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Jan 13th - Jan 27th 2010

Argentina Cont.

 

13-17/01/2010

El Calafate (Camping Ovejero)

13/01/2010 - Looooong lie in today after yesterdays hammering, I slept right through till 12:15! A walk into town to get food for tonight, meat for a nice Asado. A really hot shower later on did wonders in easing some of the aches and pains and gave us a bit life back.

14/01/2010 - We planned on catching up with people at home today but the internet connection kept dropping. Met Sandra and Roel, a couple from Belgium travelling in a camper van, they are heading South to Ushuaia then coming back North again. Speaking to them we discovered that they had travelled over on the same boat as Swiss Chris and Sylvia, who we met at Viedma. They had also bumped into a couple of others from Viedma, Andy & Maya and Brian & Marie, small world.

Roel told us about ďGet SouthĒ, a book similar to the Coast to Coast in South Africa that gives details about Hostels and Campsites. The one we are staying at here offers the 3rd night free on production of the book so we picked up the last copy that reception had. 30 minutes later one of the staff comes around and asks for payment for tonight's camping, being smart we said ď isnít it 3rd night free with Get South??Ē, ďOh, yes okĒ he says and wanders off, bonus! 10 minutes later he is back, ďyou didn't tell reception you wanted the Get South discountĒ, us = acting dumb, ďCan I see your copy please?Ē, we hand him the book, ďYou have to have a book from a different location to get the discount here, this is one of our copies, see, we mark them like this so we know. You have to payĒ, bugger, that didn't work so we try the ďwe had a copy but we lost itĒ routine, that didn't work either. ďOK, weíll be over later to payĒ. Good on them tho, they gave us 10% discount which they didn't have to.

Early night tonight as we are setting the alarm for 05:45 to try and get to the gates of the Parque Nacional des Glaciers before they are staffed and avoid paying the entrance fee. Although after Tierra del Fuegoís backfire we are not counting on it!

15/01/2010 - 05:45 .. I hate morningsÖ.. A quick cuppa and a dhobi then try and push the bike away from the tents to avoid waking anyone. New arrivals yesterday had parked their 4x4 near the entrance to the camping area although they had left enough room for us to get the bike out, however, after we had gone to bed they had moved their car and now there is just enough room to squeeze the bike out, but I will have to ride it out and into a staked off area and probably have to take the panniers off to get out of it. Sod trying to push it out, Iíll start it up outside their tent!

Fuelled up and on our way to see Perito Moreno Glacier 75Kmís away, we should beat the gate easily. A nice ride following the shore of Lago Argentino.

Arriving at the entrance at 07:30 we saw what looked like a camper van parked near the gate, an honest guy waiting for the gates to open???? But then, 50mtrs from the barrier, out steps a park ranger, shit! AR$75 each to enter please thank you very much, so yet again we are foiled. It wouldn't hurt as much if they had a better pricing structure, tourists/travellers must be rich so they get hammered, Argentine Nationals pay AR$25 to enter but residents of Santa Cruz province only pay AR$4 hmmmmmmmmm.

Seems that the Parks have got wise to the scam and now man the gates earlier and this park has 24hr security.

Anyway we paid our money and went in, 32 KMís more to ride till the glacier. A nice ride through the twisties in the park, then we see the glacier in the distance, looks impressive, a big white mass of ice flowing between the mountains with broken off bits floating in the lake.

We ride past all the picture points on the way and ride straight to the Glacier, don't want to give the bus loads of tourists chance to catch us up! Bike parked and only a couple of other people about, so we set off on the nice new metal walkways that are replacing the old wooden ones (I wonder who is paying for that??) that lead to the Glacier. Stopping to take a pic on the way down, I turn on the camera and it says ďNo Card InsertedĒ, damn it!!! I had taken it out the other day to offload photos and hadn't replaced it. Lorraines card is only 64KB and she has nearly filled it† taking pictures on the ride in. Back to the bike, I think I have a 2GB CF card that I use for the Garmin that I can use. No luck there, only a 32KB card, have to make do with that and delete some of the ones Lorraine has taken and use her card.

