Argentina - Ruta 40 and all
7 months 2 weeks ago #1
Watts an Adventure
Thank you received: 2
TRANS-AMERICAN HIGHWAY (PART 1) - BUENOS AIRES > SANTIAGO MARCH 2016
Life was good, I was getting married in 2016 (all the planning was well underway), I had a comfortable lifestyle and a few toys in the garage but something was bothering me. I needed to travel, urgently, with the added challenge of some adventure riding. The decision was made, having paid the appropriate bribes to the wife (to be) and assurances that I would return for the wedding - the Trans American Highway from Buenos Aires south to Ushuaia and the all the way North to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska beckoned. I resigned the following Monday and started planning with a UK departure of 29 Feb 16……….what could possibly go wrong!!
Leaving Buenos Aires behind me I set off towards Ushuaia on a straight southerly course. In my naivety I hadn’t really realized how big Argentina was. The distances between locations and the length of the main arterial roads is significant, riding about 2200 miles on the same road, that’s about as far from Calais to Istanbul!!
The Ruta 3 leaves a lasting memory of the sideways riding and heavy going off-road sections, not forgetting the world famous Ruta 40 with its big gravel sections and challenging terrain – but also some amazing scenery and views. These testing surface conditions required significant concentration but luckily for me the time spent Enduro riding with mates stood me in good stead; although the GSA was somewhat different to my WFR 450!
The initial 5200 miles (approximately a 1000 of which was off road - a mixture of small/large gravel, some deep and some light, rutted ravines, sand, large potholes, local driving, wild animals and birds and of course navigation all mixed in) flew past with so many things to see and do, it would be impossible to cover them all in my allocated 6 month adventure. But as big as this mileage was I ended up in Santiago on roughly the same latitude as Buenos Aires where I started a month earlier…I still had a third of the distance left before I would leave Argentina for Bolivia.
Argentina has really surprised me with its contrasting landscapes, features and terrain not to mention the history. To the East along the Atlantic Ocean which a significant welsh flavour including that of Gaiman and its tea shop, flags and villagers still speaking the language and many tributes to their heritage. A diversion to Punta Tombo and South America’s largest penguin colony made a great change from the straight roads and strong winds!
The tradition of Mirror – Signal – Manoeuvre, works well in most areas, but when overtaking lorries in very strong head winds, sat astride the seat stitching at 45 degrees keeping the bike driving, I also needed to add Lama as further check. Not what you except in the middle of a road overtaking a double trailer Class 1 vehicle – certainly passed for the swerve test though!
Heading further south towards Tierra del Fuego with the much anticipated Magellan Straights all working their magic to come to the world’s most southerly navigable roads in Ushuaia. The ferry crossing over the strait was in itself interesting in fairly ‘choppy’ waters and not a lashing strap in sight. The GSA rolled with the sea punches although at times my heart was in my mouth when it lifted completely off its side stand – the ‘loadmaster’ had seen it all before and merely laughed at my concerns!?
Having been in the Army I am acutely aware of the significant (ultimate) sacrifices people have made for peace. But what I found quite thought provoking was the immense pride that Argentinians have for the Malvinas and rightly or wrongly still call the Falklands theirs – the constant road signs were testament to this. They too had lost loved ones and made sacrifices, but I have found them all to be welcoming, friendly and talkative with a genuine interest in British people. This was never more ably demonstrated when I was in Ushuaia and locals were protesting (against wages and costs of living), setting up makeshift homes in the middle of the main street.
I watched them cooking the obligatory lamb on an open fire and asked if I could take a picture. They came up to me smiled, we conversed in pigeon Spanish/English, and they offered me some food, drink and a seat around the fire.
Having a few rest days in Ushuaia the road now only had one compass point to meet – North. My route would finish back in Calgary having ridden to the top of Alaska and the Dalton Highway some 32,000 miles later – it was time to move on……
At the Southern tip of the Andes in Chile in the Magellanes & Chilean Antarctic lies Torres del Paine National Park, one of the most impressive sights in the Southern Hemisphere – it was stunning. The name Paine (pronounced pine) came from a nomadic group travelling from Patagonia who saw a large rock formation and the glacier blue (translated to Paine) waters. The place was full of other ‘tourists’ but none the less this did not distract from its all-round beauty.
