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Posts tagged ‘Magellan’

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!


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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

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