Mountains, Glaciers and Seas
Updated: Dec 12, 2020
The next day I awoke early and caught a glimpse of Mount Fitz Roy with the golden light of the sunrise on it. By the time I got outside its grey cloud had hidden the face again.
Canuck and I decided to visit the glacier by boat like real tourists, taking the bus out to the launch. It was a very windy morning as the boat sliced across the water.
You know you're in Patagonia when the stern flag is pointing to the front of a moving boat.
As the boat neared the glacial region, the winds picked up considerably, as did the colder temps. A few of us up top were bundled up like crazy. Trying to hold the camera steady was a challenge.
Although I had seen glaciers in Alaska, it was still fascinating seeing the 70m high slab of ice in contrast to the stone surroundings. The small icebergs had such a deep and beautiful blue.
That afternoon we headed for a hike and looked over an old Kawasaki Tengai parked near a tent. It's been fun seeing some older adventure bikes on this trip south including Cagiva Elefants, Tenere 660’s, and old Africa Twins.
The next morning as I was packing my motorcycle, I heard another coming up the street and turned to see a great looking Moto Guzzi scrambler with a smiling rider. Turns out it was Johnston Julao whom I’d met in Cusco! He said he was looking for an ATM and had spotted my white hair down the street and knew it had to be me! It was a nice surprise to see him and we walked in so I could introduce him to Charlie. They had apparently communicated before or somehow knew of each other but hadn't met.
After talking a while, it was time to hit the road for the town of El Calafaté and the world famous Perito Moreno glacier nearby. We stopped on the way out of town so that I could get some pictures of myself and Charlie with Mount Fitz Roy behind. It was a spectacular day with a rare view of the peak in brilliant sunshine.
After getting a few shots, we were preparing to leave when a motorcycle heading into town began to slow down and pulled over. It was a Suzuki DR350 with a very tall thin rider on it. He got off and came over, having recognized my motorcycle from reading my ride report. His name was Noam and he had come from Israel and was heading for Alaska. I immediately recognized his bike as one of the two DR 350’s that my friends Ken and Chip had been riding! I laughed because I had seen Ken's picture of his bike for sale and couldn't believe I bumped into the guy who'd bought it. He confirmed it was Ken's bike and I told him to give me his camera and do a couple of runs to get the mountain in the background.
We exchanged information for contacts when he gets to the US and were preparing to leave when another motorcycle pulled up about 50 yards behind us. I figured they were wanting photos and waved them forward. It turned out to be a young French couple who bought an F800GS in Santiago and were heading for Ushuaia before turning back north. They had no schedule or time limit, and I shot two or three motorcycle runs with her cell phone camera so they would have an iconic image.
El Calafate lay a few hours south and the paved road swept its way through the huge plains and high winds, with views of turquoise colored lakes and a few rivers that were swollen to the top from recent rain or flooding in the mountains. As usual now, there were herds of guanacos and a few rheas to break the monotonous landscape.
The town of El Calafate was more upscale, with outdoor shops and restaurants, but not too obnoxious as a tourist wonderland. The next morning I was excited to get the chance to see the Perito Moreno glacier and as we got a few miles out of town towards it, the skies turned gray and it began raining. It looked dark and continuous as far ahead as one could see in the mountains.
The road followed the edge of a large lake until reaching the park entrance where entry was about $25 equivalent and cash only. The attendant said the weather conditions were perfect at the glacier and not to worry.
The road continued to weave its way along the lake's edge until in the mist and rain the huge glacier could be spotted.
After a stop or two for a picture, I was passed by a guy on a green KLR650 in more of a hurry than I was, and upon arriving at the parking area he was standing by his bike. His name was Dan and he was from Colorado, on his way to Ushuaia of course. In our discussions the gravel section had come up, showing me his missing windscreen and broken fairing, as well as a limp from a twisted ankle. The last 500 yard stretch before pavement I had previously written of had caught him in his excitement as it did me, but his the KLR had high-sided and body-slammed him down into the gravel in a crash that took out his windshield and tweaked his ankle.
We took the bus up to the glacier viewing point and walked the many platforms. The glacier is absolutely beautiful and amazing to see from such a close perspective. It was fascinating to stand and take in, but the occasional pop and crack took it over the top in anticipation of seeing a huge chunk fall. When least expected, a large section collapsed to our left which we both got on camera. Then you're hooked trying to anticipate where the next piece will fall based on the pops and cracks. It was fascinating and I could've spent the entire day there in anticipation. It is a site not to be missed. We were lucky as the rain had stopped and shafts of sunlight were coming through the overhead clouds.
That evening back in town, we three met for parilla at a nice restaurant.
Since we were heading the same direction the next day, we met at Dan's hotel for continuing out of town and the next destination. Ruta 40 was nice and smooth in the morning light and waffling winds. The pavement was short-lived as Ruta 40 turned south as a gravel road for the Chilean border and the crossing to Torres del Paine.
The road was classic gravel with good smooth sections and deep butt clinchers. At the entrance cattle guard, someone had made a dummy over a piece of water pipe that looked like the grim reaper.
"Abandon hope all ye who enter"
It was a kick and as we took off down the road, we all spread out as our paces were different. Charlie disappeared over the horizon behind and I could see Dan’s headlight in my rearview mirror, as we raced through smooth sections and quickly shifted down in the nasty parts.
