Tag Archives: Argentina

ADVrider Mini-Motorcycle Diaries: It’s not all fun and games

 

Hmm, does that look right to you??
Hmm, does that look right to you??

I’m 14,500km in, and it’s been a hell of a trip. But it hasn’t all been fun and games. We’ve spent numerous nights camped on the side of roads, dirty and grimy and in dust pits with the sound of semi trucks jerking us into wakefulness throughout the night. We’ve been cold and wet, hungry and exhausted, and run off the road by awful drivers. We’ve been stranded in the desert 100km from anywhere, with our first flat tire and the wrong tools. We’ve been chased by packs of savage dogs, and experienced god awful food poisoning.

But worst of all, we’ve discovered the phenomenon that is the Argentine municipal campground. We’ve learned that as far as Argentina goes, if it’s a free campground anywhere near a town, we’d rather sleep in a ditch.

One evening shortly after leaving Mendoza, after a long and tiring but beautiful ride with strong winds, we found ourselves at a municipal campground near the town of Jachal, north of San Juan. It was dusty, but shady and tree lined, relatively quiet, and free. One family had a speaker blasting the same monotonous beat we’ve been hearing since arriving in the more rural parts of Chile and Argentina, so we went clear to the opposite side of the long grounds, far away from the bathrooms, fireplaces, barbeques and anything else others might be attracted to, and set up camp near a rural little dirt road.

Just as we were dozing off, it seemed that everyone and their mom came out to the campground. From cars, motorcycles, screaming de-mufflered scooters, pedestrians, bicycles and even dogs came flying, singing, stomping, tromping, running and sniffing by our tent and “quiet” little dirt road. It was a weekend night and the kids were out to party. With blasting music, honking horns and lots of yelling. All night long. ALL NIGHT LONG! They went back and forth doing “mainies” down the dirt while we tossed and turned, pondering whether or not to put earplugs in. It would possibly help us sleep (or at least quell the rage we were feeling) but it also meant we wouldn’t be as aware of our surroundings, a real safety risk. We dozed fitfully between honks, and Tom finally put in his earplugs. The party continued until 11am (yes, as in, THE NEXT MORNING!!), and we vowed to be more careful with our choice of campground.

Shortly after, outside the town of Chilecito on Ruta 40, we took a deserted dirt road down to a dam where we saw signs for a municipal campground (not realizing the trend just yet). We were happy to find it totally deserted, but just in case, we set up camp at the very end. We were excited at the prospect of a quiet, noiseless night, on a continent where noise seems to rule all- from car horns to bomp bomp bomp music, to blasting tv and late night partying- the noise is everywhere, like a zombie horde you can’t outrun. But here, on a Thursday night, nothing would bother us.

So it came as a bit of an unreal shock that at 11pm, just as we turned off our headlamps and settled into our sleeping bags for a wonderfully peaceful night in the countryside, a car rolled down the dirt bomp bomp bomp-ing. Tom was wide awake again and said, “You have got to be kidding me. What’s wrong with these people?!” I thought the comment insensitive and told him so. This was, after all, their area, and they were fairly far away (for Latin American standards, that is, who have a different idea of ‘personal space’). An hour later, many more cars had come and gone, and come again. A distinctly separate group rolled up and decided that out of all the empty camp sites in the area, they would set up their speakers 12 feet from our tent, and start partying at the table just next to ours. I apologized to Tom for telling him the comment was insensitive, unzipped the tent, and made up a story about being sick, and could they please move the party a few camp sites away- por favor. They half drudgingly obliged, and we tried going back to sleep.

15 loud minutes go by, and we hear clapping coming from just a few feet from our tent. I had recently learned that in this part of the world, if you walk into a store and don’t see an attendant, you clap a few times instead of saying “hola?”. Tom shouted something to whoever was clapping, and they responded with, “Do you guys have a cup I could use?” I shout back, “WE ARE SLEEPING!”. But it was the straw that broke the camels back, and at 1:15am, we packed up all our gear, got back on Ruta 40 on a moon lit night, and rode another hour through mountains and gullys before finding a (this time actually deserted)  dirt road to camp on. The only sounds we heard were a few horses snuffling and stomping around our tent and wandering off.

Welcome to the land of the perpetual beat. Even as I write this, on a Thursday night, the bomp bomp bomp of the local disco can be heard…

CGL 125 Mini-Motorcycle Diaries: 16,000 feet up, an Andean adventure

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The water rushed by cold and fast, and like a dog that’s scared of swimming, I padded back and forth at the river’s edge, waiting for the courage to make the plunge and swim for it. Or in this case, ride my tiny motorcycle to the other side. When I set out to do this part of Ruta 40 in the arid northwestern corner of Argentina, I didn’t expect to find myself fording rivers. But here I was, and it was time to take the plunge. This was not a hot summer day, but a fall afternoon ride that would take us 175km to biting air up 16,000 feet in the Andes range. With wet gear. Tom, standing in the river to find the best route, gave me the thumbs up and indicated like one of those guys in neon vests and light sabers on airport runways. I opened the throttle and bombed into the river, excited at the depth and chill of the icy current. Keeping my eyes up (and well away from that little rapid and drop off just a few feet away), I gunned it across and found myself emerging on the other bank unscathed. We would do this half a dozen more times by the end of the afternoon.

