Looking Back: Bolivia Border Crossing and My Only Bribe

July 26, 2016

Back in January, I crossed from Peru into Bolivia. Aside from the “Border Helper” scams in Central America where Judith and I had a very pushy and fraudulent “helper” crossing into Honduras, all of my other border crossings were relatively painless, even if they took some time. Except Bolivia. I intended to tell this story after I left Bolivia and crossed into Chile or Argentina, but somehow it got lost, until I was telling it at dinner the other night, and was reminded that I hadn’t mentioned it in my blog. So here goes:  my only bribe I paid in my first year on the road.

Leaving Tinjani Canyon in Peru, I headed for the border at Lake Titicaca. I was already aware of the “reciprocity fee” that I was going to have to pay as an American in order to enter Bolivia, and I had US dollars ready. I checked myself and the bike out of Peru (after standing in line behind a busload of student tourists), and rode the short distance to the entrance to Bolivia. There I gathered up my paperwork once more, and headed for Immigration.

The Immigration officer asked for my passport, and upon seeing it was issued from the United States, his demeanor rapidly went downhill. He asked if I was aware of the reciprocity fee. Yes, I was. He demanded the $160 in US currency. I pulled out eight $20 bills and laid them on the counter. Ever so slowly, he picked up one at a time, held it up to the light, and inspected it closely. Each time, he shook his head, tossed the bill down, and said “this one is not acceptable”, and pointed to a tiny one to two millimeter tear at the edge of the bill where it had been folded in half. Normally I wouldn’t have even noticed this. He informed me that the Bolivian bank would not accept these “damaged” bills, and asked for another. Fortunately I had several more, and eventually I was able to appease him with bills that were acceptable.

Next he asked for my visa application. I mistakenly had assumed that I would be able to fill one out at the border, and I didn’t do it in advance. Wrong. No forms available. It must be done online, printed, and brought with me. There is a copy place next door to Aduana (Customs), since you have to make multiple copies of all of your forms, and they had internet service and would complete the form and print it for a reasonable fee. So I walked next door and stood in line.

It turns out there was a line because the internet connection was down. So we all stood around and waited for an hour or so until the connection was restored, and my visa application was prepared and printed. (Side note: in the two hours that I was in the copy place, I made several friends, including a woman who wanted to take me home to meet her daughter.)

Back to Immigration with my visa application (and two passport photos, which I had in my document bag), and my visa was accepted. Next, the Immigration officer asked for a copy of my hotel reservation for Bolivia. I didn’t have a hotel reservation. I was planning to camp, or worst case, to find a hotel in Copacabana when I got there (which is about three miles away).

“You can’t enter Bolivia unless you have a copy of your hotel reservation.”

Great. Well, I could go back and stand in line at the copy place again, and maybe pay the guy there to get on the internet and book me a room, but at this point, I was growing tired of this.

“I don’t have a reservation. I am going to Copacabana and will get a room at the Hotel Lago Azul” (I remembered the name of a hotel I had seen advertised a few days earlier). We went back and forth for a good five minutes until he finally sighed heavily and stamped my passport.

Next step: Aduana, to import the bike into Bolivia. Aduana asked for copies of my title, registration, and passport. I knew this would happen, so while I was getting my visa application, I had them make copies of these. The customs officer was very friendly, and after walking out and verifying the VIN on the bike, he completed my temporary importation paperwork and handed it to me.

At this point, at most border crossings, I would have been done and headed out. But here, there is one more step. You must present all of the documents you just obtained to a National Police officer for review.

I walked into his office and handed him my paperwork. He briefly looked it over.

“Where is your insurance?” he asked.

“What insurance?”, I replied, playing just a little dumb.

“You must have insurance for your moto before you can enter Bolivia.”

“Okay”, I said, “Where can I buy it?” Normally there is a small shack selling insurance at the border.

“You cannot buy it here.”

“Where can I buy it?”

“La Paz.”

La Paz is about a hundred miles from the border. Into Bolivia.

