Travel Memories: Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego for New Year’s Eve 2017-2018
With Christmas over, we began 2018 with our most exclusive and sought-after tour: Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego for New Year’s Eve.
We shared this adventure with five Australians, one Mexican, one Swiss and an Italian couple: Rodney, Steven, Richard, Ian, Ross, Charles, Alberto, Claudio and Laura, whom we welcomed to Osorno on 27 December to hand over to them the motorbikes of their choice for the journey: seven BMW R1200GS LC (two of them ‘Adventure’) and one BMW F800GS Adventure. After the usual briefing, we sat down for the welcome dinner where the guys socialised before the departure the following day.
The tour began among the bends of the Cardenal Samoré Pass (1,314 metres) but, not far from Osorno, Steven’s GS Adventure developed a ride-by-wire technical problem and was no longer usable; thanks to our network of collaborators and suppliers the damaged motorbike was replaced by a Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin. While waiting for it to arrive, the group enjoyed some hot coffee on the banks of Lake Puyehue.
Early the following day we enjoyed the Llao Llao circuit, dampened by light rain. Between one mirador and another we were able to admire the majestic vegetation that surrounds Lake Nahuel Huapi. The beautiful road with its wealth of bends descends as far as El Bolsón, there entering the Los Alerces National Park, where the dirt road begins. The heavy rain of the previous days had made the surface muddy and the riders took advantage of this to have fun or carry out sideslips before the video-camera.
Trevelín was this day’s objective, where a traditional Argentinian dinner was waiting for us, with views over the Cordillera of the Andes.
The famous Carretera Austral awaited us! We rode along the banks of the river Futeleufú, admiring the waterfalls, the fjord, the lush woodlands, the rocky cliffs and the country people who live here.
The magical atmosphere suffered a rude shock when we reached Villa Santa Lucía. A serious landslide had recently struck the village, forcing the evacuation of much of its population. In 2009, when I was reconnoitring South America on my own, the eruption of the Chaitén volcano forced me to leave my route and head towards Bariloche, passing through this little town. It was late at night and the village people welcomed me within their own houses and to their own generous tables. Now the village was unrecognisable to me, swept away by metres of mud and crushed by an eerie silence. In shock and sadness the group of motorcyclists followed me along the bypass, which the army had opened only a couple of days earlier, while the police helicopters overhead were bringing aid to the victims of the catastrophe.
The asphalt road carried us as far as Puyuhuapi, but the work being carried out along it delayed our progress. We were only 5 km from the pier and 15 minutes by boat from the most exclusive lodge of the tour, which is only accessible by boat. However, the roadworks for widening the Carretera Austral had caused landslips and there was an auxiliary ferry to carry the flow of traffic past the landslip. This was a considerable problem since both the queues and the waiting time were long. The motorbikes were given priority boarding, but the support vehicle would have to be left behind on land. I explained the situation to those in charge of the embarkation and after lengthy negotiations with the other shore we were able to take our support vehicle with us and all arrive together at the pier, so avoiding considerable inconvenience.
All these efforts were amply repaid by the afternoon relaxing in the water with a temperature of 38° and seeing a spectacular rainbow that stretched from the shores of the Pacific. The exquisite dinner of cod and salmon, freshly caught from the waters, crowned this perfect happiness.
The milepost of the first 1,000 km of the tour was marked by having to repair the punctured rear tyre of Ian’s R1200GS. We then climbed up the mountain bends where the enormous leaves of the Giant Rhubarb, or Nalca, are taking over the road. We wound our way on, after an exceptional view of glaciers and waterfalls, and reached Coyhaique, where we intended to welcome 2018, in good time.
Richard’s radiator had been cracked by a stone, but with some bi-component resin and a touch of manual dexterity the damage was repaired before the time for aperitifs, which opened our celebrations. The gourmet dinner and classical dance that preceded the countdown to 2018, and tasting pisco sour cocktails and calling loved ones for the exchange of greetings, lasted until late at night.
Wake-up was perfectly reasonably delayed and it was not until mid-morning that we rejoined the Carretera Austral to ride along the majestic General Carrera Lake. The changing colours of the landscape are indescribable: the snow-covered peaks are reflected in the water which, depending on the presence and strength of the sun, varies from dark grey to intense turquoise.
Our caravan stopped first at Puerto Río Tranquilo for lunch served on the banks of the majestic lake and then at Bertrand, where we spent the night. During dinner a herd of horses ran along the bank of Lake Negro, entering between our wine glasses and the view of the Andes at sunset.
