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Audrey Writes

Argentina, the eighth largest country in the world, awaited and on February 7th, 2017 Ekke and I crossed into our 76th country. The border process took about 1 1/2 hours because they were a bit short on aduana (customs) staff and the queue was long. Us Canadians need to show we've paid a $75 US reciprocity fee (Canada charges Argentina so Argentina charges Canada) which we had purchased on the internet a few days before, printing out the paperwork at the hotel. The agent did not ask us to produce proof that we had paid it, but we had heard that some border agents didn't really know that Canadians had to pay it. As we rode away we noticed a queue of vehicles that was kilometres long of people trying to leave Argentina and knew they would be waiting for hours.

Coming down from the pass and Chile into Argentina

Patagonia! This region encompasses the bottom one-third of Argentina and Chile, south of Rio Colorado. Ruta 40, a highway that spanned the length of Argentina north to south took us into the Siete Lagos (Seven Lakes) region. With views of glacier-topped volcanoes and rocky cliffs in the distance, we enjoyed riding the twisty, paved road and the forests and lakes reminded us of British Columbia back home. Signs with information about wildlife, plant life, geology and history were placed at the ten lookout points, so we learned a bit about the area at each of our stops. Our hotel in St. Martin de Los Andes, the Hosteria el Arbol Duendeas, was like an alpine chalet, all wood and charm and the town itself was full of such structures and packed with holiday goers walking the lakeside pathways or paddling around the lake in canoes. When perusing menus posted outside potential restaurants for dinner, we noticed that Argentinian prices were way higher than Chilean, which we had been shocked at after coming from Peru. So we settled on a sandwich cafe for dinner that also sold tartes or broccoli and cheese pies with salad.

One of the seven lakes along Ruta de los Siete Lagos

Is Argentina going to have lots of cool cars like this Fiat 800 Spyder?


What a great ride

The beach at San Martin de los Andes

With all the summer travellers we noticed that the gas stations in town all had huge lineups of cars and motorhomes the next morning, so we took a chance that we would find a gas station on our 198 kilometre-long route. The sweeping curves on the highway were fun as we rode past more sparkling blue lakes and mountain peaks, and we stopped in Villa la Angostura for lunch. Again, there were big lineups, right out onto the street at the gas stations, so we didn't gas up there. Cuckoo clocks adorned the walls of the restaurant, and we were beginning to realize that this was probably not typical in all parts of Argentina, and that we were in a very special area. And they served waffles. Really.

Ruta 40 along the Seven Lakes route in Argentina looks a lot like Highway 40 in Kananaskis Country in Alberta

Yummy waffle.  You don't want to be here at the top of the hour with all the cuckoo clocks.

Our destination, Bariloche, was situated on Lago Nahuel Huapi, surrounded by mountains, and I made it without running out of gas. As we rode into town I saw some sort of liquid on my tank and a sweet smell. I thought someone had thrown a Coke at my bike. When I stopped I noticed radiator fluid was spewing out of a hose, like a little fountain. We wiped it up and started the bike again, watching for the leak. It soon stopped spewing, and Ekke assumed that it had been overfilled during the service in Santiago. But it was a little disconcerting, considering we were riding into the isolated part of Patagonia soon, but it, thankfully, never gave us any more trouble after that. Bariloche was very hilly and to get to the hotel we needed to ride down a road that resembled Lombard Street in San Francisco, that really curvy, steep one with flower boxes on the inside curves. Looking down from above, I lost my courage, and we ended up going around several blocks, twice, with our only option to ride the steep street. I just took a deep breath, held on, and managed to complete the super tight, steep turn that got us into the hotel parking lot. I didn't have to dodge flower boxes, however.

