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Visual Sensory Overload

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Visual Sensory Overload

Uyuni, 21-Jun-2010

Our plan was to get an early start, cross the border to Bolivia and try to reach Uyuni today.  Although “only” ~310Km separate us from our destination, these are Bolivia roads and it is expected to take us ~7 hours (buses need 10hrs).  An initial delay due to Laurent’s bike low oil level meant we were at the border crossing at 10:00… only to find it closed?  Wassup?  “Che, es el Mundial”.  It was Argentina’s 2nd group game, vs. South Korea.  Just great! I went wondering around the checkpoint and following the cheering (and swearing :), I reached the custom’s barracks.  Here were all the custom agents huddled around a TV screen.  They gladly opened the door for Laurent and I to enter and watch the game :).  Luckily, Argentina was winning and when the final whistle blew and our celebrations over (you’ve got to join them, don’t even think otherwise), we asked if we should head back to the bikes and get the paper work started.  “Tranquilo… Maradona is going to give his analysis of the match. Then we will listen to Mesi, Teves, Veron,…”.

Finally, half an hour later the border opened.  On a bridge/path parallel to our border, hundreds of Bolivian man and women were hauling on their backs merchandise from Argentina to Bolivia:  food, juices, hygiene products, beer (lots of it), cellular + electronic equipments… it resembled an ant’s path.  As soon as we crossed the quiet Argentinean border we were faced head-on with a bustling Bolivia:  People everywhere, some (especially women) dressed in traditional dresses, sidewalks filled with vendors, food stalls everywhere, taxis and other cars honking madly… all this in less than 50m.  Incredible! After all, they are practically the same people in this split town across both countries, yet different politics transform and shape the society distinctly.  My first impression? I liked this authentic Bolivia.  As for us, we had another hick-up.  Paul, as a US citizen, needed a VISA to get into Bolivia but they do no issue one at the border.  So he had to cross back to La Quiaca (Argentina) and get one.  The remaining 3 of us waited in no-man’s land guarding Paul’s bike and waiting for his return… only to see him being stopped by the Argentinean custom.  When he crossed back to Argentina, he effectively entered the country anew but he did not go and get his passport stamped.  Luckily, a 5min explanation solved the mater and we could finally cross into Bolivia.

12:15pm and we were on the road towards Uyuni.  First stop: Tupiza, 100Km away; Kilometer 24,066; Tupiza, 17-Jun-10 @ 14:15.  It actually took us 2hrs to get here and since the road will only get worse as we go along I lobbied hard and got agreement to stay in Tupiza for the night.  We found a good hotel with a pool and chilled (literally) by its side.

It was a good decision not to keep riding towards Uyuni.  The following day it actually required us 7.5 hours to arrive to destination: Not only because the gravel and sand road made it very tough riding but the scenery was just amazing and so diverse, we stopped way too many times to admire it and snap pics.  Our ride started through a green and fertile valley surrounded by brilliant red rock hills, then headed up sinuous mountain roads to reach the dry altiplano where for the next few hours we were riding on top of high plains and ridges.  A truly mesmerizing and unique sceneries.  The earth here is so rich in minerals that the rainbow of colors the cordillera takes is breathtaking.  We had tremendous views across the surrounding mountains & volcanoes and down to the deep valleys and dry river beds below.  Our road then descended a little toward the high deserts (still @ 3,800m), passing dunes and herds of llamas, even being faced by a sandstorm.  The road condition here turned nasty as we had to ride on undulating bumps rattling the bike to pieces and shaking our bodies as if we were riding a lawn mower!  We also crossed so many sandy patches giving each one of us a few scary moments.  And the dust from incoming traffic, from the wind, from the guys ahead,… was blinding, sometime forcing us to stop in our track as we could not see the road or worst an incoming bus.  I was riding fast & ahead of everyone as on these roads, to reduce the vibration amount, I stand up and pull up on the handlebars to offload the front wheel and accelerate until reaching a speed where the wheels, especially the front, stay on top of these bumps.  By the time we arrived to Uyuni we were covered in this beige and reddish dirt and I was praying our bikes air filters will withstand this dust better than our noses and lungs.

Kilometer 24,311; Uyuni, 18-Jun-10 @ 17:15. Once in Uyuni we were flooded by the infinite number of Salar tour operators.  But at Tito tours, we immediately knew we would have a winning option to visit the Salar.  We decided to book the whole LandCruiser for only us 4 (vs. the 6 tourists usually) and have a customized tour with Tito himself as our guide/driver.  We rode in comfort (that 3rd row of seat can’t even fit a hobbit) and we also agreed to do the Salar tour in the opposite direction than the other agencies allowing us to visit the sights at different hours from anyone else.  This was only possible with a few tour agencies as a lot of tourists will want to cross to Chile on the last day (vs. returning to Uyuni), forcing most tours to do the circuit counter clock wise to accommodate them.  As for the Bolivian salar and altiplano tour itself, just check the pics.

