Today begins a 14 day motorcycle trip into southern Chile and southern Argentina – Patagonia. Today was an arrival day… no riding… but, we had a bit of a chance to check out our host town, Orsono, Chile.
Above: Cathedral of Saint Matthew on Plaza des Armas, Orsono.
Orsono is located in what is known as the “lakes district” of southern Chile.
Above: Henri and Britten walk on Plaza des Armas, Orsono, Chile.
Henri, Britten, and Mwah (sic) have been on a number of international motorcycle adventures together. Henri is a retired accountant who lives in Larkspur, CA. Britten is a retired, retailer, zookeeper, and explorer who lives in Williamstown, MA.
Earlier this year Henri had motorcycled from Larkspur to Yellow Knife, Yukon Territory, to Anchorage, AK and back to Larkspur. Britten’s latest ride, from which he and his wife Joan returned just two weeks ago, was a motorcycle circuit around western Turkey, where among others they stopped at Kona, Antalia, Bodrum and Gallipoli among others.
At our reunion today at the Sonesta Hotel in Orsono, we reminisced about our motorcycle adventure in Ecuador in 2003 where we rode ancient cobble stone Inca highways, volcano flanks, and busy Quito streets. We laughed as we recalled the amateur tour company we signed up with. The two principles – our guides – would chug a couple of liters of beer each at lunch. Also, they weren’t very familiar with the routes. In hindsight, though, it all made for a good time. I have a wonderful image of one of my motorcycle mentors, Burt Richmond, standing by his motorcycle in front of a sign noting the 15,000 foot level on the side of the volcano Cotapaxi.
Above: Statue of bull in Plaza de Armas.
Orsono is known to be home of ranches that raise Chile’s best beef cattle. The area depends primarily on agriculture including oats and wheat. The Orsono region has lagged a bit behind the rest of Chile in economic performance. Local officials have been in discussion with the Dutch to start a tulip industry in the region to try to catch up, economically, with the rest of the country.
The local professional basketball franchise, Provincial Orsono, is known locally as “los toros,” the bulls.
Most of the people on the street appeared to be of Spanish heritage, many of them having the look of Indian and Spanish mixture. Occasionally, we noted some taller, blonder, northern European looking individuals who didn’t appear to be tourists. Presumably they were descendents of the ten thousand or so Germans who settled in this area 150 years ago.
Above: Dancers at a traditional dance regional contest. Dancers wore the traditional costumes of the Orsono ranchers for which the area is best known.
Above: Dancer at the Orsono dancing contest.
Above: Check out those spurs. Hey… those are real spurs!
Above: English study textbook at local used book stall. “How to Learn English Easily.”
Chileans better stay in Chile if they want to learn English well. Should they come to the US, educational authorities would make them study in Spanish.
Above: Clown on Juan McKenna Street.
The clown would talk in a very high pitched voice as he performed is street antics. He was a funny guy and we left him with a few pesos.
Above: This juggler would perform in the road, in front of the traffic, when the light was red.
I am always impressed, when I travel, with the resourcefulness of street entertainers.
After all, they could be demonstrating at the local city park about how unfair life is.
I’ve just been here a day… but, I sense palpable “energy” amongst the people as I walk by them. More later, after I’ve been here more time.
Today we were assigned our motorcycles and began our ride. We rode about 180 miles from Orsono, Chile, over the Andes pass, Paso Cardinal Antonio Samore, at the Argentina frontier, to the Argentine ski town, San Carlos de Bariloche, popularly known as Bariloche. About two hours of our day was taken up at Chilean and Argentina immigration and customs.
Today Bariloche, located in the eastern foothills of the Andes, is known as a vacation town for the Argentinian elete. It is located on the banks of Lake Nahuel Huapi and is within the boundaries of the Nahuel Huapi National Park. There is skiing nearby. Somebody wanted to bring a bit of Switzerland to Bariloche and so the main street is lined with chocolate shops.
Psuedo history or not, some claim that Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun lived for six years in a village six miles from Bariloche. Here are images and commentary from along the route.
Above: Three Studabakers, mid 50’s vintage, in the Auto Museum Moncopulli. The museum, 20 minutes east of Orsono, Chile, on national road 231, claims to have the largest collection of operational Studabakers in the world.
I wonder if David Madeira, Executive Head of the LeMay Museum in Tacoma, WA knows about these cars. It seems an odd place to find them. But, then, the largest collection of Buicks in the world is in Rome, Italy… owned by the jeweler, Nicola Bulgari (who is on the board of the LeMay Museum)..
Above: Chile is only 40 to 90 miles wide, yet over 3000 miles long, north to south. Riding along national route 231, it did not take long before the first peaks of the Andes came in to sight. Here, Britten waits on his BMW 800 GS motorcycle while I take an image of the Volcan Casablanca in the distance.
What exciting landscape. I hardly knew about it… and yet, its been here all along!
Not seen in this image to the left is another Chilean volcano that has been spewing ash for the last eight months. We would see the effects of the environmental destruction of this volcano only in another few miles.
Above: Ash has destroyed all vegetation on the Argentine side of the frontier. The ash plume, heading west, can be seen in the distance.
The landscape, for miles, looked surreal. Lunar?
America’s BLM thinks it has problems with too many people wanting road access to the American hinterlands. Here in Chile and Argentina we have real devastation. Yet, in due time, the earth here – and in western America – will regenerate… and, be lush… long after we’re gone.
Later we rode into the cloud and missed a lot of the beautiful lake sights in this section of Patagonia before reaching Bariloche.
