25: In Santiago de Chile

Days 69, 70 & 71

Day 69 (1st Feb.)
Well, we had planned to set off today but it’s so relaxed and friendly here that it’s so easy to keep putting it off. There’s a mix of people here, but we all have a common interest in travelling so there’s always lots to talk about.  There’s an Australian guy who’s cycling around the world and has been here awhile waiting for post to be forwarded, another from Las Vegas who is waiting for parts to arrive for his Suzuki and will then be heading south to Motocamp (where Christian has picked up some post for him), and many people just stopping overnight.

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Another bike arrives….this time having come down from Bolivia heading for Lima, ridden by a Spanish chap living in Texas!

We visited a museum of Pre- Colombian Art today where there was a fascinating exhibition of pottery, ceramics, metal masks and jewellery on display, all dating back to the time when south and central America remained undiscovered by the Europeans.  It brought home the fact that there were a number of civilisations established in Central and South America for thousands of years before the Spanish Conquistadors arrived only a few hundred years ago.


Mark still needs to find chain oil for the bike as we didn’t get around to it today, so that is a task for tomorrow. We’ll probably need to head off after that as it’s the Grand Prix on Saturday and may therefore be very busy and possibly difficult to get out of the city with roads closed and diversions in place.

Day 70 (2nd Feb.)
After doing some on-line research, Mark settled on getting gearbox oil for the bike’s chain and headed off alone to Calle Lira, a road full of bike shops. I think we have mentioned before when we were last in Santiago, we found that there were shops all selling the same type of goods in certain zones in the city, be it electrical, DIY, haberdashery etc., with bikes and car accessories being found along the whole length of Calle Lira, some 20 minutes walk away. For some people this could be very exciting, but the majority of the bikes for sale were small Chinese machines, so not as exciting as it sounds! However, we did see some KTM, Suzuki and Yamaha showrooms, too.
Once back, Mark filled up the oil reservoir for the chain oiler and checked the sidecar bolts, tyre pressures, coolant level, chain tension and so on, so when we’re ready to go we just have to load up the bike.
In the evening we had a walk to the area where the Formula E Grand Prix race will be held tomorrow. There were several large TV screens, and the grandstands and barriers had also been set up along the roads. We were surprised to see that a road had been dug up by a huge digger just by one of the main grandstands where thousands of people will be walking tomorrow and thought of how health and safety regulations would never allow this at home!  Here, people were just crossing over the broken-up, wobbly tarmac as if it was nothing unusual!

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Day 71 (3rd Feb.)
Today was the Grand Prix and we tried to get a look at the racing, but it was very busy with large crowds, and was very hot. All the viewing tickets had been sold out so we had to make do with watching on one of the big screens. We recognised some of the places on the screen, including the spot where we were standing, but could only just hear the cars as they went by since they were so quiet, with only a high-pitched whine to announce their presence. We both felt that this reduced the excitement of the race somewhat, but appreciate it is better for the environment!

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We now feel that we’ve had enough time again in Santiago and will definitely be leaving our hostel in the morning to head northwards along the coast, which we have been told has some lovely beaches but a cold sea due to the water flowing up from the Antarctic!

24: Pucon to Santiago de Chile

 Days 63 – 68 (26th – 31st Jan.)

Day 63 (26th Jan.) At Motocamp
A number of termas (hot springs) are located very near to us at Motocamp, so we visited one of them today, Los Pososnes, to continue our chilling-out experience at Motocamp. We were not disappointed – the termas was a short ride away through picturesque hills and pastures and several small villages, with a few Ostriches grazing in the fields. The hot springs were situated 150 steps down from the car park, next to a fast-flowing river. They remained very natural, being enclosed by large rocks, in contrast to some we’ve seen previously where the hot water is diverted into conventional swimming pools.
We soaked in all five pools. The temperature varied only slightly between them, and we managed to easily spend four very relaxing hours in them (leaving very wrinkly!)
We head off tomorrow on Ruta 5 since it’s the quickest way to get north of Santiago, some 500 miles away, which will be the next main leg of our trip.


Day 64 (27th Jan.) Motocamp to Victoria
In the afternoon we de-camped and had a sad farewell to the staff at Motocamp. We headed into Pucon to fill-up with fuel and joined a lengthy queue of tourist traffic into town before heading on towards Temuco where we joined Ruta 5 (the Chilean part of the Pan American Highway). After about 100 miles we diverted off at a small town, Victoria, to look for somewhere to stay as by now time was getting on and we didn’t have any accommodation booked. All we could find was a Hospedaje which was basic but cheap. We’ve decided over the weeks that our accommodation will be fine so long as it’s clean and has secure parking – after all, it’s only a place to sleep at the end of the day and we would rather spend our money on a nice meal or an unusual experience rather than more expensive hotel rooms.
Mark parked the bike in a yard behind the hospedaje, shared with a number of hens and several dozen tiny chicks scampering about in the dust and dirt. Luckily the bike was not affected by them during its overnight stay in the yard!
Day 65 (28th Jan.) Victoria to Linares
We spent most of the day riding along Ruta 5, not a very interesting road but we saw quite a lot of activity going-on in the hard shoulders. Apart from the many fruit and vegetable stalls, snack bars and cheese stalls, there was the odd person crossing the 2-lane dual carriageway taking their life into their own hands! There were also regular bus stops with passengers waiting idly on the verges. We also saw several horses being ridden towards the oncoming traffic, plus a number of hens strutting about. Bear in mind that this road, Ruta 5, is the main highway linking the north of Chile to the south – in the UK, a comparable road would be the M1/M6!
We stopped off for the night at Linares, a large town with a pleasant central plaza. However, being a Sunday, its many shops and restaurants were mostly closed. Even in the early evening the temperature was high at around 30 degrees, so, not being able to find anywhere open which served cold beer, we cooled down with large ice creams and sat by a fountain under the shade of the many trees in the plaza.
Day 66 (29th Jan.) Linares to Santiago de Chile
The destination today was back to Santiago, the point at which we started our trip some ten weeks ago. After a 200+ mile ride in 30 degree temperatures, we headed for a motorcyclists’ hostel, Casa Matte, which is located in central Santiago. It had been recommended to us by a Canadian chap, Kevin Chow, whom we’d met a few days ago at Motocamp Pucon. We found the hostel very quickly, since getting into central Santiago was remarkably easy, compared to central London. It comprised a large, old, semi-detached house situated in a pleasant, tree-lined road with several restaurants and a supermarket nearby. If in London, I would say a comparable location would be Bayswater which is similarly close to the west-end city centre. Whilst on the hostel’s roof terrace, we chatted to an Australian chap, Jose, and his mum, Vicky, who had together just completed a ten-week tour of Argentina and Chile in an ancient Fiat 600 they’d bought in Argentina. Jose himself had travelled off and on for over 14 years, usually on motorbikes, including BMW F650 in South America and his KTM 690 in Australia. We decided that we all needed a cold beer and food, so went to a nearby local Peruvian restaurant, which they’d frequented previously, for a delicious meal of cerviche and a very enjoyable evening followed.

