Friday, 30 November 2012

CHAPTER. POSITIVELY PATAGONIA



Well it is the Chilean Patagonia. Now it is a turning point in the trip because we leave Autopistas and super highways and sealed roads and now take off onto gravel roads and tough roads and that is going to be the story of our lives for the next few weeks until we get close to Ushuaia. So there is a bit of excitement and a bit of trepidation in the camp and we enter a new phase of our push south.

The first week of this Patagonia sector is the Careterra Austral which is about 1000km of gravel road leading down to the most southern border crossing into Argentina. It is roughly like going down the West Coast of the South Island as it is about the same latitude. The similarities continue as the forest is almost identical to the beech forests of the South Island and there are also stunning mountain vistas and views of lakes and glaciers just like on the West Coast. However I am getting ahead of myself.

No this is not the road!



We start our odyssey South by leaving the flesh pots of Puerto Varas relatively early on the first morning as there are ferries to catch.

So the first day goes something like this -

One hour on the road thru Puerto Montt and to the first ferry

Half an hour on the first ferry

A one hour dash over gravel roads to the next ferry

This ferry goes once a day and takes four hours so is a " must catch".

It leaves at 10.30 in the morning. After screaming over the gravel road we arrive at the wharf at 10.32 a.m.

The ferry is 5 mins late leaving and has two small spaces left to take two motorbikes.

We drive on, the ramp goes up behind us and the 4 hour ferry trip starts.

After 4 enjoyable hours on a lovely scenic ferry ride it is off for another half hour ride on a gravel road.

Then it is another half hour ferry ride.

Then to finish the day it is another 54 km rode of gravel road to our destination for the night. - the town of Chaiten.




And who pays the ferryman!



A tight squeeze



The last section of road to Chaiten was tough. They were fixing parts of it by dumping river stones on the road. Now quarry stones are sharp tough on the tires but easy on the nerves when they are newly on a road. However round river stones are the opposite. They are easy on the tires but rough on the nerves as they roll under the tyres of the bike causing the bike to slip and slide all over the place. Anyway in spite of all this the bike stayed paint side up all the way to Chaiten.


So we overnighted in Chaiten. What a sad town! This town had a huge amount of ash dumped on it during an eruption of a nearby volcano in 2008. All the residents were evacuated. The town is roughly half rebuilt and roughly half the population have come back. Every street has derelict houses damaged by the weight of ash. When is the next eruption going to be one might well ask?

No one home anymore!






Every problem in the world always has a source!




So Day two of Chilean Pategonia section sees us heading down more gravel roads and thru beech forests to the town of Puyuhuapi. This town only had road access put thru with the building of the Carreterra in the 1970s. Before then access was only by boat or plane. Interestingly enough the town was settled by Czech settlers escaping the wars and famines back home.

A more friendly sort of volcano



We stayed in a lovely home stay run by a German " no nonsense" type of lady who ran a warm and friendly place.

Day 3 of the Carraterra and it is off down the gravel roads yet again. But what treats were in store. First off was side trip to see a big hanging Glacier.

One hanging glacier



As we came down from our little walk to the Glacier another touring motorbike pulled in. It was non other than the famous " Radioman" alias Mark Donham. Mark has been travelling the world by motorbike for the last 17 months. He decided to do it after his wife tragically died of premature Alzheimer's disease and this was his way of starting life again. He has an amazing blogsite going which has had nearly a million hits. His theme is " Faith, Hope and Courage"
His blog address is -

Radiomanridestheworld.com

It is an inspiring and moving read.

Anyway Mark was also heading to Ushuaia and has now joined us to make a foursome and we are thoroughly enjoying his company.

So after having picked up Mark ( so to speak) we carried on over a highly scenic mountain pass and from there down to Coihaque. This is the biggest town in the area and is a little oasis of civilization. And lo and behold it has sealed roads going in and out of it. It is the southern most significant town in Chile.
.



