It seems like just last week we were in San Rafael following the Dakar race whereas now we are in Arequipa, Peru, about 3500 kilometers north. Wait a minute, it was just last week. So how did we get from there to here? Well, we drove as usual but what was different was the rather frantic pace with a few days covering about 700 kilometers. But to get here there was a roadblock to blow past, a 4400 meter pass to go over and a vast desert to cross. First things first...
When we left San Rafael the basic plan was to blast through the countries we had already spent lots of time in and slow down for our favourites. This meant that Argentina, which we have spent over 7 months in, would be given little time. Same goes for Chile, we just wanted to zip through. For Peru we would have wanted to explore more of the interior but the rainy season means we have to stick to the Panamerican highway which is the equivalent of driving around a racetrack for thousands of kilometers, there is just so little variety in the scenery. So this means that by next week we should find ourselves in Ecuador where we hope to take things a little slower.
Now about the roadblock, police station, mountain pass and desert, here are some pictures along with explanatory captions.
The roadblock we came across in northern Argentina. It seems some local people were protesting the lack of jobs in the region. We slowly made our way to the top of the lineup of vehicles and, upon getting a nod from one of the folks manning the roadblock we drove over the branches that served as an obstacle. We still aren't sure if the nod meant go ahead and cross or if it simply meant hello...
The mountain pass is called Paso de Jama and rises to 4400 meters at the highest point. It links northern Argentina to northern Chile. Since we arrived at the pass too late for the border formalities we ended up spending the night in the village of Susques on the Argentina side where the local police chief was kind enough to let us pitch the tent at the back of the station. The following photo is of the road up the pass....
The desert is the Atacama desert and is considered the driest place on the planet...
Our next update should be from somewhere in Ecuador.
Following the Dakar
Tuesday, 19 January 2010 10:59
There are fanatics and then there are those that follow the Dakar. This past week, we have immersed ourselves among the latter. Everywhere we went we were greeted with cheers and even the occasional requests for photos. To see our bike you would wonder why. With the panniers on and the thing looking like a winnebago on 2 wheels you can't help but think that some of these fans need glasses since we look nothing like the competitors of the Dakar rally. But some of them evidently did think we bore a striking resemblance to these athletes. And so it was that as we were riding into San Rafael a few days ago after watching some of the racers go by we received an overly enthusiastic welcome into the city by more than a few of the thousands who had lined the streets. The video below was taken by Marie-France as we rode in...
Home base for our quest to experience what the Dakar race is all about was John and Annette's farm just outside the city. There we were among several other bikers who had gathered to this little oasis for the chance at seeing some of the competitors race by the city on this particular leg of the world famous race. We had a chance to once again spend time with Ken and Carol whom we keep bumping into these past 2 years, Bjorn, Danielle, Tony and Ina all of whom we met last month in Viedma, as well as Jerome and of course Javier from Dakar Motos. A great time was had by all...
Happy New Year 2010!!!
Thursday, 07 January 2010 20:44
Coming full circle
Last week marked an important (at least for us!) moment in our trip. For the first time since we left Canada over 2 years ago we are now “coming home”. The fact that there is no home to come to is somewhat problematic but, for the purpose of this text, let's say that home is anywhere in Canada. This means there will be no more returning to Buenos Aires, or Mendoza or anywhere else we ride through from now until we are back in the great white north.
It is a last chance to soak in the sights, see old friends that were made along the way and slowly (very very slowly) start thinking about exactly what we will do once we get back. I would be lying if I said we weren't feeling a bit melancholic about ending this trip. It somehow seems far too soon. There are just too many experiences to be had, too many things to see, too many pictures to be taken and of course too many people to be met. But the deciding factor, as with so many things in life, is money. When it runs out we are done. And right about now that looks to be the month of June, 2010. So until then, we will try and continue to keep our eyes, ears and hearts wide open.
Friday, 25 December 2009 15:06
We want to wish you a MERRY CHRISTMAS and to thank you all for following us throughout our adventures.
No better way to celebrate christmas than a big asado (BBQ)!
Marie-France and Brian
Penguins and motorcyclists
Friday, 18 December 2009 19:07
We decided to leave Chile and were snowed on at the top of the (very) long pass and then rained on once in Argentina. We had decided to cross the country to go see the penguins in Punta Tombo since we had missed them last time. So, after countless kilometers we made it...
Their babies were there also...
After this visit we continued our road north towards Viedma for the 2009 meeting there. The meeting is actually in El Condor, 30km east of Viedma. We were about 25 persons from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Holland, New Zealand, Scotland and Switzerland. Here are a few pictures taken that weekend...
Our corner at the camp ground, we are on the left...
Tony is in a wheelchair, but it doesn't stop him and his wife from travelling. His motorcycle is the one right next to him with the orange cover on the sidecar.
After the meeting we went towards Buenos Aires and stopped in Azul for one night. Jorge, in Azul, has been helping motorcyclists since 1993 and has this small place for the enjoyment of everybody. It is Bob sitting on the bench...
People write where they are from on the walls...
We are now in Buenos Aires and will spend the next two weeks here with Brian's two brothers, their spouse and the one teenager.
Wednesday, 09 December 2009 15:47
We are now in El Condor, 30km east of the town of Viedma awaiting the informal meeting with motorcyclists from around the world which will happen on the 11-13th of December. Since our last post we covered lots and lots of kilometers. We will update after the meeting.
