Day 221 – Torres del Paine, Chile to Rio Gallegos, Argentina

Day 221 – Torres del Paine, Chile to Rio Gallegos, Argentina     03/30/11      Mileage: 223

It rained hard all night and into the morning, but around 9am it let up to a light drizzle so I quickly broke camp and packed up the bike.

Even in the light drizzle I was cold and wet by the time I finished packing so I rolled over to the Hotel las Torres to warm up and dry off a bit before hitting the road. Again it started pouring though…and even the roof in the lounge where I was sitting sprung a leak.

Finally around 11:30 the rain stopped and I made a run for the Argentina border. The road was loose gravel and again the wind was hounding me…pushing my bike around at will.

I stopped at a little cafe in Cerro Castillo for a quick bite and to soak up some heat from the wood stove before crossing back into Argentina. The border crossing was fast and straightforward…which seems to be the case for all of the small border posts I’ve crossed….the bigger ones are almost always more trouble and slower.

This German Shepard was the Argentina border post’s mascot…he was adorable…

Back on the road I rolled into Esparanza for gas and to ask the locals about which route to take to the Argentina coast and Ruta 3…the shorter but all dirt road or the longer but paved road. They unanimously said the paved road back towards Rio Gallegos…which I had passed through on the way to Ushuaia. So that settled I rolled down the road and pulled into Rio Gallegos early enough to run some errands to the market and to the bank. I also had to get 3 quarts of oil so I can do an oil change first chance I get.

Do you think you could find anything in this auto parts store? Yeah, I couldn’t either!  LOL

Tomorrow it’s back on the throttle north up the notoriously windy Ruta 3…

Day 220 – Torres del Paine, Chile

Day 220 – Torres del Paine, Chile      03/29/11       Mileage: 0

It poured almost the entire night, but around 8:30 the sun poked out from behind the clouds while I made breakfast.

Then there was a sudden shift in the wind and within minutes the weather had turned cold and a driving rain began to fall. I retreated back into my tent and listened to the rain pound on rain fly. It didn’t let up so I caught up on my guide book reading and waited for a good window to break camp. Well, that window never came and it continued to pour into the afternoon. In the mountains near camp I could see the snow line had come down considerably from yesterday and was only maybe 200-300 vertical feet where I was.

 There was a hiking refugio a short distance away so I made the dash over there to continue waiting out the rain. I brought my laptop to plan out some GPS routes for the road north and sort through my pictures. It was apparent though that I was going to be here another night as even if the rain stopped it was now too late in the day to get any distance. Such is life…and there are worse places to be waiting out the weather…that’s for sure. Hopefully the weather breaks so I can get back on the road tomorrow…

Day 219 – Puerto Natales to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile

Day 219 – Puerto Natales to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile      03/28/11      Mileage: 112

After packing the bike I hit the grocery store for some provisions as I plan on camping in the Torres del Paine if the weather cooperates.

Puerto Natales…

That done I headed north out of town and the road ran along the water providing amazing scenery.

Soon it turned to dirt as it began to wind it’s way up a picturesque valley. It was hard to pay attention to riding with the amazing scenery, but the wind was gusting hard in spots which certainly got my attention back on keeping the bike upright and on the loose gravel road.

Farther up the valley, I came around a corner and there were the Torres del Paine in all their grandeur. It was the same sense of awe that I got back when I was riding with my friend Paul in Wyoming the first time we crested a hill and saw the Grand Tetons…the sight of them just stops you dead in your tracks.

….and a close-up.

Continuing on into the park I rode around the south side of the Torres (Towers) and stopped in many spots to enjoy the view.

 I made my way over to the east side of the park and found a campsite with the Torres towering overhead.

The famous torres (towers) of the Torres del Paine….

Hotel las Torres….way out of my budget….my sweet digs are below…

Tomorrow I hope the weather continues to be as good as it was today…

Day 218 – Rio Grande, Argentina to Puerto Natales, Chile

Day 218 – Rio Grande, Argentina to Puerto Natales, Chile      03/27/11      Mileage: 348

It was below freezing overnight and there was a lot of frost on the bike cover this morning. Last night Collin and Derek rolled into the hostal unexpectedly after having suffered yet another flat! They had hoped to get much farther but had to hold up in Rio Grande because of all the time it took to fix the flats.