“Okay, then can I get it when I get to La Paz?”, I asked.

“You cannot enter Bolivia without insurance.”

“So how do I get the insurance?”

“You must go to La Paz.”

We went around and around like this for a while until I finally realized that I was going to have to buy my way into the country.

“Is there some way I can get to La Paz in order to buy insurance?”

“Well, it is my wife’s birthday today. You could buy her flowers.”

Whoa. That was original. And unexpected. Not the straightforward bribe request I had expected.

“Okay, how much are the flowers I should buy your wife?”

“Ten US dollars.”

I reached into my pocket to pay him, and realized I only had $20 bills. I wasn’t going to give him a twenty. But I also had Bolivianos, the local currency.

“Can I pay you in Bolivianos?”

“Yes.”

“How much?”

“Twenty Bolivianos.”

I did the math in my head. Twenty Bolivianos was about $3 US. I quickly pulled out twenty BoB and handed it to him before he could realize his mistake.

“Now can I go to La Paz and buy my insurance?”

“I don’t care what you do”, he said.

So off I rode to Copacabana, feeling a mixture of frustration over having been hassled and swindled, yet vindicated in having only paid three bucks.

And that’s the only bribe I paid in one year and 34 countries, which included more than 56 visits each to immigration and aduana. I don’t have a moral to this story, just a little advice for those planning a similar route:

  1. Carry at least $300 in US $20 bills; make sure they are crisp and not damaged at all (no tiny little tears), and make sure they are dated 2006 or later (many countries won’t take bills older than 2006). Hide the money on the bike, on yourself, or a combination thereof.
  2. Carry at least five or six photocopies of your passport photo page, driver’s license, title and/or registration, and at least four passport-sized photos. This may speed things up, but be aware that you’ll still have to make copies at the border, because they will ask for copies of documents that they just issued to you, and you will be responsible for making them. Six copies won’t last you more than a few border crossings, so you’ll have to make more later. Also, scan and upload copies of these documents to the cloud, and save them to your laptop, ipad, or phone or whatever you carry with you.
  3. Always approach a border crossing with the attitude that you have no time schedule, and don’t mind if it takes all day or longer. If you don’t act like you’re in a hurry and instead act like you could camp there for days if necessary, they probably won’t feel like hassling you as much. Be happy, smile, shake hands, and be ready to hand out your stickers. Most of them love the stickers, and will quickly forget to hassle you.
  4. Don’t be afraid to pay a bribe if it makes sense in the long run. I wasn’t going to sit at the Bolivian border for another couple of hours sweating the National Police officer out over three bucks. I don’t condone this system, but as I was told in Bolivia, “Bolivia runs on corruption. Without it, nothing would get done.”

You Can’t Fix Stupid, But Fortunately You Can Find Ways Around It

March 16, 2016

Never let it be said that I am not capable of doing some really stupid stuff. Yesterday is just my latest shining example.

Yesterday (Tuesday) was supposed to be “shipping day”: the day I took the bike to the airport and delivered it to the shipper. I had a 10:30am appointment at the cargo terminal. It takes just under an hour to get to the airport from where I am staying in Palermo, and I needed to get just a little gas before heading that way so I wouldn’t run out (the bike is supposed to have less than two liters of fuel in it when it goes on the plane).

I made sure the bike was sorted, packed and ready to go the night before. Tuesday morning I left about 9am, and rode a block to the gas station where I bought exactly two liters of fuel, figuring I would burn about a liter on the way to the airport.

After getting fuel, I pushed the bike off to the side, out of the way, and pulled out my waterproof zip-lock pouch with all of my documents in it. I looked at the information from the shipping broker, DakarMotos, which had the GPS coordinates of the cargo area on it, and entered the coordinates into the Maps.Me app on my phone. The route came up, I slid the pouch into my tank bag, put my gloves on, and set off for the airport.