San Carlos de Bariloche across Lago Nahuel Huapi

It was a pleasure to stroll around the alpine town, down the pedestrian mall, past chocolate shop after chocolate shop. Quaint is an understatement to describe this place, with the Alpine-style honey coloured wood and stone chalets, a lakeside promenade and pedestrian friendly streets. There was even a St. Bernard dog in the town square posing for photos with tourists. Tourists were buying chocolate by the kilo, but we decided to purchase just a sample, which was delicious. The town was settled in the late 1800s by European immigrants who brought their alpine lifestyle and chocolate recipes. Later it was known as a haven for Nazi war criminals whose descendants still live in the region.

The main square in Bariloche looks very Alpine

And of course nothing says Bariloche like a St. Bernard dog.  Really?

Mmmm, chocolate fondue

Visiting the local museum was a highlight the next day. Grace was our tour guide and she took us through each area, including a display of animals like pumas and condors. I was surprised to see green parrots and parakeets in the Patagonia display, but Grace said they were the most southerly species in the world. Artefacts of the Tehuelche, the main indigenous peoples, were displayed and they had learned how to live on the barren steppes for thousands of years until the Europeans came. During winter they lived by the sea and ate seafood and in summer hunted rheas or ostrich and guanacos, a type of camelid, for food and clothing. Their domed hide tents reminded me of First Nations dwellings of North America, and they had bows and arrows and spear throwers as well. These people eventually died of diseases that they had no immunity to.

Survey equipment used by Francisco "Perito" Moreno to lay out the national park

Ah, that's why it is so windy in Patagonia

Lago Nahuel Huapi

Wow, a church that isn't Spanish Colonial

Yep, Argentina is going to have interesting cars

Bariloche is a popular ski resort, but in the summer the mountains make for some lovely motorcycling. The road south the next day wound its way along some small lakes and streams, past thick woods and open meadows, the snowy mountains making an appearance every now and again. The 10 degrees Celsius temperature did not feel bad with the sun beating down, and we were reminded of cool mountain mornings in Banff, an hour from our home in Canada.

Leaving Bariloche

Heading south on Ruta 40

The British automobile show, Top Gear, had done an episode in Argentina, so we watched it via the internet in our hotel. Jeremy, Richard and James had many adventures while they drove their V8s down Patagonia, and one thing that I thought was interesting is that they stopped in at Butch Cassidy's cabin. We looked to see if it was close to our route, and it was about a 30 kilometre detour, just north of the town of Cholilla. I had also read the story of Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid and Etta Place in Bruce Chatwin's book, 'In Patagonia' about how they had come to Argentina on a steamer from New York and settled at the foot of the Andes in the west for a few years, ranching sheep and cattle. I had also read that the road into the site would be rough, but we thought we could give it a try and turn around if necessary. A GPS point on the iOverlander APP pointed us in the right direction, and, happily, a paved highway took us right to a gate and a sign, Butch Cassidy's Cabin. The cabin was on private land, but there was no one around to ask permission so we just ducked through the gate and walked half a kilometre in the hot sun. The three-room wooden cabin and barns, made with typical American log cabin construction techniques, was empty, so we used our imaginations to picture what life must have been like here while treading carefully on those creaking hardwood floors. It was situated in a picturesque little spot, right on a babbling brook, the peaks of the Andes in the distance and would have been a lovely place to live off the spoils of all those train robberies (cue the 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head' soundtrack). But the story goes that the trio got restless and took up their life of crime again. Etta moved back to the States, and Butch and Sundance's story ended in a shootout in Bolivia.

Cool, Butch Cassidy's cabin

Lock up the bikes and walk a few hundred metres in to the cabin


Where Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid and Etta Place lived for a few years

Patagonia is known for its wind, and when we started heading east, it got windy. The highway headed straight for the most part, and occasionally wound through a small valley where we saw signs of sheep estancias or ranches, and perhaps a few small trees planted by the owners. The town of Esquel had some tourist infrastructure because it had a nearby ski resort and also some hiking trails. For overlanders, this was also the beginning of the scenic Carretera Austral, a rough dirt road just over the border in Chile. But we were now on a schedule to get down to Antarctica for the cruise, and we didn't want anyone getting injured on a dirt road, so we decided to take the paved Ruta 3 down the east coast to Ushuaia, perhaps doing the Carretera on the return trip.

