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Posts tagged ‘Chile’

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!


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!


Photo Album

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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!



Photo Album

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Volcanoes, Dinosaurs, Lakes and… Massoud

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Volcanoes, Dinosaurs, Lakes and… Massoud

Valdivia, 18-Mar-2010

The first night back in Mendoza (after Aconcagua) we went for an all you can eat asado. Bad idea! Roy and I both ate way too much, we were sick the whole night. I even thew up… But next day we were up and kicking and since it was Friday night, we hit the clubbing scene and continued the celebration. We were actually still out on Saturday morning @ 3:30 during the big earthquake in Chile. We were in a taxi going from one boliche (i.e. club) to another when the taxi started shaking. The driver screamed: “Esta temblendo, esta temblendo”. I didn’t catch what he was saying, I actually thought a car hit us from behind and I turned around to see: no-one. We were close to “Wish”, our next club, so I paid the taxi 11 pesos (and took my time looking for spare change) then exited the taxi. The earth was still shaking. We went to the sidewalk and by that time many residents were rushing down to the streets, some of them half naked, other clinging to their kids or to a purse/bag. Next to me, a door opened and a whole family rushed out. Me, still not fully catching the danger, said to them like a kid: “It’s shaking!” to which they replied: “yes… now get out from under the balcony and rush to the middle of the street”…duh. It lasted that long, a good 50 seconds. But thankfully, everyone and everything in Mendoza were OK.

The chicos left that same Saturday morning back to Arequipa and I lingered on in Mendoza with Jessica for another week, relaxing, enjoying the wine, satisfying my craving for ice-cream and experiencing Vendimia (wine harvest) festivities all over the city. I also took care of some bike business: I bought the mandatory bike insurance, first for 1 month but a few days later changed it to 4 month (my return plane ticket to Montreal expired thus now I have no “return date” :)). I bought new tires, oil, filter, chain lube,… and shipped them to Bariloche, a city further south which I plan to reach in 10 days or so. These new tires are for off-road riding and I desperately need the extra traction when Routa 40 enters Patagonia where it becomes gravel & sand, with rain and ferocious winds… mommy :(.

Bad luck hit immediately: My GPS died on me. Bummer, I had Argentina’s map and it was just perfect navigating in the big cities. Kilometer 8,610, Mendoza, 3-Mar-10 @ 13:00: Daniel (manager of expedition to Aconcagua) told me about the parks around Malargüe and that was my first target. My road skirted San Raphael and after passing by Canyon del Atuel, I arrived to Malargüe Kilometer 9,078, Malargüe, 3-Mar-10 @ 18:30 where a thunder and hail storm met me as I entered the city. The next day, I took my bike out to visit a few nearby attractions (Caverna de las Brujas, Castillo,..) but the following day I booked a tour to Parque Payunia as recommended by Daniel. And what a sight! The park is home to the biggest concentration of volcanoes per Km2 in the world, 830 of them. In our park visit, we go off-road, riding on red, grey or black volcanic gravel, viewing 20 or so volcanoes. We were lucky; our guide also took us to a restricted area which she too wanted to visit as no one goes there. There, we witnessed a beautiful volcano formation, saw lava bombs, walked by volcano gas escape holes and climbed a lava river bed. Pictures say it all. This was such a unique experience; all I need now is to see a live volcano!

Next: Dinosaurs (after pics below).


Mommy !!

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Loooong Chile

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Loooong Chile

Mendoza, 15-Feb-2010

Kilometer 4,923, Arequipa, 28-Jan-10 @ 10:00:  It’s been a while and I was eager to ride again.  The road to Tacna and then Arica in Chile was again through deserts: rocks, gravel and dirt.  The desert even climbs up to 1,300meters.  It makes for some very special twisties: rock walls on one side, cliff drops on the other and leaning into turns with my helmet skirting the rock facades; What a rush!  The border crossing into Chile is typical “a la South America”.  How should I know that I need to buy a border forms in Tacna… 20Km before the borders?!   I didn’t want to ride back and look for this form so I waited around until a couple had an extra one which they gladly gave me.

As soon as you are in Chile the local time jumps +2hours compared to Peru.  Hey, I don’t mind sunsets at 21:00 :).  Kilometer 5,364, Arica, 28-Jan-10 @ 20:30: Arica is most famous for the war of the Pacific, when Chile conquered this land from Bolivia and Peru back in the 1880’s during the nitrate mining golden era.  Also, there are a couple of Eiffel buildings near the main square, with the St. Mark Cathedral being the most impressive.

