We were about to enter Argentina, the final country out of 15 on our journey from the top of Alaska to the tip of Argentina. We would still have to cross back into Chile in order to get to Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia, but it felt like a very big thing to cross this border and to finally eat the last sticky melting border pipe that Lars had kept out of my reach for 7 months.
We were a bit annoyed that the immigration linked our bikes to our entry in the country. This meant we could get problems if we tried to sell the bikes in Argentina.
Mmmm! This one tasted extra good!
The road from the border was an absolutely gorgeous dirt road
Volcan Lanin at the Mamuil Malal border
Soon the dirt changed into a perfect smooth paved road with gorgeous scenery.
So far Patagonia was absolutely fantastic. Lots of space, huge clean rivers beautiful mountains and lots of places to put up the tent.
We were introduced to the Argentinian national drink: Mate. All Argentinians including small kids drink this special tea all day long. The cup is filled with mate tea leaves and then a bit of hot water is poured over it and a few sips are taken through the metal straw. Very stylish. The mate tea doesn’t have the same effect as the coca tea from Peru and Bolivia, but it is supposed to be good for your digestion – which makes a lot of sense. The Argentinian day rhythm is hard on the stomach. They eat a light breakfast if any, eat a big lunch and then after 10 pm they eat a heavy dinner which primarily consists of meat. Before 10 pm the restaurants are empty except for the few lost tourists. After 10 the first few customers will appear and at 11 pm the places are full and it’s not unusual to eat around midnight.
Lars having a sip of the traditional Argentinian Mate tea.
San Martin de Los Andes was a beautiful town with everything a traveler needs, including good company. We meet Verena and Helmuth from Germany. They admired our bikes with Alaska plates. We admired their fitness. Helmut was in fact 73 years old but that detail couldn’t keep him off his pushbike. They had crossed Canada on pushbikes and were experienced travelers.
Sunrise over Lacar Lake at San Martin de Los Andes.
From San Martin de Los Andes we made a detour to San Carlos de Bariloche through Nahuel Huapi National Park and Siete Lagos.
We went for a swim in the incredibly cold glacier water in Pichi Traful river. Due to a severe case of farmer look we will spare you for the pictures of us swimming! 🙂
Lago Traful, Siete Lagos was amazingly beautiful.
Nahuel Huapi National Park
Buying some good Argentinian gaucho sausage and cheese. I had to include this picture because a few minutes earlier the gentleman to the right in the picture helped me pick up my bike after I made an amazing stunt. As I turned off the road my front wheel hit a deep ditch with loose gravel and since I was breaking and turning I went down and flew off the bike amazingly elegantly and just walked away. 🙂
We spent 2 days in San Carlos de Bariloche hanging out and finding new tires. We had our knobby tires on and only expected them to last till Ushuaia.
Moto Servicio Bariloche took very good care of us. This was in fact the only time on the entire trip that we didn’t change the tires ourselves. Luis and his partner made sure I had everything I needed including music and WIFI while the did the work.
South of San Carlos de Bariloche the famous Ruta 40 became more and more remote and the landscape slowly changed. It was as if everything “disappeared” till there was only this left.
You can see the weather miles away.
Thousands of Patagonian Guanaco roam the endless fields freely. They are wild and have no problem jumping fences.
Well for some, the fences lead to a painful death. This poor creature got his long leg stuck between the first and the second wire and he must have died of thirst. We saw many dead guanacos hanging like this and suspect that the farmers don’t care too much. The guanacos are plentiful and they eat the same grass as the livestock.
Between Esquel and Perito Moreno, Ruta 40 turned into gravel, but not an enjoyable one. A horrible rough one with big bulks of loose gravel with big stones and we couldn’t go more than 50 km/h. We dreaded that we were facing several thousand km of the same and knew that our daily km average would be significantly reduced if we were.
Very precise description of Ruta 40.
