December 28, 2010


We've been in Ushuaia for about ten days now and feel quite at home here. We spent the first four nights in a very nice hostel that was more like a hotel than a hostel.  We were about a 35-45 minute walk from downtown which gave us some needed exercise, especially on the return as a good part of the walk was uphill!  Our second home away from home is a cabana with a small kitchen that allows us to cook some of our own meals.  We will stay here for at least one night after we return from Antarctica.

Ushuaia bills itself as the southern most city in the world:  "Fin del Mundo" (The End of the Earth) and has a population of approximately 60,000.  The downtown area is laid out in an orderly grid-work pattern, but the rest of the city sprawls into the foothills of the snow covered 1500m mountains that back drop three side of the town.  The south side is where the harbor is located on the Beagle Channel.  The setting is quite beautiful and has been a very pleasant place to stay in the run-up to Christmas and our cruise departure date.

Christmas was low key here, but there were enough decorations around to remind us of the season.  The grocery store  was very crowded on Christmas Eve day as we jostled with the other customers buying our last minute items before the big holiday.  The small kitchen (with no oven) dictated what we could prepare for Christmas dinner, but RA did a great job rustling up some tasty chicken soup.
The hostel staff left us a nice gift of a small chocolate Christmas tree and a bottle of bubbly--much appreciated.  We had a great time opening our presents (most of which have been consumed) around the kitchen table while the wind blew and the rain came and went and came again.

The Polar Star sails at 1800 tomorrow and we will be out of contact until January 7.  During that time I'll try to send some SPOT messages even though we will be out of satellite coverage according to the SPOT website.  The Polar Star link to the left will probably only give you intermittent hits on our location; the site is a bit flaky, but is the best free one that I have found. 

All the best in the New Year to all of our followers and friends; we'll raise a glass to you from The White Continent!!

December 20, 2010

Mission Accomplished!

Well in spite of Mother Nature's best efforts, we made it through the winds of Patagonia to the 'end of the world'! Since my last posting from El Calafate, we have been letting the weather dictate where and how far we travel. tells us when the winds will be down, so we can leave early and dash a couple of hundred kilometers before they start picking up in the afternoon. RuthAnn and I had been dreading the 85 miles of gravel, a ferry crossing over the Straits of Magellan, and two border crossings that lay in our path between Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia, but, as the 'esposos' keep telling us, its never as bad as we imagine it.

There is no paved road all the way to Ushuaia, and all along the route we had heard horror stories about the gravel stretch from other motorcyclists that had been beaten by wind, rain, and grading. We may be riding dirt bikes and look dirty, but we are not dirt riders! So we stayed in a beautiful estancia right where the pavement ended and made the trek on a lovely, dry, sunny day without incident. Then it was the ferry over the Straits, another rough, windy waterway. But the sun god smiled again, and we zipped up the ramp and sailed smoothly over to the other side. And as if we haven't had enough borders to cross, we had to go into Chile and then back into Argentina because of the way the 'frontera' is drawn. Oh well, it was a chance to warm up from the very brisk temperatures that we are now experiencing. By the way, that made border crossing number 15!

Upon arriving in Ushuaia, we headed the further 20 kms to Tierra Del Fuego National Park where Ruta 3 ends. This is considered the 'end of the world' and is marked by a monument where everyone heads for their photo op. We had traveled for 83 days and covered 19,929 kms! Several buses had preceded our arrival and their passengers greeted us like celebrities, taking our pictures and asking questions. Many of the wives appeared grateful considering that they were traveling with their couch-potatoes on a nice warm bus instead of being us!

So now we wait for the next leg of our journey – Antarctica! Our ship, the Polar Star, a Swedish icebreaker in its former life, sails December 29th.  RuthAnn and I are planning for the worst and stocking up on Dramamine for the crossing but hope to be well enough to bring in the New Year kissing a penguin!

Merry Christmas everybody!

