Shrinking The Planet – One Ride At A Time

Fin del Mundo

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 16)

After only a few minutes but for what at the time seemed like hours, we reached the crest of the mountain.  Snow continued to fall but still did not accumulate on the surface of the road.  We were quite thankful that as we descended, the snow turned rain and the temperature turned from freezing to merely uncomfortably cold.  But we did count our blessings as a motorcycle trip down a snow-covered twisting mountain road would have been foolish endeavor.

We continued down the mountain in rain and by the time we reached its base, we were ready for some fuel, a respite from the weather and a dry warm place.  Onward we traveled in the rain on good paved road until we reached the crossroads town of Tolhuin.  There at a four corners stop was a gas station and even a mini-mart of sorts.  Bravo!  Time for a break.

We quickly parked up the bikes, bought some fuel and headed directly to the mini-mart.  Inside were all the accoutrements that you’d normally find in such a place.  Maps, oil, a small assortment of dry groceries, trinkets for bored traveling children and soft drinks.  As we marched around the place in our dripping rainsuits, Kim strolled over to the cooler to look for a Coke.  Ultimately she did find it, but she also found a can of liquid refreshment the likes of which we’d never seen.

In a slim white and pink can decorated with a big pink heart, there it was.  Our first sighting of can of; “Mr. Love”!  Advertised as pheromone enhanced, it was supposedly an aphrodisiac drink.  Wow, and to think, I wasted all that energy courting and being nice to Kim all these years.  All this time, the answer was actually in a can near the tip of South America.  The things you learn on a trip to the end of the world!  Although we didn’t purchase any of the drink, it did make for a good picture and we snapped several as the amused (or not so amused) attendant watched.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

We drank our drinks, dried off and warmed ourselves up in the free warmth of the mini-mart.  But it was time to get moving and after about a 30 minute stop, we got back on the bikes and making our way towards the southernmost city in the world; Ushuaia.  Luck was with us and the rain gods decided to have some pity on our souls and ceased unleashing their moist and chilly droplets onto us.  As we rode on, pavement started to dry.  Our spirits began to rise as the rain ceased; it was a perfect antithesis.  For as the falling droplets diminished, our spirits rose to meet and eventually surpass the cold and misery that had been deposited on us.  We were almost there; Ushuaia.  And it was only a couple of hours ride away.

Before we knew it, the road was completely dry and took on a smooth flowing and curving demeanor.  It wandered through forests and along streams that meandered beside the mountains which had guided the rushing water along its current path.  Shots of sunlight occasionally burst from the clouds above, seeming like nature’s own camera, taking flash pictures of motorcyclists wending their way southward.

And then the realization hit me.  We were almost there and nearing the end of our journey.  This had been a wonderful trip.  One that I will never forget.  I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to have made this ride, but the joys, challenges and excitement were nearing their conclusion.

So it was at this time that I had an experience that I had never had before.  Simultaneously, I was overjoyed but also sad to be near the point of tears.  Exultation ran through me as I knew that we had made this trip, enjoyed it, its sometimes challenges and all the people we had met to its fullest.  But at the same time I was extremely sad.  I felt as though I was experiencing a personal loss.  The loss of the continuing journey and the loss of all the first time experiences we had encountered.  It was a very strange emotion and not one that I’ll ever forget.

I suppose that many “travelers” experience this feeling at the end of their journey.  But it was the first time for me and I can tell you that the feeling was as intense as many other firsts you will experience in your life.  This feeling I would wager, is the kind of feeling that keeps “adventure motorcyclists” or any other kind of traveler, wanting more.

So as we rode the final few miles to Ushuia, it was very quiet on the comms between Kim and I.  I think we were both experiencing the joy and sorrow of completing what was such a wonderful journey together.  I would have it no other way, since for me sharing these experiences especially with someone you love, is something that can never be matched.

Emotions in check, I now sprinted on the twisty road towards Ushuaia.  Before we knew it we were there.  Approaching a stop sign at the end of the woods stood a 15 foot tall stone and wooden sign.  At its side large letters proclaimed the location’s name.  Hand carved in the wood and painted gold was the word “Ushuaia”.  Additional boards jutted from the side of the masonry and rock exclaiming in hand carved letters  “Bienvenidos A La Ciudad Mas Austral Del Mundo”; “Welcome to the Most Southerly City in the World”.  We had made it.

It was time for some pictures and a celebration of sorts so we parked our bikes and set out to take some souvenir photos.  Now I was elated.  We had made it and enjoyed every minute.  There we were standing in front of the evidence.  There was nothing more than joy.  No sorrow could be found, it was just pure joy.  Pictures taken and hugs made, it was time to get to our hotel in the city.  We had little time before we would fly home and we wanted to take the time to see what Ushuaia had to offer and of course, ride to the end of the furthest south road on the planet.  We’ll take you there in the next chapter.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 15)

Due to the strong currents the captain had to keep the ferry’s engines running. The current was indeed swift and strong and the ferry continued to try to wash itself ashore. But with excellent seamanship the captain jockeyed the ferry so that it remained at a 90° angle to the landing. Soon all the other traffic had offloaded in it was our turn to ride right onto the ferry.  Luckily for us, as motorcyclists we took up little space on deck and we were the first to board with a few cars and abundance of tractor trailer rigs following behind.

It was cold and windy and as the ferry lurched left and right with each new tractor trailer rig, we decided to go inside try to warm up a bit.  A very narrow passageway led to a cramped cabin area, but it was an escape from the strong winds and the spray of the cold ocean waters. We sat side-by-side in the narrow compartment stamping our feet trying to get warm. Still chilled to the bone, we overheard somebody talking in the compartment saying there was something outside to see. We had no clue what was out there, but what the heck, how many times would we be crossing the Straits of Magellan?  Not knowing what awaited, we wandered outside to have a look.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

At first we saw nothing.  Jeez, here we were standing in the wind and cold spray for what?  But then, someone pointed at the water and I caught a glimpse of something.  At first it was a darkish blur gliding through the water alongside the ferry.  It looked like the reflection of a cloud on the surface of the water, but it was moving with amazing speed and zigzagging through the water.

Suddenly it breached; more like leapt from the froth of the wake of the ferry.  A small black and white dolphin accompanied by two more friends.  We would later find out that they were Commerson’s dolphins, and these guys were one of about 3,400 in the Straits of Magellan.  They continued to follow us for about 10 minutes leaping from the water in graceful fluid arcs.  They were the best ambassadors to the land of fire that we could have ever wished for.

About twenty minutes later we were nearing the coast of Tierra del Fuego; The Land of Fire.   The wind, the overcast and the increasing rain couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm to reach our destination.  Before we knew it, the belly of the ferry was scraping on the shore of the land that just weeks ago seemed just a distant dream.  Yet we had made it and we were here.  We were very, very excited.

As we rolled off the damp and slick ferry ramp, I was a bit overwhelmed.  It was dank and dreary, but I was elated.  We had come a long way, over thousands of miles on gravel and through high wind, and there in front of me suspended from a large sign were the words in Spanish, Bienvenido a Tierra del Fuego; “Welcome To Tierra Del Fuego”.  We had made it and we only had a bit over a day’s ride to reach the very tip of the South American continent.  In fact, the most southern habitable place on the planet excluding those small scientific camps in Antarctica.

After about 15 minutes on pavement, we once again returned to the gravel.  The rain began to intensify and we still had a few more hours to ride before reaching our hotel for the evening.   Our route took out through the small coastal town of Rio Grande.  The rain, wind and cold were beginning to take their toll and we decided that we should stop somewhere to eat and warm-up.

We roamed around the town a bit and found a small local shop selling roasted chickens and 2 foot long sandwiches.  The shop itself was tiny. It was nothing to talk about and full of smoke from the chicken roasting in a brick hearth inside.  Still to us, it looked like a haven of gigantic proportions.  It was a take out only place, but we asked the owners if we could sit down on our little foldable portable chairs and eat in their tiny little rectangle that was warm and dry.  They were more than happy to let us and as we squatted in their shop, we ate hot empanadas and slowly dried among the sizzling chicken and baking dough.

After stuffing ourselves on empanadas, we were somewhat dry and feeling much warmer than when we arrived.  We thanked our hosts and got back onto the bikes in the drizzle and wind.  As we exited Rio Grande, we rolled past a memorial to the Malvinas War (Falklands War).  A single, easily 4o year old jet fighter stood perched on a pole in a small park.  It was a symbol of pride for the Argentines and a remembrance of lives lost in that war.   As we passed the still bird held aloft not by the air under its wings, but by a rusting piece of steel, it was a bit of a solemn reminder for two riders that the world doesn’t always get along.

Not long after passing the memorial, we were once again back on pavement and heading over mountains that loomed ahead.  The weather continued to deteriorate and the heavy clouds began to descend quickly.  From these clouds, tendrils of virga appeared as fingers reaching for the earth, hoping for a handhold lest they be torn apart on the jagged mountain peaks.  As we climbed on the mountain roads, it was unclear whether the clouds were descending upon us or we were climbing to them or a combination of both.  But as we climbed, the visibility continued to drop and then…  it began to snow.