Ride up

Sami

Photo Album

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The Beautiful Road Is Not From A to B

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The Beautiful Road Is Not From A to B

La Quiaca, 16-Jun-2010

I had the full day to reach Rosario so on my way I took the opportunity to visit Palacio San Justo, where Argentina’s first president resided once his term was over… and where he was murdered (Kilometer 20,991; Palacio San Justo, 26-May-10 @ 13:00).  The opulence of his residence wasn’t what surprised me, rather his garden “decoration”: there’s a small square courtyard in the middle of the garden and at each of its corner stand the marble statues of: Cesar, Napoleon, Hernán Cortés and Alexander the Great… get the thinking of this man?

Continuing my road toward Rosario, locals suggested me to take the road to “el puente”.  Little did I know that this bridge is a beautiful 54Km path made of digues and bridges crossing the wetlands of Rio de La Plata.  It was truly a mesmerizing ride with breathtaking scenery.  The closest I can compare it to is the Florida Keys road (well, not quite…).  Funny, they even had ranches in some of the small wetland islands with cows knee deep in water :).  Argentinean love their meat cows! J  As for Rosario (Kilometer 21,259; Rosario, 26-May-10 @ 17:50), it’s an average city with 2 big pluses: 1) it was here where Belgrano created the Argentinean flag and where it was raised high for the first time at the Paraná River and 2) it is widely known that the most beautiful Argentinean girls are Rosarian.  And since it was the weekend, I was soon going to find out first hand.  I hooked up again with Kate and Sarah (met them in Uruguay; they reside in Rosario via university exchange from the US) and I was taken to Rosario’s happening spots.  During the day – once I woke up – I did a few visits and we hanged out by the river front.  I also went to see the building where Che Guevara was born… which is now partly a hostel. Who said with communist revolutionaries there no business opportunities?

The last 2 days in Rosario were cold and miserable but as soon as the rain subsided I was ready to hit the road again, direction Cordoba.  Cordoba is a festive university city and getting there on Tuesday was not the best of plans: Nightlife will be dead.  Along the road at a gas station, I mentioned this to the attendant to which he quickly replied: “there are so many good roads here! Give me your map, I´ll show you”.  5 min later, Sami was taking a left and heading toward these new roads he just “uncovered”.  I had a little of a euphoric sentiment, riding into the unknown.  I reached Rio Cuarto and found this small hostel owned and managed by an amazing family (Kilometer 21,681; Rio Cuarto, 31-May-10 @ 17:00).  I actually spent the night with them, sitting in the kitchen with the whole family from the grandmother to the baby grand-daughter.  But here´s the funniest part:  There was no parking for the bike (wait, that´s not the funny part ;). On my trip I parked in many funny/weird places, in hotel’s entrance hall, inside a convenience store, in hostel’s living room, in gardens (first riding inside the house and/or climbing steps before reaching the garden),… but here it was the best: Next to the hotel was a restaurant. The owner opened his big kitchen door – where the meat and vegetable are usually delivered – and I rode my bike in his kitchen, parked it in a corner behind the stove & cooks.  That was hilarious!  To top it off, the chef’s food was delicious and I even got a discount on my orders!  What´s not to love about Argentina? 😉

Today, I am finally going to ride some twisties!  I started my loop by passing a few charming villages then took “la ruta de la costa”. This strange name (we are thousand of Kms away from any coastline) was given because the road snakes at the base of the mountains while on the other side lies plains of bushes and cactus (cardones), as if it was a sea.  I reached Merlo (Kilometer 21,871; Merlo, 1-Jun-10 @ 14:45) and decided to take yet another detour to ride up to the Mirador del Sol, a mountain famous for paragliding.  It was a sweet ride up! I hanged out with a few of the paragliding boys and I was so tempted to go on a flight with them.  But I decided to just leave the flying to when I ride my bike.  I had my lunch there then headed back down to Mina Clavero (Kilometer 22,038; Mina Clavero, 1-Jun-10 @ 17:00) where the real fun starts: a ~70Km road up the Quebrada Del Condorito then down to Alta Gracia.  That my friends was the best riding I did for months: hairpins, 1800 curves, never ending “S”s,… so many twisties with gorgeous views.  I was in heaven and that’s flying!

Kilometer 22,117; Alta Gracia, 1-Jun-10 @ 19:00: Alta Gracia is a nice little town and an important stop for me.  Not only they had a lovely Jesuit estencia, one of the most important satellite estancias responsible of generating money to support the main Jesuit complex in Cordoba, including its famous University (known as  the Jesuit Collegium Maximum founded back in 1610), but also Alta Gracia is where Ernesto “Che” Guevara grew up.  His house is now an excellent museum retracing his life which is well worth a visit.  I spent the full day visiting both places before heading to Cordoba where I decided to crash in the student neighborhood, right in the street where all the bars are: Kilometer 22,157; Cordoba, 2-Jun-10 @ 16:40.  My hostel had a great vibe and it was small enough to meet everyone staying here.  All were in a party mood and for the next 5 days we just hanged out together, had dinners, went to bars and of course hit the clubbing scene.  To top it off, the hotel Señora was actually Colombian so the music, dancing and drinking were always on tap.  During daytime, I mostly did visits with Carmen (from Belgium) an absolutely amazing, smart and funny girl and we shared some good laughs.  Cordoba is a wonderful city, home to many universities including the 120,000 students of Cordoba University.  So the city center is always alive, there’s a few very interesting Bella Artes museum (but skip t”Genaro Perez”, the one in the center…), lively outdoor ferias, concerts and exhibitions and of course, beautiful women.  It’s also the “home” of Fernet, this bitter and strong alcohol of Italian origin.  However the Argentineans mix it with Coca-Cola and drink it abundantly.  Not to my liking and a glass of it will definitely buzz you.