Heading south on Ruta 40

The ride east on Saturday, February 11th was easy as we had a tail wind for most of the way. Traffic was fairly decent for the most part but Argentinian drivers do come up at high speeds from behind and pass you with centimetres to spare. Something to get used to, but scary. I needed gas in the next town so our only choice was to join the queue, which went out onto the street, taking about 15 minutes, which was not bad - we had heard of other riders waiting 3 hours.

Queued up for gasoline

A recent post from another rider on our iOverlander APP had indicated that there was a 14 kilometre stretch of construction further ahead. When paving or fixing highways in Patagonia they just plow a detour 'road' out in the adjacent field and throw a pile of gravel on top, which makes for unpredictable riding conditions. Standing up on the footpegs and keeping the momentum up helped a lot when we rode that section, especially when the gravel became loose and deep but I was very happy when that 10 kilometres of gravel was over. But later, we came to a second gravel section. I wanted to slow down for a break before facing the deep gravel. I was up on the pegs, but before I knew it I was plowing through the deep, loose stuff, going too slowly to keep up the momentum. So, I hit the gas to save the bike from falling over, my earlier hesitation causing instability. The bike started fish tailing and I tried to get it back under control, but the fish tails got wider, the bike sliding from one side of the road to the other. It felt like I was on a bucking bronco, out of control, and I remember crying, "Ekke, Ekke, Ekke," before the bike high-sided, pitching me over the top, landing on me before spinning a 180 on the gravel, finally coming to an abrupt stop.

This doesn't look good

Ekke Writes

After my ruptured patella tendon in Peru we had been a little leery of taking Highway 40 (Ruta Cuarenta in Spanish) all the way south to Ushuaia.  The gravel sections were reputed to be quite challenging especially combined with the infamous Patagonian wind and as my knee still wasn’t up to full strength we wanted to minimize the risk of a RUD (Rapid Unplanned Dismount).  So leaving Esquel we planned to ride south on Ruta 40 and then cut east to Ruta 3 on Ruta 25, putting in almost 600 kilometres to Comodoro Rivadavia, all but a short construction zone being paved.  Almost 300 kilometres into the day we came to the construction zone and the first ten kilometres was indeed challenging with loose and at times deep gravel.  It was back to pavement for a short bit and then we came to another detour consisting of the same loose gravel.  Not being accomplished off pavement riders (though we’ve done thousands of kilometres off pavement all around the world) we find it can be hard work focusing on the task at hand and trying not to tense up on the handlebars.  A few kilometres into the detour I suggested we stop for a breather.  I slowed to a stop on a slightly firmer part of the road after a loose, deep section and just then I heard Audrey shouting, “Ekke, Ekke, Ekke!” over the intercom.  I looked in the mirror and to my horror saw Audrey fishtailing from one side of the road over to the other side and back again.  Before I knew it the bike slammed her to the ground and she disappeared in a cloud of dust.  Imagining the worst, I flipped out the sidestand and jumped off my bike just as Audrey said over the intercom, “I’m OK, I’m OK.”  That was a relief so I walked back to the crash to help her pick up the bike but Audrey wasn’t getting up, her right foot trapped underneath the bike.  A pickup truck stopped and after we took the obligatory crash photos (thanks Grant Johnson) they helped us get Audrey and the bike upright.  The Good Samaritans made sure we were alright, gave us a bottle of water and were on their way, leaving us to assess the damage and our options.  We had a look over the bike and there was surprisingly little damage, mostly confined to the right side saddlebag which seemed to have taken the brunt of the high-side impact.  Audrey’s right foot on the other hand was getting more painful as the adrenalin wore off.  Audrey thought she was capable of riding, but not on gravel where she would have to stand up.  So I rode the bikes over a few piles of gravel and onto the almost finished road.  It was rock hard with a dried coating of oil, ready for paving.  Fortunately the hard surface continued to the end of the detour and after we got the bikes over another pile of gravel we had pavement.  Audrey was able to ride though her foot was getting more and more painful.  We knew that if we took the boot off it would probably not go back on due to the swelling so we decided not to stop at any of the small settlements along the way.  We did stop in Sarmiento at a gas station and found out the right saddlebag had been bent (or its mount) so that the gas cap couldn’t be opened.  Good thing there was a Patagonian tail wind to take us all the way to Comodoro Rivadavia and didn’t need to top up.  We arrived in the late afternoon, Audrey having ridden about 300 kilometres with her painful foot.  After checking in at the WAM hotel (where we had a reservation) we took Audrey’s boot off to find that her foot was indeed quite swollen and bruised.  The hotel staff said they had a doctor on call and could arrange for the doctor to come to our room in 15 minutes.  Sure enough we had a knock on the door a short while later and Audrey told the doctor what happened.  A physical exam suggested that the foot was fractured so the doctor said we should go to the regional hospital to get an X-ray done.  We called a cab to take us to the hospital and after waiting about an hour an X-ray was completed.  Sure enough it was broken.  They put on a temporary cast that she wasn’t supposed to walk on until we could get a walker boot on Monday.

