Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Southernmost CITY IN THE WORLD, Ushuaia.

Ship wreck on the beach on the way to Terra del Fuego

Apparenly not a good place to pitch my tent...a legacy of the fight for the oil and gas rich land

Sunrise at 7:00 am in the blustery wind.

Terra del Fuego.....The damn bike made it....will it make it home?

I filled up with gas at a dinky little kiosk just out side of the Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine. I had to summon a woman from a near by house to come and unlock the pumps just to get fuel. All was well and I headed toward the park. The road was paved for the first 3 km then turned to dirt for the remaining 90 km. Along the way I encountered a dude that was crashed on the side of the dirt road riding his Honda Nite Hawk 250. I stopped, concerned if he was ok or not and he said that he was fine, and that the probelm was only with his bike. He was with 2 other guys, one on a honda 250 cruizer and the other on a 250 xr honda. They had limited tools and basic know how about what to do so I decided to lend a hand help a brother out in need. We straightened his fender and I pulled out my JB Weld to fix the hole in his crank case. Just as we had everything together he realized that there was no conductivity and thus we had to pull the luggage, tank, and seat off to look for a bad connection. I searched through my tools and pulled out my multi-meter and began testing. I eventually found a connection that had a fuze and pulled the 20 amp fuse and saw that it was blown. We replaced the fuze and turned the key. To our delight the bike was up and running.
I left the fellows to their own devices and headed into the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. I followed the meandering road along epic views of the mountains. I eventually found myself at a camp ground along side of a lake and settled in for the night. A couple from New Zeland riding a KTM 950 showed up as I was setting up my tent. We got chatting and they invited me to accompany them on a hike to the Torres Del Paine. I could'nt resist and agreed to meet them at 8:00am.
The next morning we headed up the hike and spent the better part of 8 hours hiking up to the Towers. The hike was moderately easy but the fact that I've spent the past 3 months sitting on my ass ( which has attributed to my new budy "Herman the hemmaroid") I found it quite taxing and tireing on my skinny pathetic legs.
My friends, Ben and Karla rode their KTM with me back to our camp site and we called it a day agreeing that we'd talk more in the morning before we both would depart for Ushuaia.
Morning rolled around and I got chatting to a guy from Wisconsin named Eric. He was traveling around on a BMW 1200 gathering information on towns, camping, sites...etc for development of a tour package for motorcycling in South America. After a while I rolled out of the campground toward Ushuaia along the windy and relatively straight road.
I rode 650 km to the border of Chile and Argentina after about 9 hours. All was well until I was heading to the Argentina border office arcoss no mans land when I guy felt that it was imperative that he pass me at about 130km/hr on a dirt road consisting of pebbles the size of marbles. I waived my hand not to pass since I was riding 100km/hr myself. He simply gave me the finger and floored his volkswagon golf and passed me showering me with rocks and gravel.

The moon was full and the light was shining into the tent. I fell asleep at 9:30Pm and I was awoken at 12:30 Am by two men stuck in the sand as they were trying to get around my bike that was blocking the way. I had no idea that a car would be navigating the small road that I parked my bike on. The full moon had attracted two fellows that were trying to get to a great fishing spot along the beach road and I had parked right on the path that would be considered a 4 wheeler path in New Brunswick.
I helped the guys get un-stuck and used the method that I used to get the guys un-stuck in Northern Argentina. It worked well and they were on their way in 15 minutes after I moved the bike out of their way.
I woke up this morning before the sun rose on the ocean. It was a beautiful sight and I struggled to pack the tent into its stuff sac and avoid loosing it in the wind. I headed down Ruta 3 with only 250 km to go before the end of the World. I pulled into a barn like lodge and had coffee and ham & Cheese sandwiches. It was good to eat since yesterday I only ate an empanada, coffee, and a hotdog on the ferry to Terra del Fuego. The lodge was home to a 1988 Biathalon skier who competed in Canmore during the Calgary 1988 Olympics. His skiing facility...(backyard) was amazing! The mountains were huge and epic in proportion and, although in the middle of the austral summer the mountains had enough snow on them to down hill ski. I looked at pictures of the palce in winter and it looked awesome, and a fun place to ski. Ushuaia was only 30 km in the distance and I headed out with the middle of the trip in sight.
Ushuaia is a great little city that has a mountain backdrop and is the main hold over for persons who have booked trips to Antarctica. It is a tempting trip to do however the $4000 US price tag is a bit of a deterrant to me. I walked around town for the better part of the day after I arrived at noon. I went for a seafood soup containing "Octopus & King Crab". It was a great soup and fulfilled I headed back to the hostal. Tomorrow is up in the air about what I will do next. There are several tours and boat rides to see sea life but the time is running out before I should head home...................I'll see what I get up to tomorrow.

Moreno Glacier
Moreno Glacier in the distance flowing into the glacial lake.

The Moreno Glacier where every so often the ice advances far enough to block off the river and cause a dam which eventually the water carves a hollow through which results in a spectacular collapse of the ice bridge.

My tent spot that I spotted from the dirt road below

Torres Del Paine, Chile

A crooked pic of me in front of the Torres Del Paine...damn internet here!
A 7:00 am photo of the mountains in the Parque Nacionale Torres Del Paine

The gas station that charged me an arm and one leg only for gas

The Torres Del Paine from about 60 km away.