On the road again,  this time heading to Iquique, Kilometer 5,753, Iquique, 30-Jan-10 @ 17:20 and the many geoglyphs that dot the desert landscape.  Some of them are hard to locate and one of them took me a good 30min driving on dirt roads prior to finding it, but it was worth it.  No one can really explain the meaning of these geoglyphs although there are no shortages of interpretation including the obvious alien version (hey, they even made a visit when I was there; check the pic of the alien in the red helmet).  Somehow, I can’t help thinking that more than anything else, these guys just created their art and “sculptures/paintings” on these hills, nothing more.  More interesting sites lie next to Iquique like the remains of a couple of ghost towns from the old Nitrate boom, with Humberstone being the most fabulous one to see.  When the Germans invented the synthetic ammonia in 1929, the town’s importance and richness declined and eventually death was inevitable.   In a few year, what were the richest cities in South America turned to… nothing.  Can’t help but think how wonderful it will be if history repeat itself but this time for the oil industries (sorry Jay ;).   Back to Humberstone, because of the dry weather and almost no rain, the city has been extremely well preserved, including the saltpeter and factories.  In this ghost city you can enter the homes, church, theater, shopping store and even the public pool.  Feels likes I was thrown in a western movie.

In Iquique, I hooked up with a couple of very cool and funny Argentinean guys: Hernan and Augustin who also happened to be going to the same places I was.  From the beaches of Iquique we headed to San Pedro de Atacama (them by bus).  Kilometer 6,490, San Pedro, 2-Feb-10 @ 20:30, San Pedro is nice little town of 2,000 people and maybe 10,000 tourists… and it sure feels that way.  It’s a desert town build around an oasis surrounded by valleys, mountains, volcanoes, altiplanos, salt lakes,… making it a perfect center to visit them all.  From the absolutely gorgeous landscape of Valle de la Luna (the name fits perfectly, especially at sunset), to the heat of Valle de la Muerte where we sandboard, to the altiplano lakes (some of them frozen!) rich in mineral where thousands of flamencos live and are currently breading or nursing their young, to swimming in the salt lakes (which have higher concentration of salt then the Dead Sea), to witnessing the amazing contrast of color during the sunset while walking on salt plains, to observing the sunrise upon the geysers fields, 4,500m high.   You got to spend 5 days here, although it will cost you an arm and a leg.  This place will break your budget for a month… a lot of other tourists suggest I could have done the same activities in Bolivia for half the price.  I say let’s do it twice 🙂

Back on the road and now I am driving desert upon desert and accumulating kilometers… and it’s boring like hell.  There were practically no cars; I was just sharing these deserts with hundreds of funnel sand storms which roam the area like drunken men.

Kilometer 6,845, Antafagosta, 6-Feb -10 @ 13:50
Kilometer 7,368, Caldera, 6-Feb -10 @ 21:30
Kilometer 7,799, La Serena, 7-Feb -10 @ 15:40
Kilometer 8,290, Los Andes, 7-Feb-10 @ 21:00

1,500+ Km of nothing, barely a few gas station (twice I nearly ran out of gas, was running on fume (seriously!)).  Otherwise, thank god I have my MP3 player (and thanks to all who gave me music ;).  On my 3rd day of riding, I decided to completely skip Santiago (I visited the city a couple of years ago) and I directly head to Mendoza (Argentina).  Northern Chile is not my favorite place and actually in Chile I don’t even feel l am in South America, rather like in an eastern Montreal suburb.  It’s a very clean country, friendly people, great seafood and drivers here are extremely courteous to others, to riders and to pedestrian (bordering the ridiculous actually), but after visiting Peru and Ecuador the standard to meet is now high.  Having been to Santiago before, I really didn’t mind just turning east and start climbing the Andes:  not only the “caracoles” is an amazing road, zigzagging 1,500m (vertical) on a mountain side to reach the border pass at 3,200m but Mendoza is also the place where I want to accomplish my next dream expedition and I was eager to get there.  On the way I hooked up with an Australian lad on a KLR 650 who came up from Ushuaia and now heading to BA to ship his bike to England, which made the road more fun to ride.  At the border, I experienced firsthand the rivalry between Argentina and Chile.  Here, Argentinean and Chilean border guards sit together which makes it even more fun to joke with them:  The Argentinean agent throws a jab against the mediocre Chilean wine and bad food to which the Chilean agent responds:  “Well in fact, Argentina is not that great, they have only 2 good things: “carne y mujeres” to which I had to answer: “Aren’t they the same?” ;))))  …  (I can just see the grin on all the guys’ faces and the girls wanting to kill me ;)).   They didn’t stop here, the Chilean agent turns abruptly towards me and with a serious look tells me: “Do you have marijuana?”… very confused, I immediately responded: “No”. He smiled and responded: “Then probably he (pointing at the Argentinean agent) won’t let you in… you see, this is the tip you need to give them to enter the country” :).

Kilometer 8,596, Mendoza, 8-Feb-10 @ 19:20 Mendosa is a gorgeous city, lots of trees and parks, great parillada, excellent wines, delicious ice creams and where water canals run parallel to its shaded streets (to the danger of tourists: a British girl in our hostel broke her leg when she left a club at 5:00AM and “fell” in one of these canals).  AnywayZ, in the first part of my 5 days stay here, I just went around (and waited a lot) to fix the huge problems I was facing organizing my expedition.  Long story, I will tell you later, but from almost hell to finally everything falling into place and we’re good to go in a few hours (it’s Monday 15-Feb at 5:00AM).

Wish me luck, I really need it and I will tell you all about it in 20days.  In the mean time, I will be cut off from the world.

Take care

Ride up!


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