Good Samaritans stop to give us a hand

Audrey insists that Ekke take pictures

Audrey and the bike upright, we're left on our own

Audrey points to the location of the crash for future reference

Fractured foot

Temporary cast

Since Audrey wasn’t able to walk on the temporary cast, we spent all of Sunday in the hotel.  We borrowed a rolling chair from the front desk and I pushed her around and down to the restaurant.  Gee whiz, the restaurant sure was expensive.  Was Comodoro Rivadavia expensive?  Was it Argentina or just Patagonia?  Monday we took a taxi to the orthopaedic supply shop where they didn’t have a medium size walker boot but they pointed us to another shop that did and called a cab for us.  Once we had the right size boot we took another taxi back to the hospital to remove the temporary cast and get the walker boot properly fitted.  We arranged with the doctor to see him in four or five weeks after we returned from the Antarctic cruise.  By the way, Argentina has public health care so there was no charge for anything at the regional hospital, we only paid to purchase the walker boot.  Tuesday we got the maps out and spent the day figuring out how to get to Ushuaia by February 22, in time for the cruise.  We mulled over a few options, including going two-up on the Adventure (a bit risky maybe) and me riding down while Audrey flew.  In the end we decided that renting a car was the best option since we would be together and might even be able to squeeze in a bit of sightseeing that we probably would not have done on the bikes.  So we rented a car online and arranged the first few days’ worth of hotels.  Then I went down to the parking lot, tucked the bikes into a corner and put the covers on, the second time on this trip we’ve had to park them for an extended period of time.

Well, that could have gone better.  I took a cab down to the Avis rental office at 9:30 and started filling in the necessary forms.  While doing that I mentioned that we would be taking the car through Chile on the way to Ushuaia.  Well that changed things a bit as the car didn’t have the proper paperwork to leave Argentina.  Fortunately a South African woman, currently living in Rio de Janeiro, happened to be there returning a car and had experience trying to cross into Chile with an unauthorized car. I was sure glad that she was able to translate with the agent what needed to be done as I had no desire to repeat her horror story.  We would need a different car but that car was at the airport so the agent asked if I would be willing to wait while they retrieved the car.  I thought it shouldn’t be too much of a problem if it was later in the morning even though we had planned to drive to Rio Gallegos, almost 800 kilometres away.  By 11:30 the agent came to see me and said that the paperwork for the car that was authorized to enter Chile wasn’t in order (it hadn’t been properly checked out of Chile the last time it was rented).  So it would take a few hours to get it straightened out, could I come back late in the afternoon?  Since we had a reservation at Rio Gallegos we knew it was going to be tight but we didn’t have much in the way of options.  Back at the hotel it wasn’t until 5:00 that the car was ready for pickup.  That was too late in the day to do 800 kilometres on unfamiliar roads so we decided to stay an additional night at the WAM and drive 1,000 kilometres the next day, all the way to El Calafate.  And what did we have for a new expedition vehicle?  A VW up! (Volkswagen’s exclamation mark, not mine).

