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

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

Bikeless in Myhammy

Well that’s it! We no longer have our bikes. They have been given to the shippers so they can crate them before going to the airport. From the very beginning of our whole adventure I had always wondered about getting across to Colombia. The road system has never been developed. How do you go on a road trip when there’s no road? Originally from Panama we explored options and found it was by sea, air or land. By land you would have to bash your way through the swampy jungles of Darian until you got to the border manned by guerillas. They would then decide where to put you so you wouldn’t be found. Not our first choice. The little boats that offer a three day crossing look like they’d sink as soon as two of our bikes were dropped on to them. Reports have been consistent about the seedy character of the port area where we would spend time arranging for shipping. The best option seemed to be by air and I couldn’t imagine how that would work. Well now I have a better idea although it will be from Miami that we’ll be leaving from and not Panama.

Before leaving home Space Cowboy did all the research exploring which shipping company would be willing to help us make our leap to our neighbouring southern continent. The best response he got was from an individual, Gaston Etchart, who actually showed an enthusiastic interest in our plans. We scanned and faxed our passport credentials, bike registrations and international driver’s licenses to him before leaving home so he could begin with his paperwork and we gave him an approximate date of arrival. We lucked out because our hotel near the airport is beside the BMW dealership, next to the Notary that will notarize our paperwork and within a mile of the place where we drop our bikes for shipping. Wow! Monday, we get the bikes serviced one last time on our turf. While that’s happening Gaston met with us. We walked over to notarize the paperwork $10.00, met with the shippers to arrange an appointment, lunched with Gaston while he poured over maps to indicate what in his opinion were must see places. That’s Gaston in the white russian pants.

After lunch we were back at the Motorcycles of Miami to pick up the bikes. They were all ready and rarring to go. They fixed The Big Easy’s performance problem (look out senoritas), and Dogcow’s electrical short is no longer an issue. They even provided an adapter to link Space Cowboy’s computer to our GS-911 diagnostic tool so we diagnosis our bike’s status’ in South America ourselves. Way to go Motorcycles of Miami! We enjoyed the rest of the evening in South Beach. Wingman, Florida personal guide showed up and drove us there where we stayed for dinner and drinks before heading home.
Tuesday, we had the bikes to the shipper at 9. We removed the mirrors and windscreens to fit them into the crates and walked away. The shippers take care of the rest. I was so glad that we were able to leave most of our stuff with the bike. Now, at the airport we will simply have to carry some clothes and valuables for the next 5 days. Way better than hauling around all our gear that has been packed on our trusted mules to this point. Back at the rooms we were on line booking flights to Cartagena, Colombia. Wow! We are at that surreal point where we’re actually saying goodbye to the customs and lifestyles so familiar to us to face the ‘Spanish Inquisition’.


The plan now is to spend 4 days or so in Cartagena while our bikes sit in Miami customs. When the bikes are finally ready to air cargo to Bogota we will catch a short flight ourselves to meet up with the machines once again. It’s going to be weird pulling those big heavy bikes off the luggage carousels. The alternative to flying to Bogota is a 20 hour bus ride which only saves us $25 in comparison with the plane. Easy choice. The next time I blog will be from South America. Hasta luego amigos!

 

Departure Day Nears (Hector’s thoughts)

Wow! Can’t believe this is my last weekend here before leaving. The preparation has been Hector hectic. Trying to juggle my day job, jobs around the house, jobs for others, shopping for all our necessaties, and meetings with friends and family have really made time fly by. There have been many details to discuss and decisions to be made even right up to this last weekend. Hundreds of emails between the Gang of Four have been used to discuss these details. One would have thought that all would be in place at this point but it doesn’t seem so. This type of prep work has stressed me somewhat and has taken some of the fun out of going. I’m still needing to get my head wrapped around the idea that the time has actually come. It’s like my head has not yet accepted the reality that lays before me. The endless and wonderful support I’ve received from family and friends makes it even more difficult to point that bike south. It’s time to stop worrying about whether or not the bike will run well or crash and time to get into more of a ”this will be a fun trip” mode. I need to get relaxed like in this old photo of me in Canon Beach – Hector the Pup

20120905-225229.jpg