The Glacier is quite amazing, it is the only one in the park that is still growing. With a 5KM frontage and 60mtrs high, hard to appreciate the size of it from the walkways. Standing there in the quiet for half an hour or so we could here the cracks as it moves, sounded like explosions, then all of a sudden a huge bang and a large chunk of ice breaks away and we hear the splash as it falls into the lake, out of sight of us! Then more explosions and more splashes until we actually get to see a chunk falling off. It didn't look that big but the noise from the splash and the under current it caused, that lasted at least 5 minutes, said it was no ice cube. We stayed there for about 3 hours listening to the Glacier and watching more bits fall off, it must be moving at a rate to lose that much and still be growing, we were lucky enough to manage to video one small piece coming away. Back to the top and into the restaurant for a coffee, just in time. The first of the tour coaches had pulled in just before we headed back, we could hear them in the car park chatting and whatever from where we were on the bottom walkway, as we got back to the top more and more coaches were arriving, soon you wouldn't be able to hear a thing from the Glacier.

Time to go. With no need to beat the tour buses, we stopped for pictures at some of the viewpoints we passed by on the way in.

Back to the Campsite then check out the supermarket to see if we could find something easy to cook for dinner. Nothing took our fancy so we decided not to bother cooking but to eat in the restaurant, meatloaf and mash, the menu of the day, nice but small portion. Spent the rest of the evening chatting with Roel and Sandra.

16/01/10 - Roel & Sandra had received an email from Swiss Chris & Sylvia, they are in El Chalten and are heading to El Calafate tomorrow, we were all going to move on tomorrow but decided to stay another day and wait for them.

Quiet day around town trying to hunt down rolling tobacco without any luck.

Asado tonight, we will buy a chicken and Roel & Sandra will supply pasta, veg and bread, Tom, another Belgian guy, who is travelling SA on a push bike is going to bring over his sausages. A good night with traditional folk music coming from the live group in the bar which we thought was going to go on all night but they packed in around midnight.

17/01/10 -† Waiting for Chris and Sylvia to arrive. Roel and Sandra have moved their van out onto the street, refusing to pay another AR$65 for the privilege of being parked up in a small, cramped parking area, the van next to them kept hitting theirs with his door as he got in and out! Someone had also spilt diesel near their spot.

Chris and Sylvia arrive at 14:30, we thought we had seen them go by earlier, but when they hadn't pulled into the site we guessed it must have been someone else. It was them we had seen, they have more problems with the bike (broken pannier frame in Viedma) and were looking for a welder before camping up, luckily they found one next to the campsite. The gear shifter has broken and Chris wanted that done right away so he left it with the guy to repair while they put up their tent. Taking the gear off the bike Chris noticed that his pannier frame had broken again in a couple of places, if the guy does a good job on the gear shift he will get a bit more work! We spent the rest of the afternoon chatting and catching up with news. Bad news for us was that Chris, who is a competent off road rider, said that the Ruta 40 which we are planning to do is the worst riding he has ever had. Great!!

Asado again tonight, into town for some nice steak and pasta left from last night with a few beers supplied by Chris and Sylvia (because we waited for them .. nice) to wash it all down. One of the campsite dogs joined us so we gave him what little bits of fat were on the steaks and some of the pasta but he wouldn't eat it off the dirt so we had to plate it up for him on a bit of newspaper!

Again we were treated to a free music show while we ate with traditional Gaucho music this time, although I thought I heard some Simon and Garfunkel in there, watch the video when I manage to upload it!

 

18/01/2010

Start Mileage - 24079

Miles - 134

El Calafate, (Camping Ovejero) - El Chalten, (Camping El Relincho)

Woke up to a nice calm day, no wind whatsoever. Slow pack down with the other guys trying to persuade us to stay another day, we were tempted but thought we should get moving before we become resident!

Just 200+ Kmís of tarmac to do so not much of a rush to get going (we should have learned by now!). We said our goodbyes to everyone before they went off into town and we carried on packing, Tom was also on the move and came over to say goodbye, we will pass him somewhere on the road in an hour or so.

