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Expedition to Tierra del Fuego 2010

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Chapter Four Dispatch from Helge

Chapter 4


It was like a homecoming of sorts entering Argentina from Bolivia.  The roads were in excellent shape.  We met groups of motorcycle riders out on tours and we felt like celebrities wherever we stopped.  At gas stations or wherever we parked our bikes, people came up to take pictures with us.  The bikes were an immediate attraction.  For a change along the way we met dozens of other local bikers out for a weekend ride.


We felt like we had gone through a time-warp and been transplanted back to where we had started months ago.  The contrast of having spent the last weeks of our journey in countries dominated by indigenous people, to arriving in a land where obviously European descendants dominated the population, was rather startling at first.  Not only were the people different, but also other things, like gas stations filled with chocolate, ice cream and other junk food were suddenly everywhere.


At our first overnight stop in Salta, a large city in Northern Argentina, we even found new tires for the bikes and used the opportunity to change oil before continuing South.   The dramatic change upon entering Argentina made us rethink the original route planned for our continuation South.   We were definitely not in the mood for large cities and double-lane highways, so we diverted to smaller, more remote roads to the West, following the foothills of the Andes.


Beautiful landscape with tight canyons, colorful mountains, wide-open pampas and excellent roads made for long days in the saddle. However further south, the most incredible mountain pass, with winding dirt roads, had us spell-bound as we passed from Argentina to Chile.  I have crossed this border on three previous trips, but on those journeys, we passed through a tunnel on sealed roads at the foot of the mountains were we were to pass this time.   But even before we came to this turn-off from the main road, we did another detour.


We were about 10 miles from the border when we turned off the main road, parked the bikes, and went for a hike to take a closer look at Mt. Aconcagua.  Peaking at 6,962 meters (22,841 feet), Aconcagua is the highest mountain outside of Asia.   Impressive in size, the white snow-covered top begged us to come closer.   It would have been tempting to leave the bikes behind and go for a hike up the mountain; perhaps next time.


After the hike, we continued riding towards the border, taking the bypass over the mountains.  The weather was perfect and the vista was as clear as it could be.  At the top of the 3,000 meter pass, we had a break as we crossed from Argentina to Chile.   There were no border crossing formalities, but rather a simple sign telling us that we were about to enter Chile. "This is what motorcycle riding is all about" I thought to myself as we started to wind down the steep gravel road.   After a trillion switchbacks, we eventually made it back to the main road, where the Customs and Immigrations formalities finally caught up with us.


Just a few kilometers after the border formalities, we stopped for a nice lunch at the famous ski center of Portillo. Pictures of national ski teams from all over the world lined the walls of the hotel, reminding us of how important this place is for out-of-season downhill ski training. Mid-winter in this part of the world is mid-summer for those of us living north of equator. From Portillo we headed for the capital city of Santiago


In order to catch-up with our writing and picture editing for the Live!Journal's Chapter Three, we decided to stay one extra day in Santiago where, we finally had a good Internet connection.  This turned out to be a fateful decision. . . .


On our last evening, I worked long into the night and packed everything, ready for an early escape the following morning.   Three hours later, I woke up in my bed, which was shaking uncontrollably.  Later, I learned it was at 3:24AM, I had been roused by an 8.8 earthquake that was to last for 1-½ minutes.



The four of us had rooms on the 20th floor of Crown Plaza Hotel, with a beautiful view of the city.   As I woke to the shaking from the earthquake that morning, the night-time lights of the Capital suddenly extinguished as if someone had thrown a giant switch.   However, I could still see the outline of the city from a few emergency lights, and that was just enough to make me realize that I was high up in the sky, being rattled around.


It was the combination of the vigorous movement and the deep groans of the building, mixed with debris flying off the shelves and tiles popping in the bathroom that scared me to death.  I did not dare try to stand up; simply holding onto the bed was enough of an effort.  At first, I expected the whole ordeal to be over in a few seconds, after all, this is not my first earthquake, and they all stop after a short time, right?


Soon, I understood that this was not coming to an end; rather, it was getting worse, and that was when I conceived the notion that no building could withstand the violent movements we were experiencing.   With that realization, all I could think of was my wife, Karen, and I hoped that the collapse of the building would happen quickly, and my end, painlessly.   Unless you were there, it's difficult to understand how long 90 seconds can seem.   It felt endless when you had no idea of when, or how, it would all end.


Of course, it finally did all came to an end, and fortunately unharmed, we walked down 20 floors to join the rest of the guests outside.  Some were dressed in their underwear and even barefoot, dodging broken glass and debris.   We had been lucky this time, and 5 hours later, we were allowed back into our rooms to collect our belongings.   It was a relief to leave the hotel behind, and ride our bikes South out of the city.


We were amazed by the damage the earthquake had done to roads and bridges.  Large cracks and sinkholes in the road, 10-20 feet deep and several feet wide, demanded all of our attention as we headed south.   Being on the road so quickly after the damage had occurred made it easier for us to pass, as barricades had not yet been set-up, and being on 2 Wheels made it possible for us to pass where wider vehicles could not advance.


Fortunately, we did not have to go through Conception, the costal city that was hit hardest by this earthquake, but rather followed the main highway south to Osorno.  It took us two days to reach Osorno, and by that time, a gasoline rationing system was in place.   Luckily for us, after a pre-arranged tire change, we crossed into Argentina and were able to leave the difficult situation in Chile behind.


Knowing that the strength of this earthquake was 8.8 and that it was the 7th-largest earthquake in recorded history, it amazed us how well the country was able to fare in this difficult situation.  This, compared to Haiti, where a much less-potent earthquake leveled vast areas, with an overwhelming loss of life.  Regardless, our thoughts are with all of those who lost their lives, and also with those who survived for all of the hardship that lies ahead for everyone affected.


South of Bariloche, Argentina, we found a great place to put up our tents, relax, swim, fish and to have a great big bonfire.   If memory serves, I think that we might even have had a little wine that evening.   We were emotionally taxed by all that we had been through, so it was great to camp out and enjoy some fantastic nature.


In the coming days, we had a lot of great riding on good dirt roads, surrounded by wonderful scenery.   We passed in and out of Argentina and Chile several times and enjoyed the ease of the border crossings.   Green valleys led us through deep fjord landscapes, where mountaintops were covered in snow and glaciers reached towards a blue sky.  We were lucky and dodged the rains that are obviously very common in this fertile environment.


Riding along, my bike died suddenly, as if the ignition had been switched off.   Lucky for me, I was on a straight-ahead course, and not flat out in a sharp curve.   As I came to a halt, my brain started to trouble-shoot what the problem could be.   We were riding on the infamous Ruta Quarenta (Route 40) in Argentina.   Infamous for its deep gravel and the rough riding through Patagonia’s windy plains.   That day I had had a few good hits on my Touratech engine bash plate and was glad that I had upgraded to this extra protection.


Riding at speeds of 50-60 MPH over rough gravel roads while listening to and feeling the abuse the bike was taking makes me really appreciate the great engineering BMW has done with this wonderful bike.   But what had happened to stop me dead in my tracks on Route 40?   I did a few fast tests, turning the ignition key off and on.   All the lights came on, but the starter would not turn when I pushed the starter button.


I put the transmission in neutral, and then the engine would start.   However when, I disengaged the clutch and put the bike in gear, the engine died.   Well, that explained what was going on - a bad side-stand neutral safety switch.   Looking under the bike, I found the side-stand switch in pieces, most likely hit by a rock.  I whipped out my Leatherman knife; cut off the switch, and shorted two of the wires, leaving the brown ground wire alone.   Dan gave me some electrical tape, and soon we were back on the ride again.


Patagonia is wonderful when the sun shines and the wind is at a minimum.  We were lucky and experienced some wonderful days with clear skies and very little wind.  Mt. Fitz Roy greeted us in its majestic splendor, and so did the great glacier called Perito Moreno.  We even had a few good days as we rode into the national park of Torres del Paine.   Roger and I spent a whole day hiking up to the Torres to get a better look at these incredible mountains.   It was a strenuous 9-kilometer hike each way, up steep rocky hills, but worth every effort. Dan and Vincent had taken a more relaxed approach for an activity that day - riding horses on the plains nearby our hotel.


The following day, we had set off to take some pictures and shoot video riding with the Torres as a backdrop.   We started out in the morning with a little wind that soon picked-up speed.  After lunch Roger, Vincent and I decided to ride to one of the park's glaciers.   By this time, we knew that we could experience wind gusts of 60MPH or higher; not an easy quest to stay upright on a gravel road with those kind of forces testing your riding skills.


After a few miles in, because of the fierce winds, we eventually came to the conclusion that it would be better to turn-around and head back to the hotel.   On the way back, we were in the middle of a great long, flat plain, when I reminded myself that we needed some video of this event.   The wind was kicking us all over the place when I stopped to tell the others about my plans.   With legs planted firmly on the ground, I raised my left arm to motion to Roger and Vincent to stop so that I could film their struggles with the wind.   As I lifted my hand, a good gust of wind knocked me and my bike flat to the ground.


It all happened so fast that I had no time to try and fight the sudden meeting with Terra Firma.  I hurried to get the bike upright and on its side-stand, and that was when I realized that Roger had been taken down by the same gust of wind.  As I helped Roger to get his bike upright, I saw Vincent struggling to get his camera out to take a picture of us.   This was my first time to have my bike fall over, but according to the group rule imposed earlier by Dan, "it does not count since the event was not photographed", thanks Dan!