About two miles up the road, I stopped at a stoplight. A cab pulled up behind me, honking furiously. I looked back, and the cab driver was pointing behind him and yelling something at me, but with all of the traffic noise I couldn’t hear him. I assumed I must have run a red light or cut him off in traffic, so I simply waved at him and when the light turned green, I took off.

About a half mile later, I looked down and noticed my tank bag was open. And my document pouch was gone. Massive panic immediately took over. The pouch contained the original title to my bike, my Argentina temporary import certificate, my Argentina reciprocity fee document, the shipping paperwork for the bike, and a bunch of other stuff that I can’t even remember.

I spun an illegal U-turn in the middle of an eight lane busy avenue and started splitting lanes as fast as I could to get back to where the cab driver had been honking at me. I rode in the gutter, between cars, around trucks and buses. When I got back to the street where the cab driver waved me down, I rode slowly up and down the street all the way back to the gas station, several times, looking for my documents. I kept thinking someone would see me and yell at me, waving my documents. No such luck.

Dejected, I went back to the apartment, and set off on foot to walk the entire route. I spent another two hours walking both sides of the street, looking on cars, in windows of buildings, in trash cans, everywhere I could think, with no success. Eventually, I began to accept that my documents were gone, and I was stuck in Argentina. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get a replacement title from the US, and a new temporary import document from the Argentina Customs offices, or if that was even possible. Fortunately, I had two pieces of good news: first, I had the original Texas registration for the bike in a different pouch at the apartment, and I thought I might be able to use it in lieu of the title at Customs. Second, Sandra and Javier at DakarMotos had photocopies of my temporary import certificate, which I hoped would make it easier to get a replacement original.

I contacted Sandra, and after a long discussion with the airport Customs officials, she suggested I file a report with the local police, and get an affidavit from them advising that I had lost the documents. So after a couple of hours at the police station, and the help of Sandra’s daughter-in-law acting as translator, I walked out with the affidavit.

Meanwhile, my brother in Texas was working on getting a certified copy of my title from the Texas DMV. I was somewhat shocked to learn that I could send him an email and he could take it to the DMV and they would give him a copy of my title. For all the difficulties I usually suffer at the DMV, this seemed way too easy. Perhaps they felt sorry for me? Nah, it’s still the DMV.

I went to bed with the bike still in the garage…it should have been on a plane or at least in the cargo area at the airport. I couldn’t help but think of all the things that had to be addressed now: besides documents, there was local logistics (I had to be out of the apartment by Friday morning, as new renters were moving in, and now I had two large roller bags with all my stuff packed in them that wouldn’t fit on the bike); travel logistics (I was going to miss my flight Thursday night, and I wouldn’t arrive in Cape Town when I was supposed to, so my hotel reservation needed to be changed or canceled); and bike logistics (what if I exceeded my time limit in Argentina waiting on documents? I had no document to allow me to exit the country with the bike and then return to start the clock over).

It’s amazing how quickly the stress level can rise after months of virtually no stress. Eventually I took a deep breath, sat down and made my “to do” list, and got to work.

Sandra and Javier are experts at shipping bikes into and out of Argentina, and I was not the first person they had dealt with who for one reason or another didn’t have a full set of documents. After exchanging a few texts, Sandra agreed (for a small “Stupidity Fee”) to meet me at the airport Wednesday morning with the remaining copies of my documents that she had, along with the registration and police affidavit that I had, to see if we could convince Customs to accept what we had and allow me to ship the bike.

After four hours, and another hand-written statement explaining what had happened, I was allowed to take the bike into the freight warehouse and put it on the pallet. Things were once again moving forward!

Before putting the bike on the pallet, I rolled it onto a freight scale. The fully loaded bike, with everything except my camping gear, weighs 174.5 kg, or 384 pounds. For reference, an unloaded BMW 1200GS weighs 260kg, or 573 pounds dry, and a stock KLR650 with no luggage weighs just more than my fully loaded bike, at 176 kg claimed dry weight.