I left the town of El Chalten and headed to Calafate to view one of the wonders of the world. Just 90 km from the town of Calafate the Moreno Glacier awaits the thirsty tourist and entertains with calving glaciers and thunderous explosions as the bergs dive into the glacial lake. Before I entered the park I had to stop for some food and drink and happened to meet a great fellow from Miami Florida named Jose who bought me lunch and set me on my way to the park.
The road into the glacier park was a twisty and windy road that had epic views of the lake and of the glacier. Apparently the fact that the glacier flows into a deep lake contributes to the calving effect. The deeper the water the more the rapidly the glacier can progress into the water. As the boyancy causes an upward pressure the glacier,this causes the glacier to calvs and creates the bergs that everyone loves. I was lucky enough to see one of the bergs calve off and create the thunder crash and bob up and down in the viscous liquid we call water.

I headed out of the park toward a camp ground that was located 30 km down a dirt road. The views kept getting better and better and the sun was setting fast. I saw a hill and a perfect spot to pitch a tent so I pulled a U-turn and drove up a steep grassy hill to the summit some 20 meters above the dirt road. The wind was calm and the night air was still and quiet which made for a great nights sleep for free in the Chilean Andies. In the distance under a clear sky I could see the mountains and the moreno glacier and I drifted off thinking of my ride to the Torres Del Payne in the morning.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Farm Farewell

El Chalten on the horizon
The little gray fox not happy with Marc

Sheep hides hanging on the fence rail for what ever reason

Marc and his son Eduardo holding the Armadillo that we found while out riding

After four nights it was time to leave. I was having so much fun that I really didn't want to leave at all. Marc knew this and offered me a job at the farm where I could simply work for 7 hours a day. He had another ranch further down Ruta 40 which had a cabin on it that needed work and fencing to be done. I thought about it for a minute and told him that maybe I'd return. It was time to hit the road and I looked back toward the farm as I rolled out with the wind in my face and the blue sky lifting my spirits. I was heading south again and the road was dry and in good shape.
I asked Marc to give me 2 litres of fuel before I left because I knew that I'd be pushing it to get to the next town of Gob' Gregorio. A carbon copy of the other two times that I ran dry of fuel, I could see the town and ...putt...putt...the bike ran out. Luckily I have a 2 litre reserve which got me the 2 km to the town. I was so happy that I didn't have to push. I filled up with fuel and dropped some letters off for one of the farm hands at the post office and headed my way back towards the 40. Along the way I saw a flock of sheep being chased around by a red fox. I couldn't believe my eyes. The fox heard the bike and scattered. I drove by and just around the corner was a farm house some way up a long drive way. I decided to stop in and inform the farmer that there was a fox chasing the sheep. I knocked on the door and an old man with a beret style hat came to the door. I tried explaining to him why I was there and he offered me lunch and drink. I declined and continued to draw pictures of what I had seen. He finally understood and we hopped into his 1970's ford truck and trundled along the road to where I had seen all the action. Alas the fox was gone and we returned back to the farm. The old man continued to walk me around the farm yard and show me a bunch of equipment that needed repairs. At this point I had only been on the road for 2 hours and the jobs were small but I couldn't bring myself to stay there and work on his cars and other projects that were there waiting for a guy like me to roll along. I shrugged and said godbye and again he offered me to stay and eat but I just wanted to get going.

I wasn't sure where I was going but I had an idea to head toward the town of El Chalten. I could see from 93 km away a mountain range with towering spired that perked my interest and so I took the exit toward the town where the Cerro Tore and Mt Fitz Roy were located. The ride in was along a glacial lake and there was a huge glacier calving bergs into the lake. The scene was surreal and I stopped to take alot o pictures of which none do any justice to the beauty of this area.
I was happy when I rolled into El Chalten and saw that it was a small mountain town with fewer than 400 residence's. The town definately catered to tourists. I'd say that the majority of the people staying at the hostal that I found were from either Europe or the US. I bunked down for the night and had trouble sleeping in the hot dorm room with some chick farting all night and another chicks cell phone ringing as text messages rang in from another place somewhere in the world. At thuis point I was considering going outside and sleeping in my tent but I forced myself to sweat it out and eventually fell asleep after 1 am. I'm unsure what to do today and kinda feel like riding the machine rather than hiking up to a mountain tht I'm sure would be an epic experience.......I'll figure it out later.

Giddy up

After a good breakfast we saddled up the horses to head out onto the land. Four of the dogs accompanied us as we made our way across the scrub and toward the hills. I was pretty relaxed on the hoese asit was well trained. This was the first experience for me riding a horse that would actually respond to the reins and trot or gallop with a little nudge from the heels and a click click noise made with your tounge and mouth....Giddy-up!

