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Old 10-16-2010, 08:54 AM   #16
rdwalker OP
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Originally Posted by the darth peach
Darth Peach - I am honored.

Originally Posted by BarkALot
enjoying the report! I appreciate the fly & ride information as I don't have the time to ride all the way there ;-)
Well, this is my problem as well, in a sense. I tremendously enjoy those fantastic reports posted here by the intrepid travelers who head out from their home location and cross half of the world to get to and through amazing destinations. And by the way, my current heroes are Colebatch in Siberia and Sambor1965 in Central Asia - I'd love to ride there.

However, these super-long distance adventures always require months if not years of available time.

The same problem is with organized group tours. While requiring much less preparation, these still take an amount of time I cannot afford - it's not the money, it's the time. Just recently, with great trepidation, I went away for 2 weeks - this was the first vacation of that length in well over 25 years. (Yes, I can hear the snickering from our European inmates...).

This is how I came to my traveling formula, where it comes to oversea trips: fly, rent and do your own ride. I feel comfortable and familiar anywhere in Europe, so a whole trip can be done on my own: I fly in, rent a bike and within half a day from picking it up I am on exciting motorcycling roads. I have ridden in almost every country there, by myself and with a few other riders - and the rides were as short as 4 and as long as 6 days in the saddle. Perfect for my schedule.

Elsewhere, my short travel window is not well suited for exploring on one's own. I have found that it is best to hire someone to ride along and assist with all arrangements, especially if in a language I do not speak. It is the most effective combination of convenience and the ability to determine my own schedule and itinerary. It is also quite educational.

For example, when we have ridden with Lewis in South Africa and Swaziland, we rented bikes from SAMA in Pretoria and paid for an accompanying rider - in the end, the company owner went with us. We were able to have a wonderful adventure in just 6 short days, we did see a lot and we learned a lot about the country and the people from our guide.

Similarly, with the Patagonian adventure, having Roberto allowed us to just ride and enjoy the vistas, not worry about other arrangements. In particular, his knowledge of Spanish was invaluable during the complicated border crossings. That is how we could squeeze a Patagonian outing into just 5-6 days of riding. Still, it is far away: the whole trip took about 11 days, which included one-day stopovers in Santiago and in Lima.

rdwalker screwed with this post 10-16-2010 at 09:03 AM
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Old 10-16-2010, 09:06 AM   #17
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World's End!

Thanks, all, for your encouragement. Back to our scheduled programming...

Ushuaia! The morning finds us enjoying an elegant breakfast in Hotel Canal Beagle. The Argentine Automobile Club operates the establishment - I was told that I would have received an additional discount, have I had my AAA membership card to show. Too bad.

Getting ready for the short ride to World's End.

Winding forest road towards Bahia Lapataia.

Well: here we are. Park the bikes...

... and walk up to the famous sign, shown in pictures of all visitors to this area.

Want a proof? Here is your proof!

"Usted Esta Aqui" - You Are Here, End of Route 3.

A bit of a distraction: no alimony payments from Zorro? A deadbeat father? (Actually, sign says 'Do Not Feed Foxes', but I like my interpretation better.)

From now on, it's going back... We are riding the park road in direction of Ushuaia ...

... enjoying the views ...

... and taking a detour toward Beagle Channel.

Beagle Channel is one of the historically important navigable connections between the Atlantic and the Pacific (the other well-known ones are the Straits of Magellan and Drake Passage). It is named after HMS Beagle, which mapped it during the first cartographic voyage in the 1820's. Of course, today's fame of Beagle stems from the second journey, in early 1830's, when it carried Charles Darwin as the ship's naturalist.

At Puerto Guarani, there is a tourist trap: the little wooden pier supports a shed containing what bills itself as "South America's Southern-most Post Office".

Inside, throngs of visitors are scouring the goods, looking for the cheapest souvenir that still impresses friends back home. Well, I did that too - End-of-Route-3 sticker still adorns the side case of my GS.

Cutting back through the Martial Range, we pass Ushuaia and continue north.

Overnight in Rio Grande. The pleasant hotel offers an enclosed parking lot, which for some reason seems like a very good idea there.

