The skies are gray and threatening as we set off on our way to Argentina. Soon we have reached and passed the Chilean part of the border and then we get surprised by the big stretch of no-mans land – 44 km s across an alpine pass with snow falling and lots of the cold whit stuff all the way around – so when we finally reach the second half of the frontier we are wet and frozen to the bones. I am as usual quite excited and a bit apprehensive when reaching a new country especially since we have been warned about trying to enter Argentina without a valid bike insurance and also about frequent and strict police controls which are supposed to always end up costly …..
I am expecting problems as we were not able to find affordable insurance cover and I am prepared to swindle my way in with the aid of some German paperwork of which I will tell them that this is an international valid third party bike insurance and then hope they take my word for it.... As we are sent from one desk to the next at migrations and customs everyone is very nice and friendly and not even once are we asked to produce said insurance … well and I am certainly not waking any sleeping dogs either...
Anyway – formalities are done in next to no time and the guys at customs just give us a friendly wave and welcome us to their country.
It's a shame that there are no views to be had as it is still gray and misty and on our way to Bariloche we pass at least 5 police check points – no one stops us though, we get waved through all of them.
After a fruitless search for a campsite we decide to head for the town center and find a tourist information and we also need some Argentinian Pesos.
The town itself is quite a crowded and expensive place. The tourist information center proves to be efficient - it doesn't take long and I come out of it with a map and directions to a campsite and to the money change office. The currency exchange, however, has already closed, none of the ATM s accept my Visa card and now good advice is again dire.
Eventually I decide to go in one of the shops and ask where I can change money and the nice saleswoman takes me to a young man leaning against a wall on a street corner and immediately the entrepreneur offers his services. He gives me an exchange rate of 14,3 so I get $ 100 worth of cash in pesos (the bank rate is 9 $) and now we head out of town as fast as possible to find the given campsite. The young man at the reception is rather impressed by our bike and he reels off a load of services they offer here like a restaurant on site and also functioning Wifi connection around the reception area. We are quite pleased, build our house and then to celebrate the day decide to go out for a meal. We make our way to the restaurant - and it is closed. In need of a plan B we head back to the reception to ask for the nearest supermarket and find out that we have to run, because it closes in 10 minutes. As fast as we can we run down the main road and make it just in time to get inside - behind us the entrance gets locked. We are shocked by the first impression, it really is as expensive as we have been told at various places and while we desperately try to figure out the cheapest offers the lamps are being switched off.
Well at least we have bread, some sausage, cheese and wine for a picnic and we are pretty hungry. So we spread our supplies on the table next to our tent and while we enjoy a meager feast the young man from the front desk returns and tells us that we could eat in the kitchen of the main building - well maybe tomorrow for breakfast ...
Next, we want to test the promised internet connection, but again, we're out of luck. After we have finally found the dark entrance to the main building there is a lock for which you need an entry code (needless to say we don't have one) and now we learn that the kitchen is reserved only for hostel guests ..... so much to promises ...... and there is no WiFi connection to be had either......
After our Peso reserves have shrunk so quickly on the first day we stop in town again to seek out the young man who exchanged our dollars for us yesterday - I'm quite upset because overnight the rate has dropped from 14.3 to 13 pesos per dollar. But I do not know where and when we will have the next chance to find the blue market money changers so I bite the bullet - it's still better than using a bank.
So after all this we are keen to get out of town and by rushing to get on our way we miss all the petrol stations and then we are on the Routa National 23 which turns out to be nothing but a very rutted dirt track. We both don't fancy to go back again so Kev has a look in the tank and decides we have enough fuel to take us to the next town in 75 kms.
The Routa National 23 is gruesome, it is being rebuilt and we have to drive next to it on a dirt road, which is as hard as concrete and crossed by corrugated grooves. The town in which we want to fill up turns out to be small village but now we really need fuel. We ask our way around, and are finally standing in front of two ancient locked up petrol pumps. The last lady we asked for directions has warned us that this might be the case and told us to come back to her in the worst-case scenario and then she would call the owner of the station. So we go back and while we wait with 3 lovely ladies, we learn that one of them is a doctor, one a psychologist and the third one a vet - they laugh heartily when I notice that they have thus indeed covered all eventualities.
It doesn't take long and we get the message that we can return to the now unlocked pumps and then with a full tank we are soon bouncing along again. The landscape reminds us more and more of the Australian outback just without the red.
Suddenly we see huge birds circling above us - we think it must be condors - unfortunately too far away to get a good photo - or perhaps rather fortunately? It certainly might be a bad omen when giant vultures are circling too close above ones head.......
