I still had time to check out the Fitz Roy mountain just outside El Chalten, so the next day I headed north again. The weather suddenly turned sunny and nice. All I could think was that just two days of this and the ruta 40 would be dry and doable again. Forget it. Too late. Ill do battle with ruta 40 on another day.
The road to El Chalten:
I think God took pity on me because I was delivered a picture perfect day at the Fitz Roy. Ran in to Markus and Adi again and was invited to dinner by another German couple who was interested in hearing about our travels.
But first we hiked out to a view point and had lunch. Nice little hike. Nothing like doing some trekking after sitting on the bike for so long.
Back in town we set up camp:
And than it was a night of pure excess. The dinner with the German couple was just excellent. Best meal I’ve had in a long time. We all had a great time.
Afterwards the wine continued to flow. I learned two new German words: Umdrunk and Absaker. An ‘umdrunk’ is when you go out for a late night drink with your mates. An ‘absaker’ is that last little night cap when you’ve probably had too much. (At least I think these are the correct definitions, that night is a bit of a blur.)
Needless to say, we ended up completely smashed. Damn, these Germans could drink. Good times.
Don’t remember going to sleep, but the next morning I swore I’d never drink again. Lordy lordy lordy..
More than one person told me that this next section of the ruta 40 would be the hardest. Deep gravel with deep ruts and swept by high winds. I think I was fortunate because the wind was not so bad. Only on a few occasions did a gust push me in to the deep gravel where you lose control for a few seconds. It’s like riding on marbles.
After roughly 40km the road improved. I figured I was through the worst of it and could finally speed up. But than came the rain and what would have been a nice gravel road turned in to a nightmare. The ruts turned in to mud. This slippery clay stuff that sticks to everything and gums up the tires. With the rain, the ruta 40 became an absolute disaster of a road. The only place you could find traction was on the edge of the ruts right were the gravel starts. You’re talking just a couple of inches here. I had to stand the entire time. Ruby was all over the place.
I’m not quite sure how to ride this kind of mud either. There was slippery stuff up in Alaska, but it was nothing like this. Do you speed up, slow down? Some sections had no gravel and the the road turned into a maze of mud tracks. I’d just pick a line, pray, and go for it. Sliding all over the place.
Finally I came to a down hill section. Perfectly smooth with no ruts. Could almost be considered pavement had it not been for the rain. I pretty much knew ahead of time that there was just no way I’d make this. And sure enough, down I went. The front tire washed out. I landed on my butt. No broken bones, no bruises, not even a scratch. The only positive thing about mud, it’s a soft landing. Rudy did not do as well. The left pannier completely smashed and ripped off. The pannier definitely helped brake Ruby’s fall because the rest of her was untouched. We were doing about 40 mph.
Could barely walk on this stuff. The mud stuck to the bottom of my boots.
So what to do next? Riding this road in its current state was next to impossible and it was only getting worse. Flintstone it the whole way? I had no idea how far I was from tarmac. All I knew was that there was tarmac 85 miles back. When would the rain stop? How many days until the road dries? Its getting dark, I’m covered in mud, and Ruby is broken. I decided to abort and go back to Tres Lagos.
I didn’t have to wait very long for someone to come by and help me get Ruby back on her feet. She was much heavier in the mud and getting a good grip on her was difficult. Plus I’ve become a weakling over the last 6 months. The man (forget his name) was from the states and he told me that the road gets way worse farther ahead. So I packed my belongings in to his car and headed back to Tres Lagos to find a tow. Caked his whole interior with mud. Fortunately it was a rental.
The next day I got a tow truck driver to go out and pick up Ruby. Over night the rain had completely decimated the road. Cars were stuck in the mud and broken down all over the place. We stopped as we went along to help everyone. It was one of situations where everyone came to the aid of everyone else. Ropes were tied, cars pulled, fouled electronics rewired. We gave a few people a lift out of there as well. One guy told me as we were trying to fix a stalled out car stuck in the mud “Welcome to Patagonia!”
