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.


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.


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.


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:)


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.

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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.


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.


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.


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).


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”.


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.

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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:)

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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.


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.


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


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.


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

Boys gone wild

Post edited by Vasile.

We got to Santiago late in the day and we were looking for a place to stay, when the adventure pulled right next to us on the KTM 950 Adventure. It was Cristobal, a Chilean dude who after a few minutes of chatting with us invited us to his place.

The next day me and him went on a ride to the “cordillera” (Andes).

Just outside Santiago we started climbing a nice twisty gravel road going up to almost 4000 m altitude through some of the most beautiful landscapes the area has to offer.



Once we got on the ridge we could see glaciers and deserty valleys all around us. Like always, I was extremely excited and always looking for and taking all the single tracks around me.

When we got to the top Cristobal asked me which way we wanted to go back. He gave me two options: one full enduro (for 450 KTM) and the other one a two hours’ fast gravel road. Any day I would  have picked the enduro version but because he said the gravel was more scenic and I didn’t want to damage my bike in this trip, I chose the easy way out.

For the next half hour everything was fast, until we got to a bulldozer that was stuck, trying to clear out a washout. We looked around for options and I decided to go straight through it to the other side, which turned out to be pretty easy and we were both very excited that we made it to the other side. Before we attempted it, the guys who were trying to get the bulldozer out were looking at us skeptical and they were pretty shocked that we actually made it.IMG_5984 IMG_5991

Thinking that was it we jumped on the bikes again and after only five minutes of riding we got to a way bigger washout.We were still very excited about it so we carefully planned a route to cross it and we successfully made it to the other side. And so it happened with the next 10-15 washouts, until I decided to walk ahead a bit to check how the road was. We walked for about 1 km through some washouts way bigger and more dangerous than the ones we’d been through. Also, in one of them, we saw a 10 km mark. That’s when I decided that, knowing what’s on the side we came from, it would be better to turn around. We calculated that we had about 4 hours of daylight and it would be enough to cross all the washouts we’d been through already. After only 10 minutes and two washouts crossed we met two local Chileans riding on horses and Cris asked them how the road was down the valley to the main highway. They talked for about 10 minutes and I probably understood 50% of it, but I could see on Cristobal’s face that he was getting pretty confident to turn back around and continue on the road we didn’t know. Pretty much the locals told us that all the washouts should be the same like the ones we just crossed, with a good section of 6 km without washouts. Then we would get to a collapsed bridge where we would have to get our bikes down in the river and back on the other side. But they offered to help us with that. After that, within 500 m we were supposed to be on the highway.IMG_5995 IMG_6006

So we decided to turn around again. At this point we were at least one hour in without water. As far as food goes, I only had two hot-dogs in the morning.

We crossed about four washouts again and at this point both of us started to feel very tired. Cris is a small guy who weighs just over 60 kg. He is one of the best riders I’ve ridden with. For a guy that small he was riding like a Tasmanian devil. The drops between the rock were so big that the bikes didn’t have enough clearance so I was always looking for the best path through. He was just flying over-top of them. At one point I realized that it was way longer to get out than we had thought and we needed to hydrate. I told Cris that I was going to the river to fill out my camel-bag. He told me not to do it since the water in these mountains if full of minerals. So I didn’t. We continued on over washouts and rock avalanches. Some of them were so dangerous that a small mistake could cost you not only losing your bike, but your own life. We pushed ourselves through levels of dehydration that I had never experienced before. I could feel my throat dry all the way down to my lungs. At this point I realized that if I didn’t hydrate I was going to injure myself pretty soon. So I told Cris “That’s it, I have to go to the river and get some water”. The water wasn’t too muddy but it wasn’t crystal clear either. I jumped in the river, washed my face over and over, and started drinking water like a race horse. I immediately felt like somebody blew life over me. I filled up my backpack just in case Cris wanted to drink some, and started climbing back up to the road. Back on the road I asked Cris if he wanted to drink some water and he immediately reached to my camel-bag. Right away we both had a positive attitude. I was even singing while pulling and pushing the bike.IMG_6008