Late in the afternoon we finally reach something that resembles a small town. We stop at the side of the road and immediately a young man approaches us asking what we are looking for: " Comida !" = food. He beckons us into his bar and although we believe we have ordered chorizo (the local version of sausage), we get steak (by now we know the Bistecca di Chorizo is not sausage ) - well, if we have to ..... Our first Argentinian steak is a revelation - heavens - if you have ever tried Argentinian steak at it's home your taste-buds will never be the same again......
After this outstandingly wonderful experience we get back on the track and once more swallow a lot of dust. As Murphy has it, now we can't find anything to set up our tent. Once we follow a little track of the main road and find a kind of sheltered parking area
probably made and used by the road workers. Even though they have made mounts of earth for shelter it's still blowing a gale here. Nevertheless, we try to set up the tent, but already fail in getting even a single peg in the ground which is as hard as concrete but without fixing the tent down properly there is no chance of a safe camp. With great effort we pack everything again (folding up the tent in such a wind is a task only to be attempted by advanced campers!) Back on the bike we battle on along the dreadful gravel track - behind us the sun is going down, before us we have threatening dark clouds. Too bad I'm too slow to make a photo of an Armadillo that flits across the track in front of us, that and the steak would have made this day - the animals look really funny, but are bloody fast.
Shortly before pitch dark, we find an open gate in the fence and even a few bushes to huddle behind but the wind makes it hard to set up the tent and in the end our canvas home looks rather rickety and lopsided - well never mind, at least we have a roof over your head!
The next day consists of eating miles - the scenery is boring (flat as a pancake and sandy) and we just want to somehow quickly get to the Valdez Peninsula, our first goal here in Argentina, because I want to see real whales in the wild once in a lifetime which according to all the tourist info are supposed to spend a few months here to raise their Wale-babies in the bay. The place is allegedly one of the favorite nurseries for these huge marine mammals and the fact that I do not necessarily need to get in a boat to see them is another big enticement for visiting....
Well at last we finally hit tarmac again and we easily make 450 Km although we have to battle against the wind all the time. In the end, we even find a proper campsite and it's still early afternoon. We build our tent, go shopping, wash our kitchen box- because on the gravel track a bottle of ketchup has burst and everything is completely covered... and after a supper of mashed potatoes and Argentinian black pudding (who will believe that?!), we have another special treat: a hot shower !!!! How wonderful this is, you can only understand when you're covered in dust and sticky and if you've found a shower in more than a week then only a cold one....well let me tell you : “it feels like heaven.”
From here to Puerto Madryn it's only around 160 km - a piece of cake.
The road is pretty good (we want really do not complain about ruts now .... at least there is tar). The landscape is tedious, but we are making good progress. Shortly before the finish we see 2 motorcycles on the opposite side of the road - Kevin rushes past, but I tell him to turn around - maybe the guys need tools or we can help in some way ....
It turns out they are 2 bikers from Buenos Aires on their way home - they have no problem, but only stopped to put on some warmer clothes.. The two of them are so smitten by our stopping and wanting to help and then mightily impressed by our trip that they want to support us and give us money (the protest is weak, because we are really turning every peso twice before spending it - this country's hellishly expensive ).
We soon reach Puerto Madryn and meet an English couple on the promenade - Bill and Dawn who have come to South America for half a year touring this part of the world with their 1200 GS. The two are staying in a hostel which we have already ruled out as there are plenty of campsites here so we just swap contacts and arrange to meet on the morrow.
The bay really is full of whales and I'm blown away and even manage to take a few good pictures (with the waving tail fins). After a good look around we finally find a campsite which to our great surprise - is cheaper for us as we members of the ADAC - 35 pesos less than normal and we even have Internet here. What a day - everything running smoothly and even our bike seems to work without problems - you have to enjoy the perfect moment while you can.
As arranged, we meet Bill and Dawn the next day and after we tell them how good and cheap the campsite is they decide to also move here and we spend a few days together exploring the area. The whales seem to have left the bay, however. We take a trip to the Valdez Peninsula and while Bill and Dawn treat themselves to a whale tour we drive to the other end of the peninsula, where we hope to see Magellan penguins and elephant seals.
The track is made of loose gravel and because of the bad corrugations Kevin is quite heavy on the gas, with the result that we have a few testy moments of slip-sliding and dangerous drifting.
