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Archive for April, 2010

In The Middle Of The End Of The World

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In The Middle Of The End Of The World

Ushuaia – 19-Apr-2010

Wished I could spend more time in America del Sur hostal (Kilometer 13,881, El-Calafate, 7-Apr-10 @ 11:25) but the weather was getting colder and the sun setting earlier (riding south+east, the sun switched from setting at 20:30 to 19:30 and will drop to 18:30 by the time I reach Ushuaia).  So once it got warm enough I saddled up and headed to Chile yet again, this time to Puerto Natales: Kilometer 14,252, Puerto Natales, 7-Apr-10 @ 18:25.  Puerto Natales is the base city to organize a hike to Torres Del Paine national park (TDP).  On my route I could see from far away the spectacular mountain chain of Torres Del Paine (TDP), a sight that got me even more excited about the hike.  My original plan was to do the hike with a light weight pack and sleep in refuges thus staying in warm lodges, but now I was really tempted to camp throughout the route and experience the hike to its fullest.   My trek will follow the 5 day “W” TDP tour (called that way because the route makes a “W” shape… or upside down “M” if you like 😉 and I was in luck.  In Erratic Rock hostel, I met with Frances (Spain), Evan (US), Ryan (Ireland) and Michelle + Amy (New Zealand) and all of them were “solteros” and wanted to hike the same route.  So we hooked up, shared the tents, stoves, food & other stuff and next morning we took the bus to TDP.  We elected to start from Glaciar Grey and hike the “W” from left to right so once in the park we hopped on a catamaran which took us to the bottom left base of the “W”.   During the next 5 days, we got a close encounter with a condor, witnessed the sunset upon the glacier, had to “escape” from the mice infestation in Campo Italiano and head to the farther & higher Campo Britanico only to fall victim to them the next day in Los Cuernos.  We saw and heard the thunderous avalanche of falling ice from glaciers hanging on mountain’s top, walked through Valle del Frances into woods with trees turning red for the fall change of color spectacle and witnessed the sunset on the back of Los Cuernos.  And to top it off, we managed to catch a glimpse of the pink and then fiery red sunrise on the Torres the final day.  This hike is best described with pictures, so scroll down and enjoy.

Once back in Puerto Natales I didn’t waste time and the next morning I hit the road toward Punta Arenas.  The weather was sunny and it felt good riding even if my hands were frozen and numb from the wind chill.   Kilometer 14,508, Punta Arenas, 14-Apr-10 @ 17:00, Punta Arenas is the last MAJOR city in Chile and is quite bustling.  It also has Chile’s southern Zona Franca (Duty Free shopping.  Iquique has the northern one) and I went to check it out, mainly looking for some hiking and sportswear.  But as in Iquique, the only deals were for electronic equipments which was quite disappointing.  BTW, prices in Canada & especially the US beat the prices down here.  So I headed back to the city and explored it on foot.  I also reserved my spot on the ferry for tomorrow morning to cross into Tierra del Fuego.

The ferry set to sea early morning to navigate the Magellan straight, a 2 ½ hour boat ride.  By the time I set foot in Tierra del Fuego, menacing clouds were approaching and I stopped immediately to put my rain gear on and the rain covers over my bags.  Just in time too as the rain started coming down hard.  I continued my road but with the temperature hovering around 5ºC, my fingers and my face didn’t take long to freeze (I had to leave my visor open because the heavy rain and fog was obscuring my view) .  Luckily the rain subsided after an hour and I took this opportunity to ride faster and make up some of the lost time.  See, I planned to do a little detour and I was running late.  What detour? Check story on page 3).

Kilometer 14,637, somewhere in Chilean Tierra Del Fuego, 15-Apr-10 @ 15:30: That detour took an hour and I had to rush even faster on these gravel roads toward the Chile/Argentinean border.  The Argentinean border guards were actually funny: once I told them I am heading to Ushuaia at this time, they told me they will confiscate my bike to keep me here.  But it wasn’t all bad; I was invited to the best homemade asado which they were preparing and it will put to shame any Chilean food I have been forced to swallow the past week ;).  On this one, I actually agree with them.  They also suggested to better stop in Rio Grande for the night giving me the opportunity to check the local companies (Delphy and Philips, in between others had some electronic manufacturing down here) and apply for a job so I can stay in Argentina.  Before I left they gave me one last advice:  be careful of the change of climate on Garibaldi mountain pass separating Ushuaia from the rest of TDF.  This pass is like an invisible border where the climate can be absolutely the opposite on the each of its flanks.