In addition to the 3 KLR’s, there were two local Argentinians on an Africa Twin and a KTM 990A at the hostal tha night…

Well, the upside is we got to chat more and we also road together this morning until parting ways.

It’s a KLR covention…above at the Argentina border and waiting for the ferry to cross the Straits of Magellan below…

They were heading due north for Rio Gallegos and I was turning west to Puerto Natales and the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. The wind was strong but manageable in the morning but got brutal in the afternoon. At least by then the road was paved so it was more frustrating than dangerous.

The strong westerly wind also severely cut into my mileage…and I ran both my main and reserve tanks dry 23 miles short of my planned fuel stop. Luckily I carry two extra gallons strapped to my passenger footpegs for just such an occasion. All gassed up I continued pushing ahead into the wind all the way to Puerto Natales where I got a room for the night. The hostal had a dodgy vibe, but the price was right at $10. Tomorrow it’s off to the Torres del Paine…which will be amazing to see if the weather cooperates…

Day 214 – Rio Gallegos to Rio Grande, Argentina

Day 214 – Rio Gallegos to Rio Grande, Argentina      03/23/11      Mileage: 248

I worked on the blog over breakfast and then went out to the auto parts store to be there when they opened at 9. They had the bulb in stock and I also got more electrical tape for the short in the tail light wiring. Back at the hotel I spent the next hour putting humpty dumpty back together…then packed the bike and split. With the late start, it was doubtful that I’d make it to Ushuaia given that there are two border crossings (out of Argentina into Chile and back to Argentina) and a ferry in between. The first police checkpoint I was stopped and asked to go in the building with my passport. I’ve been through dozens of checkpoints and have always been either waved through or asked 1 or 2 questions and sent on my way…so I’m not sure why this guy had a burr in his ass. Anyway, it didn’t take too long but it set the tone for the day. At the Argentina side of the border the immigration officer went to take a shit for 20 minutes as soon as I walked up with my passport. fortunately it took 30 seconds to cancel my bike import permit..usually it’s the other way around. Anyway, once done it was on to the Chile side were I arrived just after a bus. Super…more waiting. All that done I was off to the ferry across the Straits of Magellan.

I arrived and was told the next ferry would be here in 20 minutes, and sure enough you could see it making it’s way here. When the blue ferry arrived, some trucks got off…then some trucks got on…then the ramp went up and it buggered off leaving me and 5 other cars waiting there wondering what just happened?

Nobody seemed to know why as there was still plenty of room. WTF? So we sat there for another hour and eventually another red ferry showed up, but after they let everyone off, the didn’t start boarding for almost 40 minutes for what looked like some inspection or something.

Once loaded we set sail across the straits to the island of Tierra del Fuego, which took about 20 minutes.

Strapped in for the short but choppy ride across the Straits of Magellan…

Back on dry land I hit the gas still hoping to make it to Ushuaia, but that hope evaporated at the next border as soon as I saw the line waiting at the Chile immigration. It took 45 minutes to get my exit stamp…something that usually takes 30 seconds(unless the officer goes to take a dump of course). So after exiting Chile and reentering Argentina, I stopped in Rio Grande to look for a room and some dinner. Tomorrow, it’s on to Ushuaia for sure!

Day 211 – Paso Roballas, Chile to La Herreria, Argentina

Day 211 – Paso Roballas, Chile to La Herreria, Argentina      03/20/11      Mileage: 237

With dawn came a great sunrise which I lingered to enjoy before breaking camp and getting back on the road.

The scenery was great and I had the road, little more than a rocky two-track, to myself.

In two hours I was at the Chile border outpost where the officer had me and the bike processed out in 10 minutes.

Quite a nice setting to work for the Chile border officials….

 A few kilometers later I arrived at the Argentina border post and was processed in almost as quickly. Crossing between these two countries, even with the bike, is completely free and aside from the formalities pretty easy.

Continuing on the mountains gave way to more of a desert landscape but it was still enjoyable to ride through.

Soon I arrived back at the famous Ruta 40 where I hung a right and continued heading south. The landscape was now more open and without the protection of the mountains the strong westerly winds were free to hound me at will…easily moving the bike 2-3 feet sideways on the loose gravel. With nightfall rapidly approaching I began to look for a good spot to bush camp…which I found about a 1/2 mile down a rutted 2 track.