We are both doing fine altough our motorcycle will need some maintenance when we get back to Buenos Aires. The winds have been crazy at times but at least the weather isn't too cold here.
Video - Talampaya
Saturday, 21 November 2009 19:20
A short video of Talampaya national park - Un court vidéo du parc national Talampaya
Friday, 20 November 2009 21:23
After spending 3 days in Salta in the north of Argentina we started the long drive south. Our plan was to stick to the famous ruta 40 as much as possible as it would allow us to visit 3 national parks on the way to Mendoza.
So to start things off we left Salta and made our way to Cafayate, our third visit to this small town. To get there, we once again took the scenic Quebrada de Cafayate...
Usually when we start our riding day we set ourselves a specific objective as a destination. But the morning we left Cafayate we decided to simply go as far south as possible on our way to the first national park. Basically, the plan was to pitch the tent wherever we ended up at the end of the day. Here are some photos taken that day...
Talampaya National Park
Another day of discovery awaited as we left our makeshift campground on our way to Talampaya, a Unesco world heritage site. We were hoping to ride our motorycle around the park but were forced to take a tourist minibus as personal vehicles are not allowed inside...
Ischigualasto National Park
Visiting Talampaya only took 3 hours so we decided to try and make the Ischigualasto park on the same day. They are in relatively close proximity to one another but each has been recognized as a Unesco World Heritage separately as they are located in different provinces. We arrived too late to visit the park so instead we took advantage of the free camping to be had at the park entrance, the visit would have to go to the next day. We were not alone...
To visit Ischigualasto you need to be part of a convoy, in our case about a dozen vehicles of all types. Here are some pictures of our visit...
Leoncito National Park
After doing the 40 kilometer circuit we decided to try and get to the third and final national park that we wanted to see, Leoncito near the city of Mendoza. Once again it was a day filled with nice scenery and extreme riding conditions...
From Buenos Aires to Salta
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 17:55
When we were in Argentina last year we were fortunate to have visited much of the country but there are several places yet to be explored. Besides, it is still too soon to start heading home because of the northern winter. That's why we plan on staying in Argentina for another 2 months before starting the long drive north to Canada.
What we have planned for these next couple of months is a more in-depth visit of the north of the country (from where I am writing these words), a return to the farm in the village of San Rafael where we spent a month last year, a motorcyclist meet in the town of Viedma from the 11th to the 13th of December and a visit from my 2 brothers and their families in Buenos Aires at the end of December.
Alright, so now that the immediate future is all laid out I need to mention how we plan on going up the continent. If you checked the results of our survey on the left hand side of this page you would have noticed that the majority of respondents think we should go up via Brasil. But unfortunately, mother nature has other plans. It seems that the rainy season will be upon us if we choose that route so rather than spend our time pushing the bike though mud we have decided to go through Pacific coast instead. Not our ideal choice but one we think is necessary under the circumstances.
So enough with the formalities, on with the pictures! We left Buenos Aires on a bright and sunny day and headed towards Cordoba.
Here is Marie-France and the motorcycle before leaving...
The first town we stopped in. We had one hell of a time finding accommodation...
From there we continued our way north and passed through the towns of Tafi del Valle and Cafayate...
From Cafayate we took a spectacular road to the town of Cachi and then onto Salta...
We decided not to stop in Salta but instead kept going north to a small village called Purmamarca near the Bolivian border. Turned out to be a bit of a tourist trap but we did meet a very nice family traveling by bicycle...
Then it was back down to Salta for a much needed rest. We plan on staying here a few days before slowly going back down south.
Saturday, 31 October 2009 21:15
Back in BA since almost a week and already (!) it's time to retrieve our motorcycle. Our stress level is way up there because we keep hearing about how bad the port of Buenos Aires is. It seems each website we visit warns of dire consequences if you send your bike to this particular port. Hence the stress.
So on a bright Tuesday morning we make our way to the company that has so kindly taken our motorcycle hostage...oops...I mean taken our motorycle from the ship to a warehouse. We have already been trying to bring down the price of the ransom...ur, I mean « service they provide » for a few days and now it's time to pay up. After only 3 corrections on our bill of lading we finally get this essential document and make our way to the Customs office.
At the customs office we begin the process with the mandatory first step which is known in the business as « waiting for no good reason ». Once we have completed this essential step, we are now ready for the no less critical second step of « waiting some more ». This of course is followed by a closure of the office for lunch. But fortunately, this does not prevent us from beginning the third step, « waiting impatiently ». When the office finally opens we are informed by the nice customs officer that our Bill of Lading is incorrect and we must return to the hostage takers to correct it.
After a couple of taxis (that's right, the office of the hostage takers is located several kilometers from the customs office) we are back in front of the customs officer and then we are ready for the 4th step, « waiting and fuming ». After only 1 hour and a half we have our paperwork in hand and are ready for the last hurdle, the dreaded warehouse where, hopefully, our motorcycle has been « well taken care of ». We get to the warehouse only to be told that they are closing for the day and must return in the morning.
The next day we make our way to the warehouse bright and early and begin trying to get our bike released. Since they never supplied a video we still have no proof of life but we decided to once again pay an inflated ransom (the second one since we started the process) and are finally reunited with our machine. Our hopes of a quick escape are dashed when the motorcycle starts, goes for a few feet, then dies. Try as we might, she just does not want to go. Until, desperate and worried, Marie-France starts talking to the bike and encouraging it while I press the start button. It then springs to life and off we go, a bit poorer but free at last.