Under a radiant sun that increased the beauty of this area, we faced climbing the mountainous range that would lead us to the international boundary. Turning towards the south the horizon flattens out and opens to the steppe crossed by the iconic Ruta 40, but first we had to ride around the immense General Carrera Lake. On one of the twisting unpaved bends Rodney lost control and his motorbike’s valve cover was punctured. We loaded the bike onto the support vehicle and went to Chile Chico to work out the best solution. The group united all their efforts and once we had reached the estancia destined for the night’s stay, did their best in the work of getting the LC Adventure going again. Cleaning of the damaged part with alcohol, sandpaper, bi-component resin joined to a ‘do-it-yourself’ casing (fashioned from an aluminium pot-scrubber) and Ian’s masterly co-ordination resolved the issue.
Ruta 40 provided an excellent test of the repair and, with great joy, Rodney was able to continue his journey without problems.
The Patagonian steppe entranced us with its ochre, orange and grey tones extending as far as the eye could see. We re-provisioned at Bajo Caracoles, the last possible station, before tackling a tough off-road route that led us to another truly magical estancia. On our arrival, we were welcomed by the family who have lived here for generations simply by raising cattle and entertaining paying guests. Everything exudes tradition: the animals grazing freely, the squeaking wooden axles, the leather and wool being worked for sale, the local wine and beer and the very authentic ‘cordero al palo‘ – spit-roast lamb; the dinner was a true triumph of flavours, accompanied by the owner of Casa Tonchi with traditional Andean songs, played on his acoustic guitar.
The following day, Richard, Charles, Claudio and Laura took advantage of the maintenance work being done on the motorbikes to explore the Patagonian steppe on the ranch’s horses.
Continuing our journey towards El Calafate, we lunched at the inn famous for having entertained Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and Ethel Place, notorious criminals fleeing from justice after a number of robberies. The icebergs on Lakes Viedma and Argentino were the pre-runners of our entry into the city: a place rich in night-life and restaurants.
Here we had our rest day. While I checked over the motorbikes with all due attention to fuel, oil and water, brake pads and tyres, the guys were taken by our private shuttle with their own guide to the foot of the ‘ice cathedral’, better known as the Perito Moreno Glacier.
To discover this place after having crossed more than 2,000 kms of South America by motorbike offered the group members an unequalled sense of achievement compared to those who arrive here by air!
The following day we returned once more to Chile to explore the eighth wonder of the world by motorbike: the Torres del Paine National Park. The bitter wind and the cloud covering the summits did not allow us to enjoy the enchanting panoramas fully, but the beauty of the place was not unobserved. After a long series of stops at the miradores facing the waterfalls and shining lakes, we arrived at our hotel. The welcome there caused us to quickly forget the inclement weather, so much so as to evoke a proposal: that we should be up before sunrise and return to the park the following day, given the good forecast.
Very satisfied, we returned to our established programme and continued down to Puerto Natales, this being the longest stage of the whole tour. We stayed only for a meal, served with a view of the sea, and a visit to the wreck of the Amadeo, run aground on the beach of San Gregorio, which gives onto the Strait. We were lucky at Punta Delgata: the sea was calm and the ferry set sail punctually for Tierra del Fuego.
The ecstatic moment of passing the obelisks of Ushuaia, the most southern city in the world, is an epic one which everyone will remember for the rest of their life. At the Lapataia National Park we laid our hands on the noticeboard ‘Bienvenidos al fin del mundo’ with enormous smiles and photo-records to save for ever the realisation of a dream. We celebrated the whole occasion with a sumptuous dinner of seafood with fresh fish and royal crab, and with the sun still high in the sky, although it was by now 10 p.m. Our hotel, where we could leave our motorbikes until the afternoon, was very central, allowing us all to wander round the most beautiful streets of the city in search of gifts and gathering other records of the tour. Afterwards we headed for Río Grande, where we offered the group the final dinner, to shorten the length of our final ferry. This particular city is the greatest current tribute to the fallen of the ‘Guerra de las Malvinas’, islands belonging to the United Kingdom but claimed by Argentina, which led to a bitter military conflict in 1982.
Once through Chilean customs, we rode along the Magellan Strait until we reached Porvenir: the long crossing to Punta Arenas would guarantee everyone a well-earned rest, before returning the motorbikes and preparing ourselves for the flight home the following day.
Patagonia is an untamed country full of beauty and surprises. This year the tour had to deal with not only the weather conditions but also unforeseeable problems which could have affected its success. Not least were the accidents to the motorbikes and the setbacks which tried the group members, but the team chemistry made this undertaking yet another with a happy ending. The journey went decidedly well and I am very happy to have been able to help the guys fulfil this experience with success and, honoured by having guided them to the ‘fin del mundo’ I look forward to having them with us again to explore together another of the 70 countries that make up our repertoire!
‘Adventure’ means the inevitable unforeseen, and this is what really makes it an adventure; the key is always knowing how to find the solution. Anyone who chooses to travel with Ride True ADV is not choosing an infallible Utopia but the best possible competence at their service.
Ride True ADV founder and tour leader