We were out for the better part of the morning and came across a fox den that the dogs managed to sniff out hidden in a pile of broken boulders. We dismounted the horses and walked over to investigate and behold a fox was peering out from his den, obviously very scared. Fortunately for this fox he was not the guy we were looking for. Two species roam these hills, one being the gray fox and the other, the infamous red fox that dines on a new sheep every 2 or 3 days. Marc poked and prodded the fox until he was within reach and managed to grab him by one of his front paws. The fox returned the favor by grabbing hold of Marc's hand. The fox's teeth had penetrated the gloves and through the skin of Marc's hand. Despite the pain Marc still went forth with pulling the fox from its lair. Once out the little guy let go and began struggling to get free. Marc changed his grip to hold its hind legs and we all got a good look at the feisty little guy. Marc asked me to take off my belt so we could get a loop around its neck. I outright refused since I wasn't willing to risk any kind of bite whatsoever.
With the gray fox released we mounted the horses and headed further up onto the mesa. Here the dogs we sniffing out an armadillo that we all got to have a close look at. These little creatures look like modern dinosaurs running around the land foraging for bugs and other nutrients. They are quite cute and slower moving.
The farm was on the horizon and we were now heading for home. Despite the bouncing and bobbing that I encounter on the bike, it was nothing in comparison to the jarring that I experienced as an unexperienced horseman. I was happy to dismount the beast and walk back to the stable with the horse as a sort of cool down to rest his back. We took their saddles off and gave the horses some food to reward them for their good work.
It was getting on 3 O'clock and the smell of a small fire was in the air I walked toward the smell and saw a huge outdoor BBQ warming the grill. In a basket there were several meats and sausages. The outdoor cook out was a great finale to the horse riding experience and somehow, even though I was a passenger on the horse I worked up an appatite and ate well.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Santa Thelma day 2

I got up this moring and had a feed of breakfast. Marc and his two sons stayed with me at the farm and took the women out riding for the better part of the day. I was at the farm all by myself and headed into the barn to check out all the broken equipment that needed to be fixed. The list consisted of: Gasoline generator pullcord spring re-wind and reassembly, dirtbike carburetor and clutch cable cleaning and adjustment as the bike was not operating, and two chainsaws that needed badly sharpened and tuned.

I went to work all day and managed to get the generator up and going which I then used to power the aircompressor. I hauled out my oners manual to figure out how to work on my rear brakes. I pulled the rear caliper off and plucked out all the old seals and lubed all the components hoping that what I did might solve the problem with the brake dragging.
It was on to the dirt bike, a 1995ish dr350 It was a shot in the dark but I pulled ever part of the carb off to look for a problem. All I could see was that there was a diaphram inside that should have been rubber had perforations in it which was allowing too air to pass...or vice versa. Alas, I adjusted the air fuel screw all the way out to let it run very rich........and it worked!Marc was pretty happy and took off on the bike for a test ride while I listened to the bike roar feeling like I actually made a significant contribution to the farm.
At dinner the other guests that were out riding for the days asked if I wanted to join them for a ride in the morning. I knew that the horses were excellently trained and this would be an opportunity of a life time so I agreed. Marc appeared with a .22 calibre rifle and asked if I wanted to accompany him to the field at night to look for the red fox that had been killing his sheep. I could'nt resist the temptation and together we took off into the darkness with my flashlight in the freezing wind and cold. We were walking through waist high scrub brush following the meandering trails between the shrubs when the red eyes of the fox appeared. At once the fox ran away into the darkness and was long gone. We pursued further into the darkness when it began to rain. The wind was blowing hard and the rain was driving directly into our faces so we called off the hunt and the fox lived for another night. I was tired from a long day of milling around and slept for the night.

Day 100

It was a chilly night even though the hostal was heated. I'm now in the last leg of the trip to Ushuaia and have roughly 1600km to go. Today I was riding along in the middle of nowhere and on the horizon I saw this little scurrying animal crossing the road. From a distance I could see that it had a shell and I thought that it was the fastest turtle that I've ever seen. It turned outto be an Armadillo and I quickly halted the bike and grabbed my camera before the little guy went to far. Apparently people find these armadillos to be quite tasty, however, I will not be trying one.

I left Rio Sengor and headed down Ruta 40 in the rain toward Gobernor Gregorio. It was a long wet ride that was wreaking havoc on the bike. I just replaced the rear brake pads only 1000km ago and just before I hit the long stretch of dirt road. The mud was so abrasive that it totally ate the pads just from the disc roatating and significantly wore out the chain and sprockets. I guess I should have taken the day off as this has now put me in a predicament in that I have to replace the pads now with my last set that I figured I wouldn't even need. I noticed that the rear brakes were not working and stopped to investigate. When I looked down, it was only metal on metal. Luckily I saved the old pads from the previos change and put them in rather than destroy a new set right off the bat.

With Gobernor Gregorio within sights I was getting worried about my fuel situation. It had been 300 km since my last fuel and I had been on the bike for 10 hours covering 600 km on all dirt road. Suddenly the 1000km marker appeared on the horizon. I had butterflies in my stomach as it came closer and I pulled over to get the milestone shot. A little further down the road I saw a homemade sign with the words touristica hotel carved into it. It was a little off the road so I was hesitant to drive up the 2km farm road to inquire. Finally I decided what the hell and rode up the long drive way to the little farm surrounded in trees in the middle of the scrub and desert like landscape.

I found myself at the Estancia Santa Thelma. This farm was run by Marc Antionne and his wife Paullene. Marc's farm consisted of windmills to generate electricity which was stored in 40 2volt batteries. He had 28000 hectares of land and two farms with 67 horses and 2000-8000 sheep at any given time. Aside from his farm he also hosts guests who come from all over to ride horses on day trips and into the Patagonia mountain on multi day excursions. At the farm while I was there 3 women from france were staying to ride horses and 2 fellows, one from The U.S and the other from Germany. Marc hosted the fellows as part of a W.W.O.O.F program. (World Wide Organic Organized Farms) The fellows worked for room and board doing what ever the farm needed.