Bike going onto the pallet…

 

It’s definitely getting real now. This is the first shipment for the bike with the exception of the Stahlratte; I’ve ridden it everywhere until now. It’s a lot farther to ride home from Africa than from Argentina.

And finally some good news: since my bike is considerably smaller than the typical 1200cc adventure bike, the shipping cost turned out to be 20% less than I was originally quoted. So even with the Stupidity Fee it turned out to be less than I had budgeted.

One more day in South America, then a very long flight to South Africa.

 

Buenos Aires, Part Two: The City

March 13, 2016

With the bike prepped and ready to deliver to the shipper on Tuesday, I have a few days to relax, wash gear, pack everything, and see the sights.

This is a very lively city, with tons of sidewalk cafes and beautiful parks. Today I walked about six miles in one direction, then caught a cab home at the end of my tour.

From the apartment, I walked to Plaza Serrano, a small park surrounded by bistros and sidewalk bars and cafes. Being Saturday, the park was covered with arts and crafts vendors selling their wares, while others continued to assemble more booths for Sunday’s large event. I stopped at a nearby cafe for a couple of empanadas and a smoothie, then continued walking northeast.

Palermo Buenos Aires

The trees and plants here are beautiful. The front of this cafe was covered in an enormous bougainvillea.

Palermo Buenos Aires

 

Triumph Thruxton

Saw this nice Triumph parked on the sidewalk while walking along.

 

My route took me past the Buenos Aires Zoo. Beautiful place…I might even go back and pay to go in. But for free, from the sidewalk, I saw flamingoes, giraffes, and hippos. For a moment I couldn’t help but think about the expense of shipping to and from Africa, versus walking past the zoo here and seeing the same animals.

Yeah, I know….I’m going to Africa.

Buenos Aires zoo flamingoes

 

Buenos Aires zoo giraffe

 

Past the zoo, I walked through several more large, shaded parks. In the corner of one, near Plaza Italia, is the Jardin Japones, or Japanese Garden.

Jardin Japones Buenos Aires

Jardin Japones Buenos Aires

Jardin Japones Calendar Buenos Aires

I found my ultimate dream job: I want to be the guy that changes the date every day on this rock calendar at the Japanese Gardens in Buenos Aires. The most stress he could possibly experience is leap year.

Eventually I made my way to the Cementerio del Recoleta. This huge cemetery in the middle of Buenos Aires is absolutely incredible. Well worth the price of admission, which by the way is nothing. Nada. Free.

 

Cementerio del Recoleta

Cementerio del Recoleta. Feels like a small city of buildings.

 

Cementerio del Recoleta

 

Cementerio del Recoleta

 

Cementerio del Recoleta

 

Cementerio del Recoleta

 

Evita cementerio del Recoleta

Evita’s resting place.

 

Eva Peron Cementerio del Recoleta

 

Next up was Calle Defensa, a street in the San Telmo district that is lined with flea market vendors on Sundays. Probably a kilometer of them. With a few side streets joining in with vendors as well. It ends at Plaza de Mayo, which is also filled with vendors.

Calle Defensa San Telmo Buenos Aires

Defensa Market San Telmo Buenos Aires

I ran into this guy with a Luckenbach Texas t-shirt.

 

Great street entertainment.

This guy was quite entertaining as well:

And great street food.

 

Reflections of the past

 

Citroen 2CV Limo Buenos Aires

You can tour Buenos Aires in a stretch limo Citroen 2CV.

 

I saw this on the way back to the apartment. Not sure what it means…

 

Then back at the apartment, I was looking through a coffee table book on Banksy, the graffiti artist, and ran across this. Apparently there is quite a bit of copy-cat Banksy artwork in Buenos Aires. I’m guessing the overpass sign is one of them.

 

Buenos Aires, Part One: The Bike

March 11, 2016

Before I could allow myself to do any serious sight-seeing in this city, I needed to get to work: I had a list of items to be done on the bike before taking it to the airport for it’s first flight.