Why we gotta love Argentina
Friday, 23 October 2009 20:52
It is 19h30 and we just arrived at the bus station where we will take our bus to Buenos Aires. We have been in Mendoza for over a week now, which was just enough time to get re-acquainted with the country. It is now time to go and get our bike from the port in the capital. So here we are, taking a long distance bus, a new experience for us in Argentina.
We get in the bus and make ourselves comfortable for the next 14 hours. The bus is half full it seems, but we leave on time (surprising thing for Argentina). We are sitting on the second floor, right in front of the bus, with the view over the traffic. We soon realize that our driver is a good one, and we can relax. Then our bus host goes around the bus to distribute bingo cards. We never heard about people playing bingo in buses, but since we don't have much to do we accept this without asking any question.
It is now time for bingo. We have 16 numbers on our little bingo paper, and we have to get them all before yelling bingo. Our bus host is over the microphone telling us number after number. A few of our fellow passengers start mumbling that their card is s**t, everybody giggles, and after a while everyone is totally concentrated on their little bingo paper. It doesn't take too long and a woman sitting one row behind us says, in a kind of a soft and low voice, BINGO. She and her husband are all happy when they receive their prize: a bottle of white wine. They still manage to pull one last joke: “But the bottle isn't opened!”. Luckily for the losers we all got a glass of wine (red) included in our dinner. Yes, we were served dinner in the bus.
Only in Argentina!
Back in South-America
Saturday, 10 October 2009 12:40
Well here we are back again. Arriving in Mendoza, Argentina yesterday felt strangely like coming home. When we last left Argentina back in January it was to make our way across the Atlantic aboard a cargo ship bound for Belgium. After a month at sea we arrived in Europe and began a journey across 19 countries that varied from the highly developed to the poverty sticken, from the peaceful to the warn torn. It was an amazing experience which we will carry with us for a long time. I hope we succeeded in sharing what it was like both with our stories and with our photos.
But now a new adventure begins, that of getting home. Sure, we could have shipped the bike back to Canada and started living a regular life once again but the desire to discover and push our limits remains. The only question now is how we choose to drive back to Canada. Do we go up the east coast of South-America or do we take the west coast route? Do we go all the way up to Alaska before heading home or do we just focus on getting back to Montreal? The only thing we know with certainty is that it is great to be back in the Americas.
Europe at last
Sunday, 08 February 2009 12:05
Just a quick word to say that we are currently in Hamburg for a quick stop over before Antwerp in Belgium. Our website is now back online after an absence of a few days. More details to come about the crossing next weekend!
Sunday, 11 January 2009 20:47
While you are reading these few lines we are somewhere on the Atlantic ocean on the vessel « Grande Buenos Aires ». Basically the boat is a cargo ship that also has room for about a dozen tourists like us who travel with their own vehicle. For us it was the most economical way of getting from Buenos Aires to Belgium where we hope to begin the second part of our trip.
We’ve spent a lot of time talking with other travelers who have also chosen this mode of transport. Our goal was to know exactly what we were getting into before boarding the ship. The consensus was that if we have lots of time and are flexible regarding our departure and arrival date then taking a cargo ship was the ideal and most adventurous way of crossing the Atlantic. But risks include excessive delays (up to 6 weeks instead of the estimated 3 weeks to make the crossing), capsizing (incredible but true, a ship from the same company capsized last year in a European port during the unloading of merchandise), and cooks with attitude (our biggest worry!)
But if all is going well, we are currently on schedule, the vessel remains vertical in the water and the cook is our new best friend.
Sunday, 11 January 2009 20:40
A little over 15 months ago we left Montreal on a cold October day and headed south. We had done lots of research prior to leaving but most of what we were about to experience came as a complete surprise.
Perhaps the biggest of these surprises was how easy it is to drive your own vehicle all the way to Argentina. When we were back home reading about how others had done it, we often got the impression that it was a real achievement to get from point A all the way up north to point B all the way down south. But the truth of the matter is that the real feat is just deciding to go. Once you are on the road it all becomes very easy, it is just a question of keeping your wits when confronted with unusual situations. For example, if the nice police officer suggests that you pay him a “fine” on the spot because your motorcycle is too wide (yes, you read right, too wide), it would be bad form to laugh in his face. Or better yet, if you bike breaks down for the 5th or 6th time it would be wise to refrain from setting it on fire despite the overwhelming temptation to do so. But if you manage to get through these little challenges without getting yourself thrown in jail or creating a giant fireball then it all becomes easy.
Another big surprise is how close knit the riding community is in the Americas. Not the “lets all get naked and pour syrup all over ourselves” kind of close knit but still, odds are the person you just met who is riding a motorcycle across the continent knows somebody you know.This happened to us again and again all over the Americas and really helped make our experience unforgettable. One of these chance encounters led us to try farming for a month while another led to a radical change in our route.
Then there was the discovery that I enjoy working on the bike. And to think there was a time when I would rush my vehicle to the nearest mechanic at the first sign of trouble. Now I cannot imagine not doing the majority of the work myself. It is far easier than I had always thought.
Oh, and our relationship is stronger than ever. There is nothing like driving 40000 kilometers with your spouse through several countries to form a lasting bond. But it was a little challenging at first. Where back in Montreal we saw each other a few hours per day, now we are together 24/7. And going from telling each other about our day to living exactly the same day meant a bit of adjustment.