Tuna wrap…which I washed down with hot chocolate and whiskey….good eats!

I found a nice spot for the tent, once I kicked the dried cow shit out of the way, and I was once again treated to great sunset.

Another great day on the road south….

Day 210 – Coyhaique to Paso Raballos, Chile

Day 210 – Coyhaique to Paso Raballos, Chile      03/19/11       Mileage: 214

It absolutely poured all night, so much so that it woke me up several times which almost never happens. Around 9:30 the rain let up, so I packed the bike and continued south on the Carretera Austral.

Aside from a few rain squalls, the weather steadily improved as I rolled south and eventually gave way to sunny skies with just enough clouds to make for good pictures….I hit the jackpot! It seems my waiting a day was the right move after all, and I was basking in the warmth of the sun and glad to not be drenched in the cold driving rain again.

The scenery went from great to unbelievable as I rode along the aquamarine waters of Lago General Carrera, the largest lake in Chile. This is what I came here for, and I would have disappointed to miss out had the mountains been obscured by the rain and clouds.

This one day made it all worth it. Late in the afternoon I stopped and setup camp on a small bluff and enjoyed an amazing Patagonia sunset…a fitting end to a memorable day of riding on the Carretera Austral.

Tomorrow it’s back into Argentina and onto the famous Ruta 40…

Day 209 – Coyhaique, CL

Day 209 – Coyhaique, CL      03/18/11      Mileage: 0

Kyosti and Joachim had decided to take a more direct route back to Argentina, while I chose to continue farther down the Carretera Austral before crossing back over to Argentina. They wanted to get an early start and I wanted to use the wifi for a bit, so we said goodbye and they were off.

It was great riding with them for the last 3 days…we shared a lot of good stories and laughs and I’ll miss their company. I went to work on the blog, but before long I could hear the unmistakable sound of rain on the roof of the hostal. Crap. Given the weather and that the blog was still over a week behind, I decided to stay one more night to get caught up….and hopefully the weather will be better tomorrow morning…

Day 208 – La Junta, CL to Coyhaique, CL

Day 208 – La Junta, CL to Coyhaique, CL      03/17/11      Mileage: 166

The hostal barely had heat so none of our gear was really dry. We certainly weren’t going to stay, so we packed the bikes and grabbed a quick breakfast of yogurt and fruit on the way out of town.

Part of the road that ran along a fjord was under construction, so they had a ferry take you around the construction zone…nice!

The rain was coming down but it would occasionally stop to lift your spirits even if only for a moment…and a picture.

The last 40 miles to Coyhaique were in a downpour the tropics would be proud of, so we decided to seek out a hostal (with heat) to dry out our gear and regroup. The rain ended late in the afternoon as we wandered out for dinner. Hopefully tomorrow will bring better weather so we can enjoy riding what is surly one of the most spectacular roads in the world.

Day 207 – Futaleufu, CL to La Junta, CL

Day 207 – Futaleufu, CL to La Junta, CL      03/16/11      Mileage: 237

It was raining on and off in the morning and it didn’t look like it was going to stop. We had breakfast and waited for it to let up, then packed the bikes and headed west for the Carretera Austral…a remote, mostly dirt road connecting the towns in the far south of Chile in Patagonia.

The quaint if not so bustling town of Futaleufu…

The scenery, when we were able to see it through the driving rain and low clouds, was spectacular. Some of the rivers were a turquoise blue that I just could not capture with my camera.

You can actually see the rain coming down in these pictures…

We pressed on through the rain and cold but eventually cried uncle and sought refuge in a small rustic coffee house on the Austral. We were chilled to the bone and drowned like rats, and thankful to be out of the weather. The owner stoked up the wood stove and made some hot tea and coffee while we listened to the rain pounding on the metal roof.

We tried to dry our gloves by the fire as our hands were suffering the worst from the cold.

Fresh steaming gloves hot off the stove….