As we had a pretty big day ahead of us we had to (gasp!) set an alarm on February 16 to make sure we were up and at ‘em in time.  With the up! loaded, we shouted, “up! up! and away!” and drove south towards Ushuaia.  The first 400 kilometres was fairly easy driving; nice and sunny with the Atlantic Ocean to our left.  Grey clouds on the horizon were our first clue that the weather was about to change.  It started first as a light mist and then a light rain before turning into on and off showers for the remaining 600 kilometres.  Aside from managing the hydroplaning on sections of badly rutted pavement, the driving was remarkably easy considering it was raining with a gusty wind and the temperature felt (when we got out of the car) like it was less than 10 Celsius.  In other words the motorcyclists we saw looked pretty miserable while we turned up the heat.  When we arrived in El Calafate we followed the GPS’s suggested directions on a muddy, gravel road that led to a goat track down a cliff where we could see the hotel at the bottom.  We turned around and followed our own directions on pavement to find our hotel situated with a wonderful view of Lago Argentino.  Twelve and a half hours to cover 1,060 kilometres.  In the rain.  We couldn’t have done that on the bikes.  Also, driving one economical car (roughly 6L/100km) is less expensive from a fuel perspective when compared to riding two motorcycles (combined fuel use of about 9L/100km).  However, there was no sense of accomplishment.  The journey had taken a back seat to the destination.

up! up! and away!

Getting out for a stretch along Ruta 3

Guanaco

Rhea

The weather turns miserable

We consider taking the shortcut that would save us 200 kilometres but the mud deters us

Our hotel in El Calafate after the GPS suggested this goat track down the hill

About 80 kilometres from El Calafate (the name of a berry found in the area by the way) lies the massive Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the few glaciers in the world still advancing.  It is billed as one of the highlights of any visit to Argentina.  We soon found out why.  The vertical face of the glacier was an average of 70 metres high (like a 20 storey building) and because it was advancing at about 2 metres per day it was almost constantly calving.  Loud “booms” would signal that a chunk of ice had fallen from the face of the glacier.  Getting photos or video of a calving was tricky since once you’ve heard the boom the event is over.  We did spot a location that seemed ripe for calving and after about 45 minutes were lucky enough to have the camera turned on and pointed in the right direction to capture a video.  Having spent most of the day at the glacier we thought we would see if there was still time to see Punta Walichu, the site of ancient cave paintings.  We drove back through El Calafate and then tested the mettle of our expedition up! on a dirt track down to Lago Argentino.  The little car made it unscathed and after we parked in the small lot we walked over to a ticket office where we were each given an audio guide on an iPod.  The site was fascinating as it mixed original cave paintings (believed to be about 4,000 years old) and also recreated paintings from other locations using original techniques.

Approaching Perito Moreno Glacier

The glacier is huge

Love that deep blue in the ice

A sense of scale


Not just glaciers to see in Los Glaciares National Park

Click on photo below to watch a YouTube video of a calving we managed to capture
(then click back button on your browser to come back here)

Wow

Our new expedition vehicle gets tested on the way to Punta Walichu

The view from the Punta Walichu caves

An audio guide gives great information

Blackened from camp fires the cave paintings are on the underside of the overhang