Large wet heavy flakes drifted towards the pavement and impaled themselves on us as we rode onward.  Our visors quickly began to frost up with ice forming around the edges.  Still the snow was not yet accumulating on the pavement and we were quite thankful for that.  We thought it best to ride on and hoped that we would soon be descending into warmer temperatures so that the white wet flakes would soon return to their 100 percent liquid form.  With increasing anticipation, we rode onward knowing that we would shortly start our descent from the mountain.  We’ll tell you about the ride down the mountain in the next chapter.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Experiences Never Die

I’ve gotten to thinking lately about how lucky I’ve been to have discovered two wheeled transportation.  Even more so, having discovered two wheels powered by an engine.

I can still remember my first pedal bike very clearly.  Those early experiences, spent on two wheels molded a desire for adventure and adventuring.  That machine, powered by the force of muscle and the breath of a young boy, was in reality powered by the imagination of a young mind, imagining and longing for adventure.

As I rode that 20″ framed machine, a pair of young legs thrust its rider toward unseen and previously imagined horizons.  Two wheels became the means to cover great distances at great speed.  I can still remember the rush of the air by my face and the wind tousling my then full head of hair.  Just the thought of being able to cover what appeared to be vast distances at what was then great speed, gave growth to a longing sense of adventure to new places and adventures yet untaken.

As the years passed, older and not necessarily much wiser, motorized two wheel transportation came within my reach.  Motorized two wheel transportation, to a budding adventurer, young or old represents a waiting magic carpet.  Often attractive in looks, slim, sleek and comfortable, freshly cleaned tassels (farkles) glittering, it awaits those who would simply climb aboard and enjoy the ride to the next adventure.

For those that do take that magical leap, the world and a world of experiences await.  The only barrier, the willingness to take off on the journey and an open mind with which to experience the world.  Should the rider climb on, grab the tassels, and consent to set the journey in motion, the experiences of the world await.  Both good and bad.

Whether those experiences are good or bad will be decided by the magic carpet rider.  Only that person, the one who has the intimate experiences, can pass judgement on them.  For those who truly savor an adventure, the good and the bad are what make up the adventure.  These experiences combine to provide a soup for the soul.  A tablespoon of fun, a cup of local hospitality and perhaps a dash of mechanical difficulty all combine to flavor the pot with a rich and hearty flavor.  Such adventurers know that a soup made of only a single fine ingredient will never match the taste of one made with many different standard ingredients.

So that brings me back to the title of this little article.  On any adventure, is it worth it to risk good and bad experiences, with the bad potentially outweighing the good?  At the end of the journey, will the adventurer be any better or worse for having taken the adventure?  Let’s examine this a bit and see what we can come up with.

Let me give you a real world scenario.  My father had frontal lobe dementia, a disease sort of like Alzheimer’s, that first robbed him of his memory, and ultimately his life.  A brilliant scientist, as the dementia took hold, his memory was severely reduced and he was a mere shell of the experiences he encountered and the education he obtained.  So was it worth it for him to work hard, get two undergraduate and two post-graduate degrees, have a family, raise children, and risk all the hardships that raising a family can bring.  The simple answer, of course it was!  My father lived a full life and enjoyed his family and his interactions with others despite some of the hardships that came with it.

With the passing of my father, did his experiences die?  No, they were had, felt and responded to by him and others.  These experiences molded him into the person he would later become.  Without them, he and indeed the world itself, would be different.  Both he and the people he met had changed, no matter how slightly, by their interactions.

So the same might be said of that would be adventurer thinking about jumping on that two wheeled motorized magic carpet.  Is it worth it to take that magical leap onto two wheels and commence your journey of new life experiences to new places and new people?  There could be difficult times during the journey…  For those that wish to experience the world and those in it, the answer is a clear; yes!

Although we all will eventually die, the experiences we have had, together with the interactions with those we have met, will live on in those people and their children.  So by riding the magic carpet, we will have made the world and ourselves, a little richer and better at each waypoint of the journey.

So jump on your magic carpet and take off on that journey!

Ride2Adventure – Shrink The Planet One Ride At A Time

Because It’s There!

Why?  That’s the old question asked of mountain climbers by risk averse earth bound mortals who can’t fathom why anyone would risk life and limb to climb a mountain.  The well known and sometimes quoted response… “Because it’s there!” attributed to British mountain climber George Herbert Leigh Mallory seems to be a somewhat enigmatic response.  Was he really saying that the only reason that he attempted to climb Everest was because it was in front of him?  Hmmm…..

One of my acquaintances recently asked a similar question having seen parts of the Dakar Rally, arguably one of the most challenging, exhausting and perhaps most dangerous sanctioned racing competitions on the planet, especially on a motorcycle. Why would someone, particularly a privateer with no corporate sponsorship and no real financial motivation, enter such a competition?

A clearly dangerous activity, racing the Dakar on a motorcycle is one hugely intrepid undertaking.  Towering mountains, vast deserts, blistering heat, high speeds on rough terrain and long days in the saddle are merely part of the challenge that is Dakar.   Numerous competitors have lost their lives over the years and not just from solo falls, but from collisions with other competitors, getting lost, days long sand storms, dehydration, and some would even say, sheer exhaustion.  Some days you ride over one hundred miles just to get to the start of the day’s race.  Stages (timed sections of the race) can be so long that by the time many competitors make it to the bivouac at the end of the day, they barely have enough time to eat some food, service the bike and take care of bodily functions before the start of the next day’s stage.  Sleep is a commodity that is often in very short supply making this grueling, physical two week feat all the more difficult.

So once again, people may ask, why do they do it?

I’ve never been a Dakar competitor so I can’t say with any degree of certainty why the men and women who take on this challenge and pay huge sums of money to do so, risk it all for a competition that many people don’t even know exist. I know that I’ll never ride the Dakar and probably will never have half the skill necessary to undertake such a racing adventure, but being a so-so rider always trying to improve, I think I may have an inkling of what drives a privateer to enter the Dakar.

The Dakar is a gigantic ever changing and shifting monster.  High as the mountains, covered in deep sand and jagged rock, it breathes its hot windy breath like fire onto all who would try to take it on.  Its call is a mesmerizing one for those who hear it, at first a chant, but increasingly becoming more of a taunt.  “You can’t beat me and you know it.  You can’t beat me and you know it.  You can’t beat me and you know it.”

To those who hear the chant and taunt, the Dakar is an affront to their abilities.  Some people come equipped with an excess of drive; drive to excel, succeed, and overcome challenges that many others might find overwhelming.  To them, the Dakar monster represents an irrepressible challenge, the triple dog dare of dares.  It’s one they just can’t turn away from.  The Dakar confronts them and thus the monster must be slayed.

Thus they risk financial hardship and potentially financial ruin, trying to prepare a Dakar ready and worthy effort.  Then there’s the physical training necessary to undertake to ensure the requisite fitness to endure such a travail and maximum opportunity to reach the monster.  Finally, there’s the task of slaying the monster.  If you are able to financially and physically make it to the Dakar, you have reached a major milestone, but you just begun your journey.  The monster awaits.

Over two weeks, you will engage and fight the monster.  Some days you may feel like you are winning, but most you will feel battered and lucky to be alive.  The monster is that tough.  It will fight you long and hard, with all of its elemental power raining down on you trying to force you to fail or quit.  If you are lucky, you will do battle for the full two weeks with this unrelenting force of nature few can overcome.  But, if you have worked hard enough, if you have trained hard enough, if you have tried hard enough and lastly if you are brave enough, the monster can be tamed, temporarily at least.

Your reward will be your own knowledge that you, using your own skills, strength, stamina and bravery have beaten an “unbeatable” beast.  The ultimate recognition that using your own abilities and wits, you overcame and conquered an insurmountable challenge.  This time.  And for those who have heard the chanting and taunting of the beast and emerged victorious, the question will be, “Was one victory enough?” For this beast never truly dies, it just goes back to where it came from and waits for you or others to try to beat it again.  For those who failed, the chant and taunt becomes louder and fiercer.  Only the truly daunting will attempt another attack on the beast.

So why would anyone with a sense of riding and racing adventure risk it all to ride the Dakar?  The answer is simple, “Because it’s there!”

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 14)

Another Patagonian morning dawned cold and overcast.  Once again, we dashed for the luxury of the hot water showers.  Warmed and cleaned, we were anxious to commence the final leg of our journey to the End of the World at Tierra del Fuego.  We ate a quick breakfast and returned to our tents to put on our gear, clean our dusty helmets and get back on the gravel.  We would certainly miss Torres del Paine, but the end of the earth was now calling more loudly than ever.

Back on the gravel, we continued to experience towering mountain views and twisty mountain roads.  Riding up and over mountain passes and down steep roads, we felt like we had become one with the surrounding landscape.  In fact, in some areas, we literally became one with the surroundings.  Recent road construction had chopped huge chunks out of the surrounding granite.  Walls of rock surrounded us on both sides, while chunks recently rendered from the earth lay at the road’s edge and sometimes in the road itself.  Looking up at roughly hewn rock walls at both sides of the road, we made our way through the earth towards Tierra del Fuego.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

Along the way, we had the opportunity to cross beautiful rivers of multi-hued blues on wooden bridges.  Of significant length, the bridges were in good repair but consisted mainly of trestles lined with rows of wood and then overlayed with unsecured planks for two tire tracks.

Before long, it seemed like we had changed continents.  Large flat green plains dotted with trees and giant rock outcroppings covered in roots and vines made us feel like we had somehow made it to the plains of South Africa.   Wire and wooden fences designed either to keep animals in or people out, or both lined the gravel roadway and served as a frame to the beautiful scenes.

