Madaru moto - motorbike adventures in South America
It was now the very middle of winter - tomorrow is the 20th June - the winter solstice this year, in the Southern Hemisphere, is the 21st. As a few locals told me, only locos would be riding a motorbike long distances in Patagonia at this time of year - or desperados - people desperate to get out - like me. Maybe I was both loco and desperado.
I had to think about keeping warm, as the forecast maximum would be around 5 degrees C, and when you add the Patagonian winds of 50kmh and bike speed of 60kmhr, the windchill factor becomes lethal. I bought a woollen, full face balaclava, in Spanish they are called pasamontanas, or 'mountain passers'. It seemed to work well in a quick trial around town. I also had to buy some extra fuel, as the the 263km distance is just beyond the range of my small tank (there is a small gas station at San Gregorio but what if it was closed or out of gas?)
Although there was no ice around town these last few days, the situacion de escarcha - ice situation - warning board was still pointing to high risk.
I tried to charge up my secret weapon against the cold, my Jet heated vest. The charger just blinked and blinked, and the hi-tech 6-hour battery refused to charge. The battery had a slight smell of burnt plastic, but I could not see any scorch marks. I opened it up and inspected it, and saw this printed circuit. It was beyond my ability to repair. I have only used the vest about three times; now when I needed it the most it prematurely died. Another expensive addition to my collection of failed gadgets...
Next I discovered the joint in one of my knee guards had broken. I had already tried repairing it with superglue some months ago, but it didn't hold. So I bought a new pair in Punta Arenas, but kept the old pair as spares.
I scoured the online, long-range weather reports and all said the next 5 days should be fine and above zero. Then, having a farewell nip of Pisco with Cristian and Cintia at about 10pm, he laughed and said "Glen, have you looked outside? Its a blizzard!" Cristian was always joking but when I looked out the window this was the scene I beheld:
I had no alternative but to accept the conditions, wait and see, maybe in a few days it might be better. But in fact I didn't have to wait even that long, as the next morning this view was this:
Day 127: Only a small amount of snow settled, and there was no ice at least around town. It was now or never. Today was the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, the shortest day of the year, and I was in the southernmost mainland town in the world. But I still had almost 8 hours of daylight.
I loaded Atwakey up. I thought to myself, I can always turn around and come back if things get too dangerous.
And said my farewell to Cintia, my house-mother of the last two months
Not more than 15 kms out of town I thought about turning around because the bike really seemed to struggle going uphills, but soon found out it was just the strong headwinds. After about 50kms there was no ice on the road at all, and I was making good progress. At San Gregorio I filled up again. The attendant, a jovial man called Jose Luis, remembered me when he saw the orange sticker - I had given him one way back on 18th April, the day I passed through. He asked me the usual questions - where are you coming from, where are you going, and one that gets asked al lot in Latin America, where was my family.
This was the same gas station where my bike was pushed over by the wind in April. But this time I was smart enough to park the bike so the wind pushed onto the kickstand.
I didn't linger long at the Estancia San Gregorio, but did stop and take a few photos
One of my favourite photos. Note the orange streamer, the wind is strong enough to blow it horizontal.
At the Argentine customs and immigration checkpoint. I saw a skunk lurking around here, but it ran away before I could get my zoom focused.
When I came out there were a number of passengers from the El Pinguino bus looking at my bike. One guy said to me in Spanish: "You have to have cojones to ride that down here from Peru!" I replied "Or be un gringo loco", which drew a few chuckles.
The road ahead - no ice, and sunny weather. It was freezing, but dry. Slowly my apprehension about making today's ride subsided, and gave way to enjoyment: it's Ruta 3 all the way to Buenos Aires, hopefully.
At one point, about 30kms from Rio Gallegos, I saw dozens of parallel water trails on the road. The mystery was solved when I caught up with a water truck, which was spreading salt water on the road. That's why there was no ice on the road or gravel shoulder, but plenty of large sheets of ice further away from the roadside. I bet Atwakey will be nice and rusty after riding through it.
Entering Rio Gallegos as daylight was fading
Local soccer game near the welcome sign
In the main street I found lodgings with secure parking at the Hotel Comercio.
An attendant opened a gate at the rear and let me in. He said my bike was blowing a bit of smoke. I revved it up, it didn't seem to blow any, and the oil level was still ok.
After a hot shower, which thawed life into my cold flesh, I walked around town looking for a place to eat, and came upon this"British Restaurant".
A brass plaque also announced it was the home of the British Club.
It displayed the Argentine flag in the window
It would have been interesting to eat there, but it was closed. So I continued to look for an eatery. This place looked inviting, but empty.
It was facing a large casino.
Rio Gallegos, like Punta Arenas, has a special low-tax status, to encourage business, I assume. I kept looking for somewhere to eat... in a side street I found this place, called 'Super Quick'
Help yourself inside
My first meal of the day
Roll of chicken fillet filled with ham... Yum yum
Free newspapers were on hand to be read. Julian Aussange is in the news, even here in the extreme south of Patagonia. I might bump into him in Ecuador, if he and I ever make it that far...
The Hotel Comercio's logo is a rhea, the ostrich-like bird which I saw many times on the road, but was not quite quick enough to get a photo.
Checking that Atwakey is safe and sound out the back of the hotel
Tried to get online with the hotel's wifi, but was unable to do so. Then drowsiness caught up with me in the heated room...
Route taken on Day 127:
My first day back on the road had been a success.
Now it was a case of Buenos Aires or bust!
BUT... it doesn't pay to count your chickens before they hatch... as I was about to find out...
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Text and photos copyright © Glen David Short 2012
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