On the first view point we get to see lots of penguins and on the next car park we meet a huge monster of a 4 wheel truck/camper with a German license plate. While we talk with the associated couple through mutual where-from/ where-to it strikes me that our rear tire looks pretty flat. The truck has a built-in compressor and so it's quickly inflated again. In no time the tire is full .... and empty again - we have our first puncture after over 100 000 km. The assistance offered by the two Germans we decline because they have told us before where they want to get to today and we have both a spare tire, as well as tools so we say goodbye and after they have left we turn to our bike to go to work. A few minutes later we have to realize however that the most important tools are in the tent, about 160 km away. Oh great - the two in the monster truck would certainly have had everything and now we are in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere and can tell the elephant seals, what we need ... ..
Of course, soon a few cars arrive but usually it's rental cars which are not equipped with tools - or the occupants understand only Spanish. Although our Latino vocabulary by now has grown somewhat and apart from 2 beers we can also buy other things - the word for Allen key is not present. After a while one of the tour bus drivers has the idea to send a few rangers to our aid - they also have no suitable tool but words of encouragement as well as fun and jokes. Together we manage at least to get the bike to the ranger station and we have the incredible luck that a few young men from the neighbourhood are there, who possess a well-stocked toolbox... including an Allan key. Our next (and smallest) problem is to direct the zeal of 5 helpful Latinos in productive paths - I always feel a bit uncomfortable, because in my experience so much testosterone in helper mode can end up quite disastrous being a break-repair.
All goes well but now we have to race against the sunset hoping to get back to tarmac before darkness. So we race while the sky turns to red and then black in defiance of all speed rules, it is 9:30 when we finally arrive in Puerto Madryn and the supermarket closes right in front of our noses - so no supper.
At the campsite Dawn and Bill are waiting for us, they were smarter than we and have chosen not to shred the tires on the gravel road. Slowly they have already been worried about us, even phoned the Rangers to inquire about our whereabouts and since the two were back much earlier they could also shop and now surprise us with pasta and tomato sauce -which has never tasted so good!
Our new friends have chosen some targets along the Routa 3 towards Ushuaia which they want to visit, so they leave the next morning - we however need to get our tire patched first ...
On the way back from the tire service and to give a new experience in roadside repairs the clutch cable breaks. Fortunately we have a new one in the spare part box, it just takes forever until we have it all assembled at the roadside and with the help of a Swiss Army knife. Quite a nerve wrecking job in the hot sun and our tools are still in the tent and not on the bike – well if one is too thick to learn one's lesson the first time round...
The next day we are also back on the road and heading for Punto Tombo, where there is a huge colony of Magellan penguins. We lose quite some time on the way because of course I had not read the directions quite right to the end and when we arrive after a detour of some 150 km gravel they want 180 pesetas per person admission and there is not even a possibility, to camp here. We decide not to stop, save the money and the time and continue our merry little way.
All around here it is quite difficult to find a sheltered campground, the omnipresent wind combined with the flat, treeless landscape and the hard rocky soil make this task often an unexpected ordeal. In the end we drive another 100 km of gravel, until we come to the next camp site in the remains of an abandoned village. A young man has bought the land and made a campsite on one side of the road whereby the dilapidated houses and a few shrubs provide the necessary wind shelter. The price makes us swallow hard, as there is nothing to justify it but one outhouse and the protection from wind, not even water, but the windscreen is essential and by now it is also very late so we bite the bullet and stay.
At least we later see a humpback whale in the bay, which is so close that you can count the barnacles on its head. He turns his rounds for a long time and has an astonished audience, because even the people who live here have never seen a whale in this bay.
Back on the Routa 3 and solid pavement, we are now making good progress towards the south - we have discovered the municipal campsites for us, which are extremely low price and even though they are not really anything to write home about they often have hot showers and even WiFi internet connection.
In Rada Tilly we meet a Rotel-bus full of Germans. So this is what adventure holiday looks like when you're one foot out of the nursing home. Man I am glad that we are doing our trip before getting to this stage. I definitely prefer our spacious tent to the sleeping cabins in the rolling hotel, they look like the perfect place for a dress rehearsal for the final resting in the pine box......
By now we are quite far south, there are oil fields and apart from hundreds of nodding donkeys (rod pumps) we see more and more signs and bumper stickers that inform us that the Malvinas (Falklands) belong to Argentina. The first and only war that Argentina as a nation has fought (and lost) has ensured not only an avalanche-like descent of the country's economy from which it could not yet recover but also a blow below the belt of the (extremely strong) national pride. While in the UK, the least of the younger generations even know where the Malwinas are and what this war was all about (which is certainly not a few thousand people with a British passport, who share a few cold and wet square kilometers with their sheep at the arse-end of the world) this piece of Argentinian history is still being discussed everywhere from schools to nursing homes and far from being shelved - at least we are glad that we are traveling under the German flag (mind you - we are quite keen not to bring up the subject of football either).
