Argentina

Iguazu Falls and Salta


We left Uruguay and crossed back into Argentina through the border north of Salto, crossing over a long dam.

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Our next destination was Iguazu Falls. The ride was a nice one, twisty at times (oh, we so missed that in the last while), through swamps and green jungle. The earth turned red too (they call this area “Tierra Colorada”)

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We ended up again riding until late in the dark trying to get to the next town that would have a hotel. We were on the highway close to Paso de los Libres, riding at over 100 km an hour when I saw Vasile swerving slightly right in front of me. I thought he was trying his tires, he does that sometimes. On the side of the road I saw a shade that looked like a flag or something. But the next second when I got right by it, the shade started to move towards the center of the road, and that’s when I saw it was a horse! I swerved quickly as much as I could, and as I was doing this, I saw another horse on the other side of the road, so I was going straight towards it. Swerved again and luckily managed to avoid them both. I guess this is one of the biggest reasons why people should not ride or drive at night in these countries. Both Vasile and I were like “What the hell was this?” Around Buenos Aires there were signs on the highway encouraging people to call police if they see loose animals on the side of the road. Maybe they should do that everywhere.

Happy we got away unharmed, as this could have turned into a disaster, we soon got to Paso de los Libres and called it a day.

The next day we had an awesome ride through beautiful, rich jungle vegetation.

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We got to the famous Iguazu National Park where there is the Iguazu Falls, the second largest falls in the world as volume of water. We left the bikes at the entrance of the park and we took a little train to the cataracts.

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And we saw myriads of butterflies

IMG_6840Once we got off the train we started walking on a bridge over the swamps and the river

IMG_6856And here we were lucky enough to see a caiman and a big cat-fish in their natural habitat.

IMG_6854 IMG_6855The butterflies were very friendly and welcoming

IMG_6862 IMG_6864And we finally got to The Devil’s Gorge, the most spectacular and astounding view.

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On the way back we had the chance to see some more of the fauna of Iguazu.

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We saw lots of big, colorful butterflies, the ones that you only see on tv or at the butterfly garden and a toucan on top of a tree,with his big, orange beak. Unfortunately it was too high in the tree, so we could not take a picture.

I felt like I could have spent a couple of days in that park, it was so special.

Before we left Puerto Iguazu we went to see the intersection of the Rivers Uruguay and Parana, which are the borders between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.  On each side there is a monument representing the flag of each country. You stand in one place actually and you can see a bit of each country.

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There was a ferry crossing the river actually to Paraguay, so we thought we would give it a chance and try to cross. As Canadian Citizens we need a visa for Paraguay, but we were hoping that we could get it at the border. Unfortunately this was not possible, but the border officer directed us to the Paraguayan Consulate in Puerto Iguazu. We went there, but they could not give us the visa, as their computers system was not working. But they were very nice though and they recommended us to go to the consulate in Posada. They even called the consul there to make sure we could get the visa the next day. But later on that day we gave up on this idea, and we decided to go to Salta, and skip Paraguay.

The ride to Salta was not too bad, despite the straight road. It was nice and warm (28 C), green, and lots of wildlife to see, among which this “little” friend.

IMG_7002IMG_7003Yes, that’s right, a dead yellow anaconda on the side of the road. He must have gotten out of its swamp to warm up and he got hit by a car or something.

While riding on Ruta 12 we saw some big electrical towers, so Vasile figured we were close to some big dam that someone told us about. We turned right onto a side road, and we got to a small border point, where the officer told us we could not ride to the dam, but we could go on an organized tour the next day, all free. So we stopped for the night in Ituzaingo, the next day we went to the “Oficina Central” where they put us in a van and took us in a guided tour to see the dam. I have to admit, it’s quite impressing, especially when you have someone very qualified who explains to you all the details.

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One annoying thing in Argentina were the “routine police checks”. We were getting stopped sometimes twice a day for these checks. And yesterday we got stopped twice in a two minutes span. The first time, there were 8 of them in the middle of the road, stopping all the motorcycles. Reason: we did not have a fire extinctor,which apparently is mandatory in Argentina. We explained to them that in case of a motocycle accident we would not be able to use it anyway. We totally understand each country has its laws, but this one we found it a bit of a money grab law. And what really bothered us was that he said “The fine is 4000 pesos (about 800 USD, which I totally doubt, that’s their salary per month), but this time I will make an exception. You give me 700 pesos and I let you go”. I guess he was not expecting Vasile’s answer “No way, man. I am not giving you a penny” cause he looked kinda shocked, and he let us go right away. We barely took off and turned right onto a big avenue, when we got pulled over again. We were thinking “We won’t get away until they make us pay for that freaking fire extinctor”. But no, this time there was something else. Apparently motorcycles were not allowed on that avenue. We apologized to the officer and told him we did not see any signs suggesting that, so we didn’t know. He told us there was a sign four blocks before and that we would see another one six bloks further. I explained to him that we had just turned onto this avenue at the previous intersection, therefore we could not see that sign. We promised to get out of there at the first turn, and eventually he let us go. We got off that avenue and took a side road parallel with it, kept riding, but we did not see any signs that would say motorcycles are not allowed on the main avenue, and this time we really looked for it. As we were following the GPS, the GPS was directing us back onto the main avenue, as we had to cross a big bridge over a river. We took our chance again and turned onto the main avenue again. Three seconds later we saw a police station, but they did not stop us or anything, nor were they bothered by the fact we were riding there. We were just curious: if motorcycles are not allowed on the main avenue, the one that was crossing the bride, how do motorcycles cross though? I guess we will never find out.
A couple of hours later, Vasile stopped as he felt there was something wrong with his bike. It had a very slight wobble. He checked his front wheel out, and he realized the bearings were gone, so he had to do another fix on the side of the road. And this time he wanted to do it the right way:)