Several years ago I rode under and ash plume of Mt. Etna in Sicily. That time is was raining and it seemed that mud was falling from the ski. The mud droplets splattered on my helmet shield and I had to stop periodically to clean it off.
The ash in Patagonia today was a fine dust.
This cloud has been churning for over six months. It is a pity that many local businesses, resorts, and restaurants in the area are not doing well as no one wants to spend a vacation in an ash fog.
Above Ken and Nancy. Fellow motorcycle travelers on the Patagonia trip.
They divide their time between homes in Alaska and Arizona.
They sold an imaging business that made large banners for major American retailers and spent a couple of years sailing around the world.
Ken has motorcycled through Australia nearly losing his BMW Paris Dakar in a flash flood near Darwin.
Ken is a charter member of the John Galt Motorcycle Club. He has a silver belt buckle to prove it.
Above: Principle street in Bariloche, Argentina.
Above: Sales ladies in one of the many chocolate shops in Bariloche. Ahn Ree and I walked into one chocolate supermarket… over half the size of a Kroger or Smiths… and, filled only with chocolate products.
Above: Line of KTM 990 Adventure Motorcycles at a Bariloche Hotel. Patagonia is a popular place for motorcycle adventures. In addition to the group riding the bikes shown here, there is an Eidelweiss tour in town (in addition to us..MotoQuest).
Above: Stained glass window from the Cathedral San Carlos de Bariloche. The Cathedral was completed in 1947.
Above: Lake Nahuel Huapi. The ash cloud is beginning to dissipate in late afternoon.
We rode from Bariloche to Esquel, Argentina, about 250 miles. The AM ride took four of us (Britten, Electrician, Ahn Ree and Mwah [sic]) to Catedral Ski Resort outside of Bariloche. We then rode through Andean mountain valley’s surrounded by snow capped granite peaks to El Bolson. The route south from Bariloche, national route 258, is called Corridore de los Lagos. Runoff from the Andes to the west, fills beautiful lakes in the Andean foothills.
After lunch at a road side restaurant, Ahn Rhee and I rode national route 71, and 80 mile long graded dirt road, through Los Alerces National Park. The road paralleled for its entire distance, long azur finger lakes extending through glacial cut valleys.
I had taken a detour to lake Epuen and so Britten and Electrician rode ahead at my suggestion (since I had busted up the group with my detour).
Henry and I met up when he came back to look for me.
Above: Electrician, Ahn Ree, and Britten sit on their motorcycles at the entrance to Catedral ski resort near Bariloche, Argentina.
Hmm… what’s so great about Portillo? ‘Catedral, at least, has real ski lifts! Not pommel lifts.
Above: This horse likes standing in the middle of the road. Ahn Ree sits on his motorcycle beyond.
Above: Sawtooth Range in central Idaho… er… no… its just another ho-hum section of the Andes.
The Andean peaks in the late Spring and early Summer resemble greatly Alaskan ranges at the same time of year.
But, no grizzly bears in the forest. The Andes at this latitude are devoid of any large animal species.
Above: Lupine were in bloom everywhere.
Above: My rented BMW R1200 GS adventure motorcycle at Lake Epuyen.
Above: If Patagonia is not mountains and lakes, it is cattle ranches. Note the poplar trees, imported by European settlers.
Above: Electrician. Electrician is a journeyman electrician who shucked his college degree in telecommunications and decided to learn a trade.
Electrician now works on heavy duty projects around the country… like dams and bridges. He does the 227 and 454 volt stuff… uh, like industrial grade electricity.
And, so, I meet another revered guy who “knows how to do stuff.”
At home, in Southern California, Electrician rides a Ducati Multistrada 1100.
Today we road over 200 miles of dirt road from Coyhaique, Chile to Cochrane, Chile. At our destination in the remote Chilean town of Cochrane today there was no Internet service. Tomorrow night, we will stay at a working cattle ranch – “estancia,” in Argentina. No Internet there as well.
I described yesterday’s scenery… the temperate rainforest under the snow in Queulat National Park… as 10 of 10.
What do I do today about the scenery seen – in beautiful weather – Cerro Castillo National Park. 11 of 10?
Compared to America’s scenic wonders, where millions of people visit annually, few people see what we are seeing on our motorcycle ride into Patagonia. The area is remote. To reach this area by automobile requires driving hundreds of miles on difficult dirt and gravel roads.
The area, with its pristine trout rivers and streams is becoming better known to fishermen looking for the perfect catch. Notwithstanding, it is a special feeling to know you are one of a few people able to enjoy one of the world’s most beautiful spots.
Above: Ed of Detroit. Bill’s buddy.
Back home, Bill and Ed ride Harley’s and belong to the local Harley Owners Group (HOGS) where they say there are 400 members.
Ed built a commercial insurance agency in Detroit which one of his two daughters now manages. The other daughter is a registered nurse who works in the surgical unit of a Detroit hospital.
Ed and his wife Judy have a Golden Retriever who is the best dog ever, except they have never been able to train her to jump on people when they come to the front door. Sounds like our Newfie, K2.
Above. Scene in Cerro Castillo National Park.
We follow the bottom of the valley and enter the pass seen between the two mountain systems.
Above: Rider contemplates the two spire like peaks in the distance.
Ed of Detroit reminded the rider that the Andes are new mountains. They haven’t been worn down to the nubs yet. In North America, one sees similar tooth like peaks in the Sawtooth in Idaho and the Tetons in Wyoming.