Now we are into Day 4 ón the Carraterra Austral and it just gets better and better. Today we started circumnavigating the Lago General Carrera. Actually it straddles the Chile/Argentina border and is called the Lago Buenos Aires in Argentina. Same lake,different names!

So we are off round about two thirds of the lake because it is the second biggest lake in South America and therefore is fairly ginormous and the road is slow.

Motorcycle heaven



Not so motorcycle heaven!






Again it was mostly gravel roads and again it was like the West coast of the South Island. Near the bottom of the lake we stopped at a place rather nicely named Rio Tranquilo where we went out on a boat trip to look at some fascinating limestone/ marble caves on the waters edge.

Hundreds of thousands potential bench tops just waiting to be mined!






And the highly satisfactory day was finished by a stay in a delightful lakeside Cabina a little further around the lake.



And thus dawns Day 5 on the Carreterra Austral for today we go into Argentina.

But the day itself was magnificent,superb,stunning and stupendous. It was a sunny day with crystal clear blue sky and the ( again gravel ) road wound around the lakeside with stunning vistas of turquoise lake water backed with a backdrop of snow covered mountains. There were Oohs and Ahas coming from the back seat at every turn.It was just like riding along Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy except for the gravel road and the fact that it was at least 5 times longer. However let the photos do the talking............

Wakatipu ?



And only one horsepower!









And the odd reality check to avoid complacency!



Then to finish it was across the border into Argentina to a town about 50 kms in from the border called Perito Moreno. In every town in Chile the Main Street is almost always called Avenida Bernardo O 'Higgins. He must have been some Irishman and is known as "El Liberador".

So we can tell we are now in Argentina because the Main Street has a different name. And no it was not Avenida Evita Peron !


One day soon in the next ten years or so the Carraterra Austral will be all paved I think and really opened up to the tourists. It will be a fantastic tourist trip and would really give the West Coast of the South Island a run for its money. However at the moment it still seems like frontier land and I am rather glad we have found it that way. It is at the moment an adventure doing it and once opened up it will become a journey rather than an adventure. Sigh !

And thus ends our meandering down the Carreterra Austral!



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Friday, 23 November 2012

CHAPTER TO THE LAKES DISTRICT



Before talking about journeys here is another little trip or what you might call an on the road type observation. When we started the trip in Vancouver Diana found it a little difficult getting on the bike with having to get over the big yellow Ortlieb bags that sit on top of the panniers ( so did I ) There were a few oohs and aahs, the odd wobble and it was a sigh of relief from both me and her when she was finally "installed". It is not easy to mount the fully laden bike with full pannier bags and there is always the worry of an inadvertent "tip over" during the mount.

Now what a different story. It is as if there is a fairy is alighting on the back, it is just one quick and deft movement and she is there. Oh so effortlessly! So effortless is it that it is like "Tinkerbell" is arriving on the back. So Tinkerbell it is now on the back!

And of course that means I am calling myself " Pita Bread". Why this do I here you ask? Well it is quite simple. You see "Pita Bread" translates in Spanish into "Peter Pan"! Groan!

So back to the road. From Chillan it was back on the Autopista yesterday for another 590km high speed ride to the town of Osorno. Why Osorno? Because there is a BMW motorcycle agent there ( Motoventura) and it was the opportunity to change the tyres and check the bikes over before the rigors of the last push down to Ushuaia. From here on to the Deep South and back to Buenos Aires there are tough rough roads and there is very little backup support.

Boy in a toy shop!



So after a thoroughly pleasant night in Osorno it was off to Motoventura in the morn to have the tyres changed and brakes etc checked. Following that it was a detour to take the long way round to the lakeside resort town of Puerto Varas. This area has been largely settled by Germanic peoples and it shows in the place names, the architecture and the roadside churches.

And we could have been in New Zealand and one could have been forgiven for thinking we were not. Within a 50 km space we saw Mt Taranaki, Lake Manapouri and Lake Taupo, the Waikato dairy farms and the beech forests of the South Island all nicely juxtapositioned.