I was exhausted from the big day and sat down with with the family and guests for a late night dinner and crashed with anticipation of working on a few projects that Marc indicated needed fixing by someone like me.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Back to Argentina

Riding Solo, The shadow is a reminder every evening that my riding buddy is no longer there.
Beautiful falls on ruta 215 to the Chile, Argentina Border

Increadible snow capped mountain that was in the shape of an old volcano.

Jagged peak that caught my eye after crossing into Argentina only 30km before Bariloche.

Lago Futillo back in Chile
(The internet is intermittent and jumbled this whole blog so read at your own risk of confusion because you can't fix it without re-writing it!!!!!!!!!! Read the bold first and then the normal text.)

Feb 14
Since Julie has left I have found myself spending most of the day putting miles behind me. I guess the rationale is that I just look, and keep motoring where as before I'd stop and make sure Julie saw the sight as well.
After dropping Julie off at the airport I decided to head straight south that night toward Santa Cruz. Unfortunately a hemmaroid was bothering me and I knew of good accomidations and a near by pharmacy that could take care of me. One of the places that I stayed at along the way had an infestation of scabies and they showed themselfs in their characteristic little red bumps. It must have been pretty funny listening to me ask for both hemmaroid cream and cream to take care of my skin parasites as well as purchasing deodorant all at the same time. There were approximately 15 women and men looking over my shoulder and trying to help explain to the pharmasist what I was asking for every time I declined the antibiotic medication.
The next morning Feb 15 I took off out of Santa Cruz and headed south for 800km. The highway was straight and boring and I knew that I only wanted to ride one day of it, so I tried to cover as much ground as possible to just before the border crossing back to Argentina. I saw a highway sign posting, swimming, fishing, tenting etc. However, the recreation area was more that 50km off the highway. Everyone that I spoke to said that the south of Chile was the most beautiful place in the world and I was anxious to see it. Honestly the highway was flat, straight and boring, however, I'm sure that I'll be wishing for it again some day when I reach mountains and never ending switchbacks.
I finally arrived in Bariloche only to find that it was bumper to bumper cars looking for the same cheap hotel that I was. I pulled into someones driveway that had a sign out front that advertized rooms. The person spoke to me from behind bars at a side window and told me that a man would deal with me in a minute. I waited while they shut the door on me. Finally a guy came to the door and just said .."50 pesos"...the price was right but when I enquired if I could park my Moto in the gated parking area he got all stressed out and insulted stating that the parking spot was for "his" car. I explained that my motorcycle was worth more than his crappy Lada and he simply closed the door. I was pissed off and went to look for another place. I happed upon a hotel that was twice the price at $40 bucks a night ....alas my bike is parked on the street still after the guy said that I could park the bike at his Amigo's house later.....
Hopefully my bike will be there in the morning.
Tomorrow I head down ruta 40 again.
(Some people just should harness their kids and bring duct tape to close their pie hole's. There is a super noisy kid jumping around with a plastic slinky trying to out do the very loud television which is out competeing the refridgerator mean while its parents are drinking beer out of wine glasses!?.)
Anyhow, I made a promise to stop now and eat at 5pm every day since I rode 13 hours yesterday without food or water. I remember going to work on the rigs for my very first day thinking that they provided food and water like most other camp jobs. Working like a dog all day with nothing to eat or drink nearly wore me out and I remember and how it killed me for 3 weeks. I wasn't about to repeat the lesson learned, so, today I stopped in a great little town that was based around fly fishing and skiing in the Parque Nacionale Lago Puelo. I inquired about fly fishing and unfortunately it was $350 US for a day which didn't include license, rod. or flies.......I wanted to do it so bad but that kind of cash is a week of gas, food and lodging....but I'll never go fishing in the Patagonia ever again!!! I hopped on the bike with my desire of fishing left in the town behind me.
I have been feeling anxious since I've been by myself and when I crossed the border today I asked the official if I was done, since he didn't give me any import papers for my bike. He replied that it was "good" and said "bye".... I took off and rode 22 km down the road trying to remember if the border agent gave me papers the first time that I crossed into Argentina from Bolivia. I got all freaked out and returned to the border and waited in a huge line only to see "my" guy head out back for a smoke as soon as I was finally near the front. I ducked the tape and followed him to his smoking area. From working with tradesmen I knew how important smoking is ( more important than work) so I approached slowly and spoke softly I was talking to a grizzley bear. I refreshed his memory about who I was and he reassured me that everything was OK and that the passport stamps were sufficient enough.
Assured I headed for Bariloche. The road to the town was beautiful and much like the west coast of BC. with Lakes, Mountains and tall trees lining the road way in. Finally, open spaces appeared and the beautiful treeless mountainous planes replaced the forested mountains of Chile.
Bariloche is situated on a huge--------lake ( now see normal text)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Co-Pilot Departure

Valparaiso Harbor

A few tour boats waiting with a Frigit fleet in the background
A set of "Ascensores" looking down, built between 1882-1916 to hoist people and goods up the dizzying city heights back in the heyday's of Valpariso's bustling port. They are still used today and we took one down to the main street & plaza.

