Tierra Del Fuego

Day 61-64 – March 5-8

Puyugapi, Chile to Perito Moreno, Argentina to El Chalten, Argentina to El Calafate, Argentina

March 5
We pulled out of Puyugapi early in the morning and caught a view of the clouds partially obscuring the mountains:

We passed alongside a fjord which connects directly to the Pacific, and made both of our Norwegian colleagues, Helge and Roger, homesick.

In the fjords are many fish farms (perhaps twenty in each grouping). It’s difficult to find wild ocean fish in Chile—most of the fish is farmed:

We blasted down the mountain roads, which are somewhat precarious due to loose gravel. We try to pay attention and don’t follow each other too closely, as the dust obscures tricky little road hazards. A lot of the ride parallels fast moving streams emptying into the fjords and eventually into the Pacific:

The foliage along the road was dusty, but these large elephant-eared plants (some with leaves four feet across) seem to thrive.

Roger got a flat along the way, and Vincent alone was able to locate the elusive hole, which is sealed by putting a thin rubber impregnated rope into a tool and inserting the twine into the hole. This patch job took only ten minutes, and we were again on the move. If we had tires with tubes, the tire would have to be removed, the tube would have to be removed, the tube patched inserted back into the tire, and the tire put back onto the rim and re-inflated – a lot of work. For adventure motorcycling, spoke wheels are much more durable and much less susceptible to the catastrophic failure that can occur with a magnesium- or aluminum-cast wheel. But the spokes need to pass through the rim outside the location of the tire and the air pressure—apparently BMW has a patent on this design, and they have the only spoked tubeless rims that work (I believe their patent is due to expire next year).

The gravel road on which we rode was crowned in the center…

. . .making it necessary to stay on the right side of the road when passing around a left corner to avoid oncoming traffic. This makes it easy to slide down the crown and into a ditch – the key is to go slow and to stand up through the corners to provide better weight control to shift the bike into a tighter turn on the gravel – it’s of course important to concentrate and not daydream!

Some of the forests we saw were similar to rainforests. . .

. . .with a variety of impressive vistas: pretty flowers…

. . . rocky, snow-covered mountains…

. . . beautiful streams cascading for thousands of feet down the sides of mountains…

. . . and of course the ever-present shapes of dormant volcanoes:

Vincent found a fishing stream and got a lot of help from Helge and Roger in his attempt to catch this primitive animal with its reflex-like brain. The fish won.

Just as in the case of the hawk, we Homo sapiens aren’t as smart as we think we are.

Near our fishing spot is a firewood harvester, which has a clever suspension cable to carry the wood across the river:

We pass some quaint but not particularly organized looking farms…

. . .and some well-manicured farms, like this one with poplars three-deep lining the property line:

One of the nice things about Argentina is the mix of influences apparent here: on the one hand, I see evidence of an orientation toward left-brained, sequential Germanic structure; on the other, I see evidence of right-brained Italian and French influence. As it relates to farms, the meticulous arrangement of the poplars above reminds me of a jack-booted German general staff officer with a focus on organization, and the rough-and-tumble-but-productive farms remind me of the artistic and casual culture of the French and the Italians.

We saw the old. . .

. . .and the new…

. . .within thirty miles of each other. As we passed back into Argentina, I show off for the first time (in my best Marlon Brando pose) my new earring made from the chandelier retrieved from the quake-stricken hotel in Chile.

At the border, the Argentines display a reminder that the Falklands belong to them and not to Britain.

Do you suppose this territorial urge has more to do with crude oil or sheep?

The remainder of the day we traveled dirt roads much like this:

For the most part, the road was in excellent condition. We sometimes reached speeds of 70 mph, which required us to concentrate on a one-foot tire path where the gravel had been pushed aside by cars. If you happened to hit the gravel, it could swing the bike into an oscillation that could flip it over, or, as this is colloquially called, topside the bike. The other risks on this road were fast approaching hazards: like deep mounds of gravel across the entire road, deep ruts in the road made by heavy vehicles when the road is wet, or the unexpected or sudden appearance of gravel-covered corners that appear just over the tops of hills. If the wind were blowing, it would further complicate trying to keep the tires within the one foot ribbon of road.