As soon as we had pulled out of town the wind picked up again, changing direction and knocking us from one side of the road to the other, then it died down a little until we turned onto the R40 and it came at us with a vengeance once more. We passed Tom who was struggling along, he is supposed to be meeting some mates in El Chalten in 3 days time and is going to split the journey to arrive the same day as them. I think he might struggle to get there at all in this wind without a lift. A few KMís further on we passed another group of cyclists who had pulled off the road and were taking what shelter they could find next to tumble down shed in a field, then we passed another two cycles dumped by the side of the road with no sign of the riders, think they may have leapt over the barrier to take shelter in the ditch on the other side. Battling on through the wind until it dropped as we neared Lago Viedma and the mountains started to close in giving a bit of shelter. We arrived at El Chalten at 15:30, riding through the town looking for the campsite Chris had recommended and not finding it. Busting for a pee now we stop for a coffee before going to the tourist info for a map of the town or directions to the campsites. We could see one Hostel that is in ďGet SouthĒ and is supposed to have a ďHugeĒ camping area, unless it was overly busy and the main camping was behind the Hostel, the only camping we could see was on a bit of scrub land out the front open to all the elements, we will give that one a miss.

Bladder and coffee cup emptied we wander over to the tourist info, we get there 16:01 it shuts at 16:00, so we ask at a kiosko and manage to find the place. Not what we were expecting but it will do as itís now starting to rain and itís getting colder.

 

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19/01/2010

El Chalten (Camping Relincho)

A very windy night with the tent getting another battering but managing to stay up, just a few pegs blown out. I keep meaning to get stronger pegs but never get around to it, one day!

We decided to stay another day as the weather was that bad and hopefully get a clear view of Mt Fitzroy, the big attraction for this part of Argentina. So far the whole mountain has been surrounded with cloud.

El Chalten is a relatively new town. The Argentine government paid people to settle there to counteract Chileís claim on the land. 10 years ago the Summer population was around 500, dwindling to less than 100 in the Winter months. Today the year round population is around 3,000, making big bucks from the tourists. The streets are lined with excursion companies and restaurants which† are vastly overpriced.

Not much to do after wandering around the small town so we spent the rest of the day in the shelter out of the wind and rain, no sign of Fitzroy.

 

20/01/2010

Start Mileage - 24213

Miles - 78

El Chalten (Camping Relincho) - Tres Lagos (Camping Municipal)

Our planned departure day from El Chalten, 08:00 and itís blowing a gale and raining again so we stay put hoping it is going to die down. 13:00 and the wind has dropped to a breeze but it is still raining, we decide that we had better make a run for† it while we can or we are going to be stuck here longer than we want. Bike packed and wet weather gear on we set off. We had only been on the road for 20 minutes when the rain stopped, the wind died completely and the sun came out. A nice ride on tarmac until about 10miles from Tres Lagos when the wind kicked in again, big style. We thought we might get further but we are not hitting the ripio on the Ruta 40 in this. We pull into the fuel station just before Tres Lagos only to find that they have no fuel, manana, maybe! So we hunt out the campsite in the village and set up for the wait for either the wind to drop and/or the fuel to arrive.

A good campsite with lots of shelter from the wind and a not too bad restaurant attached with a T.V. heating and power to charge everything up.

Nice scoff and a couple of beers then off to bed earlyish for the 05:00 alarm call to check on the wind condition.

 

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21/01/2010

Tres Lagos (Camping Municipal)

05:00 - Blowing a gale, back to bed for an hour.

06:00 - Just the same, we are not moving today, not even for fuel.

Some other campers on the site were leaving mid afternoon, checked with them if there was any fuel yet, they said there was, hopefully they wonít run out again before we get a chance to leave.

Into the warmth of the restaurant for the evening, a couple of beers and Indiana Jones on the telly.

 

22/01/2010

Start Mileage - 24291

Miles - 59

Tres Lagos (Camping Municipal) - Lago Cardiel (Estancia La Siberia)

Today is the day, 05:00 and no wind, pack down quick and get around to the fuel station and fill up for our first day on the worst part of the Ruta 40.

At the fuel station for 06:45, it is supposed to be 24 hour, just ring the bell for service. Three rings and half an hour later we get service! Fill up the tank and jerries and hit the ripio.

