Argentina! A Long Day and Another Lesson Learned

January 25, 2016

I left Casa de Mireya in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile mid-morning. No real hurry. I was only going 170 miles to Pastos Chicos, a hotel and restaurant standing alone in the middle of the desert due east in Argentina. Sure, it was a fairly long 170 miles, as it crosses two mountain ridges, so there was a lot of climbing and descending. 

I rode up and out of San Pedro, back the way I came, but passed the turnoff to Bolivia and headed for Paso de Jama. It’s all desert here, but the scenery is fantastic. 

Church in San Pedro de Atacama. Very touristy, but a cool town.


Heading out of San Pedro de Atacama in the morning. Hard to see in this photo, but the highway goes straight to the mountains, then an extremely steep climb up for many miles.


Looking back down on the Atacama desert floor from above San Pedro.


Beautiful desert, mostly at around 14,000 feet.


Amazing to see this river running through the desert. There are a lot of salt lakes up here, and I imagine this water has a high salinity content also.

The wind was blowing hard high in the desert, at times upwards of what felt like around 40 to 45 miles per hour. It was odd to be struggling with the bike in the wind, in the middle of an open desert, and not have any sand blowing around. Everything here is much larger and heavier than sand: gravel, rocks, etc. It hasn’t decomposed to the sand level. So even in strong winds, there was no debris in the air.

I have a knack of arriving at borders at just the wrong time. As usual, I pulled up to the border right behind three large tour buses full of mostly backpackers. I got in line behind them and went through the immigration process. Both Chile and Argentina Immigration and Aduana are all in the same building. Fortunately, after the backpackers passed through immigration, they got to skip Aduana since they weren’t bringing vehicles in, so the process sped up considerably at that point.

Walking out of the joint border crossing building, I looked around and noticed that there were no money-changers around. At most border crossings, there’s either individuals walking around offering to change your money, or there are small shacks set up with “Casa de Cambio” signs on them. Not here. Absolutely no place to change money. 

Keep in mind that this is in the middle of the desert. The nearest towns are San Pedro de Atacama, Chile (about 100 miles west), Uyuni, Bolivia (about 325 miles north), and Jujuy, Argentina (about 200 miles southeast). 

So I was now in Argentina, and the nearest place to change money into Argentine Pesos was a hundred miles behind me in Chile. The next was two hundred miles in front of me in Argentina.

Next door to the border station on the Argentine side is a YPF gas station. I pulled in there thinking maybe I could change some Bolivianos or Chilean Pesos there. Nope. But fortunately they did take MasterCard. Not Visa. Only MasterCard. And I happened to have one. So I was able to get fuel, just no food. 

Another 75 miles or so through the desert I came to what I had planned to be my hotel for the night. Again, unfortunately, “solo effectivo” (cash only). It was only about 2:30pm so I decided to keep rolling in hopes of finding a small village with an ATM. 

A couple of hours later I pulled into just such a village. Even though it was Monday, there appeared to be quite a market going on near the Central Park area. 

Across from the park was the ATM. I stuck my card in it and immediately got the “Your Card is Not Accepted Here” message. Back on the road, headed for Jujuy. 

As I wound down the mountain I dropped from clear blue (and I mean really blue) skies into the clouds, and it started to drizzle. I popped out at the bottom and it cleared up again. Then within about five miles, I suddenly found myself in the thickest soup of a fog I think I’ve ever ridden in. It lasted for about 30 minutes, then cleared off again. At this point it was getting close to dark, and I decided that I would head directly for Salta, as it is a big city, and I knew I would find an ATM there, as well as the hostel I originally planned to stay at the following night. 

An hour and a half later, and well after dark, I arrived in Salta, found the hostel (cash only) and convinced the manager to let me put my bike in the lobby and my stuff in the room and walk (hobble, actually) to an ATM five blocks away. This one took my card, and I now had enough Argentine Pesos for not only a room but a meal.  I had ridden 352 miles today. Much longer than I intended. 

It must have been a holiday Monday, as there was a HUGE party going on in Salta, and the main part of it, with a huge outdoor stage and nationally famous performers, was being broadcast live on television. I still don’t know what holiday it was, but people were out in force at 11pm.

The next morning I woke up late, had a leisurely breakfast, and slowly packed and hit the road for Cafayate. I was in no hurry. It was only 118 miles. But what a lovely 118 miles it is. Ruta Nacional 68 south of Salta passes through some absolutely beautiful green farmland. The green is almost overwhelming after so much time in the desert. Farms are large, crops beautiful and bountiful with huge leaves. Everything here is very different from what I had been experiencing for the past month or two. The rural people, for the most part, seem to live better than in the last few countries I visited. Certainly not everyone, but a large percentage. The lower-end homes are nicer, and the land looks better. Many houses have driveways, and people here own cars, which they tend to drive in a respectable manner. There are a lot less buses and collectivos shuttling rural residents to and from towns. Which means there are a lot less people sitting and standing next to the road everywhere. I haven’t seen it like this since I left Texas. The downside of less buses and collectivos is that the backpacker population, which is huge here, is left with less ride choices. There are a lot of people with large backpacks hitchhiking along Ruta 68. 