We went over two or three rock avalanches where there was no room for mistake and then it got completely dark. In the dark we had to pass a few difficult steps, then we got to the 6 km stretch of good road. At this point even after drinking lots of water from the river and riding a fairly easy road compared to what we’d been through, we still had to stop to take a break and encourage ourselves to keep going. In my mind I was re-winding all the events from the day and started to feel safer like it was all over. Everything changed dramatically at the scene of a collapsed bridge, a bit passed 10 pm. There were few moments in the day when I was thinking to push the Help button on my SPOT device. But then I thought I was going to panic all my family and friends back in Canada. At this point I just wanted to let Camelia know that I was not injured but I needed help. So I decided to press the check in OK button, thinking that everybody else but her would think that we were camping and having a lot of fun.DCIM100GOPRO

We left the bikes on the road and Cris had a flashlight, the weakest on the face of the planet. Knowing that the locals are riding their horses through here, I knew there had to be a way down to the river and up on the other side, so we started looking for it. After a little bit of walking through the night, through boulders 4-5 m high, we found the way through. We came back to the bikes and took my bike across first. We manged to get the bike down to the river, over the river and some of the big boulders, but the fatigue took its toll. We were facing a 3 m steep slope that usually, with a lot of momentum, it would be easy to clear, but at that time I could only hear Cristobal’s voice “With speed, with speed”. Unfortunately I didn’t even have enough energy to twist the throttle. I stepped off my bike and it was the first time I told Cris “We need help”. Thinking about the two guys on horses that made us come this way we decided to start walking towards civilization to find help. Five minutes into the walk, our jaws dropped. Another collapsed bridge that looked way more difficult than the other one. We got down to the river and Cris said “Maybe we can take the bikes into the river and ride the river”. I pointed the flashlight to the right and showed him the 4-5 m waterfall. At this point both of us were very confused about what was going to happen. We decided to go back to the bikes, pick up our helmets and keys and walk to the next village. When we got back to the bikes we could barely stand on our own two feet. So we decided to sleep for a little bit. We were super warmed up from all the effort and immediately it felt very cosy and relieving. After about half hour Cris woke up and said “Vasile, if we sleep here we should make a fire or we should walk to the highway”. I said “Let’s walk to the highway” so he walked to the other side of the river to pick up the helmets and his motorcycle keys. I was getting extremely cold so until he came back I tucked underneath the bike and wrapped my hands around the exhaust pipes which were still warm.

When he got back we started walking down the river and I was getting more and more concerned about getting the bikes out, looking around the places we had to go through. About a km later, at the bottom of the valley, we would see some light pollution. We knew it had to be the village or the highway. I think I was asking Cris over and over again the same question: “How are we going to get the bikes out?”

Finally we got to the rail crossing where there was a guy working the night shift. He was very kind and gave us water and Cris and I were trying to switch sim cards so we can call and let people know that we were ok, as his phone battery had died. Apparently sim card from an I-phone doesn’t work on an Android so we started walking to the highway to take a bus or hitch-hike to Santiago.

Walking down on the gravel road I heard Cris saying “Mi papa” (my dad), looking at some guys around a car in the middle of the road. I thought he was just trying to be funny after all that happened. Getting closer to the group he started shaking their hands. Being so tired, even at this point, I couldn’t realize what was going on. But then I saw Camelia next to me talking to me.

Turned out she got the message exactly as I intended it. She was relived that I was ok, but seeing that we have not moved for a few hours (she checked the SPOT) she realized there must have been something wrong with the bikes. At the same time, Cris’ dad was trying to reach him on the phone and as he was not answering, he got worried and he went to the house to check what was going on. There he found Camelia. Together they looked at the SPOT, put the pieces of the puzzle together and they decided they needed to come for us. Cris’ dad knew the road we were on very well, as he was a biker himself, so he knew where to come find us. His dad and his partner were just coming back from a fishing trip 1000 km away from Santiago, and now they were driving with Camelia in the middle of the night to find us.

We were so happy to see them! We jumped in the car and headed to Santiago. As we were starving, we stopped at a gas station on the way to grab a bite to eat. Camelia asked Cris “Are you sure you are going to find your bikes tomorrow and no one is going to steal them?” And Cris’ answer was “If anyone gets it out of there, I’m gonna pay him” 🙂

We got back to Santiago around 3 am and went straight to bed.