I then received an e-mail from Fernando, the rider I crossed back on the road to Ushuaia (we actually first met on the HUBB).  At that time he was a couple of weeks behind me and still heading south; he then went up to BA via the 40, flew back home for a wedding, visited some family for a week and now back on the road and guess where he was? Yep, Cordoba.  So on Tuesday (Monday was needed to treat the hangover… damn Fernet!) we met at the exit of Cordoba and headed to Tucuman; Kilometer 22,742; Tucuman, 8-May-10 @ 18:30.  Tucuman is a boring city and other then visiting the downtown and its municipal buildings (where the independence of Argentina was first proclaimed), it’s better to skip it.  So the next morning we decided to hit the road again but this time making a detour via the partly un-asphalted but gorgeous road through Tafi Del Valle then visit Quilmes before reaching Cafayate.  We started riding in a lush valley where a microclimate of humid and rainy weather turns this zone into a mini cloud forest.  Then, after climbing the mountain, we emerged on top if these valleys, piercing through the fog and clouds to reach a semi-desertic and dry environment.  All this in 40Km or so: absolutely spectacular.

Kilometer 22,994; Cafayate, 9-Jun-10 @ 19:00: Cafayate is the 2nd important vineyard region and wine making in Argentina, although the wines here are on average of inferior quality to the ones from Mendoza province: they have some interesting white wines, a little too sweet for my liking, but their reds are below par.  Cafayate itself is a sweet little village definitely worse a couple of nights stay.  And it’s a good center for many activities:  visit the local wineries (as usual, cycling is the best option, especially after a few tastings ;), going hiking or cycling in the surrounding mountains and best of all, the main road to Salta passes through the beautiful and multicolored Quebrada de Las Conchas (no dirty thought guys!;).  I had to visit the quebrada via a tour bus since with Fernando we decided to ride through yet another detour/scenic route to Salta, the one going via the “gravel yard”: the (in)famous “ruta 40” (yep, this road keeps calling me).

Next morning, we left for Salta via Cachi (Kilometer 23,160; Cachi, 11-Jun-10 @ 17:15) and what a fabulous route it was: gorgeous scenery, winding roads through plains, up mountains and riding down gorges until finally reaching the main road 30Km south of Salta.  As we stopped to fill gas, 2 other riders pulled in: Paul (USA) and Laurent (Belgium) both on KLRs who actually just met on the road.  We were all funneling through Salta on the road to Bolivia.  I took the lead (Suzuki rules 😉 and headed this train to Salta: tonight, the celebration will run late (Kilometer 23,324; Salta, 11-Jun-10 @ 19:30).

We stayed 3 days in Salta, enough for each of us to get his stuff in order: Laurent was fixing his bike, Paul needed to make a fake license plate as his original one shattered after a fall and Fernando’s bike was burning way too much oil (1l every 1,000km!! – he had to actually ride to Jujuy to see another mechanic).  As for me, well, remember that I swap my tires depending on the type of road I am ridding and send the other set via bus to my next destination?  Well, my tires didn’t reach Salta.  As it was the weekend, Andesmar, the bus transportation company needed to wait until Monday to start looking where my tires ended up (suspicion was that they are in Mendoza, Andesmar HQ).  My problem was not finding the tires, I took insurance anywayZ; all I wanted is to ride with the guys through the mountains around Salta and up through Bolivia’s infamous dirt roads.  So many riders I met along the way crashed in Bolivia as the roads are not only gravel but have sections of pure sand…

At least the world cup started and on Saturday we watched Argentina’s first match at a local bar.  It’s was great: first, everyone was wearing the national team jersey, waving flags and the festivities was in full swing in the main Plaza.  All the city stores, balconies and gardens were decorated with the national colors, restaurant published world cup menus and street vendors flocked the plaza selling all type of football memorabilia.  And then by 10:00, the city turned into a ghost town.  All businesses closed, the streets became empty, even the police where perched at the windows of local bars watching the game. They take their football seriously here.  Worst, TV adds shows BA’s 9 de Julio avenue full with people celebrating:  I could have sworn Argentina had already won the cup ;).

I also took the opportunity to meet my mom’s other cousin, Khadija.  If you remember from BA, I found long lost family; my grandfather’s brother family.  His daughter lives here and she is extremely sweet, reminds me of my aunts.  I visited here then went for lunch but the best, she had pictures of both my grandfather + her father from 1966!   It was so good spending time with her and her husband, felt like I was home, I even visited a second time.

On Monday, Laurent, Paul and I each went to take care of our own business.  By the afternoon, my tire finally re-appeared and next day, Tuesday noon time, we were all ready to go.  We decided to take the 2 day loop via San Antonio de Los Cobres (Kilometer 23,556; San Antonio de los Cobres, 15-Jun-10 @ 19:20) and then next morning ride… (drum roll)… you guess it: la ruta 40 up to Salinas Grande.  This route actually climbs to 4,200 m.a.s.l., rides on the high plains (called “puna”) before dropping towards Salinas Grandes (3,350 m.a.s.l.).  We then turned east and climbed another mountain range (4,170 m.a.s.l.) before heading down to Purmamarca @ ~2,300 m.a.s.l. (via the asphalted road).  We then turned northbound and reached La Quiaca, Argentina’s border town with Bolivia, by nighttime (Kilometer 23,970; La Quiaca, 16-Jun-10 @ 19:15).  And talk about timing, Fernando arrived to La Quiaca 10min after us!