Juan, busy at work on a piece that he was carving at the place we we staying at.
Feb.11-13, 2010
Along the road thus far we have encountered many inspiring and interesting people that have inspired us. Juan Lizana, is one of the latest people that we have met who rode a bicycle around the world for more than 30 years and visited more than 107 countries and aquired 7 languages while he was at it. The purpose of his trips is mainly working with children as an accomplished wood carver. He spends his time and energy handing down his skills and offering the childern an opportunity to partake in a project totem pole that is erected in the town where he is hosted by a community while he carves. Juan has left his mark in more than 107 countries and has carved thousands of pieces. We were very happy to have met him along our way and inspite of his increadible work he was just as interested in us as we were in him.
We finally departed Santa Cruz at noon after spending the entire morning talking and admiring Juans carving skills. We didn't really have a planned direction to go in so we rode along the coast and found a beach that had tourist accomodation and surfing. As it is the middle of summer here, everything was completely booked solid and there were no hostals, hotels or camping available. We rode toward a huge lake on the map and followed a sandy dirt road for 21km. The scenery was quite picturesque and was what Julie said she imagined Africa would be like. The were no houses and only fences for cattle...which were also absent. Finally we were within 300 meters of the lake shore and we could see the water from atop a small hill. Unfortunately there was a huge fence and gate across the road that abruptly ended our trip. If you're not from here you can't go here....just like the cottages in Canada I guess. Oh well, we returned back to the nearest town and inquired about a hotel.....and then the next town and so on...riding well into the dark we finally arrived in a shabby port town with a guessed it...a Casino. The price of our accomodation was steep at 45,000 peso's (approx 90 bucks US) It was a flea bag place worth $30 tops in the US but here ...we had to pay the piper. (although they had an instant Nescafe cappuchino machine for breakfast in the morning of charge...and in a paper cup!)
In the morning we rode just 3 km up the road and the landscape opened up to beaches and hostals everwhere...we needed to find a bank to withdraw cash but there was none in sight. At last we found an ATM and hopped back onto the bike and rode through an entire section of town that had ATM's every 30 meters. It's weird how they lay towns out in some places.
We pulled into a beach that looked like it was open to the public. The breeze off the ocean was cool but the sand was hot. No one was swimming and the only people in the water were 2 surfers in wet suits. There is no education here about littering on the beach. It is puzzeling to walk into what looks like an amazing beach and worry about taking off your shoes for fear of walking on garbage strewn all over the place. There were toothpicks and cigarette butts everwhere! and plastic wrappers, bags and bottles all over the beach. The only clean portion of the beach was the intertidal zone where the ocean takes it all away and dumps it in some innocent cove down current.
Julie and I returned to the bike just as a group of Chiliean kids came along with what looked like an organized summer activity camp. One of the kids said "Hello" and I replied. The communication gap was closed and the next thing I knew, I was completely surrounded. There were about 30 kids all asking questions and grabbing everything on the bike. Some were twisting the throttle, others grabbing the brakes and clutch levers...all innocent stuff that I do to the Harley's when I go into a bike shop myself! The leader (a guy in his 30's) began chatting to me and translated my broken spanish. Some kids asked the same question over and over again despite me telling them that I didn't understand. It is funny that they can't comprehend that I can't comprehend. When they were finally finished and their group leader rounded them up to head further to the beach I was again completely surrounded by 3 foot high 10-12 year old kids pressing hard against me with their hands stuck straight out. Each one of them wanted to shake my hand first and I had to work quickly so as not to cause anyone to wait too long before getting their picture taken by Julie at station 2. It was totally hilarious and the disappointment of the filthy beach was all but gone.
We decided to make it to Valparaiso and chill out for a couple of days. Valparaiso is a cultural town...I think that means historic or something. It was a major port back before the Panama canal but an earthquake back in 1906 followed by the opening of the Panama canal shortly after that was too much to adapt to in a short time and thus the city never recovered financially. Walking through the streets today you can still see the old money that built this city with its column pillars and detailed stone work on many buildings and the multiple elevators called "Ascensors" built between 1883-1916 that get you from the city below to the top of the city up a 45-50 degree angle hill on rails and cable bullwheel system. There are 45 different hills in this city and 15 ascensors total according to our less than reliable guide.
Julie is heading out tomorrow and flying solo to Canada. She doesn't really want to now that she has tasted the red wine and eaten the tender beef. Alas I must continue this journey as man would. I'll drop off Julie all teary eyed at the airport and I'll fire up the machine and ride onward to the end of the world alone missing my companion who I loved everyday on this trip.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wine & Dine Tour

Table grapes that we picked for our trip back to the Hostal.
The wine tasting area where we sampled our three wines.

Aging room filled with approximately 1500 barrels at any time.

Our horse drawn buggy that took us through the vinyard past all the different varieties of grapes and irrigation system of canals.

