An overlander's account of South and Central America by motorbike - the trusty Suzuki DR650. Within are great travel tips and hints (2011).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Infamous Ruta 40 - Cochrane to Ushuaia (24th Feb - 5th Mar)

Well...I´m very far behind on posts (In Buenos Aires, 20 March, as I write this).  Spending a lot of time riding, enjoying life, riding, camping and doing other things without the net!  However to keep things updated I´ll jump on here n there!  I haven´t figured out how to make the pics fit nicely on here yet.  And keep in mind that none of these pics are doing ANY of this justice. 

Highlights ahead - Windy ruta 40, Canadian amigos, finding free wine on the road, Torres del Paine trek, Glaciers and USHUAIA baby!!!

24th Feb 2011 (456 km) - Estancia Angostura (camp). 
I woke up today overlooking the valley from the "land before time".  After a cuppa and packing up the tent I headed down the way and East to Bajo Carocales, smack bang in the middle of Ruta 40...where there was supposed to be fuel.  Upon arriving, it turns out they were fresh out of petrol!!!  So after asking around town if I could buy a litre or 2 off people (and noone having any!) I found out I had to double back 75km to a town I´d ridden past as it was 5k off the track.  I was about to nudge off when Charley from Canada rocked in on a BMW GS650...and realised he´d have the same problem trying to make the next fuel station south.  I told him I was gonna duck out and headed off first.  About 2km away from the other town I´d run out of fuel...and Charley passed me and took a bottle to fill with petrol!  In the meantime I emptied my petrol stove into the tank which had got me to town and surprised the apples out of Charley!!!  Some locals had also offered to come back with fuel as well.  (Turns out it was a petcock problem and I had 1.5L fuel left - I have an inline fuel filter and the sieve filter on the Reserve was too much resistance in the line - this problem went on until Valdes Peninsula when I finally cut the sieve out).  On the ride back to ruta 40 we rode past several small boxes of juice on the side of the road!  They´d fallen off a truck that´d gone by just before.  I jumped off and kicked a few find 5 full boxes...of WINE!  What a great little detour.  I´m not a wine drinker, nor was Charley, but free wine is free wine!  So it was red wine and pasta for me that night.  Sensational!!!  I also scored a Condor feather on the way back - I was going to take some claws off the fresh corpse, but someone had already pinched the drumsticks!  How inspiring!  Charley was on a bit of a solo tour and had organised to stay at a ranch so I tagged along and camped out at this beautiful ranch after quite the windy ride in the arvy (being pushed from one dirt rut to the next by wind can be quite a pain in the arse...and at times a bit dangerous!  It turns out the Germans I´d met a few days before on the Hornopiren ferry were also staying there...and had just been talking about me to some ladies when I walked in, and they said "and thats him!".  I also met these ladies a day or 2 later on a trek in El Chalten!

25/26 Feb 2011 (292 + 75 km) - El Chalten - Hostel del Lagos (hostel). 35 Arg pesos
Charley and I left around 10 and headed out.  Eventually he left me behind because his BMW 650GS was doin a little better than my DR in the wind!  And he was headed further to El Calafate.  After splitting I managed about 90km/h riding into the wind and rain...FREEZING cold.  But El Chalten was worth it.  Found a place to bunk up...35 pesos a night for a bed in a container or 30 pesos a night to camp.  Hard choice there after camping and the current wind and rain here!  I spent a couple days here and did the Laguna de los Tres trek (the video on my facebook is here).  Ate locro, and had local cervezas at the cervicaria (cheers Woz for the tip).

27th Feb 2011 (? km) - Puerto Natales - Casa Alicia (hostel). 10000 Chile pesos
I headed off to El Calafate and saw the Perito Merino glacier!  Unreal!!! Saw a monstrous chunk fall off and create a wave an insane surfer could surf!  Eventually i pushed on to Puerto Natales after another easy border crossing at Cerro Castillo.  I actually had 1 garlic and 2 potatoes which I wasnt spose to take into Chile, but when I saw that the 5 coppers were playin fetch with the sniffer dog and he had nooooo interest in me whatsoever I went on...and ate the vegies for tea that night.  Caught up with Charley for some beers and a yarn and prepared for the Torres Del Paine trek!