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The owner of the hostel has excellent taste in objets d’art, which happen to be two of Mark’s all-time favourite bikes – Yamaha XT500 and Yamaha XT600Z Tenere
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We spent some time on the hostel’s roof terrace updating our blog, reading, drinking beer, having supper, and looking at the Andes in the distance

Day 67 (30th Jan.) In Santiago
Mark needed to buy some more branded oil (Scottoil) for the bike’s automatic chain oiler. We‘d been advised that there was a nearby road full of bike shops that may sell it, so we headed off after breakfast to try and find said oil. However, no-one had heard of Scottoil, never mind selling it. There is, however, an alternative which Mark had heard about on various internet forums, namely chainsaw oil. So, the next job will be to check out local hardware stores for this.
In the afternoon, we relaxed on the hostel’s roof terrace where Mark calculated that we have travelled some 4150 miles since we began our trip nearly ten weeks ago. That may not seem a huge amount, but bear in mind that much of this has been covered on relatively poor roads, some of which were unpaved, some of which were affected by numerous stretches of potholes and some journeys affected by tremendous head- and cross-winds. Also, we have taken time out, probably three to four weeks in total, to relax and explore many of the places we’ve stayed at.

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The hostel’s garage area – room for a dozen bikes or so
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There’s an Australian chap staying here who’s spending years touring the world by bicycle
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This KTM 690 had been ridden down from the USA

Day 68 (31st Jan.) In Santiago
Today we made the most of being back in the city and decided to do some sight-seeing. We headed over to the Mercado Central which houses a bustling fish market in an attractive wrought iron building. It’s a massive place with every type of seafood you could imagine, and more! Unfortunately, the experience was slightly lessened by the continuous hustling of the sellers and the copious amounts of water being poured onto the floor to wash away the fishy remnants. There was a restaurant area in the centre of the building, which looked very nice, but is apparently overpriced for tourists so we didn’t stay for too long.
We then headed over to the beautiful Centro Cultural Estacion Mapocho. This is a de-commissioned railway terminus which is built around an amazing wrought iron structure of numerous columns and roof beams. It was designed by a French architect in 1912 and is now an events venue with restaurants, and is a quiet place to escape from the heat outside.

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The cool interior of Mapocho  gave welcome relief from the hot sun
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Posing for a photo with two others at another arts centre – they didn’t flinch at all before, during or after the photo shoot!

Today the streets were pretty chaotic with lots of impatient drivers hooting due to many diversions (being managed by the Carabineros – National Police) put in place due to the Formula E (electric car) Grand Prix which is being held here on Sunday. We saw numerous barriers being put in place along the roads, and scaffolding for seating being constructed, so it’s going to get even busier here over the next few days.
We’re really pleased to have returned to Santiago, as this time we have enjoyed it far more than when we were originally here at the beginning of our trip, and will leave with better memories of the city.

23: At Motocamp, in Pucon

Days 59 – 62 (22nd – 25th Jan.)

Day 59 (22nd Jan.) At Motocamp
We spent the whole day at Motocamp, sitting out on the huge decking area which looks down a steep, wooded slope over a river, and has several hammocks to relax in. It feels like being in a huge tree house when on the decking. We chatted to Cristian (the owner) for hours about his world trip on a BMW1200GS motorbike and the adventures he had experienced, and looked at many interesting photos of the trip. The day went by extremely quickly and all mundane jobs were put off till later!

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Day 60 (23rd Jan.) At Motocamp and into Pucon
We are sleeping so well here in our tent so it was a struggle to get up for breakfast which ends at 10.30! We then decided to go into Pucon to get our new rear tyre fitted. We followed Cristian on his KTM990 into the town where he showed us the Gomeria (tyre shop). He then gave us a quick tour of the town, pointing out several good restaurants and bars. We then stopped at the lake (Lago Villarrica) which has a large stretch of beach covered with volcanic grey sand. Finally, we went back to the Gomeria to get the tyre changed.

The guys there were very efficient and we were soon off again. We decided to leave the old tyre there for them to dispose of and to buy a new tyre here in Chile as we’ll probably need to replace it again before the end of the trip, and is much cheaper to do this than in Argentina (plus our Temporary Import Permit into Chile states we must take a spare tyre out with us when we leave the country, so it might as well be a new one!)
After a supermarket shop we spent the rest of the day relaxing back at Motocamp reading our books and updating this blog. As the day progressed, more visitors began to arrive and it became much busier as they pitched their tents and ordered drinks at the bar. All the new visitors are Chilean and all are very friendly. Whilst here in South America we have met very few English people, but having a common interest with motorbikes means that any language barriers are easily broken and we manage to have conversations fairly easily now. These usually include where we have been, where we are going and where we are from!
Day 61 (24th Jan.) At Motocamp
Today is a day for jobs. Mark spent some time in the Motocamp garage changing the bike’s oil and oil filter and checking various things on the bike, whilst I washed some clothes in the Motocamp washing machine.

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It’s much busier here today with more going on in the kitchen area and I guess they must have had a few easy days with only us being here up until yesterday afternoon.
In the early evening, we rode into Pucon – the traffic was very heavy with many tourists heading into the town. It’s funny how we don’t associate ourselves as being tourists which must be because we are constantly talking to locals and other travellers! We had a walk around the town and to the lakeside beach which was seething with sunbathers, with recliners and sun umbrellas everywhere. There were many local artisan stalls, all selling much the same things, and a plethora of restaurants and cafes. We found a place Cristian had pointed out to us the previous day, and had a very nice pizza and iced tea sitting outside in the evening sunshine, looking over towards the huge Volcano Villaricca in the distance.

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Whilst walking back to our bike, we had our third huge co-incidence of the trip. When we were in Perito Merino (Argentina) some three weeks ago, we were in our hotel restaurant (having a pizza with chips and fried eggs on top!) and got talking to four Austrian guys on motorbikes. These same Austrians were staying in Pucon and greeted us loudly in the street – for a couple of seconds we wondered what on earth the commotion was! It transpired that we’d parked our bike outside their hotel, so we chatted for a while – they were off home in a few days so were heading towards Valparaiso where they were getting their bikes shipped back to Austria. How amazing to have met them three weeks ago, in Argentina, and then literally bump into them again in Chile…when we’re at home we can go for months without seeing near neighbours!

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Back at the campsite we had a much-needed cold beer and chatted to some of the other guests and staff. A few of the Chilean guests had been at the river earlier that afternoon and had bought a huge salmon, which had been freshly caught by a local fisherman, and were cooking it on the Motocamp BBQ. They very kindly shared it with everyone. We realised then that we’d never eaten a fish caught the same day from a river a few metres away!

Day 62 (25th Jan.) At Motocamp

We spent the day lazing, including updating the blog drafts and reading our books in the hammocks with cold beers.

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This is one of the two dogs who live at Motocamp – she’s sleeping under the huge BBQ.

