Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Ain't No Sunshine

By Sanne

We weren’t impressed with Bariloche at all. It’s nothing more than a tourist trap. Of course the weather didn’t help, raining every single day we were there. The one good thing there, was that we got a super good exchange rate for our dollars at 11.5 pesos to the dollar. We simply walked in to an official exchange house and asked what their rate was for the dollar, not expecting them to change on the blue rate, but to our surprise they did! It was two pesos more than we got in Buenos Aires back in December. We also made a purchase here of two sheepskins for the seats of our motorbikes. Well, it was actually one sheepskin that we cut in half. Now our seats are way more comfortable, albeit a little taller, and all for the small sum of $30. 

One “disaster” happened while we were here. Because of the shite weather we spent a lot of time in the tent watching movies on our laptop. Well, one night Mark fell asleep while watching something and left the earphones in when he closed the screen. Then at some stage during the night he must have leant on it because the next day we woke up to find that the computer screen was broken with an indent from the earphones. Just another thing in the now long list of things that have broken lately. We took it to a couple of computer stores in town but none of them were able to fix it. We thought we probably had to buy another computer which in Argentina is a very expensive purchase. 

We decided to go to Osorno, Chile after Bariloche to 1. See if anyone there could fix our computer. 2. Buy a new rear tyre for Mark and 3. Get some more US dollars. We had heard of a motorcycle shop in Osorno called Moto Aventura where you could buy 18-inch rear tyres which we had struggled to find anywhere else (except the one we found for me in Punta Arenas). Everyone seems to run 17-inch wheels here so not many stores stock the 18’s. We were lucky that they had a Heidenau K60, the exact same one as mine, it came at a price at $170 but he needed one badly. We were lazy so we paid for them to put it on for us…well, good thing we weren’t in a hurry…it took them 2 ½ hours! More slack mechanics you have to look hard for. So we had a lot of time to look around the well-stocked store. I was eyeing up the helmet section when Mark said “I think you should buy one”. He has been after me for a long time that I need a new helmet because the one I have had since the beginning of the trip is really not safe anymore. It has been dropped a lot and looks really beaten up and everything is sort of hanging out from it. I haven’t wanted to spend the money on a new helmet but that is really the most stupid place to save money, as a helmet is the most important thing to wear on the motorbike. We found an adventure-style helmet in the brand ‘Held’ from Germany and it came at a reasonable price too at around $250. When I handed my old helmet over to the sales girl to dispose of she laughed. Guess it really was time for it to go! Because of the helmet purchase we got the tyre change for free.

We headed in to the city centre of Osorno to look for a computer store. We found a small, insignificant looking one tucked away in an arcade off the main street. We didn’t have high hopes at all that it could be fixed but when we handed it over to the guy behind the counter and explained to him what the issue was he had a look at it, handed us a note and said: “it will be ready in about 2 hours”. Turns out he had the exact model of screen we needed for our computer! What are the odds!? We were overjoyed and went to the nearest bar to celebrate with a couple of beers. We picked up the computer a couple of hours later and handed over $120 for the job. We were so happy that we had been able to get it fixed as we had kind of already written it off. Now, the last thing for us to do was to get more dollars, the process going something like this: Get Chilean pesos out of atm, find a place that will exchange pesos into US dollars (in our case an electrical store with a desk in the corner reserved for this purpose – very unofficial – and then back in Argentina you change the dollars into Argentine pesos on the blue rate. So if you run out of dollars, it is worth doing it this way.

