Slowly catching up

2009 April 9
by joe

March 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26 have been added…

The Gang Arrives

2009 March 26
by Levi

We’re both currently more than two weeks behind on our writing, but I can’t help but break continuity to declare that today, March 26th, we arrived at our southern destination, Ushuaia. After well over a thousand miles of desolate Argentine grassland, the last 20 miles were incredible glacier-capped mountains and finally, incredibly, Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. We made it.

The hostel we found gave us a bottle of whiskey to celebrate, and it’s safe to say it feels pretty damn amazing to reach our destination after around 15,000 miles. As I write this, I’m raising a toast of our free whiskey to our new friends from the road, those who’ve helped us when we were in need, our friends back home, and all out there reading. Thanks to you all for being your own part of our little trip thus far. It’s been a great run.

Mar. 26 – Rio Grande to Ushuaia

2009 April 27
by joe

We get an early start, both of us excited about completing the journey south today.  We go to a confiteria for coffee and pastry, and then do some riding around town asking about front tires, as both of ours are looking very worn.  We find several 21”  tires in town, at two different shops, but they are not the exact correct size, and we decide to ride on and see what might be available in Ushuaia. The road is well paved, but it is windy, cold, and threatening rain.  That seems to be the normal conditions down here this time of year.

We ride through the same, monotonous Patagonian desert for a couple of hours.  The temps warm up a bit (50’s), and the sky lightens up as we ride south.  The weather above us changes very fast; cloudy one minute, looking like rain;  then sunning and cold, with blue sky.  The wind never stops, though.  Suddenly, about 50 miles from Ushuaia, the landscape starts to change;  first some scrubby, broken trees, appearing in clumps on hillsides, that all look dead and broken.  Then more hills, and soon real tree;.  then mountains appear on the horizon,  green and snow-capped.  Before long, we are riding in richly forested mountains, with lakes and waterfalls and beautiful, wild and rugged scenery.  After the thousands of miles of desert we have crossed to get here, it is an incredible rush and very exciting to be treated to such spectacular scenic beauty.  We stop so often to take pictures, that it seems like we will never get through the last 30 miles!

We finally come through a mountain pass, and enter a long valley between some of the most rugged peaks yet.  At last we descend down the last mountainside and see the town of Ushuaia spread out along the shore of the Beagle Channel.  What a sight, and what a rush.  We stop at the town’s entry sign, to hug and take pictures.  We can barely believe it is real – that we have made it to the end of the world.  It is just fantastically beautiful here!

We cruise the town, and find a place that is open for lunch.  Because it is so late in the season, a lot of the shops and restaurants are closed for the winter.  We look around for a cheap hotel, and settle on a hostel that is close to the bay and downtown.  We get some poster board, and make for sale signs for the bikes, and park them out on the road with them on.  The response is almost immediate – people start stopping by the hostel and asking about the bikes right away.

We relax for much of the afternoon – drink a little whiskey and lay around reading and napping.  Later we go out and find some empanadas for dinner.  It is hard to believe that we are at last at the end – there is nowhere south of here to go.  So after 111 days on the road for me, and over 15,000 land miles of riding,  we have completed the long ride south.  It feels great!

Mar. 25 – Punta Arenas, CI to Rio Grande, AR

2009 April 24
by joe

Up really early, with a wake-up phone call.  We get a really nice breakfast, with the promised eggs, from a bleary-eyed staff.  We upset the normal hostel routine with our early rise.  It is a short 3 klicks to the ferry dock, and it was really cheap for the bike and passenger – $15 USD total!  The ferry operation was very modern and professional.  When I parked the bike on the deck, they put just a single strap over the seat;  when I questioned that that was all they thought necessary, the deck hand pointed to the clear sky and said ‘good weather’ as justification for the light-duty strapping.  It was just fine.

The ferry ride was great.  The sun was out, temps were warm, the straight was calm and winds were low.  A beautiful ride, with the straight enclosed with hills and mountains on all sides.  We either sat in the comfortable passenger cabin, or strolled on the cabin-top deck in the fresh air.  A nice 2-hour boat ride, and then we pulled into the dock at Porvenir.  Just before we landed, we were spotted buy a pod of dolphins, who cam rushing over to the boat to play in the bow wake.  What a cool sight, watching the dolphins jump play, getting a ride from the ship’s wake.  A fascinating sight.  Porvenir is just a sleepy fishing village,  with a few too many restaurants to accommodate the tourists coming to the island.  Today, there were not many of us.