We rode across what seemed like African prairies while an ocassional large bird soared overhead on unseen currents of rising air.  Circling and gliding surveying all below and perhaps looking for a mid day meal.  Had the temperatures been 50 degrees more than the 50 degrees fahrenheit it was, I would have sworn we were somehow transported to Africa.

We continued on the good gravel on an undulating course.  As we motored along we came upon some giant rocky outcroppings.  We had to stop to check this out.  Standing just at the side of the road was a gigantic wall of rock.  Seemingly rising out of the ground for no reason, it looked like a giant anvil surrounded by some trees and covered with brush.  Nothing around it was so grand in size it just seemed so out of place and so random in what had been fairly open riding.

I asked Kim to get off her bike and stand near to the rock tower and the enormity of the rock was clear.  Kim was barely discernible as she stood by the roadside.  In fact, if you look at the picture in this selection, you will see her standing at the right side of the road standing beside her bike looking up at the rock.  You can barely make her out on the right side of the road.  It was truly impressive for a single rock.

Back on the bikes again, we made our way towards the little town of Puerto Natales on the coast of Chile.  It was a pretty ride sometimes along the cost as we meandered into town and back onto pavement.  But it was what happened in town that was about to make the day a little more interesting.   We had stopped at a little diner in town for lunch for a quick little meal.  As we left the restaurant, a man stood outside and explained that he was a newspaper reporter.  He had seen us ride into town (there’s more to this story) and he’d like to talk about our journey for the paper.  After a brief discussion, we were on our way southward once more and we found that the next day, a brief article was published about us in the local newspaper.

Back on the pavement we paralleled the coast for a while and passed a few small towns which had been abandoned.  The buildings were still in pretty good shape, but to townspeople had apparently moved on in search of something better.  It was a bit of a strange feeling seeing all these buildings, it good condition, and not a soul around.  Not far from he abandoned town, we came across an even more unusual scene.  Just outside of the last town we passed not even totally out of the water, lay the hulls of two ships.

One, lay mostly beached, its hull mainly intact and its but the stern of the ship had mostly rusted away and had nearly departed the remainder of the hull.  The other, laying on its left side had been reduced to its ribs and spars, the skeletal remains of a once seaworthy craft.  We decided the sight deserved some closer attention so we stopped and took a walk around both ships.  The more intact one was interesting, but the one that had been reduced to its skeletal remains brought about some terrific opportunities for pictures.

We walked around and through the ship’s hull taking pictures from different vantage points.  Once fully inside, you got the feeling that you were indeed inside the belly of some beast.  Ribs surrounding you and diminishing in size as it made its way to the sea.  With a little imagination, you could envision yourself in the story of Jonah trapped inside a whale.  This time, a whale with iron ribs which were slowly melting with time.  It was quite a little short term adventure.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to dawdle around the wrecks since we still had to make it to our ferry for the trip across the Strait of Magellan.  So we hopped back on the bikes and continued our way southward.  A couple of hours later, we came across another quite interesting sight.  In the middle of nowhere, we came across what appeared to be some aluminum poles with some circular twisted tubes of metal at the top.  There were several of the poles all in a row and they were on both sides of the road.

Of course we had to stop and check out the poles and find out what they meant.  When we got closer we found that the poles and the metal at the top of the poles were designed as art and as an homage to the wind circling the globe.  What that perspective, the poles easily started to make sense and the artistic viewpoint was readily seen.  There was another learning experience for me as well.

On one of the poles was a plaque that indeed said the posts were an homage to the wind.  However, there was also a globe inscribe on the plaque and Antarctica was on the top!  Since we were in the southern hemisphere and the wind was from the south, the orientation of the globe for this artist was the opposite of what we were used to.

Each of these little stops was eating into our time and we really needed to be making time towards the ferry.  Back on the bikes we straight lined it to the ferry and made it in plenty of time.  Phew!  As we pulled up to the ferry station, we had a little time to look around.  There it was in front of us, the Straights of Magellan!  Choppy waters awaited us but the ferry had not yet arrived.  We looked for the dock, but none was to be found.  This ferry was to arrive, pull up to the asphalt that ran to the ocean and drop a ramp to allow us to embark and other vehicles to disembark.

After about an hour of waiting, the ferry came into view.  There was quite a strong current and the ferry had to crab heavily in order to run itself aground at close to a 90 degree angle.  Seconds after it landed, the ramp came down revealing a heavily loaded ferry with several tractor trailer rigs and many cars waiting to unload.  However, it was clear that the loading and unloading had been done many times before and it wasn’t long before it was our turn to board the ferry for the crossing of the straits and landfall at Tierra del Fuego where we’ll take you in part 15.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 13) Video Shots

So you’ve seen a lot of pictures and read quite a bit of our story in the Ride To The End of The World – Fin del Mundo.  But sometimes, words and pictures take a back seat to being there.  Here are a few video shots that bring you on our ride to Torres del Paine’, hopefully putting you on the bike with us.

We had stopped at a rather remote border crossing at the Argentina/Chile Border.  The wind was way up and non-stop, in fact, it was so up, that the border guards stopped what they were doing, came out of the border facility with their cameras just to waive us through and wish us luck on our ride.  What an experience!

Wind at the Argentinian Border from Mike & Kim Botan on Vimeo.

You must also remember the moments I spoke about in Part 11 where my attention was divided by the beautiful mountains, winding road, pristine blue lakes and grazing guanacos.  Well let me take you there for a few seconds to see for yourself.

A Great View At Torres del Paine with Guanacos from Mike & Kim Botan on Vimeo.

Thanks for riding with us!

Mike and Kim

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 12)

With the morning sun came a beautiful blue sky and chilling winds and a weak and mostly ineffective sun.  It was outright cold.  Kim and I wiped the chill from our faces which had been sticking out of the blankets all night and sprinted for the hot showers.  Running only as a chilled American can across the freezing and wind swept Patagonian landscape, we scurried to showers and nearly dove in head first.  Thankfully, the water was hot and it was not long before we were warmed up and ready to head back to our tent to put on warm clothes, eat breakfast and start the day.

Nicely warmed up, fed and wrapped in appropriate clothing, we started towards the Mirador Condor trail.  The sun had done some work and the temperature had risen into the 40s so it was a pleasant walk to the trailhead.  From the road, we could see holes in the sides of some of the mountains where the condors were nesting.  The opportunity to see the Andes Condors as well as the view from 2ooo meters spurred us on to make the climb to the top.

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The first part of the trail was through forested hills with tree branches blocking out most of the sun.  We could hear the birds chirping above us alerting others to our arrival in their neck of the woods.  As we wended our way to the top, we stopped to take a few pictures of the things that surrounded us.  Brightly colored flowers adorned the rising dirt paths as we made our way higher into the mountains.  Flowers and berries splashed with reds and purple dazzled our eyes while small birds flitted from one tree to the next.

I watched a small bird bringing a green worm to its family members as it nervously flitted from branch to branch, concerned about the welfare of his/her family as well as the dinner he/she had just brought home.  Luckily I was able to catch a few pictures of him/her as it jumped back and forth, eyeing us nervously.  We didn’t want to scare him/her too much, so we walked away letting it bring its dinner to its family assured that we were not there to interrupt their afternoon dining plans.

After about 30 minutes of walking in the forest, the path took us into the open and we found that we had already climbed fairly high from where we had started.  Below us we could see the Lago Pehoe’ campground and absolutely breathtaking views of Lago Pehoe’ and the surrounding mountains.  My words will do the sight no justice, you just have to see them yourself to believe it.  The pictures you will see here, really don’t come close to the absolute stark beauty of the scene.

I am learning that as I travel the world, each time I think I have seen the most spectacular sight that will never be surpassed, all I have to do is travel a few more miles and open my eyes to that which surrounds me.  It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that may be true.  But having seen what I have so far in my journeys on a motorcycle, this beholder can only wonder how many more superlatives, how many amazing visions are left for one person to see in a lifetime.  For what I have seen during our motorcycle journeys, certainly could fill the lifetime of visions for many less fortunate than me.  For that, I am extremely grateful.

It was not much longer that we spotted our first black speck circling in the sky.  It’s wings were outstretched as it lazily floated on the currents of air rising from the surrounding mountains.  Tiny movements of its wings steered course corrections and it seemed like forever before it started to come closer to where we were.  It was too far away to be sure what kind of bird it was and since it was very high, we had no background reference to tell how large the bird was.

We patiently (or perhaps not so patiently) waited for the bird to get close enough to ascertain what it was.  As it got closer we could indeed make ut the fact that it was a very large bird.   Black with a white ring around its neck, it seemed in no particular rush to go anywhere.  Perhaps it was looking for its dinner, but it just soared and sailed on the currents rising from the mountainsides.  Soon another bird came into view and then a third.

Now there was some action as the three birds started to swoop up and down and dart amongst each other.  By now we could clearly see the white ring around their necks.  These were indeed Andes Condors and they had decided to put on a show for us.  Circling and sometimes diving, the birds put on an aerial show that was a delight.  We stood and watched them for about half an hour, but it appeared that the weather was beginning to deteriorate and we decided it was best to return to our camp.

With more than a little regret, we made our way down the mountain, through the little forest and back to our campground.  It was still fairly early in the afternoon, so what were we going to do for the rest of the day?  Well the campground had a playground for kids and we were feeling rather like giddy adolescents, so we hit the little playground area and took turns on the see-saw.  It is with deep regret that I must show you the photographic evidence of such foolishness, but I must tell you, we had fun!