Above: The road ahead. Lago General Carerra. The Argentine side of the lake is known as Lake Buenos Aires. Both names are internationally acceptable.
The lake has 1850 sq kilometers in surface area, of which 970 square kilometers are in Chile and the remaining area in Argentina. A lake formed by ancient glacier activity, it is over 550 meters deep.
It is amazing to note how little activity seems to be occurring on this and other lakes in the area… few boats, few fishermen (at least that I can discern), few summer homes over looking the lake.
Without being here, its hard to understand how remote and isolate we are here. Most of the roads we use are gravel… graded dirt. Forget about summer homes, we see hardly any traffic on the roads as we ride by. To be sure, it is late Spring… and more people may come here in summer. Still, the amenities are few and far between.
The azur color of the lakes is as vivid in reality as it appears in the image. Lake Tahoe… puny Lake Tahoe in the inconsequential Sierra…. eat your heart out.
Above: Lake General Carrera, Chile. Image taken from small Chilean hamlet, Puerto Rio Tranquilo.
The promontory on the left marks the spot where the lake swings to the east into Argentina.
The straight vertical drop into the lake of the granite mountains in the distance signals a lake formed by glacial activity.
Above: I’m comfortable riding this road about about 60 mph. Some riders go faster. Stay in the grooves where tires have pushed away the gravel. On either side of the groves is a gravel hillock and if you get in that going really fast, it gets some what squirrely (sic).
If in a lapse of concentration the rider allows front wheel of the motorcycle to slide into the grove, the best remedy is to power all the way over the groove into the next groove, rather than to try to correct the error by moving back to the original groove. ie. continue to follow the momentum of the bike and right the track of the bike by turning the wheel in a groove… and not while on the linear pile of rocks.
Above: Baker River. The river is one of Chile’s premier fishing rivers. It drains General Castillo Lake and flows into the Pacific Ocean. The water is glacial in origin and maintains the blue color of glacial ice compressed many times that of normal ice.
Above: Motorcycle tour group goes to local restaurant in today’s destination city of Cohrane.
The fare in these remotely located restaurants is not bad. There is usually a choice of steak, pork chop, sea bass, or salmon, accompanied by rice or potatoes and a mixed salad.
We accomplished a 100 kilometer round trip – paved ride – from El Calafate to visit the Moreno glacier in Chile’s Los Glaciers National Park.
Above: Ice berg from the Moreno glacier in Canal de los Tempanos, a long circular inlet extending to the south and then east around a peninsula, from the huge glacial lake, Lago Argentino. The lake is full of glacial silt giving the water a blue, opaque look. The blue color of glacial ice derives from ice squeezed free of oxygen by the weight of the glacier. The compacted ice diffuses only the blue color on the light spectrum.
Above: Derivatives with Moreno glacier beyond.
Above: Moreno Glacier.
Moreno Glacier, one of five glaciers in Glacier National Park, is the only glacier in the park reachable by road. Other glaciers can be reached by excursion boats on Lago Argentina. Moreno glacier is in a stable state, but ebbing and flowing every 15 years or so. When the glacier is growing it forms an ice dam against a peninsula separating Lago Argentina from Canal de los Tempanos. When the glacier recedes, the ice dam collapses in a spectacular calving show. The ice dam formation and collapsing process has occurred every 15 years or so for the last century.
Only 18 thousand years ago the western third of South America was covered with ice. A warming earth caused the glaciers to recede leaving a glacial carved landscape in their wake. Glaciers have come and gone in this way several times over millions of years, reshaping the landscape each time.
One wonders how humanity, if its still around, will adapt to the next growing stage of what appears to be an inexorable glacial cycle. While the northern ice cap has been shrinking over the last 100 years, scientists tell us that over the last three years the ice cap has been stable. The southern ice cap, which has 93 percent of the world’s ice, has been growing in recent times. Moreno glacier, here in Argentina, is in a growing cycle. Are we on the verge of another wave of glacial accretion? A new ice age?
Though one rides with a group, motorcycling is really a solitary experience. While riding the bike through such spectacularly beautiful landscape, there is no one to talk to, that portion of my mind not dedicated to keeping the bike on the road wanders, and, I am wont to wax philosophical about the complexity of the earth. Here, the timelessness of the glaciers spurs the imagination.
I am not a scientist… but, asked to bet, at this stage of my life, I’d bet that “we, as life here on earth, are it.”
A few years ago, while riding the Triumph Rocket III motorcycle in Arizona, I visited the National Observatory complex outside of Tucson. There, a guide posited the high likelihood of life as we know it outside our solar system. He noted that as telescopic technology has improved it has enabled scientists to identify planetary systems orbiting far away stars. Because of the immense size of the universe, scientists say, the probability is high that one of these planetary systems will have a planet that can replicate the life we see it on earth.
But, think about it. What conditions need to exist to form continents? To have tectonic plates shift in such a way as to form huge mountain ranges such as the Andes on which ice fields and glaciers can be formed to assure a constant water supply? That has a sun that provides sufficient heat to allow for life in the low lands but not enough heat to preserve the glaciers as they carve out their landscape?
How important is it – to create life as we know it – that the planet orbit a star, 93 million miles distant, every 365 days. And, how important is it, to form life as we know it, that a day is equal to 24 hours? There are innumerable other earth specific features … geological… atmospheric…oceanic… that combined together, allowed for life to be formed.