We ate lunch in Porviner, and then started out on the 150 klicks of gravel road we needed to cross to get back into Argentina.  This road was not so bad;  a ‘real’ gravel road that you could do 40-50 mph on.  There were a few bad spots, some construction, herds of sheep and packs of guanaco, and plenty of strong winds,  but we covered the ground in less than 3 hours.  The scenery continued to be the same Patagonian desert we had been riding in for days now…  flat scrub-land without trees, dark grey or black scrub-brush, and occasional salt-flats.  After those 3 hours of rough riding, we arrived at the San Sebastian border crossing – and another easy entry into Argentina (third time, now).  Soon after crossing the border, the road was paved and decent, and we speed along until we stop for gas in Rio Grande, which is about 250 kilometers from Ushuaia itself.

It is now very cold (temps in the 40’s), and very windy.  When we pull into town,  my bike starts acting stupid again, and will not idle.  As we gas up, it starts to rain, and I do not feel like we should try to make it the rest of the way today.  It is so late now, that if we continue on to Ushuaia, it will be well after dark before we can get there, and there is nothing between here and there, at all.  We search around, and have to settle for a tiny room in a hotel with little to offer.  We walk about, getting money at the bank, and then finding a micro-brewery where we have pizza and beer for dinner.  Our first night on Tierra de Fuego;  cold, windy, raining.  Tomorrow, we will reach the end of the earth!

Mar. 24 – Rio Gallegos,AR to Punta Arenas,CI

2009 April 23
tags: ,
by joe

We did the hotel breakfast, and had an easy way out of town.  It was an easy, though monotonous 50 kilometers from town to the border, which was in the middle of nowhere.    The border routine into Chile was the easiest yet, and the road after the border was a perfectly smooth concrete highway along the Straight of Magellan.  The land continued flat;  sand and desert scrub-land.  Lots more camelids and Rhea birds.  It was windy and cold, but it was an exciting ride, looking over the straight and knowing that the shadowy hills in the distance across the water were Tierra del Fuego itself.

It was still early when we got to the city of Punta Arenas.  It seemed like a nice small city – not too much traffic, but it had a lot to offer;  I liked the feel of the place.  We settled on staying at the Hostel Bulnes,  a small hotel run out of an oversized home,  as our home base.  We arrange to have the motorcycle titles sent from Michigan to here.  We go off tire shopping, and find a used rear tire, a Pirelli like we had been using, and buy it for Levi’s bike.  Getting it mounted was a small nightmare, as the shop that sold us the tire did the mounting,  and they were not set up for motorcycles at all.   Levi’s rear axle is a bit ‘non-standard’ by this time, also.

We have to decide where to go tomorrow – Parque National Torres del Paine or Tierra del Fuego.  We learned that the ferry across the Straight makes one run a day, on a somewhat varying schedule.  The run tomorrow over to Porvenir on the island leaves the dock in Punta Arenas at 9:00 AM, so we would need to get an early start.  We do finally decide to go on to Ushuaia next, so we make arrangements for a wake up call and an early breakfast.  Our landlady makes a big deal out of offering us eggs for breakfast tomorrow.

We decide to go out for an expensive seafood dinner, but it turns out to be fancy and not all that good.  The wine was good, and not too expensive.  Hostel Bulnes is funky, but warm and quiet.

Mar. 23 – Fitz Roy to Rio Gallegos

2009 April 22
by joe

Sort of an early start;  we return to the comidor on main street for breakfast, such as it is.  No grease for sale at the gas station, so we sigh deeply, unable to re-grease the new wheel bearings,  and head out on the windy, desert road.  Windy is an understatement.

We drive for 400 miles,  stopping only for coffee,  food and gas, eating in the gas stations.  Desolate, empty, flat desert everywhere.  We see some camelids, and weird ostrich-like birds called nandus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhea_(bird)).    Crazy wind the entire way.  Exhausting ride.

Rio Gallegos is a larger town,  the first we have been in in a while;  paved streets, real shops and hotels.  Weather is decidely more chilly now.  We locate a decent hostel, with real down comforters and clean sheets, and have a good fish dinner.  It feels good to have so much of the southward leg of this part of the trip completed.  Tierra del Fuego is now within a days ride.  We are excited.