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22: To San Martin de los Andes and then back into Chile, at Pucon

Day 55 (18th Jan.)  Bariloche to San Martin de los Andes
After another excellent breakfast at the hotel, we packed up and headed to San Martin de los Andes, a little over 100 miles north. We filled up with fuel, bought some coolant for the bike’s engine, and followed Ruta 40 to Villa la Angustura, a pretty tourist town with Alpine architecture and many bars and shops selling chocolates and Artisan products, where we had a coffee.
We rode through an area called the ‘Siete Lagos’ (seven lakes), enjoying the magnificent mountainous scenery inset by the lakes, reaching San Martin de los Andes in the late afternoon.

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Lago Lacar, with San Martin de los Andes in distance

San Martin itself is sited in a spectacular part of the lake district, next to Lago Lacar. The roads were twisty and the views from every angle amazing – whilst a relatively short ride, in distance, the time taken was longer due to the constant tight bends and slow traffic, but we were more than happy to potter along taking-in the scenery. The weather again was fairly hot at around 30 degrees, so we decided to camp as the town was busy and it would probably have taken a while to find a place to stay. We looked on our ‘i-overlander’ app and noted several campsites in the area. We pulled into the first one, Camping El Zorzal, a small family-run site just off Ruta 40, and a few kilometres out of town.

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Camping El Zorzal, home for three nights

We immediately liked it – there was a small but well-stocked shop and the pitches had electrical sockets and outside lights which were very useful. We very quickly put up the tent and settled-in. Most of the others staying here are either trekking or cycling around the area. Three Canadians on hired Kawasaki KLR650 motorbikes checked-in shortly after us. They had just arrived in Argentina, having collected their bikes the previous day in Chile, and will be doing roughly the same route as us, so we were able to advise them about the unpaved parts of Ruta 40 which we have already ridden.
The campsite came to life at around 10pm, with many people setting-up BBQs and chatting outside, just as we were thinking about going to bed!

We’ve mentioned a lot of place names over the course of our blog.  To give some sense of meaning, geographically, here’s a map of South America.  We started in Santiago, which is on the Pacific (left) side of the continent, towards the bottom.  It’s actually around 2000 miles from Santiago to the far south (Punta Arenas and Ushuaia).  In brief, we went south from Santiago to Puerto Natales, which you can see on the map, near to the bottom.  We then headed north via El Calafate to Pucon, which you can just about see (next to Temuco).   To date, we’ve covered around 4000 miles.

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The exact route is sketched out below.

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Day 56 (19th Jan.) A day in San Martin de los Andes
Despite the other campers having had a late night, they were up and gone before we surfaced from our tent at around 9.30am. We had a lazy morning sitting in the sunshine and reading our books. We’ve both recently finished a book called ‘Miracle in the Andes’ by Nando Parrado, a true story about a plane crash in the Andes in the early 1970’s. The author and his rugby team mates were on a flight to Chile, from Uruguay, when their plane hit bad weather and crashed into one of the mountains near the end of the flight. They were given up for dead by the authorities but many survived – they were stranded for 72 days, with the author eventually trekking for many miles, over the mountains for help. It was an astonishing account of an unimaginable ordeal, made all the more real for us as we have both flown and ridden very near to where this occurred. Since only one of us at a time can read our kindle, getting more reading matter has been a bit difficult. However, we found a few second-hand English books at a bookshop in Bariloche, where we bought ‘Dr Nightingale rides the Elephant’…..it was not as bad as it sounds ! We will relax here for another day at San Martin and then head over the border to Chile and onwards to ‘Motocamp’, approximately 140 miles on from here.
Day 57 (20th Jan.) Another day in San Martin de los Andes
We had a lazy morning and then went for a swim in the lake to cool down as it was another hot day. Tomorrow we head for Chile.

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Day 58 (21st Jan.) To Motocamp near Pucon, Chile
There was a thunderstorm last night but not as much rain as when in Pumelin Park a month ago, so by the time we started to pack-up our tent was relatively dry. We rode towards the Chilean border and passed through the beautiful National Park Lanin on the way. We went through passport control very quickly on the Argentinian side, where we handed back our bike’s Temporary Import Permit. We then rode through the usual section of ‘no-mans land’ on to the Chilean customs to get our passports stamped and a new TIP. Rather inconveniently, we had to take almost everything off the bike to be put through an x-ray machine, which was a pain as it took quite a while. One of the customs officers also noticed the spare tyre we’d strapped to the sidecar – he insisted that we had to keep the old tyre after we fit the new one, that is if we were coming back to Argentina. We could only guess this was to prevent us from selling it in Chile without paying import duty, and he wrote a note to this effect on our TIP. The crazy thing is, it would’ve been far cheaper to buy the tyre in Chile but then we didn’t know if the old one would last until Chile (which of course it has).

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Riding over the Andes back towards Chile. This was along a section of unmade road, still in Argentina
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Back in Chile and on a paved road again

We arrived at Motocamp in the early evening and expected it to be busy. However, when we arrived we were the only people there! We had the option of either camping or staying in a 4-bed bunk room. The showers and facilities are amazingly good, and the decor industrial/workshop themed. Plus there is an on-site café/restaurant. There is also a workshop for visitors to use for bike maintenance. We opted to camp as the weather was good. However, another storm had been forecast for the night, so they kindly said that we could use the bunkhouse anytime during the night if the weather got too much for our tent!

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Motocamp – restaurant terrace and camping areas

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We enjoyed a tasty BBQ and salad supper at the café/restaurant, sitting outside in a large decking area, with an excellent bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. We were the only two people there and we were waited on as if we were royalty!
Motocamp was recommended to us whilst on the Navimag ferry a month ago, by the Australian friend we made, Mark (www.motorcyclevagrant.com) Apparently, we’ve now just missed him as he was here, at Motocamp, only a few days ago, and is now flying back home to Australia (via Miami to pick up his diving gear). Motocamp is a stop-off primarily aimed at motorcyclists, with the option of either camping in the grounds or hiring a bunkroom, plus a workshop for bike maintenance, with staff on hand if any help is required. It’s all very well equipped and remarkably clean, plus there’s the option of getting restaurant food or using the kitchen for cooking one’s own food. And there is a bar with a very appropriate beer dispenser.

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The beer dispenser!

Whilst we’re here, Mark will carry out some bike maintenance including replacing the bike’s rear tyre and changing the engine oil/filter.

21: Gobernador Costa, Esquel, El Bolson & San Carlos de Bariloche

Days 43 – 52 (7th Jan. – 17th Jan.)

Day 44 (7th Jan.) – To Gobernador Costa
Every journey starts with filling-up with fuel since we don’t know where the next service station will be. They’re usually huge distances apart in Patagonia and we wouldn’t want to risk running out of fuel . However, we’re carrying a 10 litre fuel can in case of emergency, as well as a boot full of spare parts and tools. Service stations can become very sociable places as we usually generate a lot of interest with the sidecar. Today was no different. As we pulled into the one service station at Rio Mayo (a small town in the middle of nowhere), we were very quickly surrounded by a huge group of fellow motorcyclists from Chile, with Mark managing to answer their questions very well in Spanish. After the usual photographs of the sidecar had been taken they continued on their way south, to Ushuaia.

