Friday, December 21, 2012

Ushuaia - The End of the Road

We have been in Ushuaia for five days and have apparently lived through any apocalypse.    It has rained every day since we got here and today was no different.  When we got up it was raining.  We had decided that today is the last full day in Ushuaia, so we needed to ride to the end of Ruta 3.  This road ends in the National Park Bahia Lapataia. 

We rode about 25 kilometers of wet, but not slippery, mud, stopping to pay our entry fee of about $17 US.  That’s a lot of money just to drive down a road and take a picture.  So here it is, the “end of the road” at “the end of the world” on “the end of the world.”
Us at the end of the road, at the end of the world on the end of the world 
About the time this one was taken the park ranger showed up and swished us away.  I think understood though, because before he swished me away, I asked for his and his assistant’s picture.
The map of the Province of Tierra del Fuego
From the tour we took the other day, we found out that the reason this is called Tierra del Fuego, is when Magellan arrived in the straight, the native habitants had then shores on both sides lit by fires.  If you ask me this should be called Tierra del Viento (land of wind).  We took the short stroll to along the path to the top of a deck overlooking the bay.  Here are a few photos I took.
A map view from the south pole centric point of view
Looking out into the bay beyond the walkway
Looking back on the plank walkway to the parking lot
Me with the Argentinian Flag I won on the tour the other day
Tomorrow we turn and head for home.  It has been a long three months and a lot of miles, but there are plenty more miles and numbers of months that lie ahead.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ushuaia - WE MADE IT!

The ride from San Sebastian to Ushuaia was a nicely paved road.  
Stretch of pavement from San Sebastian to Ushuaia
The only difficulty we experienced was the temperature began to drop and we traveled through bands of rain.  The terrain and environment changes several times during the trip.  Here is the bike overlooking lago Fagnano as the road turns to head over the pass.
Lago Fagnano, the pass to Ushuaia is actually in this picture on the left.
The reserve gas light came on about 40 miles from Ushuaia, which seemed a little early because we had only traveled about 150 miles.  No problem though, the reserve is worth about 50 miles.
I took this picture of Chuck as we arrived in Ushuaia.  We found the hostel were we staying and in the process of driving the bike up into park area, it ran out of gas.  Only 40 miles, we are getting terrible mileage.  Chuck had a little left in his side cans so we put some in my bike to get it into the parking area.

There was a gas line at the filling station so we decided today wasn’t the day to fill up.  We left that for a couple days later.  Come to find out Ushuaia only has two gas stations and when they run out of gas they are out.  When a new shipment arrives, there is a run on the station. 

The next day we took a tour of the Beagle Channel.  This is a picture looking at Ushuaia across a small bay in the Beagle Channel.  Ushuaia got its name from the joining of the indigenous words “Ushu” meaning at the back and “Wuaia” which means bay, cove or port.
Looking back at Ushuaia
While the tour was not as up close as the one in the Galapagos, it was none the less enjoyable.  We saw some islands which had a pleathora of sea lions and cormorants and a couple penguins in the water. 

Also, at the entrance to the bay where Ushuaia sits there is a light house that marks the way that ships use to navigate the Straight of Magellan. 
Light house guarding Ushuaia and the Strait of Magellan
 Here is the boat we toured in, Chuck and I called it the SS Minnow.  We were scheduled for four hours but because some of the passengers were late it was more of a “three hour tour!”  (some of you older guys may get that!)
SS Minnow :-)

Our Tour Guide explaining where we are and what we are seeing

Some of the group looking at a several hundred year old fungus ... no not Chuck :-)
At the end of the tour they had a drawing for an Argentinian flag that the winner is supposed to take home and send a photo back to the tour company.  Guess who won???
I never win anything!
Tonight we hope to meet Roberto and Doriano, the Italians in the city for a couple beers.

Tomorrow the “world ends!”  If it does, that means no more blogs from me.  Since we are three hours ahead of Houston, we will be gone before most of you, I will try to send a warning.  If the world doesn’t end, we plan to ride to the park in Lapataia, to take a picture of the bikes at the end of the road.

Monday, December 17, 2012

San Sebastian, Argentina

We left Punta Arenas in the rain.  It was good to be on the move again.  Originally we planned to get gas in Povenir, the town on the other side of the Strait of Magellan, when we got off the ferry.  But we had enough time to fill up in Punta Arenas and avoid any possible lines on the other side. 

