Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Day 70-72 – March 14-16

Ushuaia, Argentina

We spent three days hanging around Ushuaia taking side trips and preparing to ship our bikes back to the US—a lengthy process that involves assembling the customs papers for exportation and getting the packing materials.

We headed out of town to reach the farthest point south possible—the end of the road. On the way out of town, we passed the one golf course in the world that perhaps even Gary Oatey and Greg Foster have not played:

The cook at the golf course knows just what to do with golfers who pad their handicaps:

This would definitely be a challenging course as even in summer the winds never stop howling — if you don’t drive the ball hard enough, it’s likely to come back and hit you in the head.

We finally reached the end of the road, which was marked with a sign declaring that Alaska is 17,000 km away (but we certainly know that by road it seems to be a lot further than that. . .):

On this second stage of the trip we travelled 13,000 miles – the US Continental Divide ride was 3,100 miles and the third and final portion of the Tierra del Fuego to Prudhoe Bay trip will also be approximately 3,100 miles for a total of 19,200 miles.

I celebrated the end of the road by putting on my Santiago earthquake chandelier earring and lighting the anticipatory cigar that I have been carrying with me for 2.5months.
(photo by Vince Cummings)

The rest of Argentina appears to be here as well:

It takes Helge, forever filming, two hours to break through the crowd and get the shot he wants:

We drive to the other side of Ushuaia for another photo shoot:

(photo by Vince Cummings)
(photo by Vince Cummings)
The intense prevailing wind affects the growth of the trees by essentially blowing the foliage up the hill:

March 15
We began the day by searching for a place to wash the bikes. Due to hoof and mouth disease, the bikes will need to be spotless in order to pass inspection for re-entry into the US.

We dropped off the bikes looking positively dreadful . . .

. . .and a couple of hours and $17.00 later picked them up looking spotless.

Vince and I took a three-hour boat trip into the Beagle Channel to view coastal Ushuaia, which is nestled at the foot of the mountains.

We saw an island filled with cormorants having the same coloring and formal attire as penguins have: all white chests and black backs:

We also passed a rock covered with sea lions, with a bull lording over them all—it made us homesick, reminding us of Sunday mornings before the kids left for college…

. . . a time when we actually had some authority within the family. Sea Lion Rock had a familiar smell that I couldn’t immediately place, but then it hit me—it was, unmistakably, the odor wafting from the inside of one of the grandchildren’s hockey bags.

Later at dinner, I had a chance to lecture Che Guevara on motorcycles and the merits of capitalism:

During these three days, we had the chance to speak with locals about Argentina. They all mentioned the horrible corruption in the government—no one seems to have any respect for their system of government. It’s been approximately twenty years since the military junta ran the country, and none of the people we spoke with thought it had gone particularly well. The country’s capital is Buenos Aires, where the elected officials live. The prevailing opinion here was that the officials think of themselves as citizens of Buenos Aires rather than of their represented communities. None of the people we met actually knew their elected representative. It appears that there is so much inertia in the government bureaucracy here that it is difficult for a leader to emerge who can make the claim that he will streamline the bloated democracy and stamp out corruption. Let’s hope that a leader emerges who can restore confidence in government here with transparency, honesty, integrity and dynamic leadership. And hopefully that leader will be able to reform the government democratically and not follow the authoritarian path some other South American countries have pursued.

March 16
We spent the day shopping, helping Helge conduct the end-of-trip interviews for his DVD of the trip, and loading our bikes in the shipping container. The container operation is always a “hurry up and wait” situation – we were ready to go at 11:00 a.m., but the container didn’t arrive until after 4:00 p.m.

The inspector at the port checks every bag looking for anything that could endanger the vessel. Helge loaded the bikes with scientific precision—each is held tightly by straps fore and aft so that the suspension is compressed.

We were lucky to have the opportunity to pack our own bikes, which was possible because the container was in a bonded area. Even though all the bikes are insured, it would be a huge hassle if one of them fell over in transit.

Thanks for sharing our journey!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 68-69 – March 12-13

Torres del Paine, Chile to Cerro Sombrero, Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina

Correction to previous blog 3-11-10:
Helge and Roger were blown off their bikes by the wind and Vincent nearly fell off laughing at the spectacle. Relative to the judging of the Palomo award, of course transparency is the rule in all of South America – and for those of you who have requested the proceedings of the Palomo award deliberations, all you need to do is enter the code used to get on this blog followed by the last three digits of your grandfather’s social security number and submit it to www.argentine.chile/palomoaward/

March 12
We leave the ritzy Rio Serrano resort hotel just outside of Torres del Paine early in the morning. . .