That evening, we got first whiffs of the famed Patagonian winds. Somehow we got lucky on our way south and felt nothing unusual. Yet, everyone was warning us about them prior to the trip and thus we were beginning to wonder if this was not just a marketing ploy.

Well, it was not. The powerful wind was bending and moving the vegetation and became a major factor affecting our riding from then on.

rdwalker screwed with this post 10-16-2010 at 09:19 AM
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Old 10-16-2010, 04:56 PM   #18
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Thinking of Magellan.

Next morning.

A little stroll through Rio Grande. It's always interesting to explore foreign towns on foot - one does get the sense of life there.

It's really windy. The power and telephone wires overhead stretch and bow in the air.

Local fauna in Rio Grande... quite domesticated.

Throughout the region, I have seen these elevated containers for household garbage. Finally, it dawned on me: this is to protect the refuse from the ever-present stray dogs.

Where I live in NJ, we have bear-proof garbage cans; apparently, on Tierra del Fuego, they have dog-proof garbage baskets.

We are packing up and leaving. The plan for the day calls for re-entering Chile and then crossing the Straits of Magellan on board of a ferry from Porvenir.

Continuing northwest against the wind, we reach the border crossing. Lewis was trying to prepare his customs paperwork, but it left a lot to be desired. Luckily, Roberto is fluent in Spanish and was able to straighten out any kinks in the procedures.

Trying to protect its cultural artifacts and geological fossils from being taken away by tourists, Argentina created this public-service poster. I've seen it at several border crossings and on public buildings.

The way I understand it with my poor Spanish, the left panel says "Take This", while the right one says "Don't take that".

Hmmm... I do not know what the poster designers had on their mind, but - given a chance - I'd be very tempted to "Take This".

Goodbye, Argentina!

And hello, Chile!

Of course, more paperwork. Now in the Chilean post, we hand the passports to Policia International and bike titles and importation forms to Aduana (customs).

A bit of commotion ensues: apparently, there is some problem with the title of one of the KLR's - even though they were already registered in Chile. Again, we were quite happy that Roberto is able to smooth things over.

I encountered more of this in my youth, but I am not used to such complicated frontier crossings any more. In order to just peek out from Chile into Argentina for a few days and to return, we went through 4 separate immigration checks and 4 separate in-depth custom checks.

It could be worse: most of the people in the picture were on a tourist bus. Many of them were asked to bring their luggage and run it through a conveyor X-Ray machine, similar to those used at airport security checks.

Departing the border, we head now southwest, to reach and follow the shores of Magellan Straits.

An obligatory shot of yet another herd of guanacos crossing the road and the fences.

Delayed by the winds and by the time spent at the borders, we reach Porvenir just after the departure of daytime ferry to Punta Arenas. The next one is due to leave in the evening - we have several hours to kill: time for a long lunch.

Beside the expected Spanish mix, this area is also a home to a sizable Croatian population that arrived during a gold rush in the late 1800's (exterminating the aboriginal Selk'nam people in the process, needless to say).

It was pretty weird to have lunch in "Club Croata", the Croatian social club, located about as far away from the Balkans as one can get on Earth.

Lewis and Roberto spend the rest of the afternoon checking up on email in the local Internet and call center.

I wander through the streets, but find Porvenir to be a singularly unsightly place. It is a distinctly industrial and utilitarian center of the local fishing and sheep-farming communities.

Like most other towns in this part of the world, Porvenir is full of telephone poles and wires strung in every possible direction. Over street intersections, the wires actually have crossings of their own. Pretty neat.

But, never mind the streets. The real attraction of Porvenir for me is its location: on the shore of Straits of Magellan. I leave the guys in the Internet café and ride out of town to catch the last light over the waters.

The story of Magellan's expedition, their trials and tribulations (and deaths) is quite extraordinary. Just consider the audacity - and greed - of Magellan and his two-hundred-something crew from most of seafaring European nations, setting out on five ships to open a spice route to the Indies.

The expedition departed Seville in the summer of 1519. Almost exactly three years later, the sole surviving ship, "Victoria", returned to Spain with only 18 of the original crewmen aboard - after completing the first circumnavigation of the globe. Remaining four ships were lost, as were some 230 expedition members, including Magellan himself.