First things first: get all the mud, dirt, and grime off so I can work on it. It’s nice to have car washes that will actually wash bikes too. These guys did a great job: they used degreaser, soap, and not too much pressure. Cost: about $7.

 

The Butterfly Effect: lots of white butterflies on Ruta 3 heading north. Many of them were kamikazes, turning my helmet into a sticky mess.

 

Meet Paolo. This guy is awesome. He runs Moto Avenida, a little one-man independent parts, accessory and service shop just around the corner from my apartment on Avenida Cordoba in Buenos Aires. I stopped in and asked him if he would let me use his shop to change my oil & filter and chain & sprockets. He gladly allowed me to use his space. I bought a few small items and my oil from him. As usual, not a word of English, but incredibly nice and helpful. I had to remove the swingarm to install the endless chain, but everything I did took about an hour and a half at his shop. Just coincidence that he was wearing a Yamaha t-shirt when I showed up.

Back at the apartment, I removed the fuel tank and swapped out the fuel pump and fuel filter. As noted earlier, there’s nothing wrong with the fuel pump, but unfortunately the in-tank fuel filter is part of the fuel pump and only comes as an assembly.

One of these things is not like the other: old fuel filter/pump on the left. Filter is just a wee bit black compared to the new one. I’ll clean it again and keep it as a spare just in case.

I also replaced the mirror that was broken when the bike was dropped off the worklift in Punta Arenas. I removed my GPS, its’ mounting dock and associated wiring for shipping, and installed a new air filter.

At this point, the bike is ready to ship. I’ll cover those details Tuesday when it goes to the shipper.

Ruta 3….Still!

March 4, 2016

This road truly seems to go on forever.

If you’ve ever driven through the King Ranch in South Texas, or up Highway 395 between Victorville, California and Ridgecrest, then you know the feeling of driving a long, straight two-lane road with nothing but desert scrub in either direction as far as the eye can see. Now, instead of that long, straight road going a hundred or even two hundred miles, imagine it going for 1,800 miles. In other words, if you left Raymondville, Texas (near the Mexican border) and drove north through the King Ranch, the scenery wouldn’t change until you got to, say, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. That’s the same distance. With a few dots in the road along the way for towns, but for the most part, nothing and nobody. Yep, Argentina is a big country.

Thankfully there are occasional detours to places that are a little more interesting.

Rada Tilly. I camped here one night at the municipal campground a couple of blocks from the beach. Nice town.

 

Puerto Madryn. I spent a couple of nights at the Ruca Hue bungalows. Reasonably priced, with my own kitchen, good wifi, and walking distance to the main area of town and groceries. Always nice when the staff encourages you to park your bike as close as you want to your front door.

 

Playa Larallde on Peninsula Valdes. Thirty miles off of Ruta 3 heading east across the peninsula, then six miles down a gravel road (the last mile was actually just beach sand). I had the whole place to myself all day and night, with the exception of a few hours in the evening when a couple of fishermen showed up. It was so dark that night (just a sliver of moon) that I was amazed at the stars and the Milky Way in the sky. And for the first time I saw the Southern Cross.

 

Low tide. That big rock sticking out in the water is about 15 feet from the water to the top.

 

Nearing high tide. At high tide, the rock was completely submerged. Made it easy to figure out where to put my tent.

 

Only 771 more miles to Buenos Aires!

 

Expense Report: February 2016

February turned out to be a fairly expensive month due to new tires and a number of tours. Even though I had seven nights that I paid $0 for lodging, the expense of hostels and hotels in Patagonia drove the average up. Way up.

Gas: $139.65 (Daily average: $4.82)

Food: $382.60 (Daily average: $13.19)

Lodging: $841.17 (Daily average: $29.00)

Tours, Park Admission: $154.14

Bike Maintenance: $380.36

Tolls, Ferries: $23.95

Grand Total: $1925.21

Still cheaper than staying home…

March will be the most expensive by far, due to shipping and air fare costs, but I was aware of that ahead of time so it’s no surprise.