Old wine, dusty and no good anymore ...but nice for decoration

Feb 10

So who else knew that there were 21 different types of grapes grown in Chile which were used to produce wine that was shipped all over the world?
The vinyard that we toured was named "Viu Manent" they're famous for their Malbec wine that contained 85% malbec and 15% other secret blends of other grapes. I asked what the secret was but the guy said that when he was told, that he was offered a tour guide job and has never left since!
The tour began with a little history about when they used to buy grapes from other vinyards back in 1908 to produce wine in Santiago. Then in 1935 they purchased their own land and began growing their own grapes still using their family owned recipies that were over a century old from Spain.
The vinyard at this particular site was 150 hectares but the family owned over 500 ha. Their main export is Malbec as the climate is condusive to growing this particular variety of grape. They try to water the plants as little as possible to promote deep root growth and thus better absorbtion of minerals from the soil which adds to the quality of the wine as well. Some of the grape trees (wine trees) were 90 years old and the older the tree the higher quality of grape. The farm used the methods of cloning and also grafting of other younger plants to existing root stumps to excelerate production by two years over planting a new seedling which takes 4 years to produce fruit.
The very best and oldest plants which produce the best grapes were hand picked and typically produced 3.5 tonnes of grapes per hectare. The younger plants produced an average of 7 tonnes per hectare and were harvested by machine.
We toured the processing facility where the grapes were macerated (mashed) and where the juices and grape skins were stored to allow the tannins from the skin to leach into the juice. The tannins give the wine the dry feeling in your mouth and the color to the red wine.
The wine was stored in giant 130,000 litre concrete tanks (which are pretty much eliminated in most new precessing facilities now, but kept here for the history and consistency of temperature that the concrete tanks allow for) of which there were 20 or more lining the inside of the facility. Many of the other tanlks were made of Stainless steel.
We peered into the lab section of the facility where there were people testing pH and tasting the wine and giving direction as how to handle the next batch of wine for market. The processing stages are very complex and involve for instance: Pouring juice from the 130,000L tanks with yeast and 17 grams of sugar per volume of wine (750ml) into 80% french oak casks and 20% American oak casks and allowing them to sit anywhere from 7 to 10 to 16 months respectively depending on the type of wine being produced. For instance the French oak (which was "toasted" charcoaled on the inside and gave the smokey, chocolately flavor where as the american oak gave the vanilla, mango, fruity flavors). One individual barrel could only be used 5 times maximum before its life was over. The barrels were stored in a humidity controlled area so that the moisture was controlled by the outside environment and not the moist wine inside the barrel. The ceilings were lined with Chiliean pine and the floors were soaked with water when the temperaturte outside soared and humidity levels dropped. Some wines had to be placed in a new barrel for 3 months and then moved into a barrel that was used 3 times for 2 months and possibly back into a barrel that was used only twice for the remainder of its aging time in order to attain the exact flavor that the wine Chemist (connesaurist)"old guy" ordered. It was then removed from the oak barrels and into a settling tank and the temperature lowered to 5 degree's C where particulate could precipitate out and give clairity to the wine. The exhausted barrels were then sold to Spirit producers who could use the barrels for 30 years or more. Finally the clear, pure wine was siphoned out to the bottling station where an automated precessing line steam cleaned and dried the bottles, filled them and corked them ready for labeling when a country ordered a shipment.
From here the wine guide took us over to a seating area where we had 3 bottles of wine to sample. This was my first time testing wine so I was actually pretty interested about what was going on after the very informative tour of the processing plant.
Of the 3 wines there was one Malbec stored in oak for 7 months, and two Cabernet Sauvignon, one that was oak barrel stored for 10 months and the last for 16 months. The Malbec was quite good and had a smoky smell to the aroma and not so dry as there were less tannins present. The 10 month Cabernet had a fruity smell from the American oak and a strong dry (tannins) sensation. The last wine that has won several awards for the Vinyard was stored for 16 months, and had a fruity smell the same as the 10 month Cabernet but had a smoother dry sensation as the tannins were mellowed by age and wine derived from 100% the oldest Cabernet grapes. In order to be considered a Cabernet Sauvignon only 75% of the grapes used must be derived from Cabernet Sauvignon, the remaining 25% can be a blend of any other kind of grape to attain the desired flavor a brand is looking for.
The tour was excellent and the correlation between petroleum refining, settling and storage was very similar to wine storage and processing. Many of the tanks, although quite smaller were very similar to the the tanks that I've been involved with in the welding industry. It is interesting that so many things along this trip have been delightfully associated in some way or another to my previous experiences either in forestry, geology, metallurgy or geography. It is truely a small world afterall.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Inca bath house (Puente Del Inca) in Argentina just before the Chilean border.

I think there were 13 or more switchbacks

Ruta 7 on our way from Ruta 40 to Chile

The famous ski resort of Portillo, where I'm trying to convince Julie to come sking with me.