Waikato?



Tomorrow we may go "out of range" as we head into the bush and gravel roads of the Carreterra Austral as it winds its way down the Chilean " West Coast" so this may be the last posting for a little while.


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Wednesday, 21 November 2012

CHAPTER. . HEADING SOUTH "ON STEROIDS "

FROM ANTOFAGASTA TO CHILLAN. 1800 km in three days !

However dear reader before we start this post I have a correction to make. If you go to my brief profile to the side of this blog you will see that I state Diana will do some of the trip with me and " how much is yet to be determined". Well the "determined " part is right but in a different context. As you have gathered here in Southern Chile Diana is still on the back of the bike ( at least when I last looked!) and is "determined" to get to Ushuaia also. We are a true team.

And I put this as delicately as I can but we might be the oldest couple ever ever to ride "two up" on a motorbike from Prudhoe Bay at the top of Alaska to Ushuaia. In fact I venture to say probably less than a dozen of any age have done the full trip two up on a motorcycle full stop.

Anyway first we have to get there and we are not there yet but it certainly seems as if we are on the last leg of this long journey.

Anyway back to the nitty gritty of the journey over the last three days -

From Antofagasta it is out into the Atacama desert for us again for another glorious ride thru the desert. However one is never far from the presence of mining and there are reminders, past and present, everywhere on the road and to the side of the road.

Arhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!



From Antofagasta it was a 600km day down to Copiapo which is a mining town if there was ever one and an old historic one at that. There was even a mining exhibition and conference on when we were in town. And near the airport at Copiapo was the mine where three years ago the 30 Chilean miners got successfully rescued from after weeks deep underground.

So who was our companion at our dinner table that night but a Chilean mining engineer ! And an interesting one at that.

From Copiapo the next day the famed Atacama starts to peter out and lo and behold some vegetation starts to appear. And we go on to the long duel carriageway ( motorway) that runs for a lenght of about 2000 kms to the south.

A solar powered car being trailered because of no solar



This motorway we were on must have been dedicated to Mr "Al Sur" as there are big signs with his name on all the way down the motorway. We heard later on that this Al Sur is apparently the polar opposite to the other chappie Al Norte!

And thus we rode the second day of this leg into the town of Pichidangui which is a nice fishing/ seaside resort on the coast. As we reflected over a nice bottle of Chilean wine it was yet another very satisfying day in the office!

Mending the nets!



And today,the third day in this Chapter, we rode down to Santiago, through Santiago, and we now find ourselves about 400 km south of Santiago in a town called Chillan which is about the size of Blenheim.

And what a prosperous land south of Santiago. Talk about a land of plenty or a veritable bread basket come Garden of Eden. Green green fields with vineyards, crops, vegetables, fruit trees, you name it. And such a contrast to the barren,barren Atacama to the north.

North of Santiago



South of Santiago



And right down the middle of this garden of Eden goes the 120 km per hour Autopista. It was a beautiful road with very high standard roadside amenities everywhere. All paid for by tolls of course.

And talking of toll roads that got me wondering. Are they Government funded and built toll roads here or are they PPP's ( Private Public Partnerships) that are so much in vogue at present ?

So when the ( female) toll attendant put out her hand for yet more money I mused under my breath -

" For whom doth the belle toll? "

I looked up to see the toll attendant laugh as she took the proffered money. The penny dropped, the answer was obvious -

" she doth toll for glee!"

Anyway that is what 600km of high speed Autopista riding does to you!

And to finish the day off I looked at Google maps on the iPad tonight. We are exactly level ie at the same latitude as Auckland, New Zealand tonight. That is a milestone!




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Sunday, 18 November 2012

CHAPTER. . NO CHILLIES IN CHILLY CHILE

Arequipa was a nice half day stop as mentioned in the previous chapter. But the call of the road is there and it is time to push on south.
"Pushing South - literally! "




So south it was the next morn as we headed east ( and yet more down ) almost to the coast to the North South Panamerican highway. It did not take a genius to work out that our direction was to be South!