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IMG_7031 IMG_7028 IMG_7027Once this done, we thought that would be it for the day. But we were wrong. Vasile’s bike was running out of gas. We have done a long stretch in between cities, and we didn’t gas up in the last one. We were really hoping we would make it to the next town, but we didn’t. The bike died, so we had to pull over into the grass, as the highway didn’t have a shoulder. My bike still had enough gas to run another 14 km (according to the bike’s computer) and Vasile found on the GPS a gas station 12 km  away. As it was getting dark and I am blind like a bat in the dark Vasile took my bike and went to get some gas, while I was waiting by the big KTM, waiving proud to all the bikers passing by and waiving at me:)

Vasile came back 20 minutes later with a jery-can of gas, and this way we could make it to the gas station, and then to Salta. And before we got to Salta we had to go through a storm too, which left us nice and soaked. And in Salta another surprise (man, I thought that day was never gonna end): all the hotels were full because of the Easter. It was a Thursday, and apparently here everyone is off for Good Friday and they all go, for whatever reason, to Salta. We asked at quite a few hotels, no rooms, and they told us they didn’t think we would find any. So we found a campsite on the GPS and we decided to go there. But on the way there, we stopped by a Yamaha shop, as the KTM needed a new front tire and my bike a new chain. We didn’t find what we needed for the bike,  but the owner there told us about a hotel close by that might still have rooms, so he escorted us there. And indeed, we found a room! No camping in the middle of the night.

And here are some pictures we took the next day.

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And our dear hotel. Don’t let the old sign full you, it was not cheap, but it was decent, and the people very nice.

IMG_7051Next we will do some riding around Salta, and then head to Atacama Desert. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

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Categories: Argentina | Leave a comment

The ride through the great nothingness


When we left Ushuaia it was 2 degrees C and pouring. I decided to put my GoreTex gloves, even though they were really bulky and I could barely reach the clutch and throttle with them. It was so cold I was looking at the temperature display on my bike all the time hoping that I would see an increase. We decided to ride as far as we could that day to get out of the rain and cold. So we did 300 km of paved road to the border, crossed the border into Chile, then 160 km of gravel and mud road, took the ferry and crossed the Strait of Magellan north this time, crossed the border back into Argentina, another 100 km (approx) of paved road, and in Rio Gallegos we decided to call it a day. The whole ride was in horrible conditions. It was dumping on us, the temperature did not go higher than 4 degrees C and because of the rain the gravel road was even worse. It was all potholes everywhere and where there were not potholes, there were deep washboards. In normal conditions, the road with potholes is my favourite type of gravel road. I love to stand up on my pegs and feel the bike going up and down. But when you have to do that for so many km, it’s no longer fun. My bike is a good bike, but the suspension on it is not the best. My tiny wrists were hurting so bad, I almost felt like crying. And on top of it the winds were getting stronger and stronger. When we saw the paved road ahead, both Vasile and I were happier than if we won the lottery. That day we did 560 km in total, paved and gravel, took a ferry and crossed two borders, all in the pouring rain and heavy winds.

We were warned by another fellow rider from Spain that Rio Gallegos was going to be expensive. And he was right. For a little town in the middle of nowhere, the price was higher than we’ve ever paid in the very touristy places. And again, I guess the prices for gringos kicked in. When Vasile went into the hotel (it looked like a family business) he was given two different prices by the father and the son. I guess the price given by the son was the regular price, and one given by the father was the price for us. While we were unloading our stuff from the bike, they must have talked to each other, as suddenly the correct price was the higher one for us. As we were tired and cold and we had a tough day (probably the toughest in the whole trip) we took it, but the room conditions did not justify the price at all.

The next 4 days was just another long ride in the rain with nothing to see around but this.

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The only thing that was keeping me from falling asleep were the strong winds. Now these were the kind of winds we were actually expecting in Patagonia. So far we kept thinking that we got lucky and the winds were not that strong (at least not as we were expecting them to be after all the stories we’ve heard), but this time we felt the full Patagonian winds. Luckily at times they were blowing from behind, and that was actually helping us with the gas consumption. It was flat, rainy (never in my life have I traveled for such a long distance without changing the weather or the landscape), windy and freaking boring. We started doing shorter days (500 km, after two days of 700 km each) as we could not handle the boredom of such long rides anymore. After four days of riding we were stoked to see the first tree! And the only exciting thing along the way was the view of the Atlantic Ocean.

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As we got close to Buenos Aires it got a bit warmer though and we started to see some vegetation and a lot of farms. The traffic also started to change, becoming a bit  more aggressive. But it was still way better than the traffic in any central american countries or any countries in the northern part of South America.

As we got to the city, the traffic got pretty jammed, as we were expecting in a capital city. But the city is beautiful; very nice old buildings, built with good taste, proof that a lot of artists were involved in it.

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And here is the oldest Cafe in Argentina.

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We decided to stay there for a few days as our bikes needed some maintenance.