We pass a motorcyclist who shortly afterwards also stops at a small outdoor cafe and so we meet Namik from Bodrum who wants to visit this continent for half a year and that with almost no knowledge of the English or Spanish language, yet getting along surprisingly well. After a coffee and a natter we want to continue on our merry little way when we note a flat tire - this time it's the sidecar wheel. Namik turns out to be our knight in shining armor, he has tools, patches and an air pump so the problem is swiftly solved.
Our next destination is Rio Gallegos. It is extremely windy and getting worse - just like the ruts in the Routa 3. During a fuel stop, there is a happy reunion with Dawn and Bill. The two have to report quite some adventures and not all of them have been good. On a rocky track to a petrified forest (which proved to be not really worth the hassle) they had an accident with the heavily laden monster of GS 1200 - machine and rider got rather battered - fortunately, however, both are still roadworthy.
The 4 of us have the same goal, but we want to camp as usual while Dawn and Bill prefer pampering their bruised bones in a hostel bed.
The ride is gruesome to say the least. In increasingly strong wind, we get more than once blown across the road, sometimes it even lifts the sidecar up and I have trouble to contribute to our stabilization by shifting weight. We are glad when we finally arrive and both think that this was one of the worst days of the whole trip.
In Rio Gallegos we want to exchange our last dollars - a difficult task, because there are few exchange offices for the so-called blue market and due to my poor language skills I am sent from one end of town to the other (maybe I should mention, that Kevin never gets these kind of tasks because he is clever enough to play dumb and refuses to learn more than what is necessary to order an increasing amount of beer – so while I run the soles of my shoes of he gets to wait by the bike, smokes and guards our stuff). In a music shop I finally find a young man who speaks some English and tracks down address and name of the money changer with the best exchange rate on the internet for me.
We stay 2 nights so Bill gets a chance to recover a bit better and we use the day to do laundry (by hand in the sink) and rest a little to before the 4 of us tackle the last few hundred kilometers to Ushuaia.
On the border between Argentina and Chile there are problems for Bill - he has not received an import document for his motorcycle when he came into the country and now he can not leave. It takes a while but in the end he gets a new form issued and therefore can leave Argentina legally. Entering Chile (to get to Ushuaia you have to do quite a bit of border-hopping down here) we get a free demonstration of a sniffer dog in action. In this country they are apparently not afraid of weapon- or drug smuggling, the dogs are trained to find food and unfortunately the sniffer dog finds eggs and cheese in the motorcycle of our English friends. They are lucky and/or get a foreigner bonus and the things are just confiscated - it can in fact get very expensive if you do not declare foods and they find them.
After the long hold-up at the border, we hit the incredibly bad road and only get as far as Cerro Sombrero today - something like 150 km in total - we can camp for free behind a hotel and are even allowed to use the toilets. Unbelievably, we meet a couple from Rennerod here - who would have thought that the world is so small that in Tierra del Fuego on the way to the end of the world and for the first time since we are traveling we we meet someone who is able to speak Westerwaelder Platt, my home dialect ?! This is even at home a rarity these days!
The 150 km to the Argentinian Border are mostly gravel road and I have an aha experience: I know now why gravel road in Spanish is called Camino ripio - it's describes exactly what it does. Today it's Bill's turn, he has the misfortune to pick up two punctures, he now loses air in both front and rear tire. Several times we have to stop to mend the holes whereby we encounter two problems: Firstly: how does the puncture repair kit work and secondly how do you explain the truck drivers that we have forced to stop that we need compressed air, so that we can inflate the tire again? It takes the whole day to reach the border back into Argentina and then the next town which is Rio Grande - a total of 250 km.
The city seems to be fully booked, there is neither a campsite nor free beds and in the end we find a guesthouse where we can put up our tents in the garden - for 500 pesos, which is really exorbitant, but at least have breakfast, shower and WiFi in with the price, well, theoretically, because the Internet connection is not working, of course!
The mission for the next morning is to find an air pump for Bill and now we will at least get to Ushuaia - we have been assured that he will definitely find new tires there .......
Along the way it is getting quite cold but at last the landscape is turning to be as spectacular as we had imagined Tierra del Fuego. Once we're all wrapped up like onions it stops raining and the sun comes out. We take a break at a petrol station and ask for permission to eat our own bread inside in the cafe and get free hot water and sugar for our tea and on top of that they even give us ketchup and mayo for the sandwiches imagine that happening in Europe.
The arrival at the town shield of Ushuaia is a pretty emotional moment - after 110000 kms and experiencing so many problems along the way we have managed to reach El Fin del Mundo (the end of the world) and while I throw my arms in the air, exclaiming : "We made it!!" we get loads of cheer and applause from a group of motorcyclists. Soon we learn that this weekend is a bike rally held by the local club, we are invited and even get free accommodation.