It was yet another nice desert ride as we wended our way south. Mid afternoon it was border time ( yet again !)as we saw the Chilean flag arise in the desert distance. And for the very first time in South America and Latin America the border officials spoke some English and were helpful. It was not quite the "Jolly good show I say old chap, having an adventure are you" type of English but it was nice to hear it all the same.








Arica is the first Chilean town across the border and therefore the most northern one and a nice welcoming one at that. At one stage in order to get to our hotel I deliberately ( and slightly provocatively) went down a one way street as I was too tired to navigate around the long way. Who did I meet half way thru this interesting and delicate manouvre than no other but a traffic officer with flashing lights coming the right way! However all that was needed from me was a slight promise to reform my character and riding habits and to turn around the right way and the little problem was solved. So I carried on down riding the footpath instead of the wrong way down the street. Problem easily solved officer!

Then the hotel. The young girl behind the counter said I could park my bike in the little courtyard past the reception counter. I duly rode in. She had a fit! It seemed she thought I was on a push bike! Anyway we got thru a very narrow standard doorway ( I now know I can ride through a standard house front door - watch out if I ever come to stay at your place !) and in spite of protestations I stayed put. She eventually calmed down to standard Spanish 101 instead of the high pitched voluble almost shrieking variety!

One of the things I notice in Arica is a lot of the houses had broken or missing tiles on the roof. Then the penny ( peso!) dropped. If it never ever rains you can be somewhat relaxed about missing tiles on your roof can't you?
From Arica it was anther days hop to the city of Iquique. It was a lovely ride thru the desert. Which got me thinking about the misconceptions of deserts

Try this -

PERCEPTION. REALITY
Tropical deserts are very hot. Not when Mr Humbolts current is there
Deserts are flat things The Atacama is quite hilly in Chile
Deserts are sandy. For sand read lots of rocks and stones
Deserts are boring. The Atacama is anything but!
Deserts are dangerous. Not compared with driving thru cities!
Deserts have oasises( and mirages). True

And of course sometimes there is light at the end of the tunnel..........



So instead of riding the Atacama being a drag it has been one of the highlights of the trip.

There is some sand tho



And like the sands of time thru the hour glass so do go our lives -



And other interesting thing has now happened. I had a small shadow in front of my helmet at lunchtime. We had overtaken the sun! For the first time since Prudhoe bay we now had the noontime sun behind us.

Then that profound astronomical observation of mine was vindicated as we passed the sign that said "Tropico Capricornia". Another milestone was passed, we were out of the tropics.

From here ( in Mexico)



To here



Actually it does seem as if we are on the back straight now that we are heading down Chile. In three days time we will be in Santiago which I think is roughly level with the top of New Zealand. Then a few days after that we will be in the temperate ( and wet) climes of the Puerto Montt region. One of the characteristics of Chile of course is that it is all very straight north,south so you actually start accumulating longitude very quickly. "North and South" would be a very good name for a magazine here!

So on our rest day here in Antofagasta ( a lovely and memorable sounding name for a town or city - a lot better than something boring like "Wellington") it was time to wash the thermals and bring the rain gear to the top of the bags. Bring it all on! It is almost a month since we have seen a drop of rain.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

CHAPTER. REST THEN ONWARD

Well we have had two days "R and R" in Cusco and what a delightful city to have a break in. Cusco was in its time the main religious and artistic and cultural centre for the whole of South America and is probably akin to what Venice or Rome were to Europe. Anyway Cusco is still a delightful mixture of arts and culture and history combined with friendly people, great hospitality and great food. A perfect place for saddle weary travelers to rejuvenate their tired bodies and minds.




"Blow,blow,blow your horn" festivities put on specially in our honour!



