RIDING ON A MOTORBIKE THROUGH PATAGONIA
Well, this isn't my first travel log for this trip, but I hope it will be the one you read. Sometimes, inspiration is not ready to hand, and one writes things one doesn't really feel.
Having left Buenos Aires in late August, I stopped over in Tandil before continuing on my way towards Valdes Peninsula.
When I was on the road again, I began to experience what constituted, up to that point in my trip, the most unpleasant of its aspects, i.e., our "famous" Patagonian winds.
The "Mule", as I had nicknamed my recalcitrant motorbike, took me along a good number of kilometers and, after camping out at Rio Colorado, we got to Madryn, where the weather couldn't have been better, with only a few clouds in the sky, despite the fact that the weather in the Peninsula varies like the moods of a manic-depressive psychopath.
Wouldn't you know! The following day made a stark contrast with its predecessor. The change was so sudden that the rain began as we were arriving in Puerto Piramides. The bad weather continued for the next few days, prompting me to try for better weather elsewhere.
The little used and almost deserted road that I took, Route 23, spans Argentina from Sierra Grande up to Bariloche, and is 90% gravel track. The wind, meanwhile, steadily increased in force, becoming quite dangerous, because deep gravel and wind are a risky combination. That afternoon the rain turned to sleet, and then to a terrible blizzard, the worst in the season. We reduced speed and kept our feet down, gingerly piloting the bike along the road because we had to get to our destination without fail. With fingers frozen despite gloves, and the Mule's engine temperature right down as though it had barely started up, we finally reached the paved road.
When I got to the home of my friends, Paula and Guille, they dried me out in front of their stove. I spent a number of days with the kids, who showed me around a few local beauty spots. The heavy snowfall provided a spectacular mountain background for my photos. I even got a bit of snowboarding in, as my visit just happened to coincide with that of an Exodus van.
Time to go on our way, so we left northwards, going by Villa la Angostura and getting onto the 7 Lakes Trail. The weather was changing constantly and the road had been blocked, due to which I continued by Villa Traful, and crossed at the Garibaldi pass, which would surprise me on my return by being completely snowed over.
Once in San Martin, the weather changed completely. I stayed a couple of days, took a few shots and left again for Villa Pehuenia. Past Junin, the road became gravel track again, and my bike's back tire was worn smooth. As there was no place to change it, I simply had to hope for the best and pray it would hold. The road was a steady descent all the way to the Alumine river and the vegetation was sparse, reminding me of northern Cuyo landscapes, with reddish pebbles, grass still untouched by frost, and a central river reflecting a rainbow of colors.
This was a beautiful spectacle, and everything changed as I approached the left shore of the lake: trees on all sides, especially pehuenes (Araucaria or monkey-puzzle tree); this unexpectedly beautiful landscape left me amazed.
I stayed for a few days. The evenings are incredible, with the clouds helping to change the hues of the reds, purples and yellows that imitate surrealist art. We continued on our way, and I decided to go towards Zapala, on a road with less gravel, due to the fact that somewhere along the line I had lost the puncture repair kit.
Halfway there, and approaching the abra (opening), before the two pines, the wind began to gust strongly, thanks to which fact we were able to make "intimate acquaintance" with all the details of the roadside. It took me half an hour to get the Mule back on the road and leave the place, with constant wind and pelting snow all the while.
We went straight through Zapala and continued towards Junin. We got there soaked to our skin. A lentil stew soon got us back on our feet, however. We stayed a few days in Junin before leaving. By this time, the Paso de Cordoba pass was a huge "snowdrift". We did the last 5 km uphill in first gear, and the downhill leg the same way.
We continued on our way through Traful, where the weather was slightly better behaved, and from there to La Angostura, where it worsened again.
Then Bariloche, again drying out in front of a stove. Getting our strength back we continued downwards through El Bolson, los Alerces and Esquel; from that point I once again decide to cross to the other side of the continent, so we go down to Tecka and cut across to Gaiman on a spectacular road that takes us through gullies and canyons that are comparable to those of the northern provinces.
At the halfway point, we go through the Paso de Indios (Indian Pass), where the landscape looks like the set of a cowboy movie, and one constantly expects the "injuns" to appear through the gaps in the hills.
When we finally arrive at Valdez Peninsula the weather couldn't be better, so I embark to do a spot of Right Whale watching. The captain lets me up into the crow's nest, where one feels the ship's rolling slightly more, but the view makes up for the discomfort.
In Puerto Madryn, a motorbike mechanic invites me to sleep at his house, named "El Gato" (The Cat), and over a nighttime barbecue and a couple of beers we "let our hair down". The next day with a quick repair job to "keep our heads on our shoulders", we leave for Punta Ninfas.
Once we're there, I look for a way down to the shore, finding myself surrounded by walruses and their young. Having completed the "Atlantic Coast Tour", I get my gear together and leave for the "Edge of the World", Tierra del Fuego.
The wind doesn't let up, and the weather gets steadily drier and colder.
We cross the border, with it the Magellan Straits, and we're there, in Tierra del Fuego. We get to the Argentine border post with almost no gas left, fill up and leave for Rio Grande. After spending the night there we continue, through rain, sunshine and snow, until rounding a curve we finally see the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia, and I have time to think: "now we only have to do the uphill bit! Ouch!"
M. Nicolas Olaciregui.