The whole thing turns out to be a very nice weekend with mostly Latin American motorcyclists from Mexico to Colombia, Chile and Argentinia but there is also Vitin from Spain ... well and us 4.
We're reaping a lot of admiration and sometimes the waving and smiling for pictures gets a bit much, but with all that hospitality and friendliness you just have to feel at home and then we even get 2 wooden plaques; one for the longest journey to the event (which we have earned well and truly - me thinks) and you will not believe this, one for the oldest motorcycle in the rally!
We make new friends and learn a little more Spanish, because we sleep with 10 Latinos, a Spaniard and our English friends in a free cabana. The price for the rally includes a day in the National Park where we can send a postcard from the southernmost post office in the world. Some have their passport stamped here and then we take the picture of the end of the Ruta 3. Somehow we get into a maudlin mood - standing on the shore, overlooking the sea and remembering how we sometimes no longer believed that we would actually make it this far – we're hugging each other and a few tears are shed as we are overwhelmed by the moment....
In the evening there is a party, we are to lazy to walk there and also intend to have a couple of drinks so the 4 of us decide to all stack into the outfit to drive there .... our arrival causes quite a stir. Pictures are taken, of us with or without our bike and also of Liza, with or without us. Then one asks if he may sit on the bike - the dam has broken and now they are queuing to make a souvenir photo. For fun, I say, I should ask for admission, someone translates it - and soon our collection box fills with pesos.
In between, a good used tire for Dawn and Bill's bike is being organized and fitted - no one wants to have something for his services and among so many Argentinian bikers, there are plenty who help with the job.
Back at the cabana at 6 am a lot of our new friends are still in the mood for celebration one starts a campfire and now here we are with 5 Colombians and an Argentinean. Someone finds a bottle of Fernet which mixed with Coke (the Argentinian national drink) goes around in circles. Somehow it's a pity the weekend is over so soon, and we have to move on.
All foreign drivers get fuel vouchers before leaving and because we do not have enough Argentinian pesos left and such a big tank we even get 2 coupons, which together with the money from the collection box is enough to fill our tank to the brim. Everyone - locals and guests ride the first 100 kms back up the country together to end the rally here with an Asado, which is a barbeque and then it is time to say goodbye, with a warmth that's almost driving tears in our eyes. The remaining steaks and a huge bag of sandwiches are slipped into our hands - the list of favors is getting longer and longer - nevertheless it is a relief when everyone has left and we are among ourselves, we are partied out and our brains are buzzing with all that Spanish for 4 long days so it is not long until we all disappear in our tents and to the land of dreams. Me too - although the bunk bed in the Cabana has killed my back and I do not know, despite painkillers how to get into the sleeping bag.
There are steak sandwiches for breakfast and then we make our way to the north. In Rio Grande we refuel once more and then we press on - we have another 2 border crossings and 150 km of gravel to get over with.
Initially , everything works surprisingly well - we fly through both borders with the associated formalities even though there are long queues - it helps that this time all the paperwork is in good order and the customs control on fruit and vegetables on the Chilean side is rather superficial (we even import an illegal apple unnoticed). The drive is, however uncomfortable. The Patagonian wind blows us back and forth across the gravel road and 28 km in front of the goal for the day in a sleety rain, we have again a flat tire - this is getting annoying.
This time we have to pay for our campsite in Cerro Sombrero - but we can use microwave, shower and WiFi today, so we make use of it all and then get some dirty looks from one of the ladies at the reception for it - we don't give a monkeys though - we have payed after all.
At least from here the road is paved all the way to Punto Arenas and the most exciting thing to happen along the way is the ferry across the fjord, it's quite tempestuous. I am glad that I have to help Bill to keep his bike from falling over (they don't seem to have heard about securing vehicles by tying them down) because this way I have no time to look at me the wildly fluctuating horizon or I would have been seasick on the few hundred meters of a crossing.
My GPS gives us a campsite in the town, which is located in the small courtyard of the hostel Independencia - unfortunately it is full to the rafters.
Eduardo the manager of the hostel sends us to another campsite out of town but this one is locked up and then I remember that I have seen a public park about 20 km from the town on our way in with many tousled trees and covered seating areas. So we go back, look for a quiet spot and celebrate our farewell with Bill and Dawn. They have made an appointment with a tire dealer to have a set of new rubbers fitted in the morning and then they are going to head off again. Shame that , we had a lot of fun together and will greatly miss these two mad Brits (only rich UK citizens are eccentric) - if we are the Chaosteam, then they deserve the title: "Master of Disaster" and you can imagine that we had a whale of a time together.