28th Feb 2011 - Torres del Paine, Campamento Torres (camp)
 I headed out to the east end of the trail and found a tree to strap my bike to next to a refugia (hotel pretty much).  This took much asking but they let me.  After strapping her to the tree nicely and leaving my bags behind inside, I took off with my one-strap duffle bag...which tore a strap as soon as I left!  I left around 1530 and booked it north (quite an arvy slog uphill) to the Campamento Torres, ditchedn the bags and headed for the Torres del Paine lookout (Towers of Paine).  Everything was wet, as I´d been riding in rain and had started with wet gear, but when I saw the towers, nothing else mattered!!!  A sensational view and hard work of course.  I returned down the bottom and had started cookin tea when the ranger there come up and had a yarn...and offered me weed.  Hehe, I said no cheers, and he left pretty soon after. 

1st Mar 2011 - Torres del Paine, Campamento Italiano (camp)
I left C. Torres and headed for the next camp and the valley above which has 360 degree views!  stunning i´d heard!!  On the way I managed, once again to get lost (happened in Nepal on Annapurna circuit, got lost and ended up scaling landslides and cliffs).  This time wasnt so bad but had some hard hills and thick scrub to push through to find the trail again!!!  I ended up behind people that id passed an hour before!!  I made it to the camp at 1600 and headed for the lookout.  Absolutely amaaaaaaaaaaaaaazing views.  Mucho tranquilo!!!  After chillin out I headed back down to camp.  Had some tea and mussels and then ran out of petrol in the flash tucker tonight!  I was pretty paranoid about where I left my moto so I ended up deciding to do the trek in 3 days (recommended 4-5 days).  I missed nothing, but had a few longer days.

2nd Mar 2011 - Cerro Castillo - A local´s house
Today my hard pushing and wet gear caught up with me.  My feet and shoulders ached!  I sucked it up and put on 2 pair of socks and headed for the last point on the trek...Glacier Grey!!!  I ditched the bags at regugio Paine Grande and headed 11km up the track for the glacier. I had to make it back in 5hrs as I was catching the ferry back to my beautiful Nessie at 1815!  After pushing hard and fast I made it to the lookout.  Sat down.  To my right was a bay full of glacier chunks.  Ahead was the monstrous glacier, spanning as far as the eye could see ahead.  Cliffs and mountains surrounding me.  I relaxed and listened to nature for a bit before playing 1 song...Adiemus by Enya (listen to it...its one for the big moments!).  As I listened a Condor soared RIGHT above my head and stuck close by for quite a while.  In all honesty, the moment was worked for so hard, and was majestic at it least, I shed a couple of those grand happy tears!!  My camera gave me 2 pics here and went flat...a sign to just enjoy the moment. 

I made it back and got the bike and headed for Puerto Natales, but was too late so I pulled into Cerro Castillo at dark.  The guy at a hostel there wouldnt let me camp as there were no I went across the road to a house with a fence...and asked there.  An old Chilean Cowboy and his daughter welcomed me with open arms.  Coffee, bread, and a bed for me and a shed for Nessie!  AMAZING!!!

3rd Mar 2011 (? km) - Puerto Natales - Hosteria Rogers - 8000 Chile pesos/night
Upon returning to Puerto Natales this morning I found a hostel with a lovely couple.  Today I did a major service on the bike and they were very helpful with little things I was after!  I´d done 4000km now.

Which just reminded me...I was on the road after my first week of riding.  It was cold so I pulled into a shop for some hot tucker.  The menu was a bit expensive and I saw Ensaladas quite cheap!  WOW i thought, cheap Enchaladas!  WHat came out was half a tomato and cucumber on a plate with some lemon.  Today I learnt that Ensaladas....means salads. 

Anyway I told my hosts I was planning on making completos for lunch...they said NOOOO come eat with us.  ANd I dined with them on one of the finest meals I´ve had yet...A monstrous saucepan full of fresh mussels, with potatoes, salad and bread!  Amazing people and very kind. 

