Category Archives: Argentina

CGL 125 Mini-Motorcycle Diaries: Flight of the Guanacos

February 7th, 2014: I complete this latest post on my 30th birthday and mentally prepare myself for a new and exciting decade while attempting to ride my mini motorcycle from Patagonia all the way home to Seattle. ETA: July-August, 2014. Wish me luck, friends.

With the Carretera Austral behind us and back in Argentina, we ride east to the town of Perito Moreno and then south to Gobierno Gregores. The verdant green hills of Chilean Patagonia have turned to harsh plateaus, sandy hills and scrub as we once again cross the border into the barren rain shadow of the Andes range.

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Llama-like animals called “guanacos” peer at us curiously before bolting, levitating their slim forms gracefully over the fence that lines the route. You can see the power in a kangaroos jump, but the guanacos just float effortlessly over the barrier in high elegant leaps, like clouds drifting tranquilly over the arid plains. Every now and then a large carcass decomposes, legs still tangled in the lines of the fence. A terrible death, likely very slow and painful, unable to free themselves from the man-made structure invading their native land. I hold my breath as they pirouette over, praying for a safe landing.

In the next few days and several hundred kilometers, we battle extreme winds and gravel roads southwest towards El Chaltén. A wrong turn sends up southeast with a strong tailwind, blowing us in the opposite direction for a gloriously speedy 60km before realizing the mistake and turning around to fight the wind back. Every day is grueling in these conditions, but I enjoy every moment of it. Ruta 40 is more paved than we expected, but even so we rarely get above 65km/h with the brutal gusts blowing us all over both lanes. The headwinds are more bearable than the sidewinds, which crank our necks at an awful angle until our shoulders and backs burn with pain. We play with slip-streams and riding formations such as the “Mighty V” to help Kath’s bike battle the winds, which has lost some power recently.

We sometimes go 60km down a perfectly straight road and only see a handful of cars. Hitchhikers have become very scarce, unlike in Chilean Patagonia, and even bicyclists are few and far between. We ride slowly and cautiously, knowing help would be hours away if anything were to happen on the long stretches of desolate gravel roads.photo 2

100km from El Chaltén I meet Quentin, a young Frenchman alone on horseback in the bleak wilderness. He worked for three months on a farm in El Calafate in exchange for two horses, before setting off to traverse Argentina south to north. Before departing, a gaucho (an Argentine cowboy) gifted him a collie pup to keep him company.

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Two weeks before I met Joanna, a lovely curly blonde, blue-eyed and freckly Scottish girl alone on her bicycle, camping on the shores of a wild lake. Her mother had died the year before, leaving her a small inheritance. To honor her memory and adventurous spirit, Joanna set off to ride her bicycle from Canada to Ushuaia. Joanna tells me of a young German couple riding their bicycles from Alaska to Ushuaia with their baby in tow. I meet this lovely couple and their now 2.5 year old daughter at my camp just moments before sitting down to write this missive.

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It’s a reminder of the amazing adventures people are out having all over the world, and the possibility of experiencing things in such unique ways.

*More photos to come, as soon as the internet cooperates here in El Chalten.

CGL 125 Mini-Motorcycle Diaries: The Rains of Coyhaique

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Rain is coming down hard in Coyhaique. The rustic campground shelter with its huge hearth in the corner keeps us warm and dry. Water comes in rivulets down the chimney, but the fire is safely burning on the opposite side of the cinder block structure, spanning nearly three meters. We’ve passed the time cooking, reading and playing Poker with squares of chocolate.

Our camp is situated on a river down a steep switchback path only suitable for those on foot or on two wheels. We were all happy to have small bikes while navigating the terrain in the slick mud and boulders, winding our way down to this sheltered little meadow.

Rainy day construction on the property above caused a small boulder slide this morning, blocking our track and trapping us for some time in the rain. The worker at fault eventually meandered down with a Cat, weaving his way to clear us a path. He unceremoniously shoved the big stones aside, barely noticing our proximity and the small boulders bounding our way. I had visions of smashed motorcycles and legs as a tried to extricate myself and bike from their path.