After 6 nights of camping we needed a shower pretty badly and got a hotel in downtown Perito Moreno where we had our first taste of “horrible overpriced low quality bad service” Patagonian hotels. It seemed to be a place many travelers needed to stop for the night and why charge less if you can charge more. The experience was repeated when we had dinner in our first Argentinian Parilla, something we had looked forward to, but they never came close to our expectations. We left Perito Moreno the day after, with very little positive to say about this place.
We headed south towards El Chalten and El Calafate, supposedly the most beautiful part of Ruta 40 and Argentina.
But just as we were entering the most remote part of Ruta 40, only 40 km south of Perito Moreno going 100 km/h on a perfect road, the Suzuki suddenly made a loud crack or snap and then loud metallic scrambling noises. I lost compression and the bike died! Damn! I tried to start the bike again, followed by ugly sounds and then I couldn’t start it no more.
Hm! Judging from the sounds, this was not a harmless breakdown. We spend some time discussing what could be the problem but we really didn’t have a clue. We decided to tow the bike back to Perito Moreno where, if we were lucky, someone a bit more mechanically inclined could help us with a diagnose.
We dragged the Suzuki behind the KLR a few miles when the bike made more bad sounds and I couldn’t keep it in neutral anymore. We were afraid that if we kept dragging it, we would do more damage to the poor bike. Later several people wrote us that we should have just taken the chain off the sprocket!! Well of course 🙂
However we were also worried if 40 km would be too far to put the extra weight on the KLR. The weather was warm, the wind was strong and making it even worse and since we didn’t go faster than 2nd gear, we were uncertain if the KLR would overheat.
Several signs telling us there would be strong winds – as if you wouldn’t know it before you see the sign! And where did the tree come from. There’s not a single tree around, so how did they come up with this sign. A leaning guanaca or a car blown of the road would make more sense.
We decided that I should park there on the side of the road and Lars would ride back to Perito Moreno to find a truck that could pick up the bike. I would also try and flag passing trucks down and see if someone would give me a ride.
So Lars left and I prepared to spend the rest of the day on Ruta 40. The wind on the road was strong, but down in the ditch I had a bit of shelter and made a little camp.
Here’s a little video of me in the ditch
Meanwhile in Perito Moreno, Lars had a hard time finding anyone to drive the 40 km to pick up the bike. He talked to the police, the tourist office and anyone he met. Finally the police got hold of a guy who wanted to do it for 600 US$ !!!!
Lars complained that they were taking advantage of us and argued that 600 US$ was a trillion dollars more than what would be reasonable. They argued that it was a Sunday, we were on Ruta 40 where there’s not much traffic etc. and that he was more than welcome to look at other alternatives. Lars knew I was out there alone in the burning sun and off course felt he had to find a solution and not let me wait for days. So when they finally agreed to go down to 500 US$ he accepted. They knew very well that he didn’t have any alternative and probably enjoyed taking full advantage of it. On top of the rip off experience at the hotel and restaurant the day before, this didn’t exactly add any warm feelings towards Perito Moreno.
Meanwhile I was having a blast on Ruta 40. A Brazilian rider had stopped and refused to leave me before someone picked me up. He entertained me with crazy adventure stories and experiences with corrupt Brazilian police and jungle adventures. Later 3 young guys in an old Renault 12 stopped and chatted and offered us a drink of the popular mix Fernet Branca and Coca Cola. They also offered to come back with a truck and pick me up, but first they had to skin a horse!! One of the guys was taking care of his brother’s horse and apparently he hadn’t done such a good job, because the horse was dead, and now the brother was accusing him of lying and wanted proof of the dead horse. So they had to get the piece of skin with the brand mark on it. But after the skinning job they would come back and pick me up. They left but promised to be back soon with a truck.