We sat down and laughed at ourselves and thought at moments like this…why can’t we be like normal people and go vacation in the Caribbean and sit on the warm beach…washing down conch fritters with fruity rum drinks. Well, that was a good laugh but it was only a temporary relief from the misery ahead, as the rain if anything was only getting worse. So we thanked our host for her hospitality (and heat) and we put our gear back on and went back out to finish what we started. The owner gave us the name of a friend in La Junta that ran a hostal, so that was now our goal. Needless to say I did not stop to take many (and by that I mean any) pictures, partly because the scenery was largely shrouded in rain, fog and clouds, but mainly because I couldn’t be bothered with stopping to take the 10 minutes it would take me to get my soaking wet numb hands in and out of my drenched riding gloves to work the camera. We finally arrived in La Junta and ended the misery when we found the hostal.

The owner turned out to be bat shit crazy, and we would have told her to shove it and left were it not such a pain in the ass to re-pack the bikes. Over dinner we had some laughs (mostly at her expense) and shared stories from the road, the craziest of which I’ll summarize here. Back in Quito, Ecuador… 5 men armed with guns and knives broke into the apartment where they were staying, held them at gunpoint, made them get down on the floor and tied their hands behind their back…then robbed them. HOLY SHIT is all I had to say…in addition to they are lucky to live to tell the story…

Day 206 – San Carlos de Bariloche, AR to Futaleufu, CL

Day 206 – San Carlos de Bariloche, AR to Futaleufu, CL      03/15/11       Mileage: 237

After running some last minute errands, I packed the bike and pointed the KLR south out of town. The scenery was epic, the weather was fantastic and all was right with the world.

I stopped for lunch in the small town of El Bolson which had a nice vibe and a great setting below the towering nearby mountains.

 Even the gas station in El Bolson had a nice view…

A month ago I would have stayed just to have a better look, but I need to keep pushing south if I’m going to beat winter to Ushuaia. On the far side of El Bolson I caught up to 2 other riders and we pulled over to chat. Kyosti and Joachim are a father and son team from Denmark and have been on the road since August and also started in NY! We were heading the same direction so we saddled up and hit the road together.

We stopped for gas in Esquel and then continued to the Chile border, passing more amazing scenery along the way.

Crossing the border back into Chile…

We found a nice little hostal for the night in the tiny town of Futaleufu just over the border and then wandered out for dinner. There were only 2 restaurants open so we chose the one that had a pretty extensive menu. We sat down and began looking at the menu and noticed X’s next to many of the items on the menu. We asked the waitress if the X’s indicated that they did or did not have that item as it was not clear…and neither was her answer. So I order lasagna, which did not have an X, but the waitress said, “no hay”…which means they don’t have it. Next I tried ordering a burger, which did have an X next to it…but she said, “no hay”. Joachim and Kyosti tried ordering as well with similar results. I asked if she could just tell me what she DID have and we’ll choose from that. So, she went to the kitchen and returned 10 minutes later and said they have lomo (meat) with potatoes or soup. I asked what kind of soup, but she didn’t know and once again returned to the Kitchen to find out. Tomato soup, perfect…I’ll take it. Joachim and Kyosti went for the lomo and we added a round of beer to the order. 15 minutes later she returned and said, no hay lomo. We started laughing hysterically…and they amended their order to tomato soup as well.

Our “no hay” dinner….

So, with a menu of at least 50 items on it, it came down to they had tomato soup, bread and beer….which was fine with us and we got a good laugh out of it as well. Such is life in the remote area’s of Patagonia…

Day 198 – Valle Nevado, CL to Uspallata, AR

Day 198 – Valle Nevado, CL to Uspallata, AR       03/07/11       Mileage: 221

I made some coffee and walked out a bit further on the outcropping just in time to catch the sunrise over the high peaks of the Andes.

Some wild horses were nearby as well…

I lingered a bit to take it all in, then packed up and continued up to the Valle Nevado ski are to have a look. As a die-hard skier, I’ve always wanted to ski in South America in Chile and Argentina, so even though it’s not ski season I’m still drawn here like a spanning salmon.

The resort sites on a knife ridge with spectacular views in every direction…and it’s only an hour ride from Santiago…pretty cool.

I also swung by La Parva on the way back down to Santiago.