This valley that Salta sits in is the northern end of the wine region here. 

The wine trail is a long one in northern Argentina.

About fifty miles south of Salta, the road starts to climb a mountain, and the lush green valley starts to go away, returning to desert, but yet another, different desert landscape. 

This large chasm on the side of the road was very popular, and there were lots of people walking up into it. The rock formations here were beautiful.

Do you think the people of Animana are called Animaniacs? Sorry, couldn’t resist.

And then, just before Cafayate, the vineyards appear again.

Vineyards line the road on the way into Cafayate. Parts of this area remind me of some of the roads in central Italy and southern France that I’ve ridden.


An impressive estate vineyard just outside of Cafayate.

Cafayate is all about vineyards and wineries. There are a number of wineries here, offering tastings, and the town square is literally ringed with sidewalk cafes. 

The campground just south of town, Luz y Fuerza, is packed with tents. Tourism here is mostly national. Lots of Argentines enjoying their version of Napa Valley.  

Lots of tents in this campground. Unlike most everywhere else, I didn’t hear a word of anything except Spanish. These are mostly Argentine nationals, enjoying their own country.


In the campground, I met this Argentine couple, touring their country two up, and pulling a homebuilt trailer behind their 150cc Yamaha FZ. He told me they hope to visit Chile and Peru on it next year, and possibly further north. So the next time you tell me you need a 1200cc bike to do this trip two-up, think of these two.

South on Northern Ruta 40

January 28, 2016

As I prepared to leave Cafayate, I stopped for fuel and food…an awesome bakery called Flor de Valle just across from the gas station. I was almost convinced to put it off another day and spend today in the bakery.

When I came out of the bakery, this guy was checking out my bike. Turns out he has a Yamaha Lander, a similar model.

Heading south out of Cafayate, it didn’t take long until the scenery changed back to desert. If you can imagine a two lane version of Interstate 10 running from Tucson to Van Horn, Texas (east of El Paso), that’s pretty much what this part of Ruta 40 looks like.

I met this Argentine couple in the middle of the desert. They were spending three weeks riding their Motomel Motard around Argentina. His 20 year old son is currently spending a year riding a bicycle around South America.

And I finally found that part of the desert where there is sand, and wind, and blowing sand….

A little further south, I turned at San Blas de los Sauces (I just like the way it sounds), and headed towards Chilecito, my stop for the night. The road through here is constantly changing desert, interrupted occasionally by huge groves of olive trees and large vineyards.

“Where the sun shines all year”. No kidding. That’s why it’s called the desert.

The hotel I planned to stay at in Chilecito turned out to be full, and also turned out to be right next door (as in attached) to the Yamaha shop. I found another hotel in town and decided to try to change my oil the next day before leaving town.

In the morning I stopped at a huge motorcycle accessory store (okay, maybe not huge by Chaparral standards, but it’s the biggest accessory store I’ve run across thus far). I bought two quarts of oil and asked about a place I might be able to change my oil. The counter person pointed me down the street to a “Taller de Motos” (repair shop), but when I got there, the shop was shut and two guys next door said he would be back in an hour. I decided to try the Yamaha shop, since I knew where it was. Typically, these are sales-only outlets, but I figured they would know where to send me.

The guys at the Yamaha shop were incredibly friendly. They had a small workshop in the back, and offered to let me use it to change my oil. They had me roll my bike through the showroom into the shop (I was a bit embarrassed, considering how filthy it is), they helped me put it on the lift and offered the use of their tools. In fifteen minutes, I had my oil changed, and was back on the road. They refused to accept any payment for the use of their shop.

It was another long day of desert riding along Ruta 40. I will amend my previous post, and say that there are indeed still people in Argentina living in mud-brick shacks with little roofing materials, but overall the numbers seem to be considerably smaller than where I’ve been recently. Although this is the desert. It could be that they’re just not living here. However, there definitely appears to be the emergence of a “middle class” here that I haven’t seen elsewhere. There are small “subdivisions” of very small cookie-cutter homes, much nicer than the cobbled together dwellings of the very poor.

This guy was interesting. Besides being probably 6 foot 7 inches tall, he’s from Germany, and came to South America without a motorcycle or even a plan of riding one. After a month, he decided to buy a motorcycle and start riding around Chile and Argentina. Note the improvised gear: shin guards over jeans, off-road jersey. I’m surprised he found any gear that fit!

I was headed for the Municipal Campground in San Martin. When I got there, I was surprised not only at the large size of the campground and its’ facilities, but the fact that no one was there. I pulled around to a side gate, and found a guy working. He confirmed that they were closed, and I asked him if I could possibly camp there for one night anyway. He pulled his phone out and called his boss, who came over and told me I was welcome to stay, for free. He showed me where the bathrooms and showers were, and pointed out that the first guy I spoke with lived on the property, and would unlock the gate in the morning and let me out. I had the whole place to myself, and locked in!