One day we celebrated Saint Patrick’s day. It looks like here they celebrate it even more than they do it in Ireland:)

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And then it was work time. My BMW was due for a general maintenance, plus we had to replace the sub-frame. Vasile went to the BMW dealer and picked up a new sub-frame and new steering column bearing (the beemer had steering problems since Baja Mexico, that we thought we fixed, but it wasn’t fixed 100%). The two parts were somewhere over $300 USD. He also asked BMW if he could work in their shop, but the answer was negative. So far KTM rocked (Vasile had to mention that to me several times and I had to admit), they always let Vasile work in their shops, and made their tools available to him at no charge. So then Vasile went to the parking lot where we parked the bikes over night (public parking) and changed the sub-frame and replaced the steering column bearing right there.

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The next day Vasile went to KTM to buy oil for his bike, but as it was Saturday, their mechanic shop was closed and the guy there could not find the keys to let him in so he could work on the bike, so Vasile had to find a different option. And he found this Yamaha dealer, and the guy there was more than excited to let him work in his shop. They were so excited talking about bikes, that they didn’t even introduce each other. The only identity of him that we have is his facebook name, Polaco. So that’s what we are going to call him here.

Vasile did the oil change on the KTM and oil change and valve adjustment on the BMW. Polaco offered him all the tools that he needed for that, and he even offered his help. Him and his team were just incredibly nice and helpful. At the end Vasile wanted to compensate him for all the help, but he didn’t accept anything. Another proof of Argentinian hospitality. Thank you Polaco & co.

For our fellow riders, if you are in Buenos Aires and you need some help, there is no better place to go (it is on Av. del Libertador Gral San Martin,in Vicente Lopez)

IMG_20130318_175525 IMG_20130318_160043 IMG_20130318_160027Now after a face lift, my bike feels really nice and smooth, I can actually enjoy the ride again:)

After a few rest days in Buenos Aires we decided to take the ferry to Colonia, Uruguay. The other option was to ride around the water, about 870 km to get to the same place on bikes. As we were afraid that it would be just as flat and boring, we preferred to take the ferry. In one hour we got to Colonia. But about that, in a new post. Stay tuned.

Categories: Argentina, Chile | Leave a comment

The end of the world


As we headed south from Torres del Paine the weather got harsher. The temperatures dropped substantially and the rain started.

We rode to Punta Arenas where we were supposed to take the ferry across the Strait of Magellan to Tierra del Fuego. All these places that I’ve studied in my geography class and seemed so far away to me back then. I can’t believe I have actually been there! The ferry normally leaves every day in the morning. That day was leaving at 4 pm, and we got there just in time to catch it.

IMG_6474 IMG_6478Along the way we had company: some cute playful dolphins.

IMG_6488Two and a half hours later we got to Porvenir. That’s it! It’s official: we are on Tierra del Fuego! There’s no turning back now, Ushuaia here we come!

Here 140 km of gravel were waiting for us.

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We were planning to stop for the night in some little village that was showing on our map. But when we got there, there was just a big tower, nothing else. So we had no other option but to keep going.IMG_6505We rode until late in the dark, looking forward to San Sebastian, our only option to spend the night. It was getting really cold and my hands were frozen, despite the heated grips. We finally got there and we stopped at the first hotel we saw. Turned out it was the only one in town anyway. Got the room and big disappointment: the rooms were cold, the heat was not on. We convinced the owner to turn the heat on and in the meantime went to the restaurant to warm up with some hot tea and pisco. At that point we were so happy we found a room, that we didn’t even care anymore that the price for it was outrageous.

The next day we crossed the border again into Argentina. We were getting so close to Ushuaia! Unfortunately the weather got worse, it started pouring and it was very cold. My leather gloves got soaked and I realized that my old Goretex jacket was not waterproof anymore as all my clothes were moist underneath. At least I had my heated jacket and that helped a bit. Vasile was not as lucky though and he was very eager to get to Ushuaia.

Here we are crossing the Garibaldi pass.

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And we made it! We got to our destination.

IMG_6522IMG_6523We wanted to take a picture together, but we were so cold that we didn’t have patience to wait for someone there to take the picture for us.

We were starving too, so we started looking for a restaurant. Not easy task here, as it was about 3 pm and here all restaurants are closed in the afternoon, until 7 pm. We found something that looked like a restaurant, we parked the bikes, just to realize it was just a grocery store. Back to the bikes – surprise: the KTM’s battery was dead. So Vasile had to engineer something and take some juice from my bike. This entertainment lasted about half hour. It didn’t matter anymore that we were freezing and hungry, the bike wouldn’t move, like that was the last thing we needed. But Vasile managed to fix that and then we started the hunt for a restaurant. Mission impossible. All we found eventually was a sandwich place, but at this point in time we were happy with that too. Now we were just worried that we wouldn’t find a hostel room, as there were lots of tourists in town, but we managed to find that too. The only problem was that even though they advertised as having wi-fi, it was not working, all three days we stayed there (Lupitos hostel, or something like that).

But hey, we are not at the end of the road yet. The road still goes for a bit through the national park.

IMG_6524 IMG_6528And here we are, literally at the end of the road, the tip of the world!

IMG_6532 IMG_6533 IMG_6535It looked like animals were excited for us too.

IMG_6552We made it! We had such mixed feelings about it: excitement and sense of achievement as well as sadness as half of our vacation was gone.We still couldn’t believe that we were actually there, at the southernmost point on the continent. I got to feel that the next day, when we took a tour to Isla Martillo (Hammer Island) to see the penguins. We were at 1000 km away from Antarctica, and we felt it. Freezing cold and windy.

Here is for you to see how windy it can get here.