"And when the Saints come marching in".
" How I wish to be in their number..........."
St Tremblo,the earthquake saint, getting an airing



But all good things come to end and so on a Monday morning we saddled up the steads and hit the road down to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The high Altiplano was at its stunning best and there is no doubt that the high altitude air has a visual quality of its own. The vistas just rolled on and on....



Reality did strike home however later in the day in the form of Señor Starsky and Señor Hutch from the local Juliaca branch of the Policia Carraterra. It seems that the two gentlemen had the temerity to pull me over and then suggest I was speeding. Who,me? There were many angry words from very red faces in very rapid Spanish. I rapidly decided not to air my Spanish and that the best way out of this situation was for them not to understand me and me not to understand them. It worked although I did say "Lo Siento" or "I am sorry" at least six times. It seemed to be the best only Spanish phrase I knew!

After what seemed like an eternity but was probably a half hour Senors Starsky and Hutch got back into their wagon and beckoned us to follow them back into town. I do not understand a Spanish beckoning sign and was not interested in any special overnight accomodation offers they might have in mind so we stayed put ! They disappeared over the horizon and on to Puno we went in the opposite direction albeit a little slower.

And as we came back thru Juliaca this morning boy oh boy was I a model of speeding virtue but there was no sign of the two angry Senors of yesterday.

" Al the Paca" at the hotel that night. More intelligible than the traffic officers!



Then from Puno we made the strategic decision to miss Bolivia and to head down to Arequipa in Peru and thence down to the coast and into Northern Chile. Arequipa has a special quality of its own and is often used as an acclimatization stop for land travelers heading into the high altiplano as it has a nice mid point elevation of about 2200 metres.

So after getting up to 4450 metres again today it looks like our "high jinks" are over and it is back to "normal" heights. However I might say it does seem a little surreal barreling along at 100kms per hour on a road that is considerably higher than the top of Mt Cook.


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Saturday, 10 November 2012

CHAPTER. NOS GUSTA PERU

We like Peru! And now dear reader we are in Cusco, the famed golden city of Inca and Spanish fame.

But let us backtrack a little because Peru is big and to get to Cucso we have travelled a long way across it from north to south.

Firstly, however, after Machala in Ecuador it was time to leave banana land and head south for a wee distance to the very nice border crossing between Ecuador and Peru. I say "nice border crossing" for two reasons. The first is that even purgatory would be nice compared with the Central America border crossings we did. Secondly, it was genuinely nice. The Ecuador and Peru authorities are all in one building and they sit side by side. I think their computers are linked and I think they interchange. Anyway it was very nice only to have to move one metre from the Ecuador emigration desk to the Peru immigration desk! Very civilised!

Then it is Peru. The first thing to notice is the dramatic change in scenery. Suddenly we go from lush tropical banana lands to desert where there is not a skerrick growing. No, not a skerrick! All in some 50 kms - it is a dramatic change in scenery.




However it was also a dramatic change in temperature too! You would think that being at sea level and entering a desert environment it would get hotter and hotter with a dry desert heat. Not so dear reader. It got cooler and colder as we rode deeper into the desert conditions.

Why is that you may ask? Well the current theory is that it is all because of current theory ! Let me explain. You see Mr Humbolt's current starts hitting the shores of Peru and since it originates in Antarctic waters this current is currently a bit of a cool dude. And thus as it strikes Peruvian shores it keeps it all cool and dry.

And this desert goes for over 1000km down the coast of Peru only really broken by the city of Lima which has good supplies of Andean water from the high mountains behind

Anyway back to out tripping thru Peru. Our first stop into Peru was Talara, a seaside town known for its oil refinery. Just an overnight stop really.

Then it was down thru the Desierto de Sechura which is about 200 kms of flat desert with sand coming to the side of the road and threatening to come across it. From there it was down to an overnight stop at the seaside town of Pacsamayo. This was a delightful stop with a hotel right on the beach. And lo and behold outside the hotel was a delightful local man selling jewellery including some from New Zealand Paua!

