It’s odd how not writing a daily blog means that I struggle to remember what we’ve been doing since I last put fingers to keyboard. My last entry was written on the day Steve tipped over on the run down the Carretera Austral to Puyuhuapi, but that seems like an eternity ago. Since then we endured a wet ride south to Coyhaique and some more fantastic scenery as we followed the dirt road that is the Carretera Austral down to Puerto Guadal. Our accommodation varied from the usual hotels and lodges, with Boonie and I sharing a small cabin with a kitchen and log-burner as there was no room for us in the modern casino hotel the group stayed in. That allowed us to buy some milk from the supermarket and make use of the PG Tips he’d brought over in the van to have our first cup of tea since leaving the UK. It wasn’t quite as good as back home but it was most welcome!
In Puerto Guadal we stayed in another lodge, this one larger and with 3 rooms, one for Kevin, one for Darran and Dave and one for Boonie and me. Another log burner also afforded us chance to sit and chat a while in comfort whilst the rain fell outside. That evening we took the screen off my bike and fitted it to James’, as the replacement screen we had delivered from Motoaventura turned out to be for the wrong model and wouldn’t fit. So from now on I’m riding a “street-fighter” style GS!
The following morning dawned bright and sunny and we had a spectacular ride through truly phenomenal scenery back to the Argentine border and on to the estancia. The first part of the ride took us along a huge lake, with snow-capped mountains in the distance. The photos (on my photostream) do not capture even half of the beauty of this part of the world. The final section of road turned from tarmac to soft gravel and dirt, particularly challenging given the recent rain which had turned it very soft in places. Once again the group coped admirably and we didn’t have anyone fall. That night on the estancia we had a group meal of traditional Argentina parilla (BBQ) the lamb split and cooked in front of a wood fire, then hacked up and served to us with chorizo sausage and salad. It was simply delicious, the best meal of the trip so far, steak in Bariloche included.
From the estancia we rode on Ruta 40 once more to El Calafate, where we had a rest day. Back in 09 this was a gravel road and caused me some grief as I was riding with a broken rib, but this year it was mostly tarmac and I am fully fit, so it was much easier. With little maintenance on the bikes to do, I spent the rest day relaxing and walking round the town, then meeting up with Kevin and Boonie to buy bubbly and snacks for when we reach the end of the world. Leaving El Calafate to cross back into Chile once more proved very challenging, the wind picking up significantly (it had been blowing hard when we arrived). The sailor in our group estimated it was at gale force 8 – so strong that it was impossible to stand up without being blown about. A short section of around 40 miles of dirt road was interesting to say the least, riding with such a strong cross-wind. To try and keep the bike on a straight line required constant pressure on the bars, steering the bike to the right and leaning it into the wind. Several times the surface turned to looser gravel, meaning there was insufficient grip for the level of steering input required, resulting in being blown across the road until the surface improved enough to allow the bike to be hauled back on line. At one stage I came very close to crashing, the front and rear wheels slipping on the gravel and the bike dropping down, only my instinctive reactions to stand it up saved me from embarrassment. At the fuel stop at the end of the dirt road the group slowly came in with similar tales of near misses, the riders buzzing with excitement at having conquered riding in a true Patagonian wind. A few had taken the longer tarmac route to skip the dirt road, but had equal tales of battling the wind. From there to close to the border was tarmac which made the riding easer, but the dirt road to the border was a further challenge as the wind was relentless. But the Argentine border formalities were simple and quick and it was only a short ride to the Chilean side, where I arrived just before 1pm ahead of most of the group. Only to discover the customs guy was on strike and only working for 2 hours each day – from 12-1pm and 5pm-6pm. As he’d closed up just before I got there, I had no choice but to sit and wait, explaining to the group as they arrived that we’d be here some time! Fortunately just past the border is a cafe, and as we were checked in (immigration and SAG processing us despite the customs strike), at least we could get a coffee and some snacks. At 5pm the customs guy resumed work and we got the group their permits fairly quickly (I’d managed to get a stack of blank forms to speed things up) and we made the short journey to the hotel at Tres Pasos. Once again Boonie and I had different accommodation to the group, this time sleeping in bunk beds in a small wooden caravan in the garden – supplied with clean towels, soap and shampoo despite not having a bathroom! The first of the 2 nights we slept there was very windy, the caravan rocking from side to side as we slept – and with no curtains we were both up earlier than normal (which is early anyway!). Quite an experience…
On the rest day at Tres Pasos we were called out to fix a puncture only to find one of the group had plugged it by the time we caught up with the affected rider, then Boonie and I took a ride out to the entrance of the park, not wanting to pay the fee to go in and ride the loop, which turned out to be a good decision as a landslide had blocked the route anyway.
From Tres Pasos we made our way onto Tierra del Fuego, taking the small ferry across the Straights of Magellan accompanied by a pod of Commerson’s dolphins. A night at the gas drilling town of Cerro Sombrero was followed by another dirt road ride to the border and back into Argentina before finishing up on Lago Fagnano just 62 miles short of Ushuaia and the end of the road. That night we managed to convince Angelica, whose 1150 was too badly damaged to continue and sent home from Bariloche, and who had been riding pillion with Dave since El Calafate, to ride my bike the final few miles to the end of the road. Which meant I got to ride in the van with Boonie, snapping pictures of the group and reminiscing about my own journey to the famous sign. Once we arrived, we took lots of photos and managed to get a couple of the bikes next to the sign before the warden turned up and reprimanded us. A toast of bubbly and lots of congratulations later we made our way back out of the park – me now back on my bike again – stopping for a coffee before returning to the hotel.
That evening we shared a bottle of Johnnie Walker Green Label whisky, bought by one of the group, before heading out for the group meal. A few toasts, a few drinks and some good food before retiring to the Dublin Irish bar for a couple of beers and then bed at midnight was the order of the day.
It’s been a great experience so far, helping get the group to the most southerly point, and tomorrow we turn round and start to head North again, 8 days until we arrive in Buenos Aires and the final part of the journey. I’m looking forward to the ride, and hoping the wind will abate and the sun comes out as here in Ushuaia, the most southerly city in the world, it’s blowing a fair bit and sleeting!