About 4,000 years old these paintings are

You can just make out the image of a hand


Audrey Writes

Lake Argentino was a lovely glacier blue colour as we drove out of El Calafate. What a gorgeous region this was. Our route took us back to Esperanza, where we headed southwest, past herds of guanacos and rheas. The two species always seemed to be seen together, and I found out why: Rheas depended on the guanacos for a food source as they eat the larvae in their dung. Interesting. The steppe grasslands seemed to go on forever, with an occasional hill formed by glaciers. Ekke noticed a peak in the distance and said, "I think that's the Torres." With the superzoom camera, he was indeed able to identify Torres del Paine, the famous towering peaks, and we got very excited, as we had been looking forward to visiting here for years. The national park was in Chile, so we crossed the border at a tiny little port of entry, the proceedings taking about 15 minutes to leave Argentina and 15 minutes to enter Chile. At the entrance into Puerto Natales we noticed a huge statue right in the middle of the traffic circle that kind of resembled a grizzly bear - we would have to investigate that later. The hotel, the HD Natales was out of town and in a bit of an older building - we'll call it historic, but with friendly hosts who gave us cookies upon our arrival. For lunch, La Bote Cafe in town served excellent chicken, but when Ekke saw guanaco steak on the menu, he couldn't resist. I always admire his willingness to embrace the local cuisine. During a walk around town we came upon the big statue that resembled a bear and noticed that it had a huge tail. It occurred to me that this place had been mentioned in the book I was reading, 'In Patagonia' and the author had talked about a prehistoric creature, the Mylodon or giant sloth whose remains were found in a nearby cave. So, the grizzly bear mystery was solved.

Torres del Paine as seen from Ruta 40 in Argentina

El Bote for a tasty guanaco lunch

We must be back in Chile and Ekke's "Doors and Dogs" series

Coscoroba Swans on Golfo Almte Montt

Hand sculpture inspired by the same artist as the one near Antofagasta, Chile

Our hotel manager had suggested a route into the national park the next day, so we picked up our boxed lunch and headed out. The surrounding hills were green, dotted with guanacos and rheas, and we stopped at a blue, glacial lake with a view of the Torres or mountains that resembled towers, in the distance. After paying 21 000 pesos or $42 each to enter the park we drove along some really loose, deep gravel and I was kind of happy that I was not riding this on a motorcycle. At a viewpoint we met a rider from California, Drew, who agreed that the riding there was quite challenging. He had ridden from Alaska and was on his way down to Ushuaia. Even though the day was sunny the wind whipped through our clothing and I was glad that I had brought my downfilled jacket and toque. After parking near some waterfalls, I thought it was very nice to have a car to sit in to eat lunch, but it would have been more of an adventure if we had been on bikes. At a scenic footbridge leading to a small island on Pehoe Lake we saw four motorcycles with Brazilian plates, including a BMW K1600GT. There was also a support vehicle with them, so they were obviously on a tour. Kudos to the rider of the K1600GT who had ridden that deep gravel section, 2-up.

Beautiful paved road heading towards Torres del Paine park

Lots of wildlife on the way, like these guanacos

A soaring condor

Rhea

Crested Caracara

Patagonian geese

Torres del Paine


Leading to the park entrance

Cuernos del Paine mountains have a unique dark layer

Drew from California on the way from Alaska to Ushuaia

Stunning scenery

Not the ideal gravel road bike but there it is

Lago Grey was up another loose gravel road, and when we passed by a stand of trees I saw a couple of green birds flying by. Parakeets! How cool. But they flew away too quickly to get photos. A hike at Lago or Lake Grey took us down a steep hill and across a gravel beach. Our goal was to get to a view across the lake of Grey Glacier, but the beach got rockier, and the wind got stronger and with my foot in the walking cast boot, walking was getting uncomfortable. So, I retreated back up the beach and Ekke climbed up a hill for the glacier view. It was a bit overcast, which was too bad, but we did see a gorgeous blue iceberg that had calved off and floated down the lake.

Walking along the gravelly shore of Lago Grey Audrey tries her boot cover

The strong winds have pushed the iceberg all the way down the lake from the glacier

Strong winds indeed.  Ready for takeoff!