It was exciting to be in place so full of maritime history. It is the site of one of these pivotal events that shaped our world; an event that, for better or worse, affected the lives of everyone on Earth.

The inscription simply states "Straits of Magellan - discovered by Ferdinand Magellan on 21st of October 1520."

Just before sundown, the ferry to Punta Arenas gets ready for boarding.

Gusts of wind are powerful even on the car deck - we are holding on to the bikes while strapping them down.

Curiously, we watch a horse being walked onto the deck. Not something I have ever seen in my North American ferry crossings.

Stray dogs watch the proceedings with great interest, but stay put.

In short order everything is tightly locked down and ready to sail. (I am not sure about the horse...)

Coming out of the Porvenir harbor, we are accompanied by a fishing boat. These are tough waters to work - the men appeared to wear Mustang suits (insulating emergency suits).

According to what I read about the town, the area is suited only for small fishing boats; larger vessels are held back by the great number of wrecks in the bay.

Once in open waters of the Straits, we settle down for the 2-hour crossing. Lewis tries to affect a cultured and intelligent look, but the tiredness from several long days of adventure wins over.

Arriving in Punta Arenas in darkness, we quickly check into a hotel and grab a dinner before the restaurant closes.

I am quite beat - I spread the gear all over my room, with the best intentions of repacking, but instantly fall asleep.

rdwalker screwed with this post 10-16-2010 at 05:10 PM
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Old 10-16-2010, 05:37 PM   #19
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Nice ride report ............ thanks for sharing
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Old 10-16-2010, 11:19 PM   #20
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Old 10-17-2010, 07:02 AM   #21
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On lacking time to ride...

Very nice report, looking forward to the rest.

Like yourself I find it very difficult to schedule any serious time off for riding. We attempted to do a week in the Alps this fall with three riders but that fell by the wayside as schedule conflicts arose. Can't even get away for a weekend in West Virginia it seems. Our Alps trip was planned months in advance and still collapsed, I think from my perspective it would better to have everyone ready to go at a moments notice when the heavens align, we'll see. Sid
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Old 10-17-2010, 08:14 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by Sidviscous
... I think from my perspective it would better to have everyone ready to go at a moments notice when the heavens align, we'll see. Sid
True, I have done that. Especially off-season, when the rentals are not as heavily booked.

The problem is more with a greater number of riders, as a rental agency may not have enough bikes. I found that from late September through end-of-season and then May through mid-June are the best for that purpose.

In case that helps: Munich is optimal for reaching the Alpine region from the north, Milan from the south. These cities may not be convenient to fly in - Frankfurt is a good destination, though it requires an extra half day of riding each way. It's a trade-off depending on your airline deal. If you'd like, I can send you rental contacts for these cites, PM me.
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Old 10-17-2010, 08:17 AM   #23
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Today: picture-perfect!

Beautiful, cool morning. We are traveling now out of Punta Arenas in northerly direction - away from Tierra del Fuego - toward another gem of the region: Torres del Paine National Park.

The plan is to stop at Puerto Natales, Roberto's base - for cappuccino, of course! - and make a loop to Torres del Paine, returning to Natales for he night.

After some spirited driving, feeling the effects of the strong winds, we stop at a roadside restaurant: Hotel Posada Rio Rubens. It's so in the middle of nowhere that its address is a mileage marker: Kilometer 183, Route 9.

Picture-perfect, elegant place, great food, nice atmosphere. I love that style of traveling! Enjoying the civilized high-life in an exotic environment. Can't beat that!

As we are nearing Puerto Natales, for quite a long while we are accompanied by a few horses galloping alongside. I guess that they have their fun, too, chasing our little KLR convoy.

A perfect Patagonian image... Picture-perfect!

Arriving at the World's End Café Book Store in Puerto Natales. It is an important element of our trip. The Book Store (occasionally using the name 'Patagoniax') is the base of Roberto's operation and my contact point for making arrangements for the trip. The store's owner - Claudio Matassi - is a sometime partner in the outfitting and guiding business.

Prior to the trip, I have seen many snippets of information and photographs of this place - we finally got there in person.

Cappuccino, eh? Roberto jumps behind the counter and does the honors.

Did I mention that I love maps? There is something exciting about pouring over a large sheet, tracing routes, discovering details, enjoying the feeling of adventure to come.