Can these interlinkng features be replicated elsewhere? Will life form if the planet is 99 million miles away from its star? If its revolutions occur every 39 hours? If its axial tilt is 10 degrees less than earth?
Right now, as a betting man, I’d bet no. But, then… I’m hardly a spec in the universe’s scheme of things. What do I know?
Above: Britten, Ahn Rhee, and Derivatives at Moreno Glacier.
As we stood, silently watching the glacier, we could hear the creaking and cracking of the “beast” which moves at the pace of about one meter a day. We saw two or three medium sized calvings (sic) occur.
Above: Spectator views the Moreno glacier and contemplates the cosmos.
Above: Britten, Ahn Rhee, and Derivatives at Glacierium Museum just outside of Peurto Natales.
Coincidentally, this summer’s travel for me included Norway, Alaska, and Patagonia, three areas of the world where glaciers, or their effects, predominate.
The Glacierium Museum did an excellent job of educating on glaciers. One unforgettable factoid I learned there is that Greenland and Antarctica hold 95% between them of the world’s ice. Glaciers I have observed this year in the Andes and in Alaska, though immense, represent only a small portion of the world’s ice coverage. The glaciers that carved out Norway’s beautiful fjords, are gone.
The final exhibit of the Glacierium Museum could have been designed (and probably was) by United Nations IPCC writers. Call it the “scare room.” The narratives in the exhibit pointed to human carbon spewing habits as contributing to accelerated glacial melt and forecast ultimate doom for mankind unless humans changed their ways.
Today we would ride form El Calefate, Argentina, continuing our ride south towards Tierra del Fuego while crisscrossing back and forth across the Andes mountains, to Porto Natales, Chile.
While waiting at Argentine immigration, an Argentine official told Phil that there was a possibility that our route would be blocked for up to four hours due to an automobile race in Porto Natales.
Impressively, Argentine immigration and customs officials, worked hard to expedite our passage at the Argentine frontier, but, it was for naught. We arrived at the locale of the race fifteen minutes after the road had been closed.
Following are images and commentary about our serendipitous deviation from the expected.
Above: Ritz Carlton Porto Natales.
After climbing over a barbed wire fence to get into a race spectator area, we discovered a restaurant incongruously located (or so it seemed to us) up a long dirt path away from the spectators and race course.
The restaurant served hot dogs generously garnished with mayo and guacamole, and a traditional stew with lamb and vegetables.
The restaurant was our headquarters for the four hour wait and was a welcome shelter from the cold wind outdoors and the noise and dust from the auto race.
The race course used area streets. It must have been quite long because it took ten minutes or so for the cars to lap.
Above: Exotic birds feeding at Peurto Natales Ritz Carlton.
Above: Race car tracks dust as it races by the sheep pen adjacent to the Ritz.
Above: Tour participants enjoy acclaimed Ritz Carlton cuisine.
Above: Below Tourismo Rural sign, two sleepers, Ahn Ree, Bill of Detroit, and The Kid (formerly Electrician) show how to be rural tourists.
I took a liking to The Kid. He liked to spin his rear motorcycle wheel in the dirt and drink beer. I slowed down to ride with him more often and took it upon myself to teach him more about life and motorcycle riding.
Above: Spectators at race.
The fellow in red would pump his hand when a particular car raced by.
Above: Horse race? No, horse at race. And, one bored spectator on horse.
Above: Tail gaiters, cooker nearby, watch the race from the back of a pick-up.
Today we completed a 250 kilometer clockwise loop through Chile’s Torres Del Paine National Park.
Torres Del Paine is one of Chile’s best known, most visited, national parks
Sightseers can fly from Santiago into nearby Peurto Natales, rent a car, or get on a tour bus to easily visit the park.
Above: Britten in cave where archaeologists discovered skeletal remains of 9 foot tall giant sloth. A statue representing what the sloth might have looked like stands behind Britten. The cave was on the way to, but not in, the national park.
Above: Bill and Coo, enjoying their honeymoon motorcycle trip, pose near the sloth cave.
Bill, (not to be confused with Bill of Detroit) one of those people who knows how to do stuff, is a camera man who works for the ABC television affiliate in a major northwestern city. He’s a chronic motorcyclist in his spare time.
Coo works for a well known tech company based in Redmond, WA. I told her Steve, son of el Contador, works there as well. Steve, a former mountain guide on Mt. Raineir, and his wife would enjoy knowing Bill and Coo and vice versa. Two interesting, smart, active couples eager for adventure should get to know one another.
Above: Torres del Paine National Park coming from the south. The weather was inclement, portending rain. I was worried that this image might be the best I would get of the “torres” (towers) in this famous national park. Riders Enduro and Counselor (to be introduced in this log on a later post) can be seen down the road.
Above: Observer notes Torres del Paine.
We arrived at this vista, near where we had lunch, only after 30 minutes riding in the rain… so far, the only wet weather we’ve had on the ride to date.
The weather, at least near the torres, wouldn’t get better than what is seen in this image. However, the sight of the majestic granite spires was awe inspiring nevertheless. In some ways, the clouds gave the towers a special beauty.
Above: Riders stop to observe Torres del Paine national park granite mountains.
Ahead on the near left, is The Kid, in the unusual position of being ahead of me. Right (yellow) is Bill of Detroit. Between The Kid and Bill of Detroit, just ahead in the multicolored jacket, is Ed of Detroit.
There are four motorcycles in the fleet, all BMW models: R1200GS (my bike), 800 GS (Britten and Ahn Rhee bikes), F650 GS the bike ridden by The Kid, and G650 GS (a thumper… the rest are all two bangers… the 1200 having a boxer, opposed twin, engine).