Back in Santiago I went to draw out more pesos but three different ATM’s said there was a problem with my card…damn! So I stopped into a Starbucks and used the wifi to call my bank, and they said my card was disabled because a merchant I bought something from(they couldn’t say which one) back in the states got hacked, so they disabled every credit and debit card ever used at that merchant. I know that’s for my own protection, but what a pain in the ass for me. I only had around $8 in pesos left which wasn’t going to last long…Chile is as expensive as the US. The banks were already closed, I couldn’t change any of my US dollars….so I decided to use my remaining pesos to buy gas and head for the border into Argentina….country number 16. It took about 90 minutes to get there and the road climbed up a scenic mountain pass past the ski area of Portillo.

Now that is a twisty road!

The immigration and customs for Chile and Argentina were both in a combined building in Argentina…..brilliant! When you pulled up, you gave your passport to the Chile official who stamps you out, then they slide it over to the Argentina official sitting right next to them, who stamps you in…20 seconds tops! Same for the customs, an official from each country sits right next to each other, so they processed the bike in and out at the same time. There were no money changers at the border, so I continued down the valley to the town of Uspallata….a cool little place that seems to be a base for trekking, rafting and other outdoor activities.

 The bank was already closed, so I tried to change money at 2 pharmacies, a gas station, 2 restaurants, a market and the casino…and nobody would change or accept US dollars. Next I went into a hotel and they said no as well, but I pleaded my case. They said it was illegal to change anything other than Chilean pesos, which I had none of either, but in the end they helped me out and changed $100. I thanked them for breaking the law and now I had money for gas a food. It was already dark by this point, but I rolled south in search of a stealthy place to camp. The road was pinched between cliffs and a river so finding a spot to camp proved difficult, but I did muscle the bike down onto a small embankment about 30 yards from the road by the river. I’d like to be farther from the road, but at least I was well hidden given the pitch black darkness. I had a quick bite to eat and then crashed.

Day 197 – Valparaiso, CL to Valle Nevado, CL

Day 197 – Valparaiso, CL to Valle Nevado, CL      03/06/11      Mileage: 111

I’m a beer man for sure, but I like wine as well so while in one of the wine regions of Chile, might as well sample the goods! I packed up and left Valparaiso feeling like I had missed out, but I’ve got to get south and I can’t do everything….maybe I’ll catch it again on the way back north. It was a short hop over the coastal mountains to the Casablanca Valley to the Casas del Bosque vineyard.

It was a nice place and I signed up for a tour and tasting. The tour was brief but informative but the tasting was the highlight for sure (of course?).

This is their aging room….they were even playing classical music to entertain the wine…

They brought me and the two other guys on the tour into their tasting room which is really nice….in fact way too nice for a smelly biker. But, they let me in anyway and I sampled the goods, including their most expensive wine, the Private Reserve Gran Bosque.

So after my high zoot wine tour, it was back on the bike heading for the mountains to check out Valle Nevado and the other ski areas near Santiago. The road snaked its way from downtown Santiago up a picturesque canyon before turning into countless switchbacks.

Slicing through downtown Santiago…

Ahhh…home sweet home back in the mountains…

Nightfall was coming fast so I decided to camp up here in the mountains. A few miles from Valle Nevado I saw a rutted track heading out towards an outcropping and decided to have a look.

I couldn’t decide which sunset picture I liked best, so I put them all up and let you pick the one you like best…

It turned out to be an idyllic spot complete with another amazing Chilean sunset. I’m one lucky bastard for sure….

Day 196 – Chanalan, CL to Valpariso, CL

Day 196 – Chanalan, CL to Valpariso, CL      02/05/11       Mileage: 571

Alex had some things to do this morning so I hit the road south solo. I was on the gas to make miles and the weather and road were both working with me for a change. The road ran along the coast in a few spots and it could easily pass for the Pacific Coast Highway in California.

I’m still carrying the blue gallon jugs for gas that I bought from the little old lady in Bolivia…..the best 80 cents I ever spent.

Nightfall began to catch me as I turned off the Pan American for Valparaiso. The small road I was on ran along the coast and by what surely must be the Malibu of Chile with spectacular houses perched above the South Pacific.