The culture of Latin America was not so much of a surprise as it was refreshing. While North-Americans are very much concerned with accumulating as many objects as they can before they die, the rest of the Americas prefers to spend their time with family rather than shopping. But this means that the pace of things can often be ridiculously slow, something that requires some getting used to. If we have learned anything from Latin America it is that family should come first and things don’t always need to go at breakneck speed.
So there you have it, the recap of our time in the Americas. Lots of fun was had and now we are eagerly looking forward to the rest of our trip.
Tuesday, 16 December 2008 19:16
Here's a little update!
While we were in Mendoza we completed some repairs on the bike yet again. This time it was a leaking fork seal, a leaking seal in the rear chock, a leaking seal in the final drive and some blown bearings, also in the final drive. Out of these 4 problems, 3 had been repaired within the past 10,000 kilometers but the problems re-appeared.
In addition to getting the bike fixed we met some more motorcycle travelers. In fact, we met a total of 9 motorcyclists over the course of the 3 weeks we were staying at the hostel. As is always the case when we meet others traveling by motorcycle we shared funny and not so funny stories and generally had a great time. Our days were spent hunting for either parts, wine or ice cream and often all three combined.
Once the bike was put back together we finally said goodbye to Mendoza, our favorite city in Argentina, and made our way back to Buenos Aires to sort out our passports. We had realized some time ago that we would not have enough pages left for the stamps and visas of the two dozen or so countries that remain to be visited on this trip. So the day after we arrived in BA we went to the Canadian embassy and left a couple of hours later with our old passports on their way back to Canada along with our duly filled out forms and photos. If all goes well we should have our new passports within the next week or so, just in time to head off to Uruguay where we plan on spending Christmas on the beach.
Still in Mendoza
Saturday, 06 December 2008 13:25
Yes, we are still in Mendoza waiting for repairs again... Here is our motorcycle at our hostel, it is now part of the decor:
Here is Buba and Haifa who came to see us for a few days:
We also spent time with other motorcyclists, Cecilia, Leo, Dave, Theo:
And had an "asado", which means BBQ, with the hostel's staff:
Mendoza, take 2
Sunday, 23 November 2008 13:56
A little update. We are back in Mendoza, our favorite place in Argentina, in the heat. We had almost forgotten all about heat. But this heat is the reason we travelled so quickly from Ushuaia to Mendoza, and we have no regrets.
Now we are waiting to meet our friend Buba and her mom. We are also preparing our itinerary for Asia. And reparing the bike. Yes, the bike is leaking from everywhere. Some leaks are kind of normal because the roads down south were though. Those are easy to repair. But other leaks are just coming back even after being treated by experts a few times. These are the expensive ones to repair...
In the meanwhile, we enjoy the city, watch TV, eat well and try more wine.
Friday, 14 November 2008 11:59
If you have been following our adventures from the start then you know that our beloved motorcycle has been the cause of much anxiety and much frustration. Although it has never left us stranded on the side of the road it has spent more weeks than we care to remember waiting for parts or repairs. First there was a month long wait in El Salvador for repairs to our rear main seal, then there was a month in Bogota waiting for repairs to our rear main seal (not a typo, the problem came back or never left in the first place). Then of course there was a month wait for new parts (a rear brake rotor) in Arequipa. And did we mention the 3 weeks in Buenos Aires waiting for repairs to the final drive and the gearbox?
In fact, this bike has suffered so many problems that we even considered changing motorcycles (however briefly). But despite all of the problems we still love the thing and will give it credit for getting us all the way from Montreal to Ushuaia when other machines might have failed to do so. To keep it going it had to be infused with a steady stream of cash and patience but it did get us there, barely.
If you are a fan of long distance traveling of the “with your own vehicle” variety than you have probably seen pictures of the famous “end of the road” sign that is prominently displayed at the end of Ruta 3 in Ushuaia. If you are not a fan of long distance traveling of the “with your own vehicle” variety than let me be the first to tell you that there is such a sign, and yes, it is at the end of Ruta 3 in Ushuaia. In certain circles (you guessed it, the “with your own vehicle” clan) there is a tradition that if you travel the length of the Americas you go take your picture next to this sign. And since we are conformist at heart we could not resist doing so ourselves.
So without further ado, here is our picture. Keep in mind that we wanted a picture that is symbolic of our trip so far. Something that represents what we have gone thru to get all the way down here. Something that says, yup, that is what it took to get here…
But before we leave you, just a reminder that despite the fact that we made it to Ushuaia our goal remains to get to India so we are only half done.
And one more thing, we have started thinking about getting a sidecar. Why a sidecar you ask? Why the hell not we reply!
Tuesday, 11 November 2008 23:06
Our trip south wasn’t all high winds and gravel roads. We did get to see one of the most spectacular sights of our trip so far, the Perito Moreno glacier near El Calafate. The Perito Moreno glacier is one of the few on earth that is not yet receding. And it’s a big one! It has a height of 60 meters and is a few kilometers wide. Since it is in constant forward movement (up to 2 meters per day) it regularly sheds some ice with spectacular results.
But to get to the glacier you have to go through the Los Glaciers National Park. And as with most parks in Argentina you have to pay to get in, in this case 15$ per person. Seeing as we have already spent thousands of dollars in this fine country we decided that we would skip paying the fee by entering the park prior to opening hours (8:00am). This meant an extremely cold ride (below 0 degress celcius) but it was well worth it. Here are a couple of pictures of the glacier which we had to ourselves for a little while…
Ruta 40, In Color!