We all went out for a final Argentinean asado and wine as tomorrow we will be crossing to Bolivia.  Wow, can’t believe it’s been more than 4 month I entered Argentina… what a grandiose, diverse and rich country with amazing people.  I felt a little sad, I will truly miss it.

Don’t cry for me Argentina...”

Ride up!

Sami

Photo Album

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Lets Get The Party Started

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Lets Get The Party Started

Paysandu, 25-May-2010

Arriving on a Saturday night was the perfect timing to start my stay in BA.  I took a power nap and at midnight headed out with a couple from the hotel to eat before hitting the clubbing scene.  In most of South America, the party starts at 1:00 and goes on until 6:00 where the dancing (and drinking) continues in “morning hours” bars…  ’til now, no one could really explain this nightlife timing: I mean it kills your next day.  Doesn’t matter if you work or on vacation, it’s just a hit on your system.  But as the saying goes: when in Argentina do like the Argentinean and for the next month my sleep pattern was a chaos.

My roommates were also great and practically all on the same easy going pattern as me: Lisa and Sarah, 2 Kiwi girls at the end of their trip and in BA on a crazy shopping spree and Tamara a wonderful girl from Belgium who’s staying for 1 month in BA.  Plus we were joined by Rich, another great hilarious Kiwi guy.  Got to tell you, I never met New Zealanders until Torres Del Paine and now in BA, but they are the most fun traveler around.  As a gang, and especially with Tamara and Rich, we took it slow during the day: a little shopping or some sightseeing, then we went to a park/waterfront/cafe before heading back to the hotel at dusk, rest, dine, have a few drinks and get ready for the night.  I even managed to watch a couple of football game… although the Boca game was trouble (long story, suffice to say we were lucky to get out of there alive).  I was lucky too: having visited BA before and done quite a lot of sightseeing, plus not really having a fixed date to leave, I could just go with the flow… and be lazy :).  BA was my vacation inside my vacation.

BA is a city that never sleeps.  It’s very busy: roads, buses, subways… all are packed during the day.  At night, try finding a table to dine in the trendy plazas before waiting in the many line-ups to enter the clubs and party the night away.  As for BA daily life, the contrasts are extreme: The Porsche and Mercedes vs the old (year 197x) Renault 12 or Peugeot 305.  The rich neighborhood of Recoleta to the favella of “bario Once” (never expected to see such poor, garbage infested shanty town in Argentina, let alone inside BA).  You can walk and party all night in the streets of Palermo yet you will be attacked and robbed (Carmen at gun point) in broad daylight in La Boca.  But BA is a beautiful city and I will choose to live there in a second.  The extremes that divide the society in some ways enrich its diversity; it’s visible in art, food, architecture, bars and nighclubs, even football teams (and their fans).  This city has it all, not to mention the most beautiful girls you ever saw.

And what a small world it is.  A few days after arriving to BA, I went to check the Latin American book fair happening here and who do I bump into? Augustine!! the friend I met back in Chile.  I also hooked up again with Ale and Flora which was absolutely great as these guys are so much fun.  Venesa was back in BA and she was un-employed 🙂  I met up again with Mark and Ben, the 2 funny and cool riders I bumped into down in Ushuaia at my hostel.  They actually moved to my area and crashed for a week in the hostel nearby.   Not to forget Marty, a crazy Canadian rider (his adventures are worth to be published)….  Well, my stay in BA was anything but a rest time :).  And that’s not it: I then received an e-mail from Diego, my friend and mechanic from Quito.  If you recall he helped get my bike ready for the trip and he was here in BA for a week!  Even better he wanted to talk to the mechanic who was doing a check-up on my bike (it was about time, I rode ~19,000 Km through every kinda of road).  So we met at Dakar Motos and Diego also checked my bike.  In Quito, his work allowed me to ride all the way here with absolutely no mechanical issues, now he will help me make sure the remaining ~13,000Km are headache free.  I knew I needed to change my chain but he noted that my sprockets are worn too.  They “might” last until Quito but I just couldn’t take a chance: imagine me having a mechanical breakdown in Bolivia, on some gravel mountain road, in the cold and in the dark… and even if I make it to a city, finding parts for my bike in Bolivia will be close to impossible (it took 3 days to get parts in BA!).  I also needed new rear brake pad, new oil+filter, clean the air filter + the injection,…. Decision was simple:  shed the U$D450, change everything and I would not have to think or worry about anything for the remainder of my trip, just ride.

