Rio Mayo 12/8
We left Esquel early so we could get a long ride in and make it to Rio Mayo with plenty of time to find a place to stay. The ride was through rolling hills and plains. While the scenery was interesting, it was more of the same thing that we had seen for the last several hundred miles. What really made an impression was the wind. We were finally down on the Argentinean plains and the wind was fierce. At times it was all one could do to keep their bike in their lane. It was the first time that I’ve made a fairly sharp left turn at highway speed and kept leaning to the right throughout the turn.
As it turned out, finding a place to stay wasn’t much of a problem since we could only find two places and they were within a block of each other. We ended up staying in the Hotel Akata. The night before we left I found a review for the Akata on the internet. The review said it wasn’t a great place to stay and that the room smelled musty. I’ll have to say that in this case, the review was correct. We picked the hotel over the other one because at least there were cars in front of it and the other one looked pretty bad and no one was there. The owner was friendly and it also had a restaurant where we could eat. The owner ended up pan frying two steaks each for us. He also cooked up some papas fritas and made a salad. The steaks were very thin and a little tough but they had a good flavor. It was the best in town and the only thing on the menu for the night.
The towns streets are gravel and the wind was howling and blowing up clouds of dust. It reminded one of a cheap western movie. Joe had some problems making it to town and we figured it may have been dirty fuel filters so right there in front of the hotel, in the wind and dust, he took his gas tank off, removed the fuel pump assembly and cleaned the filters. At least there was no worry about spilling gasoline or acetone on the street. The biggest problem was the dust blowing in ones eyes.
Leaving Rio Mayo
We get to Ruta 40 ripio (gravel)
Bajo Caracoles 12/9
We left Rio Mayo about mid morning and headed for our first encounter with Ruta 40 ripio (Highway 40 gravel road). Accounts that I had read indicated that the most difficult thing about riding on Ruta 40 was that the gravel was deep and one had to ride in ruts left by cars but that staying in the rut was difficult because of the gusting wind. It turns out that the reports were exactly on track. In some places the loose gravel was as much as five inches high between the ruts and if one were to ride into it, their bike would do some crazy fish-tailing while they tried to regain control. Despite the wind, we kept our bikes under control and didn’t have any problems. I was, as usual, the slowest one and Joe had to stop and wait on me several times.
We had been told that the only gas for about 300 miles was in Bajo Caracoles and that it was also the only place to stay for about the same distance. We stopped and filled up our bikes and the extra tanks and also checked into the hotel. The town has only about 300 people, although I think that could be high, and the gas station is also the restaurant and general store. As in Mayo, the restaurant had only one item on the menu for dinner. Tonight we had spaghetti with meat sauce. Joe and I didn’t think it was too bad but a couple of Italian riders that had stopped for the night didn’t think it measured up. The next morning we had the usual breakfast that is offered by many of these places…toast, jam, instant coffee and mystery juice.
The gas station, hotel, general store and restaurant.
The view at sunset was amazing.
El Calafate 12/10,11,12
Riding to El Calafate saw the most ripio that we had seen. We probably rode about 150 miles of gravel and an equal amount of asphalt. The gravel that we did ride was pretty rough in most places because it consisted of mostly temporary roads as they work to put asphalt down on Ruta 40. In fact, of the total time we rode on Ruta 40, all but perhaps 60 miles of it was being worked on to put down asphalt. My guess is within two years all but a short section here and there will be finished. For those wanting to ride the old traditional ripio, they will be left with very little of the old excitement. For those that prefer pavement, they will have an easy time.
El Calafate is a tourist town no doubt about it. If it were not for the nearby glaciers and ski areas there wouldn’t be anything there but a little ranch town. Everywhere one looks there are little lodges and restaurants and shops selling outdoor equipment. It also seems to be a Mecca for the backpackers. The hostel where we stayed was overflowing with them. I guess it must be an age thing with the backpackers that we have encountered lately but they don’t seem to even want to talk to us. Other folks that are passing through and staying where we stay are open, friendly and engaging.