The Kid wanted to ride one of the 800’s… but, MotoQuest wouldn’t let him, citing his relative inexperience.
The Kid, seeing fun only in spinning his tire in the dirt, has worn the nubs off his tire and is now in tire management mode.
I am trying as hard as I can to bring The Kid up to speed in the world of motorcycle trip protocol. He seems to listen… but, I was terribly insulted when he called me Tortuga, leading me to believe that my efforts to help him have seen a set back.
He’s just a kid. He doesn’t know squat. Still, I will try to offer him whatever assistance I can… such as slowing down so he can keep up with me to watch my riding technique.
Above: Falls on Paine River.
Above: Condor guards his meal… a guanaco.
I caught this image just before the big bird launched into the air. Condor’s cannot take flight without facing into a stiff wind.
Above: Condor from the previous image circling above. The image is not great… but, its a hard image to get. And, the experience of seeing this bird was so memorable that I include the image so as to remember the experience.
The condor rode the stiff wind and hovered right above me. I could see the huge bird’s head on its long neck looking from left to right as it hovered overhead.
This motorcycle trip wildlife sighting was right up there with watching the wolf cross the road in Yellowstone, seeing the beluga whale come up to our boat and give us the eye in Guerro Negro, Baja, Mexico, and pausing on the Botswana highway to let a herd of elephants cross the road.
Why do I ride motorcycles? The opportunity for sightings such as this Condor, certainly, is one of the reasons.
Above: Guanaco by the hundreds were in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park.
We continue in our quest to ride to “the end of the earth.”…at least as far towards the south pole as anyone can go by auto, truck or bike.
We started our trip today in Peurto Natales, home of the car race two days ago, and base for our visit to Torres del Paine National Park.
We will ride 250 miles to the island Tierra del Fuego, across the Strait of Magellan, to Cerro Sombrero, Chile.
Above: Shipwreck on the Strait of Magellan.
I try to imagine being at this spot almost 500 years ago, in 1520, and looking to the water beyond where the shipwreck is seen in the image, and seeing a bevy of wood hull, multi sail sailing ships making their way west, from left to right in the image.
Magellan, his five boats, and crew are 10,000 miles away from their home in Portugal, and are the first humans from Western culture to pass through the strait – seen in the image – at the tip of South America, separating the mainland from Tierra del Fuego, which links the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.
… so far away from Portugal… over 10,000 miles… no support… no ability to communicate. Magellan and his contemporaries are the true explorers in the full sense of the word.
Above: Ferry on Strait of Magellan. Water is whipped up by intense wind. Image taken from our ferry, an identical boat, but blue in color.
Above: Bikes on ferry crossing Strait of Magellan. My R1200GS (BMW) is the black one, on the right, just behind the orange bus. Bill (not to be confused with Bill of Detroit) futzes (sic) with his tank bag.
Above: Sign welcoming visitors to Tierra del Fuego an island at the tip of South America shared by Argentina and Chile. Bill of Detroit is the rider just ahead in the yellow. Onward to overnight at Cerro Sombrero, Chile. The next day we ride to Ushuaia, the port city the furthest south of any city in the world…. the end of the earth.
Today we would ride over 400 kilometers, about a third of it dirt, from Cerro Sombrero, our evening stop on Tierra del Fuego near the Strait of Magellan, across to the Argentine side of the island, and on to Ushuaia, the southern most city of any size in the world. Ushuaia is the launch and supply point for most Antarctica cruises and expeditions.
Above: Tierra del Fuego, in Chile, south of Strait of Magellan.
There seemed to me to be an odd symmetry between the top end of the world, the north slope of Alaska, where I was riding two years ago, and this landscape. Alaska is tundra over permafrost and Tierra del Fuego in this section is scrub grass. But, the two locations look eerily similar.
Above: Enduro and Counselor pose in a road side bus stop which protects them from the fierce wind.
Enduro runs an insurance business in Southern California. He was an enduro racer in his youth and is acquainted with ISDT winner Joe Barker. In the Vietnam War, Enduro ran a road paving machine. He said his job as a road paver was the safest job to be in because when the enemy saw that a road was getting paved they were so happy that they would be able to use it that they left the construction crew alone. Like many good old boys from Missouri and points south, Enduro is a great story teller.
Counselor, married to Enduro for the last five years, holds a Masters degree in social work and serves as a counselor that facilitates adoption in California. Her job is to evaluate the adopting family’s qualification and readiness to receive an adopted child. Counselor has two daughters of her own by a previous marriage.
Above: Fox seen beside the road in Chile close to Argentine frontier.
I took this image on a pretty high zoom while sitting on the motorcycle at the side of the road. It is for this type of image that the Lumix 16x zoom pocket camera works well for me. While riding in Africa five years ago, I missed a lot of animal shots I would have liked to have had because my camera didn’t have a good zoom capability. For shots like this, I keep the camera in the left pocket of my riding pants where it is easily and quickly retrievable after I stop the motorcycle.
In another “symmetrical” coincidence, I shot an image of an arctic fox near the Haul Road on the North Slope of Alaska, two years ago. Two foxes at two ends of the earth.
Above: Bill (not to be confused with Bill of Detroit) and Coo ride their BMW R1200 GS motorcycle, coming from Chile, across the Chilean/Argentine frontier on Tierra del Fuego. Down the road, in San Sebastian, they will rejoin Argentina’s Ruta Trois, the coastal route running north to south the length of Argentina. Tomorrow, they expect to ride to the end of Ruta Trois, south of Ushuaia, Argentina…. the end of the earth.