We had initially planned to stop at Coihaique, Chile but to allow more time in the more souther part of Chile and Argentina, we decided to press to Perito Moreno, Argentina - and set a record distance for the day of 500 km (on gravel roads, no less).

We arrive in Perito Moreno late and discover another group of motorcyclists at our hotel. We have covered in one day the miles that they covered in two. There group is fairly well structured and travel together in a single group – with a chase car bringing up the rear. We don’t have a chase car but do have our preferred route outlined on our GPS – so it is not imperative that we ride together, although we generally stay within 10 minutes of each other.

The parking area is full of bikes and cars and because of my bent kickstand I prop my bike against the hotel to keep it upright.

March 6
We rise early in the morning and in no time are again on a dirt road. We travel through what Darwin described of Patagonia “a wretched and useless area” and as Vince described “a place where you can watch your dog run away for three days.” We pass through small deserted communities which may have once been someone’s dream that didn’t quite work out.

Here is a distant shot of a guanaco, a wild and furrier cousin to the domestic llama:

This turns out to be my most unlucky day – and my most lucky day. We’ve been traveling over this type of dirt road for over three hours (note the bare spots that have been made by the traffic and the piles of gravel piled up alongside). This “sweet-spot” pathway is one to two feet wide.

The road requires concentration and constant vigilance to keep the motorcycle within the clear path and out of the gravel. It’s a comparatively simple task if you concentrate. But after several hours of driving I began daydreaming, looking at the scenery and taking photographs on the fly. I was traveling at 50-60 mph and was taking a picture as I came over a rise and sunk into a patch of deep gravel. The bike began to violently oscillate and ended up getting “topsided” - flipped from the motorcycle which went tumbling down the road, fortunately, next to me. The net result for me was a badly scratched helmet with a broken piece, a torn jacket at the elbow and shoulder, a stiff and bruised shoulder, a sore back and a dramatically bruised ego. The motorcycle did not fare as well – the accident bent the handlebars, broke the custom made structure that supported the custom windshield, scratched the windshield, flattened both rearview mirrors, broke one of the headlights, broke off part of the clutch lever, damaged both handguards and caused minor damage to the back of the panniers. But these BMW’s are extremely tough and there is no damage to the important “working” parts (the tires, the suspension, the engine, the transmission and the frame). The lucky part is that I got off lightly – but since the rule is “if the accident is not caught on film – it didn’t actually happen” as far as I’m concerned the damage to the bike, helmet and riding suit could have happened anywhere! For now we’ll call it vandalism.

It was a short distance to the ranch where we had planned to stay – but there was no room at the Inn. So instead I repaired the bike as best I could, had lunch and pressed on to the next spot on the itinerary. Here is my bike following the interim repairs:

. . . missing one mirror, badly scratched windshield (which isn’t necessary anyway), handlebars pretty well back in shape.

We pressed on through the terrain and in an hour or so were rewarded with beautiful vistas – a large glacial lake:

. . .rugged distant mountains:

. . .and finally a distant shot of Cerro Fitzroy and Cerro Torre (the highest spire in a compact range of granite peaks in the Glacier National Park) – we will get a better view when we arrive in El Chalten, Argentina where we will spend the night.

We spend the night at El Chalten, largely a hiker and backpacker town:

March 7
We discover several other motorcycle groups in town. I make an appointment to have my kickstand heated and bent but it’s the weekend and I get stood up - - so here’s the peg-leg solution that I settled for.

We head north around Lake Argentino to Lake Viedma on a beautifully sealed highway. The landscape is the same, large expanses, comparatively dry with occasional populated areas.

We spend the day touring the area and stay the night in a town called El Calafate, a small town on the southern border of Lake Argentino that is the base camp for many of the tour groups.
March 8
We had a ridiculously early 6:30 a.m. breakfast in order to arrive at the Perito Moreno Glacier in time to catch the morning light. Marge always tells me that it’s bad manners to read the paper at the breakfast table – look at these guys diving into their iPhones and Blackberries – they don’t even know where they are.