Going back to Argentina over the same pass as we came over on, we took in the moon-like landscape showing the aftermath of the eruption of Volcano Chaiten in Parque Pumalin in 2008. The ash went as far as Buenos Aires which is over 1000 kms away. This being much closer is still covered in the ash which makes it look as if the pine trees are growing out of sand dunes. We made it to San Martin de los Andes which is another tourist trap – a smaller version of Bariloche although slightly prettier. We went to the local campsite and set up tent but within long the rain that had been nipping at our heels since the border caught up to us and team handfulofthrottle found themselves trapped in their tent prison yet again. It rained all night long but thankfully it had stopped the next morning. We were now seriously of the mindset: “Let’s get the f… out of here!” This rain was seriously starting to piss us off and worst of all it was starting to bring us down. We studied our map and saw that if we headed straight north we would be out of the Lake District already and we didn’t want to rush out of here. The plan was made then to head into Chile again via another border crossing (there are lots of them), spend a couple of days around the lakes in Chile before heading north. We hoped the weather would clear up and that we would have some dry days ahead of us (Think again!) 

It started off good. We headed into Parque Nacional Lanin as there was a small border crossing within this park. At the Argentinian checkpoint they warned us that the road ahead was “feo” = ugly, because of all the rain but we didn’t worry too much about that. The one guy doing the customs paperwork out of a small shed was insanely slow and it didn’t look like he really knew what he was doing but we eventually got everything stamped and headed just 5 kms into the park where we camped next to a small lake in a nice, sheltered campsite. The next morning we rode through the park towards Paso Carirrine and the road was nowhere near as bad as the customs guys had made it out to be. Yes, there was a lot of mud and some sections where a 2wd might have struggled but it was a beautiful little road, winding its way through forest and small lakes and there was hardly anyone there. It was one of the most enjoyable little rides we had had of late. The Chilean border crossing was a tiny little house tucked away in the forest. I got in trouble for parking my bike after the witches hats as opposed to before which caused a bit of drama from the customs officer who after this decided to be a real pain in the arse and ransack our bags thoroughly and pulled us up for our sheepskin, saying that we had to declare them as it was an animal product. What a tosser.

Anyway, we rode through to a place called Pucon where we found half of Santiago’s population holidaying. Looking for a campsite we realised that it must be the wealthy half of Santiago as the price for camping was just ridiculous: $50 per night. Come on! We rode a few kms out of town and were lucky to find a much cheaper place to camp with a really nice woman running it who spoke perfect English and who I think was happy to practice it. Do I need to say that it started raining again??? Yeah… We spent the next two days here, hoping that it would stop raining (it didn’t), we did make it into town one day during a short dry spell and had the tastiest pizza I have had in a long time accompanied by a cold beer. On the way back the road was lined with blackberry bushes and we picked a whole bowl full and munched out on them. We left Pucon in the pouring down rain after packing up a very wet tent and rode towards the border of Paso Mamuil Malal. On the way we passed through a small village and spotted a familiar looking motorcycle parked up on the side of the road; a Triumph with British number plates…Tim! We stopped and a few seconds later Tim comes running down the road as he had spotted us riding past. Turns out he has been researching a game there for the last week (the point of his trip is to investigate and document indigenous games). We had a quick chat and were on our way. 

The ride to the border crossing was beautiful with lots of Araucaria trees more than a thousand years of age and Volcano Lanin (3776 m) towering right next to us. The border control on the Chile side was quick and efficient, but on the Argentinian side there was a queue stretching 50 m outside the building! I think it took two hours before we reached the counter and then were met with the grumpiest customs officer I have ever had to deal with. There were some dates in my passport he couldn’t understand and when I started talking in my broken Spanish he clearly decided he didn’t like a gringo like me, so he started being really rude and making snide comments, then in the end he asked if I had Alzheimer’s, all because I couldn’t understand what he was on about! I could have punched him in the face but decided that for civil reasons I better not.
That night we had a bush camp next to a small river and a pleasant and quiet night only interrupted by some cows walking past and some cat eyes that may or may not have belonged to a puma staring at me when I stuck my head out.