300Km separated me from Ushuaia and the sun will be setting in 1 ½ hour.  My plan was to reach Rio Grande (80Km away) and see how I feel.  Well, once in Rio Grande – passing so many status & signs declaring Isla Malvinas (Falklands) as Argentinean – all I wanted was to reach Ushuaia.  My hands were freezing and hurting but what was even more painful was the thought of having to find a hostel in this city just for the night, unpack and then repack next morning.  All I wanted was to rest for a few days in a warm place and I knew this perfect hostel in Ushuaia:  So I just gunned it.  Darkness engulfed the region by 19:00 and at a police checkpoint along the way they informed me it’s raining in the mountains.  “At least it’s not snowing” I replied and headed out, 150Km still to go.  As the night progressed and the temperature dropped, I reached the mountains and the aforementioned rain.  Dark, cold, rain,… fine, I can handle that but please do not freeze and snow!  As the sinuous road approached, I caught up to a car and followed it closely.  It was driving slower than I would have liked but at least it was opening me the way and its lights giving me a further field of vision thus allowing me to concentrate and adapt to the road and the slippery conditions, especially with my frozen hands & fingers.  How bad was it? Well, every once in a while I was testing if I could actually still press the brake lever!   By 20:00, we started our descent toward the Beagle channel and I couldn’t take it anymore, my hands were burning from frost bites, so I just passed the car and headed faster toward Ushuaia.  By the time I reached Ushuaia the rain has subsided and having been here before, like in El-Calafate, it took me seconds to navigate the city and immediately find Freestyle hostal:  Kilometer 15,020, Ushuaia, 15-Apr-10 @ 20:30,.  Some of you saw this hostel via Skype (I had time to chat), it’s a beautiful, warm (heated floors) hostel with a delicious and filling breakfast plus an amazing common area.  And I could park the bike in the patio right outside my room’s balcony.  My baby is sleeping close to me tonight.

I finally reached my southernmost destination.  I was in the middle of the end of the world :).  I started in Quito from Latitude 0º0” down to ~55º50”, a 15,000Km trip riding through Pacha-Mama’s incredible beauty and diversity.  I love my journey and it’s still growing.  I was supposed to stop in Mendoza and ship the bike back to Quito.  But I just couldn’t let go so I decided to head south up to Ushuaia before shipping the bike back.  Again, a powerful feeling inside me is still hungry for more and now the calling is to ride my bike back to Quito.  Thus I have reached the ½ way mark and as they say: the glass is half full.

I spent 4 days at Freestyle; this warm hostel was just like heaven.  I also took it easy, did a few visits, some parties and mostly chilling with a good bottle of wine while wearing T-shirt and shorts.  I visited the few places I wasn’t able to see the last time I was around here.  I went on a boat excursion in the Beagle channel to see seals, sea lions and cormorants (penguins left for Brazil beaches probably), hiked Cerro Guanaco in the National park and visited the Naval and Prison Museum.  I also met a few new friends: Kristen, a cool British girl and we hit the bar & clubbing scene together, Olivier, a Quebecois & Insead graduate and an exceptionally smart executive who decided enough is enough and he took a 1 year off with his wife to tour the world and Oliver Fecht, a German teacher on an 8 months leave of absence (similar to the Quebec CECM vacation system), riding his BMW 1200 GS from Alaska to Ushuaia (Mr. Fecht is always right ;)).

Oliver and I decided to head back up north together and tomorrow we will take Ruta 3 toward warmer grounds.

Ride up!


Photo Album

or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.


7 and 40

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7 and 40

El Calafate, 6-Apr-2010

Routa 7 – Chile’s Carretera Austral

Rain was coming down hard and I woke up several times at night wondering how bad will the roads be tomorrow and hoping the rain will end by the morning.  But the morning came and it was still pouring outside.   I occupied myself with packing, went to have my breakfast then waited by the porch.  The señora asked me what was I looking for?  “The rain to stop”… a response which was answered by a loud laughter.  “It rains 3,000mm per year here, when it starts, it won’t stop for 1 week”.   Ouch! Can’t be true, 3 meters of rain?!?  Damn!  Well, I guess I have to face it; the Llama show will go on.  I waited until noontime for a “rain-brake” so I could load my bike (it’s a ½ hour job).  Then I hit the road and the rain hit me: Kilometer 12,078, Futaleufu, 31-Mar-10 @ 12:25.   It wasn’t fun riding on slippery gravel, in the cold with my visor fogging up forcing me to keep it partially open.  I guess I was tasting the rain in every possible way?! 😦   3 hours into my ride I discovered something: NOTHING is waterproof.  Don’t talk to me about Gortex, Skins, Waterproof Nylons,… all BS.  Nothing can withstand this rain.  And I was the guinea pig proving this point; I was literally sitting in a puddle of water forming in my rainsuit under my ass.  My boots?  Hehe! My feet thought I took them scuba diving.  My waterproof gloves?  Yeah right, plastic bags might have done a better job.