Monday, 10 November 2008 23:34
Since for our last post you all had to use your imagination to visualize what ruta 40 looks like, I thought I would reward you with some images that we were finally able to upload. Although it does not look like much you will need to once again use your imagination, this time to vizualize intense winds. As promised, here are the photos. First off, a particularly good stretch...
The nearby mountains that generate so much wind...
Another good stretch and one of the few places we could find shelter to make some pasta (the shelter is the mound on the right!)...
Saturday, 08 November 2008 01:19
Ruta 40 is almost legendary among those who get around this part of the world with their own vehicles. It runs from the north of the country to the south and is mainly gravel except for the northern part of the country. To put things in perspective distance wise it is roughly the equivalent of going from Halifax in eastern Canada to Vancouver.
Our plan was to cover a relatively short stretch of the road, from Perito Moreno to El Calafate in 2 days, a total distance of 650 kilometers. We knew that there are only 2 gas stations along the way so at the top of our agenda was making sure we had enough fuel in case one of the gas stations was either closed or out of gas (not an uncommon occurrence). We pulled out all the stops by not only filling up our 22 liter tank but also filling up our 4 liter gas container, two 2 liter coke bottles as well as our two 1 liter metal bottles. This gave us a range of about 500 kilometers. The setup was not unlike riding a bomb on 2 wheels but after a while we got used to it. And as long as there wasn’t any wind to push us over we felt completely safe.
The day we left there was a weather alert for the region in which we were to ride that day : « high winds from 60 to 80 km/hr with gusts of up to 100 km/hr » Humm…
So there’s going to be a little wind. Big deal! Besides, I once read somewhere that the average sneeze goes something like 200 km/hr. And I never got hurt sneezing so off we went…
The start of the day was fairly easy with the first 50 kilometers paved. Even once we were on the ripio things went well. So after 123 kilometers of some wind and ripio we made it to the first gas station in the town of Bajo Caracoles only to find that it was closed. But after a 30 minute wait somebody finally showed up and after a coffee and a fill-up we took to the road. Once again things went well until we change direction and climbed unto a plateau. That’s when the mountains on our right sneezed for the first time. OK, maybe it wasn’t 200 km/hr but the weather alert warning of 100 km/hr gusts was dead on and for the rest of the day the wind was our constant companion.
We understood very quickly why this road is legendary. While the road is very wide in most places, the surface is covered with small rocks that accumulate on either side of the tracks left by the few vehicles that travel on it (we crossed about a dozen vehicles that day). The trick to staying upright is to keep the motorcycle on the track otherwise your front wheel will catch on the accumulated rocks and down you go. With a side wind of 100 km/hr this becomes a real challenge. So much so in fact that we often crawled along at 25 km/hr for kilometers on end. In total, it took us 14 hours to cover the 650 kilometers.
But that wasn’t the last of the wind. In fact, the next two riding days were particularly windy, not to mention the intense cold. Our first day after resting in El Calafate was to get to Rio Gallegos on the Atlantic side of Argentina. The following day we made our way to Rio Grande from where I am writing these words. If you know your geography then you know that Rio Grande is on Tierra del Fuego and is only 3 hours from Ushuaia, the most southerly place in the world you can drive to. So tomorrow we are off to complete the first leg of our trip after over a year on the road.
We would have liked to post more pictures of the last few days but the internet here is too slow to download images so that will have to wait a bit. Until then you will have to use your imagination. Just think COLD and WIND!
Since October 26th
Friday, 07 November 2008 13:37
Quick overview with more details to come by midnight tonight:
- 1 crash
- lots of dirt roads
- furious winds
- lots of cold weather
- lots of camping
- now, we are 3 hours from Ushuaia
- lots of cold weather
- lots of border crossings
- did we mention the cold?
- not much rain
Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi
Sunday, 26 October 2008 21:02
We’ve begun our trip south into Patagonia and all is going well. When left San Rafael 3 days ago we made our way to the town of Zapala. We had heard of Patagonian winds but this leg of our trip (still thousands of kilometers from the most challenging of Patagonian roads) gave us a taste of things to come. In addition to the severe cold we had to contend with the bike getting pushed off its course by unrelenting winds. The winds took their toll on both of us. When surrounded by nothingness, the only option to take a short rest is this, something Marie has taken a liking to the past few months…
We finally arrived in Zapala after 10 hours on the road, just as the sun was setting. The next day we left for San Martin de los Andes about 200 kilometers further south. This town has the reputation of being the playground of Argentineans that can afford to get there. Although the setting was spectacular, the town itself left something to be desired so the following day we headed into the Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. The road to get there offered some stunning views…
We eventually camped near one of the lakes…
Then it was on to El Bolson from were we are writing these words, a laid back town and one of our last stops before we go into Chile for the first time. Next up is the Parque Nacional Los Alerces.
Tuesday, 21 October 2008 20:48
In all honesty, the last few thousand kilometers were not the most exciting in terms of roads and scenery. Sure, we met some great people and had a good time, but in terms of motorcycling the routes we took left something to be desired. But all that changes for the next 4 weeks as we once again take to the road and head south into what has been described by many as some of the most beautiful scenery accessed by some of the most difficult roads to be found in South-America.