After what seemed like hours in the playground which was probably more like 20 minutes, we returned to our tent for a quick nap and an late call for dinner so we could watch the sun setting on the Torres del Paine mountains.  As the sun dropped lower on the horizon, the mountains came alive.  Individual faces of the mountainside turned molten gold as the sun sank.  The intensity of the gold increased until suddenly, the sun dipped below the horizon and the faces of the mountains turned to grey again.  What an amazing show!

After dinner, we returned to our tents for another night of blanketed but cold sleep.  Tomorrow we would be heading to Tierra del Fuego (the land of fire) in earnest.  We’ll take you there in part 13.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 11)

The gravel was a welcomed friend, a not so old acquaintance with whom we were about to re-rekindle that solid friendship from days recently passed.  Having the gravel under our wheels increased the excitement and intensity of the ride.   Along with the relentless and chilling Patagonian winds, we once again felt like we were “adventurers” heading into unknown territory.

We rode for a few hours on the plains of Chile to rising winds and rising terrain.  The wind was chilled and the air crystal clear.  Even though we could not yet see them, we could tell we were approaching tall mountains and the cold air that flowed among them.  Still, it was an enjoyable experience and only made us more anxious to see what lay ahead.

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We had seen peeks and glimpses of the spectacular mountain range in the distance and even stopped to take a few “tourist” like pictures when we had a clear view of certain sections.   We posed and smiled, with and without our bikes like we were the first people to have discovered this marvelous sight.  In retrospect, it might have been a bit silly, but we were really enjoying ourselves and the preview of the beauty that is Torres del Paine.

After a few hours of riding, we came upon the entrance of the Torres Del Paine National Park and paid a fee to enter. It was not much, but it would be worth every peso that we paid.  The gravel roads winded their way around and over mountain passes, exposing beautiful views of Torres del Paine.  It was not long after we entered the park that we first sighted our first herd of guanacos.

What the heck is a guanaco I can hear you thinking.  Well they are llama like animals and they are to be found throughout Torres del Paine.  Sometimes solo, but most often in small herds, they graze casually beside the roads and on the mountainsides, quite happy to watch you as you watch them.  It was quite exciting to see so many of these animals in their natural habitat and not be fearful of man.  It seemed that with each bend we rounded, or each crest we reached, there was at least one guanaco lazily grazing nearby.  It was a marvelous experience.

But this experience was only the beginning.  For as we passed each guanaco, we also rode closer to to the Torres del Paine mountain range.  Soon a competition for our attention began.  Our attention was divided between the twisting gravel mountain road, lazy guanacos grazing at the roadside and our view of the approaching Torres del Paine mountains.  As we rode closer, towering mountain spires conspired to steal our attention from the road and place it firmly on their granite majesty.

The closer we got, the more we were amazed by the scene.  But then we got another treat.  As we neared Torres del Paine’s towering spires, mother nature decided to up the ante with lakes as blue as any we had ever seen.  They were sprinkled all along the road providing the perfect frame to Torres del Paine.

Transfixed as we were by all the surrounding sights, we soon came upon our stop for the next three days.  The Lago Pehoe’ campground.  We’ve camped in a lot of places, but we must say that the views nearby Lago Pehoe’ were unsurpassed by any other place we’ve ever visited.  Just over the trees of the campground stood the Torres del Paine mountain range fronted by the multi-hued blue Lake Pehoe’.

It was not long before we arrived at Lake Pehoe’ Camping campground.  We rode in and found our “camping” spot.  Once again, it was excellent.  Our digs for the two nights of camping were to be “permanent” metal framed geodesic dome tents set off the ground on large wooden platforms.  This was as far from primitive camping as you can get.  Inside the tents were two bunk beds with equipped with a mattress and a blanket.   We even had a flushing toilet facility and showers and a sit down restaurant outside.  Wow, was this terrific!

There were not many people in the campground so we essentially had the place to ourselves for the first day.  It was already a quite chilly day, and the clear skies bode for a cold night.  But with these amazing surroundings, we were happy as can be to be in such an awe inspiring area.    We decided to go for a walk along the gravel road to take in some more scenery and get a better look at Lake Pehoe’; it was well worth it.

We wandered the road staring at the mountains and gawking at the lake.  They seemed to compliment each other so well that as I snapped each picture, I didn’t think it could get any better, but every few minutes we walked brought a different angle or scene to see.  It was unbelievable, but the views and scenery were in fact getting better.

I turned the camera on some trees and flowers for a change and even they seemed spectacular in these surroundings.  How could this be?  Were our senses just heightened by our surroundings or was there in fact just more beauty around each and every corner?  I had no answer for this question, but I happily kept snapping pictures and enjoying the amazing walk we started.

By the time we returned to the campground, other travelers had arrived in their machines.  This time they were not on bikes, but were in elaborate 4 wheel drive vehicles and they were on a 147 day circumnavigation of six South American countries.  Mostly from Germany, they had already covered Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina and had Brazil and Uruguay yet to cover.  We chatted a bit and then went on our way to dinner.

After a good dinner, it was time for bedtime and we turned in for the night.  It was quite cold, but we were secure in our tent and we bundled up as best as we could.  It was still an enjoyable night.

The following morning we decided to take another walk, this time up into the mountains a bit.  Our goal was to see the famous Andes Condors.  So we headed over to the Mirador Condor Trail where we will take you in Part 12.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 10)

We glided over the paved narrow two lane following the contours of the fjord.  The mountains rose even higher around us and the peaks were covered in a gleaming white snow.  The brightly shining sun bounced from mountain top to the water’s surface and back creating a spectacular sparkle.  Sunglasses were indeed necessary as we wended our way closer to the Perito Moreno glacier.

We stopped at a little toll booth at the entrance to the park and paid a small fee to see what would be yet another marvel on this trip.  Just a few more miles down this winding and now forested road, lay an icy giant, silent and seemingly unmoving, yet amazingly powerful.

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At road’s end, we found ourselves in a fairly large parking lot complete with a few tour busses and hundreds of cars.  A couple of well maintained and new buildings sat to our left, providing places to eat and relax at what is one of Argentina’s natural treasures.  There were several walking paths and we randomly chose one that split the two buildings.

Soon we were on an elevated and grated walking trail above the surface of the ground, heading along the water and then…  There it was, the first close up sight of the Perito Moreno glacier.  Just the far end was in bright sun and the remainder was in shadow, but the size and the power of the glacier could not be hidden.

Giant spires of ice rose from the face of the glacier like the pikes of an advancing ice army.  As we got closer, the shadows could no longer hide the spires and they became clearer and larger.  The immensity of this frozen monolith was as apparent as its ability to act as an irresistible force of nature.  As the sun navigated its way in and out of the clouds, the ice sparkled, and the snow changed from dark grey to gleaming white, changed merely by the passing of clouds and will of the wind.  Nature could indeed paint pictures using its own natural pallete.

We lazily walked our way closer towards this awesome sight on the elevated metal corrugated carpet, eyes riveted to the ice and snow.  Just when we thought we’d seen it all, almost right in front of us, a grey fox rambled by us, not so much in a rush to hide from us, but more interested in finding a tasty morsel to dine upon.  We were truly getting the whole show today.

As close as we could get to the glacier on our man made walkway, it was nothing compared to the up close and personal look we would get from the giant sized catamaran that would take us to within 100 feet of the glacier.  As the time for departure approached, we eagerly boarded in anticipation of catching the aura of the glacier.

We were not disappointed as we slowly cruised out to the glacier.  It was far better to slowly cruise out to it.  The mountains framed the glacier perfectly and the passing clouds provided a cottony backdrop.  Never had white taken on some many different shades.  White ice, white snow and white clouds were all different shades of white and they were perfectly offset by the black of the rocky mountains and grey blue of the sea and the sky.

After about ten minutes of cruising, we reached the glacier.  For a brief period of time, the giant catamaran turned off the engines and the glacier came alive.  At times, we could hear the ice creak and groan as if it were restless and yearning to move faster.  A cool and sometimes downright cold wind flowed from the top of the glacier and spilled over the edge like a waterfall of cooled air.   Jackets were zipped and hats securely fastened in response to the glacier’s cold heartbeat of air.

So while we stood and stared in awe, we heard a gigantic crack like a single clap of thunder and a then a slight rumble.  About 500 yards away, a large chunk of ice had wrested itself free of the glacier’s face and plummeted to the water below.  We saw but did not hear the gigantic splash made by the ice and the waves generated by the bus sized chunk of ice now floating before us.  It was an awesome sight.  We were on a nature overdose and loving every moment of it.

But like all good things, our time at the glacier passed so very quickly.  Soon it would be time to start our ride back to our little hotel in El Calefate for the night.  As we walked back to the bikes, we marveled at how much we had seen in such a short period of time and how much we had enjoyed ourselves already.  But still, we had a two hour ride back through gorgeous country to the hotel to look forward to.  Not bad, not too bad at all.

After what seemed to be a very quick night’s sleep, we were back on the road early and covering some significant miles on mountainous yet smooth pavement.  We swooped around corners and leapt over the tops of the mountains and dove down their backs.  Four hours of pavement passed almost instantaneously.

But almost as suddenly as the road had been smooth and mountainous, we entered the plains again and were back on gravel.  As much as we had enjoyed the pavement, it was good to be back on the gravel and heading into some remote areas again.  As the mountains began to fade, the wind began to increase and once again we found ourselves crabbing into a steady wind with our 2 wheeled craft.

