Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Blowing in The Wind

By Mark

We left Punto Tombo after a great quiet night's sleep in the wild. Actually it was our first wild camp in Patagonia. We hit the road early so we had plenty of time for our 150km ride all on dirt to another penguin colony, Cabo dos Bahias. After the previous encounter with penguins we were still on a high, we couldn't get enough of these cute little fellas and we wanted to see more.

The road was fantastic, no traffic at all and it took us through a very dry arid landscape where it is hard to believe that any animals could live and survive in such an environment. However there are many that can with no shortage of Guanacos, emus and sheep we spotted along the way. The biggest highlight of the day was always going to be seeing the penguins, that was until we arrived back at the coast line and when we stopped to look over the beautiful azul waters, we were amazed to see two Southern Right Whales, a mother and her calf, just 10 metres from shore. At first glance it looked like they had beached themselves, on second take we realised that they were just ever so slowly making their way south right along the coastline. We quickly jumped off the bikes and made our way down to the waters edge to get a closer look. We have seen these incredible creatures before in Australia, but this was so much better, no one around and only a stones throw from the shore. We slowly walked down along the beach just taking it all in when we realised the bikes were now hundreds of metres back up the road. So we ran back to get them and made our way back in front of whales. I was simply blown away by their size and beauty. I wanted to get closer to them so I ran back down the beach, stripped off my bike gear and jumped in. I couldn't help myself, the water was cold, really cold, taking my breath away as soon as I was in. That didn't matter as I got to have such an phenomenal experience being up so close to these whales. I made sure I kept my distance and they were not bothered by me being there. They stayed there slowly moving south. After the cold really started to hit me I decided it was time to leave them alone and made my way back up the beach with a silly giddy smile on my face.

What a day and we still had the penguins to visit. The next colony we checked out was much smaller and free to enter and we spent just a short time there. We still had to find a place to camp the night. Luckily for us we did find another beautiful spot in a little bay, protected from the winds that were slowly starting to pick up the further south we headed. Our camp spot was also the place where animals come to die it seemed, with several carcasses of guanacoes lying around. If there was something evil in the ground we didn't feel it. However, the next morning we did see something slightly odd that blew us away. We were watching an emu foraging around the bushes not far from the water, when all of a sudden it starts running straight for the water, then jumps, takes a few steps on the water before sinking in and then begins to swim across the narrow channel. We were so dumbfounded by what we were witnessing that by the time we got the camera out the emu had made it across the 50+ metre channel crossing. It just jumped up on the rocks and legged it back into the bushes. We never knew emus could swim, but apparently they can!

After our treat of animal watching it was time to make some miles again. We headed south and with this the wind picked up its pace hitting from the side hard, blowing us all over the road. It is a bit f a struggle to keep the bikes in a straight line and it becomes even harder when you have to corner. It is the strangest feeling to be leaning the opposite way to the corner you are taking... Not the safest feeling to have on the bike but we pushed onto the city of Comodoro Rivadavia. This city is nothing pretty. It is not an old city but it has the feel of a mining town which came about back in 1907 when a drilling crew searching for water struck oil instead. Now though the oil is on the decline and the city is shifting its focus towards wind power. South Americas largest wind farm is to be found here

We had to get a few things in town, mainly for the bikes. The rear tyres have been wearing fast and it was here we found tyres, only problem was that we were running out of pesos, well we could always go the bank to get more but we wanted to find somewhere to change American dollars on the blue rate. Problem was nobody wanted our dollars! We did not want to fork out more for the tyres by paying the regular rate so we decided against it. All in this time we met a great and helpful guy at the local Honda dealership. Chris had moved here from Buenos Aires to live with his girlfriend and when I asked him if he knew of any campgrounds close by he immediately invited us to stay with him for the night. We needed somewhere to sleep and he had a bed so it was a no brainer. He called his girlfriend Jenny up and told her to expect two smelly bikers to turn up shortly. And with this we were on our way. We love such good fortune and its even better when they were such fantastic hosts cooking us dinner and bringing home beers. Chris spoke of his plans to hopefully to some bike trips in the future, maybe not on our scale but he is sure keen to get out there and I really hope he does. Jenny, I hope you did well on your exam and we hope we did not intrude on your studying! We only spent the one night with them as we still had another 1500kms to Ushuaia where we were planning on celebrating Christmas.