4th Mar 2011 (? km) - Estancia Las Flores, near San Sebastian, Tierra del Fuego!!!!
After leaving Puerto Natales, I eventually hit a dirt road that headed straight East...with the wind!!!  Dirt roads mean, no traffic and it was a fantastic morning, with sheep, llamas, ducks and flamingoes everywhere!!!  I also made up a song I will eventually record with video one day. Hehe.  I made it down to near Monte Aymond to get the free ferry to TIERRA DEL FUEGO baaaaby!  The reserve fuel was still playing up and I´d been carrying 6L spare fuel in softdrink bottles for yonks now just in case.  When riding these roads with a crossbreeze of about 110km/h your bike gets thrown about like a rag doll!  Its amazing.  The problem is the tracks made by the cars on the road are great for riding, but when a gust pushes you over, you cross all the loose rubble pile in between them!  What a sham!  By the´s reallllly flat and dry down here!

I headed south on TDF and eventually it started getting colder and colder and darker and windier, so i pulled in to a ranch, and asked if I could camp.  The middle aged bloke said yeah and he showed me to a shearers quarters.  I was surprised and said how much.  Nothing.  We talked a bit, and put the moto in a shed.  The quarters had 2 beds, a table and a fire box thing.  Unreal!  People can be amazing!

Bikers note - free ferry.  Fuel in Cerro Sombero.  It was full when i was there


I hope this finds you all well.  Happy Birthday to all of you if I´ve missed it while being on the road!  Take care and see you soon!








Sunday, March 20, 2011

Carretera Austral - Puerto Montt to Cochrane (20-23 Feb)

Arrrr me harties!

So another update...the amazing Carretera Austral (Chile Ruta 7). 

20th Feb 2011 (155 km) - Hornopiren (camp).  I left Puerto Montt this morning and hit the lovely dirt Carretera Austral.  It skirted the bays for 50 km or so before I headed for an alternate hilly route!  Sensational riding at the least!  Had to catch a ferry before reaching Hornopiren (cost 6650 Chile pesos with moto) and arrived right as it was about to leave...perfecto!  On the way to Hornopiren I met 3 poms/scotts on bicycles and had a yarn.  They were riding the Carretera were hundreds of other cyclists!  I ended up catching them up in Hornopiren again.  From Hornopìren you have to catch a ferry to Caleta Gonzalo (costs 10000 pesos for you and 12000 for moto).  I hadn´t booked a ticket due to internet problems so was hoping there would be space for a measly little moto!  I grabed some chorizos and bread and headed off in search of a camp.  And then I realised I had dropped my wallet somewhere!  Shivers me timbers! I ended up finding it a block away from the supermarker...minus 10000 pesos (20 AUD) but with coins still!  Lucky it was just a secondary wallet!  After riding out of town for about 10km I found an absolutely beautiful stream under the mountains and set the moto and camp up on a small hill next to the creek (message me for GPS location).  I managed to bog the bike trying to get it onto the hill!  So I offloaded the luggage and after a few goes a local bloke helped me get her up top!  A few locals were fishing, so I had a dig...again to no avail!  A shower was needed badly so I decided to test the water...and my Australian balls.  It seemed great to the touch of me I dove in and instantly went numb...must have been fed by the snow on that beautiful mountain above eh!  I hopped out after about 10 secs of vigorous scrubbing.  Funny thing...about half an hour later when I was nice and warm...several local Chileans came down for a swim.  They knew it was cold but braved it for a few minutes!  NUTS I tell ya!  I slept out under the mountain and stars with the sound of the trickling creek running by me...tranquilo!

21st Feb 2011 (135 km) - Near Lake Yelcho (camp).  Today was one of those thrilling days where you either make it onto the ferry...or you wait around killing time for days til the next one.  I rocked up to the ferry in Hornopiren and after waiting for all the cars to load they started the waiting list.  I was about 5th down.  Turns out they couldnt take any more vehicles, even though there was a few cars space, its a law on vehicle number.  So after a bit of begging, asking nicely, throw in a few por favors and sprinkle it with a look of desparation...they let me on!  WOOOHOOO! 