Tile roofed Chilean immigration and customs offices can be seen in the far background of the image. Argentine customs and immigration facilities are as far forward of Bill and Coo’s position here as the Chilean buildings are in the rear. The circa 10 kilometer distance between Chilean and Argentine immigration facilities was present at each of the six border crossings our group has made.
Above: Bill (not to be confused with Bill of Detroit) and Coo pose at Argentine frontier sign.
Above: Tour leader and MotoQuest motorcycle tour company owner Phil Freeman returns from reconnoitering restaurant locations in Rio Grande, Argentina. We will stay a night in Rio Grande on our return from Ushuaia.
In addition to being the owner of MotoQuest Tours, Phil Freeman is an experienced motorcycle travel guide who has led over a thousand people on motorcycle tours around the world. He is personable and has a good sense of humor. He is a strong facilitator of creating an amiable dynamic in our group. This Patagonia trip is the third time I have used MotoQuest for motorcycle touring and rental services.
The center strip of the road has a lattice of pillars and lights extending for its entire length. Perhaps the city leaders felt such an apparatus compensates for the lack of trees in this wind swept town.
Above: Ski resort off Ruta Trois about 30 kilometers north of Ushuaia. There is another ski resort just outside of Ushuaia.
Here’s an idea to pursue the symmetry game: Ski Aleyeska one year and Ushuaia the next. Ski at the ends of the earth.
Above: Rest stop atop the Garabaldi pass on Ruta Trois leading to Ushuaia. Lake Fagnano in the background. Check out the camera on Enduro’s helmet. One rude rider, looking at Enduro in this guise, called him Tele Tubby (it was probably The Kid… who doesn’t know squat… and, has a lot to learn…. Tortuga, indeed). Phil Freeman, tour leader and owner of Motoquest Tours, is seated to the left of Teletub… er… Enduro.
Today we would stay in Ushuaia and make a short ride to see “the end of the earth.” A fitting symmetry to my motorcycle visit to Dead Horse, Alaska, the other end of the earth in these longitudes – also assisted by Motoquest and Phil Freeman – two years ago.
Above: Mountain in Ushuaia.
The parallels between Alaska, at lands end north and Patagonia, at land’s end south, persist in this image. The mountain resembles the peaks around Anchorage, like Ushuaia, also a city with a warm water harbor.
Above: The Kid. On his F650 GS motorcycle by the sign announcing the southern end of Argentina’s Ruta Tres, a 3079 kilometer long road covering the distance between Buenos Aires and this point.
Above: Observer notes the Ruta 3 terminus sign.
Above: Map showing end of Ruta Tres on Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego.
Above: Map shows proximity of Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica. Most Antarctic tourist cruises and supply missions launch from Ushuaia.
Above: Big Dog marks his territory on back of Ruta 3 terminus sign. On upper slat, to right, in reflected light can be see:
Two years ago I saw Greg’s sticker on the Dalton Highway entrance sign, near the Arctic Circle. The world motorcycle adventurer gets around. But… then… so do I. And, the Big Dog, who disdains organized motorcycle travel, should be pleased that less adventuresome riders requiring more care and feeding (like Mwah) try to emulate him.
Above: Britten, Ahn-Rhee, and The Bishop (though the Kid wantsThe Bishop to change his name to Tortuga), stand at the end of Ruta Tres.
The three adventurers have ridden motorcycles together in Mongolia (the Gobi desert), Ecuador (corridor of volcanoes), Ethiopia (churches of Lalibela), Viet Nam (Route One), Japan (Sado Island), Africa (rush hour in Dar), and now Patagonia (the end of the earth).
Note: He’s just a kid… and doesn’t know squat. Drinks beer and spins tires. Tortuga indeed.
Above: Derivatives and fellow rider. Happy to have send “the end of the earth.”
Above: Scene from a morning walk on the beach near our hotel in Ushuaia.
Today we rode Ruta Tres just short of 200 miles from Ushuaia, Argentina to Rio Grande, Argentina, staying on the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego. The ride took us from the high, snow capped peaks of the Andes on the west side of Tierra del Fuego, back to the wind swept, short grass plain of north and eastern Tierra del Fuego.
For the final 35 miles of today’s ride – on tarmac – the route headed directly north with a 50 mph cross wind coming from the east. The wind gusts push the motorcycle to the right. Strength to fight the drifting motorcycle and intense concentration on the ride and road is required to ride a line. I ride in this condition at speeds varying from 55mph to 65mph. When I ride in this condition I feel as though I am a big sail drawing me and the bike into a tack that I don’t want to take.
Once, in the early 2000’s I rode a BMW K1200 RS across the state of Texas – 700 miles – in sustained 30 mph cross winds coming from the south. Though I didn’t think it at the time, that ride was “a piece of cake” compared to riding the cross winds in Tierra del Fuego.
Above: Map of Tierra Del Fuego. The southern most established settlement in the world is Peurto Williams in Chile. Population: 2500. Interestingly, there are no ferries which connect Argentina’s Ushwaia and Peurto Williams, which is only reachable by water or air. Apparently, the Argentine’s want to keep the “end of earth” tourists to themselves.
The red line in the map marks the frontier between Chile on the west and Argentina on the east.