Together we cook a nice last supper and collect wood for a campfire, to warm up on, have a few cups of Chilean red wine while Dawns phone acts as a jukebox.
After our party in the evening we sleep through all the alarm clocks in the morning and now our friends have to hurry in order to be on time for their appointment. We suggest that they leave their tent and we'll watch their stuff until they come back again, but now the GS will not start ..... I did warn everybody in the evening that the phone would empty the battery, but no one wanted to listen to me.
Our attempts to push-start the bike fail - a well, no worries -we have a jump-lead. There is only one problem: no one knows where the GS has it's battery and when we find it after a long search and with the help of the board manual it is in such a stupid place, that we need an eternity to get to it and then we have to disconnect it, take it out and connect it again, because otherwise we can not attach the jump-lead. When the GS finally runs the front tire is flat, so now we need to use our electricity-point to pump it up - aand now the two are too late for their appointment. Well what a performance! Still, the time comes to say our farewells and our two English friends ride off into the midday sun....., we settle down in the hostel Independencia or a few days because we have some important errands to take care of.
So we scour every tire dealer and 12 scrapyards in town for a new tire but no one stocks or even knows our tire size. In the end, we just have to have the punctured tire patched again - still better than nada ....
Apart from the tire business one finds everything a travelers heart desires in this town so at least we get some strong and windproof pegs for the tent and also camping gas for our new camping stove which although supposed to be multi-fuel only works on gas and even with that not really satisfactory ... a long story in itself and an ongoing battle with primus as they seem to think we are just too thick to work a stove and keep suggesting to clean the (new) part and watch their youtube online tutorial on how to use it properly ....after 2 months of writing to them we are getting sick of it but now we can't find a dealer anywhere to exchange to stupid thing for something in working order and our hope to do so in Punto Arenas is being crushed too. .
In the hostel we meet Christina again , a German who has taken early retirement, so she must be somewhere between 50 and 65.Heir age is extremely difficult to estimate because she has one of those ageless faces but she is definitely no spring chicken . About a year ago she got her bike license and now she has traveled South America for about half a year all on her own - with a tent and a monstrous BMW R 1200 GS.
For the first time we met her in Ushuaia, at the end of the world where a few gallant Latinos took pity on her and serviced her GS - Christina seemingly did not know that even motorcycles now and then need a top up with oil and other maintenance work might also be recommended. Anyway the caballeros would not let her go on before at least the oil level was up to normal and on the occasion a large service was done as well .... and now she is here too and also plenty of other long-term travelers, such as for example ..Stefan and Kerstin ... (finally a name I can remember). The two have also been on the road for a very long time traveling on a big motorcycle of German origin so we spend a few evenings together around the cozy kitchen table and swap travel stories. Once we even come to benefit from Eduardo's cocktail mixing talents and he makes Pisco Sour for us all - a drink that is typical Chilean in his view - in truth the delicacy comes originally from Peru. Well we don't discuss such trivialities we enjoy what's being offered and quite honestly we don't really care who invented it.
After a few days of socializing and sorting our affairs we head off for the famous Torres del Paine National Park which we now want to visit.
Admission is quite expensive by local standards, but applies for 3 days. Many visitors come to hike, but that is out of the question for us - the temperatures are poison for my bones and not just my back, but also my knees prohibit such extravagances. However, we rattle along pretty much all accessible tracks, and the views despite dark clouds in the skies are just like on the postcards. At the campsite we meet some cyclists who are traveling towards Ushuaia. These boys and girls deserve the greatest respect, for they have to contend not only with the corrugated gravel roads, flat tires and their luggage, but must also work only by means of their muscle strength against the persevering Patagonian wind which is usually not, blowing in the direction of travel.
We wake up to a flat rear tire again, but what appears at first glance like a drama (with once again being in the middle of nowhere) proves in the end to being no problem because our Brazilian neighbour actually has an electrical air pump and this combined, with our new tire repair kit makes for a very easy job - we even get a bottle of red wine as thank you from the Brazilians for helping us!?!
In Puerto Natales we enjoy a night in a hostel and thus a real bed and organize to stock up on dollars, because from here we'll again return to Argentina as we want to visit El Calafate and the famous Perito Moreno Glacier ....
