Gang of Four: South America 2012

Update 2017: If you are interested to follow the Gang of Four’s latest adventure circumnavigating the continent of Australia, click on the following link: www.go4downunder.wixsite.com/gofour

Four longtime friends are heading out on a motorcycle adventure from Vancouver, Canada to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina in the late summer and fall of 2012.    To learn more, click here.

For info on our UNICEF fundraiser, click here.

We will provide periodic updates on the progress of our journey through the blog posts below.

Land of Fire!

After battling the dangerous crosswinds on Ruta 3 for a few days (see previous blog entry), we departed Rio Gallegos on November 2 and crossed back into Chile after a short ride of 60 kms.  Another short ride to the Bahia Azul ferry;  timed it perfectly and rode straight onto the boat.  Short half hour crossing and then were on Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego!  We planned this trip for a long time, and here we are.

Stepping foot onto Tierra del Fuego

Our jubilation didn’t last long as we headed down Hwy 257 which was dirt.  The weather changed and we got cold, wet and filthy.  The bikes rattled around a lot on the potholes and took a beating.  Had to deal with another border crossing back into Argentina and limped into Rio Grande late in the day.

Ah, but thanks for new days.  For me, November 3 was the most epic day of the adventure.  Not a long riding day – only 223kms – but just a beautiful road.  The weather was crisp and the heavy winds subsided as we rode in the morning down to Tolhuin, where we stopped at a funky restaurant for coffee and a bite.  Passed hundreds of beautiful guanacos along the way, who looked at us curiously with their dark grey faces and huge eyes.

Lots of guanacos along the road

The last 100 kms or so into Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, is amazing.  Beautiful mountains, lakes and fjords.  Quite similar to British Columbia actually!  We took our time and stopped for many photos along the way.

Mountains!

Pulled into Ushuaia (pop. 57,000)and really liked the vibe of the town.  Very tourist oriented and felt a little like early days Whistler or Banff.  Didn’t take long to find a good restaurant and celebrate with a bottle of champagne.  Went out for a few pints of Guiness after that!

Easy Riders

Sea to Sky Highway?

Ushuaia

We made it! Pass the beer nuts.

Took a day off to relax and hit Tierra del Fuego National Park, then a long riding day back up to Rio Grande, border crossing at San Sebastian back into Chile, dirt road again, ferry and into Punta Arenas, where we are shipping our bikes home from.  If BMW Motorrad wants an endorsement for their Adventure motorcycles, give me a call.  18,871 kms from Vancouver, Canada to Punta Arenas, Chile and the bikes performed marvelously.

Parque Nacional. Not many inhabitants south of here.

Chilly here. Argentina (not Chile).

So the bikes are now gone.  We fly to Buenos Aires in the morning and home from there next week.  One would think we would be tired of riding by now but we aren’t.  Its always a thrill to get back on the bike.

La Poderosa getting a pedi for shipment home

Mantener el lado grasoso hacia abajo!  –  Bob (Che) Matheson.

Patagonia, the last leg

left Osorno and see volcano in distance

Here we are in southern Argentina.  We are finally further south from the equator than Vancouver is north of the equator.  We left Osorno, Chile 4 days ago and crossed the border in the Andes into Argentina.  After dealing with the formalities at the Chilean border we had to drive many miles through the mountains before coming to the Argentinian border.  The pass we went through goes by the Puntiagudo Volcano that erupted around June 5 last year.  The ground was still covered with lots of ash and the trees haven´t yet recovered from the eruption.

volcano backdrop dead trees forground

Mary blessing the mountain

from the ash rises new life

more from ash mountain

We spent the night in San Carlos de Bariloche, a ski destination in Argentina.  The scenery was quite nice, similar to the Swiss mountains.

beyond the ash came the lake

bits of Swiss

more scenery

wanna ski in Bariloche?

From there we set out down the famous Ruta 40.  The road is listed as one of the 10 best to try.  It´s very long and we are only doing a portion of it now.  The part we are doing isn´t the most rugged like some other parts further north and the gravel roads further south.  Since we skipped Brazil the ride south is happening much sooner than planned so we decided to head east to the Atlantic coast.  This zigzagging will allow us to see more varied terrain in Argentina as well as burn up a few days before reaching Tierra del Fuego.

