Happiness is Dust in your teeth & Stars in your eyes

Happiness is Dust in your teeth & Stars in your eyes

On recommendation or rather, strict orders from a friend, we decided to go all the way!

With my new travel companions, Siri and Thorsten, we rode to the most southerly point a road can take you on Tierra del Fuego. Ruta J to Estancia Moat. A good 80 kilometres of dirt with spectacular views and the best wild-camping on the shore of Rio Cambeceres.

Ruta J continued to surprise and delight us

We were ready to head north and begin the long, windy ride back toward the Chilean border, when bad luck struck north of Rio Negro. The chain of Thorsten’s bike broke and the fox and I went back to seek help. It proved futile in the beginning, as we were approaching the early hours of the evening on a Saturday and we were turned away on a few occasions. Finally, we managed to find a the right people who didn’t hesitate for a moment and swiftly picked up the stranded party.

The fox and I continued solo the following day and into the windiest conditions I had yet encountered. After a couple of days we made it, positively windswept, into Rio Gallegos, Argentina where the fox had some long awaited care and attention including an oil change.

We were back in Argentina and ahead lay the legendary Ruta 40, which is the longest route in Argentina and one of the longest in the world. It stretches from Rio Gallegos and crosses 20 national parks and climbs from sea level to 5000 meters in Abra del Acay in Salta.

It was sheer joy being back on the Argentinian side of the Andes and in the warm and dry air of the föhn effect.

If it hadn’t been for the chin strap in my helmet, I would have dropped my jaw on the road as we approached El Calafate near Lake Argentino. A vast, rugged terrain unfolded before us and my eyes struggled to judge the depth and sheer scale of the area. A definite “pinch yourself” kinda moment.

In El Calafate I camped out for a few days to wait for some weather to pass before heading for the Perito Moreno Glacier. The blue giant was creaking and moaning in Lake Argentino and occasionally a large piece of ice would break off with a violent rush, sending the japanese tourists and I into squeals of delight.

Perito Moreno Glacier

From one wonder straight to the next. The ride into El Chalten caused equal sensory overload. Although Mount Fitzroy was hiding out in clouds, the surrounding mountains, glaciers, lakes and lenticular clouds, set the scene for the grand finale – When the peaks were finally revealed, it was worth the three day wait. Yes, I waited three days to see the top of a rock!

Foxy admiring the view…

The area is steeped in an atmosphere of adventurous pursuits and the poetry of the famed aviator Antoine Saint Exupery who flew for Aeropostale in Patagonia in the 1930’s. Very charming.

The ride continued up Ruta 40 through the dry pampas and the persistent wind. From Tres Lagos to Gobernador Gregores a 72 km stretch of dirt turned into quite the challenge for me. There were stretches of walnut size, loose gravel and at one point I lost my nerve, and the fox and I took a tumble. Unfortunately I got stuck underneath the bike and with flashbacks of 127 Hours and James Franco cutting off a limb, I was delighted to see a car appear on the horizon approximately 4 minutes after the crash.

Recording my last will to the camera with dusty teeth

Eduardo, a Chilean tourist helped me out and stayed to make sure the fox and I were OK. Phew, glad I didn’t have to amputate my leg this time.

A few days later we made it back into to Chile at the Chile Chico border and onto the legendary Carreterra Austral (Ruta 7) One of the most beautiful roads on this planet!

The Carreterra came with spectacular views and charms in abundance, including moody fjords, steep mountains, hanging glaciers and what resembles primeval forest with giant ferns and the huge leaves of Nalca, which gave an almost rainforest feel to the area.

Admiring this “abandoned” building, a gentleman came out whistling and locked the door behind him…

On the other side of the coin, there were a great deal of roadworks, as I believe they are planning to pave the entire 1240km of Ruta 7… which is a bit of a shame.

A stretch of roadworks consists largely of a layer of loose, dusty gravel on top of a corrugated surface, which, after hours of riding was the last thing I was in the mood for. On one occasion, yet another stretch of roadworks started with a sign indicating it would continue for another 14km. It was a particularly difficult stretch. We were ankle deep in golf sized rocks and I was not a happy biker.

Just around the next corner, a signpost offered a bed for the night and I jumped at the opportunity to get off the road immediately. The entrance to the place was a wooden sign suspended between two trees of a dense forest – saying “Reception in 20 meters”. The path took me up a steep, muddy hill into the forest and after what seemed more like a 120 meter climb, I came to a clearing with three, tiny huts on stilts.

I was given the top hut with a view to the hanging glacier Ventisquero Colgante. The tiny hut had a single bunk and a water tap hooked up to a fresh water source nearby. That was it. No electricity, not even a latch to close the door. But the most amazing view, humming birds, birds of prey and a stillness, which can be hard to come by in Latin America. I had the best sleep there in a long time.

The ideal spot to enjoy an old favorite

The final stretch of the Carreterra proffered another charm in the shape of Axel, who I met in the ferry queue in Caleta Gonzales. Another fellow biker on a big adventure, who kept us company around a few campfires on the way to Valparaiso and who made sure the sun was shining every damn day!

Ferry queues: the place to meet other bikers…Doenitz from Costa Rica, yours truly and Axel

In Valparaiso, we hung out for a time and absorbed the bohemian atmosphere and enjoyed the street art. A local artist decorated the fox’s mudguard – “Valpo Style” – which undoubtedly has made the value of the bike sky-rocket!

Sweet Valparaiso

Lucked out and caught the urban downhill race – photo credit Axel Halbgebauer

Local spray artist Eileen is working her magic on the fox

My Auntie, Ernalise, flew in from Copenhagen for a two week visit. She rode pillion to the Elqui Valley in northern Chile via Ruta de la Estrellas, which is famed for its dry climate and very clear skies, making it ideal for star gazing. The area is dotted with observatories for exactly this reason.

Red tinge from the sun setting

We wild camped under a night-sky tightly packed with stars and the Milky Way splayed across the vault.

One night we had ridden 18 km up a steep, dirt track to an observatory for a tour we had booked which was cancelled in the end. Fortunately, a local invited us to a private observatory for a tour and it was breathtaking!  We gawked over the Magellanic Clouds and their nebulae, Jupiter and three of its moons and much, much more. Thanks to Christian and Massimo for the invitation. We had a blast!

Sleeping under the stars in the Elqui Valley was magic, so was waking up under the rising sun

The return ride to Valparaiso turned into a bit of a beach-slapping holiday with a few stops along the west coast. Auntie – you rock! Thanks for the visit and thanks for the giggles!

See you out there!