people and high expectations just lower the effect that the impression could have if it was a little bit less known and visited.

That means for me simply that the most beautiful places usually are not the most known ones.

Still, Perito Moreno and Torres del Paine are quite neat places and we did enjoy the views on these wonders of Mother Nature.

 

Towers

El Chalten, Argentina

These mountains are truly majestic. Huge granite towers.

And we are so incredible lucky to see them in all their beauty.The sky is blue, only very few clouds and we see the whole range standing right in front of us.

When we arrived here in El Chalten it was cloudy. We didn’t see any of the mountains. But we saw a lot of other travellers. The amounts of huge backpacks that are carried through the streets of the little town almost shocked us.

We haven’t seen that many foreign travellers anywhere on our 5 months of South America.

We checked into a nice hotel where Christy could at least enjoy a great view while I would go hiking for a day.

The next day I started my little hiking tour up to a nice lake. There where many people on the trail and even though the views were fantastic there were just too many people for me to fully enjoy the walk.

So I decided to take a less frequented walk that connects two valleys and turned off the main track.

It turned out to be a great decision: a great path and a lot less people. In fact I didn’t meet anybody for almost an hour. The narrow path led through thick bushes and grotesque trees. Some parts of the forest could be part of a Harry Potter movie plot.

It was quite, just some birds sang their song and the wind stirred up the leaves in the trees and bushes.

Just when I was taking some nice pictures of a beautiful red headed wood pecker two hikers came around the corner. I could tell by their accent they were from Nuremberg where I studied for a long time.

As it turned out we have friends in common and so they updated me on the news of an old friends of mine. What a coincidence and pleasant surprise.

Unfortunately there were still clouds so that I did not have a full view on the main attractions here: the Fitz Roy and the Cerro Torre. But the walk was still very beautiful.

The next day the sky was clear. We had a great view on the mountains surrounding us. The two massive granite towers said farewell to us presenting themselves in a picture book panorama.

Hands

Cueva de los manos; Bajo Caracoles; Argentina

I was here!

Maybe that is what the basic message of these hands is. And if so, the message has been delivered. Some 10.000 years later.

Nobody really knows the real reason for these paintings, but it is quite impressing to see those old drawings, knowing their age.

Getting here was quite a hazzle. The wind is incredibly strong and so Christy is fighting here way down some steep stairs and along a narrow path to get to the caves. I stayed behind her, holding her on her jacket in case the wind would blew her over. The drawings are not really in a cave it is more underneath huge overhangs. They are at the side of a canyon with a river, which enables trees and bushes to grow at the bottom of the canyon. The place is located in the middle of the desert.

Most drawings here are hands, but there are also Guanocos, abstract geometrical figures and other animals.

At one point there is a hunting scene, using the 3 dimensions of the rock to create a description of how they were hunting animals.

Knowing that somebody drew these things so long ago is stunning and magic.

The beauty of the canyon is making it even more enjoyable. We were glad we fought our way through the wind to this place…