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But the penguins were well worth it. They were so incredibly cute. We saw two different kinds: the Magellanic Penguin (most of them there) and Rockhopper Penguin.

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We were lucky to see one King Penguin as well, no one knew what he was doing there, as apparently they do not leave on that island (somewhere in the middle of the picture).

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There was one little fellow there, a Rockhopper Penguin that looked exactly like the Mexican fellow in the Happy Feet movie “Let me tell something to giu”.

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After seeing these little cute creatures I realized that my trip in the cold and rain for the past few days was well worth it. And even though we were so excited about being there, we were both now ready to go somewhere warm and chill in a hammock.

Categories: Argentina, Chile | Leave a comment

Torres del Paine National Park


We left El Calafate in the morning and headed south, towards the Chilean border. The ride was again a very boring one most of the time, in the wind, and to top it off, with some showers. It looked like we left the nice weather behind us.

The border crossing was a pretty fast and straight forward one, with no problems this time. Once we crossed the border, we were debating whether to go straight to the national park, or to go to Puerto Natales and get some food first, as in the park we were told that everything was extremely expensive. Puerto Natales was about 50 km south of where we were, so we would’ve had to do a bit of a detour. We realized that the money we would have saved on food we would’ve spent on gas to go there, so we decided to go straight to the park. But one minute into our ride Vasile had a thought: what if there is no gas in the park? no one builds gas stations in national parks, so chances are there is none, and we did not have enough gas left. We asked some bikers that were just returning from the park, and they confirmed for us: no gas station anywhere except Puerto Natales. So we had to go there after all. As it was afternoon already, we decided to go and stay there for the night, and go to the park the next day.

We got to Puerto Natales and now the challenge was to find a hostel. They were all full. We finally found one that still had rooms, and that was because the girl in charge was not there all day long, so people had to wait for her if they wanted to check in. But the hostel was very nice and the room very clean and cozy. At the hostel we met another two fellow riders from Australia, on two BMW F 800 GS. They were coming back from Ushuaia and taking the ferry north.

The next day we woke up in a crisp but sunny weather and we headed to Torres del Paine. We basically had to go back to the border we crossed the day before, and from there towards the park. Most road was paved, just as we got closer to the park the gravel started. As we got to the park, the entrance fee was $40 USD per person! Just to enter the park. But that was, of course, as for everything else, just for foreigners. Locals pay only $8. Maybe we should do the same in Canada, have different prices for tourists, and see how they feel about it when they visit our country. I could understand the different prices for tourists in the very poor countries, but it’s not the case for Chile and Argentina.

Anyway, once we entered the park we forgot about the money, as the view was magnificent.

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Lots of wildlife on the way

IMG_6455 IMG_6459The only downside was the wind, that started blowing really strong; and on gravel, very loose at times, strong wind is no fun at all, believe me! It was blowing me from one side of the road to the other making it impossible for me to stay on the tracks. At some point I thought of stopping, but that would’ve meant falling, as I wouldn’t have been able to hold the bike up in that wind if stopped. So the only option was to carry on.

We managed to get to the campsite beautifully located on a green patch of the park.

IMG_6470 IMG_6469Again, the only problem was the wind. And to give you an idea of how strong the winds were, hear this: we pitched the tent, put all our stuff in it and Vasile was in it too; a wind gust flipped the tent over with Vasile and everything in it. And Vasile is not a small guy. He came out of the tent all shocked “What the heck was that?”. Therefore we were afraid to leave the tent for one minute, as we would’ve been left without it. Not to mention that we had some clothes out in the sun to dry out; we looked for them for half hour:) The good part was that is was just wind gusts, so we had moments of peace in between.

At night it got so cold I could not sleep all night long. The next day I was like a zombie. We were planning to do a hike, but in the morning it was all overcast, so we wouldn’t have seen much. The other thing was that if we did the hike, we would’ve had to camp one more night, and that was not an option for me. I was already tired after one night with no sleep, it was even colder now, one more night would’ve been too much, and then we had to ride on gravel and wind to get out of the park. So we decided to just ride all across the park and see as much as the clouds allowed, and then go back to Puerto Natales.

The ride through the park, even though very tiring from the riding point of view (very strong winds again and loose stretches of gravel at times) was incredibly beautiful. This park is just amazing, it has so much to offer! And we were lucky and the sky cleared out too.

IMG_20130306_131138 IMG_20130306_131759 IMG_20130306_132040 IMG_20130306_132825 IMG_20130306_133000 IMG_20130306_135003 IMG_20130306_135354 IMG_20130306_135407 IMG_20130306_135809 IMG_20130306_135814 IMG_20130306_140838This was basically our last touristic stop on our way to Ushuaia. Now it’s just going to be the road and us until we get to the penguins land:)

Categories: Argentina, Chile | Leave a comment

Los Glaciares National Park


As we left Bariloche the whole landscape changed. The mountain view faded making room to the steppe-like plains.

As we were riding straight on the Ruta 40, the sky got covered in clouds. Ahead of us it was looking really dark. We were wondering if we were going to hit the storm, or if we were going to be lucky, as most of the time, and go by it. We stopped and put our rain gear on though. And we were glad we did, since this time we were not as lucky and we went straight through the storm.

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At some point it was raining so hard that we could barely see the road in front of us. On the bikes stopping and waiting for the storm to pass is not an option, as you’re not sheltered, so we kept going slowly. Then the rain turn into hail that was hitting us so hard it was hurting. I was only happy that this happened while we were on paved road, as here it gets pretty nasty and muddy when it rains.