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We were heading northwards to Gobernador Costa, a small town at the crossroads of Ruta 40 and Provincial Route 63 which leads east towards the Atlantic coast. As mentioned in a previous post, Ruta 40 runs from the south of Argentina to the north and is some 3000 miles long; we’re presently about two-fifths the way up it.
After riding for about 230 miles today we stopped at a hotel in Costa for the night and will continue north on Ruta 40 in the morning.

Day 45 (8th Jan.) – To Esquel
The plan for today was to have a shorter ride to Esquel, as Mark still had some numbness in his right arm as a result of having to steer the bike through the extremely windy conditions over the last few days. The bike and sidecar have been notably veering to the right due to first, the extremely strong winds from the left (west) and second, the camber on the road which drops down to the right (east). So, the result is two forces pushing the bike to the right and he is continually having to push the bike to the left to keep going straight. Added to this, when a huge lorry passes us from the opposite direction there is often an enormous turbulence, plus with many stretches of road affected by numerous, and often deep, pot holes it can be quite treacherous in places.
The scenery has now become much more interesting with the foothills of the snow-capped Andes in the distance and the plains becoming greener and dotted with an unusual sight – trees. As we approached Esquel, the scenery reminded us of the Swiss Alps – with animals grazing and blue skies above, it was beautiful. The temperature has risen as well today, reaching highs of 30 degrees or so (which was uncomfortably hot with our bike leathers and the thermal linings in our jackets which we have needed up until now).

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En route to Esquel

We found a nice first floor apartment with balcony and parking below, and spent the late afternoon taking a walk in the town and relaxing in the apartment.

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Home for two nights at Esquel

Tomorrow we go to visit the historic town of Trevelin, a nearby town founded by Welsh settlers in the nineteenth century, as are many towns in this part of the country. The name translates in Welsh to ‘town’ and ‘mill’. Many Welsh migrants originally landed on the east coast of Argentina and named the main towns Puerto Madryn and Trelew, thereafter expanding their settlements along the Chubut river to the foot of the Andes which is where we are now. We hope to hear some of the locals speaking Welsh and may visit one of the popular Welsh teashops.
After Trevelin, the plan is to head for El Bolson which is a fairly large town south of Bariloche. Before we left UK, we arranged our third party motorbike insurance through a German couple who live near El Bolson – they run a farm and let travellers camp on it. Since the weather has warmed up we thought we would stay a while and relax. In an e-mail giving us directions to the farm they suggested we may like to help them out on the farm, so it may not be quite as relaxing as anticipated!

Day 46 (9th Jan.) – To Trevelin and El Bolson
Trevelin turned out to be less Welsh than we had expected. The tourist information centre had a large metal dragon statue outside and the directions for the bank and post office etc. had signs written 3 ways namely in Spanish, Welsh and the local indigenous language.

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Evidence of Welsh heritage in Trevelin
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Including dragon over tourist information office

There were very few people about so the chances of finding a Welsh-speaking local was remote, (so sorry David, no video for you to translate!) Our original plan had included a visit to Puerto Madryn and Trelew on the east coast (where there are still many people speaking Welsh) but because of our original starting point changing from Montevideo to Santiago (i.e. from the east to west side of the continent) we are not exploring that area now.
We arrived at El Bolson in the mid-afternoon and it looked to be a nice, busy place with plenty of restaurants, many with outside seating which surprisingly we haven’t seen much of so far. After briefly stopping to buy some provisions in the town, we arrived at the farm which is situated in a beautiful valley surrounded by steep hills, with the snow-capped mountains in the distance.  The owners, Klaus and Claudia, were very friendly and offered us a jug of tea and a chat in their house before we pitched our tent in a shady spot by their river. They are both motorcyclists and spent 16 years travelling the world from 1981-1997 on a pair of Yamaha XT500 trail bikes, which made for interesting conversation.  They wrote a bestselling book (in Germany) about their travels but are almost unheard of in UK since no English translation has yet been published.
We cooked our supper very quickly using our Jetboil stove, which is extremely efficient, and had a more enjoyable meal than most we have had in restaurants. The majority of the time we do our own cooking and consequently try to stay in hostels with a shared kitchen, or small apartments and Cabanas which always have a small kitchen area, so we can self-cater in order to save money and provide tasty and healthy food – most of the restaurants in both Chile and Argentina so far seem to sell fast food, pasta or pizzas! The locals seem to go for something called Milanesa – fried chicken in breadcrumbs, usually with chips and a fried egg on top…..possibly quite tasty for some but really not for us!
There’s a young French couple camping here as well as us, Lucie and Thomas, who are travelling the world over 2 years on a fairly tight budget – most if not all of their accommodation so far has been wild camping. It was very interesting to hear of their travels and get some ideas of meals to cook on one ring!

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The valley in which the farm is located

 

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Our shady camping spot, next to the river

Days 47 – 52 (10th – 15th Jan.) Staying on Klaus’s farm

Day 47 (10th Jan.)
We decided to go into town to search out a new tyre as we’d noticed a couple of motorbike shops yesterday when on our way through El Bolson.  Amazingly, they had one tyre of the correct size (140/80×17), a Metzeler Sahara which we snapped up albeit much more expensive than at home. There are apparently very high taxes on all imported motor parts in Argentina and, as a result, many people travel across the border to Chile to buy such parts…. both Klaus and the shop assistant had suggested this to us. We did consider it, but we’ve already travelled through Chile and want to continue northwards along Ruta 40 in Argentina.
We took a walk through the farm to see the work which Klaus has suggested we could help with – he’s is putting in a drainage system to irrigate the land in part of the valley to enable grass to grow and sheep to graze. He’s currently in the process of diverting spring water from the surrounding hills into a series of pipes which have a sprinkler system fitted to them.
We spent the evening sitting at a huge barbeque communal table near our tent with the French couple, Lucie and Thomas, and learned that they have visited Canterbury and much of Southern England on a previous trip, and also that they come from Tours in the Loire Valley where we have been camping in the past!
Day 48 (11th Jan.)
We woke up to another warm, sunny morning and decided to have a lazy day reading our books, sunbathing and up-dating our blog. There’s no internet on the farm so we have no means of communication with anyone for the first time since we have been in South America. Having said that, the Wi-Fi has generally been better here than at home in Worth. More travellers arrived on the farm over the course of the day in a variety of 4×4 campervans and trucks, some of whom have been travelling for many years, all over the world. Our 6 months break now feels far too short a time!
Day 49 (12th Jan.)
We woke up to another lovely day and before it got too hot we sought wi-fi at the YPF service station in El Bolson, after filling up our bike with fuel. It was good to catch up with family and friends and it always amazes us how quick and easy it is to communicate, even when so far away from home. I’m still carrying around postcards from Chile as couldn’t find a post box there!

Day 50 (13th Jan.)  
The highlight of the day must have been the communal BBQ we had at the fire pit near to our tent. Some of us collected and cut wood and got a large fire going in the firepit in the early afternoon. All of us – Klaus, his family, and all of us visitors – cooked a variety of meats (ours being some lamb from the farm), and the fire was still burning at 10.30pm. We learnt from Klaus how to manage the fire and keep it going for so long. The trick is to move the coals from the fire to the grill area and keep the fire going at the back of the fire pit in order to have a continuous supply of red-hot coals.