HOWLINGWEEND ON HALLOWEEN

1200 km of brown nothing and wind

Yes the famous winds of Patagonia that we´ve heard about have not disappointed us.  We heard the crosswinds are strong and incessant.  Here it is Halloween Day and we got to experience the famous winds.  Our ride was almost 5 hours straight south on Hwy 3.  Most of the that time was spent leaning sideways like when I make a turn around a corner but we did that just to compensate for the horrible wind and keep the bike going straight. We had to concentrate for hours just to keep the bikes in our own lane.  It was further complicated when having to pass a truck, negociate corners, avoid ruts and potholes, and watch behind you for speeding vehicles wanting to overtake us.  As you pass a semi, the moment you’re beside it  the wind is blocked by the truck so your bike is no longer needing to lean heavily into the wind.  Then as you come out past the front of the truck the wind is back and want to push you off the side of the oncoming lane.  How much fun is that! One time I was leaning my bike to the right even though the highway was curving to the left.  Sometime there were bumrs or small hills to the side of the road that would either block the wind momentarily or channel it down the road. When it blocked the wind it was a nice break.  I cherished those brif moments when the wind ceased even if only for a minute or two.  When the highway curved it changed the angle of the wind sometimes and we’d get either a tail wind or head wind.  Tail winds were god sent and I relished in them. Below are two videos showing just how powerful these winds can be.

 

http://youtu.be/9Q_R47-tRPw

 

We tried to keep our speed at 110 km (faster when passing) and made pretty good time but what a dreadful time it was.  I sat on the bike thinking, “Why would anyone in their right mind choose to come here voluntarily?” and the answer of course is because of the adventure.  They want to climb to the top of the mountain.  I had to crane my neck for hours and at time,and even with my visor down, the wind blew through the edges of my visor and would push my sunglasses into my face.  I imagined the skin on my face was being pushed like the faces of astronauts in those picture of them experiencing g-forces. (okay, a little exagerated).  Anyway I´m glad to say we arrived safe and sound in Puerto San Julian.  I´m not looking forward to rest of our journey southward through what may be even stronger crosswinds, colder weather and possibly rain.

on a side note, Yes, the toilet does flush counter clockwise

Los niños y los bebés de América del Sur

We had just come down from Machu Picchu and were sitting on the second floor of a restaurant in Aguas Calientes, a kind of base camp for the final assault on the iconic ruin. A band playing a mix of Peruvian traditional and pop music started up in the street below and unbeknownst to me this little guy slid in behind my chair to watch them. A few minutes passed before I noticed him and snapped these photos.

I was snapping pictures on the Plaza de Armas in Cusco when this women approached me – with what I initially understood to be her daughter in tow – to ask if they could practice their English with me. I obliged, but it turned out her request was really just a ruse. Turns out she was a lawyer and a mid-wife, and had double-sided business cards to prove it. After about 20 minutes it became clear that what she really wanted was for me to marry her and take her back to Canada. I didn’t think that was such a good idea. After all, I’m already married and there’s laws against that sort of thing! She later claimed that her young sidekick was a cousin. Only the Shadow knows for sure, I guess… Returning from dinner after dark in Bucay, Ecuador – one of the most impoverished cities we have visited during our trip – we were approached by this young waif in the street who must have been all of seven years old. Curious about us, she struck up a conversation that tested our limited Spanish, inquiring as to whence we came, where we were headed to, and so forth. I was impressed by her inquisitive, precocious and un-self-conscious persona.

I was stopped by the side of the road to snap a picture of one of the artsy little black rock houses near Sillustani, when this woman and baby emerged from a house on the opposite side of the otherwise vacant road. I asked if I could take a picture of her with her baby and then gave her a small propina (tip) in appreciation.

We were sitting in the waiting room at the train station in Aguas Calientes and I had just finished drinking a plastic bottle of water. This little guy came up and quietly helped himself to it, then proceeded to play football and handball with it around the waiting room floor. I was impressed with his fun, rambunctious energy.