After about an hour and a half of riding through the storm we managed to get to Gobernador Costa, where we decided to call it a day. We found a cosy hostel that looked like a grandma’s house, with warm and clean rooms and some delicious pies. It was perfect for our soaked bodies and gear. We slept like babies till the next day.

From all the shaky gravel we’ve done so far all the jb weld on my bike gave in, and the whole front of the bike was wiggling like crazy, so Vasile zip-striped all the broken parts on my bike. Hopefully it will hold well enough until we find a BMW dealership, as it looks like there is none in Patagonia.

IMG_6155 IMG_6157Next morning we packed up everything and headed to Perito Moreno (the town, not the glacier). The road was mostly paved with short sections of gravel in between. It was the most boring day of riding in the whole trip, just straight road through the steppe and the wind started to show its wings, hitting us from one side or the other.

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We got to Perito Moreno, a little town in the middle of nowhere, where there is nothing interesting happening, yet the cheapest hotel room was $65 USD. We asked some guys if there were any hostels around, with more economic prices, and the answer was “No, there aren’t. But if you want, I give you the keys of my house, and you can stay there. I am going to work now and I will be back in the morning, so no one will bother you.” Once again we were blown away by how friendly and trusting people were here. He just met us and he was offering us the keys of his house. We took the offer and we went to his place, had a good rest and we were ready for another day’s ride.

The next day was another straight ride through the steppe. The wind started to blow stronger and stronger. I was leaning into the wind big time so I could go straight. As I am not a big person, I was afraid that the wind would blow me off the road, as a few times it almost happened. We were looking for the turn we were supposed to take to go to Cueva de las Manos (The hands’ cave). At some point I saw a gravel road to my left and I was thanking God I didn’t have to ride on that loose gravel in that wind.

Along the way we saw a variety of animals specific to Patagonia: the fox, the guanacos and plenty of nandus.

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We stopped in Bajo Caracoles to gas up and when we asked the locals where the road to Cueva de las Manos was they told us we just passed it. Turned out the gravel road that I saw was the road we were supposed to go on. As it was very windy and the road was supposed to be pretty bad, we decided to leave my bike at the gas station and go two up to the cave. And it was a good decision, as the road was indeed very bad, stretches of very loose gravel  and stretches of semi-dried mud ruts that made it quite technical and challenging even for Vasile.

But the ride was well worth it, as Cueva de las Manos (which is a World Heritage site since 1999) was incredibly interesting. The cave is in a canyon well hidden in the steppe, in the valley of Pinturas River.

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Those paintings are dated 9000 b.p., so that makes them over 11000 years old! That is unbelievable! And yet they are so well preserved. And it was so amazing to find out more about the way people lived back then and how they were using everything nature was offering them.

IMG_6194 IMG_6196 IMG_6208After this beautiful history episode we turned around to Bajo Caracoles. We met here a group of 5 Argentinian bikers with a support vehicle. They were heading south to Gobernador Gregores. As the hotel in Caracoles had no rooms left, we had a sandwich and decided to head there too. We had to rush a bit, as the road from Caracoles to Gobernador Gregores was supposed to have a stretch of about 70 km of gravel, and it was passed 5 pm already.

On the way we met another fellow rider, Dave, a guy from Seattle on a V-Strom 650. He left Seattle 18 months ago (now that’s a vacation!) and it looks like he is still enjoying it. He told us about a gorgeous place, El Chalten, which was supposed to have world class mountaineering. So we decided to check it out, and instead of going straight to El Calafate, to take a detour and see El Chalten.

Turned out that part of the 70 km of gravel that we were supposed to have on the way to Gobernador Grigores had been paved in the meantime, so there were only about 30 km left. But most of it was very loose gravel, with some tracks here and there.

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But we made it, had a good rest, and the next day we were ready for the longest stretch of gravel we had in Argentina.

In the morning, at the gas station while we were fueling up, we met a Brazilian rider, Raphael, riding a Honda Varadero. He was coming from south heading north. We exchanged travel and road information. He was just returning from El Chalten and he showed us some awesome pictures. He was so excited about it that it just made us more anxious to get there. He was a very nice, friendly guy, who invited us to stay at his place if we go to Brazil.

With our tanks full and our hearts filled with excitement we headed to El Chalten. We had ahead of us about 120 km of gravel road – a mix of packed dirt, super loose gravel, big rocks and as it looked like it just rained the night before, a lot of mud and ruts.

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The only place that was supposed to have gas in between was Tres Lagos. I still had gas, but Vasile was afraid that his bike was not going to make it to El Chalten, so we stopped to look for gas. The road to the little town was very confusing. At some point we found ourselves on a big gravel site with big machines working. They turned us around and pointed the direction to us. After we passed through some deep wide mud sections, we found a tiny road all mud, puddles and bumps, that looked like it was heading to town.

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We got to town, but we found out that the gas station didn’t have gas in the past year, so we could not fill up. We stopped to eat at a restaurant and it happened that the owner had 20 l of gas. He had an unfortunate event, a car accident in which he broke his collar bone so he was not driving anymore; therefore he had some gas left. Not that we were happy for his misfortune, but we were definitely happy he had gas. We filled up and off we went. As we were leaving the town we met a German couple on a bike looking for the gas station, a bit confused about the road too.

From here on we were on paved road again. Despite the rough conditions of the road up to Tres Lagos we actually really enjoyed the ride. Part of it was probably because we had a good sleep the night before and we had the energy to put up with it.