The store has plenty to indulge my interests.

Enough with the coffee. The day is not over yet: we leave Puerto Natales and pavement; ride on gravel toward the looming peaks of Torres del Paine.
It is a half-day route - seems simple on the map, but check out the satellite shot below to get the idea of the terrain.

While paying the park entry fee, Lewis is charming the Chilean clerk - a willing audience. He even got her to try a modular helmet!

As we ride deeper into the park, the landscape becomes ever more spectacular.

We dismount and explore a section on foot. I enjoy a suspended foot bridge, over a river full of glacial melt...

...while Lewis enjoys a good cellular connection. ;-)

A classic meteorological phenomenon: lenticular clouds over the massif. These clouds form in the standing wave of high-velocity airflow above the mountains. While turbulent and not suited for general aviation, lenticular systems are enjoyed by glider pilots, offering strong and predictable 'wave lift'.

At every turn, we enjoy a different, ever more fantastic view of these amazing mountains. The towers ('torres') are possibly the most characteristic features, but the sights of valleys, rivers and lakes are just as breathtaking.

Torres del Paine are a part of the southern end of the Andes. The high cliffs and deep valleys were carved by glacial activity; even today, the glaciers cling to the steep slopes and the lakes possess the telltale greenish color of glacial silt.

Despite its size, this is a very fragile environment. A recent disaster that befell it in 2005 was a wildfire caused by a careless hiker's gasoline stove.

The resultant firestorm engulfed 30 thousand acres of parkland and caused an international incident. The hiker was a Czech national - in the follow-up, Czech government and Czech conservation groups became heavily involved in restoration of the destroyed areas.

This is about the end of the tourist season. While the wind-blown snowfields in these pictures exist year-round, the rest of the landscape will also become snow-covered in just a few more weeks. February marks the end of the official summer season here; we are already into the first week of March.

Did I mention that it was windy? While taking this picture of rushing rapids, I had my only crash of the trip.

I was standing astride the bike, camera in hand, when the powerful wind simply blew me down to the ground. I just could not gather enough strength to resist it.

Amazed, astonished, breathless... We leave the park to return to Puerto Natales - past the ever-present guanacos.

Why did the guanaco cross the road? Because...

Back in town. I have seen photographs of this sign many times - now I am standing here myself. I am still digesting that thought.

Actually, I feel quite proud of myself: I have been - on a motorcycle, between the 2008 and 2010 seasons - as far south as about 55 degrees of latitude (Lapataia, Argentina) and as far north as 54 degrees (James Bay, Quebec or Cartwright, Labrador). Not in a direct ride, of course, but still not bad.

Checking into the (picture-perfect, of course) hotel in Puerto Natales.
Rather strangely named, though: Hotel Lady Florence Dixie. Huh?

Guarded by a ferocious (OK, maybe not) house cat, Clementina. Eh, you! Wake up!

rdwalker screwed with this post 10-20-2010 at 12:36 AM
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Old 10-17-2010, 09:54 AM   #24
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Thats a really wonderful adventure trip and thanks for taking us along the ride to places that is rarely done by riders from outside the Americas. Crisp logs and fitting pictures to go with it. Great work.
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Old 10-17-2010, 01:00 PM   #25
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What an awesome adventure! Thanks for the report and all those stunning pics
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Old 10-17-2010, 01:52 PM   #26
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Thanks, nice report, very beautiful landscapes. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 10-17-2010, 02:46 PM   #27
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By the way, did you try the cappuccino in Napoli? I can't tell you a specific location (maybe Gambrinus) but most of the coffee is very good there, also pizza. I see that you are looking for the best cappuccino, I'm looking for the best espresso :), until now Napoli is the place. And if you go there you can enjoy Amalfi Coast as well.
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Old 10-17-2010, 02:55 PM   #28
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Excellent report, thanks for the inspiration.
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Old 10-17-2010, 06:38 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by Gadget Boy
What an awesome adventure! Thanks for the report and all those stunning pics
Hey, GB: thanks for the support (and for "sticky-fying" this thread).