Leaving Torres del Paine park with one last look back

The cave in which the giant sloth remains had been found was on our route home, but as it was 7:40 p.m. when we arrived, and I had read that it closed at 7:00 we thought we had missed it. But happily there were cars parked outside and we were sold some tickets, so I guess we'd made it. The cave was very special for Bruce Chatwin because in his book 'In Patagonia' his great uncle had found a piece Mylodon skin that had been preserved in glacial ice and given it to Bruce's grandmother. As a child in England Bruce loved the mystery of the skin so it was like a pilgrimage for him when he visited the cave in the 1970s. The wide mouth of the cave was very impressive, and the cave itself was 200 metres long, and there, standing up on its haunches on a hill was a Mylodon statue, similar to the one in town. The species of giant sloth had gone extinct about 5000 years previously. It took quite some time to walk around the interior of the huge cave, which got very dark in some parts and slippery from water dripping, but it was easy to imagine that giant beast finding shelter from the cold Patagonian winds and snows in here.

Mylodon Cave, note the people for scale

Lifesize replica of a mylodon

The drive to Punta Arenas was about 250 kilometres, the wind very strong whenever we got out of the car, and the trees looked as if they were growing sideways. So it wasn't surprising when we came to an Ode to the Wind statue, very appropriate for this part of the world. A few high-flying condors could be glimpsed in the distance, and we enjoyed spotting the many bird species in and around the ponds, including flamingoes. Our hotel, Jose Nogueiera was right on the main square, a former palace built by wool barons, the Menéndez and Braun families.

Route to the end of the world

A condor soars on the powerful wind

A Chilean gaucho

Ode to the Wind

Jose Nogueiera hotel in Punta Arenas

Since I was trying to find an overboot for my walking cast in preparation for the Antarctic trip, we drove to the Zona Franca, or duty free zone and perused sports stores in the shopping mall, but found no boot covers. Punta Arenas had a lovely old cemetery and after taking a photo of the map at the entrance we wandered for quite some time looking at beautiful tombs and chapels including those of the cemetery's benefactor, Sara Braun and wool baron bigshot José Menéndez. A very popular tomb was that of the Unknown Indian, a memorial to the all the native people that perished after the coming of the Europeans. Dinner of vegetable curry at the hotel was delicious (I still don't know what authentic Chilean cuisine is), but the dessert was kind of curious - quinoa stuffed in a white chocolate tube with chantilly cream. But the quinoa had a tangy taste as if it was fermented, and I don't know if it was supposed to taste like that, but I ate it anyway. I didn't get sick.

One of the most spectacular cemeteries in South America is in Punta Arenas


Tomb of the Unknown Indian

A ferry across the Strait of Magellan the next day, February 21st, left at 9 a.m. We did not have a reservation, but showed up at 8:30 a.m., hoping to get on. After being put on a waiting list, our name was called at 8:55 and we were on our way to Tierra del Fuego, the Land of Fire. This big island was named thus because on Magellan's voyage in 1520 he was struck by the number of native campfires glowing in the fog when he first arrived. The Californian rider, Drew, and the Brazilian motorcyclists were on the boat, and we chatted with the English speaking guide for a while and talked about our trip. Further along on the ferry ride we saw someone get very excited, pointing at the sea. Whales. We just got a glimpse of the back of one and it disappeared, but it was still exciting to see. On the way into port, Ekke spotted dolphins, which was also exciting. The town of Porvenir had a post office so it was a great opportunity to mail some postcards, which took about 4 stamps each. We could barely fit them onto the cards but we were assured it was okay to overlap them. After lunch at the Croatian Club of the most delicious salmon I've ever tasted, we drove along the coast on a rough gravel and dirt road. It had also been freshly graded which makes it soft, making us wonder how the motorcyclists made out.

The ferry to Tierra del Fuego

Beautiful road but maybe a bit glad to be in a car

Guanacos on Tierra del Fuego

I had read that there was a penguin colony nearby, but since we were going to see penguins on Antarctica, it wasn't really on our radar. But as we came around the bay, we saw a sign that said the site was only 14 kilometres off the road. It was getting late, and we still had a border crossing ahead of us, but decided to make the detour, and were very glad we did. A small visitor centre was set up, and after paying admission, a guide explained some penguin etiquette, such as staying quiet and not moving too quickly. A wooden wall had been set up to separate tourists from the penguins, and beyond the wall, about 50 metres away was a beautiful colony of king penguins. The yellow, white and black colouring was magnificent, and Ekke and I just looked at each other and smiled. What an amazing sight. This was the same species that we have at the Calgary Zoo. The site was right on the coast, but it was kind of strange to see penguins in this environment, on a grassy pasture, with no ice or snow in sight, and a few sheep wandering around for good measure. But, this was their natural habitat, and the colony was thriving, with several adolescent chicks to be seen that were just starting to explore on their own. We watched a lone penguin wandering further up the beach for quite some time, but then it was time to leave. What an amazing experience.