We end our trip in Chile’s largest city south which is accessible by road, Punta Arenas, which sits on the west side of Estrechio Magallenes. We’ll ride from Ushuaia on tarmac to Rio Grande, head back into Chile – back on dirt – north of Rio Grande, head to the narrow channel on the ‘estrechio’, cross on the ferry, then get back on tarmac for the last day’s ride to Punta Arenas.
Above: We stopped at this bakery at Tuihein, midway between Ushuaia and Rio Grande for a mid day snack of empanadas.
Above: Sat dish and cooker in Tuihein, Argentina. Note how, because of extreme southern latitude location, the sat dish is pointed almost laterally to obtain its satellite reception. The construction behind is not atypical of much of the construction we see in rural Argentina. Simple and worn.
Above: Ahn Rhee leans against the fierce wind in Rio Grande.
In this stark, treeless, high wind landscape, Rio Grande has the look of a boom town. See the factory in the image behind Henry… one of several on the main road into town. Cars and motorcycles line up at the city’s two gas stations… Most car dealers, including Audi, have a dealership in Rio Grande. There is a very sophisticated and well stocked camera store on the main drag, and our hotel was so busy that a somewhat smug management kicked our group out of the bar to accommodate some local factory big wigs. Didn’t they know who we were?
The boom town feel of the city derives from the fact that the Argentine government has made Rio Grande a tax free city. Factories and business that locate here are not required to pay income tax or VAT. The Argentine government wants its part of Tierra del Fuego to have more population and economic activity.
There is a large military base in Rio Grande. Around the base there are signs and exhibits referring to Argentina’s “ownership” of the Malvinas Islands. The islands, less than 200 miles from the coast of Tierra del Fuego, are owned by the UK. In 1982, Argentina tried to take the islands from Great Britain by force and was roundly defeated. British navel forces sunk the Argentine battleship, “General Belgrano,” in what Britains call the war for The Falkland Islands.
Recently, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, referred to the islands, using the Argentine term, “the Malvinas Islands,” a statement seen by many as an affront to Britain.
Kind of like calling McKinley, Denali.
Above: Barrio Carton.
Despite the boom town nature of Rio Grande, the town itself does not appear ready to accommodate a higher standard of living. Building and homes are shoddily constructed and graffiti appears everywhere.
Note the Argentine flag. It is rumored that no one has ever seen an Argentine flag hanging limp in Tierra del Fuego.
The wind… the brutal wind. How do these people do it?
Above: Rio Grande graffiti. A pretty typical Rio Grande sight… though the graffiti piece in this image is more colorful than many.
Above: Trash basket. One sits in front of each Rio Grande residence. Home dwellers toss their full plastic trash bags in the basket for pick-up. Anti critter set-up?
The Kid told me that he saw the same set-up in Costa Rica. How did he have time to make that evaluation with all the tire spinning, beer drinking and pizza eating he was doing?
Above: Hotel Posada de el Cano in Rio Grande where we stayed.
Perhaps because they are the only hotel in town, and because they have more business than they want, hotel management was a little smug. They kicked our group out of the bar, and created more hassle than seemed necessary on where our bikes should be parked.
The hotel restaurant, however, was very good. I had lasagna. Others who ordered Canneloni or Ravioli also praised their meal.
Above: Seriously worn tire on The Kid’s G650 GS motorcycle seen through the restaurant window.
Spin tires… drink beer…. eat pizza….. spin tires…. drink beer…. eat pizza…. spin tires…. drink beer…. eat pizza.
Last day. Ride back up from Rio Grande, Argentina, back into the dirt in Chile to reach Cerro Sombrero for fuel. Then take the short ride to the ferry which crosses the Estrecho Magallenes. Ride east into the wind to reach Punta Arenas, a raucous mining and cattle town in days of yore, which today has lost a bit of its allure, economically, in these times. Punta Arenas is Chile’s furthest south city which can be reached by road.
Above: Phil Freeman, owner of Motoquest Tours and ride leader for the Patagonia ride. Sitting at hotel in Rio Grande.
What’s he thinking?
“I have only one more day of riding to deal with this surfeit of type A egos.”
Phil has a love for riding and love for South America. An international relations student in college, he spent a lot of time in Latin America. He’s fluent in Spanish… which, of course, helps a bit on a trip like this.
I enjoyed traveling with him. He’s got an easy manner with an excellent sense of humor. He knows how to deflect tension when it arises – which was not often in this group. This is an important skill for someone in the service business. I hope to travel with him and his company again some time.
I know what he’s thinking!
He’s thinking that I have to keep track of the advance riders who are going to burn up too much fuel to reach Punta Arenas. Fuel consumption rises exponentially on these bikes when they are ridden at high speeds into the wind.
In point of fact, Phil and the advance riders had to take a small detour to refuel. They arrived in Punta Arenas at the same time as I did. I rode at a modest 65 miles an hour into the wind and made the distance without refueling.
Tortuga! I claim the name. In the end, the Tortoise won the race.
Eat your heart out kid. Learn from the geezer. Don’t come up short just to get an extra spin out of the wheels.
Above: Follow truck full of rider luggage at hotel in Rio Grande, Argentina. Ready for “the assault” on Punta Arenas, Chile About 200 miles ride… into the heavy Patagonian winds.
Above: Argentines believe the Falkland Islands to be theirs. They call the Falklands, The Malvinas. While trying to expropriate the islands from the British in 1982, Argentina’s army and navy were roundly defeated by the Brits. The Argentines lost their top battleship, The General Balgrano.
The Falkland Islands are several hundred miles to the east of Tierra del Fuego.