 

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Klaus farms a number of sheep here and there are many skins hanging up around his barns, drying in the sun. He was concerned since there’s been a problem with either wild dogs or a puma, which has killed a number of their lambs. Luckily, we have seen neither whilst we have been here, but I did see a skunk, and also several lizards sunbathing on a tree trunk.
Day 51 (14th Jan.)
Last night we decided that we would move on today, but this morning we changed our minds and will stay a bit longer! It’s so peaceful, the weather is superb, and the people here in their overland 4×4 (and one 6×6) campers are interesting and most friendly. Fortunately, they (being mostly German and some Israeli) all speak good English.
We went to El Bolson in the afternoon and wandered around a number of craft market stalls, ending up in an Ice Cream Parlour which is said to have the best ice cream in Argentina (at least according to our Lonely Planet Guide).
The day ended as yesterday – very pleasantly with another communal barbeque around the firepit.
Day 52 (15th Jan.)
We decided to have one final day at Klaus’s farm. The others all left in the morning and things were consequently very quiet which was quite nice after a busy and sociable few days. We did no more than relax, read and walk in the continuing warm sunshine.
Day 53 (16th Jan.) – To San Carlos de Bariloche
With some regret we moved on from Klaus’s farm. We probably could have stayed on for another week or longer, peacefully relaxing in the warm sunshine, nipping into El Bolson for supplies and the internet, and chatting with visiting overland types who would be passing through at Klaus’s invitation.

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We were sad to leave the farm after a relaxing week
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On our way to Bariloche, through Argentina’s beautiful lake district

After a relatively short ride, we arrived at Bariloche in the warm mid-afternoon. The ride itself was through beautiful, mountainous landscapes (reminiscent of the Alps which we’ve visited on several occasions), with numerous bends and many ascents and descents, along with two enormous lakes towards the end part of the journey – we were now entering the Argentinian lake district of which Bariloche is the principal town.
We hadn’t pre-booked anywhere to stay, which was a slight concern since the town and surrounding area is a very popular destination for holidaying Argentines in the high season months of January and February. However, after a short while we chanced upon a nice hotel half a mile or so from the town centre, complete with secure underground parking. Our room has distant views of the large lake (Nahuel Huapi) next to the town, and is very comfortable after a week of camping!

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After a week of camping, our new home for two nights in Bariloche
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Bariloche, by the lake
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View over the lake

Day 54 (17th Jan) – In Bariloche
We had an early buffet breakfast on the top floor of the hotel, with spectacular views over Lake Nahuel Huapi and the surrounding mountains. Whilst it was a bit cloudy, the views were by no means spoilt, and by midday the sun had broken through to yet another hot and sunny day. We spent an enjoyable time walking down to Nahuel Huapi and then around the town, which has many chocolate shops, places selling traditional artisan products, cafes and restaurants. There were also numerous craft market stalls and street musicians, and in contrast to all other towns we’ve visited it was very noticeable that there were very few stray dogs lying about in the sunshine. This was by far the most touristy town we’ve stayed in and have read that it’s the most popular area for Argentinians to spend their holidays. In the winter it is a ski resort and so is very similar to any alpine town, with chalet buildings and many sports and hiking shops.
We relaxed with a beer sitting outside a cafe in the sunshine, and just people-watched for an hour before wandering off again. We decided to send some postcards we had written but when we asked for 3 stamps (for the UK) at the Post Office, the cost was £12!…. so we’ll post them in Chile – where we’re next heading – over the next few days.
After eight weeks of travelling, we’ve had a serious think about our route and have decided that quality time in each place we visit is far preferable to rushing from one place to another in trying to visit as many countries as possible in our 5 months. The relaxing week spent on the farm, and talking to other travellers, has made us re-assess what we want to get out of this trip – we’ve both agreed it’s to get a true feel of each place we visit and to make good memories without feeling pressurised to move on quickly. Therefore, we are going to continue north along Ruta 40 for a short while, explore the beautiful ‘seven lakes’ region and then cross back to Chile, over the Andes, and head for the town of Pucon where we can carry out some bike maintenance at a ‘motocamp’ which has been recommended to us. Also, there is an inactive volcano next to Pucon where one can walk up to the lava crater, and also soak in nearby hot springs, both of which we would like to sample. We’ll then head back to Ruta 40 in Argentina and then possibly head over towards the east of the country where the Iguazu Falls (a series of massive waterfalls) are located. One reason for this change of direction, rather than heading north to Columbia as originally planned, is that we have to think about arranging the transportation back to the UK from a sea port (as this is cheaper than air freighting) and there are options of getting a cargo boat from either Buenos Aires or Montevideo. This is a loose plan and as far as plans go, most of ours have changed so we will be flexible!

20: A restful day in Perito Moreno

06/01/2018

Day 43 (6th Jan.)

We decided to stay an extra night at our hotel as we were both tired and had mundane things to do like washing some of our clothes.  We found a ‘Lavanderia’ which could wash our things and return them to our hotel the same evening, which was perfect. Washing and drying clothes is not an issue at home but when one is travelling it has to be planned for a longer stopover to avoid packing up wet clothes, so to have it done for us is quite exciting!

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Our dirty stuff was dropped off here…
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…and delivered back to our hotel later in the day

Mark checked over the bike and we will need to replace the bike’s rear tyre soon because with the sidecar only the middle part of the tyre (which is a normal, curved motorbike tyre with a small road contact patch) is in contact with the road and has therefore worn relatively quickly in the middle.  We probably have several hundred miles before having to replace it and will get one at the next large town we stop at.  The other two tyres (front and sidecar wheels) are of a more square profile and are wearing far more slowly.
We spent a lazy afternoon watching English films on the television in our room and will head off in the morning towards San Carlos de Bariloche which will take a few days to get to.

19: El Chalten, Ruta 40, Gobernador Gregores, and Perito Moreno

Days 37 to 42 (31st Dec. to 5th January 2018)

Day 37 (31st Dec) – To El Chalten
We said our goodbyes to El Calafete and headed northwards to El Chalten which was about 140 miles away.  The road was nicely paved all the way, with stunning scenery everywhere.  We made good time and arrived in the early afternoon. The Patagonian winds aided progress initially as we headed east, with a tailwind blowing us up all the hills in top gear. When we picked up Ruta 41, taking us west to El Chalten, we were again riding directly into the headwind which, at the worst, forced us down into third gear even on some sections of the level road as well as the hills – it will be interesting to work out our petrol consumption in due course. Our Hostel was very near to a number of hiking trails around the Fitz Roy mountain range, and not far from the town centre.  The town itself is quite small and relatively new having been built in 1985.  It mainly shuts down over the winter as it generally caters for tourists who go there for the hiking, trekking and climbing.
Days 38 & 39  (1st & 2nd January) – Happy New Year
Today we walked a couple of short trails, including one known as ‘Chorillos de Salta’, to take in some of the beautiful views of the river basin and mountains which surround the town. The trails were several kilometres long and led to a spectacular waterfall, with the round trip taking a couple of hours.