Ma. 22 – Rio Mayo to Fitz Roy

2009 April 22
by joe

We do the morning routine, and gas up on our way out of town. The gas station attendant has to put down his matte cup to pump our gas.  We soften up the tires for the gravel road ahead. Then we leave town by climbing up out of the hole that Rio Mayo is in, back up onto the desert above.

The road waiting for us is way worse than I had hoped or expected.  No fun.  Most of the 60 miles to Perito Morenos is torn up for construction.  The roadway we had to travel is not really gravel in most spots, but rather mostly rocks the size of baseballs, and sand.  The wind is a constant presence, making it even harder to keep the bike pointed where you want it.  Impossible to make any sort of time,  it takes us 3-1/2 hours to go the 60 miles from Rio Mayo to Perito Morenos.  Totally desolate,  empty desert,  with no relief at all.  Barely getting to 30 mph in the good spots. My neck and shoulders are sore and screaming from the tight grip I needed to keep to stay upright.  I stopped a dozen times at least to rest my body and catch my breath.  It is 2:00 pm when we finally reach civilization in Perito Morenos.

We eat lunch, again, in the gas station, as everything else in town is closed, being Sunday.  After much discussion, we at last agree that it will be best if we divert east from here, and then take a paved road south, rather than continuing south on Ruta 40 from where we are. It means going many extra miles out of our way, and changing the  timing for our plans for seeing the sights in southern Chile, but to continue south on the road we are on would mean at least another 3-4 days of traveling at 100-150 miles a day, and winding up in places where we would have a tough time finding places to stay.  I believe we made the right choice by moving east and speeding up the long trip through southern Argentina.

The ride east is no picnic, either. High quartering winds, and very desolate, isolated landscape. We encounter lots of wild llama, called Guanaco (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guanaco), on the road. We pass through a section of oil-producing country.  Towards dark, we pass through a tiny town named Fitz Roy, and keep going thinking that the next town on the map will be larger and have more to offer.  We are wrong;  when we get to the next town, it is just a few residential streets, without a single public building that we can  identify.  It is already dark, and cold and windy, but we have to backtrack a ways to Fitz Roy, and search out a hostel.

Even though the town of Fitz Roy only has 5 streets, and maybe 100 buildings, it takes us more than a few tries to find lodging.  We finally do secure a room in the back of a store, unload, and go off in search of food.  We find a real restaurant on the main street, only to discover that we are too early for dinner.  Now that we are back in Argentina, many places do not have dinner until after 8:00 pm!  So we relax and have a beer, waiting until the owner comes back around and tells us what is available that night.  We both order, unsure what it is we have selected.  As it turns out, we get the first decent meal we have seen in several days.

Back at our ‘hotel’, we discover that Levi’s lap-top has taken a beating on the bad roads today, and does not want to startup.  After some coaxing and some words of encouragement from Levi, it does come back up, but is not well.  We shoot some pool on a table in a room next to our sleeping room, smoke a cigar to celebrate our good fortune, and then sleep though a cold, rainy, windy night.

Mar. 21 – A day in Rio Mayo

2009 April 22
by joe

We get up early, anticipating a long day riding south on gravel Ruta 40.  We consume our crappy free hotel breakfast (stale white rolls and instant coffee), and then head out into the cold, windy morning to load up.  As we are about to do chain maintenance and head to the gas station,  Levi notices that his rear sprocket has again moved away from the rear hub, and is again eating it’s way through the swingarm.  When he shows it to me, I feel like sitting down on the sidewalk and crying. I stand and stare at the damage for several moments in silence, unable to accept what I see.

We are now in an even worse situation than we were when we had this problem before.  We are not out on the highway, but we are in a tiny town, with next to no services, and hundreds of miles from anywhere that we are likely to find parts or help.  The fix that was done in Curico by Chalaco-Lopez is completely un-done;  the new bearing he installed in the sprocket carrier assembly is destroyed, and even more damage has been done to the swingarm and associated hardware.  Levi and I stare at each other, trying to come to grips mentally with what our options are now.

We unload the bikes, and put our stuff back into the room at the inn that we had just vacated.  We  push the green bike across the street into an empty lot, and lay it on it’s side on the ground.  When we remove the rear wheel axle, the ground-up remains of the bearing just pour out onto the ground.  The aluminum casting that holds the rear sprocket is now so chewed up that even if we had a new bearing, it would not stay in the casting.  The inside of the swingarm on the left side has been ground into about half way through the frame, and the sliding collar that allows for chain adjustment is completely worn away on it’s inner surface where the spacer was turning against it.  Very depressing.