Very nice empty campground, all to myself!

In the morning I decided to sleep in, since I only had a 100 mile day planned. At 7:30, I got up and headed to the shower. Other than the guy from yesterday, who was working again, and a couple of dogs, there was no one around.

Fifteen minutes later, I walk out of the showers to head back to my tent, and this is what I see:

Where did all these people come from?!?

In that fifteen minutes, a dozen buses had pulled up with probably 500 school kids of all ages. They were fascinated with my tent, taking turns looking inside. I looked around for a teacher that might speak a little english, hoping that I could answer their questions with a little help, but no luck. The teachers seemed more concerned about keeping the kids away from the strange gringo. So I packed up and headed south towards Mendoza.

Bienvenido a la “Zona Crepuscular”

January 28, 2016

About an hour and a half south of Chilecito, I pull into the small town of Patquia. Everything about this fork in the road looks, feels, and smells like west Texas. It’s like I’m in a Twilight Zone episode, and I’ve somehow ended up in Texas, and while the people look like the people I would expect to encounter in west Texas, they speak alien.

It’s hot and dusty. I buy an ice cream and a fruit drink, and sit down under the awning, in a Coca-Cola chair next to a Coca-Cola table, just to watch the world go by. Turn down the sound, and this is somewhere east of El Paso, somewhere west of Junction.

When I’m finished, I get up to walk back to the bike. A white SUV pulls alongside of me in the parking lot. The driver is a man in his late 30s or early 40s, dressed in pressed khakis, a polo shirt, and RayBan sunglasses. He lowers the window. “Lo siento. Estamos perdidos. Estamos tratando de llegar a Los Rincones. ¿No puedes ayudar?”

Two seconds of silence follow. He is staring at me. I am staring back, mouth half open. The woman sitting in the passenger seat, dressed in a flowered sundress and matching RayBans, leans over, placing her left hand on his right shoulder.

“Honey, he doesn’t understand us”, she says in perfect english. “We’re lost. Can you tell us how to get to Los Rincones?”*

I just smile and shrug. “Sorry, I’m not from around here.”

They both say “Thank you very much” in english, and drive over to another person in the lot, to begin the same conversation again.

I mount up and ride west through Patquia and out into the desert on Rp 150, a road that looks, feels, and smells exactly like FM377 heading out of Rocksprings, Texas.

And I swear I can hear Rod Serling behind me.

*I did actually understand what he said. My hesitation was in trying to prevent myself from being myself: that is, sarcastic. I wanted to reply, “Are you serious? Out of all the people in this place, you pick the Gringo on the fully loaded motorcycle to ask directions?”

“Down Day” outside Mendoza

January 30, 2016

Today was a planned “day off” or “down day” at Camping Suizo in Mendoza. A nice campground. I slept well, at least until about 5am when the storm hit. It rained hard for a couple of hours, then tapered off. Enough to splash mud on all four sides of my tent, even under a canopy of trees.

Note to self: If you put your boots under a plastic table hoping to protect them from possible rain during the night, make sure one of them isn’t directly under the sagging umbrella hole, which acts as a perfect downspout. My left boot was half full of water this morning.

I’ve been a bit slow on my maintenance schedule on the bike. Okay, maybe more than a bit. The last time I adjusted the valves was in Boquete, Panama, which was 7,500 miles ago. The service manual calls for 3,000 mile intervals.

Time for some TLC

So this morning I did some maintenance:

  1. Check intake and exhaust valve clearance. Surprisingly, both were within spec. I’m impressed, considering they are old-school tappet valves with a 3,000 mile suggested interval and they’ve been working pretty hard, especially the last few days on Ruta 40.
  2. Adjust and lube chain. This is only the second time in 15,000 miles that I have had to adjust the tiny 428 chain on this bike. So here’s my observation: if you leave home on a chain-driven bike on a trip like this, and you don’t have an O-ring chain installed, shame on you. Nobody in South America carries o-ring chains, for obvious reasons: they are expensive. The dealer in Punta Arenas said he could order one, full payment in advance, with a four to six day delivery time. Not bad. I might take him up on that depending on how it looks when I get there. Unfortunately, he also said he could order the rear sprocket, with a 45 day delivery time. Ouch. I hope to be in South Africa by then. C’mon, Baby. Hold in there.
  3. Check spokes. All good.
  4. Air in tires. This is the first time I’ve been below 5,o00 feet elevation in a long, long time. So even though I aired my tires back up in San Pedro de Atacama after crossing the Bolivian desert off-road, they’re a little low due to elevation change.
  5. Check air filter. Not as bad as I expected. I’ll leave it in for another few weeks, probably til I get to Ushuaia, then change it.
  6. Install three missing bolts in rear rack system. This is the second time the mounting bolts for the pannier racks have vibrated out. Last time, in Mexico, I only lost one. This time, three out of four. (I know….you’d think I would’ve felt them moving around, but the rest of the mounting system still held everything in place pretty well. I can see why people break pannier racks and subframes though. A lot of weight and forces acting back there. Going to look for some Loc-Tite tomorrow.