A couple of times I managed to get women with babies to agree to let me take their pictures. I was always impressed with how they were able to bundle up their little ones in what effectively must be a shawl, apparently in a fairly secure manner. Interestingly though, even after they agreed to let me take their pictures, I don’t think they really understood the idea of “posing” for a photograph, and usually just went on about their business, making the photographic outcome something of a chance event.

While waiting for the train from Hidro-electrica to Aguas Calientes, this troop of school kids, also on their way to Machu Picchu for a field trip, took keen interest in us, again wanting to know where we came from, where we were going, and to learn a bit of English.  The following day I snapped one of the young lads decked out in his school uniform while we were waiting for the return train in Aguas Calientes.  I think he was a bit disappointed that we didn’t remember him from the previous day, since he came over to Space Cowboy to show him a picture on his camera that he had taken of us when we had met them at the lower station.

As we were riding through the Peruvian desert approaching Nasca, we stopped beside the highway at the three-story lookout tower from which one can view the famous Nasca lines. A bus-load of high schoolers were just coming down from the lookout and were keen to check out both us and our bikes, with a few even trying out the pilot’s seat!

The Big Easy

NO JOURNEY FOR OLD MEN…….this is no holiday, it is an endurance test

My scattered impressions of our travels since I last wrote (September 27 – October 23rd):

Colombia – colour and vibrancy

full of life and loud voices. Crowds around us and the motorcycles at all times; colour everywhere; music everywhere; people, crowds, everywhere.

you can get your motorcycle washed on the side of the road on remote highways after it has been covered in mud from the roads;

Jacaranda trees; bougainvilla; high plains, hot humid coast and valleys, stunning mountains

Not scary, friendly. The rumours about Colombia are wrong.

Police and military everywhere…..to ensure security. Rebels still inhabit remote corners of the country. As we crossed into Ecuador in the south west of Colombia the military presence was intense…….but they are our buddies, not a problem. Every cop and every soldier we passed gave us the “thumbs up”…..”keep going”; “be free”: “i want to do that one day”; “respect”

On a side note, which applies to all the countries we have visited, I am surprised at the amount of respect we get from the Police and Military……moreso if they find out how old we are. I am not sure why. Maybe they love and respect the bikes, which are huge beasts compared to all the motorcycles they usually see; maybe because they wish they were doing this; maybe because they think we are “crazy enough to be tough or tough enough to be crazy” when they see us float by in our formation and find out how far we are going and how far we have come. It all boils down to “respect” and this has been a pleasant surprise.

Our Colombian Militia Friends

Ecuador – Socialist state for all – we hardly knew ya

– $2 per gallon of gas / $6 hotel rooms / $4 dinners / $0.75 beer
– Stunning natural scenery
– The high plains seem friendlier and wealthier than the high mountains and coastal seaside areas.

Guy taking advantage of low-cost Ecuadorian Haircuts

Long-stemmed roses and bananas from Ecuador are shipped all over the world; sugarcane fields everywhere. Avocados abound.

Our bikes and us safe in a $6 per night hotel in Bordo, Ecuador.

The equator.

As you drive along the highways you see billboards everywhere with pictures of people working, saying “Everyone is a Patriot” and good socialist slogans like: “Free education for all is true freedom” (educación gratuita para todos es la verdadera libertad)

Che Guevara is the national “icon” in Ecuador. His image is everywhere.

Che is a god in Ecuador – Sociallist Icon

Peru – multiple personalities

stark natural beauty, harsh weather, human squalor, human endurance

Life is hard for both dogs and people in many parts of Peru

agrarian society dominates the mountain regions; mud huts, small plots growing subsistence level food; life depends on how many cows, pigs, sheep you have.
tourism, fishing, massive corporate farms, squalid town after squalid town dominate the coast line

Typical Mud Brick home in the high plains of Peru

AMAZING highway over Andes: hwy 34 C from Desaguadero to Mazo Cruz; then turns in to Hwy 348 and hwy 32 to Moquecua. Stunning scenery and reached an altitude peak of 4,800 metres (15,748 ft). We started our journey at the 3,800 mt (12,467 ft) level at Lake Titicaca.

stunning scenery at the top of the world

Farming at high altitude in Peru

altitude sickness……dizziness, light-headed, fatigue, unable to sleep, difficulty breathing. This is not good for riding motorcycles.

hard to breathe way up here.