December 19, 2010

Part I Accomplished

We've been to the end of the road; Part I has been achieved!! We now have until the 29th when we will begin Part II--our cruise to Antarctica on the Polar Star.

December 15, 2010

Gas (nafta)

In the dark of the night two YPF (Argentina's largest energy company) tankers delivered gas to their station in El Calafate and we were able to fill up the bikes. We also got fuel in La Esperanza on the way to Rio Gallegos only to find a shortage here in RG as well. A little research tells us there is a labor dispute and some of the oil production facilities have shut down restricting the flow of crude to the refineries. This all gets curiouser and'd better stay tuned a little longer!

Four hours later: After lunch Ross and I walked down to the YPF station and saw a tanker there. We were soon in a queue for fuel for the second time today; 50 minutes later we were back in our rooms preparing for tomorrow's ride to Cerro Sombrero, Chile.

December 14, 2010

Windy Defeat

Wind is a very interesting phenomena and we have been experiencing it in spades.  Yesterday we planned a little excursion up to El Chalten to look at another Andean gem--the Fitz Roy massif.  A short 200+ km putt up, overnight in a nice hostel, and then back to El Calafate today.

The wind howled most of Sunday night, but eased up by dawn.  We were on the road a little after eight and headed east out of town with a good tailwind.  All hell broke loose when we made the left turn north on to Ruta 40.  We now had a direct, gusty crosswind of at least40-50 mph (60+ was forecast). We hugged the center line of the road in order to have an empty lane to use when the strong gusts hit us.  After about 5 km, Ross pulled over in the wind shadow of a small hill to consult with the rest of us; it was unanimous--we turn around and head back to El Calafate.  A big 4WD tour vehicle pulled up next to us and offered to drive in the left lane and protect us from the wind, but we declined the offer, got ourselves turned around and headed for the barn. 

Once back at the hostel we regrouped and decided to take the bus which left at 1300.  We eventually boarded a very nice motor coach and left right on time.  All went well until we got to the police check point on the edge of town.  The road to El Chalten was closed due to the high winds!!  Back to the station, fares refunded, rooms procured at the hostel and El Chalten abandoned for this trip.

What’s next?  No gas in town now due to the lack of tankers that were also stopped by the road closures.  We used 70 km worth of gas on our outing yesterday; there might be gas 160 km down the road, or we may have to go all the way to Rio Gallegos……  If we drive about 50 mph, we think we can stretch the fuel and make it all the way.  We may have a quartering tailwind which will help--stay tuned!!

PS  I'm working on a Top Ten List of Things You Always Wanted to Know About Wind and Motorcycles--I already have 15 things :-)

Ice on the Rocks

El Calafate is another tourist town and the center for trekking, climbing,and sightseeing for this part of Patagonia hard by the border with Chile.  As Jean mentioned in the previous post we used El Calafate as a base to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier and Torres del Paine.  The pictures to the right give you an idea of the incredible scenery Patagonia has to offer.
We needed a bike break so let the bus drivers do the driving while we relaxed in the back.
The glacier trip included taking the older gravel road into the park, a one hour hike, two hours at the viewing  platforms and a one hour boat trip to see the glacier from the water.  We had a wonderful day for this outing with blue skies, comfortable temps, and very little wind.  The glacier is very impressive and the almost constant booming and crackling as ice breaks off and falls into the water makes it come alive.  We brought our own lunch of bread, cheese, ham, and olives which we enjoyed while looking at and listening to the glacier.
 The next day we were away by 0730 on our 4WD Mercedes truck/bus for a fourteen hour journey to Chile and Torres del Paine National Park and back. The Torres del Paine Massif is quite unique and we saw it from all angles.   We had some strong, cold winds on this outing, but our picnic area by a waterfall was sheltered and warm with a picture postcard view of the imposing Massif.  The trip ended with a 90 minute hike to see a lake, waterfall, and more views of the mountains. We saw a lot of wild life on the trip including guanacos, condors, rheas, rabbits, fox, and many different birds.