As we were getting close to El Chalten, the view changed completely and became one of the most spectacular views of the trip. We missed this kind of view in the past few days.

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And here is El Chalten beautifully hidden in the valley.

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Once we settled down we went out for dinner. The owner of the restaurant where we were eating, and Argentinian girl passionate about climbing, started chatting with us and telling us about the beautiful hikes and climbs in the area. We were planning to do a one day hike to see the Fitz Roy, as we do not have a proper backpack with us to carry all the camping gear. But she convinced us to stay and camp at the base of the glacier and she lent us her backpack.

The hike up was one of the best hikes we have done, comparable only to the trek we’ve done on the Himalayas, in Nepal, two years ago.

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Once at the campsite, we pitched the tent and then continued our hike to the glacier.

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The last part, for about an hour and a half, was the most difficult part. Very steep climb up through loose rocks.

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And this is what we found when we got up there.

IMG_6330 IMG_6333 IMG_6336We sat there in awe for more than an hour contemplating the beauty of the nature. It was hard to turn around and leave. But eventually we had to do that. We turned around to our campsite, and the next day we woke up to this.

IMG_6350We have been so incredibly lucky to have such a perfectly clear sky, as apparently this is quite rare in this area. Not many people manage to see Fitz Roy without clouds. We had blue sky both days, so we could fill our eyes with the beautiful view and take it with us.

Once back in town and to the hostel we met Ramon, a nice guy from Ushuaia, who offered to cook for us. As he was a chef we trusted him and accepted:)

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We decided to leave the next day and head to El Califate. But we received a facebook message from our friends Kurt and Cory that they were in El Califate and heading to El Chalten the next day, so we decided to stay one more day so we could meet up with them.

It was so great to see them again. With them came Dana, an old girlfriend of Cory’s from Williams Lake, Canada, who came to travel with them for a bit. We had a blast together, laughing with tears to all the travel stories we all had since we split in Cartagena. We went to bed late not looking forward to parting ways again. We were just having too much fun together. But they are towards the end of their trip, they met their goal, Ushuaia, and now they have to ship their bikes and fly back to Canada.

So after having some delicious waffles for breakfast together we headed to El Calafate. There were only about 200 km of paved road, so we got there early. Since we had time, we decided to go see the Perito Moreno glacier, so we can leave the next day early in the morning. So we dropped some of our stuff in the hostel room, jumped on the bikes and headed to the glacier. There are about 90 km from El Calafate to the glacier. On the way we met a French girl, who lives in Vancouver now, Anne-Sophie, on a unicycle. She’s going across Patagonia on a unicycle! Wow, she’s our hero!

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Once we got to the glacier, it left us out of breath. I do not know how to describe it as no words would make it justice. Neither do pictures, but at least you can get an idea.

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Back at the hostel we met again our friend from Ushuaia, Ramon. We offered him some veggie omelette, as that’s what we were cooking, but he turned it down with a smile. I guess chefs don’t have omelette for dinner?:)

Next will be Torre del Paine, Chile. Stay tuned.

Categories: Argentina | 6 Comments

Santiago to Bariloche


We left our new friends in Santiago and we headed south again, as we have a mission: we have to get to Ushuaia before it snows.

The road south was beautiful, some paved and some really loose gravel for about 50 km. I think it was the loosest gravel I have ever done so far. It looked like someone just dumped trucks of rocks and pebbles on the road. And to top it off, there were up and down sections. As I did not know for how long we were going on the gravel and how bad it was going to be, I did not turn my ABS off. On one of the down sections there were tight turns as well, so I tried to slow down and feather the brakes, but my bike’s ABS is very sensitive and it kicked in, so my bike actually started speeding up big time. I was almost sure I was going to fall on that loose gravel, going down and taking a turn at that speed. But I was lucky and I managed to control it, so no crashes:) But now I make sure I turn off my ABS every time we hit gravel.

On the side of the road there were plenty of blackberries (as they have no bears here), so I could not resist to stop and have some, straight from the source.

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As lodging is more expensive in Chile and Argentina, we decided to camp for a few days. So we started to look for a place to camp. After a few attempts on some dirt side roads, where all we found was private properties, we turned back to the highway. And when we were about to give up and go to a hotel, we saw a camping sign. Decent, nice and green, showers, it even had a pool that we never got to use, as we left early next day. For $8 USD per person it was ok, especially that we were the only people in the campsite, so it was very nice and quiet.

Next day more highway and gravel roads were waiting for us, with the majestic view of snow-capped volcanoes.

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We stopped for lunch in the beautiful town Villarica, on the shore of Villarica Lake. Very touristic town, with high prices. But this does not take away from its beauty created especially by the beautiful architecture with a lot of Swiss and German influence and the view of the Villarica Volcano. After lunch we kept going and we stopped for the day a little bit further, still by the Villarica Lake, in Pucon. Pucon looks very much like Villarica, it looks just as touristy, and the prices at least just as high. An average hotel room goes for around $100 USD. We found a decent campsite, set the tent and opened a bottle of wine. But as we should have known better, Latino people like to party, so all night long we could hear people singing and laughing. Promised ourselves next time to camp in the wild.