Overall, pretty benign and still amazing for an 18 horsepower 250cc air cooled motorcycle over 15,000 miles. Knock on wood. I’m not fooling myself: things wear. That’s the nature of mechanical engines. It’s just a matter of time. But in general, this one seems to be holding up quite well.

Officially in Patagonia

February 1, 2016

Today I officially entered Patagonia. There was a sign on Ruta 40. It said Patagonia Region, Argentina. On the north side of the sign was desert. On the south side of the sign was, well, more desert. But I am confident that, after days of riding due south on Ruta 40 through the desert, tomorrow will make all the difference.

I continue to learn interesting lessons. Well, interesting to me, anyway. Like, when you camp for two days in a campground that only turns the electrical outlets on from 9pm to 2am, and all of the outlets are nailed to trees, and it rains all night, you end up with dead electronic devices. Dead phone, dead iPad, dead laptop, dead camera battery. So, since I couldn’t charge anything except my waterproof Delorme inReach GPS tracker in the rain, I instead ran everything dead sitting in my tent reading. So I have no photos from the past couple of days. (Perhaps it is a sign: “Put down the electronic crap and spend more time looking around and enjoying the ride!”) Last night’s campground in Malargüe had only one outlet that my adapter fit (there are two different kinds of plugs here in Argentina), and it was in the office, which closed around 9pm, so I charged my laptop, then drained half the laptop charging my phone. Finally tonight, the campground here in Las Lajas has a power strip near my tent that my adapter fits, and it is turned on even though it’s only 7:30pm. And it’s not raining. So the camera battery is finally getting charged.

There are definitely pros and cons to camping, in addition to the odd electrical outlet provisions. One of the biggest advantages of course is cost: most of these places are municipal campgrounds, and are relatively nice for tent camping. They have cost me between free ($0) and five dollars a night. You also meet a lot of interesting people, but most are also traveling; some are from Argentina, some from Chile, a few from further away. I’ve seen no other overlanders (motorcycle, camper, bicycle or otherwise) in these campgrounds.

One of the biggest downsides to camping is that you miss the actual city. I camped outside of Mendoza for two nights. (Side note: when you check into a campground, ask if they allow bass drums. No, really. Long story, but there was a huge soccer match Saturday in Mendoza and a large party turned up at my campground, complete with bass drum and trumpet, all in their matching jerseys and ready to party. And they beat the drum all day, and half the night). It wasn’t until I packed up and left my campsite, and stopped at an ATM downtown (after stopping at the giant WalMart to do some grocery shopping), that I saw what a beautiful city Mendoza is. Imagine a small-town downtown feel, with sidewalk cafes, except the sidewalks are about 15 feet wide, and there are huge trees lining both sides of the streets. Very nice.

Malargüe is another example. Small town with a lot of adventure tourism. I saw signs for ski rentals, ATV tours, lots of camping, and for the first time since leaving the States, I saw a lot of pickup trucks with real dirt bikes in the back, and even a few pulling trailers with Polaris RZR side-by-sides.

The past few days have been primarily on Ruta 40, which as I think I mentioned earlier, is the National highway that runs the length of Argentina (over 5,000 kilometers) on the western side from the border with Bolivia to Rio Gallegos near the tip of South America. In the north and central parts, where I’ve been, this is like riding though the desert portion of Wyoming, or Utah, and/or Arizona, for days. South of Mendoza, towns are very far and few between, as are people. In places, such as today near Barranca, the road suddenly turns to gravel, sometimes for more than 60 miles at a time. Yesterday, when given a choice between taking the long way around on a dirt road to Malargüe as my GPS suggested, or the shorter road which had the sign indicating it was the official route to Malargüe, I chose the official route. And spent 40 miles riding gravel washboard so rough that I understand much better the term “detached retinas”. I ended up standing for most of the 40 miles, which wasn’t easy on my bad ankle. But I figure all of this is preparing me for the southern portion of Ruta 40, much of which has not been paved yet, and is constantly windy.

Kilometer marker on a paved section of Ruta Nacional 40. Only 2712 kilometers to go if I were to stay on this road all the way south. (Note the volcano in the background).


Not sure of the significance of this arched flagpole. I’m sure it has to do with the incredible constant wind here.

Tomorrow I will cross back into Chile to continue south on the Carretera Austral (Ruta 5). I think the real scenery is coming soon.


Cochrane, Chile to Gobernador Gregores, Argentina: A Good News/Bad News Day

February 11, 2016

Bad News: I discovered this morning that my rear rack is broken completely through in two places where it meets the left pannier rack. The ripio (badly corrugated roads) along with the heavy weight I have on the rear of the bike has finally started to take its’ toll.

Good News: I’m in Cochrane, and there’s a welding shop here.