But we would not be too long without our friends the mountains, for we were headed to Torres del Paine and the most impressively beautiful mountain sunsets we have ever seen.  We’ll take you there in Part 11.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 8)

Having sneaked our way into El Chalten in the midst of a snow and rain storm, we had been quite pleased to make it to our comfy little hotel snuggled in the back of this hiking and trekking town.  The rooms were small and spartan, but they were indeed warm and inviting and we took off our cold and damp riding gear and put on some nice dry warm clothes.  It just felt good to be out of the wet and wind.

We hung around our little hotel catching glimpses out the back picture window of the hotel of what was supposed to be beautiful mountain scenery.  But rushing clouds and quick bursts of sun only served to tease us with a quick sighting of a sheer rock wall or shining ice, which would almost immediately become engulfed in a roiling mass of heavy wet cloud.  If these gringos wanted to see the mountain scenery, they were going to have to be patient.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

It began to get a little later in the evening so we decided to stroll into town as the days wind started to diminish as did the rays of the sun.  Whether it was it the setting sun taking pity on us or the spirits that surround El Chalten, something seemed to want to take pity on us and the rain and snow stopped as quickly as it had started and the clouds raced away to parts unknown.  For as we walked out of our place of respite and looked behind us, two towering behemoths came into view.  Pointed and sharp as only newly minted mountains can be, they pointed skyward, appearing to rend the clouds from the sky.  Then a third smaller pike came into view, these rock monoliths were not to be ignored, they wanted their presence known.

They had made their points.  We stood there slack jawed, clicking pictures at alarming tourist rates.  It was a conundrum of sorts.  I wanted to take pictures to have memories, but I didn’t want to experience the sight solely through the limited view of a camera lens.  I must have looked pretty foolish, camera up, camera down, camera up, camera down. The net result, fuzzy pictures and an even fuzzier remembrance of the exciting scene.  Next time I’ll have to choose.

Ultimately, we were able to tear ourselves away from the scene and do a little strolling, get some dinner and even a little shopping done in town.  Kim got some fun things and even I got something that you’ll see later (shade your eyes and hide small children).  We chatted with the shop keepers as best we could and even a couple of locals.  Overall we had a pretty nice late afternoon in El Chalten but we were pretty tired from the day of riding in the weather so after filling ourselves with empanadas, we headed back to the hotel for a good nights rest.

When we awoke the following morning the sun was out but the wind was again up.  However, we weren’t going to let that stop us from investigating the rest of El Chalten.  We’d heard that as well as being a climbing and hiking center, El Chalten also had a reputation for being a bit of a hippie throw back town.  This we had to see.

So we started out after breakfast and just started walking around the small mostly dirt streets.  Houses were in varying condition from very good to not very good, but everyone in the town seemed to be in good spirits and even though the town did not seem affluent by any stretch of the imagination, people seemed to take pride in what they owned and they tried to make their places look nice.  Some folks were very creative in their decoration.

Hand painted tiles were fitted into the sides of buildings leaving a rather beautiful adornment to what would otherwise be a very plain house.  Another had used stencils to make “cave paintings” on the side of their house.  There was just a great deal of creativity amongst the townspeople.  But we would find even more later in the day.

As we walked to the back of the town, we found a staircase that led up to the top of a plateau.  You could see that it led up, but you couldn’t ultimately see where it was leading to.  So curiosity obviously not under control, we marched our way up the stairs to the top of the plateau and found…  another town!

Yes, there was another little town within the town of El Chalten.  It had a glorious view of the town below as well as the surrounding mountains.  It was breathtaking.  But there was more to come.  This town was just being built and many of the houses had yet to be completed.  Some were actively under construction while others seemed to be waiting for their next phase to commence.

But what was really cool about this little town within a town was that each street had its own ambassador waiting to greet you as you entered.  Hand crafted from whatever was available, there were statutes of birds, bicyclists, guitar players, skiers, and whatever the towns people felt would be a nice welcome to their little street.  It was great to see that the residents of this little town had taken the time to build a little more charm, a warm welcome for themselves and everyone who came to visit them.  It was great!

There was also another ambassador of sorts.  An Old English sheepdog that had a habit of sneaking around following Kim wherever we went, but never got close enough for her to pet.  He must have been the shy type.  But he did indeed turn up in several pictures, pictures that I didn’t know he was in when I was taking them.  He was sort of like a Where’s Waldo dog!

We enjoyed ourselves immensely up on the little plateau taking pictures and strolling the streets with Waldo.  Ultimately we had to head back to the hotel because the wind was still up and it was getting chilly.  So back down the stairs we went and we spied a couple of the locals chatting in local clothing.  I just loved the look of their local garments.  It make me aware of the fact that I was in Argentina where there are still Gauchos!  Awesome.

As we made our way back to the hotel, we were thankful for all that we were able to see and do in El Chalten.  We’d enjoyed every minute we’d been there, and tomorrow, rain (or snow) or shine or heavy wind, we were headed off to El Calafate where we’ll take you in Part 10.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 7)

We awoke to more bright sunshine and the ever present strong and gusty winds.  But it was another beautiful day and we were soon loaded up and ready to head back out onto the rippio of Routa 40 towards El Chalten.  It was to be rippio for a large portion of the day and once near El Chalten, we would once again be on pavement for a while.  Wow pavement, smooth, wide and potentially with road markings defining left and right lanes.  At first I thought it would be a pleasant change, but then something odd hit me.  I had become so accustomed to riding the rippio, with all its undulations, bumps, holes, random rocks, asteroid and pea sized gravel, sometimes very loose and very deep, sand, and unknown hazards, that I actually felt I was going to miss it.  A lot!

Where was the adventure in pavement riding?   Anyone could ride pavement!  I suddenly didn’t want the rippio to end; ever!  It seemed too sedate and boring in such an exciting and adventurous environment, it was truly going to be a let down once we reached it; or so I thought.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

With the push of the bike’s starter button the unwanted thoughts of the potentially smooth pavement ahead were ignited and expelled from my mind.  The engines twin cylinder song sang sweet rhythmic melodies, raising my spirit with each rise and descent in the note of the engine.  And as the wheels turned, the sound of crunching gravel beneath my tires crushed any concerns of boredom into nothingness, just like the Patagonian winds dispersed the dust of the rippio behind my bike.

Once on Routa 40, we rode many miles in two tire track ruts surrounded somewhat deep gravel.  The road was straight as an arrow, as far as the eye could see, with scraggy brush extending to both sides of the horizon.  First it was brown and as we headed south, it became greener and greener.  It was easy going, but it was a bit mesmerizing and if we weren’t careful, we could find ourselves wandering out of the tire tracks and in the deeper gravel.  That itself wasn’t really bad, but the wind was well and truly up which made recovery from the gravel all the more difficult.

We also had to keep our wits about us due to wild and unfenced animals.  Cows and bulls roam free on the plains, as well as other plains animals like horses, sheep, foxes and rabbits.   Sometimes they stay put at the side of the road and sometimes they bolt out right in front of you.  Extra caution is necessary as you approach a heard or even a single stray animal.  You really don’t know what they are going to do and help is pretty far away if something were to happen.

After about 5 hours of riding, we came upon a large lake.  It was a sight to see, for we had been on open plains for days and had not seen a large body of water for quite some time.  It was quite beautiful and we had to stop to take some pictures.  We were getting a bit goofy since we were happy to see the lake, know that we were nearing El Chalten, our destination for the day, and that we were reaching pavement for the first time in days.  It was just a strange brew of feelings poured into a single cocktail which we had apparently gulped down on empty stomachs.  We were silly happy but we knew we were going to be somewhat sad once we got back on the pavement.

About an hour later, there it was; the pavement.   It was indeed smooth, wide and it did indeed have excellent road markings.  Oh crud, where’s the adventure in that?  As a bit of an offset, the plains began to rise and turn into mountains.  Green scrub turned into hills which turned into rock.  Ultimately, the closer we got to El Chalten, the more we were surrounded by towering mountains; mountains with glaciers even.  The thought of seeing the glaciers raised my spirits, and I was looking forward to seeing them.  We stopped a couple of times to take some pictures but now the clouds were descending and the clouds had obscured some of the mountains from sight.  Bummer!  We did catch occasional glimpses of the end of a glacier, but nothing spectacular.

As we got closer to El Chalten, the temperature started to drop rapidly.  In fact, it sort of started to plummet.  The clouds that had started to lower, now appeared to be racing for the ground.  Ice pellets were being flung from the cloud’s bottom and we knew we had to make a run for El Chalten before it really began to snow in earnest.  We picked up the speed a bit and rolled on by a large lake complete with icebergs freely floating about.  However, with the weather rapidly worsening, the only thing to do was to take a one handed snapshot from the handlebar of the bikes as we motored on past hoping to make it to El Chelten before the road coated with snow and ice.

It was becoming darker and the road was now wet.  We were trying to beat the weather but it wasn’t clear who would win this race.  Helmets down on the tank to beat the freezing snow/rain mixture, we made our way towards El Chalten.  Cold, wet, and wind blown, we made it into town with minutes to spare.  The wind started to really gust and we hightailed it to our little hotel.  We quickly unloaded our bikes in the wind and snow and made our way into the warm hotel.  It was a great feeling to be out of the wind and snow/rain.