It is BAD!! Right from the start, very deep with small tyre tracks to follow, it wouldn't be so bad but the wind is starting again, we are not looking forward to this. I had checked Markusís website previously and he had reported that the first 50KMís were really bad, he wasn't joking.

Plodding through the deep shit at a crawl, no more than 30KMH for the most part and lucky if I got out of second gear, the wind is now really strong and we get blown into the berms of loose gravel but surprisingly managing to stay upright. A couple of times we came very close to losing the bike into a ditch, this is very hard work.

An hour on the road and we have only travelled 23KMís. We get a bit of a break in the wind and pull over for a smoke break, as soon as we slow down to stop we get hit by a gust of wind, pushing the front wheel into some loose crap Ö..† and over we go! A slow spill so no damage. Luckily I spotted a car coming down the road so we flagged them down to help us up with the bike.

Now the wind is blowing again, and taking the bike off the sidestand is proving to be difficult, no firm footing and as soon as I lift the bike the wind is pushing it over to the other side. Lorraine wanders off up the road to see if there is a bit of shelter near an embankment we can see further on, I stay with the bike trying to keep it on both wheels. Lorraine has disappeared into the distance when I eventually get enough of a drop in the wind to get off the sidestand and get going again. I catch up with Lorraine and there is a little bit of shelter where I can stop, although the bike is rocking on the stand and we are expecting it to go over any minute.

Back on the road again. Another 45 minutes and we have covered another 15KMís. We are in wide open countryside now with absolutely no shelter, the wind is the strongest we have had so far and we are struggling. Then we get a reprieve, the wind drops, until that is we start to slow down for another break and we get hit by a huge gust that has us off again. Again we are lucky with another car coming close behind us to lend a hand. We manage to get the bike upright but the left hand pannier has come adrift, we canít carry on with it like that or we are going to break the frame with the corrugations. With the bike on the sidestand leaning into the wind, Lorraine digs into the pannier to get the tools out while I push against the bike to try to keep it upright. Tools out and Lorraine has to take my place, I tell her if it feels like the wind is going to push the bike over to just get out of the way and let it drop. I get the pannier reattached and the tools re-stashed just in time. The wind now is rocking the bike with both of us pushing against it, we could be here a long time!!!

For well over an hour we stay like this, both of us pushing as hard as we can against the bike and trying to keep as low a profile as possible before we can get back on and move off again. Arms aching from all the pushing and the struggle so far, the riding is getting harder. An hour and a half and another 24KMís and we have off No.3 just as another gust pushes us off line, itís not funny any more and we have a bit of a wait before a car turns up, we didn't even try to lift it this time, just left it in the road. Again a struggle once we were upright to get moving again.

Another 50 minutes and 25KMís and we reach Lago Cardiel and pull into Estancia La Siberia absolutely knackered.

59 miles in 8hours, I hope we donít have any more days like that!

The price of camping is a bit steep here, AR$30 per person but having no choice we have to pay it, I just canít ride any further today.

After a coffee and numerous ciggies we get the tent up and I crash out for a while but wake up with the wind howling again.

At least there is a room at the Estancia that we can sit in out of the wind and cold, we can also charge things up instead of waiting until they switch the electric on at the camping area.

While we were sat in the warm we met a French guy and his wife who live in Santiago and are on a trip with his sister and her husband visiting from France so we spent most of the evening chatting with them. The worst part of the conversation was finding out it had only taken them 2 hours to do what took us 8!!!!!!!

It is impossible to cook with this wind blowing, so strong the tent is collapsing in on itself and we can just imagine what would happen if we light the cooker inside the tent!!! Again no option but to pay the asking price for the worst meat we have had since being in Argentina.

 

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23/01/2010

Start Mileage - 24350

Miles - 153

Lago Cardiel (Estancia La Siberia) - Bajo Carocoles (Hostel Ruta 40)

05:00 alarm for the wind check -- all clear, not even a breeze, so up and at it.

07:00 and we are packed up and on the road. The road is a lot better today, still crap but after yesterday it couldnít get much worse. We were making good progress on the ripio with no wind, we had already covered yesterdays distance by 09:00.