Poor me, stuck on Ruta 40, all alone 🙂
A while after, the guys from Perito Moreno that Lars had made a deal with – Juan And Fernando – showed up in two cars. They looked like 2 relaxed locals and where smiling and chatty (no wonder) and since I didn’t know anything of the insane price they were gonna charge us, I was very friendly with them too and called them my heroes!!! Argh!
Just as we took off towards town, the other guys (with the dead horse) turned up with a truck to give me a lift. But we had already loaded the bike into the truck so it was too late. A petty, I would much rather have paid those guys 200 bucks!
Heading back to the very little attractive town of Perito Moreno I started to wonder if we were starring in the movie “U-turn”! When I heard of the 500 US$ I was sure we had the lead roles!
Unfortunately we didn’t find any mechanically inclined people in Perito Moreno and decided that the best would be to take it to the east coast in the direction of Buenos Aires rather than South. We stored the Suzuki in Fernando’s garage and he called a friend – Ricardo – who was going to the East coast the same week. Both Juan and Fernando were VERY sociable and offered cold beer and helped us find a place for the night. They were actually really nice guys, but I guess anyone can be nice for 500 US$.
We stayed there for 3 more nights, before we got a lift in Ricardo’s truck.
While we waited we did a day tour to Cuevo de Manos 150 km south of Perito Moreno. Cuevo de Manos lies in an amazing valley and is famous for it’s fascinating negative hand paintings.
The hand paintings are made with a mineral and therefore cannot be carbon dated, but it is estimated that the first paintings in the caves were made 9.000 years ago.
Ricardo worked as a sales man driving around with tires and had space in his truck. We thought it would be best to take the bike to the east coast that is much more populated than the west. And if it couldn’t be repaired, at least we would be closer to Buenos Aires and we knew that according to Argentinian law, any vehicle you bring in, you also take out.
He took us to Caleta Olivia where there would be a bike mechanic and a few hotels, but unfortunately we found that Caleta Olivia was another U-turn like town where we really didn’t want to spend too much time.
In Caleta Olivia a local motorcycle shop – Coyote Motos – looked at the bike and found that the 3rd gear was broken in 2 pieces and that the oil was full of metal parts.
Examining the bike with a camera and a magnet.
They recommended that we bring the bike to Buenos Aires for repair since getting parts to Caleta Olivia would take too much time. Time we didn’t have or wanted to spent either. We still had 1400 km to go, to make it to Ushuaia and we weren’t gonna spend the rest of our time in Argentina on an expensive bike repair.
We discussed what to do and decided not to waste more time and continue 2 up on the KLR to Ushuaia.
Outside Coyote Motos we made friends with this little fellow. He was very hungry, thirsty and completely covered in tics. We fed him and he completely adopted us as his parents and fell asleep in Lars lap. We left him there, something we deeply regretted. The next week we never stopped thinking about him and when we came back we tried to find him again. More about him later.
Next morning we arranged our stuff and left all the camping gear together with the bike at Coyote Motos and took off towards The End of The World.
I know I have been kidding and writing on Facebook and ADV that I felt bad for Lars having to sit behind me – but in reality Lars is a very smart man. He had the KLR raised 10 cm’s a long time ago. Not so much to make it more comfortable for him as to make it unrideable for me! So it was the pillion for me or nothing.
I couldn’t believe how little space there was left for me between Lars and the luggage, but since he’s such a tall guy and I couldn’t see anything anyways except for his helmet, at least I was trapped and could sleep without falling off.
All the space that’s left for me. The buckles from the Wolfman bags weren’t particular comfortable to sit on either, but then I had my magical Airhawk seat with the IKEA sheep skin. Mmmmm, butt likes!!!!
My view for 4000 km’s.
To the sides I would see this.
So the result was this: ZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzz
Ruta 3 that goes along the East coast of Argentina is, if possible, even more bleak than Ruta 40. There’s so much nothing, you feel like hitting yourself or pulling your hair out. Even Lars fell asleep a few times and I didn’t talk to him a whole day after he was too honest to tell me! The first 2 days we didn’t even have a strong wind which could at least have helped keep us awake.