December 9, 2010

Blown Away

Well the winds down here are frightful!
But the scenery is so delightful!
So no matter how hard it blows,
We've got to go, got to go, got to go!

Patagonia is know for its tremendous winds which are no wonder when you see how close the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are at this narrow point of South America. Cold winds blow across the Andes from the Pacific side and then are pushed back by gusts from the Atlantic. In the middle are four very small motorcycles being tossed around like pinballs! But in answer to that frequently asked question-yes we are having fun yet.

Every country has its own unique characteristics and Argentina immediately struck us with the awesome beauty of its snow capped mountains reflected in bright blue lakes. We crossed over from Chile into the Lakes District where its Spring and the flowers are in bloom everywhere. Purple, mauve and pink lupins line the roads and contrast with a verdant yellow bush similar to our forsythia, that has taken over the countryside. On a tour to the Black Glacier, I asked our guide the name of the bush and he said “plague”! Seems its the gift that keeps on giving. Crossing over the border through a national park, we saw the monkey trees for the first time. They have the size and shape of a pine but the branches look like monkey's tails and are very sharp like cactus. We took a time-out for some sight seeing in Bariloche, a bustling tourist town that looks like it was transplanted from an Austrian village with its chalet style architecture and window boxes.

Then it was on to Patagonia. They call it “mystical” and it truly is, firstly for its vast wilderness and secondly for its variety of wildlife. Picture land stretching as far as the eye can see with only short scrub and all of a sudden a herd of guanacos appears. They look like llamas with dirty faces but in fact are a cousin of the vicuña. This is followed by what at first appeared to be miniature ostrich but turn out to be rheas. Condors once again make a brief appearance and we pass a lake full of pink flamingos. The occasional gaucho, wearing a 'Zorro' hat, can be seen riding horseback with his dogs following behind as he inspects his estansia.

Ok, you motorcycle enthusiasts ask, what about the riding, the bikes, Ruta Cuarenta? Well the riding is fantastic! Great roads, well signed, little traffic. The bikes are performing admirably with nothing more than chain lubing and periodic tightening. Ruta Cuarenta, the longest road in Argentina with over 5,000 kms and one of the longest in the world, is also one of the most challenging in parts where it is not paved and is buffeted by the aforementioned winds. So we blew that off and only rode the paved sections which we believe still qualifies us to display the “I rode R40” stickers.

We are now back near the Chilean border to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier and Torres del Paine before continuing the trek south. They're calling for 120 km winds for Sunday-think I'll go to church!

December 5, 2010

Argentina at Last

The past week has been a very interesting one--fun places to stay and the best scenery of our trip to date. 

We spent two nights at the Residencial Rincon just north of Los Angeles, Chile.  We were only a couple of kilometers off the toll road, but felt that we were alone in the country miles from anyone else.  It is a small hostal run by a German couple who emigrated to Chile twenty years ago, bought some land and built a very nice place  for travelers to stay.  The accommodations were rustic, the beer was cold, and the three plate dinners superb.

Our last night in Chile was spent in Pucon on Lake Villarrica at the foot of Volcan Villarrica, a beautiful, snow covered active volcano.

When we left the next morning it was cool and misting for our ride to the Paso Mamull Malal and the frontera between Chile and Argentina.  It was cold and windy at the border with the mist starting to freeze on the mirrors of the bikes! Unfortunately three tour buses were clearing the border as well and this slowed our crossing which took a little over two hours. 

It was cold in Junin de los Andes where we spent the night at the Hosteria Chimechuin, apparently a mecca for trout fishermen.  The walls of the lobby and dining room were covered with pictures of men and their prized catches.

The ride to San Carlos de Bariloche was a cool and windy one, but the scenery kept getting better and better.  Beautiful mountain lakes (some complete with trout fishermen up to their armpits in the cold water) back dropped by snow covered peaks told us that we had indeed arrived in Patagonia.