From San Rafael, where we have been living for the past month, we head down into the lakes region. Having spent the better part of the past 6 months in very arid regions it will be nice to see some greenery for a change. From there, we will head into Chile and drive down the famous Carretera Austral for about 700 kilometers. This bit of road has a reputation as being heaven on earth when it is dry or a nightmare if it is wet (most of it is gravel and dirt). The problem is that the region receives 4000mm of precipitation per year (that’s 4 meters folks!). After the Carretera Austral we head back into Argentina for the final run down to Ushuaia. Once again road conditions risk being challenging as Ruta 40, the road we will be taking, has ended in injury for more than a few motorcyclists. To make matters worse the road is barren for most of the way with only strong winds to keep you company.
If all goes according to plan we should be arriving in Ushuaia, the “end of the world”, around November 25th. After a few days of rest (and celebration) we will take the much more tame ruta 3 all the way back up to Buenos Aires. Until the next pictures, here are a few of the past few weeks…
Marie-France learning to drive a tractor...
Wild asparagus on the farm...
Water day on the farm...
Mother nature showing her might...
Death of a champion
Friday, 17 October 2008 15:49
On October 2nd at approximately 1:36 pm in the town of San Rafael, the world lost a great champion of keeping motorcycle travelers awake in the middle of the night. He didn’t have a name but his behavior was such that he will be remembered by all who came too close to him.
I wish I could tell you that the end was swift but beheadings seldom go as planned. To say that his last minutes were spent in quiet reflection on a life well lived would be misleading. But I am comforted by the fact that in his last moments his closest friends were by his side, looking on with a high degree of concern, if not for him than for their own future. This may sound strange but my greatest worry on that crisp October afternoon was not for him but rather for his friends. I saw in them kindred spirits who, like all of us, are merely searching for answers to life’s biggest questions.
Does God exists? What is the meaning of life? Why do I have to take calculus if I will never use it in real life? Do chickens cry? I don’t claim to have the answer to all of these questions but if you are like me and have wrestled for years to find answers I can tell you now, chickens do cry.
Since that fateful day I have had the chance to think back to the events that led to the delicious chicken curry. Once again questions arose as they often do. Should I have swung the axe harder? What is the difference between a rooster and a chicken? Why can I no longer approach the pen without causing a disturbance? When are we having chicken curry again?
But let us go back to when it all began.
While we were in Buenos Aires at Dakar Motos, we meet quite a few motorcycle enthusiasts. Among them were Ken and Carol, a couple from Australia who have spent years traveling on their motorcycle around the world. They have met some fascinating people during their travels among which are John and Annette, a British couple who also traveled around the world by motorcycle a few years ago and decided to settle in Argentina and bought a farm in the town of San Rafael. Introductions were made and a few weeks later we arrived at John and Annette’s farm were we continue to enjoy good company and learn about farming. Our days are spent helping out on the farm during the day and spending our evenings talking about everything under the sun, playing cards, planning our route to Ushuaia and generally having a good time. Since we arrived, we have learned how to drive a tractor, how to irrigate the land (not as easy as it may seem) and of course we’ve spent some time with the animals on the farm…
Which brings us back to the rooster. You see, the plan was simple. I was to take an axe and, while Marie held down the chronologically challenged rooster, I would extract revenge (oops, I meant to say “ease his transition into the other world”). In order to ensure that the procedure went well we were even shown a short video of a previous attempt at killing another rooster. On that occasion things went wrong. Horribly wrong. So armed with an axe and a clear example of what not to do we set about the task at hand. Marie was somewhat hesitant to assist in the “procedure” so Annette stepped in.
I would rather not go into details about what happened next but suffice to say that the second swing of the axe did the trick.
If this true story was as difficult for you to read as it was for me to write, please join me in a moment of silence for our nameless champion of sleepless nights…
RIP 2008-2008 THE rooster
Motorcycling to farming?
Thursday, 09 October 2008 21:26
Here we are, in San Rafael, helping on a plum farm.
You are probably wondering how did this happen to us and we are still asking ourselves the same question. Well, as it happens when travelling, you meet people who know people and in the end you get invited to help on a plum farm. The farm is owned by two ex-motorcyclists-around-the-world from England who decided a few years back to change their living style. We are helping them, and preparing our way down to Ushuaia (we decided that we are not ready for full time farming yet).
We will give you more details next week!
With Isabelle and Jacques
Sunday, 21 September 2008 21:01
Our good friends, Jacques and Isabelle, arrived on a cold and rainy day in Buenos Aires, so we decided that a little wine would help:
we can see that Jacques already feels better
During the next two days, we visited Buenos Aires:
A little music on the street. How did they bring the piano here?
Isabelle ready for her sugar rush and pink teeth
A cemetery with its cats
Buenos Aires at night
An old popular cafe where they offer a killer hot chocolate
And then Mendoza, the wine region:
Visiting the wine...
Tasting the wine
Admiring the vines
A little night out bowling
Notice the legs? Here bowling is not automated...
The mandatory BBQ
And a little ride in the mountains towards Chile
Overall, we think our friends enjoyed their vacations:
Our friends having a good time
Sunday, 21 September 2008 20:43
I was recently explaining to a friend how I felt about the problems we have been having with the motorcycle these past few months. I explained it this way: Lets say that you wake up one fine morning and decide to have a nice cup of coffee. So you get out the filter, the coffee and add water to the machine only to discover that when you press the red button nothing happens. Being a coffee addict you jump in the car to go buy another coffee machine. An hour later you are back at home enjoying a nice cup of coffee while you sit at the kitchen table with your favorite newspaper.