The only entertainment were the guanacos and the Patagonian ostrich. A pretty large bird the size of a turkey. For some reason they often grass along the road which is scary, cause they blend in so well with the environment that you don’t see them before you are right next to them. They all behaved well though and ran in the right direction when we passed them, so no free asado for us.
The first day going two up we rode 700 km (my butt will never be the same again) from Caleta Olivia to Rio Gallegos where we celebrated Lars’ birthday.
Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago at the very tip of Argentina. In order to get there you need to cross back into Chile and take a ferry across the Strait of Magellan and ride 100 km of dirt before you cross back into Argentina at the San Sebastian border.
Map from Argentinatravelplan
Crossing back into Chile I realized that I had a chance to get out of the Temporary Import Permit problem with the Suzuki. We had decided that we weren’t gonna bring the bike home to Denmark if we could avoid it. Repairing the bike would for sure be a costly affair and so would transport from Caleta Olivia to Buenos Aires. But the real financial set-back would be the 2000 US$ for the shipping to Denmark. So I figured that this would be the place to cheat the system.
If you tired of reading about border crossing procedures just skip this section!
When we checked in to Argentina from Chile the first time, the immigration had registered our motorcycles in the immigration system, so we figured that we were gonna have to oblige to the rules or pay the import tax or miss our plane if we didn’t bring the bikes with us. It is not legal to sell used vehicles in Argentina or leave the bike there. It’s not a matter of money; it’s simply a no go. DAKAR-MOTOS in Buenos Aires who are supposed to be the expert had confirmed this and made it clear to us that NO-ONE could sell their used bike in Argentina and they would have nothing to do with “bending” the system. According to them we had to take the bike out of the country no matter what the state of the bike was.
But now we were here in the middle of bloody nowhere and when we saw how busy the border was I though that this was our chance to get out of the T.I.P. matter. We made the following plan. Lars would go through the entire process of checking out the bike; immigration, customs, SAG and police and we would observe how they handled the process and if anyone would actually check up on the bike.
At a very busy border crossing.
If certain circumstances were in place I would repeat the process after Lars and see if I could check out my bike without having the actual bike with me.
It was a bit tricky however since this place was different than other borders. Normally you check out at one border office, ride a few km and then check in at the next. Here the two countries were collaborating and did the check-out and check-in more or less at the same desk.
It was as we assumed. Everything is automatized and information is put into a computer and therefore must be correct. No one ever came out to actually check Lars’ bike and his VIN-number. So I went for it. Lined up and waited for my turn. My heart was beating like crazy and I was really scared that I oozed “criminal” and I tried not to think of the conditions in an Argentinian jail!
When it was my turn I chatted with the border staff as I always do: “Argentina is so pretty, we are riding from Alaska to Ushuaia and Argentina is the best, bla, bla, bla” I was probably speed talking and they though “deer god” and stamped my papers really quick to get rid of me and my bike!
But sure enough, no one came out to check the non-existing bike and when all the papers were done I ran out to Lars screaming “drive, drive!!!” No I walked really slowly and we rode out of there with out poker faces on. YAY! I had now officially checked out the Bunny bike and could leave it to rust in Argentina……………….. Oh no…… what had we done! Reality hit me. Now I wasn’t gonna bring my lovely Bunny bike with me home. With no Temporary Import Permit I would not be able to bring the bike out of the country.
After the border crossing we had to cross the Strait of Magellan on a car ferry.
On the other side of the water we were finally on Tierra del Fuego and getting closer to the End of the World!
But first we had to ride 100 km on Hwy 79 a bad dirt road. Not Ruta 40 bad but bad enough to make me scream loud in pain whenever we hit a pothole. I felt it all the way through my spine – or maybe it was just me behaving like a baby because I couldn’t ride my own bike. (:
On the picture it might appear to be a nice flat dirt road, but in reality it was rocky and not a very nice ride.