On the beach
It transpired through his smattering of English and my smattering of Spanish that he had befriended a Kiwi who had bought him back some shells from New Zealand. That night the chappie bought the Kiwi into the hotel to met us. It transpired that the Kiwi was "Curly" from Wanaka who spent a few months there each year surfing and more importantly kite surfing. We had a good old chat with "Curly from Wanaka".

The Paua man


From thence it was another day of desert riding conditions ,although the vistas were lovely , to the small town of Huarmey some 200 km north of Lima. Our hosts at the small hotel were David and Sylvia and both spoke good English and were delightful and helpful hosts. Huarmey had been devastated by the big 1976 earthquake that rocked Lima and all the northern Peruvian coast.

Thank goodness we were not following this one!


Then the day following it was crossing Lima (without stopping). Crossing Lima is easier said than done! It is a 8 million person city with traffic to match. Thus it was a 50 km haul from one side to the other with the inevitable stop start bits as we headed across it.

Just like Auckland really.


The post Lima crossing night was in another seaside village called Cerro Azul ( Blue Mountain). Again a delightful seaside village although very much a holiday place for the wealthier Lima residents, as it is only several hours south of Lima. Our hotel had a row of flags in front with even a New Zealand one in the line up.




And talking of line ups reminds me of line outs. One chappie we talked to there was an Irish gas expert. That is not the same thing as an expert on Irish gas although as he downed his many beers he became that, too. Anyway to cut a long story short he was a rugby enthusiast and several years ago he organized a Sevens rugby tournament on the beach where several Kiwis took part and apparently did our country proud.

South of Cerro Azul it was more cold desert down to the small town of Palpa just north of Nazca of the Lines fame.

And thence to the lines


Ancient Inca viewing platform


Yes Nazca does have lines drawn in the sand by the ancient Incas although their chief having drawn lines in the sand for many years apparently said, as we all do under similar circumstances, "enough is enough!"

From Nazca one abruptly turns right to the road to Cusco. This is 600 km of winding, winding,winding road with just a few straight bits on the very, very high plateau.

We knew we would be climbing into the Andes but this was climbing into the Andes on steroids!
It was up and up and up and up and up. Eventually we found ourselves on the high plateau at 4550m which is 15,000 ft above sea level. And that is straight up from sea level!
My "attitude to that altitude" was not too good as that is a potentially dangerous sudden ascent. We were affected in different ways. Ken went grey in the face. My voice went husky. Our bike clutches went funny and did not work properly. It was all a bit strange and a bit of a worry.

Getting high.


And higher


It is not just the tourists that get milked!


I sighed a sigh of relief then as the relief changed and we dropped off the high plateau to a mere 10,000ft before finding a " rustic" hotel for the night.

And thus the next we rode into the famed golden city of Cusco. It was back to cobbled streets (tough on motorbikes) and lovely stone buildings.





On arrival in the Plaza de Amanas in Cusco I went left the bike and wife and went on foot to find a hotel. I came back hot and tired some 30 minutes later to find my dear wife hugging and kissing a strange man! Well it turned out that the strange man was none other than Mike Ferris of Ferriswheels who was leading a group motorbike ride through South America. Mike and his lovely wife Denise run motorbike tours in different parts of the world and Mike took us on our Indian Himalaya tour last year. By the way I hugged and kissed Denise to balance things out!

But the coincidences did not stop there. At the same spot we also met up with "Guillermo" who is a Mexican psychiatrist who was on the 'Stahlratte' with us as we crossed from Panama to Cartagena. Another good reunion.

Then as we entered our hotel three young Kiwis called out to us as they recognized the origin of their favorite breakfast cereals. They were on their way back to NZ after their OE in the UK.

Then to top the day off we sat down in the hotel bar to have a drink ( as you do ) and another Kiwi couple from Epsom recognized us and came over to talk to us

And thus we talked to more New Zealanders (and Australians) in Cusco than we might do on an average day in Auckland. It was a good day... Nos gusta Cusco mucho !






S


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