One of my BA stay highlight?: hooking up with long lost family.  See, my grandpa’s brother (from my Mom side) immigrated to Argentina back in 1929.   Facebook and Skype were not around at that time so there was little contact between the brothers and when my grandpa’s brother passed away in 1972, contact with his family all but disappeared.  We knew he had 4 kids but they never visited Lebanon and we had no contact with them.  My mission was to try to locate his kids, my mom’s cousins.  My grandpa family name – with its European origin – was very popular in Argentina too.  When I looked up through the white pages this “apelido” in just its 2 common spelling format, the search resulted in 88 results! All 4 spelling, and I got 173 results… and these people are spread all over Argentina.  Now that I am in BA I needed to call the ones living here.  At my third number I hit the bull’s eye: It was Ismail, my mom’s cousin.  I made sure he indirectly answered a couple of “family questions” just so to be sure he is really family… hey, you never know!  A few days later I went to visit him.  What was supposed to be a ½ hour encounter turned to be a 4 hours chat and it was just great.  I brought him family pictures of my grandfather and my uncles/antes (his cousins) which he loved.  His son, Dario, was also excited knowing our family is actually big and our door is open to him to visit anytime.  It was such a memorable encounter; I know my grandfather will be smiling on me.

Next: Party continues in Uruguay (after pics below).










Let's go to Uruguay

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Head North Young Man

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Head North Young Man

Buenos Aires, 5-May-2010

It snowed that night in the mountains around Ushuaia.  We woke up to a chilly -2ºC and again we waited until 10:30 for it to relatively warm up (3ºC) and Oliver and I headed off.  Kilometer 15,067, Ushuaia, 19-Apr-10 @ 10:30. Just to give you an idea, Ushuaia @ ~ 55º00 latitude is as south as Fort McMurray is north.  Or in other words, if leaving from Montreal heading north, Chibougamau will only be the half way point on route to 55º north!  Thunder Bay for you Ontarian is just ~1/3 of the way if leaving from TO.  And April in the southern hemisphere is equivalent to our northern hemisphere October!  As soon as we exited the coastal city of Ushuaia, trucks and buses coming the opposite way were honking when crossing us and their drivers pointing behind them (i.e. pointing to the direction we were heading) and signaling us to slow down.  We could see that the lakes and water puddles at the sides of the road were all frozen and we knew we had to just take it easy.  As we climbed Paso Garibaldi it started snowing on us.  We stopped to snapped a few pics; it was all fun, “How awesome” 😉   But the more we climbed the colder it got, the snow intensified and my fingers were freezing.  We stopped again to analyze the situation.  “You want to go back?” asked Oliver, trying to see my state of mind.  “Nop.  I want to head north to warmer ground.  Let’s take it easy, I’ll go first”.  A couple of turns later, still heading up, the road started being covered by patches of snow and soon thereafter, fully carpeted by a couple of cm of snow.  I was already committed to cross the pass, no turning back!  I put my bike in higher gear to try and stop the rear wheel from slipping and just let the bike crawl slowly upwards.  Very unnerving driving conditions and I was stressed, yet I still needed to try hard to relax my muscles & my grip on the steering; any abrupt movement, brake or acceleration and I would be bobsledding with my baby.  As usual, downhill were the worst: little traction and I was pumping the brakes calmly to slow down the bike.  Add to that tackling the mountain curves and crossing black ice patches left by passing trucks; I was grinding my teeth while driving.  It seemed it took forever until we finally crossed Garibaldi pass and cleared the snow.

The temperature again dropped below 0ºC and everything around us was frozen.  300Km to the border but I was already cold.  We had to stop many time to warm up, to no prevail.  At one point, I needed to pee but my fingers were completely numb; I was unable to grip and open my pants zipper.  I needed to go…. bad!  After a few minutes trying, I just ripped the fly open breaking the zipper :(.  Ah well, that’s going to be embarrassing at every stop I make…

We had lunch just before the border with Chile, warmed up then headed back to see the kings.  See, everyone heard my story and saw my pics of the king Penguins and all wanted to see them.  Oliver was the only one who actually could and there’s no way he was going to miss it.  So we fooled ourselves by thinking we will reach Rio Gallegos by 20:30 and did the detour to my second encounter with the kings (Kilometer 15,451, somewhere in TDF, 19-Apr-10 @ 18:00).  There were more of them today and we happily went snapping pics, enough to put any Japanese tourist to shame.  We said our goodbye to our highnesses by sunset and rushed to catch the northern ferry to South America’s mainland.  I would never ride through gravel road at dark but today we had too.  We waited 45 minute for the ferry to dock before getting on-board for the 25min crossing of Magellan straight.  Once back on firm land we speed toward the northern border: it closes at 22:00 and we had to cross to Argentina again.  We made it with 5min to spare and after all the formalities we drove another 75Km to finally reach Rio Gallegos just before midnight (Kilometer 15,709, Rio Gallegos, 19-Apr-10 @ 23:30).

Oliver took off the next day to El-Calafate while I spent an extra day in Rio Gallegos to switch my tires (put my road tires on and send the off-road ones to Salta).  The plan was to meet up again in Peninsula Valdez in 3 days.  As for me, I wanted to reach Comodoro Rivadavia in 1 day.  But it was just too cold, it even hailed on me on route, which then melted and froze creating black ice patches.  I had to stop by the side of the road every 50Km or so, jumping and running around to warm up & let my blood flow or warming my hands on the engine.  Truckers kept on honking laughing at this crazy tourist doing gymnastic on the side of the road.  Oh yeah?  Wait until I pass you flying in a few minutes 😉  But I couldn’t withstand the cold, especially my fingers; it felt as if I had burned my finger’s palm!  So I just stopped in Puerto San Julian, ~300Km north of Rio Gallegos (Kilometer 16,106, Puerto San Julian, 21-Apr-10 @ 17:30).  The remaining 450Km to Comodoro Rivadavia will be completed next day.