Now lets compare this with our motorcycle. In our case, other than some travelling items, the motorcycle is all we own so we rely on it for everything. So if it breaks down, our life kind of goes into a sort of suspended animation. Now lets apply this idea to the coffee story above…
You wake up one morning and it is raining outside. In fact, you could swear you see ice pellets coming down with that rain. So you make your way to the kitchen for a nice cup of coffee. Unfortunately you quickly discover that the coffee machine doesn’t work so you jump in the car to go find a new one. Surprise, surprise, the damn thing doesn’t want to start. “No problem, I’ll walk” you say to yourself. 3 hours later you realize that stores selling coffee machines are very rare but you are determined to get your fix and press on. You finally arrive in front of a store that prominently displays in the storefront just about every imaginable kitchen device and you walk in, happy to be out of the cold. You spot a clerk and explain what you are looking for. He gives you a puzzled look and it becomes quickly apparent that he only speaks Russian. After consulting with his colleagues for about 30 minutes they explain to you that they know a guy who knows a guy who knows where to buy coffee machines. At least that is what you thought they said as they all spoke Russian. So you leave with one of them to continue the hunt for the elusive coffee machine. After a short two hour walk in what has now becomes a hailstorm you finally arrive in front of yet another store and walk in. You “helper” goes up to the counter first and explains what you are looking for to the clerk behind the counter. You understand nothing of what is said but are happy and relieved when the clerk heads into the back of the store. A few short minutes later he returns with a smile, happy to have been able to put an end to your quest and proudly gives you a brand new cup with the word “coffee” printed on the front.
For a split second the urge to strangle someone is almost overwhelming but you quickly realize that it’s your own fault for not understanding Russian and thank them for their help. So you head home and get there just as the sun is setting. You are starving but decide to get something to drink before heading off into what has now become a roaring blizzard outside. So you grab a cup, fill it with water and sit on the floor of your house (you have no furniture). The only newspaper in the house is an old copy of Pravda and is written entirely in Russian but at least the pictures are interesting. As you gulp down the last drop of water while looking at a faded picture of Reagan and Gorbachev shaking hands on page one you suddenly realize with horror that you forgot to put iodine in the water (the water out of the tap is untreated). Dejected, you head off to bed and start planning how you will explain to the doctor, in Russian, that you have diarrhea.
And THAT, I told him, is how I feel about all these repairs.
Two weeks gone by
Friday, 19 September 2008 13:30
Well, we just spent two weeks with our friends Jacques and Isabelle visiting Buenos Aires and Mendoza, trying a lot of wines, bicycling, walking, bowling, and trying a lot of wines. There was little time for internet, so we decided that we should be updating our website this weekend with pictures and more details!
Motorcycle blues: Take five
Monday, 01 September 2008 14:50
I don’t really know how it happened. One minute we are happily riding off the ferry and heading to Dakar Motos and the next, our frame was cracked, our final drive was leaking and our gearbox was on the way out. But then again that is the thing about this motorcycle, it has never left us stranded but the minute we take a closer look at it, eminent failures quickly become apparent.
But it could also just be me. Let me elaborate. Our last motorcycle issue was the fork seal in Bolivia. Not long after I repaired it another tourist came rolling in on a KTM. I proceeded to inspect his vehicle (this is what we all do when we meet each other on the road, a quick hello followed by an brief inspection of each other's motorcycle. Somewhat similar to what dogs do when they meet, a quick butt sniff just to make sure everything is in order). Turns out his motorcycle had a leaking fork seal also. Coincidence? Maybe not. Fast forward to last week when we met another tourist, this time on a BMW. The proverbial butt sniffing revealed that he too had a cracked frame. It has gotten to the point that I am now averting my eyes whenever I see another motorcycle...
Did all these problems just happen instantly? Not really. The cracked frame, we noticed during a routine inspection the day after we arrived in Buenos Aires at Dakar Motos. We suspect that, like the fork seals, the Bolivian roads are to blame for the frame needing to be welded. As for the gearbox and final drive, we noticed small particles of metal in the oil of the former and a leak in the latter during an oil change. To avoid boring anyone not mechanically inclined, suffice to say that the likelihood of having these three issues occur at the same time (cracked frame, worn gearbox and leaking final drive) would be about one in a million (according to my very scientific calculations). In fact, most motorcycles will never see even one of these problems in its lifetime, let alone two. Three, forget about it. Three at the same time? Just not possible. Three at the same time while 30000 kilometers from home? You’d have a better chance of getting hit by lightning! Or you would be us.
So now we do what we do best, wait for parts so we can finish the repairs.
Here's a picture of our sleeping and eating quarters at Dakar Motos:
Recipe for Hypothermia
Saturday, 16 August 2008 23:30
After visiting the falls at Iguazu we made our way slowly down Argentina to cross into Uruguay. There are three land crossings between the two countries and we chose the most southerly. It was only once we arrived at the border town that we found out that the border crossing we had chosen was closed due to a dispute between the two countries about the building of a pulp and paper mill on the Uruguay side. Despite this setback we chose to stay in the border town, Gualeguaychu, for a few days. Once again we decided to stay in a campground. But this time the cold was intense. Here are a few pictures of a particularly cold morning…
Take a close look at the motorcycle seat...
And the tent....
Needless to say we have since been staying in hotels. At least until temperatures rise in this part of the world!