Next morning we rode into Junin de Los Andes to stock up on fuel and food and headed north on Ruta 40 which provided a stunning ride amongst scenery that had changed so dramatically so suddenly. From riding in green lush nature, we were now in what seemed like dessert lands with hardly a tree growing anywhere. We made it to the small town of Zapala where we camped at the municipal campground (the cheapest one yet at 30 pesos = $3 for both of us) and upon checking our emails at the local YPF petrol station we found that we had an email from a couple in San Rafael, Mendoza who offered us accommodation and board in exchange of working on their finca (fruit farm). We had contacted them via Horizons Unlimited, the motorcycle travellers website, and were happy to find out that we had a place we could hang out for a while, since we both were getting a bit jaded of being on the bike every day, and of course the weather wasn’t helping. The municipal campground was full of stray dogs and Mark made friends with a little puppy who I swear he wanted to take with him on the bike had he had the space!

Chos Malal was out next stop and another municipal campground where Mark discovered a puncture in his rear tyre (the first puncture of the entire trip!) and so the next hour went by trying to fix this. The ride the next day from Chos Malal to Malargue was a stunning dirt road winding its way through dry arid landscape with the sun burning so bright it hurt your eyes. There was barely another soul on the road so we had the feeling of being the last two people on earth which was a pleasant feeling. Patagonia is nice in that way that it is one of the least populated places on earth. Weather it was the corrugations or a rock, when we stopped fuel was pissing out of my fuel tank from what looked like numerous places. Uttering a four-letter word starting with F, we hastily got on our bikes again and floored it towards Malargue. Luckily Ruta 40 here turned into asphalt so we could make miles a bit faster, we really didn’t want to be running out of fuel here in the middle of nowhere.
Well, we made it to Malargue and at the municipal campground we dissembled my bike to have a look over the tank. We found fuel leaking out of two places but at least 8 additional cracks in the tank. We fixed them with some 2 part epoxy which seemed to do the trick.

We had one good day in Malargue before the weather turned on us again and didn’t stop for the next two whole days. I felt like quoting Morrissey and say: “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”. It’s amazing how much an effect bad weather can have on your mood. And our mood wasn’t in a good way. We spoke to a British couple on bicycles who have come the same route as we have but unlike us they have had great weather the vast majority of the time. They were very surprised to hear of our hardship with the weather. So maybe it’s just us that have been bad and someone is punishing us! Again we packed up in the rain and began the wet miserable ride towards San Rafael. Miserable because our boots and pants were letting in water and within half an hour of riding we were wet and cold. More than ever we were in severe need of a roof over our heads and we were hoping to find that at our next stop…

Lago Nahuel Huapi

A nice young guy, Marcelo, who we met in Osorno who was very excited about us and our bikes

Aftermath of the volcano eruption

Taking a break to study the map

San Martin de los Andes

Parque Nacional Lanin

Our campspot

And that's when my odometer called it quits - at 99999.9 kms

The beautiful road through the national park Lanin

Volcanic rock thousands of years old

KIP to the trail - got it

Natural thermal baths

Welcome to Chile


Packing up in the rain is becoming quite the routine...

Ran into our friend Tim!

Gauchos herding their cattle on a mountain road

Love the poncho - gotta get myself one of those

Araucaria tree

Volcano Lanin - its name means dead rock or died of a big feed...hmmm

View from our campsite

We experienced one of the most sudden changes in landscape

Mark's little friend

Little oasis in the middle of a dry desolate landscape

Mark fixing the puncture in his tyre

Fascinating rock formations

Finally a Ruta 40 sign!

 One of the most scenic dirt roads we've done

Selfie time!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Coyhaique to Bariloche

By Mark

We hung around Coyhaique longer than expected due to the poor weather once again. We thought from our first day there that there might finally be a change in the weather for the warmer but we were wrong!
It did give us a chance to get up to date with the blog and also catch up with Tim who we had not seen since Ushuaia. We headed to his hostel with a couple of bottles of red to get shelter from the weather.
After finishing the first bottle the owners of the fine establishment told us that they didn’t like guests drinking in the main foyer area, because it was “ugly”! So we downed the second and made tracks back to our campground.