The wind continued to make it quite interesting but dropping down into a valley with a break from it, I spotted two horses gingerly approaching a large skeleton that I assume were the bones of another horse. I watched as they tentatively approached, necks stretched and sniffing. I stopped for a photo and Dan caught up where we waited for Charlie for a while. I finally told Dan to go on ahead and waited a bit longer before taking off.
After quite a while I could see two or three small buildings ahead and the gravel ended at a blacktop road with a small gas station. Dan had been there a few minutes and was talking to two other riders from Brazil. They were leaving and handed me their remaining half liter of Coca-Cola. It felt good burning the dust out of my throat and I ate some bread and cheese I’d had in the top case while waiting for Charlie.
After a while I could see his flickering headlight come over a rise as the bike bounced on stutter bumps. We hung out a while at the station and my plan coincided with Dan’s to cross at the Torres del Paine crossing, however Charlie was considering going further south to the crossing near Puerto Natales.
He decided to cross with us and it was probably 10 miles or less of gravel to reach the quiet little outpost where we exited Argentina and then a few kilometers later entered Chile. The crossings are so nice and professional I actually enjoyed them.
On the Chilean side, the road is absolutely perfect concrete from the border and it almost seems like a snub to Argentina and its substandard rutted gravel road.
All of us were undecided as to whether we would stay in Torres or continue to Puerto Natales, but Charlie needed gas and went into the little town to look while Dan and I made a run towards the park. It was getting late in the day and the asphalt road had many large sections missing with the requisite deep gravel. It had turned into a long day and the sun was dropping and we turned off onto another gravel road to try and get a high elevation view of the lake and mountains. The main park entrance still lay 60 km away and I'd heard reports that the park was closed due to flooding, but had no idea if it was still so. Another rider told us the campground was full, so we made the decision to head on for Puerto Natales.
After skittering our way back to Torres, the road south was nice, smooth asphalt and gusting winds.
When I rolled into the port city about 45 minutes later, I was surprised to find it a nice, almost quaint place. I was expecting an ugly port city but it was not. Dan had booked a place and headed for it, while I found a coffee shop and began looking for lodgings when Charlie texted me and came over to search for a hotel.
That night, the three of us met at a great hamburger place. Puerto Natales was a nice surprise, with several hip restaurants and bars and a place one could enjoy for a couple or three days easily. In fact we did just that. The hostel had decent internet for a few hours a day so I used it to get a couple more updates done.
Celebrating the famous Patagonian winds
It was time to head for Punta Arenas for me, with Charlie staying behind for another day or two and considering returning to Torres del Paine. I was smelling blood in the water for Ushuaia and my plan was to cross on the ferry to Porvenir and take the gravel coast road east to Rio Grande. Punta Arenas, being a trade free zone, also contained a dealer or two known for purchasing motorcycles from adventure travelers. Some guys will ride their bikes down to Ushuaia, then sell them in the free zone to other riders or dealers. Riders from other countries are free to purchase a motorcycle that way and it is free to ravel with, whereas Argentinian riders can also purchase a bike in the free zone, however it cannot leave the Patagonia region, as I understand it. A rider I had met previously on a 1200 GS had gotten an almost market value offer on his bike, but he decided he wanted to keep it. As an option, I decided to get a quote on my bike which is currently sporting just over 74,000 miles, and if the offer was a good one, that would be another option. I could sell, keeping the accessories and fly back to the US with enough saved on shipping to purchase another low mileage moto in the US.
The ferry from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt... one of my options
My mind has been focused on the next phase for the last month and I'm still not sure exactly what the next move will be. Heading north on the bike again? Tired of the worry and ready to get a new bike in the US for a new adventure? Take the ferry north to Puerto Montt, continue on to Bolivia and then across to Buenos Aires? Ride to Buenos Aires and then to Bolivia to ship from Lima or Santiago? No matter the case, if someone was willing to pay me a good amount for the bike with 75,000 miles on it, it's something I would consider.
The temperatures had dropped a good 10 or 15° south of Torres and it was a bit nippy as I sped south that morning.
Nearing Punta Arenas, the road swings out along the Strait of Magellan and it blew my mind when I saw it. Having filed away the story of the discovery of the route through Cape Horn long ago in elementary and junior high school, I actually could not believe that I was seeing it with my own eyes. It was something I never expected in my life and now it was to my left as I sped along.
It was around noon when I got into the port city, which meant that everything was closed until after three. There was a motorcycle shop called La Guarida run by "Salva", whom I'd heard of as having a good shop. I sent him a message through ADVrider to find out more information about selling a bike in a trade free zone but had not received a response. Google said his shop was open after three, but it turned out it was closed for the entire weekend. I slapped one of my stickers above his door anyway, as I had been doing at almost every stop in Patagonia.
I headed to the second car/motorcycle dealer I'd heard about and after photographing the bike and getting the information, he said he would contact me on WhatsApp with his quote the following Monday. I told him it would be fine as I was continuing to Ushuaia and if the money was enough, would return.
I went to bed at a reasonable hour since I had to be up early to get in line for the ferry ticket purchase to cross the Strait of Magellan to Porvenir... and the island of my final quest, Tierra del Fuego.