Friday, 15 August 2008 18:55
After our brief visit to Paraguay we headed back into Argentina via the Posadas border crossing. The day we crossed we noticed that the metal rack that holds our back case had cracked yet again, so near the top of our list of things to do was finding a welder (finding a comfortable bed to sleep in made the top of the list). After discussing our welding problem with the hotel owner he promptly suggested that he could repair it himself as he had been trained as a welder. So I removed the rack from the motorcycle and off we went on the back of his new 250cc motorcycle. Thinking that it would be a short ride to his shop I neglected to bring my protective clothing and just took my helmet. What followed was 20 minutes of sheer terror.
There is a reason people get hurt on motorcycles. Sometimes it is because of plain bad luck but more often than not accidents can be avoided if you remain vigilant at all times, keep your speed down to reasonable levels, give other vehicles a wide berth, and most importantly if you have a healthy dose of respect for what can happen if you overestimate your abilities.
The ride started with a jolt when the owner seemingly tried to break the sound barrier before we got to the first stop sign. It ended with me wondering if a change of underwear was in order. In between was a blur of highway speeds on city streets, a few close calls and several promises to myself that I would never again get on the back of a motorcycle with somebody I had just met. As for the rack we did get it welded, so other than getting up close and personal with my own mortality the little excursion meant that the bike would soon be as good as new.
The rack held up well and two days later we were in Iguaçu staying at a campground. That’s when the rain began. So far on this trip we have been very lucky with regards to rain but our luck apparently ran out and the next three days were spent either visiting the falls or trying to keep dry. Here are a few pictures of our time in Iguaçu. First the falls...
And one of the campsite...
Monday, 04 August 2008 13:49
Once in a while we take a moment to look back and realize that we are living a nice little adventure. Sometimes it’s a little unnerving to realize that we have no more home. In fact, our home depends on where we are: a border post, a gas station, an internet café, the road, a campground or a hotel. And the motorcycle with all of its gear represents all the possessions accumulated by two people over their lifetime (other than a few souvenirs we left with family and friends in Montreal). A combined seventy years of living, one motorcycle and three aluminum boxes filled to capacity.
The truth is it’s an amazing life we have on the road but sometimes we get a little tired. A simple task like buying pasta becomes monumental in a small village in a third world country. The questions about the bike and the trip that are sure to come at each stop become more of a burden to answer rather than the pleasure it normally is (and should be). This description is a fairly accurate account of how we felt during our last week in Bolivia. Tired, impatient and desperately wanting a “vacation from our vacation”. So our plan was simple, get a tent and relive some of what we enjoyed so much about living in Quebec, the camping. No limits on space and sometimes peace and quiet.
Then we arrived in Argentina and everything changed. Suddenly camping was everywhere, roads were great and we could find almost anything we wanted. Once again the questions about the bike and the trip were a pleasure to answer, we had our energy back and whatever we called “home” at the time was a little less transitory. Our first taste of Argentina (after the border fiasco) was the town of Humahuaca. It’s in this village that we saw for the first time just how friendly Argentineans are. Then we made our way to Cafayate along an amazing road with great views...
In Cafayate we had our introduction to the Argentinean way of camping. Around here campgrounds are alive with loud music till all hours (with wine freely served) but the atmosphere is always respectful and fraternal. We even camped in the municipal park of a large city (Resistancia)...
After two weeks of « rest » in Argentina we left the country to visit Paraguay…
Stuck at the border
Thursday, 31 July 2008 19:28
Our first few hours in Argentina were not the best of this trip. We arrived at the La Quiaca border crossing full of excitement and anticipation. By now we have become old hands at negotiating the formalities of crossing a border with your own vehicle. Or so we thought.
Things started off OK with the immigration procedures being relatively straightforward. Next was the paperwork to exit the motorcycle from Bolivia. Things took a turn for the worst at about when it came time to get our temporary vehicle importation permit for Argentina.
Officer: Passport please
Me: Here it is
Officer: Registration please
Me: Here are the papers
Officer: Ownership papers please
Me: There you go
Officer: Drivers license please
Me: It’s written in French, here it is
Officer: Insurance papers please
Me: Excuse me?
Officer: Insurance papers
Me: Just hold on a second, I must have them somewhere (in fact, we didn’t have any but were planning on buying some right across the border)
Officer: (sensing that I am about to bullshit) Insurance is required to enter the country
Me: (in a very feeble attempt at stretching the truth) Well sir…ah… In the province we come from there is insurance attached to the registration of the vehicle making all drivers in effect insured (this is in fact true but only for injuries, not for damages to vehicles-presumably what he wanted me to have)
Officer: We require insurance that is valid in Argentina for you to enter the country
Me: (Damn, how did he know?) I think I need to go speak to my wife now (I use this a lot because she usually knows what the hell is going on whereas I tend not to)
Turns out the officer was a really nice fellow but he would not budge on the insurance issue for the next few hours. So while Marie waited with the bike I took cabs into the adjoining village in a frantic attempt to find an insurance broker that was open. While I was not successful in finding one I did learn a valuable lesson about Argentina: the country in effect closes from 12:30pm to 5:00pm meaning there was no possibility of buying insurance without a long wait.
At around 3:30 pm we decided that it was time to start begging. So Marie put on her best “I am so fed up with waiting at this border crossing that I think I will just break down and cry right here thus providing some gentleman (preferably a border post official) with an opportunity to display the gallantry for which Latin men are know the world over” look.
He lasted about 2 minutes.
In the end he suggested that before we go we take a photo of the following sigh that is posted at the border and which we spent many hours looking at in a feeble attempt at convincing ourselves that we are “almost there”…