. . .and bid farewell to Torres del Paine.

It is beautiful to view from a distance and breathtakingly beautiful to view as Helge and Roger did – up close on their hike up one of the granite spires.

We head southeast with the possible goal of staying in a hostel frequented by motorcycle riders in Cerro Sombrero. We travelled on a lovely gravel road tucked into the mountains. . .

. . .with some beautiful lake vistas.

We passed grazing lands with small rugged trees as tough as the land that they are in:

As we approach Puerto Natales, Chile we pass the town mascot, some sort of prehistoric animal:

Helge investigates potential places to stay in Puerty Natales for next year’s trip. We pass along the Magellan Channel through which the gold miners sailed clipper ships on their way west.

Here is a vessel from the 1860’s that has been beached for 150 years. . .

It is steel-framed and oak clad - I didn’t realize that they used steel frames this long ago.

Below the water line they clad the ships in copper to keep the barnacles away. Here you see a strip of copper that has been on the ship for 150 years – in the industrial centers of Cleveland, a piece of copper sitting out in the open wouldn’t last a week!

There’s a substantial tide in the Magellan Strait and it’s one of the reasons the mariners favored using it rather than going around the Horn. Here you see kelp hanging from the deck beams ten feet above the beach:

Here’s a later model wreck of a steamship slowly returning to nature – that smoke stack is bound to fall in a high wind:

Its boiler is still intact:

The propeller and its strut are badly corroded, but the propeller shaft is as shiny as the day it was made; and the bearing you see sticking out of the strut, according to Vince, is probably made out of lignum vitae, a heavy dense wood that sinks in water.

The western end of the Magellan Channel is where ships go to die – ships that would be considered seaworthy under normal conditions but cannot withstand the winds through the strait. There are apparently hundreds of boats that line the bottom and sides of the channel, stripped of anything of value and leaving just the skeletons.

We take a ferry boat in the rain across the Magellan Strait, which takes only 15 minutes:

This will be a 400 km day (nearly entirely in the rain) and I ran out of gas just before reaching our destination – about five miles out. The range of the 6 gallon tank on my bike is between 200-250 miles, largely dependent on speed. Fortunately, I have the extra 1 gallon tank on the back of my panniers – so even in the rain it’s not that inconvenient.

At the lodge in Cerro Sombrero, Chile we run into two more drenched motorcycle groups; one that we have run into from time to time heading south and the other heading north out of Ushuaia. Many of the guys coming from the south didn’t have rain gear and were cold and wet. Both of these groups had chase cars and a motorcycle mechanic traveling with them. We are delighted to be inside and have an excellent dinner while the other groups admire Helge’s fantastic photographs. It rains the entire night.

March 13
The wind howled all night, blowing off my bike cover. Fortunately one of the ropes got tangled up on the bike so I didn’t lose the cover (like Roger lost his) – but with a leather seat covering urethane foam – I will have a wet fanny for the day.

The road surface is dirt covered in gravel with pooled water in each of the chuck holes until we reach the Argentina border. We then follow a paved road through “big sky” country along grasslands with a lot of sheep and llama look-alikes.

The border crossing is quick and uneventful – we arrive right behind a busload of tourists, but since we have our own vehicles (which need to be imported) we are pushed to the head of the line.

We drive along the Atlantic coast (latitude between 52-53S). At the border there are signs that remind us all that the Falkland Islands belong to Argentina. As we approach Rio Grande, from which the Falkland Island invasion originated, we see signs of military activity. The highway on which we are traveling was used as a military airstrip during the Falkland War – we pass a large radar antenna and had previously seen a large submarine communication system.

The Argentineans are serious about wanting the Islands back and have these sentiments posted on signs everywhere. It’s hard to understand either side of this argument – the Argentines say that the British rotate citizens through and that there are no citizens there that have been resident for any period of time (most of them under 1 year). But the people we run into who have visited the Falklands contradict this claim and state that there are British families that have been there for several generations. The islands are nearly 800 miles away from South America and it appears that neither side is willing to put forth their argument for ownership.

As we pass through Rio Grande we see not only a military but also a strong oil and gas presence. It does not appear to be a very pleasant place to live – the wind is cold and howling even in the summer and rains very frequently.