They know how to make mountain roads in Peru! What a challenge they face but they do a good job…..all except the road to Machu Picchu……ha, ha, ha….. see photo

“two way” traffic road to Machu Picchu. Partly washed out. Yes, we drove along this! Don’t look down

Don’t look down!

Chile – getting to know you

deserts, beaches, rocky coastline. Windy…..always windy.

Typical Desert road in Chile

Where are all the motorcycles? Have virtually seen none so far.

The desert ends just before Le Serena. Now the coastline looks just like Greece. Plants and fields start to materialize as we move toward Santiago.

chilean coastline at Iquique

Camping on beach in Hornitos, Chile

First night in Santiago was amazing. Great place. Great hotel. Great neighbourhood…..Barrio Bellavista.

First Day in Santiago – our hotel

Dogs and other animals in South America

– they are not used to the deep sound and vibration of our motorcycle engines and they always look up as we pass; some stare, some cower, some attack this strange alien beast. They can hear the difference in the motor sound before humans do and before they see us…..and they know we are “not from around here”.

Love this little guy. Wanted to take him with me but couldn’t figure out how to transport him on a motorcycle for 2 months. Sigh

My observation about how animals, especially dogs, are treated could be described as “neglect”, not cruelty. Dogs are free and independent here. They are allowed to live, but for the most part, are not helped to live. It is truly “survival of the fittest” and my heart goes out to those who are not strong enough to make it. There are many dead dogs along the roads and we have noted that there are very few “old dogs”

VICUNA – Photo courtesy of Peru Tourism Board. Cheated on this photo as when we saw these magnificent animals in the wild we couldn’t stop to take their photos. Wanted you to see what we saw though. The Vicuna are different than Llamas or Alpacas.  They are extraordinarily beautiful in the wild. Huge eyes and elegant slim bodies

Llamas are “way cool”. This guy wanted me to feed him so we did a trade….i fed him if he let me take his photo up close

So many birds on the rocks as we drive down the coastline. Gigantic dark rocks are turned white by their guana. It is an amazing sight up close

Endurance Test?

When travelling by motorcycle you hear, feel, and smell everything around you as you pass by. Buffeted by weather (heat, humidity, cold, rain, extreme altitude causing light-headedness, dehydration, wind hammering you from all sides); sensory overload as traffic flies at you from all directions, you dodge potholes, gravel patches, speed bumps, and every domestic animal known to mankind, sound accosts your ears and muddies your brain; your brain hurts from dealing with unknown languages and dialects, strange food, frighteningly dirty places to sleep, different currencies, mechanical issues……nothing is as you know it from home; you fight exhaustion from long days and short sleeps. You fight altitude sickness. This all results in as much exhaustion as exilheration……so, this is no journey for old men or women…..not the physical age but the mental age, the “energy age” of us all.

It has been a big “wake-up call”. We are blessed, even if it doesn’t always seem like it.

Space Cowboy Awards

Best Pavement for motorcycles: Peru and Chile tied
Best Pavement in ridiculously difficult terrain: Peru
Best Oceanfront Hotels: Peru
Best Oceanfront Cities: Chile
Most Animals Wandering on Roads: Peru
Most Roadkill: Peru
Most uninhabitable Deserts: Chile
Worst Crosswinds to ride a motorcycle through: Chile and Peru tied
Friendliest People: Colombia
Cheapest good meals: Ecuador
Cheapest good hotels: Ecuador
Cheapest gas: Ecuador ($2 per gallon)
Most Expensive Gas: Chile
Cheapest good beer: Ecuador
Best Beer: Peru (Cuzquena)
Best Wine: Chile
Most Visible Military: Colombia
The windiest country: Chile

Some of the People We Meet

A colombian Family invited us into their home

David Parkenson is a 28 year old from Seattle, taking a year off from work to travel South America, learn Spanish and meet girls. He appears to be succeeding at all his goals. Otto is our hungarian friend travelling by motorcycle from Prudhoe Bay Alaska to Tierra del Feugo, Argentina

Julian and Nalda – owners of a delightful B&B we stayed at in Tortuga, Peru. Julian got drunk with us on the Peruvian national drink, Pisco.

