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…

 

 

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.

 

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.

Big fat cows on green meadows

Salto de Laja – Villarica-Osorno

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Just a week ago we had passed the Atacama desert, on of the driest areas on this planet. And now this: all shades of green. Big trees, high grass, thick bushes.

And all among it: cows. Lots of them. Big fat cows. And sheep.

This is cow paradise. We drove along a nice road, the sun was shining, it was warm, almost hot.

The road passes fantastic lakes with high snow covered mountains sorrounding it. This looks like picture book Switzerland except you won’t find a perferctly shaped volcano there.

We rode the bikes along the shores of Lago Villarica and Lago Ronco. The lake district of Chile is a fantastic area. And after all the desert that we have seen on our trip this is exactly what we our souls were thirsting for: lots of green and lots of water. We had sunshine all these days as well and the roads were in perfect condition. And so Christy came to the conclusion that if you could ride a bike in heaven, it would be just like here.

Waterfalls

NP 7 tazas – Salto del Laja

We arrived at a very nice campsite just outside the NP “Siete tazas”. The name translates as “seven cups” describing the river as it falls in several spectacular waterfalls into little bowls that the river had carved out of the hard rock here.

We camped and had a nice evening with 2 guys from Israel before we took our bike to the entry of the national park. A little hike brought us to a canyon. A small trail led through a colorful forest and down the canyon, offering fantastic views on the waterfalls.

We continued south and after a stretch on the PanAm we found a nice hotel close to another great waterfall, the “Salto de Laja”. Our hotel happened to be right at the edge of one side of the waterfall and we had a view on it directly from our room.

The next day we wanted to have a better look at it.

It was closed though. As we approached the gates we could see a lot of people with tired and sad expressions. A police officer stood in the entrance of a little path that led to the waterfalls. A rescue vehicle stood aside.

A little girl of 13 years age fell into the water underneath the waterfall and had been pulled into a powerful undertow the day before. She was still trapped there and we could hardly imagine what the poor parents went through, sitting there and waiting for the officials and rescuer to bring them the body of their daughter.

We felt very bad, standing there with our cameras, excited tourists that hoped to see a great natural site… and there the poor family going through the most unimaginable pain.

We turned our bikes around and left.

It was a quite ride and we both wished the best for the poor family.

Cattle and penguins

After we stayed in Lima for another day to fully recover from my illness we started on our way south. Parracas is a small town 200km south of Lima that lives from the tourism. The reason for tourists to come to this little place is a couple of islands close to the cost. A huge number of different birds live on these little islands together with a small penguins and sea lions.

After a noisy night (it has been Halloween night with a lots of drinking and singing going on in town) we got up to line up with these hundreds of tourists. Large groups of tourists were coordinated by the trip organizers. I felt a little bit like being in a herd of cattle, not exactly knowing what was going on around me. The tour guide that picked us up from the hotel has disappeared and so we end up in a different group of people. And like one of the herd I just thought we best go with the masses and finally just ended up in one of the boats somehow.

Once we left the harbor the many boats spread so that you could hardly see any other boats. We past a large sign that was carved into the shore, a few hundret meters long. As the geoglyphes at Nazca they meaning is unknown but quite impressive. And even though this carving has been directly at the sea, influenced by the strong winds here, it lasted for so long.

We leave the coast and the boat takes course to the islands. The islands are a sight for itself: a couple of rocks laying there in the sea with steep cliffs and a lot of caves and bridges. It looks like the phantasy island of a pirate movie and I wouldn’t have been surprised a lot if the Black Pearl appeared suddenly.

There are birds everywhere: small black ones, large pelicans, white middle sized… in fact birds of all colors and sizes. And they are all in large numbers. A constant cawing of thousands of birds mix with the splashing sound of the waves crashing on the rocky shores of the islands.

The smell is an interesting mixture of the salty sea and the bird’s dung in which the rocks are covered. In fact this dung used to be one of the main export goods of Peru as it is known as one of the best fertilizer.

The captain of our small boat maneuvers the vessel very close to the shore, so we got a perfect view on all these different animals. And there is more than just birds: sea stars, crabs, shells of all different kind appear. And finally some birds I wouldn’t have expected here: penguins. These little cute things are staying here on this island. It is a very small type: Humboldt Penguins. They are really fantastic with their clumsy way they move around solid ground. And it is tricky terrain for them with all the steep rocks and the high steps they have to take. Just watching one of them helplessly trying to get up on a rock made my day. He fell over on his belly again and again, but eventually he made it. Persistent little guy!

Going around another corner of the islands finally sea lions hang around on little mini islands. The males posing and showing off, some getting into a real fights and others (most of them) just hanging around lazy on the rocks. The way they lay there make the rocks look like a real cozy place even though some of them lay there in a real uncomfortable situated places.

It was fantastic to see these animals so close in their natural sorroundings. They seem to be totally fine with the situation and just look at you in a mixture of boredom and curiosity.

The whole boat trip took two hours of which one hour we spend with the animals on the island. It was a fantastic tour and made me even forgot the terrible herding experience from the morning.

We happily returned to the hostel and packed our bike to make it to Nazca the same day.