I wrote my last post, about Bolivia, three weeks ago even though it only got posted about a week ago, in Santiago. This is largely due to poor internet access in many places and tiredness on my part.
Had I managed to get this post out straight after it, as intended, I had planned a witticism along the lines of blog posts from me are like London buses; they often contain odd looking blokes whose clothes smell like they haven’t seen a washing machine for weeks. But that’s adventure biking for you.
This is getting written beside Lago Buenos Aires, which is a very long way from the actual Buenos Aires, in a sleepy little town called Los Antiguos where we have had a day off. It is now only 1400km to Ushuaia according to my satnav and we appear to be well on target for our eta of 22nd or thereabouts of November. But it hasn’t always looked like that to me in the past few days.
Until recently we have generally had the luxury of choosing the occasional challenging road to ride and have even dipped into a specialist website called The World’s Most Dangerous Roads (showing off a bit: ed.) to find them. That started to change in the south of Bolivia and has continued in Argentina and Chile as we have crisscrossed from one to the other over the Andes heading in a largely southerly direction. That’s not to say that there are no decent tarmac roads in either but there are certainly fewer where we are headed. These countries are home, respectively, to the legendary Ruta 40 and Carretera Austral. If you want to ride to Ushuaia you will be on one, or more likely both, of these for a large part of your trip.
Hardcore adventurers apparently bemoan the fact that both are now largely tarmac. Well, largely doesn’t mean entirely. In the last three days, for example, Tom Phil and I have ridden several hundred km of gravel, with small quantities of mud and sand, although not quite all of this has been on either R40 or the C. Austral to be fair.
All four of us left Trevelin, a quiet Welsh speaking town in a beautiful valley in Patagonia last Monday 6th Nov. but the gravel turned a bit tricky for Ian so he decided to turn back, staying in Argentina and going down the R40 to Perito Moreno, where we planned to meet up again in a couple of days. We were fairly sure this stretch of the R40 was tarmac and so it proved. His solo ride turned into a one day epic 570km involving an (alleged) 85mph encounter with a pothole and running out of fuel 20km outside Perito simply because there was nowhere to buy any. He had his spare jerrycan so got to PM ok.
We three carried on to the Chilean border through wonderful scenery and crossed in minutes. The only issue being Phil’s stash of cooking ingredients, including an onion, garlic, dried pasta and some partially defrosted leftover homemade Bolognese sauce. The vegetables got confiscated by a smiling Chilean customs officer but he wisely left us with the Bolognese. It got turned into an excellent chilli con carne later that day in a lovely log cabin beside a river.
However, before our well-earned supper we rode about another 120km of gravel, in which Phil finally lost his virginity. The only significant damage being to his left hand indicator and his pride and some temporary loss of sense of humour. We then had a fair bit of tarmac and arrived tired and wet as it had started to rain in the afternoon. We were revived by the onsite hot tub and then a foolhardy dip in the freezing aforementioned river! The indicator was repaired and the sense of humour seems to have returned. You’ll have to ask him about the pride.
The following morning we set off on the C. Austral in steady rain having been informed by the owner of the cabin that due to the overnight rain there had been a landslide and the road was blocked. A temporary ferry service had been set up to get vehicles around it and after that the next 70km would be gravel. Some of it deep. It was nonetheless an excellent day and I really am beginning to run out of superlatives to describe the astonishing scenery. Come and see it for yourself.
We had arrived in a sizeable town called Coyhaique and this was fortunate because when we tried to leave the following morning Tom’s battery was flat and wouldn’t respond to a spirited attempt at a push start from Phil and me. A heavy old beast (as is the KTM). Our host arranged for her friend to turn up within minutes in a truck with some sizeable jump leads and we got Tom moving. Sadly, however, his previously mildly troublesome clutch also then decided to give up the ghost! We found a good bike shop in town with a knowledgeable mechanic and the problem was diagnosed as a loss of fluid. It was topped up and a spare quantity purchased. After a much needed coffee and toasted sarnie we finally left about 12.15 for the border with Argentina and the intention of meeting up with Ian, resting in Perito Moreno, remember?
We crossed the border without too much delay and then did another 100km plus of gravel, also quite tough in places, made slightly more challenging by some discrepancies between my satnav (Phil’s has stopped working) and the road signs. I stopped a passing car to quiz them and was delighted to learn (unlike the last time I stopped a passing vehicle to ask for help. See – Bolivia. It’s complicated.) that we were indeed on the right road. At the end of the gravel we turned onto a beautifully asphalted R40 and rode about another 100km in lovely late afternoon sun through deserted pampas with astounding mountain views on our right and a wonderful blue sky dotted with perfect cumulus. I allowed myself to switch off a little whilst riding on this lovely, empty road but was suddenly alerted to the sight of a tiny, hedgehog sized creature scuttling across the road. An armadillo! And then a few km later another one!
It was a truly magical end to a few days of proper adventure biking.