Bad News: The welding shop is closed. The guy is out of town until next week.

Good News: There’s a hardware store here, so I bought a few hose clamps, and used one of my tire irons, the hose clamps and some zip ties as a brace until I can find a welder. 

Bad News: It’s another 120 miles of ripio across Paso Roballos today, and in the process my front fender pouch manages to fly off somewhere before the border crossing. Of course I didn’t see it. So I lost a spare inner tube, my other tire iron, and a few CO2 cartridges I was keeping as a backup inflation method (my compressor works fine so far).

From my campsite in the National Park outside of Cochrane.


Heading towards Parque Patagonia on X-83, just north of Cochrane. The road here is relatively smooth and nice.


Lots of these guys running across the road. Also ostriches at one point.


Valle Chacabuco


I’d like to thank Dr. Michael Bell, DDS in Austin, Texas, and Dr. Stuart Anderson, DDS, in Corona, CA. Both of these guys are clearly excellent dentists, as none of my fillings fell out over the 100 miles of hellish corrugated road. The scenery was a nice distraction also.


Parque Patagonia headquarters. This is where Doug and Kris Tompkins spent their time. I didn’t ask if it was Doug’s plane out front, but that’s my guess.

Good News: I still have one tire tool, clamped to my rear rack. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve changed a tire with one tire tool, and luckily these tires are fairly easy to change. 

Bad News: My phone seems to have also suffered today, though I don’t think the ripio is that bad in my tank bag, since the package of cookies next to the phone was fine. Not sure what’s up with the phone, but it definitely topped off today’s cascade of fiasco. It won’t power up or charge. It’s a brick at this point.

Good News: Ever since I bought a Garmin Montana in December, the old Zumo has behaved itself and worked fine, even on the ripio. I definitely don’t need to be carrying two GPS units (although my phone was my backup, and it’s now dead, along with several apps I’ve been relying on), but as soon as I get rid of one GPS, I’ll wish I had it.

Another “road goes on forever” photo. Ruta 40 north of Gobernador Gregores, just before the rain started. This was the first pavement in many days, and also the beginning of the brutal crosswinds that will just get worse further south. Anything over about 45 mph was scary. It’s amazing how much guardrails change wind direction. After a while you learn to prepare for the beginning and end of the guardrails by leaning less and more.

Bad News: Twenty miles out of Gobernador Gregores, it starts to rain, and my fuel system woes start to appear about the same time. I just barely limp into Gregores in the rain before dark.

Good News: The nicest guy I’ve met in Argentina is a welder in Gobernador Gregores.  It ain’t pretty, but in 20 minutes and for $4 my rack is back in one piece, for now at least (would have been faster, but he’s a funny guy and we were enjoying joking with each other, even though he doesn’t speak a word of English and my Spanish is pretty poor). I also managed to clean my fuel pump/filter/injector again this morning. My fingers turned black pressing on the filter screen…not a good sign. I wish it was a detachable/replaceable filter, but like many fuel injected bikes, the filter is in the fuel tank before the pickup for the fuel pump. Thus it’s integral to the pump, which I think is about $350 retail. Ouch. I’ll keep cleaning it as long as possible.

Bajo Caracoles, Argentina. Notice the pumps: completely covered in travelers’ stickers. That’s what I noticed at the time. About fifty miles later is when I noticed how badly my bike was running.

Bad News: My front tire is definitely beginning to look “iffy”. Still just under 800 miles to Punta Arenas. Fingers crossed.

Good News: As my Spanish teacher in Guatemala likes to say: “Es La Vida”. I always liked his attitude.

Gobernador Gregores to El Chalten

February 13, 2016

As I ride along the 40 miles of unpaved Ruta 40 between Gobernador Gregores and Tres Lagos, I imagine a conversation between the Ruta 40 construction supervisor and his road crew, discussing this section of road:

Supervisor: “Ok guys, we’ve only got about 4 billion truckloads of gravel left, so we have to decide where best to use it. Here are my recommendations: First, if the road is straight and the wind is blowing straight down the road, don’t bother to put gravel down. It will be too easy for the motorcycles to get through. However, if the road curves sharply, or in any area where the wind is blowing hard at sharp angles to the road, be sure there is a deep layer of gravel. And if you can find a few big rocks to put in the road, use them too. You will also need to smooth the gravel out every few days in order to prevent the cars from making tracks that the motorcycles can follow more easily. Don’t fix the road; just make the gravel depths inconsistent.”

“Next, we want to be sure the motorcycles have to ride in the deep gravel, so we have to prevent them from getting off the gravel and onto the old road that runs right next to the new deep gravel. This old road is in great shape, and it would be very easy for motorcycles to operate on it, so build a large rock barrier between the old, good road, and the new, deep gravel road. If you can’t find enough large rocks to build a barrier, dig a deep trench between the two roads.”

I took this photo after crossing through the trench and climbing over a low portion of the rock wall, thereby gaining access to the “old road” which was in much better shape. The “new road” (deep gravel) is on the other side of the rock wall on the left.