King Penguin Park

We stood behind a wooden wall (like a duck blind) so as not to disturb the penguins

An adolescent king penguin still hanging out with the adults


Strange to see penguins walking around in the tall grass rather than on ice and snow

Does the fox snack on penguins?



OK, who thought that penguins and flamingos shared an ecosystem?  This pond was only a few kilometres from the penguin park.

A construction zone further along lasted for 30 kilometres, and the detour road was basically hard packed dirt, which would have been treacherous if wet. But it was easy in the car, and we could see that the paved, concrete road beside it just needed a few finishing touches and then it would be complete. The border crossing onto the Argentinian side of Tierra del Fuego was quick and easy and again they did not ask for the reciprocity fee papers. The road was paved to Rio Grande, and the Status Hotel was a great respite after a busy day.

The final 200 kilometres to Ushuaia the next day, February 22nd, was quick and easy and we passed by lovely glacier-covered mountain peaks, sparkling-blue lakes and babbling brooks. We were a bit emotional when we saw the sign for Ushuaia - we had made it to the end of the world! Okay, not on our motorbikes but it still felt like a dream come true. The city itself lay spread out before us, up on the mountainous slopes, sweeping down the hillside to the port below. Running errands was the order of the day, submitting a couple of loads of laundry, getting Dramamine for seasickness, looking at parking lots to try to figure out where to park the car for 11 days, and visiting our travel agent, Lorena, that we had been in touch with by email. With my foot in the walking cast boot, I needed a way to keep it warm and dry while walking around on the Antarctic Peninsula. Lorena took us over to a winter gear rental shop, and there I found a snowboard boot that my foot could fit into and remain immobilized, warm and dry.

Heading to the end of Ruta 3

One final mountain range to be crossed to get to Ushuaia

The old road over Paso Garibaldi looks like fun

We made it!

Dusty Ushuaia sits on the Beagle Channel, the most southerly city in the world

The official Fin del Mundo or End of the World sign was in Tierra del Fuego National Park, and we drove out there the next morning. The park had great facilities and we paid a fee, got some maps, and drove to Lapataia Bay. The parking lot was jam-packed with tour buses and vans, and we had a Brazilian biker take our photo in front of the famous sign. Some boardwalks led to an overlook of the bay, some peat bogs and beaver dams. Beavers were brought here from Canada to breed as their fur was useful for making those European stylish top hats until the mid 1800s. But now they are pests and devastating the natural forests and they can't get rid of them. A visitor centre was located at Lago Roca, and not only did they have great cappuccinos, the museum was very well done. A dugout canoe of the Yahgan native people was used to hunt whales. The whale oil had many uses, one of which was to spread it all over their bodies to keep them warm and dry, thus eliminating the need for clothing. This could definitely reduce the rising costs of Gore-Tex.

The final stretch of Ruta 3

The Beagle Channel

The end of the road

Put on our motorcycle jackets for that special photo

A patagonian goose welcomes us to the end of the world

Who says you need a special expedition vehicle?  Just ask these French travellers.

A young crested caracara

Centro de Visitantes Alakush had great geological, animal and indigenous peoples information

Imported beavers are now a pest, destroying native woodland

A replica of a Yaghan peoples boat using the same construction techniques

On February 24th, Ekke and I packed up the car, parked it at a big lot near the port, finished some last-minute errands, and boarded the bus to take us to our 11 day Antarctic cruise. We were so excited.

Brochure photo of our ship, the Ocean Endeavour

Map of our trip through Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego  

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