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We’ve done over 300km of the legendary Carretera Austral, constructed a few decades ago by the infamous dictator Pinochet. After leaving El Bolsón we camped in Esquel before spending the rest of the next day traveling only 110km over rough Argentine gravel roads. We crossed the border into Chile at a small border station in the mountains, and were soon passing over dozens of bridges and bright blue rivers, including the well-known Futaleufu where (my) Tom spent a season working as a guide.photo 5 We wild camped on the edge of a lake, the best camping experience of the journey so far, and watched low clouds roll in over the water and mountains in the morning.

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Our second night back in Chile was spent in Puyuhuapi at the 90 year old Puyuhuapi hotel, also known as The Termite Mansion. Lethargic or dead little ‘mites littered the old house. The plumbing in Kath and Rob’s room leaked and made a pool at the reception desk floor, bedroom keys didn’t always work, pipes squealed, the water was usually freezing, and towels had to be examined for cleanliness. photo 2Regardless, the enormous five story house with sweeping staircase, big fireplace and wild ‘garden’ overlooking an ocean inlet was absolutely charming. I can hear Tom’s stepdad Pete asking how a place dubbed “Termite Mansion” and the word “charming” go in the same description… The brand new proprietors, just two weeks into their ownership, had vision and plans, enthusiastically describing all the changes to come while apologizing profusely for the termites, dirty towels and impromptu swimming pool.

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Yesterday we rode 230km from Puyuhuapi to Coyhaique, 160km of which was unpaved. The views reached their zenith as we took steep rutted switchbacks up the mountains to peaks, glaciers and waterfalls, stopping for photographs and breaths of fresh mountain air.photo 2

We’ll spend two nights here to get our 2nd free motorcycle service, then head further south along the Carretera towards Rio Tranquilo to see the marble caves before crossing the Andes back into Argentina.

CGL 125 Mini Motorcycle Diaries: La Patria de mi madre

 

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The Mini-Motorcycle Diaries continue in Argentina, my mother’s homeland. After two nights in Puerto Montt trying to arrange a ferry for a roadless section of Chilean Patagonia, we decided not to wait and backtracked 100km north to Osorno, and then east a 100km to the Argentine border. The ferries were few and far between, and I was eager to get to Argentina. Having heard the border generally takes 3 hours, we camped at a National Park (for an outrageous $42/site) before making a break for the border the next morning. The crossing was smoother than expected, and within an hour we were cruising through the Paso Internacional Cardenal Antonio Samore Andean pass, making our way to Bariloche. The forests turned from lush green to stark white and brown, evidence of fire. The ground was covered in tiny jagged grey pebbles that looked a lot like ash, maybe from the surrounding volcanoes. The clouds threatened rain as horses and cattle roamed the range, calves and foals in tow.

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We spent one night in Bariloche gawking at the chocolate shops while navigating South American road rules. We had no Argentine pesos yet, so were sent to the back room of a souvenir shop to a Black Market money exchanger who gave us 10 pesos for every 1USD, 4 pesos higher than the government exchange rate of 6 pesos! How and why this system works I have no idea and am trying to find out, but I imagine it is unsustainable and bad for Argentine. One night in Bariloche was enough, and the next morning found us flying south on the famous Ruta 40 with a strong tailwind.

In El Bolsón we were graciously hosted by Roberto, a friend of my mother’s from high school. Although they haven’t seen each other in 40 years, he welcomed us like old friends and made us feel at home in a guest apartment opening onto his fruit filled patio. After two full days of hunkering down from the rain, the clouds parted and we were treated to a panorama of jagged peaks and snow covered mountains as if saying bienvenidos a la Patagonia. From the top of a hill we could see the whole valley and small town running south-north, covered in green forest. A group of youthful Argentines played the guitar while hiking, rejoicing in the change of weather.

The three sister Marias: Maria Katalina, Maria Jesus and Maria Luisa
The three sister Marias: Maria Katalina, Maria Jesus and Maria Luisa

El Bolsón is my favorite town so far, with a lively artistic and hippie vibe. The weekly market bustles with stalls selling all variety of artisan goods from homemade cakes and savory pies to jewelry, clothing, healing balms and blow dart guns. Stray dogs roam between feet scouring the ground for crumbs. We saw a man let in 8 stray dogs into his house, and another man pushing a cart with a herd of 10 at his heels and wheels.

We’ll be re-crossing the Andes again soon via the famous Futaleufu river and meeting up with our intended route: The Carretera Austral!!