I also caught a spectacular sunset before pulling into Valparaiso. I found a room and crashed soon after, worn out from the long day in the saddle…life is good…

Day 195 – San Pedro de Atacama, CL to Chanalan, CL

Day 195 – San Pedro de Atacama, CL to Chanalan, CL      03/04/11      Mileage: 455

Marshall and I were up relatively early to work on the bikes and Megan cooked a nice breakfast for us. I’m going to miss all of their home cooking, as our time together was almost over. They were heading back over the pass to Argentina and I was going to cross the Atacama Desert and bomb down the Chilean coast as time is running short to make it to Ushuaia before winter. Our last mile together was to the gas station in San Pedro where we parted ways.

Adios mi amigos, buen viaje…

As much as I enjoy going solo, traveling with them has been great and will miss their company immensely. So just like that I was on my own again and rolling south. Instead of taking the paved route up to Calama and then south, I decided to put my still fresh knobby tires to use and chose to cut straight across the Atacama Desert on the dirt.

When I tell you that I didn’t pass a single car or truck, I mean not even 1 for a hundred miles until I hit the pavement again.

Crossing the Tropic of Capicorn….   I crossed the Tropic of Cancer way back in Baja Mexico…almost 5 months ago.

Continuing south on the Pan American my next stop was the Mano del Desierto…and who should I see when I pull up…none other than Alex and his KLR! That would be the third time I’ve bumped into him in as many countries….first in Ollantaytambo back in Peru, then in the middle of the Bolivian Altiplano and now in northern Chile…crazy!

Alex, his KLR and the big mano…

After the photos with the Hand of the Desert, we rolled south down the Pan Am. The Atacama Desert of northern Chile is desolate…so desolate it makes the Altiplano seem like Ho Ho Kus (yes, that is a town in northern NJ!) They only thing that makes it not feel as remote is the well traveled paved road across it. There are also not many gas stations and we made the mistake of passing one by and I had to use the two spare gallons I was carrying…one for Alex and one for me. Luckily it was enough to carry us to Chanalan where we split a room and scored some Chinese food.

The Chinese restaurant had Bud, and I couldn’t pass up a little slice Americana…

Tomorrow it’s more super slab down the Pan Am to Valpariso…

Day 194 – San Pedro de Atacama, CL

Day 194 – San Pedro de Atacama, CL      03/03/11      Mileage: 0

Today was a work day, and after breakfast I spent almost all day sorting through pictures, writing and working on the blog. Tomorrow it’s back on the road south….

Megan and Marshall made a nice breakfast and we were joined by a nice guy from Austria…

San Pedro lives in the shadow of Volcano Licancabur…

Day 193 – Laguna Colorado, BO to San Pedro de Atacama, CL

Day 193 – Laguna Colorado, BO to San Pedro de Atacama, CL      03/02/11      Mileage: 90

It was a spectacular morning and the sun was warming the air fast. We broke camp after a good breakfast and headed south for Chile border.

Two vicuna’s roaming the Altiplano

Along the way we passed the hot springs near Laguna Chalviri…can’t pass that up! We parked the bikes, jumped into our swim trunks and found a great rustic natural pool for nice hot soak.

The cold air made it hard to get out of the water, but the road south to Chile beckons.

The high lakes of the Altiplano have of all things….lots of Flamingo’s….

Shortly after passing Laguna Verde, we came to the Bolivian border post. The official stamped us out but told us the aduana office was 20 kilometers back….crap! Luckily he was an agreeable (but grumpy) chap, and he agreed to take our import permits back to the aduana the next morning for us saving us the trip back.

That done, it was on to Chile…country number 15!

We were heading for San Pedro de Atacama where the Chile border post was located…some 40 minutes or so down pavement so smooth you could play pool on it. Megan seemed particularly thrilled at the sight of pavement…and it was nice change from mud and sand.

So after plunging 7,000 feet to the valley below, we arrived at the dusty town of San Pedro, smack in the middle of the Atacama desert…the driest on earth. The border formalities were straight forward and took about an hour…but they seemed particularly concerned about foreign fruit and vegetables. They didn’t ask about drugs, guns, alcohol or the dynamite I picked up in Potosi…but they rifled through all of our stuff in search any rogue lettuce or rhubarb…strange. Anyway, we found a room and promptly went in search of dinner and the requisite drinks to toast our successful crossing of the Bolivian Altiplano…a fitting way to end some memorable and epic riding.