Ruta 3 North

February 29, 2016

Ruta 3 can pretty much be summed up in one photo:

Long, relatively boring, and windy. From here, 2536 kilometers to Buenos Aires.

 

It’s the most direct way up to Buenos Aires. There are other ways, such as the way I came south, but it adds a lot of distance. And I now have a confirmed date to ship out of Buenos Aires, so it’s time to cover some ground.

And once again, I stand corrected: I said in my last post that I had ridden my last dirt/gravel road on this continent. Wrong again: as Alfred noticed by looking at my GPS track, I took a “small” detour (about 20 miles) down a dirt road yesterday to camp at an estancia. Not all camping excursions pan out as planned, and in this case I’ll admit that last night wasn’t great. It was still better than a lot of other places I could have been, but I don’t think I’d spend all that time riding down a dirt and gravel road on a bad chain to stay there again. The place had a decent gas stove to cook dinner on (no utensils, pots, pans, etc, but good gas) and hot showers. Okay, that’s it for the good. The bad: the place runs on a generator, from 9pm to midnight. The generator is in the building with the stove and bathrooms. It’s loud. The owner wouldn’t turn it off early, and it turns out that’s because he had company and they were practicing. Yep, the band is louder than the generator. But I was tired and managed to fall asleep anyway. So when I woke up this morning and started breaking down camp is when I realized that the owner’s four dogs had peed on three corners of my tent, and my gas can. Ugh.

So I used his dishrag to clean my rainfly. 🙂

Heading back to Ruta 3 this morning from the estancia. Twenty miles each way. Now I think I’m done with the dirt and gravel roads in South America. I think.

 

I saw this “Patagonian Eagle 150” at a gas station. Does that make it a Turkey Buzzard? I saw lots of those in Patagonia.

I’ve been praising my little 428 O-ring chain the entire trip, but it’s just a chain, and it is a small size, so in the last week it finally gave up. I’ve been adjusting it each day but even then it really needed it twice a day. I will have a new O-ring chain and sprockets in Buenos Aires, but I need to get there first. So today I bought a cheap non-O-ring chain and put it on my old sprockets (yeah, I know, it won’t be new for long like that). It just has to go another 1,200 miles. Hopefully.

Jonathon at the Yamaha dealer in Rivadavia installed my new chain for me. The original chain is an endless (no master link), so I let him cut it off and put the new cheapo chain on. He and Enrique were great to deal with. Really nice people. Total parts and labor: $34. I’ll put a new OE chain and sprockets on in another couple of weeks in Buenos Aires.

 

U-Turn

February 27, 2016

After seven months of heading south, I am finally heading north again.

The weather was beautiful as I left Ushuaia; a bit cool — in the upper 30s Fahrenheit — but sunny and almost no wind.

View from my hostel on my last morning in Ushuaia. If you zoom in, and look past the airport runway, between there and the big mountains in the background, lies Isla Martinez. There you go, Zeke.

 

Some of the locals obviously have a sense of humor about their location.

As I crossed over Paso Garibaldi, the weather changed on the other side. The rest of the day was complete cloud cover, with occasional drizzle, and it seemed to be getting colder.

After just a few hours of riding, I turned off Ruta 3 about 15km north of Rio Grande, and drove down a dirt road and out to the beach. There were some small sand dunes here and I set up camp.

The best kind of camping….free. And not a bad location either.

Daniel and Joey were delayed leaving Punta Arenas, and they were headed this way, so we agreed to meet at this spot for the night. They pulled in a few hours later, and as usual, Joey fixed us all a great dinner.

The wind picked up overnight, and the rain started. By morning it was still raining, but the wind was slowing down a bit. We enjoyed a leisurely morning and a late breakfast, and by a little after noon the rain let up and we packed up and went our separate ways.

Camping made better by dinner and breakfast with great people. While I tend to be a bit more minimalist with my gear, I have to admit I’m a bit jealous at times when Daniel and Joey pull out this extra tarp for rain protection and set up the kitchen for a great meal. They’re headed south to Ushuaia, then north. I’m hoping to meet up with them again in Buenos Aires.