It had a daunting feeling of sheer beauty, timelessness and ultimate presence – making the mere timescale of a human’s meagre existence meaningless! The terrain was all gravel and in some places deep, not helped by the ‘gringo tourist buses’ weaving and overtaking each other, whether that be on the right or wrong side of the tracks. A lunchtime rest on a small island with empanadas against the vast mountain ranges certainly added to the magic of the place.
Heading north along the off road sections in and out of Argentina/Chile soon filled up the blank pages of my passport and customs checks/rituals – but to be fair were all painless and often resulted in the obligatory photo with the bike. Most of them enjoyed my vague attempt at Spanish which was often met with very good English – just to add insult to injury!
Next stop the much awaited Perito Merino Glacier. The 250 km2 (97 sq mi) ice formation, and 30 km (19 mi) in length, is one of 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. It is considered by many to be the eighth wonder of the world – having now seen it then it’s hard to disagree with this point!
The sound of the ice moving and cracking was like bullets firing or small explosions all of which were enhanced by the echo effect – amazing! Scenery there and on the ride in/out was also stunning. The crystal blue colouring (reflection and refraction processes so I am led to believe) just add to the raw beauty of the Glacier.
This ice field is the world's third largest reserve of fresh water. The glacier as named after the explorer Fransisco Moreno, a pioneer who studied the region in the 19th century and played a major role in defending the territory of Argentina in the conflict surrounding the international border dispute with Chile.
Heading towards Puerto Bernard the only fuel stop was via an old pickup truck with the fuel on the bank in a barrel. The young lad looked very surprised as my tank drank in 20 or so odd litres of fuel which obviously he had never seen on a bike before – we looked and just laughed at each other. The ‘gas station/truck’ though did do exceptional coffee – so all in all a great pit stop!
That night was spent on an Estancia with flamingo’s in a small pond, many migrating birds and a wonderful meal of freshly cooked lamb on the bar B Q ad a glass of the old red stuff. The road in and out of the Estancia were pure heaven both small tacks and once again the beauty of Ruta 40 in all its glory. Sadly some of the gravel sections are now being covered with tarmac which having only just experienced this delight is a shame as it heightens the experience and riding skills immeasurably. Leaving early in the morning with the sunrise forming made the ride up to and along the Carretera Austral that much more magical.
Opening up virgin territory is always controversial and the history of this road is no exception. The whole Aysen region was a pawn in territory disputes during much of the 19th century. Settlement (‘colonisation’) and deforestation were actively encouraged, leading directly to the scenes of desolation which will still be visible for hundreds of years to come. Politics again led the way in 1976 when the project began under General Pinochet (of Lady Thatcher fame) - it is no coincidence that Chile and Argentina were at that time still smarting from one of their many border disputes, and the new road was one way that Chileans could travel through their country without having to enter Argentina – how lucky they and now me were!
Heading towards and overnight stop in Coyhaique the road twisted and weaved past my coach stop lunch at Cerro Castillo which made a welcome change not to be up on the pegs as I had been for much of the past week or so. Next stop Bariloche which is the Swiss chocolate heaven for Argentina – it just so happened that President Obama was there at the same time, how dare he gate crash my party; although chocolate was not on the menu but the most wonderful steak instead with a drop of Malbec!
Heading further north towards Pucon and its volcanoes’ once again changed the scenery and atmosphere. Pucon had a real ‘western’ feel about it but in a relaxed manner – I really liked the place. Great hotels, food, choices and restock of essentials, what more could anyone want. The roadway and gravel took me past Ruta de Siete Lagos (7 lakes route) and on every section you could have stopped and spent an hour taking pictures, they were all fantastic.
The final few days riding led me to Santiago in Chile for a much needed days off and bike maintenance at BMW. The dealership, like so many other places on the trip so far, could not have done anymore to help – including an introduction to the local bike traffic police! The first phase of this epic journey had been completed and it was incredible to think of all the amazing experiences, sights and sounds.
I reflected on my pre-trip thoughts and how lucky I was to have all those things in my life and how important they were to me. But here I am with two small bags of luggage, a bike and fuel/food and camera – and have seen things that I never thought possible. All in all it could be said that less is more? I would of course prefer to be sharing the adventure with my wife (to be) but as I have rubbed Magellan’s foot in Punta Arenas then the inevitable return may be sooner than planned!!
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Argentina - Ruta 40 and all
7 months 2 weeks ago #2