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Later in the afternoon Mark spotted a huge yellow campervan with a UK registration plate opposite our hostel, so he went to see if they had driven the 80km unmade part of Ruta 40 which we will possibly be doing in a few days’ time. However, this will depend on the weather as it can become treacherous after rain due to the gravel turning into a muddy quagmire in addition to the numerous pot holes which are there in any weather condition. The driver, an Australian, had travelled this road recently in dry conditions and thought the sidecar should have no problem. But, he advised not to attempt it if raining. We will have to make this decision nearer the time and if raining, will probably sit it out in the small town (Tres Lagos) which is directly south of the gravel section. Alternatively, we would have to back-track and take a different route around the gravel which would add at least 600 miles which we don’t want to do since we have had too many diversions already!
We decided to stay another night in El Chalten so that we could hire mountain bikes and ride from Lago de Desierto (a large glacial lake to the north of the town) back to El Chalten. To do this, we were picked up early by the bike hire company and dropped off at the start, some 37km away. The ride back was entirely on gravel tracks with many hills and many sections of gravel inset with small rocks.  Even with the very bumpy road we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and clocked up over 40km including a couple of diversions we made to get a bird’s eye view of the lake.

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The scenery was spectacular with snow capped mountains one side and multi – coloured granite hills on the other. We saw several waterfalls and rapids and were tempted to hire kayaks, but this must wait for another day.

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In the morning we are heading north on Ruta 40, for Tres Lagos, and so far the weather forecast is good.
Whilst in Argentina we’ve noticed that every other car seems to be a Duster, the SUV vehicle made by Renault.   We have a Duster ourselves but in the UK it’s branded as a Dacia (a Romanian car maker owned by Renault).  Here, they’re branded as Renaults and interestingly to us, there’s a pick-up version as well as the standard SUV model.  The Duster is a fairly basic, inexpensive but robust, no-frills vehicle which, like ours, comes with a 4WD option and is Renault’s best-selling vehicle world-wide. In India, there’s an upmarket version branded as a Nissan (who are associated with Renault)

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Duster pick-up (with SUV version in the background)

Days 40 & 41 (3rd & 4th January) – Ruta 40 to Tres Lagos & Gobernador Gregores                                                                                                                                            We left our friendly but noisy hostel and headed for Ruta 40.  The weather was good and our first stop was for cash and then for fuel – there was a small service station on the outskirts of town which had an above-ground petrol storage tank, something we had never seen before.   Two South Korean motorcyclists, who were riding KTM690 and BMW F800GS, were travelling for several months and had never seen a sidecar before since they were illegal at home.  They took several photos as they hoped it would make their wives more interested in bikes.

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We arrived at the small town of Tres Lagos which was our original destination,  but as it was only midday we continued on Ruta 40.  The road was as we expected with a gravel section of some 50 miles which was affected by numerous ruts and thick soil at the sides which would quickly turn to mud when raining.   It took us over 2 hours to complete this 50 mile section and was an experience we won’t forget.

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Ruta 40 – the principal road running 5000km from the top to the bottom of Argentina. It’s gradually been paved and there are few sections left like this.

We eventually arrived at Gobernador Gregores, the first sizeable town, after a ride of some 200 miles and rode around for a while looking for a place to stay.  Whilst waiting at a set of traffic lights, two friendly locals in a pick-up truck started chatting about the bike and asked if we were looking for somewhere to stay as one of them had a room.  This could have been a mistake but our gut instinct said go, so we followed them back.  The room, in a small annexe, was fairly basic but fine for a night and we felt more at ease when introduced to family and friends who were constantly popping into what seemed to be an open house and soon there were six people sitting at the table preparing supper for us all!   The meal was accompanied by wine and as the evening progressed homemade cherry brandy appeared along with an old wind-up gramophone record player with Argentinian Tango music put on it….an unforgettable evening!

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We said our goodbyes in the morning and headed onwards towards our next stop, Perito Moreno, some 200 miles away.  En-route, we stopped at an isolated hotel, Las Horquetas, for a coffee, this being the first building we had seen in over 75 miles.  When returning to the bike, Mark noticed that 2 bolts holding on the sidecar sub-frame to the bike were missing.  This was a problem as the sub-frame had become loose and we were reluctant to ride the bike in this condition.  Luckily, Mark had some spare bolts and between him and two helpful people from the café, they managed to get one bolt in to temporarily secure the sub-frame in place.  The second bolt had sheared-off completely leaving a remnant in place which needed to be drilled-out before a replacement could be fitted.

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Two empty holes where the bolts should be – despite regularly checking

This meant we had to find a garage, the nearest one being back at the beginning of the 75 miles we had just ridden!  Feeling a bit despondent, we rode back to Gregores to look for a garage.  After searching in vain, we decided to return to the house where we had stayed the night before since one of the owner’s friends, who we’d met the previous night, happened to be a mechanic.  They were somewhat surprised to see us again but turned out to be extremely helpful.  We booked-in again for the night and the bike was repaired that evening….the sheared bolt was drilled out and two new bolts were installed.  We were also introduced to our first taste of Mate, a traditional South American caffeine-rich infused drink which is drunk by almost all Argentinians.  It’s traditionally shared by friends with all drinking from the same cup using a shared straw.

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Another very sociable evening meal followed with about ten people around the table and once finished a Karaoke machine appeared complete with disco lights and plenty of wine.  We didn’t get to bed until well past 2.00am and had a most bizarre evening, with both of us taking our turn at the microphone.

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Another supper with our host, his friends and family…
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…followed by Spanish karaoke

Day 42 (5th January) – Perito Moreno
Up not so early after our late night, we headed for Perito Moreno for the second time.  It was a lovely sunny day but the wind continued to blow strongly, causing the bike to weave across the road at times.  However, there were so few vehicles around that it seemed safer to ride in the middle of the road to minimise the risk of being blown off and into the gravel verge, which was at times steep and rock-strewn.   The road surface, however, was good and the magnificent scenery continued all along.  The barren, now-rocky landscape was changing from sandstone to pink and remained a vast open space with groups of Guanaco roaming here and there.  There were also occasional Rhea and a few skunks too albeit these were unfortunately wholly road kill.  But, the most amazing sight of all were thousands of Cicadas covering the road over the course of several miles.

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Endless vast landscapes and enormous blue skies, and Guanacos

 

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75 miles with no buildings and few other vehicles

We eventually arrived at Perito Mereno and, thanks to our ‘ i- overlander’ app, we found a nice hotel in a convenient location for the night.

18: A day in El Calafate

Day 36 (30th Dec.)

We decided to make the most of a sunny yet windy day and walked to the Lake (Lago Argentino) to the west of the town, which we could see from our room.  On the way, we stopped off at a cemetery where vast concrete structures held multiple coffins in a number of separate compartments – clearly a very practical use of space.  The front part of each compartment could be accessed by a hinged window behind which people (presumably relatives) had placed flowers, candles and most bizarrely bottles of soft drink.  They were beautifully tended and it seemed a very special place for people to visit.