I was getting a late start, but still planned to do a bit over two hundred miles, including two border crossings and a ferry crossing. In order to get from this part of Tierra del Fuego, which is in Argentina, to mainland Argentina, you have to cross through Chile. So I crossed back into Chile at San Sebastian, which is also the end of the pavement for 34 miles. After that, a beautiful new concrete road is being built, but only a portion of it is open, so there was another eight to ten miles of gravel road before the pavement took hold permanently and took me to the Punta Delgada ferry crossing and then back into Argentina for the final time.

A series of “lasts”: after finishing the last unpaved road, the last ferry crossing for this continent.

 

Last border crossing for this continent (on the bike, at least).

I rode into Rio Gallegos just after dark. Unfortunately, the campground where I had planned to stay isn’t really a “campground” in the usual way that those of us from the States think of them. In Argentina, many campgrounds — especially the municipal campgrounds — are places where local families can go to relax, BBQ, enjoy their weekend with the family, and maybe even sleep in a tent. The campground in Rio Gallegos fits all of those things. Except no vehicles of any kind are allowed in the campground. Since everyone shows up in the family car, rather than a camper, trailer, or motorcycle, the car is parked on the street, and then you walk through a small gate into a large walled compound. A side street not visible from the campground wasn’t exactly where I wanted to leave my motorcycle. Since it was nearly 10pm, I decided to find a hotel in town rather than spend more time searching for another place to camp. I’ll make up for it over the next ten nights or so of camping on the way north.

Estancia Harberton and Isla Martillo

February 24, 2016

Today I went to Estancia Harberton (Haberton Ranch), about 50 miles east of Ushuaia. This 48,000 acre ranch was founded by Thomas Bridges, a missionary from the UK in the 1880s, and includes four mountains, three rivers and 40 islands. It was named after his wife’s hometown of Harberton, Devon. They raised cattle and sheep on it for generations, until in the mid-1990s a snowstorm that lasted 21 days wiped out most of the livestock. At that point, the fourth generation family owners decided to stop ranching and the sole source of income now is from tourism, including tours to Isla Martillo, a tiny island on the ranch that has a large penguin colony.

The ranch also has a museum which has a large collection of marine mammal skeletons, including various dolphins, seals, sea lions, and whales from the area, and some penguins and other birds.

Many of the skeletons are mounted on the wall over a corresponding painting of the animal.

 

Whale skeletons, too large for inside.

 

 

Orca

 

Marine biology students serve one month internships here. This one is cleaning the skull of a specimen.

But the big attraction is Isla Martillo. It’s a ten minute boat ride from Estancia Harberton, and they only allow 80 people a day to actually walk with the penguins on the island. They do two morning tours with 20 people each, and two afternoon tours with 20 people each.

Magellanic penguins

 

 

 

Many of the younger penguins were molting, changing to their adult feathers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gentoo penguin. Note the different markings from the Magellanic penguins. Similar size. While the Magellanic penguins go north for the winter, the Gentoo stay here year round.

 

Feed me!

 

 

The lone pair of King Penguins on the island.

 

 

There are 7,000 nesting holes on the island.

 

Chick in the nest

 

 

I caught a short video of this “beak slapping” ritual between two penguins, likely mates. If you listen, in the background you’ll hear what sounds like a donkey braying. That’s the sound Magellanic penguins make. They raise their beaks straight up, puff out their chests, and make this braying sound.

 

From the ranch you can see across to Puerto Williams. I really wanted to go there, if for nothing else because of the name. But it’s a difficult and costly proposition, and the truth is, there’s nothing there. It’s a town of about 5,000 people with little infrastructure. The passenger ferry from Ushuaia (without the bike) is $300 round trip, and it’s only a 30 minute boat ride, plus a 30 mile bus ride each way. The car ferry is from Punta Arenas, and only leaves on Wednesdays, returning on Saturdays, and is a 34 hour trip and much more costly. And with both, there’s no guarantee on the sailing either direction due to the wind conditions here.