“Last, we have separated the gravel by color. Be sure to use the gravel that best matches the dirt color so that it will be more difficult for the motorcyclists to tell where the deep gravel begins. Also, when possible, after a long distance of deep gravel, be sure to use a section of gravel that appears to be pavement from a distance in order to give the motorcyclists false hope.”

It only takes about a minute of riding in this gravel with a 40mph crosswind to realize that you have to make tiny corrections, and if you want to change “lanes” to a different car tire rut, you need to do it deliberately but cautiously. More than once, I went to change to a different rut, and the wind and gravel carried me all the way across the road to the opposite side before I could re-correct. My front wheel just kept pushing gravel regardless of what direction it was pointed. There is a point somewhere between about 9mph and about 40mph that works well, but you are at the mercy of what the wind and the gravel are going to do. The paved sections aren’t a problem with the wind, as long as you remain aware of the turbulence caused by the guardrails and various “hills” next to the road. 

The last 60 miles into El Chalten are good pavement and straight into the wind. 

Hmmm, how bad do I need gas? Not THAT bad!


Lake Viedma, on the way into El Chalten


Nearing the entrance to El Chalten. Note the clouds obscuring the mountains in the background. This would soon turn to rain.

As I pull into El Chalten, a small town that looks and feels a bit like Crested Butte, Colorado, I see Daniel and Joey’s BMWs parked on the main street. I stop and look around but can’t find them. It’s beginning to rain, so I decide to head for the campground. On the way out of town, I pass Thomas and Yazmin’s rental camper van on the other side of the street. 

The last six miles northwest of town is unpaved, and the rain continues, turning the road to puddles and mud. When I finally arrive at the campground, I decide to keep my camping gear dry, and rent a dome that has a kingsize bed inside. It’s cold, but comfortable. 

Dome Sweet Dome


Campground pets

Morning dawns clear and sunny. The road has begun to dry, and as I leave town, I glance back at the incredible Mt Fitzroy and Cerro Torre.

Cerro Torre and FitzRoy. Note the clouds that appear to be coming from Mt. FitzRoy. “El Chalten” literally means “smoking mountain”. Apparently the early settlers here mistook the clouds for smoke, and thought FitzRoy was a volcano.


El Chalten has become one of the great trekking destinations of the world. But with my ankle still swollen and bruised from my Bolivia crash, I’m in no condition to hike. So I will have to take a rain check on the trek and plan to return another time. Onward towards El Calafate and the bottom half of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.

El Chalten to El Calafate: Perito Moreno Glacier

February 14, 2016

The ride from El Chalten to El Calafate is all paved, and relatively short at around 130 miles. The Perito Moreno glacier is another 50 miles west of El Calafate, so add another 100 miles round trip to the glacier and back to the hotel in El Calafate. Still a fairly easy day.

There are two parts to the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares: the Northern part of the park includes El Chalten and Mt. Fitzroy, as well as the Glaciar Viedma on Lago Viedma. This glacier is over a mile wide at the point where it enters the lake.

The Southern part of Los Glaciares includes the Perito Moreno Glacier, on Lago Argentina. This glacier is three miles wide and stands 240 feet tall where it enters the lake, and is 19 miles long overall. Both of these glaciers are part of the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, the third largest supply of fresh water in the world. Perito Moreno is one of only three Patgonian glaciers that is actually “stable” or growing and not receding.

Perito Moreno Glacier





Every 10 minutes or so you hear a loud “crack” and then a canon-like sound. The canon is the chunk of calved ice hitting the water. It’s hard to get a handle on the size of these things: some of the chunks I watched break off and hit the water were larger than an 18-wheeler.



This area is one of Argentina’s premier tourist destinations, and it’s high season here. This is killing my budget, but thankfully I spent a number of nights in the tent up til now. Most places are fully booked, but I was able to find a hotel in El Calafate for $70 a night. There is also a huge music festival going on in town this week and next, and there’s no need to buy a ticket because my room is close enough to the stage that it might as well be on it.

I stumbled on Daniel and Josephine again yesterday as I was returning from the glacier, and we ended up meeting for dinner last night. As Daniel said, we are approaching the “bottleneck” of adventure tourists headed for Ushuaia at the peak season, so I’m sure I’ll run across them as well as others as I continue south.

Today is a “down day” as I do a little maintenance and shop for a new phone (not sure I’ll buy one but will look anyway; they aren’t cheap here. But then I don’t really need a phone anyway…it’s the apps I miss. Perhaps I can substitute my iPad for a while….Hmmm. Will have to explore that idea.

The tires look like they might make it to Punta Arenas after all, so will continue to keep an eye on them (especially the front, which is wearing very oddly), and cautiously do the last 350 miles to the bottom of the world.

On to Puerto Natales tomorrow.

