Saturday, 24 December 2011

Adventures on the Carretera Austral Highway

The Ferry from Hornoprien
 We had rest day at Simon's farm where we made use of the workshop for some routine maintenance on the bikes and a had a quick tour of the farm. It was interesting to here about the challenges in adopting a New Zealand style of farming here in Chile. That evening Simon put on a fantastic bbq for us.

The next day it was back on the bikes and heading for Puerto Montt. This is the starting point for the Carretera Austral highway which runs down the edge of the Patagonian fiord's through remote and rugged country and was one of our must do rides. In places the highway is more like the width of a driveway and the roadside mowing was well out of control of the local crew which made for an even narrower carriage way. Most of the highway is gravel but there is some large scale road works going on and an increasing amount of pavement.

The northern section of the highway requires a few ferry crossings, the first was no problem and after about an hour wait we were away. We arrived at Hornoprien early and went straight down to the ramp to check out the next ferry. "Manana" was the response we got which means tomorrow so we had a delay but thanks to a local sea kayak guide that we met on the previous ferry we were directed to a real nice camp right down on the waters edge with a nicely crafted wooden dinning area over looking the water which just happened to have dolphins playing about when we arrived.

This was a really beautiful place, surrounded by mountains, some volcanic and the family running the camp were really friendly. I striped down the DR and explored some of the local trails during the afternoon. I've been happy with the way the DR650 is performing, it may not be as stable and comfortable on the fast gravel and paved sections of road as the big tourers but when all the luggage is removed it's trail bike qualities make for a fun ride in the rough.

The next morning it was down to the ferry where we met some fellow motor bikers who were also waiting to head south. There was Marcelo and Fleur from Chile going 2 up on a Transalp, Alex from Germany on a nicely set up BMW 800GS, and Kat and Vido from the USA who purchased 2 Chinese 200cc trail bikes locally. The ferry crossing was 4 hours which gave us time to exchange stories at get to know one another. This was followed by a short road section and then another ferry across a fiord that must have been in the too hard basket for the roading engineers who had already impressed with determination to blast a road through shear rock walls above the waters edge.

Kat, Marcelo, Fleur, Vido, Joe and Rob

The ferry landed us in the middle of nowhere and we all headed off into the wilderness with a plan of meeting up in Chaiten. This section of the road was closed in 2008 when a nearby volcano let rip, we could see sections of mountain sides with dead trees and some of the houses in Chaiten were still well buried in ash. Rob and myself were first into town and headed straight for the "supermarcardo" which means supermarket, but really in NZ terms these are really more like an "micromarcardo" and it can be difficult find a decent selection of food in these small towns.

I was approached by a person in the micro store who was keen to communicate and after much confusion and arm waving I determined that he must have just travelled down the same road as us and was trying to tell me that " a moto was down back up the road 20km". He must have recognised me from the ferry with all my motorbike kit on. Without delay we set about heading back up the road to offer some assistance and fearing the worst. We got as far as the local medical centre just down the street and noticed Marcelo's bike parked up. Alex was inside, he had gone down hard and was unconscious for some time and had suspected chest injuries. Kat had travelled with him from the accident site and Vido stayed behind with the bike which was a mess and un ridable.

Alex was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Palena and then later transferred up to Santiago. He had broken 5 ribs and was undergoing further observations. The road from the ferry was open and fast but had sections of loose and rocky surfaces which really require full concentration. He had obvously gone down at high speed. It was a very real reminder of how easily a day on the motorbike can go from the best to the worst in a split second. We all stayed in a camp that night with a "thermo" natural hot spring but it was a subdued atmosphere knowing that Alex's ride was over.

After saying farewell to Marcelo and Fleur and arranging to met up with Kat and Vido down in Coyhaique we set off for the day. And what a day it turned out to be, the riding and scenery was stunning. In places the narrow gravel road wound around lakes and up over mountain passes, over massive steel suspensions bridges that spanned the fast flowing glacier melt waters, but it was not all good.