We had really enjoyed the ride on the Careterra Austral up to this point and we were looking forward to getting back on the road to see more of it. Luckily we got a break in the weather and hit the road for Puerto Puyuhuapi. The ride was great with a mix of asphalt and dirt winding its way through a valley until you come across the small town of Puyuhuapi. Again we ran into Tim and again chatted over a few red wines, a few too many for Sanne who awoke the next day feeling a little rough. We decided to hit the road and try and make our way for Chaiten, this town marks the southern entry into Parque Pumalin.

Well, we did not make it to Chaiten that day. On top of a late start, the road north was a mix of deep loose gravel and constant road works that made the going very slow. At one of these checkpoints I stopped and took off my camelbak so I could put on my wet weather gear, leaving my camelbak hanging on the back of my bike. Well, it was not there 20 kilometres down the road when we stopped for lunch. I back tracked all the way to where I took it off but somebody else must have found it and thought it was too good to leave on the side of the road. Annoyed at myself I high tailed it back to the river where Sanne was waiting for me. We continued on slowly realising it would be late by the time we would arrive in Chaiten so we started looking for places to camp in the wild with no success but then I noticed a large hanging glacier so we returned to the parking area where we could walk to the glacier. Lucky for us we could camp there the night and also take the opportunity to walk to the glacier.
Well the walk was nice enough but I was quite disappointed that the trail did not take you all the way to the glacier and instead left you about 1km short of the glacier itself. It actually looked more impressive from the road!

We decided to give Chaiten a miss all together once we arrived in town and found it to be a place of little interest to stay. Besides the weather was on our side for a change so we stocked up with supplies after being ripped off by an old lady running the store who seemed to me that she didn’t like tourists at all, may have been just foreign tourists? Next stop Parque Pumalin. Some of you may know this Park, it is the one from the documentary 180 Degrees South. The Park is owned by American Doug Tompkins, the founder of overpriced outdoor clothing brand North Face. The park itself is 2889 square kilometres that encompasses vast extensions of temperate rain forest, crystal clear rivers, seascapes and farmland. The best thing of all is that it is also free entry into the park, something I was very surprised by after the high costs of everything in Chile. Parque Pumalin is one of the largest privately owned parks in the entire world. It was bought on the idea that they would help with giving back something to the people of Chile. The park itself is everything that I had hoped it would be, shame about the wet weather but in this part of the world you have no real choice but to put up with it. There are numerous campgrounds throughout the park all well set up and most with some sort of shelter that you can cook or even set your tent up in. There are also numerous walks within the park, one of the most popular is to the volcano. The volcano now has an opening over 3km in diameter since its eruption in 2008. As you ride past you can see the devastation to the park even though it happened almost 6 years ago.

If you have time and money you can continue on up through the park catching ferries to each part as you ride beside lakes and the coastline. I would have loved to do this, but due to problems with getting money out of the ATM’s in Chile and a chance of doing some woofing at a farm in El Bolson we did not go. At this rate I could go on exploring Chile but with the high costs it might be something to come back to in the future.
Well the weather did not stay on our side for too long once again. Our plan was to stick out the weather so we could climb to the top of Volcan Chaiten which erupted back in 2008. Funny thing was no one knew it was a volcano until it erupted! In 2008 it began a month long eruption sending rhyolitic ash up to 20 kilometres into the sky, after just one week successive explosions emitted more than a cubic kilometre of ash causing severe damage to homes, roads and bridges and also decimating thousands of livestock. The ash made it as far as Buenos Aires. The past few years have seen the rangers work hard to get the park reopened after it was closed for three years.

We never got that clear day to climb the volcano so we decided we had enough of the rain and would head back to Argentina to the wind instead. Back tracking is something we seldom like to do, but when you are riding in such beautiful scenery it’s not such a bad thing especially when the weather changes for the better.
We ended up in a little town by the name of Futaleufu, known for its frosty mint waters which attract kayakers and paddlers from afar. It is a good looking little town but again with such high costs to do anything it was out of our budget. Well we had no more Chilean pesos anyway as I previously mentioned with the problem with ATM’s.