We continue south along the Atlantic before heading inland. It is largely pastureland with gnarly weather-beaten trees and moss hanging from the branches swept sideways by the wind:

If it weren’t cold, wet and desolate – this could be some nice country. Half way between Rio Grande and Ushuaia, we stop in a very busy bakery and meet the 20 year old young man operating this machine:

His name is Andrew and he arrived in town 3 weeks ago having ridden his bike the entire way from St. Paul, Minnesota. The owner of the bakery was sympathetic to bike riders and not only offered him a place to stay but a minimum wage job as well. He arrived with the intention of being a shepherd – but he will now learn the trade of a baker, which will have more value for a young man on his walkabout than watching sheep and llama. We had a long talk with him and Helge shared some of his 10 year experience on the road.

After talking with Andrew, I reflected on a personality type such as Andrews – stepping out of the norm requires enormous energy and perseverance. This sort of energy and project orientation will make him an excellent employee for someone. He first wants to get a handle on his interests and not waste his parents’ money on college until he determines a path. He has scratched off shepherd from his list and will undoubtedly scratch off baker – it would be interesting to follow him and find out what path he finally chooses.

As we approach Ushuaia and the southern tip of Argentina we are delighted to see the beautiful mountains and breathtaking vistas:

The road is a bit scary – but at least there is a guardrail:

Towards the top of one of the passes, rain turns to snow – we have knobby tires and approach the corners with great care.

The snow lasts only a short period of time, and finally, while it is still raining, we arrive in Ushuaia – dubbed “the end of the world”!

Ushuaia is declared the most southern city in the world – this fact is based on a population over 2,000 (otherwise Port Williams, Chile is further south).

The sign also informs that Ushuaia began as a penal colony – just as Australia. Ushuaia is the destination from which we will ship our bikes. We will spend our remaining 3 days packaging our bikes for shipment and taking day trips.

We have gone through 13 countries, crossed 20 borders and travelled over 13,000 miles for nearly 2.5 months. We have had a spectacular time – but we are all anxious to get home.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Day 65-67 – March 9-11

El Calafate, Argentina to Torres del Paine, Chile
We left our nice hotel in El Calafate on Lake Argentino in the early morning. I had my warm gloves in the panniers and didn’t close them securely enough. While riding around town, my gloves blew out – so now I’m riding with no warm gloves. The sky is beautiful, but the warning “red skies in the morning, sailors take warning” comes to mind. I believe some of the red sky may actually have been caused by a fire we saw in the hills last night—it is still burning this morning.

We got a bit of paved road for a moment, but were quickly back on dirt and gravel roads, in the great expanses where “you can watch your dog run away for 3 days.”

Again we had to thread the needle of a one-foot-wide path in order to avoid skidding on the gravel.

With my aching shoulder and the pulled muscle in my back talking loudly to me, I am much more able to concentrate on the road and I take fewer pictures while riding (this comment for the benefit of Betty Moore, my mother who may be up in the sky somewhere reading this).

We crossed out of Argentina and back into Chile at a small checkpoint where only one or two other people were waiting to be processed. The officials on both sides were courteous and efficient.

As we approached Torres del Paine Park, the views were breathtaking:

My bike is running like a top: light, lively and powerful – totally cured of its reputed illnesses. The incurred damage has been largely remedied by the four staples of motorcycle repair: bailing wire, duct tape, epoxy and Loctite.

I split off from the others before entering the park – the views were extraordinary. One noticeable difference upon entering the park is the increase in the number of guanacos. It would seem that there is an overabundance of them in the park – like the deer in Cleveland’s Metroparks – and like the Metropark deer, they are not shy:

It’s interesting that 40% of their young are eaten by pumas, a South American mountain lion similar to the cougars in Arizona (not related to the cougars that hang out in bars in North America).

Torres del Paine is majestic and amazing – it’s a granite structure created 12 million years ago when lava pushed through a thick layer of sedimentary rock that covered this part of South America. It cooled slowly and under great pressure, creating a giant mass within the sedimentary rock layer. The glaciers then ground away the sedimentary rock, leaving only the granite towers or spires you see here:

Later I met up with Roger and Vincent, and we hiked up to a falls running through a narrow gulley, which empties into a turquoise/emerald green lake. Riding in leathers is great, but they are way too hot for hiking:

Although the sky looked foreboding, we ducked bad weather the entire day.