We got to the ferry around 8:00a, got our tickets with no problem and waited on the bikes in the rain for the instruction to load.  When the time came, they began loading trucks and cars first, finally signaling us to come.  They had left a little hole for us between a car and a truck.  Why they didn’t just have us come on before the truck behind us, I have no idea, but it made it a struggle with the long wheel base on the KTM to get mine into the hole.
Ferry Parking and work area.

The trip over took about two and a half hours and was smooth, but I understand it isn’t always like that.  Sometimes because of the roughness and the wind they cancel the ferry.  While I was getting the straps and ropes secured, I noticed that one of the bolts holding the rear sub-frame had come loose, very loose.  This meant we would have to stop when leaving the ferry to tighten it.  

But, I got the idea that may be I could tighten it while on the ferry.  So I proceeded stealthily out the door, down to the bike and began dismantling stuff to get to my tools.  Notice the strap over my seat; I had to work to get that off. 

While screwing around with my bike, the alarm went off.  That’s crazy because it wasn’t even set.  I just shut it off and went about my business.  Eventually after much cussing I finally got the bolt tightened and tools put away, avoiding the need to stop when we left the ferry.

While on the ferry we were surprised to run into several English speaking folks.  First, a doctor on a hiking trip from Portland Oregon and then these two.  He has been in Punta Arenas for a year; I believe working on moving a gasification plant from Chile to Louisiana. 

He was from Louisiana and she was from Mobile, Alabama.  It was amazing to hear a southern drawl this far away from home. 
L to R: Alabama and Louisiana :-)
Once off the ferry we found the road out of town.  It began as dirt but was a good and fast for about thirty kilometers.  But after hitting a few bumps leaving town my security alarm began going off again.  Finally, I just disconnected it and left it as is.  I have been having little gremlin electrical problems for some time now. 
Smooth and Fast
After this good stretch the road began to deteriorate, there was about ten kilometers of mud, lots of mud.  The tires would load up.  So much so between the front tire and fender that it would stop rolling.  I had to back the bike forward and back just to free the wheel. 

Below is a picture of Chuck coming down a hill.  It is deceptively muddy.  You can see the path I took.  I think my front tire loaded up, stopped rolling and put me into the ditch on my left.  You can see my path from about where Chuck is, that takes me down into the ditch and then back out again, with mud strung out on both sides.  It’s a wonder neither of us went down.  There were places where ascending that the bike would get sideways and there was some thought that maybe there was not enough traction to actually make it up the hill.
Mud may be fun for some, but not for me or Chuck
Eventually we made it through the mud and the trip from there on was pretty good gravel and no mud.  We traveled about a hundred thirty miles of gravel / mud roads, of which about six or seven was this muddy mess.  Had it all been mud like this, we would still be there now.
Mud caked up on the rear tire of my KTM.
Eventually we went through the Chilean border at San Sebastian, Chile then rode about four or five miles to San Sabastian, Argentina.  After quickly clearing migracion and aduna we found a little hotel / restaurant right off the main road that Peter and Rosemarie had told us about.  We checked in, gassed up next door at the filling station, hosed down then parked the bikes.  

We ordered a steak and papa fritas (french fies) and sat down with a beer.  Wine with dinner, another beer for Chuck and by this time the cook and the owner had come into the restaurant to watch TV and decided to join us for a drink.  The owner complimentarily provided a bottle of Champagne and we proceeded to toast the “end of the world … in Terra del Fuego!”  By the way, I’m not really as tall as the picture would indicate!  J
Owner, me and the cook
The sign at the entrance of the Hotel and Gas Station
We woke to rain and cold, but we had agreed that we would try to get to Ushuaia today. But it was still a little difficult to leave in such ugly weather.
Looking out our back window.
Tomorrow, USHUAIA!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Punta Arenas

We left El Calafate headed for the Argentina / Chile border.
Preparing to leave El Calafate and Hostal El Calafate
It was a rather cool 55 degrees when we left and the temperature dropped to the high forties.  But all in all it wasn’t all that terrible, the wind had let up a little and the ride was fine.  There was another 30 miles of dirt on this leg. 