On the road again and it was the same daily routine, get on the bike reasonably early and make miles hopefully without too much wind. You never know when its going to come, from which direction and how strong so we needed to make the most out of any good day. We rolled into Rio Gallegos a couple of days later and our main plan was trying to catch up on the blog and do some much needed clothes washing. In the end we didn't get either done. The weather was getting worse and we could only stay one night at the campground as there was going to be three separate parties there the following evening so we ended up out of town where we were hit with the most ferocious winds yet with a wind speed of we think at around 70km/h. The bikes struggled to make their way down the road even at cruising speed! Luckily we only had to travel 30km's. Phew!

From Rio Gallegos we had a two day ride ahead of us to finally make it to the end of the world, the most southern city of Ushuaia. But of course we couldn't get here without just one more hiccup. We left town for the Chile border 70kms away but 20kms before the border Sanne's bike (aka Christine) decided it had had enough and started playing up. At first we thought it was the carby as it was pulsating as if it was being starved of fuel. It was so bad that we made the decision to return to Rio Gallegos. I hate back tracking but with a sick bike we had no choice. It was on a steady decline and when we swapped bikes I found it to be in all sorts of trouble. The bike was losing power with every kilometre that we travelled. At one stage I had to grab the clutch get a handful of revs and ride it out to gain momentum and then all of a sudden the bike was running fine again. The whole time I was playing with the idea that it was either an electrical problem or a fuel problem and after this I though it must just have been the carby after all and whatever was blocking it had cleared. That was until we reached the police checkpoint on the outskirts of town where the bike did not want to play anymore and stalled. Christine was up to no good again and would not fire back into life. It was too far to push into town and too far to tow each other so we had to fork out the cash to get a pick up to take us back to town. By this stage I had put the problem down to being an electrical fault. My bike had done the same thing last year in France. I just had to diagnose which part. Back at the campground I set to work to find out what it was. Swap one part for another was the game until she would start and after trying most electrical parts I had to split the case to get to the stator. Swapped them over and hey presto, she fired into life. The thing that was even better, I had a spare so no hanging around until after Christmas waiting for a replacement. I fitted the part and we were all good to go the next day.

Second time round for Chile was no problem and Christine was running well, except for her chain and sprockets that were extremely well worn. The wind stayed with us and made it 'fun' riding in the loose gravel until we got back into Argentina again. Another windy day and night, this time with rain, camping on the side of the river in Rio Grande. On top of it all we could now really start noticing the drop in the temperature. We were bracing ourselves for the last stage of the road to Ushuaia...

Dry arid landscape that reminds me so much of home

A roadside shrine in honour of folk hero Gaucho Gil, an Argentinian Robin Hood

No shortage of straight roads in Argentina (anyone notice the amount of kilometres racked up on the speedo?)

Beautiful azul ocean that we passed on our way to Camerones 

Our first thought was that these beautiful creatures (Southern Right Whales) had beached themselves...

...but they were just relaxing in the shallow waters

I could not help myself, I had to get in. When would I ever have an opportunity again like this!

 Finally got  a close up without the Guanaco running off

You are sure to see many of these guys around as well

Mumma penguin and bubba penguin

Aahhhh, nothing like a bit of afternoon sunshine!

 This little fella was not too sure about leaving mums side yet

Poor guanaco, not sure what happened to this guy

Another great wild camp, even if the dead guanaco was no more than 2 metres from our tent

A little bit of an over exaggeration on the steepness of the hill!

Jenny, her sister, Chris and me in Rada Tilly

Still no trees and very dry

Dry, barren but an interesting landscape all the same

Afternoon sun from our campsite after the wind started to settle just outside Rio Gallegos 

Our tent squeezed in between trees, bikes and a bbq to protect it and ourselves from the fierce winds

Sanne's bike was starting to feel the pain of long distance travel

Lucky me trying to diagnose the problem back in the campground

Some people cannot believe that all this stuff fits onto the two bikes

Biker Cat

Mmm, which way to go?

Trying to dry everything out after a wet and windy night outside Rio Grande, Tierra Del Fuego

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