Earlier in the day we pulled into fuel up the bikes and have a bite to eat. I had a problem, a big problem, my insulin kit was no where to be found! I went through all the possible hiding places and still no insulin pens or blood glucose monitor. I went through everything again and still no sign. By know I was getting really pissed off as I just couldn't figure out where it must be and this was about the worst thing I could loose besides the motorbike! Bugger, I must have left it back down the road 15km where I had a hypo and had to park up, test my blood sugar levels and have a munch on some sugar. I had no choice but to back track up the road and search. Rob helpfully offered me a sandwich before leaving which only annoyed me even more " no I said, I can't eat the f$%#ing thing without what I just lost!!! Back up the road there was no sign either. I must have placed it on top of my saddle bag and rode off down the road. I checked the road sides carefully but it had vanished. Good thing I packed a spare kit deep down in my pannier bags otherwise I would have been bloody hungry for a day or two or maybe a week or so? Still, I'm pretty pissed as now I have no back up.
Carretera Austral "Highway"

Around each corner there was something special, it just went on and on, lakes mountains and when we finally reached Coyhaique it was late and we nackered. Coyhaique is one of the larger towns on the Carratera Austral and we made use of the services here and had a day off riding, cleaned clothes and bike air filters etc. It's also the town near where i was building mtn bike tracks earlier in the year. I only know about 3 locals from this town about the size of Motueka and one just happened to turn up at the motorbike shop while we were there. Funny how someone just turns up when we need a translator!

more Austral highway

With clean clothes and our bikes breathing easy we pulled out of town with the aim of making Villa O Higgins at the far end of the Austral. Tagging along for the ride to O higgins was Vido fully loaded on the Euromat 200 and at full throttle, just below redline! The 650 "s were just cruising. We enjoyed Video's company the previous few days and were keen to have him along. It goes to show that you don't need the latest and greatest bike to have some fun while bike touring. With more mountains, gravel, corrugations and dust eating cycle tourers behind us we knocked off another day and camped up just short of Cochrane.

As we rolled into Cochrane on the pavement Vido noticed his rear wheel felt flat, but it wasn't, closer inspection revealed that 4 spokes had broken under the extra stress from the corrugations and luggage. Fortunately Vido had done his home work on the euromat and knew the spokes were a weak point so was carrying 5 spares, we had to shorten them up a bit but there was just enough thread to get the job done. So with the rebuilt wheel it was all go again. The last 100km into Villa O higgins is pretty interesting stuff. The road leaves the mighty Baker river and heads up a narrow gorge up over a saddle and down to a fiord of which a ferry is needed and then continues through an area of rock and swamp with stunted trees. The place has a very Baron, cold and unforgiving feeling of being at the end of the world and with Antarctica not to far away I guess it is.
Vido with insect protection on an the mighty euromat 200

The lads way way down near Villa O Higgins 

With some heavy showers passing by and the end of the day approaching we decided to camp with a bunch of cycle tourers at a shelter by the ferry ramp and the next day did a quick run down to Villa Ohiggins and back to catch the 1 pm ferry back so we could carry on back up to Cochrane. The Carratera Austral is very popular with cycle tourers and from Villa O Higgins they can cross a lake by boat and carry on south to Chaltan in Argentina, us however on the motos had to back track up to Cochrane. Both Rob and myself being keen cyclist found it interesting chatting to the bikers about their adventures.

Once back in Cochrane it was time to finally leave the Carretal Austral and we headed west around the southern edge of the massive Lago General Carrera and on to Chile Chico. The area reminded us of the southern lakes in nz on a bigger scale. Meanwhile Vido headed back up to Coyhaique. We had a meal and a beer with him the night before and wished him luck with the rest of his trip. He needed it as another 5 spokes had broke and he still had over 300km to cover. The last we sore of him was with his bike all loaded ready to go, a six pack of beer and a sign that said said something like " free beer for a lift to Coyhaique" just in case the wheel gave out on him. A couple of days later via email we were clad to hear that Vido was able to drink the beers himself, the wheel had pulled through!

After Chile Chico we crossed the border into Argentina ( made sure we got the right doc's this time) and then rode south alongside the border on a track that was recommended to us by a couple cycle touring. The route varied from wide open fast road to narrow 2 track through high mountain sheep farming country with interesting rock formations and colours. With a few snow flurries and the famous Patagonian winds building it was a cold and battering ride down Ruta 40 at the end of the day to make our destination at a sheep and beef farm homestead.

We met 3 Australian motorbikers the night before and they recommended the homestead. The last 15 km involved a straight section of gravel road. In most situations this would be easy but the side wind was particularly fierce and with the bikes leaned well over it was a challenge to stay on the road. I had a close call attempting to cross the centre ridge of loose gravel and went into a wild fishtail down the road at around 90km, fortunately I held it together. We blew our budget at the homestead with a meal with the assuies but cooking out in the wind was not appealing.