The next day we woke up and proceeded the rescue mission. Cris called his cousin Francisco to drive us there and once there we started asking people for help, and especially looking for somebody with a horse. After a bit of walking around we came across some people willing to help. We started heading towards the bikes and the scene was just as I expected: very difficult to go through. It’s amazing how positive you look at things when you are hydrated and have enough food in your belly. Compared to the other night this time I had no doubt in my mind, I was going to make it through to the other side.

Once at the bikes I tried starting my bike but after the cold over night and all the first gear stop and go from previous day it didn’t start, so I showed Cris the secret back to back bump start 🙂DCIM100GOPRO

We started going over stuff, carving roads, shifting rocks and towing the bikes with the horse. But soon enough the horse got spooked from the sound of the engines and starting jumping and kicking, throwing off the boy who was riding him. Nothing happened with the boy, except a few scratches, but unfortunately I cannot say the same thing about the horse. The boy’s father made sure he gave the horse a lesson, totally unnecessary if you ask me.DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO

After this, the only power we used was human power, making it through all the difficult steps with a lot of caution and teamwork. About 5 o’clock in the afternoon we had the bikes out of the valley.

The next day in Santiago I washed both bikes and did some work on my bike, had an amazing dinner with Cris’ family and overall I think it was an experience I will never forget and I also made a friendship that I hope it will last a lifetime.

Here is a video to sum up some of the stuff we’ve been through.

Thank you very much Cristobal for everything and I have no regrets for what happened. If I had to do it again I probably would:) Remember, you always have a friend in Canada.

Categories: Chile | 2 Comments

New friends and new adventures in Chile

Once in Chile we found ourselves stuck in a humongous line of cars and commercial trucks, as there was only a one lane road. They are building a highway, so for now only one lane is open, and apparently during the day it is open for the traffic that comes from Argentina, and during the night for the traffic that comes from Chile. The road descends very fast, it is very steep and incredibly twisty, so the big commercial trucks go very slow. As it was only one lane it was very hard to pass them. We would manage to pass one at each turn, while the front of the truck would go wide, before the rest of the truck would go diagonally on the turn. Not extremely safe but the only option. Sometimes we would try and pass on the tiny gravel shoulder (wherever there was one) and then we would have the surprise to realize it was very loose gravel, and much lower than the road further down, so it would make it a bit challenging to get back on the road in between two big trucks. But we finally managed to pass them all (I am sure there were at least a hundred) and pick up some speed.

Not a very clear picture, but you can see the winding road full of commercial trucks


And here we were cruising at over 100 km an hour on the highway, when we saw a road toll. In almost all countries we traveled through so far bikes were not paying any road tolls. Well, it looks like here we had to pay. The problem was, as we just entered Chile, and there were no banks on the side of the highway, obviously, we did not have any cash. And they did not take credit cards. The lady tells us we can go back to some casino, where they have an ATM, and we can get cash. That was many km back. So we were like “Are you telling us that we have to go this many km back to get cash so we can pay $2 for this toll?” As there were many cars waiting behind us, she called her supervisor for a solution. Here she came, a very nice lady, and she told us she couldn’t let us go through the gate without paying (which we totally understood, they must have their systems) but she could let us go by on the side, on a tiny trail. As there were no banks in between this paying station and the next one, she offered to call the next station and let them know, so they let us go through.

Got to the next toll, at least this time we stopped on the side of the road so we didn’t block the traffic again. The girl there told us the same thing, she couldn’t let us go through the gate if we didn’t pay. We asked her if anyone called, she had no idea, she sent me to talk to the boss in the office. Went to find the boss, yes, he got the phone call, so he came with us and he opened the gate for us. Very nice people.

Someone asked me once if I had to move from Vancouver to any of the places I have traveled through, which one I would pick. So far I would have said Columbia, Medellin. But now I would say Chile. We love Chile! Same mellow traffic as in Argentina, or maybe even better, friendly and open people with open minds, beautiful landscapes.

We got to Santiago late, in the dark, after riding between thousands of vineyards (Chile is the fifth largest exporter of wine in the world) and we were expecting to see at least here some craziness, as it is the capital. No, it was the most mellow and civilized traffic I have seen in any capital of the world so far. Driving around to find a hotel, we got stopped by police. Apparently we didn’t stop at a stop sign. No one ever stopped at a stop sign in the whole Central and South America so far. We did slow down, check and kept going. No, here you have to come to a complete stop. Which is how it is supposed to be. This reminds me of the rules in my own country, as I almost forgot them:) We explained the officer that we have been traveling a lot, and where we’ve been it was normal not to stop at a stop sign, but just to be careful. He understood, just reminded us that in this country rules are really enforced, so we should abide. With the promise to be more careful, he let us go.