We had done a quick count of how many KMís of ripio we had left before we would hit what we had been told was a nice new stretch of tarmac and it was a good feeling to see the KMís dropping, quickly! Then the road got bad again with very loose soft stuff knocking our speed down a lot. Then there it was, the new tarmac, what a relief. The sign at the end of the ripio amused me, after riding some 200+ KMís of the worst roads we have yet ridden, we were being warned of approaching tarmac! We slowed the speed right down, not wanting to waste the tarmac, we even considered turning around when we reach the end of it to do it again.

Our plan was to get to Las Horguelas at the end of the tarmac and camp up before attempting the next 250+ KMís of ripio to Perito Moreno but it was only 11:00, and the wind was still minimal. Bajo Carocoles was 99KMís away and we knew there was a campsite there. We also knew the next stretch has a lot of roadworks and it had been reported as bad going.

We decided to go for it. Very loose and rocky to start with but it got better after 15-20Kmís. Although the wind was picking up, it was only a strong breeze with occasional gusting which we could handle. About 45KMís in the roadworks started with nice compacted dirt either side of the road. We pulled in alongside a heavy roller that was parked up to shelter from the now stronger wind for a quick smoke not realising that the driver was having a kip in the cab. We must have woke him up when we pulled in and he leant out of the cab for a chat, usual questions, but we found out the road was good to Bajo Carocoles. Smoke over we get going again, riding mostly at our usual tarmac cruising speed on the compacted dirt with the occasional detour back onto the rubbish. Around 20KMís from Bajo Carocoles we came to the end of the roadworks on the ripio and met up with the roadworks that will soon be tarmac. Temptingly running alongside us but with no way of getting on to it we have to suffer the bone rattling we are getting from the cobblestone road until over the horizon appears Bajo Carocoles, at 14:00!

240+ Kmís in less time than it took to do 94KMís. and no falls.

Everything canít go to plan though can it? We found fuel and the campsite but it took 2 hours to get the tent up, the ground was solid and the soft tent pegs just wonít go in, we are going to be in trouble if the wind blows! With some strategically placed rocks the tent is up to a fashion, siesta time!

4 other bikes turned up, 1 Argentinean, 2 Canadian and a Swiss guy on an Argentinean registered bike. The Argentinean guy wasn't travelling with the others and put his tent up across the road from the Hostel and we didn't see him again tonight. We had a quick chat before the rest put their tents up, then they went in search of supplies and we went for a nice pizza in the restaurant. All fed we sat around chatting and drinking for the rest of the evening, Dan and Claire from Canada are on a RTW trip and we got some good tips from them for further up north. We gave them our opinion of what they have ahead of them for the next couple of days at least and think we may have changed their plans after talking about Africa, they may now go from Argentina to Cape Town. Remy, the other guy in the party went to the same university as Dan at the same time and were put in touch by a mutual friend, he is riding with them for a couple of months before going back home.

23:00 and the wind is howling again, ripping at the tents and blowing up a dust storm, the wine is getting gritty so we decide to call it a night.

 

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24/01/2010

Bajo Carocoles (Hostel Ruta 40)

The wind blew hard all night and was still blowing in the morning. We sat in the restaurant for a while out of the wind but it was warmer outside in the sun (sheltered from the wind) so we sat near the tent. Around 11:00 Dan surfaced, guess they had done a wind check and decided it was too windy. No, they are just late starters like us, but they are going to pack down and go for it, more guts than us. After saying our farewells to Dan, Claire and Remy we sit twiddling our thumbs, there isn't a lot to do in Bajo Carocoles. The wind dropped about half an hour after they left and stayed calm for the rest of the day, was it a mistake not moving????

We didn't fancy pizza again and the millanaisa on the restaurant menu was quite expensive so Lorraine went in search of some meat to put in our packet soup and pasta to bulk it out a bit. She came back with the standard hot dog sausages, guess they will do again.

Not many new guests at the site tonight, a couple from Buenos Aires that we chatted briefly to and another Argentine couple in a campervan who we didn't.

 

25/01/2010

Start mileage - 24503

Miles - 119

Bajo Carocoles (Hostel Ruta 40) - Los Antiguos (Camping Municipal)

Back to early wind check but after the calm day yesterday we opted for a later 06:00 check. Calm as you like. A slow pack and we are on the road at 08:30. Having the extra day rest was a bonus, my aches and pains have thinned out a bit.