(Note:  Bikers, book your ticket earlier (Hornopiren to Caleta Gonzalo) with Naviera Austral online)

So the trip was to take a few hours so some minor maintenance and chopping down my electrics dashboard was done, with a few yarns with the locals, a cup of mate here and there and some viewtaking!    One Chilean bloke actually helped me use my hacksaw blade (no handle) to saw the dashboard to size!  Amazing!  Made some k´s after departing C.  Gonzalo and made it to Chaiten.  I had to find a guy around town to drill a couple of holes in my dashboard for the GPS mount.  After plenty of asking I finally found a gentleman who kicked over his Jenny and booted up the drill!  Fantastic!  I pushed on a bit further and camped nearby a lake on an old logging track.  Fantastic spot with some good tucker to boot!

22nd Feb 2011 (353) - Coihaique - A locals woodshed (camp). 
Another amazing day of riding on the Carretera Austral with great views, roadside waterfalls, lakes, cyclists, creeks, cyclists, locals and some cyclists.  We had to catch another ferry near Puyuhuapi as the road was being dynamited (which affected the salmon farms below - apparently the compression waves from the TNT could burst the swim bladders of the salmon, causing a slight problem for the farms!).  This ferry was free though and met 4 cars worth of Germans headed towards Ushuaia!  Towards the end of the day I pulled up at a local ranch and asked to camp.  An old bloke asked an old lady and said I could crash in one of their sheds.  So I pulled over underneath it and a couple of minutes later the ol fella came lookin for me.  He didnt see me so I called out and he came over.  He was old and possibly a little demented in his old age and just stared and said "siiiiiiii" everytime I said anything.  And then 5 blokes rocked up in a truck as gut feelings were pretty wrong here, so following my instincts I jumped on the bike and headed to town 10k away where I asked a lad in his front yard in town if I could camp.  He took me about the back and as it was raining let me camp in his woodshed...which he swept out and cleaned for me!  I´ve been giving Aussie 10c coins to people as a gift and occasionally a postcard of my bike and I with a thanks I gave him these.  Great people are definitely out there!

23rd Feb 2011 (442 km) - Land Before Time Valley (Argentina Border) (camp). 
Today I took off and made it south to Cochrane and then back north a bit and East for my first border crossing.  Was an absolute breeze at the Roballos crossing.  10 mins each side.  By this stage it was about 2000h and I was ready to camp.  After taking some photos of a lad who´d just caught a stray armadillo I headed on into Argentina a few k´s and found some hills to hide behind near some cliffs which over looked a valley...which looked exactly like the valley out of land before time!!!  Absolutely amazing!!!!!!  Rock wallabies were a hoppin, llamas were a roamin and bunnies were a boundin...but not close enough to my tyre. These beautiful things made it a sensational first night in Argentina...despite just catching the sniffles!

Bikers Notes
- book the Hornopiren - Caleto Gonzalo ferry (Naviera Austral)
- this place is about 10-20k East of the Argentina border on the L Posadas road to Bajo Caracoles.  Message me for GPS location. 
- ALSO, there is no fuel between Coihaique and Cochrane...about 350k.
- I believe there is a crossing East of Villa O´Higgins but only doable by mountain bike or foot.  A guy did it on a DRZ-400 but said it was really difficult.



Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lakes and Volcanoes - Santiago to Puerto Montt

Ahoy all!

So I´ve finally found a computer, time, and have my notepad and pictures to do a proper update.  Currently I´m in Ushuaia but I´m behind on posts so I´ll update on the first 2 weeks of riding since leaving Santiago - which is all riding in Chile.  

I left Santiago on the 16th February (2011) around 1500.  I had ridden 2 blocks and realised I left my sausages to make completos (hotdogs) in the freezer...and there they stayed.  The maze of one way streets was something I was not used to and usually was quicker to walk 2 blocks than try and navigate your way home!  My plan was to head to Lake Colbun, about 4 hrs south of Santiago and camp and fish for the first night.  There were 3 toll gates on the way which are an absolute painintheass for a rider...wearing gauntlet riding gloves makes it near impossible to get money out and then return the change and take off without frustrating other drivers!!  The day of riding was all highway bitumen except the last 50km or so.  Great to finally have some gravel roads...but still no trails!  I arrived at Lake Colbun around 2000 and asked a guy and a girl in a car where I could camp.  The bloke said he was looking for a camp too (turns out the girl was someone he had asked for camping places, and wanted to spend the night with him!).  I rode around the lake for a bit and the bloke ended up finding me and we camped under some massive trees, had a fire and some spectacular camp pasta and yarned in some terrible Spanglish!  The moon was out and the lake was lit up like a firefly!  No need for a mattress or tent as the sand was welcoming and the night was beautiful.  A fantastic first night out!  311 km today.