We again ran into Anibal Vickacka’s tour (“Animal” for short). He found the gloves that had blown from my pannier several days ago. He assumed they were mine and returned them to me - Eureka! (Am I the only absent-minded rider that forgets to lock his panniers?) Here’s Animal’s group hanging out for a photo session:

We found a snappy but pricey resort just outside the park with a beautiful view of the spires:

I took a nap after checking in and left my first floor window open to cool off. I woke up, slipped out of bed, and felt fur against my bare ankle – I practically leapt out of my skin with fright and surprise. It turned out to be a big housecat that had jumped through my window to escape a red fox lurking outside.
(photo by Vince Cummings)
The cat refused to leave the way it had entered, so I let it into the hotel and God knows what he got into (I’m just glad it wasn’t one of those pumas which like to feast on guanacos).

March 10
Vince and I went horseback riding. The saddle was wide like a western saddle, but without the horn (and you’ll note that there’s much more padding for the horse than for the rider):

We had a great guide, Armond, who didn’t speak English, so we were therefore spared his lecture on the do’s and don’t’s of riding.
(photo by Vince Cummings)

We were accompanied by three beautiful little dogs that enthusiastically dashed alongside us:

I petted this one before we began and she licked my hand – I later saw her not only rolling in cow pies but doing a bit of recycling as well. I made a mental note to not only wash my hands but also the inside of my gloves.

The horses seemed to know the consequences of not doing what they were told:
No need to hide the evidence.

Vincent was kind enough not to bring the telephoto lens that extends two feet – but as you can see, he is ready for lassoing steers:

We had a wonderful walk along the emerald-colored lake:

. . .with its amazing scenery:

We passed through a gnarly woods:

Both of us held up well:

(photo by Vince Cummings)
Later in the day, Vincent went riding in the meadows outside of the park and saw this extraordinary salmon – 2.5 feet long. It is actually a Canadian species, imported by Chile, which escaped from a fish farm and has now taken up residence in the glacial lakes that empty into the ocean:

(photos by Vince Cummings)

Roger and Helge left this morning at 8:00 a.m. and did not return until 8:00 p.m. – they had a terrific trip:
(photo by Helge Pedersen)

We plan to remain here for another 2 nights.

March 11
We got a late start after an unhealthy breakfast and drove up to a scenic vista for a photo shoot.

The wind was howling – above 40 mph. Vincent was not intoxicated here, but just having trouble standing up:

Helge was oblivious to the wind – he is now an artist-photographer in his element:

We spent the day taking video and stills – Helge uses a HD video camera and has taken an enormous amount of film and stills on this trip (1 Terabyte). High definition accounts for much of this huge number of memory, and in all probability only a small percentage will find its way into the video he’s producing about the trip.

Here are some shots of Helge “catching the wind” at a beautiful overlook:

(photos by Vince Cummings)

Vincent also shares some shots that he took throughout the day:

This river has the sort of chop that you see in the Gulf Stream when the wind blows from the north and the Gulf Stream flows from the south:

It’s interesting to watch the clouds as they cross over the spires:

The spires rise approximately 9,000 feet, and the clouds, to a large degree, vanish as they pass over the spires, dumping snow as they pass, which feeds the glacier. By the time they pass over the spires, the clouds have been transformed from full and bushy to light and wispy. This leaves the topography on the right side of the range arid, with near-desert conditions.

I have pulled a muscle in my back (the one you would use rowing a boat), so it’s difficult for me to stand up and tackle rough terrain. We have lunch and I take the rest of the day off to ice my back.

This gave me some time to complete a task I had begun earlier while the others were tied up watching the exciting movement of the glacier: brainstorming award names to properly recognize the four mighty motorcycles on which we have relied.

The coveted Palomo award, named after the horse of Simon Bolivar (the hero of South American independence) goes to my motorcycle, an HP2 with modifications.

It receives this honor for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it has been much maligned by the other three who have brand new BMW Adventurers, heavy motorcycles with all sorts of fancy gadgets (anti-lock brakes, traction control, “on-the-fly” suspension-adjustment, a tire pressure controller, and a variety of others). I hear that next year Nieman Marcus will offer a version of the Adventurer with a mink seat and sidecar bidet.

While I am resting, the other three go out for a ride, and while stopped on a small summit, all three of them were blown from their bikes. This episode provided the inspiration I needed for finalizing the award names for their bikes: Larry, Curly, and Moe.