You’ve got to hear this:  The following day, at one of my gas stations stop, while I was warming up with a hot cup of tea, a couple of riders heading south stopped by.  We started chatting and I gave them a few pointers on the road conditions in Ushuaia.  As the conversation progressed, it seemed we could meet up again in BA so they wanted my e-mail.  When I gave it to them, one of the guys asked with a surprised look:  “Sami?! Are you “Vroum” from the HUBB?? It’s me, Fernando!”. Damn!  Fernando was the guy I was supposed to meet to ride the 40 together (he decided not to and did the detour) and here we are in the middle of eastern Patagonia, at a gas station, finally meeting :).

Kilometer 16,544, Comodoro Rivadavia, 22-Apr-10 @ 17:30 Comodoro Rivadavia is an oil city, probably like Fort McMurray, with nothing interesting to see.  And it’s expensive!  Everything is double the price than anywhere else in Patagonia.  From the kilo of meat, to hairdresser, to hotel, all costs 2x more.  Incredible!  All this because in this neck of the woods everyone had $$$.  The oil industry is booming, companies’ pay big bucks for workers and local business take it back by charging more.  The only reason I stayed here was because I wanted to visit the petrified forest of Sarmiento which is 160Km east of here.  Kilometer 16,734, Bosque Petrificado, 23-Apr-10 @ 13:30; Millions of years ago, this desert was a lush tropical jungle and huge rivers used to carry fallen trees all the way to today’s Sarmiento were they accumulated due to the weakened river flow.  Covered with mud, they petrified through time only to be un-earthed in the recent millennium.  They lay in the cold Patagonian desert, mostly shattered and in danger from todays homo-sapiens: they break them or even steal them.  What is left are still amazing petrified relics of giant trees: they are like stone version of the trees, they take the local mineral/earth colors and are very heavy yet fragile.  Check the vid:  Bosque Petrificado

As I headed toward Peninsula Valdez, the joy came at mid-day: I finally rode enough northbound (I was equivalent to Montreal latitude) for the weather to warm up and make “amazing” riding conditions (under the circumstances).  I was so happy it felt like my love for this trip just reached another level, sort of a nirvana.  I was dancing and singing on the road and this feeling is still erupting today.  Pure and simple joy, what else do you need?  Kilometer 17,479, Punta Piramides, 24-Apr-10 @ 18:00; I reached the fishing village of Punta Piramides, a village usually flooded with tourists but now almost dead.  Only 3 hotels open and 1 restaurant (the one from my hostel… hey, I am lazy, I wanted to eat & sleep in the same place :)).   No sign of Oliver though… he might still be on the road.  I took a shower and as I stepped into the resto to have my dinner, here was Oliver drinking a beer.  He made it as agreed (German engineering!) and he even hooked up with another German rider, Matheas, riding a BMW GS800.  Matheas was a funny brew master… needless to say more ;).  We had dinner and planned our next day.  Southern Right Whales won’t come this way until sometime in July but this month it’s Orca month. They will be on Punta Norte teaching their young how to hunt seals, an extremely rare spectacle to actually see them (Lonely Planet says 3% chance, whatever that means!).  Next morning, we left early dawn as we needed to ride 80Km on dirt road to reach Punta Norte where the Orca’s will use the early morning high tide to beach themselves and catch seals.  We rode in the foggy and cold morning (-3ºC) but we were so excited to see the Orcas, none of us actually cared.  As soon as we parked the bikes we could see the killer whales and we rushed to the view point.  The spectacle was in full swing.  5 Orcas were taking turn, longing the shoreline, spewing water through their blowhole then shooting fast & straight up the shore, beaching themselves trying to catch seals.  Gladly, none succeeded :).  We then headed to Punta Cero to see Magellan Penguins followed by Punta Cantor where elephant seals live before heading back late afternoon to Punta Piramides passing by a sea lion colony (Kilometer 17,698, Punta Piramides, 25-Apr-10 @ 17:20).

We stayed another day relaxing in this village.  I wanted to go dive with the sea lions but the only dive shop wanted top dollars and a minimum of 3 persons to go dive.  With no-one around for 2 days, I guess I will postpone diving for another time.

We said goodbye to Oliver as he was heading toward Santiago de Chile to ship his bike home (he did Alaska to Tierra del Fuego and his trip is almost over) and Matheas & I headed toward Viedma and Carmen Del Patagon, its sister town across the river (Kilometer 18,268, Viedma, 27-Apr-10 @ 16:30).  They are beautiful little towns, each having a nice walk on its shoreline, good plazas and all together a “buena onda”, perfect stop to gather energy for our next morning long ride.