Mac and Helen from the UK, with the motorcycles they are riding around S.A. on. Ladies, take note: Helen had never ridden a motorcycle before this trip but wanted to be with her man so she is giving it a whirl. She “doesn’t do corners” though…..so a bit of a problem…..ha, ha, ha…

A Dedication to a Spiritual Friend

On November 11, 2011 at approximately 11:00pm, (11/11/11 @ 11:00pm……typical Val, going out in style on a classic date and time) a dear friend, Valerie Hambley, left this world. I thought of Val when I was at Machu Picchu, as Val believed strongly in “earth energy” and in “spiritual places”. She believed in a spirit life after death. I know Val would have loved Machu Picchu and Peru in general. I felt like she was watching over us while we were there and I would like to dedicate my travels in Peru to Valerie. If you remember, on November 11th raise a glass to Val. You can never have too many friendly spirits watching over you.

Valerie Hambley – R.I.P. 11/11/11

Random Graffiti and Street Art in South America – Enjoy

Argentina, here we come!

Ride safe,
Space Cowboy

The Adventure Continues: Ecuador and Peru.

Our plan was to post two blogs per week. It has been 11 days since our last post and there are two excellent reasons: (1) the Wifi here is poor, at least in the cheap joints we stay in, and (2) we have been riding hard and there is barely enough time to find a hotel, have a cold shower, eat rice and beans and go to bed. Mierda happens!

We entered Ecuador on October 2 and found the time to pose for a cheezy photo at the equator (see below). Our experience in this country was short and sweet – very friendly people and beautiful scenery.

Our time so far in Peru can be divided into two parts: Beaches and Mountains. Great beaches in Punta Pico, Colan, Pacasmayo and Tortugas. We made friends with the hostel / hotel owners and had enough R & R time to recharge our batteries. Good thing. It gets tougher.

Our Playa Colan Lodge bungalow

Our friend Otto the Mad Hungarian

 

 

This nice lady did our laundry and ironed our T-shirts and jeans

Pelicans at sunset in Tortugas

Rode east on October 11 straight into the Andes, and climbed from sea level to 4,500 meters (almost 15,000 feet) in short time. Suffered the usual effects of slight nausea and short of breath. The roads are impossible to describe – sweeping vistas but hard to take in while managing the millions of switchbacks and avoiding large trucks and countless animals on the road. 870 tough kms. in two days to get to Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire and gateway to Machu Picchu.

The beautiful switchback highway into the Andes

Beware of cows! And sheep, goats, horses, pigs, dogs and chickens.

Not simple to get into Machu Picchu. Took a whole day to get close, then up at 4:30 AM the next day to enter the site at 6:30. Now, I have traveled a bit and lose interest quickly in museums, but I have to say Machu Picchu surpassed my expectations by a lot. I will not go on. If you have the chance, go there.

Vendor at the train station

Alpaca at dawn at Machu Picchu

The Gang of 3 at Machu Picchu. Hector had to take a miss due to illness.

The mountains have been exhilarating. Tonight we are in Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca (wonderful name), the largest lake in South America and the highest lake above sea level (12,500 feet) in the world. But we are are really looking forward to sea level and the beaches of Chile.

TTFN Amigos! – Che Bob Marley Matheson.