South Americans seem to have a particular fondness for naming cities, streets, national parks and other places by their past presidents or celebrities, generals and saints. Not only this glacier carries the name of Perito Moreno, we passed at least one town with this name as well as streets and an estancia .... The main street in almost every town is named after Saint Martin, and then there was probably at sometime a General Colon! Every time I see a town or street sign with his name I have to laugh and think of my best friend Heino (I can hear him snigger too) in fact I suppose that at least 90% of people working in the healing professions will probably share the amusement as Colon is also the name of the last piece of the human digestive system and not a few of these places really are the colonic regions of the world ... ..
Well - El Calafate itself is typical mass tourist resort, with restaurants, tour operators, gift shops en masse, and of course lots of hotels, hostels, Cabanas - accommodation for every budget.
There is a nice surprise for us when we arrive in town, we are greeted by a familiar face: Peter! We have met him already in Puerto Madryn so we decide to settle on the campsite where he also has set up his tent.
We spend a pleasant evening with Peter, who tells us about his odyssey with his bicycle and public transport around the country and on this occasion we find out also out that he lives in Kreuztal - which means he is practically a neighbour at home.
Peter has organized himself a ride to the glacier the next day -the cost of a rental car for the day divided by 5 is cheaper than a bus ticket! We are glad that we can use our own transport, because the fuel costs for the 150 km round trip are a fraction of the bus ticket for just one of us.
Luckily St. Peter has processed my weather order just in time and after arriving soaking wet in El Calafate it also rained all night, but now glorious sunshine is blazing out of blue skies.
The glacier is amazing, the ice glitters in many different shades of blue, from almost white to dark azur. The arrow-shaped tip is pushing 2 meters per day into the Lago Argentino, the front of the glacier is 5km wide and the ice towers about 50 meters above and another 180 meters below the surface. Perito Moreno covers a total of 257 square kilometers and is one of the few glaciers in the world which is not on the decline, but still growing. The forward movement of the ice masses is unmistakably audible, you hear a constant crackle and thunderous bangs and groans and with a lot of noise pieces break off, falling into the turquoise lake to then drift on as an iceberg. Of course, I try to film this spectacle, but the camera is always pointed in the wrong direction. Surrounded by hundreds of tourists, we are stunned by this miracle of nature, feel small, insignificant and incredibly privileged to see this beauty.
Perito Moreno definitely joins our "best off list" of travel experiences on this journey, together with the underwater world of Komodo National Park, the temples of Cambodia, the North Vietnamese rice terraces, the nights under the stars of the Australian outback and the natural beauty of New Zealand ... ..
After an evening with Peter and international company around a typical Argentinian asado with Choripam (Argentinean sausage rolls) and Fernet-Coka (I am starting to believe the statement of an Argentinian who thinks that he and his fellow countrymen have saved Fernet Branca from bankruptcy) we hit the infamous Routa Quarenta (Route No. 40) which runs along the Argentinian Chilean border for more than 5,000 km from the south-western region of Rio Gallegos to Bolivia.
At one time this road was a secret favorite of adventure off-road enthusiasts, but now it's more the cult status which lures them along. Most of the Routa is covered in tarmac and there are only two sections left in the south, which are not yet paved ... and one of them we have now under our wheels. The scenery is beautiful with the towering snow-capped peaks of the Andes in the distance.
Under a looming dark sky we slither along the track that has been plowed by construction equipment and it's partly slippery as ice where the mud puddles are not yet fully dried.
The wind gives its best to live up to its reputation for this part of the world . We are fighting along and into the gusts and at some point we are just absolutely knackered. There is a sign for camping at the side of the road and as it is already quite late, we follow the lead to Estancia Angostura for about 3 km along a dirt track which is even more wet and bumpy than the national road and ends at a farm building. It's picturesque with horses, sheep and flamingos teetering around in the marshy fields or standing on one leg like a garden ornament.
The owner shows us quite offhandedly where and how we can set up our tent and when I ask if we could possibly cook in the empty main building as our camping stove has to fight hard against the wind she reacts quite surly and means then she would have to charge us more in that case - ah well, forget that ....
She disappears pretty fast in the house, because she has to cook for other guests and we put up our tent in the windshield of the thick hedge. While I struggle with the hopeless Primus stove and manage to conjure a warming vegetable soup Kev entertains another guest who's admiring our outfit. He and his girlfriend travel with a rental bike and they obviously do not have to skimp. Judging by the few bits of luggage they carry they stay in hotels and cabanas (which cost, according to the young man 150 USD per night here - gulp, and we thought our 200 pesos were expensive). After our dinner, we take a curious look into the main building. It consists of a dining area equipped with stylish heavy wooden furniture and traditional decorations of the agricultural variety and cabinets full of wine bottles (definitely not the cheap table wines which we sometimes afford). There is a huge fireplace, where you can have a proper sizzling asado for many people and a kitchen area.....