Although this is not a "hardcore" adventure trip, of the sort where the rider fights the natives and dangerous animals, lives on berries and maggots, hacks his way through the jungle..., etc., etc., it may appeal to the inmates who travel on limited schedule and want to see and enjoy exotic locales, while still availing themselves of the spoils of civilization (cappuccino being a symbol of that in my mind).

It is always an Adventure, after all - and your ADV stickers did travel with us to Patagonia!

Originally Posted by doring
By the way, did you try the cappuccino in Napoli? I can't tell you a specific location (maybe Gambrinus) but most of the coffee is very good there, also pizza. I see that you are looking for the best cappuccino, I'm looking for the best espresso :), until now Napoli is the place. And if you go there you can enjoy Amalfi Coast as well.
I am ashamed to acknowledge this, but I never made it to Naples. My Italian adventures always took me to Milan and to the Italian Alps - great motorcycling venue, by the way.

Same story with your home base: come to think of it, I last time I was in Romania was over 30 years ago.

I think now it's time to rectify that: in near future, I should revisit Italy and go riding in your country. I understand that it is a great ADV destination.

I still remember the Turkish coffee I had in Bucharest, sold by street vendors out of little carts, prepared in copper cups buried in hot sand. Do they still have these?
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Old 10-17-2010, 06:47 PM   #30
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Winding down.

Let's continue... with the thoughts of Turkish-style coffee - out of a copper cup, very hot, very sweet - put into my mind by doring (see message above). Mmmm.

Next morning in Puerto Natales. I love exploring my destinations very early, when there is a stillness in the air and the rays of the rising sun are just starting to warm the place up.

Here the atmosphere was just as moody and nostalgic, quiet and deserted - with only an old lady sweeping the sidewalk and a couple of backpackers passing by.

And, of course, the stray dogs.

Last visit to the World's End Café Book Store. This is the end of our riding adventure: we are leaving the bikes in the shop and Roberto will take us to Punta Arenas in his truck.

We are soaking in and enjoying the place: cappuccino is good and Wi-Fi works well. Not bad for the End of the World, no?


Last minute souvenir purchases: Lewis is able to fulfill most of the shopping list for the personnel in his office. He certainly made the day for the street vendor.

Back on the road, now in the big seats of Roberto's truck. Returning to our departure airport in Punta Arenas.

Now, that we do not have to concentrate on riding, we can notice items of interest missed on the way up. For example, these: at first I was annoyed by what I thought was garbage dumped in big heaps alongside the roadways. Then, I realized that there was a design to them.

I found out that these are roadside shrines. The bottles are important. They commemorate a woman, Difunta Correa, who was following her husband's military unit through the desert in the 1800's. She ran out of supplies; after many days, her body was found - miraculously, the infant child was alive, suckling on her breast even after death.

The shrines are often set up by long-distance truckers. Visitors leave dollhouses, pieces of clothing and - most of all - pile up bottles filled with water to quench Difunta's thirst and to ask for her protection.

Chileans are expert road builders. Their long distance gravel highways are one of the best I have ever traveled. The surface is smooth and hard packed, with very little frost damage. The key is, obviously, depth of the street bed and excellent drainage.

They learned their craft by connecting the widely spaced population centers of their long and empty country. Now, that they are more affluent, the roads are becoming paved - the surface is again very good, facilitated by the underlying perfect gravel bed.

In the interim period, money was spent on paving only one travel lane, the other one remaining as gravel.

This is one of the old roads, now abandoned: vehicles in both directions would be traveling on this single paved lane until they came to face each other. Then, the driver who was not in his lane would have to switch onto the gravel side. Presumably, traffic was light then.

Did I write already that it was windy?

As I mentioned earlier, the relationship between Chile and Argentina was not always friendly. Many territories in the region were disputed and there were often military skirmishes, sometimes outright war.

A big confrontation was in the works in 1978. Just 3 years before venturing out to the Falklands/Malvinas, the Argentine military was on the verge of invading Chile. The attack was called off just a few hours before launch.

While preparing for the fight, both countries extensively mined their border zones. Here the road winds itself near a Chilean-Argentine border crossing - many still active mine fields bear witness to the uneasy history.

Ironically, not too far from the minefields, a postcard-pretty sight: a lake full of pink flamingos.

We were here! Lewis is marking the spot.

rdwalker screwed with this post 10-19-2010 at 09:37 PM
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