It took a few hours but we did finally make it out to Ruby and she was as I left her. Thank god! I was up all night stressing. We got her back to Tres Lagos and mended her panniers with a sledge hammer and u-bolt. Not a pretty sight but it should hold together for the rest of the trip.
So I have failed, defeated by the ruta 40. In those two days on the road, I didn’t see a single motorcycle. I guess most riders have more sense and check the weather report.
We were having some drinks in the common area down stairs when we were asked to go up stairs because they wanted to close that area. No problem, we went up stairs. A while later a disgruntled Aussie covered in tats complained that we were being too loud and that he could not get his beauty sleep. No problem, we’d hush up and I even offered him some ear plugs. Using ear plugs is pretty typical if you’re going to sleep in a dormitory. I guess he considered this place a 5 star. The Aussie declined the ear plugs saying they were not enough. Later on we were told that we could not stay in the upstairs area and should go down stairs. “But you closed that area?” The stair well would be just fine. Ok, so now we are sitting in the stair well. A bit later we were told we’d needed to go outside across the street. We don’t want any trouble so we go across the street and hang on a park bench. A few minutes later, the lady who ran the hostel comes out to tell us if we don’t go to sleep right now, she’d call the police. And what are they going to do? But what the hell, we give up and call it a night.
The next day we split paths and I continued north on the ruta 40 to El Calafate. Had a great time with them. They will be missed.
Once again I crossed border back to Argentina. I’ve now lost track on how many times I’ve crossed the Chile/Argentina border. Their long border stretches along the most scenic areas of both countries, the Andes. They really should set up some kind of speed pass border crossing.
The ruta 40 as desolate as ever:
In El Calafate, I hit the campground suggested by Remy. There I met two bikers from Germany, Magu and Adi. A married couple who had been on the road for over two years. They had sold everything and have been living on savings ever since. These people could seriously stretch a dollar. Living out of their tent, they bypassed the expensive hostels (and they are typically dirt cheap). They spoke very little English so I had to use my German. My dad would be proud.
I visited the Perito Moreno Glacier that same day. A monster glacier that is actually growing in size. Unlike most glaciers in the world that are receding.
Back at the campground in El Calafate, I had dinner and shared a big bottle of wine with Magu and Adi. Good times.
The trip lasted about 2 hours and cost $80. We thought it was only $40, but they later told us that they were referring to pesos. Convenient mistake.
The next day we hiked around the park a bit.
We hung out in the park for about three days. Than it was time to hit the road again.
With the exception of backpackers, the park seemed pretty deserted. Don’t think too many people are willing to pay the steep prices charged by this place. This is a national park, that aint right.
Puerto Natales is the jumping point for the famous Torres Del Paine national park. When I first saw a picture of this place back in Santiago, I just knew I had to visit. So we all headed out there the next day.
Remy on his Transalp
Andy and Anja.
I think this is the best shot I’ve taken on the trip. Just love this picture:
Met even more riders on the road.
Without a doubt one of the most picturesque parks I’ve been too. Simply breath taking. The mountains are so incredible they seem fake.
Yet this place is also the embodiment of pure evil. Price gouging here has been taken to a new extreme. The insane prices charged for entering the park and camping here were only eclipsed by the laughing attendant who takes your money. All you wanted to do was punch the dude in the face. He was that annoying. We nick named him “Shit head”.
I figured that the wood was included at the prices they were charging, but found out later it was not. Making it worse, they collected our unused wood in the morning. WTF? As far as I’m concerned they stole the wood from us and I would rectify the situation. I skipped paying for camping the last night.
We heard that food was outrageously expensive here so we brought our own.
Nothing like camp cooking. Good times.
At the ferry, I ran in to Remy, Andy, and Anja, all from Zurich, Switzerland. Remy was riding a Transalp he rented, while Andy and Anja were two up on a GS. They met each other on the road a few weeks earlier. We were all going to Puerto Natales so I decided to tag along.
Came across this abandoned town that had some ship wrecks.
