January 23rd, 2013 - Argentina – South on the 40
Patagonia is infamous for its winds but what you don’t hear about is that it’s not just Patagonia it’s all of Argentina! Since day one entering Argentina from Uruguay we have been in constant winds. It’s absolutely relentless and is driving Erin and me crazy. For the most part it’s not overly powerful but it always manages to be a head wind working against you. I think my neck is permanently kinked to one side from riding for a month everyday in these winds. For once we would like to set up our tent in peace without the winds trying to blow it away before we can nail it down. We would like to sit outside and enjoy a meal without dust being whipped in our eyes and food. Don’t get me wrong I love sand in my eggs just not every day.
After days of crossing Argentina East to West over flat dry fields the Andes Mountains were a sight for sore, dry, wind whipped eyes. First chance I got I headed off road down an old section of Ruta 40 heading towards Laguna Diamonte, a nature reserve up in the mountains. The road was bad changing from hard packed ground to sand or loose gravel without warning but that wasn’t the worst part. It had corrugation like I’ve never seen before, a wicked wash board-like pattern that was unavoidable. The ruts were deep and vibrated the bike so hard I thought every bolt in it would snap leaving me with a thousand pieces of BMW to fit back together. Erin hadn’t been expecting an off road excursion at all so with a road like this she was unhappy to say the least. We pushed on vibrating our way closer to the mountains and the closer we got the less I cared about the condition of the road. It was beautiful with just a few lingering patches of snow on the mountains and cold fresh air being carried down by the constant and ever so “loved” wind. We arrived at the park gate and to my utter and complete disappointment it was closed. The ranged told us that we were too early in the season and that the park opened in 5 days. 5 Days! Come on! So we ate lunch outside the gate then continued on our way heading south. It ended up being a long 326km day of which over 230km’s were off road with long sections of terrible vibrating corrugation.
One of the next stops on my list was Valle Hermoso, only 25km’s outside the town of Las Lenas. In the winter Las Lenas is a ski resort but in the summer it’s pretty quiet and is surrounded by the jagged rock faces of the towering Andes. The road into Las Lenas was pavement in poor condition, most likely due to the harsh winters but still a very enjoyable and scenic ride. After the town the road narrowed and turned into an awesome gravel road that wound its way into my personal classification of paradise. To date this is one my favourite places I have visited in Argentina. Unfortunately we avoided camping there due to the forecast of rain the next day but we did have a long relaxing lunch. Here’s a little video I had made to say hello to everyone.
The farther south we got on Ruta 40 the more motorcycles we saw and I was surprised that almost all of them were BMW. I can recall specifically the handful of other bikes I’ve seen in Argentina just because they stuck out so much. For the most part I didn’t understand the attraction of Ruta 40. Sure it had its moments in the mountains but for the most part it is long and flat with not much to see other than the occasional view of the Andes way off in the distance. Okay, I understand it spans the whole country North to South but come on… We tried to detour on side roads when we could which led us to some truly great places in the mountains and amazing camping spots. One side road detour failed after running into a National park that wanted $10US per person just to pass through. It was significantly cheaper to back track and take the highway… I think the old days when Ruta 40 was an adventure are over. It’s almost completely paved now and the sections that are still gravel have a brand new paved road sitting beside them just waiting to be completed and opened. We would often hop the useless barrier and ride the new pavement instead of riding on the pulverising corrugation of the gravel road. The uncertainty of gasoline also used to add to the adventure. How many kilometers was it until the next service station? Even then, will they have gas today? Now, if you wanted, the longest section without fuel is only about 220km’s… even a gas guzzling Harley Davidson could make that stretch. However Ruta 40 still lived up to its reputation and gave me my first puncture flat in 57,000 km’s. Thanks for that one. Here’s the video of the flat tire just in case you haven’t seen it yet.
Even if Ruta 40 itself isn’t much of an adventure anymore there are always going to be places that branch off of it where you can find some adventure and natural beauty. For New Years we decided to head into Perito Moreno National Park which is an amazing destination and is rarely visited by anyone. I had a real feeling of excitement as we prepared for this adventure getting food and water ready for the days to come. The park has no glaciers or spectacular waterfalls to attract tourists and is a long off road detour without gasoline which meant we had the park to ourselves. Out of 115,000 hectares we were the only visitors in the park. We enjoyed the abundance of wildlife and turquoise lakes surrounded by snow capped mountains while camping for 2 days. This is also one of my favourite places I have visited in Argentina and did I mention it was all FREE. No park fees and no camping fees, just us, the animals, beautiful landscapes and our good friend the wind J
Perito Moreno National Park was our longest stretch without fuel so far, 430km’s, not bad for 16 liters of gasoline. Over a year travelling on our bikes and they still impress me with their ridiculous fuel economy. Argentina is an expensive country to travel in but its saving grace is camping. It has been one of the best countries so far for camping next to Canada. As we continued south we were camping more and more wherever we felt like, we even camped beside a gas station. Why not? Free is free. The only downside was our showers were fewer and farther in between but more appreciated when we got them.
The two major attractions in southwest Argentina are El Chalten with the world famous Mt. Fitz Roy and El Calafate with the world famous Perito Moreno Glacier. First up was El Chalten. We battled our way through the head winds towards Mt. Fitz Roy which stole our attention from all the other beauty in the area including Glacier Viedma off to the south. We rolled into town and were not surprised to find it infested with tourists. Literally hundreds of backpackers roamed the streets like zombies moving from one hostel to the next searching for the best “deal”. Deal doesn’t exist anymore in a town like El Chalten so you better bring a fat wallet. Even the prices of gas and bread were jacked up… We attempted to take a gravel road out of town roughly 30 km’s to look for camping at a nearby lake. Unfortunately so did every other car in town, so 4 km’s in we stopped and had lunch on the side of the road then packed up and left. El Chalten is not a biker town, it’s a hiker town. If hiking or mountain climbing is your thing and you have money to spend then El Chalten is for you, if not then it’s still worth a ride in just to see Mt. Fitz Roy towering over you in all its glory.
Last on the chopping block today is El Calafate which much like El Chalten has been raped by tourism but for some reason I didn’t mind it. We managed to find free camping just outside town on a river which was great for the first night, then we rode around town and found a campground with hot showers and excellent wifi for $7 a person. I was blown away with the amount of bikers, cyclists, and backpackers in the next campground over, which was almost full and charged $20 a person! Every day we would attempt to ride to Perito Moreno Glacier but every time it would be engulfed in dark, thick clouds and rain even though it was sunny in El Calafate. Finally on our third day we just went for it and endured the misty rain. We knew it was going to leave a hole in our wallet but the real piss off was the fact that residents of the province paid $3 while everyone else paid $20. I went in telling myself to ignore the tourist factor and just enjoy the glacier but I couldn’t. It felt as though we were a part of a tiny ant farm with little walk ways and the constant jabbering of people and whining of kids just ruined everything. The rain didn’t help either. I tried to take photos but it felt like I was taking a photo of a photo, it didn’t seem special. If you have never seen a large glacier before then I highly recommend Perito Moreno but for Erin and I we had seen them before and in much better circumstances. Back in June 2011 at the start of our trip we stopped at the Salmon Glacier which is one of the largest in North America. We camped beside the glacier by ourselves for 2 days and could enjoy it in peace. Still to this day it was one of my favourite places I have ever been. Perito Moreno Glacier is an impressive piece of ice but its beauty and intimacy were stolen when it was turned into a cash cow.
Stay tuned, next week hear how Ride The World Together becomes Ride The World Closer Together as we are down to one bike…