Let’s ride south! Back into Argentina the roads flattened and the wind picked up. Our destination was the booming (not) town of Gobernador Gregores, 257 miles to the south. When Deby and I were there last time there was no gas at the only gas station and we participated in a big party in line. For some reason this is a recurring problem in this part of Argentina so we were sure to keep out tanks full. Nothing but big wide open spaces in this part of Patagonia.
About halfway down we stopped at the even smaller town of Bajo Caracoles where there is an even smaller gas stop.
A popular stop with motorcycle travelers, everyone seems to leave behind a sticker. Hey – here’s mine from 2017.
Ruta 40 is the only road paved road in the area so it’s kind of hard to get lost. Because of that, we didn’t always ride within sight of each other. Somehow, Deby and I lost track of both Chris and Michael. When we got to Bajo Caracols we waited and Chris showed up. Strange, we thought he was behind Michael, so did Chris. Hmmm, where’s Michael? We waited and waited and eventually were wondering if we should send out a search party to cover the last 150 miles since we last saw him. Flat tire? Accident? Lost?
As I was about to go back, we saw him riding down the road. At the last gas stop Deby and I took off following the signs for Ruta 40 which seemed pretty obvious. Michael also followed signs for Ruta 40 but it took him a while to figure out he was riding NORTH.
Soon we were back together and riding the correct direction. By this time the wind was really kicking up and we spent the afternoon doing battle with mother nature and trying to keep our bikes on the road. All too soon we were in Gobernador Gregores and checked into the Hosteria Lago Cardiel.
Deby and I were in the lobby drinking a beer and talking with another rider when someone came in gesturing towards us and saying something in rapid Spanish. It was so windy that Deby’s motorcycle, which was parked on the side, stand blew over and was on the ground! Wow. The owners of the hotel then recommended we move all the bikes to the walkway where they were a little more protected. Good idea.
Wednesday morning we decided to get an early start for what everyone said was the most “dangerous” part of the ride. Bad roads, loose gravel, high winds and whatever else. Ok, it was windy enough to blow over a parked 600 pound motorcycle the day before so possibly with an early start we would beat some of the wind. It turns out we were right.
This was one of the better sections of road.
Long, straight, loose in sections and high wind, but we made it. The next stop was Tres Lagos where there was another small gas station that is well known for not having gas. Deby and I had been there twice before and they were out. If Tres Lagos is without fuel it would be possible to make it to our destination of El Calafate but we would need our extra fuel bottles and even that might not be enough depending on the wind.
Hey look… another one of our stickers from our last trip!
We were in luck, they had gas! That meant we had plenty to get to El Calafate but even better… we would have enough gas to make the 100 mile in-and-out side trip to El Chalten a small city that is the launching point for trekking to Mt. Fitz Roy, one of the most iconic mountains in South America.
After filling our tanks we were taking a break from the wind and watched the locals use a dump truck to break the bead on a truck tire. Just drive back and forth over it a few times and it worked. I suppose that’s one way to do it.
Below is an iconic picture of Mt. Fitz Roy from Wikipedia
It was a rare combination of events that made this side trip possible, relatively clear weather so we had a chance to see the mountain and the ability to procure fuel at all three stops. Off we went to the west to check it out.
We rode along the north shore of Lago Viedma and had fantastic views of this sunning green lake.
Peak-a-boo views of the mountain as we rode into the park.
We rode into the small town and as we entered the main street we were waved to the side of the road by two women that looked like police. Not sure what they wanted, everyone pointed to me, the closest thing we had to a Spanish speaker. Geesh. They handed out an orange safety strap thing for each of us, that looked like something a crossing guard would wear. We were supposed to wear them while riding our motorcycles in the town? Hmmm, it seemed strange but who was I to argue. We couldn’t figure how to strap the things on over our jackets and helmets so we just threw them over our helmets and rode off. I took a picture of Chris with his on.
On the way out on the only exit point to the town the women were gone and we wondered what to do with the blaze orange straps. We stopped at a visitor center/museum and handed them to the park rangers who were manning the office. They laughed and didn’t know what the whole thing was about either. As we left I saw one of the rangers proudly wearing one.
Finally caught a pretty good glimpse of the mountain on our way out.
We were battling a pretty fierce head wind for much of the way and we knew our gas mileage was suffering by looking at our fuel gauges. It was soon apparent we weren’t going to make our destination without using our spare fuel.
Here is a video, it was so windy we had a hard time pouring gas in the bikes. Ha.
It was close, but we made it into El Calafate where we would stay for two nights, another layover day. We used our day off to be tourists and visit the Perito Moreno Glacier.
It’s one of those places that everyone should add to a South America trip. There are a series of walkways that get pretty close to the glacier wall where you can watch, and listen, to the giant chunks of ice “calving” into the water. Having another day off was kind of nice but we were getting a little restless with the short riding days of the tour.
Friday morning and we were off for the last real day of riding into Torres del Paine National Park.
Checking the forecast… not very good. “Steady soaking rain”, wind and cool temps.
It would also be our last border crossing of the trip. They say when you go from Argentina into Chile you trade the wind for the rain. It didn’t work that way for us. We had strong wind in Argentina that stayed with us on the loose gravel road that took us to the border crossing. It was tough riding getting to the Argentina side of the border. We were battling to keep the bikes on the road with the strong crosswind sliding our tires across the unpredictable and deep dirt and rocks. It’s hard to take a picture of the wind but Michael tried to capture it with this one.