Back in Argentina we had left the rain behind and of course picked up the wind again. We had read about a small Welsh settlement by the name of Trevelin which we wanted to check out. Once we got there however we did not know what the fuss was about so we stopped only for a cold drink before moving onto Esquel which was also meant to be a nice place to check out. For us, well we didn’t think much of it and just stopped in for supplies and headed for the Parque Nacional Los Alerces. Here we were to find many free campsites after paying an entrance fee to the park of course. Once we had handed over our money was when they kindly let us know that NO camping what so ever was allowed in the park due to an outbreak of Hanta Virus which comes from rodents. Also there was a good chance that we would not be able to ride all the way through the park due to road works. So kind of them to let us know this after we had paid!

Well, us being us, we had paid and we were going to get our monies worth all the same! So we headed into the park, a little disappointed with the change in scenery. We have by this point been completely spoilt by what we have seen in the past few months, the highlight being Carretera Austral. Here there were no more snow peaked mountain tops or lush green forest. All the same it was a quiet road with little traffic, the road snaking its way along another large lake where we came across the camp sites which are for day use only. Well we opted to take our chance with the Hanta Virus and found our way into a little campground which is no longer accessible with fallen trees blocking the entrances; this should maybe have told us something… We set up camp and chilled out thinking it would be a quiet night. There had been no traces of mice around so we thought it was an overreaction to close the campsites. It wasn’t until dark that we understood why. Yes the little mice came out to play but we had planned ahead and put all food and rubbish to where they could not get to it. Sanne didn’t think to move her camelbak and had left it in a place for them to have a drink, but instead of drinking they just chewed away on the mouth piece, one good way for us to get the virus for sure. They also took a liking to my rubber wristbands which I leave over the handlebars of by bike. So the “free” camp ended up being a little costly after all. Sanne also drank water from one of the nearby streams the next day which we later found was also not advised. All we can do now is wait 6 to 45 days for the possible onset of the Hanta Virus... Great!

With this in mind we hit the road for El Bolson, a hippy community that sits in a long valley which is known for its art and also soft fruits. We had been in contact with a local raspberry farmer and were trying to organise a place to stay and volunteer on his farm in exchange for food and board. We have been wanting to find a place to stop and chill a while, maybe try to improve my pathetic Spanish! Well it all fell through and the farmer had more than enough volunteers to see him through, bugger, we were both looking forward to stuffing our faces with raspberries. However we did not like the town of El Bolson anyway and saw it as a blessing in disguise.

So, again we stayed just one night and took off for Bariloche. This is the place to go in the height of winter for skiing and to hang out by the lake in the summer. As we drove into town by the large waste site we had troubles believing that this place was to be one of beauty. The outskirts of town is very grim and you can see how the other half live, this being the very poor other half and it was not a pretty sight. The homes no more than timber shacks. A very cold place to be in the winter, damn even being here in summer was cold and with rain following us all the way from El Bolson we were soaking wet and needed to find a place to camp.

Bariloche is a place where rich people like to holiday so in turn all the prices are marked that way accordingly, including camping! We found ourselves an overly expensive place to camp and in no time the heavens opened on us once again. It feels like we are struggling to get away from the bad weather no matter which way we turn and with each day like this it makes it a little harder to keep motivation to keep moving on. All we ask is for a little sunshine and no rain or wind, is that too much to ask??? Apparently so!

Some lake north of Coyhaique

We found these Tsunami signs all over the village of Puyuhuapi

Tim, me and a German girl I don't remember the name of enjoyed a few bottles of wines together

The hanging glacier

Beautiful Parque Pumalin...

View from our campspot

The destruction caused by the eruption of Volcano Chaiten is evident in places like this

The town of Chaiten


A bee having a snack on a flower

 Back on the Argentinian side of the Andes and we've gone from lush and green to dry and barren

In Parque Los Alerces

The Hanta Virus ridden place provided nevertheless a beautiful, free campspot

And that's what your camelbak looks like after a hungry mouse has had its way with it