So as I peeled off my riding gear I thought to myself, maybe it wasn’t so bad riding pavement on the last part of the day, for surely we wouldn’t have made it into town before the real snow and wind hit had we been on the rippio all day.  So there it was, we could have adventure on pavement!  I should have known better!  With that thought, I was stoked, for tomorrow was a non-riding day and we would be exploring the hiking/climbing town of El Chalten where we’ll take you in part 8.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 6)

We overnighted in Perito Moreno in a drab little hotel room with bars over the one tiny window.  It was dark and dingy, but it was warm and dry so we had no complaints.  Striking out fairly early in the morning, we were soon out of the town limits and back on the gravel of Routa 40.  The sun was brightly shining in a bright blue sky with some puffy white clouds.  The road surface was fairly firm with some loose gravel strewn about, but overall it was easy going.  The wind was up once again with a steady 30+ MPH wind blowing from a single direction.  The upside was that the constant dust that had been our companion earlier was now destined to blow directly to the side out of whomever followed.  It was a nice break from eating dust.  However, necks soon became tired and sore from holding a crab against the wind.  So it was a tradeoff of sorts, dust for neck ache.  Hmm… which was better?

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

The gravel seemed endless.  While the scenery was beautiful, there were long stretches of straight, unrestricted view plains that ran until they were blocked by surrounding mountains.  Sight planes disappeared in a “V” in front of us as the seemingly endless gravel road continued unabated and without a twist or turn.  Every once in a while, we would reach the mountains that had previously been long in the foreground but were now immediately in front of us.  This gave us the opportunity to lean the bikes a bike and twist the throttles.  Kim especially took the opportunity to wick it up a bit, her confidence growing after riding in the wind for a couple of days.

Sooner than we knew it, we had made it through that mountain’s passes and were back on the plains gravel with fields of grasses surrounding us, wind blowing and miles of straight gravel road in front of us.  So straight in fact that as we made our way toward Tres Lagos (Three Lakes) we came upon a sign that directed us towards three different towns, 16, 246, and 345 kilometers away.  The thing was, they were arrowed all straight ahead.  Guess that road was really going to be straight for a while eh?

Covering such distances with only your thoughts and the wide open spaces gives you time to think.  Think about the beauty that surrounds you, about how lucky you are to have this wonderful circumstance that you are able to travel the world and see things like this unhindered and unfettered by day to day tribulations.  It really makes you humble.  Over the comms, I told Kim how I was feeling and we decided to take a few minutes to stop and just soak it all in.

There we were, somewhere in the middle of Argentina with nothing around us for miles and miles but open fields surrounded by mountains, blue skies and fluffy white clouds.  Frankly, it was a wonderful few moments in time.  It was like we were on our own little planet and we were so thankful to be there.  But it was quite strange, we didn’t feel like we needed to keep it for ourselves, we felt like we needed to share it with everyone, hence the couple of pictures you see in the gallery here.  You’ll know which ones I’m talking about when you see them.

After about twenty minutes of awe, gawking and picture taking, we got back on the bikes for the final leg of our ride to the Estancia La Angostura, a working ranch (estancia).  We hit several zones of construction which made the going a bit slow in places but was not difficult.  But it did bring to mind that Routa 4o is changing and that the gravel will soon turn to pavement.  So if you would like to ride Routa 40 in its gravel state, do it soon, because change is coming (for the better of the people of Argentina).

Another two hours on the rippio and we found a small sign announcing our arrival but the estancia was nowhere to be seen.  All that was nearby was a gravel and sand two track leading off Routa 40.  Since there were no other signs and Routa 40 continued on straight ahead for miles, we followed the little gravel two track for about two miles and there it sat, the Estancia La Angostura.  Surrounded by cypress like trees and wrapped in bushy like vegetation it was a haven from the continuous winds.  Once inside the surrounding trees and bushes, the wind was almost non-existent.

The estancia itself did indeed look like a ranch house.  A long plain white washed building with no-nonsense windows, you could see it was made for work and not for style.  Still, it had a natural beauty as it blended into its surroundings and seemed to be perfectly in place with all that surrounded it.

Inside it was even better.  The tools and necessities of ranch life adorned the walls and tables.  An old coffee grinder here, a saddle there, a set of bolo balls hung from the walls as well as a well worn and abused revolver.  Each was capable of telling a story of its life on the plains of Argentina and the work that it had done in making the Estancia La Angostura successful.

We walked around a bit and were shown to our room.  It was a modest bunk room with little adornment.  However, the people had done their best to make it cheery and leave their marks.  Although the walls were bare, without even sheet rock to cover the walls studs, the insulation’s batting had been decorated with multiple handprints.  The handprints were in different colors and were all over the wall.  It made for a very nice personal touch and gave you the feeling that folks who had done hard work lived in the room and you were now their honored guests.  It was quite comforting.

Before we knew it, it was time for dinner.  Once again it was to be an asado of lamb and sausage.  We walked to the dining hall where in the corner, an entire lamb was skewered and slowly cooking.  We sat waiting for dinner to cook chatting with friends and drinking some wine when the owners came in with their pet dog and their other pet; a lamb!  It was a strange feeling seeing your lamb dinner cooking on a skewer and then the owners come in with their pet lamb!  But this one was special, it had been abandoned by its mother and had become their house pet.  It would never see the skewer!

We had a marvelous dinner and soon were off to bed for the next days ride to El Chalten the climbers paradise, where well take you in Part 7.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 5)

Having enjoyed hugely comfortable digs for a couple of days we were ready to make our way toward Esquel.   We’d be traversing some mountain roads, but it was to be easy going with smooth pavement all the way.  But we did have some nice twisties and a few nice stops with overlooks.  We could tell that we were truly enjoying the trip since we were bypassing the opportunity to stop and take pictures at some pretty beautiful spots.  It’s just that there were so many opportunities to see them, we had to force ourselves from becoming jaded to all that we were seeing and were still to see.

We breezed along the mountain roads swooping and gliding, powering up steep inclines and gliding down the backs.  There was great joy in twisting the throttles and rolling the bikes side to side.  Magic.  Our bikes and our bodies flowed with the earth and easily followed its contours.  It was as if the mountain had a giant magnet under its road and our bikes were magnetically bonded to the earth as were we to the bikes.  We passed beautiful valleys hemmed in by great mountains and made few stops along the way.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

Because of this, our first stint of the day on the bikes was fairly long, we had lost track of the time.  One such stop was for lunch.  We often packed power bars and some fruit in our top boxes for an easy and quick snack.  Kim remembered that she had stored a banana in her top box and was ready to eat it for her lunch’s dessert.  But we’d done quite a bit of riding that day and the sun was beating down on us and the bikes.  In addition, the banana had worked its way to the bottom of Kim’s top box where it had been bouncing about with all her other gear for most of the day.  When she opened her top box and searched for her banana, she found on the bottom, a fine banana and dust puree a mixture.  Eww!!!

So we cleaned up her top box and got to the business of eating lunch and taking a few pictures.  There were some local flowers that we took a few photos of and before we knew it, we were back on the road.  Once again there were few pictures taken as we zoomed our way to Esquel.

It was a fairly long day in the saddle but time really did zoom by.  In fact, before we knew it, the sun was getting low on the horizon by the time we reached the border of Esquel.  We were fairly tired by the time we reached our motel which was like a little hacienda at the outskirts of town.  Complete with wooden rail fences and a central square area in the interior it was a great place to stop and catch 40 winks before we once again got back onto the rippio (gravel) on the famous Routa (Route) 40.

The following morning dawned nearly overcast, the few breaks overhead letting the sun’s warmth through occasionally.  Our spirits however were on high since today we were going to ride the rippio of Routa 40, famous for making its way southward to Ushuia and also for the Patagonian winds that blow.  We were about to find out what both were like on the first day our journey over its length.

Shortly after leaving Esquel, we made our way onto Routa 40 and the rippio.  The towns gave way to large open plains of tall grasses.  Some were populated with cattle and horses while others were empty and open for as far as the eye could see.   About an hour into the ride, we spied a splash of color, pink color, not too far off the road.  Two pink flamingos, not lawn ornaments, but the real things, stood as a pair, wading in a marshy area.  I said to Kim over the intercom, that we weren’t in the States any more and there was the proof.

Shortly after we passed the flamingos, the wind began to pick up.  Lightly at first, but then more steadily until it became intense.  Severe is the word that comes to mind.  A consistent 30 – 40 MPH wind that gusted even higher making the riding quite challenging.  We would get accustomed to the steady wind leaning the bikes and our bodies into the wind causing the bike to take on a significant lean just in order to ride straight.  A gusting of wind would require even more lean just to stay on course.  Complicating things even more was when the gust would stop, we’d have to quickly take out the lean or risk falling off.  It was quite an interesting and tiring riding situation.  But after riding a few hours in these conditions we were becoming accustomed to it and riding became more easily to us.

About half way into the riding day, we came upon our first of many Gauchito Gil shrines.  We would come to find that these shrines were all over Routa 40 and were filled with drinks, money, cigarettes, gifts, prayers and requests for help.  The shrines in memory of Gaucho Gil and if you are interested, you can learn a bit about it here:

Gauchito Gil

We stopped at several shrines and took some pictures and also took the time to get a measure of the wind.  It’s difficult to explain the Patagonian winds.  They’re really something you have to experience for yourself.  Here’s a bit of a taste of how insistent they really are…

Roadside Patagonia Winds from Mike & Kim Botan on Vimeo.