Tips for Navigating Central and South America

February 18, 2016

About a year and a half ago, I rode my Super Tenere from Texas to Canada and back. Along the way, I met up with my friend Tom and we rode together for a while, going our separate ways in Montana and meeting up again on the way back down in Utah. On that trip, I had a GPS failure, and an aftermarket electronic item I had installed on the bike also failed. We joked at the time that the ideal setup would be “paper maps and an air-cooled 650” for simplicity. Little did I realize then that I would be taking an air-cooled 250 on this journey. And while I carry a few paper maps with me, I still rely on my GPS for a lot of my navigation.

For those following along that might be considering a similar trip, I thought I’d offer some insights into navigation that I’ve gained over the last several months, as well as some other small things I learned along the way.

GPS and Nav

First, if you are truly hard-core, old-school and savor the journey via paper maps, more power to you. It’s still probably the best and most satisfying way to go. On the other hand, if you’ve come to rely on turn-by-turn GPS instructions, you’re probably going to be frustrated and surprised in Central and South America. Somewhere in between is a good solution, and I’ve come to rely on a combination of technology to get me where I want to go rather than where Garmin thinks I should go.

If you use a Garmin GPS device, you may or may not have noticed that there is a lack of maps available for some parts of the world, including down here. Much of that gap has been filled by Open Source Street Maps (OSM). For free. Type a little information into a website, and within a short time, you have a custom file you can download and install on your GPS. This is certainly better than nothing, and works relatively well, but also has a number of failings. For example, it doesn’t even recognize cities the size of El Calafate or El Chalten in the list of cities. It also won’t always route you in the best manner, regardless of whether you have “avoid dirt roads” or “avoid tolls” or whatever switched on or off. Therefore, a little extra work is required.

In addition to the OSM maps installed on my Garmin, I use a combination of Google Maps and an app called Google Maps allows me to look at the bigger picture, zoom in or out and determine whether the road is paved or dirt, and gather wayoints along my route to force the GPS to take the route I want. In addition, has more detail, better off-road routing capabilities, and lists many more campgrounds and other facilities than the Garmin and OSM maps. It’s possible to download the maps from one country at a time so you don’t need wifi to use them.

I also use an app/website called to find campsites and hotels that have secure bike parking.


For the most part, ATMs are plentiful and work well throughout Mexico, Central and South America, and are the easiest way to get money these days. Certain banks and credit card companies are better than others about not charging international transaction fees. I will leave that research up to you. I had no problem getting money from ATMs all the way until Chile and Argentina. These two countries dealt me two different problems, one (Chile) easy and one (Argentina) I still haven’t figured out.

In Chile, nearly all ATMs, regardless of which bank you are at, are operated under the Redbank name. Just like in the US, you insert your card and enter your PIN, and then are given a variety of choices, including “Balance Inquiry”, “Deposit”, “Withdrawal from Checking”, “Withdrawal from Savings”, “Withdrawal from Credit Card”, etc (in Spanish of course). If you’re like me, you already have this routine down: insert card, enter PIN, select “Withdrawal from Checking”, select or enter amount, take cash, take card, take receipt, go. However, if you do this in Chile, you will inevitably get a “Transaction Denied” response and no money.

Here’s the tip: At the Menu Selection screen, typically in the lower left corner, is a selection that says “Extranjero”. Which means “Foreigner”. You have to select this first, then it will take you to a new screen and you can select from where and how much.

Argentina is a totally different situation. Nearly every time I approached an Argentine ATM, the first time I inserted my card and selected a withdrawal amount of 1000 pesos (about USD$70), I got a message that said I had exceeded my daily limit. Each time after that if I selected a lesser amount (preset selections on the screen include 700, 500, 400, 300 pesos), I got a message that said I had “entered an invalid amount. Try again”. Of course, I hadn’t entered an amount; I had simply selected one of the choices presented to me. But I never did get any money. And I wasn’t alone. I watched tourists from the U.S., Germany, and Australia achieve the same result and leave frustrated and without cash in several cities.

Adding to this is the fact that there are no money-changers or Casa de Cambio places at any of the Chile-Argentina border crossings where I crossed, and no towns nearby. Which makes it even more important that you have Argentine pesos  before crossing the border. As one follower mentioned previously, it is possible to exchange money at some stores, even at some gas stations. Example: in Gobernador Gregores, the bank refused to change my Chilean pesos for Argentine pesos, and sent me to the supermarket. The supermarket told me I could buy groceries with Chilean pesos but they would not exchange them outright. Eventually, the service station was the only place in town that would exchange them, and then at a horrible rate.

Camp Stoves

I carry a gas canister (iso-butane-propane) cook stove with me. In researching this trip, I read a lot of information on the internet that said not to use this type of stove, because gas canisters were not available in South America. Which is absolutely untrue. I saw canisters for sale in Cartagena, Quito, Lima, Mendoza, El Calafate, Punta Arenas and many other places, typically under the Doite brand name. Nearly every large city or tourist-based small town had an outdoor or camping store that sold Doite canisters. I must admit I didn’t buy one or use one, as I began my trip with two canisters from REI in the U.S. and these have lasted me this far. If you are traveling two-up or camp/cook more than I did, you may need more fuel. But it is readily available with just a little planning. It remains to be seen if I can find canisters in Africa, but I will find out next month in Cape Town.