The glass entrance doors are covered in stickers, of all that has rank and name (Motorcycle Adventure Team, Edelweißtravel, Adventure Rider and what ever else their names might be).
As we pack the next morning, the landlady suddenly has turned to be the friendliness in person. She says that the young man has told her over supper about our adventures and now she offers us to stay as long as we want - but now we do not want to anymore.
The wind has taken a break - well, at some point everyone needs to take a breath and after another 30 km we're back on paved road. Only rarely we encounter another vehicle and apart from a few hick-ups with the idling switch everything for once runs like clockwork - we are however starting to get nervous, because we are on reserve since 100 kms.
Finally a settlement emerges - a hotel with 2 pumps at a dusty crossroads, a handful of shabby houses and an atmosphere like an old Charles Bronson Western - the song of death and a few vultures are missing in the stylish ambiance.
Both petrol pumps are paved with stickers of countless motorcycle travelers - you do not need much imagination to feel the dramas that entwine themselves around these pumps. If we have sweated blood and tears to get here with our 60 liters of tank volume what must it be like for the average enduro rider?
We treat ourselves to a rather tough steak sandwich which falls to bits as we are trying to bite off a piece until we have only a slice of shoe sole with salt and pepper on it in our hands. Hunger is the best chef they say ... it's the best customer too!
Shortly after us 2 other motorcyclists arrive - they are on the way to the south, and we dutifully warn them of the (petrol) dry highway, which lies in front of them, then we continue. There is more 2-wheel-traffic on the road here and we greet them all cheerfully and then suddenly the computer crashes, and I am not able to get it to restart again and now I have to navigate with the rough drawing of a map of a Patagonia travel book we've picked up somewhere - of course the places on the street signs are not mentioned in this guide, there is also no more sign for the Routa 40. The next night we spend on what was once the municipal campsite of Rio Mayo - the city itself does not look much better than the remains of the campsite, which even in its better days might not have been particularly appealing and I try now in peace and with all the tricks I know to get the computer up and running again - Unsuccessful! Oh God - since our arrival I made no back-up ...... I sincerely hope that we can find a computer shop somewhere which can get the part up and running again otherwise we are deep in organic fertilizer .... 2 months diary and all pictures of Chile and Argentina and the incredible places that we have visited are stored here and to loose the navigation program would be another shitter still!
Well, even though none of the small settlements in this area are called Colon - each looks like they could have this name.. The road is lined by high long fences and they are riddled with guanacos, a Patagonian Llama variety, in various stages of decomposition - shame about the beautiful animals.
Eventually signs for Bariloche emerge and now we finally know that we are going in the right direction.
The snowy peaks of the Andes come closer again, and then we are finally in the middle. The roads wind up and down and they are lined with a carpet of colorful wild lupines.
In El Bolson a beautiful little place, we can sadly only stay one night, because Christmas is looming and who knows when we come to a town again after Bariloche where we can find all kinds of shops and the repair of our computer really is a worry.
From El Bolson to Bariloche it is not far - 120 km approximately. We arrive around noon and visit to the tourist office first. The are really good here. I explain that we have to fix our computer and get a map with corresponding markings. However, at the moment it's Siesta time so we first head for the campsite and set up our tent. Then back into town to search for computer stores. We quickly get an offer of help - an Argentinian who has lived in Austria for a year and speaks pretty good German and takes care of us and leads us from one shop to the next until we finally end up with someone who appears knowledgeable and willing to look into the matter before Christmas. They promise me to be able to save our documents and pictures and maybe they can find and fix the cause of the crash too.
We need to extend our stay at the campsite on a daily basis over the next two days because every time we come to the computer place we are being put off for the next day until at last we have the verdict: the hard disk is gone. However, they can save all our data and are half confident that they can find a replacement hard drive for us and all should be solved before Christmas. The only problem, apart from the price is the fact that when we finally get our computer back on it only speaks Spanish with me and of course, we lack a lot of software now. The most important ones such as a writing program they install in the shop and also fortunately while we are still here I realize that the computer must be set to the German keyboard.(I would not have known how to fix that with a Spanish speaking computer by myself)
Then it goes back to the campsite, where I can finally communicate with the world and retrieve the mail the last few days ....
I find out that Bill and Dawn are also in Bariloche and so we decide to spend Christmas in a hostel in the city and to celebrate with our friends
Before we leave the campsite we make extensive use of the internet and even manage to call my parents in time for Christmas Eve.
The Christmas holiday with our two crazy English friends is both wet and extremely merry but unfortunately we have to bow to our budget and leave the two of them behind, and Patagonia is at this point officially ended.