Bariloche is a tourist town pure and simple, but what a setting:  lakes and snow covered mountain peaks.  Cerro (Mount) Catedral boasts the largest ski complex in the southern hemisphere and we decided to take a look see.   A thirty minute city bus ride took us to the base of the mountain where we then rode the cable car and chair lift to the summit (approximately 7500 feet above sea level).  It was a beautiful day with bright sun, blue sky, and just a light breeze.  The snow laced mountains stretched to the horizon and we were quite pleased with ourselves for spending a few hours in such a beautiful place. 

Yesterday we boarded a minibus for the ten hour round-trip excursion to Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi and home to Cerro Tronador (Thunder Mountain) and Ventisquero Negro (Black Glacier); we also visited the impressive Cascada Los Alerces.  The glacier really is black (the color comes from the dirt and sediment it picks up; another glacier that intersects it adds to the mix).  Tronador lived up to its name when we heard a loud boom and saw a huge avalanche come cascading down the side of the mountain!  It was a fitting end to a very enjoyable outing. 

We are spending tonight in Esquel, a sleepy  Patagonian town--especially on a Sunday.  It appears that many of the 1960 era Ford Falcons and 1970s Renaults, Fiats, and Peugeots have a home here!

December 1, 2010

Back to the Future

We knew things were going to be different right from the border. A beautiful, Chilean policewoman beckoned us to park our bikes near the administration building and promptly brought us the forms to complete for our immigration which we accomplished in record time.

Staying on the Pan American Highway, we rode down through the continuing coastal desert, similar to Peru but right away noticed the changes. The drivers were more courteous, the roadsides cleaner and there were road and street signs. Even the roadside shrines were more elaborate with staircases and pavilions covering them. A Swiss national we had met in Columbia had said he thought Chile felt more like Europe and we found that too. Our guide book claims this sense of discipline and order is a left over from the regimentation of the past dictatorships. Whatever, we're glad to find clean, well stocked rest rooms, modern accommodations and great restaurants.

Our first big adventure was crossing the Atacama Desert. This is one of the driest places on earth with one area not having received rain in over 400 years! It has a beauty all its own with its incredible vistas as far as the eye can see of only sand. Just south of Antofagasta, we came to “The Hand of the Desert”, a giant sculpture 11 meters high done by a Chilean sculptor in the 1980s. An obvious photo op! The topography includes rolling hills and distant mountains rich in copper which has protected this country from the economic downturn affecting the rest of the world. We passed through Copiapo where the 33 miners had been trapped for over a month but they were visiting the US and we didn't see any sign of the recent notoriety. With long stretches of barren land and not carrying extra fuel, planning our food and fuel stops was vital. It also resulted in some short days when accommodations were too far apart. Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn, the road turned west to the coast and we encountered foggy mornings and cooler temperatures but spectacular scenery!

Santiago, the capital, was our destination for major servicing of the bikes. We spent three days getting fresh rubber, oil, new chain and sprockets for me, speedo cable for Ross, valve checks for all, etc. An added bonus was bike baths all around thrown in by both the Kawi and BMW dealers. It was probably because they didn't want to touch them in their filthy condition. All of this plus a great afternoon in a pub was facilitated by Rick Stephan, one of Mo's far-flung relatives who got things set up and made our life easy.

You probably remember there was a huge earthquake, the largest ever recorded in Chile, earlier this year and we stayed just north of the area in a place called Talca. They are still working on replacing some bridges and road surfaces but other than that, there is not much sign of the recent devastation. We enjoyed a lovely evening, dinner on a patio, retired to our room, the bed started shaking and then the earth moved! No not that, at 5:30AM, we awoke to two different tremors. Steve and RuthAnn had plaster falling around them so they dressed and went outside. Ross rolled over and went back to sleep.

We've just spent a day off relaxing in a lovely country hostel on the bank of a river, reading books and sampling the local Chilean vino and cerveza. It's a tough ride but we're managing!