Green soldier statures stand near a blue and white representation on the ground of The Falkland Islands. Somehow I can’t imagine seeing an exhibit like this at Sandhurst.
There were a number of signs in the area similar to the one in the image.
And, yes, there is the ubiquitous Argentine flag, flying in its normal flapping guise.
The wind…..oh, the wind….
Note: I am composing this note on a flight from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Though not knowing much Spanish, I still grabbed a copy of BA’s principal newspaper, La Nacion, as I boarded the LAN A300 aircraft. Even on the weather map of the newspaper, The Falkland Islands were listed as Los Malvinas.
The ownership of these islands appears to be a big deal for the Argentines. Britain has to travel a long way, at great cost, to defend them. I wonder if, in their current strapped financial state, Britain would have the stomach to fight again to defend the Falklands. Chances are that Argentina weighs this thought carefully as it plots a method to gain control of the islands.
Above: Motorcycles on ferry as it crosses Estrechio de Magallenes. We’re now back in Chile, after our sixth border crossing between Argentina and Chile.
It is a great conception to take a motorcycle trip down the spine of the Andes in Patagonia.
The ride is a hard one. Two thirds of the 2500 mile routing is dirt, often gravel. We took overland routes… Chile 7… Argentina 40…. Argentina 3….. that are not frequently traveled… In the pampas sections, away from the Andes in Argentina and in Tierra del Fuego the winds are brutal in their intensity and constancy. Riding a high performance adventure bike such as a R1200 GS at 60 mph in 50 mph cross winds on gravel roads is a real – and fun – riding challeng.
But, oh what beauty. The scenery of the Andes was breathtaking. You want mountains and glaciers… these are mountains and glaciers. I have a fair amount of Andes motorcycle riding, now, to my credit. I’ve ridden over the Altiplano to the Amazon cloud forest in Peru. I’ve ridden up the flanks of volcanoes Chimboratzu and Cotopaxi in Ecuador. Now, I can add riding down the Andes spine in Patagonia.
Our tour members were experienced riders.
Enrduro raced enduros as a kid and now tours regularly with Counselor on motorcycles around the US and the world.
Britten raced motorcycles on the track for a number of years. Now, Mrs. Britten rides, and she and Britten can frequently be seen together riding their Royal Enfields along the twisty roads of the Berkshires.
The motorcycle is more or less an extension of The Kid’s body. He loves riding, wheel spinning, rubber burning and all. He’s been riding… well…. since he was a kid.
Alaska has ridden alone across the outback of Australia.
And, Bill (not to be confused with Bill of Detroit) is a motorcycle riding junkie.
Derivatives slides down on the seat and throws her knee out when she takes a curve. She looks like Valentino Rossi.
Bill of Detroit and Ed of Detroit are very accomplished riders.
Some of the riders liked to leave earlier than the departure time of the main rider body each morning. Phil would permit this, making sure the advance riders had good directions on the night’s destination. There were few miscues… apart from the missed turns in Patagonias “Bermuda Triangle,” near the estancia.
This was a motorcycle trip. The most intense and time consuming part of the trip was the riding. That’s why we went. Apart from the service people we ran into, there wasn’t much opportunity to get to know individual Chileans.
There was laundry, naps, cocktails, and dinner after the riding… so there wasn’t time to delve deeply into the history or politics of the nations we were visiting. When I have more time, I hope to study the two countries’ current issues more carefully. I know that students are demonstrating in Santiago for more government support of tuition and that Christina Kirchner was just re-elected president in Argentina… but, beyond that, there’s some homework for me to do.
But… as rides go, this one was fantastic.
Phil and MotoQuest did a good job working with their Orsono, Chile based partner, Motoventura. The bikes they provided were eemers in good working order. Jaime, Phil’s back-up on the trip, was able to complete minor repairs as situations arose.
There were no flat tires. I’ve been on rides like this where there were many. I had five flat tires riding in Ethiopia.
The group dynamic was very good. Very interesting people, with interesting stories, all got along well.
Above: Original Mini Cooper on Punta Arenas residential street.
Image taken in honor of Burt Richmond and Diane Fitzgerald who were instrumental in leading me to ride international motorcycle adventures while they ran Lotus Tours.
Burt is a collector of small cars… Isettas, Deux Chevaux, Mini Coopers etc. Wife Diane runs Teeny Tiny Productions, a company which organizes small car rallies throughout the United States.
A note on food. It was generally better than the restaurant or hotel looked. The shabby look of the buildings and infrastructure in most of the rural destinations we visited was offset by some truly fine – not always – cuisine. Corvina and trout were fresh and tasty. Most of the time, the steaks in these cattle rich countries were excellent. Usually choice of fries, mashed or rice. I’ve already talked about some of the excellent pasta.
Breakfast was buffet style. Rarely were eggs served. Ham, cheese, cereal, juice, toast, pastries were the fare most of the time.
Above: Michael Jackson imitator on square in Punta Arenas, Chile. Norma Jean, one of my favorites, was blaring out of the boom box nearby.
Spectators are warmly dressed. Temperatures are about 50 degrees F at 4 PM.
Above: Britten says goodbye to Jaime, who drove the follow truck and worked on the bikes during the trip. Image takn 20 November 2011. Jaime lives in Orson, Chile, city of origin of our Patagonia motorcycle trip.
Above: Mwah (sic),self photo taken 20 November 2011 on plane from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina,,, where another “adventure” – not motorcycle related…. more cushy – is about to begin.