Ridding north form Ushuaia the steppe vegetation extended all the way up to Puerto Madrin.  From there on, small trees and shrub started to appear.  By Viedma, we could see farms and livestock in the fields.  Heading toward Mar Del Plata, we rode in the heart of Argentina’s agriculture fortune: Soya.  Endless fields of this brownish bean bringing richness to Argentina and it was harvest season.  We passed hundreds upon hundreds of trucks carrying the beans to ports or processing plants, while giant machines where combing the fields & harvesting the soya beans leaving behind big clouds of dust.  As we arrived late to Mar del Plata, I went to look for a hotel as Matheas was crashing at a friend’s house (Kilometer 19,037, Mar Del Plata, 28-Apr-10 @ 19:30).  The beauty about low season is it’s easy to travel.  Hotels are empty with practically no tourists and you share the city with the locals.  The action and parties tend to concentrate around a handful of bars & boliches making it easy to find the happening spot.  I hooked up with Venesa and Tamara (from BA): we went to the beaches in the day, took power naps in the evening and hit Alem Street to party at night.

Hernann, my Argentinean friend I met back in Chile, was from Mar del Plata but he was studying in nearby Balcarce.  That was my next stop but before, I went to visit his parent at their house in Mar Del Plata for an afternoon tea and dinner, chatting about my trip with his father who was so curious to know about all my adventures, especially Aconcagua.  We chatted until 19:30, way too late for my liking but I still headed out and met Hernann in Balcarce, 100Km away (Kilometer 19,137, Balcarce, 30-Apr-10 @ 23:30).  I crashed at his place, went out for a traditional asado then for drinks around town.

Balcarce was also the home of Juan Miguel Fangio and I was dying to go see his museum.  I wasn’t disappointed and it was amazing to see again how these guys used to race in the good old days.   I said my goodbye to Hernann by early afternoon and headed toward BA.   An hour before reaching the outskirt of the city, a huge brown cloud was hanging in the horizon: smog and pollution were my welcoming committees.   As I got closer, the horizon turned to grey then faded away, smell of fire, garbage, gas, diesel and who knows what filled the air.  What an ugly and rude awakening to city life after spending the past 3 month with nature…. I used to be wary of crazy Guanacos running across the road, now its another type of animals I had to watch out for ;).  As I entered the city, I was stuck in its traffic jams, dodging buses and taxi drivers who seemed to be on a hunt for me.  I felt like the rabbits I encountered down in Patagonia but this time oit was me running in front and in between crazy and aggressive drivers, trying not to become the next road kill (Kilometer 19,587, Buenos Aires, 1-May-10 @ 19:30).

Ride up!

Sami

Photo Album

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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!

Sami

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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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Taken By Argentina

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Taken By Argentina

Futaleufú, 30-Mar-2010

Paula gave me some of her favorite music to add to my MP3 playlists (Zi, Eric, check “Amy Winehouse”) and I left Massoud, Paula, Justin and the whole family early afternoon, heading back to Argentina.  It felt good to be on the road riding again but actually all I was thinking about was Argentinean ice cream :).  I planned to stop in Villa la Angostura specifically to have some at this traditional ice-cream shop I knew.  And I had company on the road: I met a rider on a BMW 1200 heading the same way and we rode together up to Villa la Angostura.  I then continued 110Km further to reach Bariloche (Kilometer 11,476, Bariloche, 19-Mar-10 @ 20:00).  The 2nd thing I was craving was a good Argentinean asado and I treated myself to a top restaurant in Bariloche.  I was sitting 4 tables inside the restaurant enjoying my bife de chorizo when this couple walking outside suddenly stopped and started jumping and waving like crazy.  The whole restaurant was looking at them and I was thinking “those Argentinean”… but wait!  It’s Flora and Ale!  What an unexpected and funny encounter!  I invited them to an ice cream to catch up J  (what? you didn’t guess?!)

Next morning I hopped in Ale & Flora’s car and we all went to El-Bolson, 120Km south of here.  It was raining the whole day but in the car, sipping matte, who cares?  We visited the local artisanal craft market, bought some homemade cheese, alfajores, jam,… you name it, I tried it.  We also went to lago Puelo and picked & ate Blackberries while walking on its shore.

Bariloche is a beautiful city, although VERY touristy which greatly diminish its charm.  For example, on Lago Nahuel Huapi’s shoreline, for 18Km, nothing but restaurants, hotel, cabañas… how nice.  After 2 days of chilling cold weather with heavy rain, the sun finally started peering out again and I took advantage to do many activities.  Hiking is top notch here and a climbed a few ceros.  I also went back on 2 wheels – this time without an engine – and bicycled the circuito chico (I sneaked in to the famous hotel Llao-Llao for a peak but soon was escorted out by black suit security guards 🙂    AnywayZ, back to our Bariloche discussion, its early German settlers left many good traditions the best being a few micro-breweries (“Blest” beer being my favorite) and many restaurants which we happily savored with Ale and Flora.

Ale & Flora left on Tuesday and I finally got around to finding a mechanic for my bike; I did an oil change  and switched to my off-road tires.  In the mean time I hanged out at the hostel with the rest of the tourists, partying and enjoying the city.  On my 6th day, Wednesday 24-Mar, I was ready to hit the road…. Not too far though, only to El-Bolson (again) but this time with gorgeous weather and great company (Kilometer 11,613, El-Bolson, 24-Mar-10 @ 14:00).  I hooked-up with Annie, an amazing girl from Portland, avid outdoors-woman, funny and always smiling.  We chilled in the village, mellowing in its hippy atmosphere, mingling with its incredibly friendly people and savoring the delicious and healthy restaurants that abound (especially veggies).  We also went kayaking on Lago Puelo under a beautiful autumn warm day.