Right when we were leaving, a guy in a car on the side of the road asked me if we had any tools to fix a flat tire. We stopped and tried to help him, but his tire was pinched badly, so he had to go and have it replaced.

It was about 10:30 pm by now. So we rode round and round to find a hotel. Along with civilizations come high prices. A hostel private room was $85 USD, and they had no parking for the bikes either. But the lady there kindly gave us a map with all the hotels and hostels in town. The problem was, none of them had parking. We found a hotel with decent prices, but now we had to find a safe parking for the bikes. While Vasile was walking around to look for a parking, I was sitting by the bikes. And I see this guy shows up on a KTM  950 Adventure and parks his bike right next to ours. He comes and he starts chatting with me: where are we from, did we have any problems with the bikes etc. In the meantime Vasile shows up and they start talking about KTM mechanics and stuff. Vasile asks him if he knows of a safe parking in the area, as he could not find one, and the guy goes “Well, no, I don’t. But I just have a job here, for about an hour, and if you want to wait for me you can come to my house, I have another KTM there but I still have enough room for the bikes, and you can sleep there too”. Wow, we were blown away by his generosity and friendliness. After all he just met us. We gladly took his offer and around 12:30 am we were riding to his place. He made us feel so welcome and we met his little friend, Rocky, the cutest and most playful dog, five months’ old.


And just so you know, Rocky rides the bike too, just like all other members of the family


He even knows mechanics, he was helping Vasile to fix the bike

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And he was obsessed with cleanliness – he kept licking us, I guess that was a hint we needed a shower:)

SAMSUNGAfter having some good Chinese dinner, Cris kindly offered to take us on a nice ride the next day.

As we went to bed probably around 2 am, the next day I was feeling too tired, so I let them go by themselves riding. They were supposed to come back in half day or so. Well it was almost 10 pm and they were not home. I checked the SPOT to see where they were and I saw they were in the mountains, still on the gravel road, a few hours away from home. Five minutes later I got an OK spot message from Vasile. Ok, that means they are ok, but since the SPOT shows me they haven’t moved for a few hours, and they are in the mountains, they must have some mechanical problems. Unfortunately I had no phone number to call them and I didn’t know anyone else here to ask for help. Luckily Cristobal’s dad (Cristobal is our new friend’s name) came by, as he called him all day with no answer, and he got worried. Together we looked at the info we had and we decided to go and look for them. Cristobal’s dad is a biker himself, so he knew the road the guys were on, and he recognized the place right away. He knew exactly where to go look for them. He called a friend of Cristobal who had a pick up truck to join us, just in case we needed to put the bikes in the truck. We drove there in the middle of the night and right when we were turning onto the gravel road we saw the guys walking towards us, all muddy and tired. Turned out they got stuck with their bikes in some really bad places so they had to leave the bikes there and walk to the road, hoping they could hitch-hike back to Santiago and the next day get some help and go get the bikes. You can imagine how happy they were to see us.

The next day they went with some help and managed to bring the bikes home. They were both sore from all the effort and moving like robots. But despite this, Vasile was all excited about the ride and impressed with Cris’ skills on such a big bike. I am sure  they will both remember this adventure for the rest of their lives.

The day after Vasile spent it cleaning and fixing the bike while I went to the mall with Cris’ step-mother. Fortunately no major problems caused, so by the evening the bikes were ready. We had some nice Romanian dinner (I finally adventured to cook a Romanian chicken paprikas), some delicious pisco sour, the traditional Chilean drink, along with some good quality conversation with the Rivera family. What an awesome family! Thanks again for your hospitality and a few incredible days.


A separate post will follow with the details of the guys’ ride. Some crazy stuff, believe me, I’ve seen the pictures! Stay tuned.

Categories: Chile | 2 Comments

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:


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.


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


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


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.


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).

IMG_5912 IMG_5915

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!


Categories: Argentina, Chile | Leave a comment

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