It was around a sixty mile drive as dawn was breaking through farmlands framed with snow-capped mountains. . .

. . .on a beautiful curvy concrete highway along the banks of Lake Argentino.

We arrived at the Perito Moreno Glacier:

The glacier itself was magnificent and beautifully framed by the mountains in the distance and the lake in front of us. The outer perimeter of the glacier is a mile or two long and it forms an arc as it empties into Lake Argentino.

Its surface is dotted with thousands of peaks, each approximately fifty feet high, carved by the rainfall.

The surface of the glacier is dirty from the sand blowing off the mountains. The sand is carried down through cracks in the glacier, forming veins of dirt along the glacier’s exposed surface.

At its highest point, the glacier seems to be about 200 feet tall. From time to time you can see pieces falling from the glacier into the lake. The face of the glacier was mottled with patches of bright blue, which seemed to be ice in a purer and more compact state.

Small continuous sounds rang out like shotgun blasts, as did an occasional louder sound comparable to the sound of a distant cannon—these noises are the cracking of the glacier caused by the pressure as the glacier advances. As the sun rose higher in the sky and the glacier warmed, the frequency of the sounds increased (perhaps one load boom every five minutes).

I still can’t get my head around how a glacier moves – the angle at which it traverses is not particularly steep (as in an avalanche). Obviously the weight of the ice is sufficient that even a small angle decline will cause the face to be pushed forward. This is a tiny glacier when compared to the glaciers that covered Canada and parts of the US during the ice age – some more than a mile deep.

We are all concerned about global warming – but looking at the geological history of the earth, during the existence of some mammals, we had enormous ice caps covering sections of the northern hemisphere and I imagine that the melting of those ice caps was much greater than the melting we are experiencing currently. When we think about global warming – we should try to think of it in that context.

The Argentines have done a remarkable job of providing a good road to the park and ease of access to the glacier by means of walkways and staircases that allow for viewing it at a variety of heights and perspectives. They charge $20 per person for entrance to the park, which was well worth it. Even early in the morning the park was thriving with spectators.

It’s hard to capture on film a piece of glacier calving into the water – I don’t have the patience nor the reflexes – but here’s what it looks like just after a piece dropped in.

The tree line here is barely 2,000 feet high (near the equator, the tree line was at the altitude of 14,000 feet). In this the valley defined by the lake, the wind howls through and inhibits tree growth, as does the granite surface of the mountains. The weather conditions here are harsh – winds are routinely in excess of 70 mph (fortunately not today). The gusts require increased concentration in order to maintain your lane while riding. When heading into the wind it is difficult to breathe, with apparent wind speeds near 100 mph (motorcycle speed + wind speed). When the wind is at your back, there is an odd stillness—and no throttle required. It’s when the wind blows from the side that things get exciting!

The glacier and lake are beautiful and I hate to leave, but I’ve got to make some additional repairs to my motorcycle and fix the kickstand. I’m sick of having to lean the bike against buildings and putting rocks under the stand every time I park. I find a garage that has a strange version of an oxy acetylene torch – it has a cylinder of oxygen but the flammable gas is produced I believe by combining carbide (a stone-like material) with water. The carbide is put in a tray that slides from the bottom of the red cylinder. The tray is slid into the cylinder and capped and water is added to the top. When the pressure gets above a few pounds, the valves are opened, and the oxygen and carbide gas mix forming a flammable material.

We get the kickstand bent in two directions and stiffen it by welding in a couple of steel gussets and here is the end result:

The torch didn’t run very long, so it took over half an hour to heat the kickstand enough to bend it. It works fine now. Here is the able craftsman highlighting his gussets:

We had lamb for dinner – prepared in an unusual and dramatic way:

The open fire is inside a glass enclosure and the lamb does not appear to be turned front to back – as a result, as in most of the Argentine restaurants we have visited, the meat was overcooked.

We are excited that tomorrow we will visit the famous Torres del Paine Park – a highlight of the trip.
« Previous article
Next article »

Back to Top

Add A Comment

Add A Comment

Code in the picture:
Your Name(*):
Notify me of any further comments to this thread: