Saturday, February 25, 2023 | William Wilde | North and South America
Welcome to Chile and Osorno. The weather here is perfect - blue skies and sunshine as we arrive and prepare ourselves for the tour. As always a few hiccups with such long travel, but everyone has arrived, has their luggage! and is eager to get started.
Today we wake up to blue skies and sunshine - much better than yesterday. Today we are going to Argentina, so we leave the hotel and head out towards the Muamul Mamil pass along gentle sweeping roads with little traffic. We turn onto the pass road and start to head up and now we can have some fun - but we have to be careful as the road surface is a little slick We stop at a viewpoint on the way up to look at the Arucaria (Monkey puzzle) trees that are the Chilean National tree. Unfortunately the border crossing is very busy today and we spend over 3 hours to cross from Chile to Argentina! Once on the other side we have our first section of gravel road to navigate (about 12km) before we reach the tarmac again. It's very bumpy and dusty with some sections of deeper gravel and quite hard going, but we make it to the end without any issues. We make a super quick lunch stop at the gas station and then head towards San Martin. Some head straight to the hotel while the rest opt for a final gravel loop to finish the day off. That was a great choice - this road is much better condition and we can really have some fun along here. Everyone has a big smile on their face at the end of the day
Well the days are getting better and better. Another glorious sunny day for us here in Argentina and we head south and towards the Argentine Lake District. Some of the group opt for gravel while others prefer the tarmac. We head up into the hills behind San Martin and branch off towards Lago Meliquina. It's beautiful up here and the water is crystal clear! But after the lake it gets better - hardly any traffic and the roads are in great condition. The scenery is stunning and everyone is amazed by it. From the top of Paso Cordoba we look down at the valley we have just ridden up and it is sublime. We head down the other side then cut back along the shoreline of Lago Traful then stop for a quick bite to eat in Villa Traful. After lunch there is a broken truck in the road, but fortunately we dont have to wait too long before we can get past. Another 30km then we are back on the asphalted Route 40 and the Camino de los Siete Lagos. We cruise down route 40 admiring the lakes and eventually arrive in Bariloche - our hotel is right by lake Nahuel Huapi with stunning views to the mountains in the distance. Another great day with big smiles all around.
We awake to another glorious morning in Bariloche. After breakfast with a view we head south in the direction of El Bolson. We make a one shote ride throught the winding valleys and lakes and when we hot El Bolson we stop for gas and a quick coffee break. Then we head towards La Cholila and the Butch Cassidy ranch. We check out the ranch where Butch and Sundance were holed up then ride into La Cholila and La Cocina de Lili for lunch. The portions are huge and some cannot finish theirs!! Then we head out on the gravel roads into the Parque Nacional de los Alerces. The roads are great again and we make good progress only having to stop for some minore technical hiccups. We leave the gravel roads and the park behind and on the hills we can see the smaoke coming from the forest fires that are sweeping along the mountainside. There are helicopters and planes dropping water trying to douse the fires. We reach Esquel then its time for beer and dinner before bed. Tomorrow we head back to Chile........
We start the day with blue skies and sunshine again - but the weather forecast isn't looking so good. We leave Esquel and head towards the mountains in the distance, where we can already see a big rainbow in the distance. The weather clouds over as we reach the border but its still dry, and the border crossing this time is much quicker As we cross into Chile its raining slightly so we stop for a quick coffee in Futaleufu. We head off again in the direction of Villa Santa Lucia and at least now there is no dust in the air. The scenery is still great, but the low cloud means we cant see much of the mountains. By the time we reach Villa Santa Lucia the rain has stopped, so we head south on the asphalt of the Carretera Austral towards La Junta where we will stay for the night. Just before La Junta a few of us branch off to ride a gravel loop through the Mirta Valley. The roads are tacky and dust free and its a great way to finish the day off.
The weather forecast for today was doom and gloom. It rained pretty much the whole of last night and this morning was gey and ominous. But by 8:30 the sun had peeked out and it turned into another awesome day. We left La Junta and drove down towards Puyuhuapi along winding roads past the lakes and rivers of the Aisen province. Aisen is renowned for being one of the most beautiful provinces in Chile and it sure lived up to its name. The sky was clear and fresh after the rain and with some low cloud hanging in the valley it was a spectacular ride - for sure into my top 10. We continued down the coast and around the fjords making out way towards Parque Nacional Quelat and the pass to take us over towards Coyhaique. It's quite a tough pass, but the gravel road was in good condition and we made it easily across, even if it was a bit chilly at the top. We stopped for a quick lunch in Villa Manihuales, then stayed on the Carretera Austral to Villa Ortega and the Valle Rio Emperador Guillermo. We make it to Coyhaique in good time and before the rain starts - let's see what tomorrow brings......
As we leave the hotel in Coyhaique we can already feel a few spots of rain. But it holds off for a while, at least until we reach the Parque Nacional Cerro Castillo and start to climb up over the pass that takes us to Villa Cerro Castillo. It's chilly and wet as we head over but as we come out at the other side it has more or less stopped. We ride down into the town and stop for a quick coffee and cake and to warm up a little. We continue towards Puerto Rio Tranquilo and the further west we get the darker the skies become. Eventually it starts to rain but really its only light and the scenery is still great so it doesnt dampen anyones enthusiasm. We reach Rio Tranquilo in good time and stop there for a longish lunch, as we only have an hours ride left to reach the Estancia we will be staying in for the night. We eventually arrive at the Estancia just before 6pm and are then told we are booked in for dinner at 7pm, so everyone rushes off to get showered and changed quickly then heads to the restaurant.
Today is a rest day - we for some at least! It's a mixed day with some opting to rest, some taking a boat tour around the marble caves on the lake and some riding. It remains chilly but the sun has come out again today and provides some warmth first thing. The air is crisp and clean and as we ride back towards Rio Tranquilo there are some great views. From Rio Tranquilo we head Northwest passing alongside the Lago Tranquilo until we reach the waterfalls at Nutria. We stop there to admire the view and then head back a few km to take a quick coffee break. We then head back to Puerto Guadal to fill up with gas and return to the Estancia. Its been another great day but the weather forecast for tomorrow is ominous.
Through the night the rain was hammering down. By the morning it was lighter, but still not nice, so we opt to take the easier route via Chile Chico. The roads are wet and a bit slippery and progrees is slow. It takes nearly 4 hours to reach Chile Chico due to 1x motorcycle puncture, 1x van puncture and 1x lost pannier. By the time we reach Chile Chico the rain has stopped and after coffee we head the border - the Chilean side is painfully slow, the Argentine side surprisingly quick. We still have 350km to go! We stop in Perito Moreno for gas and to eat and drink something. The wind has picked up but until now was more or less behind us. At Perito Moreno we turn due south and the wind then hits us - depending on which way the road snakes from the front, left, right, it's buffeting us very hard. We stop again in Bajo Caracloes for gas and refreshment, but then its back on the road again. We have some nice km with the wind and sun behind us. The views are awesome. The road disappears into the horizon and there are endless vistas of the pampas. We fight the wind again as we head into Gobernador Gregores and eventually reach the hotel around 20:15, 12 hours after we strarted! It has been a long hard day but everyone is still smiling and that is what counts!
It's sunny again today, but its still a fresh morning. We head out of Gobernador Gregores and fly through the first 70km of tarmac. Then we hit the gravel which changes its consistency every few km down the road. Sometimes firm, sometimes rocky, sometimes muddy and worse sometimes deep gravel. But eventually we make it through and stop in tres Lagos for gas and refreshment. From here its all tarmac and a quick blast down route 40 to El Chalten. But the wind has picked up again in the afternoon and hinders our progress somewhat. But the views of Mount Fitzroy as we drive along the road and into El Chalten are spectacular and we still arrive in time to relax and wander around town for a while before dinner
Its getting chillier in the mornings and evenings the further south we travel. We leave El Chalten but stop for gas first. The views are still awesome this morning. We have the wind behind us as we are heading back to RN40, but the moment we turn south we are battling the wind again - violent gusts from the front and sides. We make a quick coffee stop in La Leona then continue south towards El Calafate. It's a relatively short ride today and we arrive by lunchtime at the hotel, giving everyone time for a relaxed lunch and then time to walk around El Calfate fro some shopping and sightseeing.
We try to start early today to beat the rush. Already as we drive out of El Calafate towards the Perito Moreno glacier there are large and small tour buses on the road. We manage to skip past most of them and when we arrive at the glacier car park it is pretty empty which is great. From here the group splits up and walks around the walkways to view the glacier from a distance. Afterwards we head down to the port and jump onto a boat which takes us much closer to the glacier. Its an awesome sight and hard to comprehend the sheer size of it. In the duistance we see people who are trekkng on the glacier that seem to be the size of ants! By early afternoon we are finished and head back into El Calafate to relax and have lunch and/or go shopping
It has warmed up a little and we have sunshine with scattered cloud. We leave El Calafate and head back to RN40, then turning south towards La Esperanza. We are lucky today as the wind has died away and we have an easy time of things. We head over the plateau and it is just endless pampa disappearing into the horizon. To the west we can see the Andes most of the time. There is really nothing much out here. Some Guanacos every now and again, maybe some sheep, and some electricity pylons that also disappear into the horizon. We stop at La Espernaza to refuel and take a coffee. Then we head east back towards Chile. Again we have endless pampas but the mountains are now getting closer. We head up and over towards the border at Cierro Castillo - it's a small border crossing and it doesnt take us too long.....apart from a missed stamp in the paperwork Then we are back ito Chile and the difference is remarkable. Here there are fields, rivers, cattle and sheep and mountains all around. We arrive at the hotel in good time and can take for some refreshments before heading into the town of Puerto Natales for dinner.
Wow! Whats an awesome day! The weather gods are with us still - the sun was peeking through the clouds and there was very little wind this morning. We set off and almost straight away we are on the gravel towards Puerto Prat. There is little traffic and we make good time until we get to Lago Toro and the viewpoint for Glacier Grey. The mountains are getting ever closer and even in the distance they look magnificent. We enter the park and wind our way along the gravel roads and through the lakes. We stop for a quick coffee break close to the Salto Grande waterfalls. Then we head on up towards the Torres Del Paine hotel - but the gate is closed and it's guests only so we stop for a snack right there with all the hikers. After lunch we head on and pass by the Rio Paine waterfalls and then on to the Laguna Azul. Then its about face and we head back towards Cerro Castillo where we entered into Chile yesterday and then back down into Puerto Natales. Words cannot describe the beauty of the nature down here - hopefully the pictures will give you some idea..........
It is sunny but definitely cooler when we leave Puerto Natales. We head east out of the town before turning south towards Villa Tehuelches. We ride throught the endless pampa with only a few sheep or guanacos in view and occassionally the odd farm here and there. We stop for coffee in Villa Tehuelches and then head onto the gravel. From here we make a loop that takes us along the coast before cutting back inland to Gobernador Felippe where we take on some more gas. From here we head along RN255 until we hit the Magellan Strait and then make a quick stop at the abandoned Estancia in San Gregorio. From there it's a quick ride to the ferry port and we arrive just as they are loading so no waiting and we drive straight on. We cross over the Magellan Strait for the first time and hen we reach the Tierra Del Fuego the wind immediately picks up, but its nothing we have not already experienced. After a short ride we arrive in Cerro Castillo with time to go "back in time" and walk around this old town built for petroleum workers. Tomorrow only 420km until we reach Ushuaia.......
We awake to a cold and rainy morning. We head south on the slippery wet concrete road making our way towards the Chile/Argentine border at San Sebastian. We pass through both borders quickly today then once on the other side have a coffee stop to warm up. We head south and there are still endless vistas, just that the cloud cover is low and its grey. We stop for gas and a quick lunch in Rio Grande then head out again. Eventually the rain stops and the landscape starts to change - there are more and more trees and eventally we are driving through forest again. We stop in the panaderia La Union in Tolhuin for coffee and pastries and then it's up and over the Passo Garibaldi before heading down into our destination - Ushuaia!
Todays rest day was very diverse - some golfed, some trekked, some chilled and two of us went for a ride. The original plan was to go to Estancia Haberton and the museum there - but it is carnival time and it was closed. So instead we drove out to Puerto Almanza enjoying the beautiful afternoon sunshine. There isnt so much to see in Purto Almanza, but it;s very pretty on the coast there and the restaurants make excellent king crab casserole, so it was definitely worth the trip. Afterwards a leisurely drive back to Ushuaia before heading into town for dinner.
Todays weather forecast is changeable - and so it is. Wind, rain and sunshine all intermingled. We head out first to the Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego, having to stop briefly while some super VIP's go whizzing past in ther minibuses, preceded and followed by their security detail. After we enter the park out first stop is the most southernmost Post Office in the world, where we duly post out cards to various frineds/relatives/relations to show where we have been. Then its on to Bahia Lapatia which really is the end of the world, as the road ends here and we can go no further. We make our way back but stop to see the "Fin del Mundo" train and take a quick coffee break. Then its onwards again, back over Passo Garibaldi and into Tolhuin where we stop again at the panaderia La Union for lunch. Today it's much quieter and of course last Monday was Carnival, which explains why it was so busy then. After lunch we head to Rio Grande, but now we are in the pampas and the wind hits us hard from the west - more viciously than we have experienced thus far. But we prevail even if a little more slowly and reach Rio Grande in good time. Tomorrow is our last day - another 420km to take us to Punta Arenas but the forecast is for strong winds again!
Last day of the tour and it's chilly - 5 degrees outside and a biting wind from the west. We head north towards the border crossing at San Sebastian and everyone is "refreshed" by the time we arrive. The border crossing goes smoothly and we are on our way again to catch the ferry across the Magellan strait for the second time. Today we have the larger ferry which is nice as its pretty windy. Once across we are lucky as it's a bit more sheltered on the other side and the wind not so violent. We make good time and just about manage to reach Punta Arenas before the rains starts. It has been a long and tough tour but we have seen some awesome scenery along the way and it has been a wonderful experience. Safe trip home everyone and I hope to see you again on another tour.