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This cemetery reminded us of the multiple roadside shrines we have seen along the way in both Chile and Argentina, and even today we saw a man stop his car beside a small shrine and put a packet of cigarettes inside the little structure!  It was a strange thing to see and we both wondered the significance of this action.

Lunch comprised Empanadas in a nice music bar by the lake, complete with shelves full of  Scotch Whiskey.

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We then visited a museum of Patagonian history, which was very interesting in showing how the area evolved and how its early settlers lived.  The first hunter gatherers  arrived here more than 9000 years ago and they fed on Guanacos, which we have seen roaming on the plains.  Interestingly, there are rock faces within a cave near here (Cuevas de los Manos) where there are traces of hand prints, as well as figures that represent men and animals, which must be fascinating to see.

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Tomorrow we leave for the town of El Chalten, a small town set close to Mount Fitz Roy, where the main activity is hiking.

 

17: To El Calafate and the Perito Moreno Glacier

Days 34 & 35 (28th & 29th Dec.)

After finding that neither the hot nor cold water worked in the morning, we headed off from our rather dire *’Hotel Paradiso’ in Esperanza towards El Calafate which is some 200km to the northwest, at the foot of the Argentinian Andes.  It’s a town well-known as being a base for hiking, trekking, kayaking and so on, and is on the backpackers well-worn trail.  Again, the weather was fine – blue skies dotted with brilliant white, rolling clouds over the vast Patagonian Steppe landscape.  Being outside on a motorcycle, our views of the enormous skies were 180 degrees in all directions – no obstructions to get in the way as would be the case with almost any other vehicle.

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As we progressed towards El Calafate, the infamous Patagonian winds picked up tremendously, with us riding into a headwind for much of the way.  This notably affected progress of the bike which would lose momentum when tackling many of the steeper inclines we encountered (and even some of the less steep ones).  Consequently, we had to change down from top to fourth gear, and even to third on some occasions.  But, the relatively modest 750cc, 60hp motor is, of course, propelling considerably more weight than it was as a solo machine, plus the aerodynamics are far less efficient with the sidecar fitted.  Generally, with ‘normal’ wind conditions, we cruise along at around 55-60mph, occasionally going up to 70mph where there’s a good road and no interesting landscapes to slow down for.  However, I (Mark) have enjoyed the Patagonian winds so far – it’s exhilarating riding in these conditions, complete with intermittent aromas of wild lupins and other road-side plants we’ve recently come across.  Being stuck in a car, maybe with the air-conditioning turned on, would never give the same feeling of being near to nature and the elements.

*The Rick Mayall/Adrian Edmondson film where they ran a hotel….very badly!

Our accommodation for the next 2 nights in El Calafate was a complete contrast to the last place – modern, clean and fully equipped, and amazingly at only very slightly more cost.

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Today (29th Dec.), we took a bus to visit the famous Perito Moreno glacier, 50km to the west of El Calafate, at the base of the Andes.  We decided to take the bus, rather than the bike, so that we could leave the bike gear at home, snooze on the bus, and look at the landscape with 100% concentration since I (Mark) am constantly looking at the road ahead for potholes, stray farm animals, dogs and more lately ostriches, as well as appreciating the landscapes.  It was interesting to note the variety of other people on the coach, ranging from budget-conscious backpackers to older tourists complete with expensive cameras and massive telescopic lenses.

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Our bus dropped us off at the reception centre in the ‘Los Glaciares’ National Park in which there are a number of glaciers, Perito Moreno being the largest of these.  We first saw the glacier as we approached it from the bus, and it looked impressive.  Once we disembarked and took the trail leading towards it, it came into full view at close quarters and was jaw-droppingly magnificent.  From the last ice-age, it is around 5km wide where wedged into the mountain valley; around 31km long to the border with Chile; and some 700m deep at its centre.  The lower end terminates in an ice cliff of between 50m and 60m high, with large slabs of the ice cliff constantly breaking away and falling into the glacial lake below, each time accompanied by a thunderous explosion as the ice plunges into the near-freezing water.

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Whilst there, we had 4 seasons within a few hours – warm sunshine, strong winds, dark cloud as far as the eye could see, and driving freezing rain.  If we could be guaranteed warm sunshine, we could have sat there watching the ice falls for days or weeks.  We also saw a very cool 4×4 camper van from Austria:

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Jason at Birkby Construction, if you’re reading this….none (and I mean absolutely none) of the buildings in Argentina which we’ve seen so far have any gutters or downpipes.  The roof coverings (which are all of corrugated sheet, some of which is pressed into a ’tile’ pattern) all just discharge the rain direct onto the ground.  So no overhauling of knackered old cast iron components needed here!  And in Chile most of the houses seem to be built using 3″ x 2″ timber frames clad with OSB/corrugated sheet outside and some sort of board inside, making them around 5″ thick overall, even in the deep south where the weather is cold and wet.  The concept of cavity wall construction I suspect is rare if not unheard of.

 

16: Chaiten to Puerto Natales, and then into southern Argentina

 

Days 25 – 33 (19th- 27th Dec)
Day 25 – Chaiten to Castro
We said goodbye to Chaiten and took the ferry to Quellon on Chiloe Island, where we arrived in the mid-afternoon. We’d had blue skies with fantastic scenery all the way, with amazing landscapes of the Andean foothills and volcanoes beyond, as well as good company. It’s amazing how quickly you get to know people when travelling, and there is always good advice to be had from other travellers’ experiences.
Quellon turned out to be a rather ugly port town and when we saw our booked accommodation for the night, we quickly found a café with wi-fi to cancel it and decided to ride on. We ended up in Castro, Chiloe’s capital town, and luckily found a cabana in a small development with secure parking, which was very near to the famous Palafitos – these are picturesque houses built on stilts which were originally fishermans homes. They used to moor their little boats underneath the houses, and are now painted in attractive pastel colours but are a little run down like the majority of homes in Chile.

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Day 26 – A day in Castro
We visited the UNESCO-rated Cathedral in the centre of town, a beautiful wooden structure which is painted in garish yellow and purple on the outside, but inside remains in natural wood, with many beautiful, religious statues dotted around the perimeter walls. Apparently, there are over 150 wooden, shingle-clad churches in Chiloe and we have certainly seen a number of these on our travels across the island.

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The cathedral in Castro…
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…had this nice sculpture inside

The main street in Castro was very frenetic, with street vendors selling anything from Christmas paper to electrical goods, fruit and vegetables, and several small supermarkets selling more or less the same products which lined the road. We wondered how the street sellers managed to make any money to stay in business, but everyone seemed very happy and contented.
Every town in Chile seems to have groups of wandering dogs, and Castro was no exception. Their main interest, apart from sleeping in or by the road, was to chase the passing vehicles, us included. We saw one unfortunate dog that had obviously been hit by a car and had broken its pelvis. It was dragging its back legs as it walked but appeared to manage surprisingly well and seemed to be accepted by the other dogs. Having spoken to many locals about the dogs, we have learned that in January there will be a new government initiative to chip them and hopefully tackle the issue by neutering them.
Day 27 – Castro to Puerto Montt
The next day we headed up to Puerto Montt, to the Navimag offices to pick up our ferry tickets, and to find accommodation for the night. Luckily, we found a Hospedaje just around the corner from Navimag, which had the biggest garage we had ever seen. The floor was completely covered with ceramic tiles, and there was a black spiral staircase which led up to our accommodation on the first floor. There was an aged Toyota Corolla ‘Liftback’ car parked there which was probably about 30 years old and in pristine condition…. definitely the poshest parking place for the sidecar so far!