I wish I could say I enjoy this riding, but the roads are just so rough.  They have taken rocks the size of a human head and mushed them down into the road, apparently when it was muddy.  So the tops of all these rocks stick up.  There is NOTHING difficult about riding these roads, but the rattling and jarring is awful.  It’s like riding cobble stone roads, like we did in Ollantaytombu in Peru. 
Hard to tell but the base is all rocks the size of turtles.
We crossed into Chile at a town called Rio Turbo.  I recalled meeting Chuck last February in Hunt, Texas to begin planning our trip route.  We talked about coming back into Chile from Argentina at Rio Turbo.  At the time it was all theoretical, now it has become real.  Rio Turbo was bigger than I thought, but pretty much an industrial town dedicated to some type of mining.  We rode through without stopping.
Rio Turbio, pretty much an industrial town at the border
The border crossing was a little different than other crossings.  First there were at least two tour buses and a bunch of other cars.   But for some reason the guard took pity on us and took us around to the front of the line … score!  We were processed and out of Argentina with our bikes, very quickly, probably fifteen minutes.

Then we had to ride about 3 or 4 miles to the Aduna / Migracione for Chile.  Here’s where I made a grievous mistake.  I passed a line including a bus and some other cars and the border guard got all bent out of shape at me.  Came out and started waving me back.  He instructed me to pull in behind the bus and a car, but still well ahead of some other vehicles that were there. 

We were processed and got the bikes processed and then they wanted to check our luggage.  So both Chuck and I had to pull off our top case and side case.  They checked for tomatoes, oranges and any other fruit or vegetable, kinda like California does.  When we left the border guard that was so irritated at me, gave me a thumbs up.  I just stared at him.  I didn’t take any pictures of this because I didn’t want him to get angry again.
Entering Punta Arenas
We rode into Punta Arenas, another city we had talked about in our planning session in February.  Again, a large city, but nothing special.  We did spend two hours looking for a place to stay, who knew that there were at least for Hostels named Patagonia.  The first one was obviously not the five star rating we read about.  The second one was Very nice but full (at least for a couple of bikers). 

We didn’t find the third and the forth until the next day.  We settled on Hotel Chalet Las Violetas, at Waldo Seguel N 480.  The proprietor is a nice fellow that helped us put the bikes in the side area for security.  We rented a room with three beds because he didn’t have a two bed available.  We have some time so we are spending three days here before heading to Ushuaia.

Hostel Chalet Las Violetas
The next morning I woke up intending on getting some laundry done at the lavanderia and getting the elbow patched on my sweater that was damaged during my accident.  I also wanted to tighten the gas container holder because it had come loose AGAIN!  Chuck was going to have his back tire changed, so I pulled my bike out. 
bIn the process of pulling the bike back in, I bumped the gate with my gasoline container.   The rack had cracked again, for the third time.  We should have brought a welding machine with us.  So today I spent most the day walking through Punta Arenas with my gas rack looking for a welder (soldare).  Eventually I found a welder at a muffler shop who fixed did the job quickly and well.  When I asked “quantis”, his reply was “nada”.  I left him $20 US equivalent.

So, I heard about the shootings the other day in Oregon and just today in Connecticut.  The news seems to be filled with these things.  What is going on in the US?  I am very sorry for all the victims, especially the children.  I am angry but there is no one to be mad at.

When talking about South America, everyone mentions how unsafe it may be traveling in these countries with banditos waiting to kidnap you at every opportunity.  Yet, it seems the things we hear about are all the crazies in the US.  The news as I write this in Argentina was headlined by Madonna’s visit to Buenos Aires, no kidnappings, no murders, no crazies.  Something is not right in the US.

End of soapbox.

While walking to dinner last night we heard someone yell out hola!  It was Roberto and Doriano again.  We had thought they were headed directly for Ushuaia but here they were in the square in Punta Arenas.  I finally remember to grab a picture in front of the statue of Magellan and Terra del Fuego in the Punta Arenas town square.  We will overlap a little in Ushuaia before they head back to Italy, so we agreed to have dinner and some beers before they left.
L to R: Joe, Chuck, Roberto, Doriano
We catch the ferry tomorrow crossing the Strait of Magellan and head towards our destination; Ushuaia.  We could be there tomorrow if we rode long and hard, but we have some extra time.  We will probably stop in San Sebastian or Rio Grande for one night.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

El Calafate

Is a tourist town, like most tourist towns.  And like most tourist towns it is expensive.  We shopped a little for a place to stay after getting gas and settled for the Hostel Calafate.  It is pretty nice for the price in this town.  Heated floors which means it is TOO HOT.  So we sleep with the window open.

While we were moving the bikes and checking in, Roberto and Doriano show up.  I thought they might stay here but they moved on.  We do expect to see them when we get to Ushuaia so hopefully I can remember to get a picture.