While we are dealing with dis-assembly,  fighting off the many stray dogs and keeping the constant wind from blowing our loose gear away, we get visited by lots of curious locals.  Many people have advice and try to help, some even bring us spare parts and bearings that they happen to have laying around their garages,  but no-one can really tell us where we might find a mechanic or machine shop.  It is Saturday morning, and almost everything in town seems to be closed.  With the pitiful  remains of the destroyed bearing wrapped in a rag, Levi is sent out to wander the few dirt streets of this mudhole town, looking for an auto-parts store, or a mechanic’s shop, or anyone who can advise us on how to get what we need to get back on the road.

The first pass through town produces no results.  People that Levi talks to send him here and there, often to shops that are closed, or on wild goose chases to nothing.  When he returns to where I sit waiting by the fallen machine, we discuss the option of busing to the nearest ‘big’ town for a new bearing, which is almost 100 miles away.  The bus goes and comes only once a day;  we have missed the Saturday bus, and the Sunday bus leaves too late to go and come in a single day.  Not an attractive option.  More looky-loos stop by and offer their advice, and we continue to hear about a real mechanic/machine shop somewhere in the town, that we have not yet found.

Levi heads out for a second tramp around the town, taking one of our radios with him, so we can keep in touch.  This time he finds a few more people out and about, and gets told by several citizens about someone known as ‘el Tano’, who, we are told, may be able to help us.  After much searching and hunting, Levi does find a machine shop tucked away in an un-marked building, where the owner, el Tano himself, says that if we bring the bike to him, he will see what he can do.  At the same time that Levi is talking to this man,  I am approached by a young man and his wife, who stop by the empty lot in their green jeep, and come over to talk with me, matte cup in hand.  He is very friendly, speaks just a bit of English, and offers to help us find the mechanic known as el Tano.  When I radio Levi, and tell him that we have someone who can lead us to the mechanic, I find out that he is already there!  Our friend in the green jeep leaves and joins Levi at the shop, and soon they return to collect the bike and take it to el Tano.  It proves to be too difficult to load the bike into the back of the jeep, and so we decide to just take the rear-wheel assembly to el Tano, and see if he can do anything with it.

‘El Tano’, we  learn later, is Argentine slang for a person from Naples, Italy.  When Levi returns to the shop with the rear wheel, el Tano says that he thinks he can get us back on the road, but he cannot work on it until after 3:00 pm.  It turns out that his mother-in-law has just passed away, and the funeral is today.  He tells Levi to return after 3:00, and he will see what he can do for us.  So our friend with the jeep, who we learn is a major in the Argentine army, stationed at the base in Rio Mayo, and Levi return to our hotel.  Our friend goes home. and Levi and I walk around looking for a place to have lunch.  Very slim pickings indeed, and we wind up eating microwave sandwiches at the one and only gas station.  As we are enjoying this gourmet repast,  we get to watch our friend el Tano walk by, still dressed in his shop clothes, as the funeral procession for his mother-in-law comes down the town main street on it’s way to the cemetery.  Weird.

We nervously kill time until after 3:00 pm, and then our army buddy with the jeep shows up and he and Levi head back over to the machine shop.  I get several excited radio transmissions from Levi, telling me that el Tano is working away on the sprocket assembly, and it sounds very encouraging.  He re-works the casting to take an over-sized bearing that he had, and builds up the aluminum where it has been worn away.  He then fabricates a new left-side spacer, much heavier and with a stiff shoulder, which should prevent the bearing from being destroyed by side-load, as we suspect the last one was.  The work takes a little over an hour, and requires some back-and-forth from the shop to the bike for trial fitting and some re-working of the slide-spacer.  But in the end, it looks like we have it repaired, and better than before!   Levi is excited and optimistic, and even the shock of el Tano’s bill ($100 USD!) does not dampen our joy at the prospect of being able to get out of here tomorrow.

We try to celebrate our good fortune by finding a decent dinner, but such is not to be had in beautiful Rio Mayo.  We spend over an hour searching for a place to have dinner, only to find that we have to settle on El Gordo’s for another meal.  No pizza tonight (ugh), just empanadas and beer.  We are more than ready to be done with this place!

Mar. 20 – El Bolson to Rio Mayo

2009 April 9
by joe

We were up early, again, and had breakfast at the campsite – banana and yerbe matte and leftover cheese and salami.  We load up, and leave the dormi and campground behind us, as we travel a decent paved road.