Feb.7, 2010
After packing up the bike (which generally takes 45 minutes) Greg decided that the rear brake pads needed to be changed. We had already said goodbye to our Argentinean mama and she was quite worried when she realized we were still sitting on the sidewalk outside the hostel with tools and parts strewn all over the ground a half an hour later. Shortly afterward we were on our way along Ruta 7, an epic mountain valley road towards the Argentinean/Chile border which is often closed in the winter for weeks at a time due to snow avalanches and wind. The headwind was so strong that we could barely maintain 75km/hr in fourth gear and I thought we were going to be blown off the road. We followed a beautiful river valley and the scenery was amazing.
A few kilometers from the border we stopped at one of Agentina's greatest natural wonders. The Puente del Inca, which is a natural stone bridge spanning the Rio Mendoza. Underneath it the Incas built a spa that are stained yellow by the natural hot springs.
We were looking for the border and entered a 3.5km long tunnel through a mountain. Half way through the tunnel there was a "Happy travels" from Argentina and a "Welcome" to Chile sign. Emerging from the tunnel there were no immigration or customs buildings to be found. We re-entered the tunnel to Argentina only to be turned around by the guy working in the toll booth who told us we had to go back through the tunnel to Chile where we would find the immigration and customs 7km down the road.
We arrived at the border to long lines of cars heading to Chile. The border was set up completely different than any of the 12 other borders we have crossed and so we had no idea where to go or what to do. Eventually Greg cut the entire line of cars to the front and two Chilean customs guards came over and asked us what we were doing. We filled 6 pages of paperwork outside in the freezing cold at an elevation of 4000meters while everyone else got to sit in their warm cars. After finally getting through the immigration and customs of both countries, and paying the entry fee of 3300 pesos, we had our bike sniffed over by a drug dog. We were just lucky that they didn't make us unpack everything so they could search our bags like all the other vehicles ahead of us.
Only a few hundred meters down the road we were in sight of Portillo, a famous Chilean ski area where many national ski teams go to train in the off season. We stopped in to check out the lodge, have lunch and use the facilities. After getting back on the road, we decended more than 13 switchbacks which dropped us down a tremendous elevation in a short distance. We realized half way down the mountain that the avalanche tunnels we drove through acted also as a ski run that allowed you to ski right over the road to a chair lift at the bottom of the switchbacks. We have decided that we'd like to come back to Chile to go skiing in the Andes.
Ten minutes after leaving the Portillo lodge we had to stop and take off all our winter riding gear as we had decended into a warm, arid climate once again. We followed Ruta 68 to Vina del Mar and then northward along the coast in search of a nice, cheap hostal/hotel. The only hotel we found in a 50km radius had the hefty price tag of $190 US (for their cheapest room) so we were forced to drive back to the city of Vina del Mar in the dark to find a place to sleep. We stumbled upon the Mount Royal Hotel runned by Daniel. Daniel lived in Canada, Calgary, for 20 years after being rescued by the Trudeau government as he was a political prision in Chile for his fight for Chilean rights. He has since returned to Chile to continue his fight and we were lucky enough to stay in his hotel and enjoy his hospitality and good english.
The night we arrived in Vina del Mar, Greg stayed up all night researching on the internet possible causes for the clicking sound coming from the cam chain side of the engine. In the morning, after our $10 US Starbucks coffees, Greg tore the bike completely apart, reset all the valves, changed the spark plug, cleaned the air filter, replaced the current jet with a richer jet in the carburetor, topped up the battery water and slapped the entire thing back together and somehow alevated the ticking sound. After all this we discovered that we had a flat rear tire.
The next morning we used a can of instaflate to get us back on the road and down the 120km to Santiago where we could buy new tires and tubes. We went to all the motorcycle dealers in town and it still took us an hour to finally find a shop (Metzler dealer) that actually sold tires and tubes. Greg paid the mechanic $20 US to change one tire which took over three hours for the goofball to do. Greg monitored his progress and finally took over the job himself when he saw the goofball insert a greasy screwdriver between the brakepads inorder to insert the rear disk into place. The guy repeatedly tapped Greg on the shoulders and back, saying in english, "it's ok, it's ok" but Greg ignored him and finished the job correctly himself.
At 4:00 we had only enough time to just make to Santa Cruz, about 200km south in the center of Chile's famous wine producing region. Pulling into town we couldn't help but notice three distinctly abundent businesses which were casinos (gamblin), wine (drinkin), and funeral homes (dyin). We decided this was the perfect place for us to hang out for a couple of days.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ski Town Hiking

The view of Uspallata from high above
The summit of the wooden cross mountain

Julie hiking up the scree & talus in the 36 degree heat

A great rock to stand on, after the shot I looked down and got scared!

The road in the background that we tried to come into town on...but it was blocked by water apparently.

Feb.6, 2010
We woke up this morning still full from last night's meat extravaganza at El Rancho. Despite this we decided that breakfast would be a good idea since our plan for the day included a long, hot hike up a nearby mountain.
Greg's Argentinan mama (who fixed his coffee for him each morning just the way he liked it) gave us vague directions on how to get to the trail head and insured that we had our sunscreen and lots of water with us. Greg is super paranoid about loosing his wallet and all his money when we go out and do things so he opted to roll up 130 pesos into a ball and shove it into his pocket of his shorts along with the camera instead of bringing his whole wallet in the backpack.
By the time we got to the trail head 2 km's out of town on a dirt road, it was about 10:45am and the sun was already beating down on us with no relief and no clouds in site. We found a single track, dusty beaten path lined with small cactuses and scrub brush in a mostly barren landscape over looking a lush green valley inwhich the town was situated. The accent was moderately steep in places and the meandered to and fro following the contours of the land which Greg invisioned to be great mountain bike trails. We made our way to the top in about an hour and a half, there were no other people in sight for miles. The bluebird sky and snowcapped mountains of the Andes made for spectacular vistas and we sat at the summit for a while to enjoy it. On the very summit there was a wooden cross erected with a pack of Malboro smokes and a tattered (most beloved) baseball cap stuffed among the rocks as an offering.
We took our time decending and found a different way out toward a small farm on the edge of town. After a short through the town's streets we arrived at the helado shop and decided we deserved a couple of strawberry milkshakes. When it came time to pay, Greg reached for his crunched up 130 pesos to pay our 12 peso bill, only to realize that his pocked contained only 2 pesos. I ran back to the hotel to retrieve his wallet so we could pay the bill.
After stressing out for two hours (and drinking a litre of Stella Artois) over the lost 130 pesos, I went back to the hotel for a nap and Greg decided to rent a mountain bike and head back up to Jesus mountain to find his hard earned pesos. It was hotter than 38 degrees and no clouds in sight when he headed up for the second time that day. Greg retraced our steps as best he could as we did not follow any particular path down the side of the mountain. The afternoon wind had picked up and Greg knew that finding the money was a lost cause. Not all was lost, as the trails were indeed great for mountain biking and he enjoyed six hours of the unrelentless afternoon sun and I thouroughly enjoyed my afternoon nap.