Back on the road, we made our way towards the town of Perito Moreno and our stop for the evening.  We came upon this rather interesting sculpture.  At first we couldn’t make out what it was, but when we referred to the drawing at its base, it became clear what it was.  It was pretty cool now that we knew what to look for and we enjoyed finding it in the middle of what was pretty open and deserted spaces.  After another couple of hours on the road, in the distance, we could make out Perito Moreno.  Tomorrow we’d be heading for a working estancia (ranch) out on the plains with no communications to the outside world.  It was a marvelous place and we’ll tell you all about it in Part 6.

Ride 2 Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 4)

We rolled into Bariloche in quickly gathering darkness.  Up a paved road past some houses and a barking dog who chased us for a short distance.  Not to long thereafter, we found the sign for the hostel we were to call home for the next two nights.  The road into the hostel was dirt and lazily curved and climbed the hostel grounds.  We finally came to the place where we were told to leave our bikes which was not level and had deep random holes surrounded by tree roots.  Kim attempted to dismount her bike  in the dark and for the first time on this many thousand mile trip, dropped her bike.  She was bumming big time since she rarely drops her machine.  But it turns out that as she pulled up, there was earth below her right foot, but nothing below her left but a significant eight inch drop and a tree root.  She semi fell and hopped off her bike and emerged only with a damaged ego.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

By now it was fully dark and we were unloading our night’s gear from the bikes.  We walked down the hill to the room where we would be staying.  The owner unlocked the door for us turned on the light and wished us a good night.  As we walked inside, we found a very nice apartment!  We were not expecting anything like this, it was indeed a small house and we were inhabiting the entire downstairs.  We had a bedroom, kitchen, livingroom, bathroom and even a nice porch.  We were psyched!  We couldn’t see the outside surroundings, but the inside was certainly nice.

In the center of the hostel yard was a dining area where were to be served a home cooked asado dinner by the hostel’s owners who happened to be South African expatriates.  Dinner time was not too far off and we sat down with several of our friends for a nice home cooked asado accompanied by some nice Argentinian Malbec.  Mmmm…. it was good.  Good food, good company, good stories and good wine.  What a great way to top off the evening and a great day.  Before we knew it, it was almost midnight and we wearily dragged ourselves back to our little apartment.  Tuckered out from a long days ride, terrific food and perhaps a bit too much Malbec, we were really ready for the sack.  We just dropped into bed and were almost immediately sound asleep.

The following morning dawned bright and sunny and we were anxious to see what was outside our little apartment.  We were not disappointed.  We did indeed have a nice little house surrounded by trees and shrubs with other small houses nicely situated not too far away.  There was even a little man made reflecting pond with flowing water.

After a quick breakfast, we got onto our bikes and rode out into the surrounding countryside.  We came into the town of Llao Llao and rode around its beautiful lake and some of the surrounding mountains.  There was a small turnoff at one particularly beautiful overlook and there were several school buses with children ages from about 10 to 15.  They giggled and ran and played at the roads edge and took pictures of each other at the not so significant drop off overlooking the lake and the mountains behind.  It was a time for all to enjoy what nature was offering and the kids were keen on doing their best to enjoy it.  We milled around with them and soon we had integrated into their little group.  They were a bit curious about our Aerostiches, but they did offer to take our picture as we did for them.

Soon their teachers called for them to get back on the busses and we were almost alone at the roadside overlook.  The view was all the more exquisite in the peace in quite that now enveloped us.  We lolligagged around a bit longer and soaked it all in until it too was time for us to be on our way.  It was lunch time and we found a small out of the way restaurant and enjoyed a nice slow Argentinian lunch.  This trip was clearly becoming a journey of contentment.  With all the mountains in the area you might imagine that there would be ski resorts around and indeed there were.  The resort had an almost European feel with chair lifts operating and out-door places to eat and view the mountain scenery.

With some more riding, we headed back a little early into Bariloche itself for a quick look at the town and to pick up some supplies for dinner that night.   We bought that staple of travelers everywhere, pasta, and of course, some more Malbec to go with it.  Some cheese and crackers and we had a complete and ready to go dinner that was quick and could be made with little fuss and few ingredients.   As we got to the check out, I struggled a bit with my Spanish, but I was able to pay the correct amount (I think) and we left to return to the hostel.

Before dinner, we did a bit of cleaning and attempted to clean off some of the dust from the road.  There was plenty of it and it took us a good hour to get everything fairly spic and span.  By the time we had finished it was dinner time and we embarked on the journey to make our pasta dinner.  We had most everything we needed.  A deep pot, a colander, a smaller pot for some sauce, some spoons for stirring and a couple of forks.  But what we didn’t have were any pot holders.  Dang it!  But Kim being the resourceful soul that she is, simply said, no worries and broke out her riding gloves and we were immediately provided with two insulated pot holders.  Bravo!

Ultimately, we were able to get the pasta served, our cheese, crackers and wine ready and sat down at the table next to the outdoor porch.  We looked outside and to our dismay saw we had an interloper.  A good sized bird perhaps about a foot tall, waited on the rail of the porch looking for some handouts.  He cawed at us and jumped around on the rail.  When I opened the sliding door to the porch he would fly off, only to return.  I wanted to leave him/her some pasta, but he/she would always fly away.  Hmm… come to think of it, perhaps it wasn’t the pasta he/she wasn’t interested in, could it have been the Malbec?

I’ll never know what was on his/her mind, because he/she didn’t come back after about the fourth attempt.  So we were left to eat our dinner in peace and have a nice quiet evening.  Tomorrow we would head to Esquel and the beginning of the famous Ruta 40 and the infamous and fierce Patagonian winds.  We knew they could be strong, but we’d really underestimated their ferocity.  We’ll tell you all about it in Part 5.

Ride2Adventure – Shrink the Planet One Ride At A Time

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 3)

Filled to the brim with Aurelia’s tasty empanadas, we wobbled over to the bikes for another few hours riding.  We were quickly on the gravel and entered a national forest which winded its way alongside some beautiful mountains.  We were at times completely covered by canopies of trees that made it appear that it was early evening as we traversed patches of mud from rain that hadn’t dried from who knows how long ago.  Still it was great riding and the air smelled clean and fresh if not a bit humid even in the chill of the shadows.

We bumped along happily until we hit our first stretch of construction.  The road was completely closed and what little traffic there was sat and waited while the graders, backhoes, loaders and dump trucks did their work.  Some of the delays were quite short, just a minute or two, others were half an hour long or so.  The work being done was quite impressive with large stone walls being created by sorting, fitting and piling rocks into “cages” of gigantic chicken wire like boxes.  The rocks were well placed and there were few gaps between them.  It looked as though they had been cemented together when in fact they had only been sorted and piled into the wire.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

What is really nice about being on a long adventure ride is that you really don’t “have” to be anywhere other than to get to the place where you are going to lay your head for the night.  So it was no big deal for us to wait for the construction to finish.  We had the opportunity to chat with other folks waiting in line and walk around a bit, take in the sights and enjoy the fresh air.  So these little “impositions” in actuality increased the adventure of the trip somewhat.  We met new people and saw sights that we might have bypassed if we had not been held up by the delays.

When we had cleared the last construction delay of the day, we were almost at the end of the forest and had the opportunity to turn the speed up a bit.  The problem was that it was extremely dusty.  Plumes of solid grey arose from the bikes tires and when a car or a truck (think construction vehicle) came from the opposite direction, it was a complete grey out for a significant length of time.

The dust rose in giant plumes with cauliflower heads that rose quickly and seemed to hang in front of you refusing to return to the earth from which they had sprung.  Entering them was like diving into a vat of grey water.  At first it yielded to your presence as your body left its impression on the face of the cloud.  However, almost immediately, the cloud would recover its form and envelope you in a murky and misty grey nothingness where forward vision was all but lost.  Our best bet for forward navigation was to look slightly forward and down for the road surface was about the only clear sight to be seen with everything else appearing only as ghostly shadows.  Not a pleasant thought when you know that construction vehicles may be coming from the other direction.

Luckily for us, the heavy dust continued for only 10 miles or so, and the road turned more to the hard gravel surface it had been earlier in the day.  That was a good thing since it was already getting later in the afternoon , the sun was starting to obscure vision and we’d rather not end up riding in the dark.  We had come across too many wild and roaming cattle, horses, goats, sheep and dogs to feel comfortable riding with such reduced visibility.

We were determined to get to our stop for the night before dark but not so determined as to dismiss the beauty of the surrounding area.  We were crossing a modern concrete and steel bridge when we noticed the old wooden bridge that it had replaced.  It had been a multiple span bridge and the center span had long since fallen into the river.  But the remaining spans framed by the mountains in the background and the still water, created a picture opportunity that could not be missed.  So we stopped and got off the bikes to take some pictures of the awesome sight before us.  While we stood on the modern technology of the concrete and steel bridge, the beauty and grace of the old bridge still reflected its brilliance upon the land.

After some oohing and ahhhing, we were back on the bikes only to come across a bridge that combined the two mediums of the new and old bridge we had recently passed.  This one was composed of concrete and steel, yet had wooden decking and so combined the two eras together.  Once again it made for a nice picture and of course we had to get one of us crossing the bridge over the River Mayo.

This day was becoming rather memorable for its sights and lack thereof in the dust.  But sunlight was indeed running out and we needed to get to our room for the night in San Carlos de Bariloche.  We did not know what our little room was going to look like, and when we finally arrived it was nearly dark so we weren’t able to see what our digs for the night looked like from the outside.  Let’s just say we were not disappointed.  We’ll tell you all about it in Part 4.