These are called Bandera, or Flag Trees. Did I mention the wind blows here? A lot.

 

 

Fin del Mundo

February 22, 2016

The last few days have been planned (term applied loosely) around the wind. I left Tolhuin late in the morning after waiting for the wind to die down. Which it did, as soon as the rains came. The rain didn’t last long, but gave me a chance to pack up and hit the road with less chance of getting blown off it. 

The last mountain pass before heading down to Ushuaia…Paso Garibaldi.

 

Looking back at Lago Fagnano from Paso Garibaldi.

 

Entry to Ushuaia. Last town south in Argentina, and claimed as the southernmost city in the world.

Ushuaia is built on the side of the mountain, as the mountains go down to the bay. Thus the streets tend to look a bit like San Francisco in one direction, and then relatively flat and level perpendicular to the shoreline. 

The cruise ships here bring lots of tourism. And lots of tourists. If not for tourism, this would definitely be a much smaller, and much slower town. As it is, there are tour buses and taxis everywhere, and they all seem to be in a tremendous hurry, which can get interesting when you’re trying to get rolling up one of these hills again after the tourists step out in front of you mid-way up. 

There is also a steady stream of tour buses and taxis heading out to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, just west of town at the end of Ruta 3. This is a gravel road, and they don’t seem to care if the dust reduces visibility to near zero, they are still going to drive right on your taillight in the gravel (and mud). 

They seem to be in a hurry to take as many tourists as possible to the end of Ruta 3 at Bahia Lapataia. And oddly, I had to actually get in line to take a photo of my bike with the famous sign at the end of the road, even in the rain. 

The famous sign at the end of the road.

 

I lost count of how many people came up and wanted their photo taken with me in front of the sign. Crazy.

 

As I was leaving the parking lot where the sign is at the end of Ruta 3, I happened to notice the Alaska license plates on this VW bus. Dillon and Tessa spent the past year driving their 1975 VW Westfalia from Alaska, surfing, skiing, hiking, and enjoying themselves along the way. They plan to ship it from Buenos Aires to Florida and start a new journey there.

The hostels in town were mostly booked — at least the ones I could find a place to park the bike in — so I decided to camp at the National Park. I had already paid my $12 park entrance fee to take the photo with the sign, so after that, camping was free for up to three days. Might as well take advantage of it. And after all, the park is beautiful, with lots of trees, rivers, trails, and wildlife.

Three of these guys swooped in and hung out with me at my campsite. Obviously expecting to be fed.

 

Again, I know nothing about birds, but this guy appeared to be the Dad, and stood around not far from me while Mom and the chicks fed. I loved his black boots.

 

Mom watching over the family as they dine. This was about ten feet from my tent. These are very young but not small birds.

It rained a little in the evening, but the wind wasn’t bad. Until about 6am. That’s when it really started howling. I sat in the tent until 11am, wondering if the poles would snap before the fabric disintegrated. I was afraid to try to take the tent down, because all of my stuff was in it, and one wrong move would mean things would get blown into the river. Amazingly, the tent held up perfectly. Another piece of equipment that I will certainly buy again. 

And of course, just after I publish a post about my gas canister stove, I run out of gas while making coffee! (But sure enough, I found two different outdoor stores on San Martin Avenue that sold the canisters, so I have plenty for all of the camping I’m planning to do between here and Buenos Aires.)

By noon I was ready to head into town and try again to find a hostel so I could put my stuff in a locked room, park the bike somewhere relatively safe, and walk to town. I found what I was looking for at Hostel Aonikenk, and after a trip to two ATMs I had enough money for a few nights here along with a tour or two. 

City sign designating the “end of the world” at the bay.

 

The cruise ships were in port. Good for businesses, bad if you’re looking for a place to park, a place to eat, or a place to stay.

 

I always wondered what Jimmy Button did after his motocross career ended…