Pics - 1. When I left bag CHOCKAS of food. 2. Camp at Pucon Lake.  3. Gettin clean!

17th Feb (655 km today) - Pucon (Camp) The next day I packed up and we went for a swim and I tried a bit of fish...but to no avail!  After a refreshing naked swim (had no spare clothes out and riding wet is shite to say the least) I headed off back towards the highway and further south.  The highway driving was quite boring with cars everywhere and OK "un espresso doble por favor" (noone understands me it seems even when I speak slow) livened me up.  I decided to head towards Pucon, a touristy lake getaway and wanted to get there by riding dirt roads around a volcano I found on the GPS.  The roads were absolutely stunning and turned into nice trails with flowers and tall pine trees lining the way.  The volcano towered above me as I rode around it eastwards and then south towards Pucon.  Did nearly get wiped out by a bloke in a ute goin way too fast on a corner!!!  This day was one of the best so far on the trip...absolutely tranquilo.  I eventually reached Pucon and after some hostel visiting, I eventually retired at a paid campsite and camped out.  The town lies on a lake, below a smouldering volcano...stunning!

Pics - 1. Pucon Lake  2 & 3. Volcanoes!
18th Feb (328 km) - Puerto Varas (Camp).  After leaving Pucon I checked out a couple of the lakes and took some pics with Nessie and the volcano.  From Pucon I headed to Puerto Varas and having nowhere to stay again I asked some people on the street where I could camp and got lead to a hill just on the edge of the town.  I asked a lady here if I could camp inside her yard and after some confusion she said yes, but I had to leave because papi was coming home!  Hilarious.  Some girls came out and giggled...I guess a gringo with a moto making completosand camping in their yard is quite unusual!  The night was absolutely beautiful and had great views over the town.

19th Feb (30 km) - Puerto Montt (Casa Perla).  I woke up quite early in P. Varas and headed for Puerto Montt a few clicks down the road.  I needed a prep day as the next day would be the start of the Carretera Austral and dirt roads.  A shower for myself, and some minor bike maintenance was essential!  I pulled up early at a hostebedajae, Casa Perla, 8000  Chile pesos per night (16 AUD) and had somewhere to park the bike.  I had heard a rattle on the bike and had a paranoid moment that the trip was over! I found it was just a bolt had come off on the muffler heatguard and it was the ferreteria (mitre 10 equivalent)!!  I selected a few bolts and washers and the guy gave them to me for free!  Fantastic!  Problem solved!  I met an American bloke (Zeke) and he suggested I go with him to the fish markets for lunch...sounds great!  On the walk there, I noticed 2 young lads with punkass haircuts (general messes) and jumpers over their arms just behind us.  We popped into a chocolate shop for a look and when we came out they were only just ahead of us.  I pulled up Zeke and said to Zeke a mate from home told me to watch out for jumpers on arms and that these guys were sus as (thanks Woz for the tip!!!).  We made it to the fish markets and pulled into a tiny shop and sat down to order...and for some reason I looked over and busted the 2 guys walking by and one pointing in, as if to say...there they are!  Suckers I got you fkers!  Never saw them again. Zeke proceeded to tell me he was with an Aussie guy who was in Santiago, they went out one night, met some nice locals, and the next day the Aussie bloke was heading to the bus station when they came by (man and woman) in a taxi and asked him to come for a coffee.  They drugged his coffee and he woke up outside of Santiago on a road, with no bags, guitar, clothes...just his passport!  Holleefarkinshit!  Puerto Montt was quite a nice town all in all.  Picked up some fishing gear and a rainjacket for the Patagonian weather and all was swell.  The bike and I were prepped to go!

Pics - 1. The camp and completos at Puerto Varas.  2.  The sunrise at P. Varas  3.  Crazy triathlonners at P. Varas at 8am!  4.  Fish market in P Montt  5.  Zeke and some locals at a fish market dining booth  6.  Kids and the boat that didnt rock