Obtaining fuel in Argentina has proved difficult so far and we were about to test the limits of our bikes. We thought we had a further 150k's to reach some fuel, but after some clarification with the station owner it was now another 270km. We cleaned out the farm fuel supply and headed off with the Aussies. More loose gravel roads and more winds, this was the famous Patagonian Ruta 40 after all. We were heading for the tourist town of Chalten, home of Mt Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. We hit the pavement and the road turned directly into the wind which was relentless. With the impressive granite spires sticking up 3500m in the distant range marking our destination we tucked in low for maximum aerodynamic ness and just hoped there was a big pot full of fuel at the base of the mountain.

Just after passing the 60 km to Chalten sign the DR started to miss, I switched the fuel tap to the reserve position and away she went. I had two problems though, getting the last fuel out of the big Safari tank can be difficult, i had to blow into the tank cap breather pipe to pressurise it. Secondly my fuel tap was leaking
badly in the reserve position loosing precious fuel. I felt like all my efforts to conserve fuel were running down my leg! My thoughts were continuously switching from the increasingly impressive towers of granite looming up ahead to the possibility of running out of gas. Finally we made town, Robs Tenere missed a couple of beats as he pulled up to the pump and proceeded to put 23.5 ltrs of fuel into the 23 liter tank. I fixed up my fuel tap before adding 34 litres. We had just travelled 740 odd km between fuel stations and were thankful for the fuel we obtained at the homestead.

The hive of activity in Chalten was a real change from the previous two days travel through sparsely populated semi arid station land. We parked up the bikes for a day and clicked the legs into gear as we hiked up close to the base of Fitz Roy, this is a truly stunning environment with humongous granite spires sticking up out of the glaciers and ice fields. We got talking to a young NZ couple, Lucas and Whitney on the trail and arranged to meet up for a Christmas dinner.

Mt Fitz Roy

Rodeo at Cochrane

Thursday, 15 December 2011

On the road.

We have been on the road now for two weeks and this is the first opportunity we have had to put something on web page.

We left Valparaiso and travelled south while its still dry and before the holiday season starts. The goal being to get down south to Usshia and then head north onto the Salar Dar Undyuni before it gets water all over it. Then check out the Dakar Rally that starts in Buenos Aries on the 5th January.

We were late leaving Valparaiso because it took a while to sort out to pack every thing and we eventually got going. The first issues we had were reading the Chillian road signs then stopping and reading our maps. We ended up in a nice little sea side village calle Pitchilumu. About the size of Takaka but more run down. The major industry being tourism - lots of horse rides and some fishing...We stayed in a back packers.
We had a nice younger couple next door who were keen to talk about the motos but we couldn't communicate that well, who were interested in our bikes. I sent my firt spot signal so Judith could keep track of us.

The next day we went south along the coast hardly any traffic with nice tar sealed roads. To a small fishing village hen headed east toward the Andes and our goal of trying to ride as many gravel bqack roads as possible. We stopped in a small town called Curico where we came across a Yamaha dealership so I changed my back tyre to a trail tyre which I had bought in Santiago. Unfortuately they put the tyre  on backwards and we had to wait for the two 1-3pm siesta to finish. Oscar the manager gave me some coolant for nothing and a Yamaha key ring.
Nearly got taken as we left the store as I was trying to get on the Tenere whilst the bike was moving and looked the long way. Fortunately the cars that were coming weren't too close.
We camped up a valley from there leading into the Andes we had three or four dogs for company which is normal in this part of the world. Camped close to the centre of the town. Two of the locals wanted to to know all about us and managed to converse abit.
The next day it was up the valley with steep mountain closing in all around you abit like heading into Otira -Arthurs pass. Then we started to climb and there were no vechicles at all. We stopped at the Chillian border control and dragged 8-10 staff away from there DVD's. We had our Temporay vechcile import licences taken from us. That was also the last time I saw spot personel tracker which had been in my tank bag.
We climbed up a steep gravel road and onto to the top actual pass 2500 metres Then down to the Argentine border control where we were asked for our Temporary vechicle import licence. The Argentine border guards spoke no English at all.

 I think he must have something wrong to get that posting. He looked at some temporary vechicle licences from a box that should not have even got them in the first place and assumed we should have on also. So he sent us back to the Chillian boarder again to get the temp import licence.Nice ride but it took 25 minutes to go back. We played table tennis and watched a DVD with subtitles while Chile phoned Argentina to sort it out. We went back with a typed stamped document and got through. The Argentine guard didn't give us a temporary import licence into Argentina ???.. Off we shot with a thunder storm about to in golf us by now. Great scenery and it was nearly one hour before came across some farmers with scraggly goats being farmed. Inciently this area was where the Urgunary plane crashed with 45 people 0n board in 1972 and they had to sart eating the there dead companions to survive.