It was sad to leave Annie but our routes now follow opposite direction.   I headed south to the Welsh settlement of Trevelin where not only I wanted to sip a Welsh tea but also visit Parque National Los Alerces and see its majestic millenary trees (Kilometer 11,862, Trevelin, 26-Mar-10 @ 19:30).  I hooked up with 2 other Argentinean riders (Alberto & Luis on a V-Strom 1000 & a Kawi 650) and we headed to the park.  The Alerces are in a protected area, intangible and can only be reached via a 1 hour catamaran ride.  There, a guide took us around for a 1 hour hike, walking between these magnificent 1000’s year old trees (longest longevity species after the US Sequoia and Bristlecone Pine).  Kilometer 11,935, Parque National Los Alerces, 28-Mar-10 @ 11:00.  The road to reach the park was a 90Km gravel road and my new tires were just perfect, they made a huge difference!  I could easily reach 80Km/h on roads I wouldn’t dare hit 40Km/h before!  Wo-hooo! 😉  My turns were smooth and my baby was stable in acceleration and straight line.  Now I am ready to hit Patagonia roads.

But my good mood was soon squashed.  On my way back to Trevelin after having parted with Luis and Alberto, my bike headlights died.  Burned bulb or fuse I thought and kept riding.  But once at my hostel, the bike did not want to start again.  I pushed the start button but nothing, not a sound.  I was facing an electrical short or a cut line… but where?  I searched for a couple of hour with no luck.  It was sundown and I was faced with the daunting task of disassembling the bike to find the root of the issue.  Worst, I was in a small village and there are no mechanics for my bike.  I jumped on the net and logged in to the HUBB and asked for help, hints and debugging ideas.  I went to sleep facing a stressful next day.

Next morning I got a few replies from other travelers and started following their hints…. No luck.   However they led me to focus on my starter system and I started debugging.  On the bright side, my bike at least can start in 2nd (push start) so I had the option to head north to Bariloche (400K away) for a mechanic.  But I kept digging and soon I was onto something.  In the right handle bar electric case, inside the start mechanism box, inside the spring/cable push button, there’s another spring which pushes and closes the final contact to start the bike. Well, that spring was “soft” (i.e. not a spring anymore).   It took me another hour or so, some electric tape, pieces of rubber, crazy glue and a metal wire to work around the issue and finally, at 22:00, the bike started again.   Lucky to find the problem? Damn right.  But after a full day of work I am back in the game, ready to head south again.  The question was:  how long will my fix hold especially now I am facing 1000+ Km of bumpy gravel roads?

I crossed yet again into Chile to the village of Futaleufú, Kilometer 12,088, Futaleufú, 29-Mar-10 @ 20:00.  Futaleufú River is world renowned for its rapids.  It’s equivalent to Colorado or Zambezi Rivers (check Raft Top 10) and Olympic teams from around the world actually come here to train.  I came off season and only Josh, a 50+ US guy who runs “Futaleufú Explorer” outdoor services, was offering to go.  This guy is hip, a little “different” 😉 and all he wants to do is hit the river regardless of the money (well, he still charged me U$D20 more than normal rate but I was alone).  And he’s so good, he’s the only one ready to navigate a raft by himself down these rapids and he gladly accepted to take me for a ride.  But we needed a kayak for safety reason in case someone (i.e. me) falls and needs to be rescued.  So we jumped in his van and went knocking on a few of his kayaker buddy’s doors until we found Jaime, a Spanish kayaker who was also relishing the challenge.  So we were set and we went to the river.  Just to look at Futaleufú river will give you a rush: non-stop, back to back (little time to relax), class IV and class V rapids.  Riviere Rouge (Red River) in Ottawa will be ashamed to even show up to the party if Futaleufú is present :).  After a few pointers from Josh and training through the first runs we started hitting the rapids sweet spots.  “Terminator”, “Toboggan”, “Puma”, “Tiburon”, “Cazuela”,… we tackled them head on.  These are fierce white water rapids and I was bouncing left, right and center and even Josh fell on me a couple of times; an exelerating experience.  We were shouting in victory every time we successfully crossed one.  And then came the icing on the cake:  Class V rapids.  Just approaching them gave me chills.  We first hit “Mas o Menos” and then by far the best run: “Casa de Piedras”.  What a rush! We needed to follow a curved path, zigzagging between huge boulders, bouncing off high waves while rowing hard to stay away from the rocky shores.  I loved it and by that time, Josh and I were so in tune we just hit the rapids perfectly, in line and in sync with the wave movements, navigating skillfully left then right then head on through the run.  Sweet!

Back to Futaleufú, my hostal señora (owner) cooked me (I was the loco who went on the river with Josh) a delicious lamb meal and I went to sleep exhausted.  Tomorrow my llama show continues through the Carretera Austral (Ruta 7).  It’s going to be beautiful scenery yet very tough off-road riding.

Ride up!

Sami

 

Photo Album

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