Water,Water, Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

Donkey`s hanging out on the road looking for a place to happen.
Argentinian, railway train bridge in the desert.

Hotel Vinas Riojanas, along Ruta 40 that we found just before dark in a beautiful desert valley.

View just around the corner from our hotel.

1100km down and only 4000 to go!
Feb 3
We left Cafayate and pretty much entered a flat land desert right away. The surroundings had mountains dotted here and there called the Sierra de Ouilmes. There we no houses, no farms and no cars. At one point we came across a herd of donkey's that walked up onto the highway while I was crouched down checking the oil and having a pee break.
There was no real sinage that Ruta 40 was a 90 degree turn of,f at the only "T" intersection on the highway. I would have driven right passed it had Julie not tapped me on the shoulder and pointed it out. The signs of a near by city was on the horizon...but not the signs you're thinking of. I'm talking about the garbage and burning plastic smoke from the open dumps that are situated on the outskirts of desert towns. The wind picks up and blows the bags all over for miles and they get caught on the cacti and scrub trees that grow along the ditches and perimeter of the dumping grounds.
Finally after a few more Km's we made it to the Town of Chilecito. There was not a hotel in sight. We found a Hostaling International but after the woman was rude and nonchalante about us staying there, and more concerned about feeding her dirty little kids and doing her nails in preparation for her night job, we decided to move into the next town.
The next town of Nonogasta had a bank where we withdrew much needed cash. There was a sign to a hotel 1km down the road but after two drive-bys we found nothing. It was 1 hr before dark and 130km of dirt road to cover to the next town. We decided to go for it and we drove into the desert mountains called the Sierra de Sanogasta. These mountains were beautiful with the setting sun illuminating the red and yellow striations in the rock on the opposite facing valley.
Just out of pure luck we saw a small sign to a hostal in the next 20 km. We encountered 3 other biker travelers on similar bikes to mine heading in the opposite direstion. I asked them about the hostal...they did'nt know what I was talking I did'nt bother trying to tell them about how hard it was to find anything in the towns that they were heading to in my broken spanish.
The Hostal appeared as we decended deep onto the valley once it widened out. We passed 15 horses and 10 men riding them with the others in tow. It was a tranquil scene just before checking into the family run hostal. The place was excellent and a super score. The man who owned it cooked a great juicy steak and tossed together a salad for us while we rehydrated with water and beer. The accomidations were really cheap and the food was great. Julie made friends with El Capatain...the hostal dog who was a really big sook for attention. In the morning ...more desert ahead.

Feb 4

Today was the day that Julie thought she was going to die. The heat in the desert was almost unbearable. I got so cranky that I just let loose and hit Julie.....Just kidding..... Actually Julie got so cranky that she just let loose and punched me in the back while we were motorcycling .....oh yeah that's funny isn't it?!
Apparently I deserved a punch in the kidneys because Julie could'nt decide if she wanted saran wrapped sandwiches or not. So "I MADE HER"...get on the bike and brought her to a shady, cool place with refreshing drinks and good food.
We were trying to take an over the mountains road to Uspallata, however, the road had a gate and the man looking after the gate informed us that the road was closed. Alas, the desert was our only option. We really had no clue what the guy was telling us ...only that "no Pasar" sounded like "nope"!
The 50km back to the nearest town where we could get back onto Ruta 40 was lined with giant sycamore trees with their mottled green, gray and white bark. A large river ran through this valley which supported agriculture. There were a lot of cyclists on the road with the adjacent fields growing grapes for winery's.
We were soon back into the wind and sand and the relentless solar radiation. I had to keep my visor down and my jacket zipped up to keep the hot air from drying out my eyes, nasal passages, and skin at cruising speed. At one point we stopped in a shaded area where there were a couple of large trees (An oasis). In the shade the heat wasn't so bad, but when the wind gusted it was hot. It was almost like wind chill in reverse......lets call it wind baking!
On the horizon I could see the highway ascending and I glanced down at the GPS to see that we were climbing at about 1 meter/second. The desert gave way to a gorge and then almost instantaneously we were in the mountains riding a perfect twisting and turning highway cut into the mountain following a river.
We finally arrived into town just before dark as per usual and checked into a hostal. Our host suggested that we head over to El Rancho ( An indoor wood grill) and enjoy some good Argentinian meat. We ordered a "Grill Especial" special for two people with a bottle of wine. When the meat finally came it was served in its own little BBQ heated with wood coals pulled from the mother stash in the fire place.
Julie and I began exploring the heap of flesh trying to figure out what, was what....because you never know what you order down here. Playing it safe Julie went for the 1/4 of what was left of a hacked up chicken and I went for the coiled thing that was stuffed with a creamy pate like paste that I could only guess was a gizzard. Chewy nonetheless! Moving on with the dinner I next tried what Julie was avoiding knowing that I'd probably not choose to eat blood sausages in Canada...but, here it was in the name of adventure. Julie especially loved the goat ribs and the tender meat that only kids have.
It was a really great dinner and we washed it all down with Argentina's finest 4 dollar wine produced right in the local region. It was so good infact that we went back the next night for a second helping.