We eventually we ended up in a nice ecco hostal recommended to us by Andre a fellow adventure we had met in Pitchidangi 10 days before. We also met him at the Chillian boarder a friendly face who could help with the translation issues we were having.

The nex tday we tried to buy some Argentine cash at the local bank I estimate there were 120 people queing maybe more waiting for money so we gave up. Qued for petrol 10 minutes and went south on Ruta 40. Didn't find out later that they have waiting for there pay nobody trusts the banks. Its a cash society all there notes are worn out.

We went spent most of the first half of the day on gravel at 35-40 degrees celius. Not much traffic on Ruta 40 on this part of the Alto Plano. Not good place to have a break down.

Went on tell 8pm and camped at little town by the river called las Lajas our biggest day 510 km.

The next day started with a flat tyre(nail) outside an Argentine bank with no que.

We couldnt buy petrol because the local service stations fuel wasn't arriving tell 4pm so went onto to a nice Settlement called Alumine near the boarder and went for a swim in lago Alumine. We then went back into Chile we had issues with the Argentine customs who wanted to see our temp vechicle import licence. So we showed them the little two person crossing we had come across that had nos customs and they let us go.

Nice green alpine country with beach forest and norht end of the Chilian lake district. Stayed in another hostal run by a couple who were in the room next door. More like a bed and breakfast really. Cool volcanoe out the back door-Melipueco.

Called into Pucon and got some food and we were sitting by the Lake when David Sinclair from Nelson who manages a back packers stode pass and was looking at our bikes so we had a cuppa with him and set off on a trail ride around VolcanoeVillarrica. Cool ride on the edge with a fully laden bike.Meet some Chillian adventure riders who had all fallen off and hey weren't carrying as much stuff as us. So quite proud of our selves. Found the nicest hot springs with a water fall in the back ground.  We unloaded a ute full of rocks and pumice for the women running the place and she let us have a free swim.

Pushed on to Simon Harwoods house near Frutona where he is sharemilking for a NZ syndicate, great dairy farming county green and lush and plenty of rain.  


Saturday, 3 December 2011

Got the bikes from depot Valparaiso

We finally getting to see our bikes.  After getting notification that the ship was arriving in the Port at Valparaiso at 10pm we walked from the Hostal out toward the sea only about 200 metres away. Along the water front and we ccould see the container ship Budapest Bridge slowly coming into port.

Pretty exciting for Joe and I as its been just over two weeks that we have had to wait.
The next day we went down to the Port to watch the ship being unloaded but they were already loading containers back on. We have both wondering where we are going to put every thing weve bought with us on the bikes.
We walked back along one of the main streets where students were marching in protest to university fee increases. The police had layed down tear gas toi diperse the students. I was still lingering around 4 hours later. The Police don't muck around over here. 

Yesterday we went about 12 kilometres on the main road out of Valparaiso toward Santiago to small area called Plascilla where the storage company Textel is based.

Lil from the back packers/hostal where we are staying has been in touch with customs and TGL the Chillian and Textel the local storage and transport company. We were met at the gate by chance by Andrea who had been pre warned that we were coming. Andrea's english is very good and she was very helpful but we still had to wait 3 hours in reception before we could get the documentation we need to take back to customs in Valparaiso this was get the temporary import licence which allows to you to ride around. Another bus ride back to Textel more waiting and we got to see our bikes.

We were given our bill $840 and nearly had a heart attack. We managed to get the bill down to $220 which what I was expecting.
The next problem was neither bike would go. Joe had a flat battery and I had no power to my ignition. Joe had also lost his Clutch cable adjuster some where betwen Takaka and Valparaiso. So we had to leave our bikes and come back the following  day with a charged up battery and a clutch cable adjustor.

Went out for tea with Lill and Rich our hostal hosts, great people and very helpful.

Arrived back at Textel feeling a bit under the weather because a few beers and lack of sleep for the last few nights. Will the freshly charged battery got Joes bike going. I discovered I hadn't connect the main cable to the battery doah !. The bike went straight away. We got about 1.5 km down the road and I ran out of petrol. So Joe's tow rope did the trick and I got towed to a service station.

Decided not to travel on today because it was getting late in the day and we were both knackered. Parked our bikes in front of the hostal and got told to move it or get a ticket from a gorgoues cop on a moped.

We have telethon concert right near our hostal tonight very noisy . Spanish rap music sounds quite cool but no idea what they are saying. Will try and stay up right tommorrow. We both put arrows on our bike to day remindin gus to stay right.