Dan and Claire had said we had another 60KMís of ripio before the tarmac to Perito Moreno. Most of the road out was good, hard pack with a few patches of loose stuff. It is nice to be able to ride without having to worry about the road condition too much. We hit more roadworks on the way and had to struggle through the dust clouds kicked up by the trucks running the road, again with nice shiny tarmac in sight but out of reach. 50KMís of ripio and the wind kicks in again and it is a struggle until we hit the tarmac again. The wind is blowing strong so we pull into a Petrobras fuel station in Perito Moreno for a break and some munchies. While we are sat there another group of bikes pull in heading in the opposite direction, 3 Brits, 1 South African and a couple from Norway (we think), all met up en route and have been travelling together for a while, all heading to Ushuaia. The Norwegian couple are cutting across country to the Ruta 3 to avoid the ripio, while the rest are going to brave the R40. A 2 hour break and swapping contact details we are all on our way again. We later found out that most of them made it through although one of the group had an off between Perito Moreno and Bajo Carocoles, damaged his ankle and shipped the bike and himself in a pick up to El Calafate.

The wind is still blowing and getting worse as we ride alongside Lago Buenos Aires (next to Lake Titicaca it is the 2nd largest in South America) towards the supposedly sheltered town of Los Antiguos. Although not as windy I would hardly call it sheltered, the cross winds off the lake are fierce and really have a go at having us off at every cross roads. After spending more time than we should have (on the recommendation of the Rough Guide) looking for a Hostel that has cheap camping, we eventually find it only to be told by the Senora that they donít allow camping, even though there is a tent already pitched up!! Maybe she just doesn't like bikers. So back to the Municipal 3KMís out of town which isn't a bad site.

We went back into town after pitching up for some food and bought a really nice looking bit of meat for the asado. We have had this cut of meat a lot of times and it has always been really nice, twice I have bought it and my motorcycle boots would have tasted better, two hours on the fire and it is rubbish!!! must pay more attention to how the Argentines cook it!!

 

As a side note - I have tried to find the wind speed on the internet for the days we travelled the R40 without success. The pictures, although few, do little justice to the power that the wind has over mere motorcyclists. I think we were travelling in wind speeds of over 160KMH at points.

 

Anybody that thinks it is going to be a fun ride along the Ruta Cuarente should think again, it is anything but fun. We had read about the fierce wind speeds and the difficulties that they bring, whether you are on a BMW GS or a Suzuki DR 350, but until you are actually in it you cannot appreciate the difficulties it is going to bring. Even without the wind it is not an easy ride, the ripio is (at the moment) extremely bad in places, also you can leave your overnight stop on a very calm wind free morning and soon find yourself struggling to keep the bike upright with absolutely no shelter from the unforgiving wind. We hit some bad days and we were lucky. Listen to the locals and other travellers who have JUST travelled the road (old info is useless info).

We have heard from very few people we have met travelling that have done the R40 with little or no wind, some have, but they are the minority rather than the majority.

Do it once, only if you have to, preferably in a 4x4, you guys that do it on bicycles need your bumps feeling!!!! Good on you for trying but you are mental!

 

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26-27/01/2010

Los Antiguos (Camping Municipal)

26/01/2010 - Cold and windy start to the day so we both sat in the tent until lunchtime.

The weather picked up a bit in the afternoon so we went in search of a launderette and a cafť that had free Wi-Fi, successful on both accounts although the Wi-Fi wasn't as good as expected, 2 hours to send a couple of emails and a major crash of the web site due to trying to upload an update over the crap connection, it will have to wait until we get a better connection.

Back to the campsite and try to curry up the remains of last nights meat, maybe it will get more tender if we stew it, wrong, it was boiling away for ages and was still tough as old boots, so rice and sauce it is then!

27/01/2010 - Into town and try the internet again to repair the website, no luck, the connection is still shite!

Tried to spend the day in town but got bored so headed back to the tent after lunch. Very slow day, wind and cold for the rest of the day. Bed at around 22:00.

 

 

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