Also, while parking the bikes Peter introduced himself to us and asked about the road north and the need for extra gasoline.  Peter and his wife Rosemarie are traveling on a rented BMW from Punta Arenas up into Chile where they will then return home.  Peter invited us to dinner that night and we had a great time getting acquainted, sharing information and telling stories.  Again no picture! ARRRRG!

We signed up for a tour of the glaciers and woke early the next morning to catch the bus.  We had a great time!  May it was the free beer, wine and whiskey they served in the captain’s cabin.

Here are a few photos taken on the tour:
An Iceberg from one of the Glaciers

Looking some of the Tourists at the Perito Moreno Glacier

The Ice is older then the Whiskey.  They pulled the ice from the lake.

We met Ian on the trip.  He and his friends are from South Korea and work for Samsung in Brazil.

It was easier than riding a motorcycle.

The Perito Moreno Glacier

Evan was our tour guide and a journalist from Buenos Aires.

Captain Juan

Would you let this fellow steer your boat.  Can you say the SS Minnow?

Nice Scarf

A little breezy.

Some of the icebergs that we had to navigate through.

We have stayed an extra day in El Calafate because we had a few errands to run and we wanted to update our blog.  Chuck is still hacking away over there and has only had a few meltdowns due to computer errors and lost internet connections.  Sorry we haven't been as prompt on keeping the blog up, but we just haven't found the nack yet to make it easy.

Tomorrow we may try to make it to Punta Arenas or may be only Puerto Natales depending on how late we get started.

Bajo Caracoles

We are noticing that as we get further away from the equator and the satellite that processes the SPOT signals, that the spot is becoming more and more erratic.  Mine has the additional problem of me breaking the electrical wire used to power it while removing the glove case to fix the fuel filter.  We are just trying to let people know through e-mail and posting where we are and that we are ok.

Based on the map we had, when we left Rio Mayo we expected the road to be almost all gravel (ripio) from there to Tres Lagos or about 300 miles.  However, the hotel proprietor had said, “no, asphalt 90k y ripio 30k to Caracoles.”  We’ll see.  He was right it was three quarters paved.
All distances indicated in Kilometers, these are NOT major towns. :-)

Bajo Caracoles had gas, a hotel and restaurant all in one.  When we arrived there was a fellow from Spain who was riding north from Punta Arenas.  We asked him about the roads and he said they were fine and gave us a little more information about the pavement.  Again about half of what we thought was going to be gravel turned out to be paved.  He also said there was little gasoline until we got to El Calafate about 300 miles. 
Rider from Spain on Rented BMW

We took a room, filled up the bikes up and parked them behind the hotel.  A little while later a couple guys from Italy showed up, Roberto and Doriano, sorry about the spelling guys.  They took a room as well and parked their bikes next to ours. 

Parking behind Hotel Bajo Caracoles – our room is the window on the right.

We communicated as much as we could and actually had dinner and breakfast the next day with them at the hostel.  They were also going to try to make El Calafate the next day.  They were ready and left before us, but we filled our extra gas containers for the ride to El Calafate.  Our plan was to make it to El Calafate without having to take a detour to Gobernador Gregores for gas.  The Italians were going to have to go the longer way.

Most the way to Gobernador Gregores was paved, and except for the wind it was very easy ride.  Once we got to the turn off the road turned to ripio, but not difficult.  We took the gas out of our side cans and filled up the tanks.  Then we inched our way closer to El Calafate.

Expecting Chuck any minute
Right on time!
The road from Gobenador Gregores joins again, just south of where the picture above was taken.  I had stopped to put the rest of the gas I had in my tank, and Chuck had just arrived when the Italians pulled up.  They asked if everything was alright and we said it was and they left.  We came across them again on the road, Doriano had had a flat and they were repairing it.  We stopped and asked if there was anything we could do to help, they said no, they were almost done, so we left.

Once Chuck and I got to the pavement I was starting to worry a little about gas.  It was still a ways to gas at El Calafate when my reserve light came on.  In Canada earlier this year, I had run completely dry to know my range, it was 50 miles exactly.  Chuck had a little gas left in his can, but I wanted to make it without having to dip into his reserve.  I pulled into the Station at El Calafate with 48 miles into my reserve.  … Perfect …

I took this picture on the road to El Calafate.  It shows the effect the wind has on a bike while riding.  Chuck is not trying to turn or maneuver, he is going straight down the road.  The lean is entirely from the wind.