Our reason for going to El Calafate was to see the glaciers so we booked a trip on a boat that would go to five different ones on lake Argentino. Our bus left the hostel at 7:15 a.m. the next morning and headed to Punta Bandera where we boarded a tour boat for our trip to the glaciers. Wanting to have a good view and some room, we purchased seats in what they referred to as the Captains Lounge. It had large leather seats with lots of room and large windows on three sides. In addition, we found out that the drinks were free and they also provided some snacks. As it turned out, it was probably a good thing that we took a bus and didn’t have to ride back to town.
The cruise to the glaciers was very nice. We got up close to them and the host and hostess in the lounge also served as tour guides and explained a lot of what we were seeing. When we wanted to, we could also go out on deck and get a really clear view of them. The weather was cold and at times wet but we could quickly warm up inside the boat. The cruise lasted close to 8 hours and was well worth the time and money. The glaciers start in a mountain range that includes Monte Fitz Roy, which members of the climbing world will recognize. I wanted to get a photograph of Monte Fitz Roy the previous day when we rode past the end of Lago Viedma but there was nothing to be seen but fog, haze, high clouds and bands of rain that didn't make it to the ground. I think that is the normal weather.
We stayed an extra day in El Calafate so we could relax a bit, catch up our blogs and shop for some things. It was a pretty laid back time but we’re well ahead of schedule for making it to Ushuaia before the world ends so we are taking it easy for the last part of our trip down.
The ride down to El Calafate. If it looks cold, it's because it was.
On the road to the port.
The Captains Lounge.
The captain wanted me to take the helm through some difficult passages. Joe can't watch.
The glaciers flow down and around part of the mountain.
A closer view.
A view from further back.
Punta Arenas 12/13,14,15
Riding to Punta Arenas was more or the same thing we have been doing except the wind was not as severe. The weather has been mostly overcast in the mid 40’s and there has been very little rain while we rode. We had about 50 miles of gravel where Ruta 40 makes a cut off from the paved road that goes on southeast to the Atlantic coast. The gravel wasn’t deep here but the road was rough. I’m not sure where they get all the fist sized rocks that are packed into the surface but a rock crusher and some sizing screens would do wonders.
We searched around a little for a place to stay. The place that we had intended to stay ended up in a not too nice area of town and it didn’t have much to offer in the way of a room either. We ended up in the Hotel Chalet Las Violetas, which isn’t too bad and had a pretty good rate too. It’s close to the town square and several restaurants and shops.
While here we’ve done a little bike maintenance and shopping too. Joe is still trying to replace the rain suit that he destroyed when he crashed. He found something way back in Esquel but the but split out the first day he rode in it. I took my bike to a mechanic and had a new rear tire mounted (I had been carrying it since Santiago) and also had my chain adjusted and a couple of other things done. The place where I took it is a fantastic shop if anyone is ever in the area and needs work.
The place where I took my bike was one that we were told about by a couple of riders from Australia back in El Calafate. They couldn’t say enough good things about the place and it was as nice as what they had told me. If anyone needs mechanical work or if one need tires or filters or other items it’s the place to go. He stocks Heidenau K60 Scout tires in 19 and 21 inch fronts and 17 and 18 inch rears. (By the way, I had over 9,000 miles on my Heidenau K60 Scout rear tire and could have done another 1,000 but it made sense to change it here because of where my next change will be. The front will make it until the next rear change.) His name is Alejandro Lago and he speaks pretty good English too. He maintains the bikes for a couple of adventure rental companies and had several BMW’s of various sizes and a KLR or two in his shop. The shop is spotless and no bike comes in the door before he has given it a thorough washing. He can be reached at email@example.com or phoned at 96401233, fax (56)(61)212737. His place is located at Ona 0471, Punta Arenas, Chile. If one goes there, don’t look for a sign but look for the address. The building is blue with yellow trim.
We plan on leaving in the morning on the 9:00 a.m. ferry for Porvenir, Chile. From there it should only take us a day to get to Ushuaia. If anyone has been following my Spot tracks, they may notice that not too many of them are showing up and I haven’t gotten an end of day message sent and received for several days. We are so far south that if the view north isn’t absolutely clear, Spot can’t see the satellites that will are now low on the northern horizon. When riding south, my body blocks the signal and when riding east or west, I have to ride one handed with my north side arm at my side.