The ride was slow and hard going. I felt like Fred Flintstones peddling my little Honda up the side of the biggest mountains I’ve ever traveled over. Even well before approaching the summit at 16,000 feet, I was as out of breathe as my bike. I knocked her into 1st gear and slowly, slowly jerked forward until I reached flatter ground. Flat ground quickly turned vertical and I spent the next couple of hours fiddling with the fuel intake and coaxing the girl up and around hairpin turns and narrow switchbacks along cliff edges until at last, staggering to the top and frozen through, we snapped a few hasty pictures and hurried towards the decent in the dying light of day. Of the 175km of dirt road we would ride that day between Cachi and San Antonio de Cobres, we still had another 50km before reaching civilization. The last thing I wanted was to be caught having to camp in the cold alpine altiplano with damp gear and plain noodles for dinner.

By evening, we had only seen one other vehicle, two shepherds, a handful of inquisitive chinchillas and a few hundred startled llamas, their long puckered faces turned towards us and ears perked up high. By nightfall, we were following a dusty road when my headlight fizzled out, just before rounding the bend to the lights of a dusty town in the valley below.

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(We ignored that sign)

 

It was the most beautiful and desolate ride of these last 12,000km through Chile and Argentina, and even though I write this just a few days later, it feels like it could have been weeks ago. The density of experiences each day pushes even recent adventures far back in memory, but certainly not to be forgotten.

 

CGL 125 Mini-Motorcycle Diaries: El Glaciar Perito Moreno

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Walking down the trail to the world’s most famous glacier, I thought I knew what to expect. I’d seen glaciers in Iceland, as well as in the Cascade mountains around Seattle, and on countless postcards and photos. I knew it would be massive, beautiful and snowy white with shades of blue, and I knew I’d think it was stunning. So, I was surprised when turning a bend I found myself absolutely blown away- mesmerized- by what lay before me: Perito Moreno, a megalith of compressed ice, loomed in the distance until it disappeared into the clouds. It creaked and cracked, a living organism of blue and white shards. My high expectations were exceeded infinitely by the real thing. Even from a distance, I could barely believe what I was seeing. It was the single most beautiful thing I have ever encountered, and no picture does it justice. I was immediately transported to the majestic and impregnable “Wall” in the Game of Thrones book, except this was the real deal.

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I could tear my eyes away only for milliseconds at a time, just long enough to glance at the path I was hurrying down to get nearer. A few minutes later I heard a thunderous crack and witnessed a jagged sheet of ice dislodge itself in slow motion, slowly, slowly breaking away until it crashed into the murky blue water below, accompanied by a most unexpected sound, like a canon firing off a round. I was still far away, and didn’t realize the magnitude of the ice fall until I closed the distance between myself and the glacier. It stood out of the water at an unbelievable 50 meters (150 feet), with supposedly an even greater distance plunging deep into the lake.

IMG_5209After a couple of hours Rob and Kath left, and although I had stared in wonderment the whole afternoon, I still couldn’t tear myself away. I stayed until dinnertime, and would ride the cold and windy 80km back to El Calafate on my own, hoping to never forget what it was like to stand there, frozen in time. There wasn’t one moment I wasn’t awe-struck by the sight and sounds of the imperceptibly encroaching glacier, waiting for car and building sized chunks of ice to plummet into the watery depths with a deafening crack and deep explosion.

Had I ridden my motorcycle 5,000 km from Santiago just to see this glacier, it would have been worth it.

CGL 125 Photo Update: Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre Birthday Bash

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A photo update of recent adventures around the mountain town of El Chalten, home of the famous Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre peaks.

For my birthday we hiked 23km (14 miles) from the town of El Chalten to Lago de los Tres at the foot of the stunning Fitz Roy mountain. It was exactly one month and 4,500km (nearly 3,000 miles) after we started our journey from Santiago, Chile on January 7th. By February 7th we were in dire need of a serious leg stretching, and the undulating ridges and valleys on the way to the mountain were beckoning. But take it from me: hiking boots are not broken in just because you’ve warn them on your motorcycle for a month! My feet are still suffering the blistering consequences.

El Chalten itself was a nice town full of good cafes, restaurants, stunning views and rock climbing. I regretted my decision to leave climbing shoes and harness at home, but a minimalist can only fit so much on a motorcycle. It also had free National Park access, excellent and cheap campsites and hostels,making the $30/day budget a breeze.

Crossing a valley in Parque los Glaciares before reaching the mountains. Glaciers shine in the distance.
Crossing a valley in Parque Nacional los Glaciares before reaching the mountains. Glaciers glimmer in the distance.
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My birthday “cake”, a gift from a local baker.
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Gang of ’84 members Kath and Rob, two weeks after their 9th anniversary. With 11 more months to roam the world, they’re just at the beginning of their journey.

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The Gang of ’84 unite!
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The only gas station for 130km was empty on our way to El Chalten, but this man had a secret stash…
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…And a mob of identical kittens. More played in the garden.

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.