Next day we headed for the border. This border crossing was somewhere in the mountains, where there was only a small gravel road so we were not expecting it to be busy. And it wasn’t too busy. But that doesn’t mean it was fast and easy. Again it surprised us that the border between two more civilized countries is so difficult. We have crossed about 14 borders so far and each one has the same routine: immigration – stamp in the passport, then Aduana, temporary import permit for the bikes. When we leave the country: immigration – exit stamp in the passport and then cancellation of the import permit for the bikes. Here the immigration was not a problem, it went fast. Then we went to Aduana. I went to one officer, while Vasile went to another. I presented my import permit for the bike to have it cancelled, they kept one copy and gave me two copies back, telling me I would need them when entering Argentina. When Vasile was done, he had no copies. “Where are your copies?” “Well, he told me I didn’t need any, and he kept them all” “No, you need two of them, let’s go ask”. Border officer “No, you don’t need them, I keep them” “Then why did they give me two copies?” After a little chat between them, Vasile gets his copies too. From there we had to ride about 1 km on gravel to the Argentinian border. We got there, of course they asked for those copies. We presented them, but guess what: Vasile was missing a stamp on them (one of the FIVE stamps they put on them). I had the stamp on my copies, but Vasile did not have it. “Well, I cannot let you enter Argentina without that exit stamp on the import permit. According to this paper, your bike is still in Chile”. So Vasile jumped on the bike and rode back to the Argentinian border. He got there just to be told that he didn’t not need any more stamps, so they refused to put the stamp. Those who know Vasile, you probably know that tact is not his forte, and when he gets pissed off he becomes quite direct. I do not know in what language he talked to them, but he pretty much told them “I don’t care if I need the stamp or not, but the Argentinian border requires it, so you put the damn stamp on my paper now so I can leave”. So he got the stamp and came back to the Argentinian border. This whole time, I was arguing with the Argentinian officer at the Aduana, as she took my Chilean import permit, cancelled it (as she should have) but didn’t give me a new one for Argentina. When I asked her, she told me I didn’t need one. I started explaining to her that in each and every one of the countries we have been through we always needed one, and we need to present it when we leave the country, so we don’t have problems. She kept insisting that in Argentina we didn’t need one. I told her that this was the second time we entered Argentina, and the first time they did give us one. “So where is it then if they gave you one?” “Well, I had to cancel it, so I left it with them when I left Argentina” “Then we can’t give you a new one, you don’t need one” I was getting really frustrated, as I knew for sure I needed one and I could not enter Argentina without it, but I was having a really hard time convincing her. Actually she should have been the one convincing me that I needed one, since she should have known better than me what I needed when I entered their country. After 15 minutes of arguing, one of her colleagues overheard our conversation and he intervened, telling her that she did need to fill out a temporary import permit, as we were foreigners, and it was mandatory. Finally! So here I was when Vasile came back. I was so happy that I could speak Spanish! Imagine a tourist who does not speak the language, and does not know all the ins and outs of the border crossings, they would have just taken her word and left without the paper. And chances are they wouldn’t have been able to leave the country with the vehicle anymore, or they would have had problems for sure.

Funny enough, once outside, the guy who usually does a final check of all the papers before you enter the country, did ask for the import permit. So how the heck that lady knew nothing about it?

So here we were once again in Argentina.

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We continued for a while on gravel road, very dusty from the busy traffic, leaving behind the beautiful volcanoes.

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And we entered the famous Ruta 40. We stopped to rest our bones in a campsite by the highway again, by a beautiful lake.

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And one more time we witnessed the cheerful Latino party spirit all night long:(

Ruta 40 is an epic road. There are long stretches not paved yet here and there, but I am sure in one year it will be all paved, as they are working on that now. We rode by 7 Lakes, which is a wonderful region in the mountains that has, as the name says, 7 incredible lakes, one more amazing than the other.

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For lunch we stopped and had the best lamb goulash ever in a very chic rustic place and got some road advice from the owner.

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And we made it to Bariloche, the famous ski resort with beautiful Swiss architecture in the foothills of the Andes. For kilometers all we saw was hotels, cabanas, bungalows and restaurants, which told us how touristic it is. We inquired at a “hosteria familial” which was supposed to be cheaper, how much they would charge per night. Answer: only $100 USD. So we camped again. It looks like here in the south is more rainy and a lot colder, so camping is not just as much fun as it is on the beach, but for now it is ok. I have a feeling I will miss the sun and heat for a while.

Categories: Argentina, Chile | Leave a comment

Short overview of Argentina


The border crossing from Bolivia to Argentina was pretty fast and easy. Both immigration offices were in the same place, so we did not have to walk or drive from one to the other. And once in Argentina, this is the first thing we saw:

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So I guess we still have a long way to go:)

Argentina is a totally different world. It is a pretty developed country, the people have a different way of thinking and behaving and one thing that shocked us (in a good way) was the very civilized traffic. We could not believe we didn’t have to worry about getting killed every 5 minutes! Everyone really follows the rules, obeys the speed limits and the continuous double lane. As on the bikes it’s really hard to go very slow, at some point we were stuck in some traffic going down a winding road with (obviously) continuous double line. Vasile started passing the cars and trucks and for a while I couldn’t do it. I was just so embarrassed, as we were the only ones braking the rules. After a few minutes I had to give up on my embarrassment, as I could not continue with 20-30 km an hour. But I have to admit it is such a peace of mind to drive here; we needed this break.

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And we got to the Tropic of Capricorn, in Salta!

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We found some good, inexpensive wine to buy on the side of the road (there are wineries everywhere).

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And we started loving Argentina more and more (even though we haven’t open the wine yet:) )

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The only downside was the 45 degrees Celsius – nice and toasty. We had to stop every hour to drink water and we still felt dehydrated all the time.