Suddenly we came to this.
A nice new section of road as far as we could see.
We were wind whipped and tired when we reached the border. It was another relatively easy crossing with only a short line and we were glad to be in the warm building for a short break. When we left the border, Michael and Chris decided to stop at the only restaurant in the tiny town for some food. Deby and I opted to eat a protein bar from our stash and get to the hotel early.
We were glad to find a nice paved road on the Chile side which made riding in the rain easier until we rounded a corner and the pavement suddenly ended about the same time the rain started pounding down. Now Deby and I were riding on mud in a construction zone with a relentless cross wind.
This was essentially the last day riding for us and I was thinking about how lucky we had been during the last 3,000 miles with no crashes or mishaps. As I navigated the gravel and mud with only limited visibility due to rain on my face shield and fog on my glasses I thought of our trip in 2012 in South America with Dave and Keith. On that trip Dave had a crash on the second to last day resulting in an ambulance ride and flight home. I told Deby in our helmet radio that I didn’t want that to happen to us and we both rode a little more carefully. We were cold, wet, miserable, tired and just a little bit lost. Somehow we missed a turn in the construction because the sign was gone and I was watching the road more than my GPS. Even after we circled back, it wasn’t clear we were on the right road into the remote Torres del Paine park. The new road took us out of the construction zone but this road was little more than two ruts through the mountains. Where were the other cars? Isn’t this a National Park? Shouldn’t there be buses? Campers? Other tourists. I stopped a few times and convinced myself we were on the most direct road to our destination so we slogged along with our spirits as damp as our jackets.
The park is supposed to be spectacular and one of the top tourist spots in all of Patagonia. Deby and I skipped it in the past because of bad weather and might have this time except for our hotel reservations in the park. I didn’t take any pictures during this section because there wasn’t much to see but gray clouds and wet roads. As you might guess we made it to the hotel where they had our now favorite beer waiting for us.
Maybe the hotel operators felt sorry for us, after bringing us beers in the lodge they built a huge wood fire in the fireplace next to some comfy sofas. Deby and I sunk into the soft cushions soaking up the warmth of the fire and toasted to another successful day of riding. It was so wet outside that some local free range horses moved under the overhang of the lodge and were eating flowers planted next to the building. Nobody seemed to care.
We were a little worried about Michael and Chris who preferred to navigate without a GPS and instead rely on old fashioned paper maps. After a few hours I wondered what I would do if they didn’t show up? Go looking? Get back on the bike in the rain after a few beers? I discussed it with Deby and we concluded they were grown up men and highly skilled motorcycle riders so they could figure it out. She was right. Michael and Chris found their way and were soon joining us at the fire.
I thought the hotel was a bust. It had a nice lodge style main building where we spent most of our time but our room was in a separate building that was not much better than a average motel. The real problem started when the tour buses started arriving. Suddenly the large cafeteria was full of noisy and rude tourists. I couldn’t tell for sure where they were from but I suspected somewhere in Europe. I nearly had an altercation with one of them in the coffee line. I think we were tired and ready to wrap up the trip.
Saturday would be the last day. We needed to cover a whopping 53 miles out of the park to the city of Puerto Natales where we would drop off the bikes at the hotel. There was no reason to leave early but there was no reason to stay late either. Of course it was raining.
We learned the road out of the park to the south was the main route in that the tour buses took instead of our back route from the east. That meant the road was only slightly better and now we would have to pass trucks and buses along the way. There were long stretches of construction.
We arrived in Puerto Natales plenty early and said goodbye to the bikes. Deby’s Honda 500X was a great motorcycle for her despite having a blown rear shock for most of the trip. Good thing Deby doesn’t weigh much and it didn’t bother her much.
The mighty Honda Africa Twin was perfect as would be expected from a Honda. I did leave it a little dirtier than when I picked it up.
Here is the route for the whole trip. Altogether it was about 3,000+ miles over three weeks.
The trip home was long. A 3 hour van ride to the airport in Punta Arenas. A 3 hour flight to Santiago where we had a 6 hour layover. At least we had a nice balcony restaurant to hang out and wait.
We caught a glimpse of Torres del Paines park from the airplane. It looked like the clouds were clearing. You can see the snow capped mountains and the lake we rode along in the rain.
Nine hours to Houston and five more hours to home where we landed in near blizzard conditions.
Ok, seriously, this is very unusual for Seattle. Our son picked us up in my 4×4 truck and we made it home as the snow kept accumulating. It snowed 24 inches that night! Welcome home!
I took the above picture when I woke up in the morning. I was thinking it’s a good thing the power is still on when just then, the lights went out. Ha! Back to real life.
So this concludes the 2019 Donn and Deby Adventure trip to Patagonia. Thanks Michael for winning the trip so we all had a good excuse to return. It was fantastic riding with Dr. Science on his first out of the country motorcycle trip.
What’s next??? We are sick of the snow…. Deby made reservations online for a cabana on the beach in Mexico. Nice! And… were going to ride our motorcycles down. A hmmm, one problem…. we leave in four days!
This morning I took this picture of my shop that houses our motorcycles. That’s about three feet of snow and ice blocking the doors.
The adventure continues….
Donn and Deby