We leave the mountain and forest terrain and enter a desolate desert landscape –  flat, depressing, constant high wind.  No services, no gas, nothing to break the monotony and desolation. We are now on the famous Ruta 40 of Argentina. We occasionally see living creatures – weird big birds, like a cross between a turkey and an ostrich, that I believe are named Namdus,  and strange camelid creatures like lama/alpaca, but wild.

We have to buy our lunch in a gas station quickie-mart.  At one point, we have to buy gas from a man at a closed station, out of a pail, or we would have run out.  Hundreds of miles go by with no houses, towns, roadsigns… nothing but sand, rocks, and desert scrub.  It is hard riding, because of the wind and monotony/boredom.  No fun doing this stretch.

We finally make it to a town/army base sunk down in a dry river gulch in the desert (you cannot really call this a river valley).  Because it is sunk below the plain of the surrounding terrain, Rio Mayo is somewhat sheltered from the endless prevailing wind.  But it is hardly more than a village, with gravel/dirt streets and very little to offer a traveler.

We stop at the first of the two hotels in town, and decide to stay.  Not horrible, but no place I would recommend to anyone.  Their big featured amenity is central heat!  The food offered at the hotel is wildly overpriced, and as far as we can tell, there is only one restaurant in town,  a dump named El Gordo – ‘the Fat Man’ – after the owner, who is what the name implies.  We have empanadas and beer for dinner,  then we order a pizza (the only other food on El Gordo’s menu), as we are still hungry.  The pizza is the worst I have ever had.  Weeks later, it still haunts me!

We hit  the sack early, knowing that tomorrow we will be facing a long, hard day, as Ruta 40 turns to gravel, and it is a long, long, very empty way to the next town.

Mar. 19 – Entre Lagos to El Bolson

2009 April 9
by joe

Got an early start, and since there was no one in the ‘restaurant’ attached to our hospedage, we rode on to the town of Entre Lagos again for coffee and breakfast.  That turned out to be an expensive affair.

From there it was a fast and beautiful ride through forested hill/lake country to the border.  Back into the Andes again, with spectacular scenery and snow covered peaks in the distance.  At the border, we experience our fastest border crossing ever;  only about 20 minutes total to leave Chile and enter Argentina!  This is how it should be!

The scenery get even better on the Argentine side of the border.  Mountains, forests, and wonderful lakes everywhere.  Good roads, too.  We stop for lunch in the famous Agentine resort town of Bariloche, which is very pretty and very touristy and expensive.  Great wine selection, and that, at least, is not too expensive!

After Bariloche, we have a very hilly, windy road.  We both have trouble with getting sleepy and falling asleep while riding.  We stop for pictures and breaks, just to stay awake.  We stop for the night in a tiny mountain town called El Bolson,  which is filled with cabanas and campgrounds.  It appears to be a major jump-off point for persons going into the many national parks in the area.  We rent a tiny little cabin, called a ‘dormi’ in one of the campground facilities, and cook our dinner over an open fire.  Wine and sausages, followed by more wine and Cuban cigars! I doesn’t get any better than that.  It is cold, but lovely here, and again, it feels a lot like camping in northern Michigan or Ontario.  Lots of other people camping here, too.  A good day and a good night.

Mar.18 – Temuco to Entre Lagos

2009 April 8
tags: ,
by joe

We do breakfast  on our own in the common kitchen – banana,  mate coca, and chocolate!  Got a late start, with lots of goodbyes with the owners, complete with hugs.

We made good time going south on the great, paved Chilean road.  Stopped for lunch – cheeseburger and hot dog.  The scenery changes from Illinois to Colorado/Alaska.  We see trees (something we have not seen for ages), hills, more stuff that looks so familiar to us norte-americanos.  When we finally turn east after Osorno, it is too late to get  through the border, so we stop for the night at a rural hospedage.  A real dump, costs us $16 for a little cabin with no hot water.

We sit in the sunshine, then ride to the nearby lakeshore town of Entre Lagos for dinner.  When we return to the rural site, we are amazed by the display of stars in the southern sky.  A wonderful sight.

I settle for a cold shower,  and we fall asleep to the woodland sounds all around us.  Like camping  the in north woods of Canada.  Lots of wildlife moving and calling.  It is getting colder here, and the frost is on the pumpkin tonight!