Just when we thought this day couldn’t be more miserable, we found this beautiful little place Hosteria de la Frontera next to the San Sebastian border crossing to Argentina. Big smiles, awesome atmosphere and great food.
And apparently a famous place in Denmark 🙂 December 31st 1998 the Danish expedition JP EXPLORER was here and ended up writing an article about the place.
The 3rd day we got a little taste of the strong wind. Not bad and mostly from behind so just a little warning of what was awaiting us on the return trip.
Guerra de las Malvinas or the Falklands War is present everywhere in Argentina, and the Argentinians still consider the islands to be Argentina territory, which geographically seems to make sense. However the people living on the Malvinas might see it differently.
Monument in Rio Grande where part of the Argentine Navy is placed (Fuerza de Infantería de Marina Austral).
Tierra del Fuego turned out to be beautiful, like a prize for overcoming the many kilometers of nothing. Closer to Ushuaia the scenery changed and we saw trees again. Beautiful crooked old trees with moss hanging like hair from the branches.
Lago Fagnano seen from the Garibaldi Mountain pass that you have to cross to get to Ushuaia.
And finally we arrived in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. WIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In Ushuaia we checked in at the Antarctica Hostel. A great place that we can recommend to anyone going there.They let us take the KLR through the reception and park in the garden and we made friends with some really cool people there.
The following day we rode to Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego to the end of Ruta 3 which officially is the southern most point you can ride in South America.
Riding to the End of The World with style!
YAY! We made it to the End of the World!
Can you find the error in this picture!?
Yes, correct, there’s one bike missing! So this one is for the Bunny Bike: :'(
We left Ushuaia the next day on a really cold day. It was raining in the city and snowing in the mountains. When we crossed the Garibaldi Mountain pass we rode through the snow and the wind was strong and cold, but we knew that we would soon be down from the mountains again, back on the wide plains and warmer winds towards civilization.
From Tolhuin the wind picked up and we finally got some of that famous Patagonian side winds that constantly threaten to blow you of the road. I had of course been constantly complaining about being reduced to pillion but if I have to be completely honest, deep inside I was relieved that I didn’t had to battle the wind. (:
Since we were now riding north, the wind came from our left side and we would be thrown around every time a truck passed us in the other direction. It was as if the turbulence from the truck would suck you against it and then a split second later you were hit full force by the wind again throwing you towards the ditch. Lars developed a technique where he move to the right side of the lane when approaching a truck to give space to the expected pull towards the left and following push to the right. I just held on as good as I could and tried not to think of the many km’s ahead of us.
“I believe I can fly!”
In San Sebastian we crossed back into Chile and had to do the 100 km of dirt road on Hwy 79 once again.
The KLR struggled a bit with the extra weight and the strong wind either against us or from the side. Lars had checked his chain and sprockets in Ushuaia and sure they were worn, but still OK.
350 km later, when Lars rode of the ferry at the Strait of Magellan and had to go up the slightly uphill tilted ramp, the KLR was complaining. We checked the sprockets again and there was nothing left! The strong wind and extra weight on the bike was apparently enough to grind the remaining teeth.
Lars had an extra front sprocket with him and we tried to change it right away, but couldn’t get the old one off. After struggling with it for over an hour we had to continue with the existing sprocket, not expecting we would make it very far – but amazingly the KLR didn’t seem to care as long as the road was flat – despite the winds it brought us another 80 km’s to Rio Gallegos which we thought was pretty amazing. As long as he didn’t accelerate to quickly it was just fine. The Badger doesn’t care!
We always called the KLR the Badger, and for once the bike actually deserved it’s bad-ass nickname.
Next morning in Rio Gallegos Lars got a new set of sprockets and a chain at SM Motos , before we continued north in the strong wind through the never ending nothingness towards U-turn – eh I mean Caletta Olivia.