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Behind the facade of our Hospedaje…
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…was this extraordinary garage

Days 28 to 31 – On the Navimag ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales
The next day we took the 3-night ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales.  We met some fellow motorcyclists whilst waiting to depart, and it was interesting to hear about where they had come from and were going to, the conditions of the roads, and the variety of accommodation in which they had stayed. Two had been on the road for over a year and a half, one on a heavily-laden 650cc Suzuki V-Strom, the other on a more modestly-laden BMW 1100GS, along with a 250cc Chinese trail bike.  We also became friendly with a young Dutch chap, Marten, who we first met on the quayside – he’d been on the road for over two years with his VW camper which he’d bought with 340,000 km on the clock and had now taken this up to 400,000 km.  The engine was apparently now on its last legs and we sincerely hope he reaches Ushuaia (the End of the World) before it terminally conks out – there is only 400 miles or so for him to go!

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The ferry finally left two-and-a-half hours later than expected, but everything here seems to run on ‘Chile time’ – no one seems to be in any rush and the Navimag booking system seems very outdated and somewhat haphazard, but none of this rubbed off onto the good organisation of the ship, once we were on-board.
We were shown to our cabin which was very comfortable – unexpectedly, we’d been upgraded to a cabin with a window looking out over the stern of the ship, with views in 3 directions. Whilst we waited to set off, we were amused to see sealions sunbathing on the ship’s big plastic mooring buoys which must have warmed up in the sunshine – they were jumping on and sliding off, being very possessive of the space once on top and generally playing like children!

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After setting sail, we had a safety talk, navigation route talk and then supper which were all excellent, and chatted with fellow passengers. The majority seemed to have come from Germany, but we heard Spanish, French, Italian, Australian and even Russian.
The following morning, we had another talk on the Flora and Fauna which we were likely to see on our voyage through the Patagonian Fjords. The variety of birds included Condor, Albatross, Penguins and various sorts of gulls, along with Seals, Dolphins and different types of Whales which would, if spotted, would be an amazing sight for us.

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Albatross….it was much larger than it looks here, with a wingspan of around 3 metres

The weather on the first full day of the voyage was much better than we could have hoped for, given the reputation of this lower west side of Chile for mist and rain. The scenery was beautiful either side of the numerous narrow channels which run for the entire length of the voyage between the mainland and the numerous islands forming the archipelago. The ship’s resident naturalist, Percy, an amusing and charismatic character, gave the above-mentioned talks which included facts such as there are 1.4 people per square kilometre in Patagonia as compared to around 15,000 in cities such as London, thus making Patagonia one of the least-populated regions in the world. Another interesting fact we heard was that the top soil is only 6 inches deep, so the few coast-side settlements are unable to cultivate the land or even to bury the dead (there are structures built on stilts, over the sea, for interment purposes).
On the second day, as said, we had an interesting lecture about the Fauna and Flora that can be seen in Patagonia. We spent a lot of the day on deck and spotted albatross, various types of gulls, and some dolphins which had a black dorsal fin and white underbelly. The wind was picking up as we were out at sea for some of the time, so we had a rocky night till we returned to the shelter of the fjords.

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The third day (Christmas Eve) started at 6am with a message over the tannoy system to say that we were approaching a shipwreck. This boat was originally meant to have sunk so the owners could claim on the insurance, but due to some bad planning it ended up being stuck on a rock. It was now, after some fifty years, extremely rusty but had become a refuge for birds, and there were even small trees and lichens growing on it. In the evening we saw a family of Orca Whales in the distance, too far away to take photographs but nonetheless exciting to see. The staff laid on a small party for the passengers, but I have to say that we retired to our cabin when the Spanish Karaoke started!

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The fourth day (Christmas day) began even earlier at 5.00, with a tannoy announcement to say that we were entering the very narrowest channel between the two shorelines, and was a sight apparently not to be missed. It was a beautiful day with a wonderful sunrise which enhanced the majestic snow-capped mountains in the distance. The skill of the pilot steering the boat through the narrow channel was amazing and we will never forget this experience.
We arrived early at Puerto Natales and stood on deck watching the crew secure the ship to mooring posts with huge ropes which were put in place by the harbour men using small boats for this.
The private vehicle owners had to wait until all the foot passengers had disembarked, along with most of the lorries. After some slightly confusing administration issues with our disembarkation papers, we were on our way again having said our farewells to the friends we had made whilst on board

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This was a very different Christmas day and one that we will never forget!
Merry Christmas to our family, friends and anyone who is following this blog. Please leave an occasional comment so we know there are people out there interested in what we are doing!
Day 32 – In Puerto Natales
We stayed in Puerto Natales and walked from our hotel into the town, a round trip of some seven miles. The wind soon got up and must have been around force 5 along the path we took following the sea shore – we couldn’t even hear each other talking. However, it was sunny which made it worthwhile.

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Our home for Christmas 2017

Day 33 – To Argentina
We rode the 50 miles up to Torres del Paines (Towers of Rock), a very popular, mountainous National Park which attracts hikers and tourists in their flocks! Accommodation prices rocket in the surrounding area, with some campsites asking £70 a night per person in the National Park! Most people book their accommodation way in advance, so staying here was not an option for us and beyond our budget for camping. However, we were amazed at the scenery and contemplated stopping to do some walking around the ‘Towers of Rock’ but decided to press onto Argentina. However, we saw them from a distance before carrying on towards the border – they were indeed impressive.

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Once at the border, we exchanged our Chilean Pesos into Argentinian ones, probably at a relatively poor border rate, but it was convenient as we needed cash in case the hotel which we would book into, later on, requested it. After completing customs formalities, we drove a few miles through ‘No Man’s Land’ which comprised an extensive area of grassland with rolling hills, this type of landscape being known as the Argentinian Steppe. As we progressed further (east) into Argentina, we saw ostriches, guanaco, foxes and numerous sheep.

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We headed along part of the famous Ruta 40 towards a small town called Esperanza, which sounded much more exotic than it turned out to be! Our hotel façade and the restaurant behind it were fine but the rooms, which were tucked out of view at the rear, were very basic and in need of refurbishment, though we decided to take a room as the next town was about 70 miles away.

 

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The relatively cool and sometimes rainy weather of southern Chile which we’ve had over the last 10 days or so gave way to warm sunshine as we rode east into Argentinian Patagonia – this was just what we needed and has now got us thinking of progressing north and into good weather, rather than heading south to Ushuaia and the ‘End of the World’ where the forecast is for rain and cold over the next week or so.