But I have to tell you, riding through Chile’s Aisén Region in the heart of la Selva Valdiviana is a dream trip for any nature buff.  Your riding in valleys surrounded by steep mountains hiding behind them the Pacific to the west and the Andes to the east.  In this cold climate with snowy mountains, glaciers and waterfalls, lies an evergreen forest resembling an Amazonian forest.  Tall trees, huge leafed shrubs and dense vegetation.  And I forget about the rain, the frozen fingers and the gravel road to admire this beauty, stopping – way too many times – to grasp the moment and snap a pic.

I reached the charming little port village of Puyuhuapi (Kilometer 12,276, Puerto Puyuhuapi, 31-Mar-10 @ 17:40) checked in, bathed 15 minutes under a hot shower, hanged all my cloth to dry around the fire stove and put my boots in front of the fire and went out for a stroll to check the waterfront (no dolphins) and have a good hearty dinner.  Most villages in southern Chile are “poor” with houses built of tin and/or thin wood, absolutely no insulation and heated mostly by firewood because gas or petrol cost too much here (2x the price of Argentina).  Which means only the main room is warmed by a chimney and in the remaining rooms, it is freezing and humid.  I took the covers of the surrounding beds, made a 7 layers thick cover and huddled under them to warm up, not able to move under their weight and leaving just a small opening around my face to breath.  This “bed cover strategy” will be used from now on in my entire Chilean Patagonia trip.

Next morning more of the same: cold, rain and fog.  I knew I will be soaked in a matter of hours which actually made it easier for me: I just saddled up and went.  I stopped by a few parks to admire the scenery, most especially Glaciar Colgante.  Then I entered Parque National Queulat which protects a gorgeous Valdivian forests surrounded by majestic  snowy mountains.  The ride was really breathtaking.  The roads also put me out of breath, for different reason though: they were just awful, pure stones, rocks and gravel.  Finally, by 15:00 a rainbow appeared in front of me and the rain subsided.  But the cold wind coming down the snow capped mountains was unmerciful and I was literally in hyperthermia.  I had to stop in Cohaique vs. my original plan to reach Cerro Castillo as I couldn’t ride any longer: I could barely move my fingers to shift or break; Kilometer 12,537, Cohaique, 1-Apr-10 @ 19:30.

My voyage toll increased the past week: 1) I felt like “le petit poucet”, leaving or “loosing” (i.e. getting stolen?) some of my cloth (T-shirts, raincoat, hiking cloth, underwear,…) behind; and 2) my bike lost a few screws caused by the unmerciful vibrations while riding these roads.  I had to carry some of the bike parts in my luggage while others were held by straps or tape.

My road continued southward reaching Lago General Carrera.  Instead of crossing straight into Argentina, I opted to do the ~300Km tour around the lake.  I went through Cerro Castillo visiting a Theuelche hands cave before I stopped midway in the little village of Puerto Tranquilo (with 1 resto open at night); Kilometer 12,767, Puerto Tranquilo , 2 -Apr-10 @ 17:50.  I found out that a dirt road was newly carved all the way to Campo de Hielo Norte and that there’s a refugio which organize glacier trek tours.  Perfect!  Next morning, with the sun finally shining (I rode south enough to get away from the Selva Valdiviana region), I took this road, sharing it with the many wild rabbits who were just to curious about this big blue noisy thing going through their hood and trying to outrun it; you should have seen them running in front of my bike, up to 40Km/h, for hundreds of meters on this dirt road, not veering off to hide in the bushes… locos :).  Kilometer 12,818, Campo de Hielo Norte, 3-Apr-10 @ 11:10. The ice trek was just amazing and we were just 3 of us on the whole glacier.  That was a lot better (and way cheaper) then in El Calafate with its hyper commercial & busy glacier treks the many companies organize.  We stayed on the glacier for 7 hours, admiring the myriad of blue colors the ice field was taking and drinking its millinery waters.  I was also shocked to witness firsthand the effect of global warming and see its impact on these giants (see pics).

Next morning I continued my route south on the Carretera Austral.  A couple of hours thereafter, I veered east to head back to Argentina via the southern shore of Lago General Carrera (if I stayed on the Carretera Austral it will reach a dead end at Lago O’Higgins).  Here the sinuous road was at part awful, loose gravel on steep uphill / downhill (I literally had no traction on my tires) with many landslides forcing me to slalom between rocks fallen from the cliffs on my right while staying clear of the precipice plunging to the lake on my left.  Momentum is the key word here: never stop or I’ll fall, just have to maintain a steady slow speed.   But whenever there was a flat road, I stopped to admire the views of the lake and the distant glaciers including a glimpse of Campo Hielo Sur.  Late afternoon, I again crossed into Argentina to reach Ciudad Perito Moreno, my stop for the night: Kilometer 13,126, Perito Moreno, 4-Apr-10 @ 18:10.  Side note: In Argentina the same lake is known as Lago Argentina… gota love the rivalry between these 2 countries and I always play this card at the border to make my crossing easier.  Hey, it works, it saved me un-packing my luggage and getting searched.  Beside, you have a good laugh with the border guards! :).



La Cuarenta

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