We got to Mendoza where we were expecting a bit more crazy traffic, as it is a big city, but same thing. It was busier, indeed, but same civilized traffic; we could actually see two different lines of cars not just cars all over the place, people politely letting us cut in front of them if we needed, no honking and yelling. Except a cab driver on my left hand side who was standing out with his lack of patience, honking all the time for whatever reason.

We managed to find a hotel right in the center of the city, but we had to find parking somewhere else. Luckily we got a good deal at the parking lot right across, so all set. We were planning to stay in Mendoza for a couple of days, so Vasile could go to the KTM dealership and take care of his clutch, as it started to cause him problems again.

As it was Valentine’s day, we decided to go for a nice dinner. Argentina reminded me of Romania in many ways. One of them was the way people enjoy their evening. We found a street in the center that was for pedestrian use only, and on both sides, as far as we could see, patios full of people dressed up enjoying a meal, a coffee or a drink. I kind of missed that. One of the things I didn’t miss though was people smoking everywhere. We were sitting at a table trying to enjoy our dinner and a lady sitting at the table next to us was smoking like a chimney, cigarette after cigarette, and we were inhaling all her smoke. Vasile was about to tell her a few words but I stopped him, as we were not in our country, and apparently here they are allowed to smoke wherever they please (even though it is not nice), so we have to adapt; I am not here to teach them how to behave.

When we got back to the hotel the receptionist told us that he had made a mistake, the room that we booked for two days was actually booked already for the next day. He offered to find us another hotel, but we didn’t feel like moving all our stuff again, find a parking for the bikes again etc. This would have taken a few hours of our day, so we decided to move on, and go to Santiago, Chile, as they have KTM dealerships there too, and from what we heard the best ones too.

So the next day we packed up and off we went. The ride from Mendoza was nice, scenic, but sort of boring for us, as there was barely any traffic. As I was a bit tired too, I was almost falling asleep (literally). I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open. I was longing for some crazy traffic to keep me awake, and entertained:)

We didn’t find any traffic, but we found this instead.

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The Provincial Park Aconcagua. It is incredibly beautiful. And we were lucky and we had almost clear sky and we could see the summit in his entire splendor.

IMG_5895The idea of trying to climb it was quite tempting, as we were very well acclimatized now after so many days at altitude in Peru and Bolivia, but it was $1000 USD per person just the entry fee, plus all the equipment we would have needed, so we gave up.

From there the road was going higher up in the mountains. We were wondering where the border was or if we passed it already, as we knew we had to be very close. We entered a long tunnel, about 3 km, and in the middle of the tunnel we saw Chile’s flag, and the usual “Bienvenido a Chile” (Welcome to Chile). We got out of the tunnel, but still no border anywhere. A few km later we finally got to the border. The border has a very epic location, in the middle of the mountains (Paso Los Libertadores).

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As it was a border crossing between two developed countries, we were expecting to have the best experience in border crossing so far. Well, it turned out to be the worst. As it is a joint border, both immigration offices, Argentinian and Chilean are in the same place. But “the office” was actually formed by lots of little kiosks where the border officials had their desks, but people were actually lining up and filling out the forms outside. There were no tables or anything where you could fill out the forms, so everyone was writing on their car’s hood or wherever they could. Unfortunately our bikes don’t have a hood. And to top it off, it started raining, and at some point hailing. It was impossible to fill out any forms in that rain. We got through a couple of those kiosks, and then we got to an old lady, who apparently didn’t know very well what she was doing. She kept sending us from an office to the other to get some stamps. When we would go to those offices, they would tell us we didn’t need those stamps, and they would send us back. This happened a few times until one of the officers from that office came with us, and explained the lady we did not need that stamp. She made us fill all kinds of forms, even though we told her we had filled those forms already and once we finally had it all ready she goes “Oh, you are entering Chile now, not exiting?” Duh! Yes, we are entering Chile. It says on the forms that you made us fill out and we mentioned a few times, in Spanish! So it turned out we did not really need all those stamps. Now it was time for her to enter all the info from the forms into her computer. She was asking me again everything I had filled out on the form “So what’s the document you are using? And what’s the passport number? What vehicle you are on? What’s the VIN?” “I am sorry, I do not know it by heart, it’s on the form you have there” “Where?” So I had to show her what line I put the VIN and all the other info on. It looked like she was not very familiar with those forms. And that would not have been a problem, maybe she was new, which I would totally understand, but she was loosing patience and raising the voice on us too, which I did not appreciate at all, since it was her job to know what stamps we really did need and where to find the info on the forms. And then she started typing with one finger, one key every two seconds. It took forever to enter my info in the computer. Then it was Vasile’s turns, all over again:)

When we finally thought we had all the stamps and all the papers, we had our panniers checked for food (you are not allowed to have any meat, fruit or veggies). At least these two ladies were more than nice, so in five minutes we were ready to go. Or at least that’s what we thought. Before we exited, we had all our papers checked one more time. “You need a stamp from the Argentinian immigration on the SAG form” (the declaration that we were not bringing any food items into Chile). I can’t believe this! We ride back to the Argentinian immigration office and ask for the stamp. “Sorry, that’s a Chilean form, it has nothing to do with us, we cannot put a stamp on something that doesn’t pertain to us”. Back to the Chilean officer, repeat the Argentinian officer’s words, finally he lets us enter Chile!!! Soaking wet after more than three hours in the rain and hail (or should I say hell) we were looking forward for the sun and clear sky we saw in the distance. Chile, here we come!

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Categories: Argentina, Chile | Leave a comment

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