Parque Pingüino Rey

February 20, 2016

I left Punta Arenas on the 1pm ferry to Porvenir and Tierra del Fuego. While waiting on the ferry, the weather constantly danced between light drizzle and sunshine. The wind was ever-present of course, but not terrible, at probably 20 to 25 mph. 

Mauricio and Mama at Casa La Escondida. This was a superb place to stay just slightly outside of Punta Arenas, and a big part of the reason was the hospitality, although the accommodation and food was excellent as well.


While waiting in line at the ferry dock, I met this couple from israel traveling Patagonia in a rented Wicked camper van (same type van as the Austrian couple I met earlier). They’re just getting started on their camping journey, and I’m pretty sure I’ll see them again in Ushuaia.

The ferry ride is about two hours. As soon as I rode off the ferry and into Porvenir it began raining, sleeting, and the winds suddenly increased to about 50 mph. I set off out of town only to find that the pavement immediately stopped. It was mostly gravel, but in a few places there was no gravel, and it turned to slick, snotty mud. I slipped and slid and managed not to crash somehow but my tires balled up with mud so bad that the bike wouldn’t steer at all. Eventually the rain let up, the wind increased even more, and the mud came off my tires in the gravel and rock road.

I stopped at a place on the side of the road with some big trees thinking it would offer some wind break, but the trees were too far apart. As I stood there, I dropped one of my gloves. The wind caught it and it took off faster than I could run with my bad ankle. After about a hundred yards I managed to catch it just before it blew under the fence and out to sea. My physical therapy for the day complete, I remounted and continued toward the Penguin Park.

My GPS coordinates were for a place I found on iOverlander that just said “grassy spot” and was about a mile past the penguin park. I was hoping there would be a hill or dune or something to hide behind with my tent. When I got to the penguin park there was a guy on a loaded motorcycle there so I pulled up next to him, noticing the German license plate. Ernest was on a beautiful late ’80s BMW R100GS, and had just finished the tour of the penguins. He said the park ranger told him he could sleep in a small “house” up the road and I was welcome to join him. The park was closing soon, and I had planned to visit the King penguins in the morning, so I followed Ernest up the road.

When we got there, it was a tiny building about 7 feet wide by 10 feet long in the middle of the grassy field I was planning to camp in. Inside the building was a metal bunk bed frame (no mattresses), a table, and a stove made out of a cut-down 55 gallon drum. 

We started a fire in the stove, put the air mattresses and sleeping bags on the bunks, and Ernest cooked dinner. It was actually pretty comfortable. Just before dark another couple showed up: a German brother and sister hitchhiking/backpacking to Ushuaia from Punta Arenas. They set up their tent on the less windy side of the building and slept there. 

Nothing for many, many miles to block the wind. Except this great little hut with a stove, table and beds in it. It’s actually for the sheep herders here, but they let others use it when they aren’t. And the employees at the Penguin Park show their appreciation by keeping it clean. If you could see the bikes better, you’d see that Ernest’s BMW is spotless, while mine is covered in mud. He left Porvenir before the rains.

Ernest cooking dinner in the nice, warm hut. Cut-down 55 gallon drum wood-burning stove in the bottom right corner of photo.

The wind finally dropped to probably 30 mph or so this morning. The King Penguin Park doesn’t officially open until 11am, but when I rode up around 9:30, the ranger was very friendly and invited me in early. I spent about an hour walking around watching the penguins. The size and color of these guys is amazing. I wished I had binoculars. In the photos, if you look closely, you can see several young penguins, who aren’t old enough to have the orange markings yet.

After visiting the penguins it was another 30 miles or so of gravel road to the border crossing into the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego. 

The ghost town of Onaisin. This looked like the school or community center.


The entire remains of the town were fairly intact but fenced off. The town was established by English sheep herders in the 1890s, but apparently didn’t last. It sits on the shore of Bahia Inutil (Useless Bay).


You see a number of abandoned wrecked cars sitting where they met their demise on the side of the road. This one says “Better Cycling” on the side of it.

As I finished up my paperwork and was just leaving the border crossing, Ian rode up. He’s been to Ushuaia and is on his way to Buenos Aires to ship home. 

It was good to see Ian again. He’s headed to Buenos Aires and home. I hope to see him again in a few months.

The pavement begins with Argentina Ruta 3 at the border crossing, and it’s a smooth, beautiful road all the way to my hosteria tonight in Tolhuin. I’m only sixty miles from Ushuaia, but this hotel on the shore of Lago Fagnano was just too nice and relaxing not to stop at for a night. 

South of Rio Grande on the Atlantic coast: When the tide goes out here, it REALLY goes out. Like about a quarter of a mile.


My hotel for the night, overlooking the lake.