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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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…

 

Guanacos

Guanacos

Cochrane (Carretera Austral, Chile) – Bajo Caracoles (Argentina)

We left the wonderful colored lake and continued on the Carretera Austral down south. A mighty river has carved a deep valley into the mountains. Again we are stroke by the colors. This time I was reminded of cooling liquid for my motorbike engine.

Cochrane is the most southern part of the Carretera Austral we reach. From here we go straight east, through the “future National Park Patagonia”as the Tompkins advertise it. Douglas Tompkins (founder of The North Face) built up a couple of National Parks here in Patagonia, not without resistance from locals. The resistance seems to be pretty odd at first, but imagine a Russian oligarch would buy large areas in the US. That certainly would not go unnoticed and strange rumors would spread.

The Tompkins had the conservation of a great landscape and wilderness in mind (see their own vision here http://www.tompkinsconservation.org/about_kris_and_doug_tompkins.htm) but of course there are other people affected as well. People have real issues with them, such as the fishing industry and everybody who wants to use the Carretera Austral since the unfinished (and from the locals wanted-to-be-build) part in the north would go through private property and a national park founded by the Tompkins.

So here, east of Cochrane the Tompkins bought large areas of land again and they are eager to turn this into a National Park as well. They build up a nice building as the entrance of the park. A little plane is standing upfront. Seems they are at home here. In fact James who is passing thorugh here a day after us is meeting both Tompkins and has a great talk to them (see more about that here: http://advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1020523).

We soon understand why this area has caught the attention of the Tompkins. It is beautiful. We see hundreds of Guanacos in large herds.

The scenery contains steep snowy mountains, lakes, swamps, rivers with crystal clear water and lots of grasslands which glows golden in the intense sun.

The sky is in dark blue and the bright white clouds create a hard contrast.

We pass through the road with our truck and are happy to have such a rugged vehicle. The road is quite bumpy and rocky at times.There are large herds of guanacos to be found here. These large llamas are adorable animals, sometimes almost elegant, mostly looking a little bit dazzled into the world. Or with other words: they are cute and pretty stupid animals. You just have to love them. And so we stopped the car many times to take pictures and enjoyed their view.

The bordercrossing is a small building. The 3 officers are very casual. It seems their bosses don’t show up very often. The papers are done very quickly and so we are back on the road.

As soon as we get to Argentina the landscape changes again. The hills get smoother and the landscape is more vast. We make it safely to a small town. It is the only town on the Ruta 40 for 200km. And so it is no wonder the few houses here are worth an entry even on the large scale map of ours.

 

Turquoise

Cerro Castillo – Rio Tranquillo

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The road to Rio Tranquillo is one of the best ones on the carretera Austral. It is a pretty good gravel road, going up and down all the time and it offers a incredible landscape.

We saw a couple of cyclists and I felt real sorry for them though: they had the wind in their face and it was strong, very strong, unforgiven… We tried to encourage them and for a solo rider we stopped and gave him some power bars. From my own bicycling days I remembered how helpful a short encouraging talk to a total stranger can be. It can get your spirits up again and keep you going. There are lots of bikers on the Austral, from all countries and all ages. It is pretty tough though, but as always, it is only a way of looking at things: we met an elderly Kiwi couple who thought is was an ok road and wind is just the way nature works, “you have to deal with it….. “. Others told us about their difficulties, especially with the deep gravel and the heavy winds and how hard it was for them… In any case: the Carretera Austral seems to be a real adventure on the bicycle. And a great road for any other traveller as well..

For us it was pure pleasure. We followed the winding road up and down and around sharp corners. Each corner offered a new surprising view. The rivers here are all fed by glaciers. Their water has an almost unnatural milky turquoise color and creates a strong contrast to the fresh green of the surrounding bushes. On the road we met James, a experianced rider from the US who is travelling on his DR650. We kept on meeting the following weeks again and again. He is a great fellow.

After a while on the road we finally hit the Lago General Carrera. So far we had to adjust our boundaries of what to call a “natural color” already a couple of times. This lake though is truly amazing. It shines in the brightest turquoise and is so big, that this strong color is taking place a large area in your field of view. It’s surface is scattered by waves which are surprisingly big. Not so surprisingly after you leave the car though, the wind is pretty strong up here and the lake very long, so the waves can pick up some momentum.

We happily arrive in Rio Tranquillo where we organize a boat trip for the next day and catch something to eat in a small place with a great view on the lake.

 

On the road again…

Puerto Aysen – Cerro Castillo

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We had a late start in the morning and got back on the Carretera Austral pretty late therefore. We took it real easy. I still had to get used to the huge car. But driving was very relaxed. This mighty car is not a sports car, the weight and the calm gurgling of the huge engine makes you accelerate very slowly. RPM rarely over 2500, usually at 1500. Cruising is the word!

I am glad we are going so slow: Christy spotted some wildlife next to the road: Huemules (the local deer) stood there calmly and crossed the road right next to us…

The landscape was incredible. Rich vegetation changed with dry and colorful mountains, red cliffs and crystal clear rivers. The road was all paved till the village of Cerro Castillo. The village gets its name from a fantastic mountain that is standing on the side of the road. It really looks like a castillo, a fortress. Dozens of thin rock needles stick up in the air in different sizes. Dark and threatening it is overlooking the broad valley where clouds create a dramatic play with the sun rays. The dark clouds opened up eventually and had the sun shining into the valley which gave everything a more friendly look.

We found a nice little hut where we stayed for the night, outside the little village of Cerro Castillo.

The missing link

Coyhaique – Puyhuapi – Puerto Aysen

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We decided to take the truck north to Puyhuapi, since this part of the Carretera Austral is supposed to be very beautiful and we bypassed it on the Argentinian side. It would also allow us to test whether the bikes are stable on the bike. Since we would go back to Coyhaique we could contact Traeger, the car rental company in case something wouldn’t work.

The road was just incredible beautiful. A broad valley with high mountains left and right. Lots of cows stand on large meadows chewing on wild flowers and the rich green grass. The clouds are pretty low but we can still get fantastic views on the mountains and the glaciers that cover their tops. And the low clowds contribute to a nice atmosphere.

The closer we came to Puyhuapi the steeper mountains became and eventually we hit the fjord that cuts deep into the mountains. We crawl its way along the coast with a steep slope on one side and the sea to the other, with just enough space for a one laned gravel road.

The last bit to Puyhuapi is under construction and it is pretty bad. Rockfall happens here all the time. We are happy to have this massive truck and the good wheels. We take it very easy, make a lot of stops and enjoy the incredible scenery this road has to offer. It winds along a deep fjord with very steep walls to our right and the ocean to our right.

After a night in Puyhuapi we went the same road back. The construction site was closed though for a couple of hours, so we stood there and waited for the road to be re-opened. It poured down and it was quite cold as well. The first time since Christys accident we were really happy not to be on a bike. That would have been really terrible. Instead we chewed some potato chips and watched a TV show on the I-Pad. Overlanding on a 4×4 really has its good sides…