The wind remained fierce. The bikes were sucking down the gas fighting the wind so we stopped at a gas station to fuel up. Unfortunately their tanks were empty, but the owner assured us that a delivery would arrive in less than 2 hours. So we waited.
Waiting for what seemed like forever.
I can’t recall how many times the owner told us just 15 more minutes, but roughly 4 hours later a truck did arrive and we were good to go again.
Mmmm, precious fuel.
The wind picked up even more. To the point it was almost dangerous. Remy with his lighter Transalp was really struggling. We decided to call it a day in a little nondescript town we came across. The problem was it had no hotel and setting up a tent in this wind would have been really tough, if not impossible. Fortunately we found accommodations in a row of small kiosks being built next to a rodeo arena. There were three that were not locked so we each had our own room.
Hanging out in the rodeo arena hiding from the cold wind.
Made for a fun night.
But once I hit the flat lands the sun disappeared and it got cold again. After passing back in to Chile, I tried a different route back to the ferry crossing. But it was more of the same.
Spent that night in Cerro Sombrero at a small hotel that was recommended to me.
The hotel had two price options. One room had a private bath while the other was shared. The price difference was huge so I opted for the shared bath. Just like a dorm in a hostel I figured. I’m used to that. But damn, this place was used by oil workers and the bathroom was simply nasty. What the hell do they feed these guys? That night I found out.
The attached restaurant served a single dish. It was some kind of pan fried flat mystery meat. It had no real taste that I can describe. It was edible, but I prayed that this stuff wouldn’t come back to haunt me. That night the oil workers stayed up late watching their soaps. Can’t believe how popular soaps are down here.
They crammed us in like cattle. Mooo…
Than a boat ride on the Beagle Channel.
Thought these were penguins at first, but they are not (and of course I forget what they are called. In one ear, right out the other.)
An Antarctica bound ship.
Finally some penguins.
The boat dropped us off at Ranch Harberton.
Next a visit to a husky sled dog training camp.
More of the area surrounding Ushuaia.
Back to downtown Ushuaia.
I took an insane number of pictures of Ushuaia and the surrounding area. You can find them in a separate folder in my picture archive if interested. Ushuaia was a pretty cool town. Lots to see and do. Definitely worth the visit.
All this trouble just for a single photo? I must have taken a good dozen just in case.
Yeah I know, what a dork!
So what does one do in Ushuaia? Its actually a pretty big tourist destination and there is a lot to see. So I got in to tourist mode and checked the place out. First a view of the town from above.
Went to the little town museum.
Ushuaia was once a prison colony.
On to something more interesting. Hike up the mountain to the glacier. You could take a chair lift, but walking seemed better.
There were some people skiing it.
Ushuaia is a nice little town. Way better than Prudhoe Bay which was nothing more than an industrial zone. I’ll have no problem staying here for a bit.
The battle was relentless. The entire day was spent riding side ways down long flat roads. I kept thinking to myself, “Do I really need to ride to Ushuaia?” It was beyond miserable. And there would be three days of this!!!! Aaargh!!
Stopping to take pictures is easier said than done on this road. The wind is so strong it could knock Ruby right over.
Probably the only redeeming thing about this road was the endless sky. It stretched forever in all directions. You could see storms miles off in the distance. It was pretty cool.
I stayed in a few nameless towns on my way south. I was so beat by the end of each day, all I wanted was some food, beer, and a warm bed. This kind of riding is simply no fun at all.
After three days I did finally make it to the ferry that crosses over in to Tierra del Fuego. I met a group of Brazilians here waiting for the ferry. They took so many pictures of themselves posing next to signs it was a bit comical.
On the other side, we all posed in front of the Tierra del Fuego sign.
And than it was on to Ushuaia. This section of the road; actually just before the ferry and than roughly another 140km later; are two border crossings. You cross from Argentina in to Chile and than back to Argentina. So this day consisted of a lot of waiting at borders.
I stopped for the day in a small town called Tolhuim just before Ushuaia. I figured I could get to Ushuaia early the next day and do some bike maintenance.
Only one day from traversing the length of the Americas.