Driving in Colombia

So we have a few days in Colombia waiting for the bikes to arrive. We’re travelling by taxi from airport to hotel and start studying traffic to imagine what we will be facing when we start driving. Well we are feeling apprehensive because we see driving habits are different than at home. My interpretation of driving in Colombia is that pavement has been provided by the government for the people to be used by the people. Every inch of paved area is therefore used to capacity by the citizens and that is the law! Whether it be motorist weaving in and about, vagrants finding their way, merchants selling wares , street workers getting their work done, no space is wasted. So from a driving stand point if you’re driving down the road and you see a space open and you fink your vehicle can fit then it’s free game. Go for it! Motorists here take any opening they can get. The lines on the road are more of an art form than functional lane separation. Just because there are two lanes doesn’t mean two cars. Remember the law on available space? Well cars, buses, motorcycles, bikes can pull up beside you at any time because they figure they can fit into that available space beside you. Share the road to the max. Oh and now add to the mixture the poor road conditions and lack of road signs in a foreign language. Now, let the games begin!
So you’re driving down the road in towns and cities, all signs are in a foreign language, you’re trying to concentrate on understanding the signs so as to go in the proper direction all while keeping an eye on the road for missing chunks of pavement, looking in the rear view mirror for all those things that will fill in the space beside you, and being aware of pedestrians bolting for their lives and cautious of changing traffic lights stocked with Policia eager to issue violations. Let’s just say it took some adjustment but before long we were in the game We figured out that you swim with the big fish or drown. Now it’s not necessarily a bad thing for us because this is the land of 2 million motorcycles so motorists are used to seeing them zip in and out of traffic and appearing out of nowhere. After studying local driving habits we have it figured out. See a chance take it. Many trucks are in state of ill repair so they are slow. Go around them. Buses stop anywhere at the wave of a hand by a passerby. Go around them. Weird little slow moving vehicles litter the streets. Go around them. Dogs, or any other animal on the street. Go around them. Combine them all together! Wait and wait and wait then go around them. Like putting pieces of a jigsaw together things seem to come together.
Now, away from the cities, on the open road, things are slightly different. There are still the countless potholes, rough pavement, gravel patches, construction detours, every domestic animal imaginable (including chickens), missing signage, slow trucks and other vehicles, but now you have higher speeds and curves. One needs to be cautious of all of the above while speeding around corners and be prepared for the oncoming traffic that decides to use available space coming at you. It’s not uncommon for motorcycles, cars, buses and trucks to pass on double solid lines, going up a hill, and around a blind corner. They expect the on coming traffic to accommodate them and move over. They are maximizing that usable paved space. Slow moving vehicles attract huge line ups all waiting for a moment to pass. Don’t start passing without a shoulder check because the impatient Colombian behind you is already riding the center line making his move to pass. It’s all part of the game.
Aside from all that, the scenery has been stunning and the experience worthwhile. We are a rather imposing sight coming down the street. All eyes turn toward us. People call out or give us a thumbs up, oncoming traffic flash headlights or honk. I’m amazed at the paparazzi-like reception we’ve been getting. Then again in the land where the 250 cc motorcycle is king our 1200 cc bike becomes outstanding. All eyes are upon us as we cruise through toward the far south and every time we stop, no, every time, we get swarmed by locals. They want to stare at bikes up close, try and talk with us, and take photos of the bikes with themselves beside them. Departures are always delayed.


We heard or read comments before coming about the dangers of driving in Colombia and now we can say we survived it. The reports on dangerous trucks and buses devouring both lanes and coming toward you is somewhat true but after seeing how the game is played here it’s not all that dangerous. Those other drivers are actually quite skillful and aren’t trying to wipe out other motorists but actually just trying to do their day to day job and avoid costly repairs from smashing into potholes and whatnot. When I pass a car at home I only go when I can see enough clear space ahead before proceeding knowing the car I’m passing will remain constant. Here it’s different. That truck I try to pass can swerve at me at any time. Not trying to hit me but to avoid a pothole or pedestrian or horse on the side of the road up ahead. So when passing keep in mind what the person you are passing is thinking as well as what they will encounter ahead of them.


We easily can see to not drive at night. No streetlights would make it difficult to see the holes, animals and speed bumps everywhrere to control speeding in outlying residential areas. We average about 280 km a day and at night it would be even far less. Another thing that slows one down is the policia and militario road blocks. The military presence grew larger as we went south from Bogota. Probably because the guerillas have been forced back into the southern jungles but are still present. We had two road choices going south. We took the inland road knowing we would have to cross westward over the mountains to get the other road to the border. We planned on crossing way south at Mocoa but found out that it was far too dangerous. The “Road of Death” as well as possible military activity made it so. Therefore we crossed via San Agustin, town with ruins, to Popoyan. Wow, now that was an adventure. The road was not paved most of the way. Elevation reached over 12,000 feet. Fog, rain, and narrow muddy roads made travel very slow. We had to crowd to the side of the road and stop to bypass huge oncoming trucks. It went on and on seemingly without end. All in all we are still alive and have learned to play the game. One more notch in our belt of driving experience