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 2)

Villarica’s peak still puffed white smoke into the chilly early morning air as we prepared our bikes for the first real riding of the journey to the Fin del Mundo; the end of the earth.  Both Kim and I were quite excited to get under way and I was quite impatient to get started.  Gear sorted on our rented BMW F650GS twins we rolled out of the parking lot, puffs of steam from our mouths in the cold Chilean air replicating the puffs of smoke from Villarica.  Today we would have a short hop on pavement but would soon be on the gravel and headed towards our first border crossing into Argentina.  Our trip would take us across the Argentine and Chilean borders several times, but that was part of the fun for this trip.

By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.

As we made our way on smooth pavement, we were greeted by green scenery and farms of various sizes.  Flowers and plants were in full bloom even though it was November.  Getting used to all the rich colors of flowers took some getting used to.  Where we had come from, the bright color palette of many different flowers and plants had long since dwindled to browns and greys in anticipation of the upcoming cold New Hampshire winter.  But here, the flowers and plants were just reaching their stride, full blooms with bright colors reached towards the sun as if summer would never end.  Already, our surrounding environment had us wishing this journey would never end.

The day took on a bit more overcast look as we approached the Argentine border.  To match the darkening skies, the road conditions changed from smooth pavement to rough and loose gravel.  It became quite apparent that we were approaching some mountains and we’d be riding through the mountains on gravel roads.  The surface was fairly good but quite dusty.  Clouds of dust rose quickly and obscured vision if we rode too closely together.  We decided to give each other a fair amount of spacing since we wanted to be able to see the sights as we trundled along the gravel.

After about an hour of riding, we found our first new experience in the form of the Monkey Puzzle Tree.  A cross between what appeared to be a cactus and a Douglas Fir tree, the Monkey Puzzle tree was indeed a bit of a puzzle.  Thick spiny needles protruded from branches and trunk of the young trees.  Mature trees were over 75 feet tall with very large green spines.  They were indeed puzzling, were they cacti or trees?  Well they were trees and they were quite cool.  Apparently the locals thought so as well since the roads were sometimes split by them with each lane going on either side of the tree.

Riding sometimes steep climbs and descents, we winded our way over and around these gravel mountain roads.  Beautiful scenery passed us by on both sides of the road.  Mountains surrounded us as we wended our way through forests in uninhabited areas for many miles.

Having ridden three hours on gravel, suddenly, as if someone had just turned on a pavement machine, we were off the gravel and on pavement.  It was not long before we began to see small farms with livestock and signs of people.  It was not long before we arrived in the town of San Martin de Los Andes.  San Martin de Los Andes sat near the base of the Andes and the rim of a large beautiful lake.  It had a bit of a tourist feel to it and as a result, had all the amenities of a small city.  Stores, restaurants, banks, cars, busses etc. were all present.  It had a true hustle and bustle feel.  A tiny city connected only by gravel roads on both ends.  We made use of the ATM to pick up some Argentine currency and were quickly on our way.

Before we knew it, we were off the paved roads and back on the gravel and in the isolation of the Andes.  Once again climbing and descending, we rounded a corner and entered a flat area and there it was in front of us, Lanin, another active volcano.  Capped in snow it appeared as a stone giant dominating the skyline.  As Kim rode by, I could see just how big and powerful Lanin was.  Although Kim projects a strong and powerful presence, her form was overwhelmed and overcome by the sheer size of Lanin.  As she got closer to the monolith, Kim appeared to quickly vanish into the background of Lanin’s might; it was a quick lesson in humility of humankind versus nature.

Shortly after passing Lanin we arrived at the Argentine border where we met with a somewhat of a delay.  We spent over 3 hours at the border straightening out paperwork, but ultimately were able to clear the Aduana (Customs) and get underway.  This was to be our only delay at Customs for the entire trip, so we considered ourselves very lucky to cross as many borders as we did with only one significant delay.

With the border crossed and three hours lost, we had made it into Argentina with a wide open eyes and empty stomachs.  Happy faces searched the roadsides for signs of civilization and a place to eat, because by this time we were pretty hungry.  As we rode along, we noticed a string of roadside stands.  Hmm…  could this be a place to eat?

We pulled off the road and did a little investigating.  Yes indeed, some of the stalls had food and we were in for a treat.  One of the stands sold empanadas.  If you have not had an Argentine empanadas, you are really missing something.  They are pastries filled with meats such as pork, beef and chicken as well as cheese.  They are amazing!

In addition to this delicious food, we were treated to even more.  It turns out that our cooks consisted of three generations of women who had been cooking empanadas at the roadside in this very stall.  The matriarch of the family was Aurelia and although my Spanish is poor, we chatted a bit about her empanadas stand and how long she’d been there.  She even brought out a magazine article in which she and her family were showcased for their longevity and the deliciousness of  their empanadas.  Well we’re here to tell you that they deserved every bit of print they received and we’ve yet to find empanadas anywhere near as good as the ones we had at Aurelia’s little roadside stand in Argentina.

We still had a fair amount of riding to do for the day, but we’ll tell you about that in Part 3.

Ride To The End Of The World – Fin del Mundo (Part 1)

New Hampshire’s winter snows make for fine skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling, but not exceptionally good motorcycling.  With autumn over and the real winter rapidly settling in, our motorcycling would be relegated to our anxious dreams awaiting the spring.  It is always a funny feeling knowing that our thoughts would be similar in nature to those of the hibernating wild animals tucked away in their dens awaiting the new growth fresh berries with the coming thaw of spring.  Each year, to both of us spring couldn’t come too soon.

But this year would be different.  We were traveling to a place where at this time of year it would be warm and there would be no snow except very high in the mountains.  It was time for me to bone up on my Spanish because this winter we were going to ride to the Fin del Mundo, or translated into English, to the “end of the earth”.

We were flying from Boston, Massachusetts into Santiago, Chile where the following day we’d hop a short flight to Pucon, Chile to start our riding adventure.   Our route would ultimately take us from Pucon, Chile a ski resort with its own volcano to Ushuaia, Argentina at the very tip of South America.  In fact, it’s the furthest south you can get on any land mass on the planet.  Antarctica is composed entirely of ice, so it does not count.

So as the days of November increased, instead of padding around in small circles worrying that the NH snow would soon blanket the roads and trails ending riding for another season, we were actually quite spry, gathering all our riding gear and stashing it in our luggage for the flight to Chile.  No sitting about for us this year, we were ready to ride!

So when the appointed day came in mid November, we boarded our flight in Boston and after a quick stop in Dallas for a bowl of some rather spicy chile and nachos, we once again boarded another plane, our destination once again Chile, this time the country, not the kind you eat.  The flight was crowded, loud and the lavatory on the aircraft overflowed, but other than that, the flight was uneventful.  Upon landing, we cleared customs and grabbed a cab to our hotel which was quite nice.

It was warm and sunny outside so we decided that since we only had an overnight in Santiago, we’d better make the best of it and we went for a walk to take in the sights and grab a quick lunch.  It immediately became clear that Santiago was an alive and bustling city.  Traffic moved chaotically, people walked on the sidewalks and went about their business, while others sat at the sidewalk cafe’s enjoying lunch, espresso or just good conversation.

But as we walked around, we found that we weren’t apparently all that far from home.  As we rounded a corner, we came to none other than a Dunkin’ Donuts shop.  Complete with a sign in Spanish that read “Energiza tu vida!” or Energize your life!  Jeez, I didn’t know that Dunkin’ Donuts did that.  I wonder what different stuff they put in the donuts in South America?  We continued walking around for a couple of hours, bought dinner and returned to our hotel to get ready for tomorrow’s flight to Pucon where our journey to the end of the earth would start in earnest.

When we awoke the following morning the weather was excellent and after breakfast we headed to the airport for our hour long flight to Pucon.  That flight was indeed uneventful and we arrived rested and ready to go.  We were picked up by a van for the brief ride from the airport to our hotel.  Immediately we began to see signs for the ski resort there as well as Pucon’s own volcano.  Ultimately, we were dropped at another hotel at the edge of town with an excellent view of Pucon’s own volcano, Villarica.  It is indeed a majestic peak, with smoke slowly but consistently puffing from its crest.  Villarica is in fact an active volcano and a fairly active one at that.  With all that molten roiling fury below, you can just imagine the strength and power that an eruption would unleash.  It would be a disaster as the town of Pucon sits almost directly below the towering dragon that is Pucon.

Wiped out would the quaint town in which we now ate gigantic steaks and drank local beverages like Pisco Sours.  Gone would be the vendors that sold their hand made wares and the restaurants that serviced all the visitors.  There’d only be empty streets to show for all that man had accomplished in that area for years to come.  But for now, we were content to watch the sun go down on Villarica and enjoy the increasingly bright and magnificent glow that was now emanating from its face and sides.  So as the sun went down, it was time for some Chilean beef.  We ordered steak and a platter arrived which could feed an army.  One thing that Chilean and Argentine people do not do is skimp on the beef and when our beef arrived for inspection prior to being cooked, it looked as though 3/4th of a cow had been brought to the table for early dinner.  In any event, we ended up scarfing down a gigantic meal for dinner and we were ultimately chauffeured back to the hotel for a bright and early start of the journey on the following morning.

We’ll tell you about the beginning of the real journey in the next part.