We had a wet and windy ride the day we hit Tierra del Fuego and crossed the Strait of Magellan.   Actually, it was the first day since very early in the tour (back in Mexico, I think), that we had the rain gear out.   These two last days of riding to Ushuaia, The End, really reminded us that we had come a long way South.


This was it, The End of the Road. Snow-clad mountains surrounded Ushuaia, the world’s most southern city, as we secured the bikes in a container and prepared to fly back home again.


We had been on the road for almost 3 months, traveled through 13 countries, and my GPS told me that I had done just over 14,500 miles since I left Seattle, Washington, USA.  An incredible ride in so many ways, and one day soon, I hope to be able to share this experience with all of you in form of a new DVD that I plan to put together before the end of this year.


Thanks for your companionship and, thanks for all of your email and good wishes. I hope you can join us on one of our upcoming journeys one day soon!



Greetings ,


Helge Pedersen

Helge's Photo Gallery


Chapter Three Dispatch from Vince

The last leg of our trip was Chile and Argentina.  We crossed back and forth across these two borders at least eight times as we worked our way to the City known as the End of the World - Ushuaia, Argentina.  Because we crossed these borders so many times, we basically had to carry Chilean money in one pocket and Argentine money in the other, while remembering that one had an exchange rate of close to 4 to 1 while the other traded at closer to 500 to 1.


We entered Argentina after a 100-plus kilometer, thrilling, dust-eating ride from Tupza, Bolivia, where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made their last robbery (then met up with the Posse that finally caught and killed them), to  San Salvador, Argentina.  After the dust-eating ride out of Bolivia [note to self -  on dirt roads, first position is best, lest you eat all the dust] I pulled up alongside Helge at a gas station, and he said “You look like Sh*t”, to which I answered (with a huge grin on my face) “Ya, but I feel awesome!"


Don’t Cry for me Argentina (composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice for the musical Evita) is as famous, alluring and fascinating as is Argentina itself famous, alluring and fascinating.  You have to experience Argentina and learn its history and economics to fully understand why Argentina is so different, as it's puzzling - despite its immense natural resources, highly developed economy, powerful middle class and ties to European civilization, it has struggled through the 1900s.  We had the opportunity to speak with an Argentine couple who have raised a family, are educated and run a successful small business . They shared with us the official government version and then the real story of the economics, education, medical and the politics of Argentina. It was a fascinating conversation which gave us much insight into the challenges they deal with living and working in Argentina.  I wish we could have had more of these type of conversations.


The outstanding places we visited in Argentina were Hahuel Huapi National Park and Hahuel Huapi Lake in San Carlos Bariloche, the mountains and lakes of Mount Fitz Roy, the Glacier Perito Moreno in the National Park Los Glaciares on Lake Argentino (80 kms outside of Calafate) and the End of the World, Ushuaia. We have seen awesome snow-capped mountains, massive glaciers, endless beautiful lakes, rivers and oceans.


For me, on this trip, Argentina has been absolutely wonderful.  The more time I spent in this fascinating country the more I learned, the more alluring it became.  The riding has been tremendous, the scenery unbelievable, the people gracious, the food and wine wonderful.  Someone once said to me “Life isn’t about the number of breaths we take, but the moments that take our breath away”.  Argentina is one of those special places on this earth that has the power to do just that - take your breath away.  You will find yourself in awe when you stand beside the mountains, glaciers, rivers, lakes and ocean.  Argentina is a "must visit" place so put it on your list, especially if you are on 2 Wheels.


The places we visited in Chile were very interesting.  However, if you are in Chile, you must see Torres del Paine. The National Park of Torres del Paine; it is without a doubt one of the most spectacular national parks with its snowy mountain peaks, cascading rivers and waterfalls, glaciers and mirrored lakes.  One of the outstanding rides for me in Chile was the pass over the mountains from Argentina into Chile, a single-lane gravel road that twisted its way up the mountain, switch back after switch back, with an amazing view of the valley below.  Once on the top of the pass, we had to work our way down the other side, again single-lane, gravel road twisting its way down the mountain.  Keeping our attention on the road and not on the outstanding scenery was a challenge.  We could have taken the tunnel through the mountain, which may have saved us several hours, but this road was spectacular, so we took advantage of the perfect weather and created yet another fantastic memory.


In Santiago, the capital of Chile we experienced one of largest recorded earthquakes, think it was 8.3 or 8.8.  This happened at 3:45 AM while we were sleeping on the 20th floor of the Crown Plaza Hotel.  It was  terrifying!  We all basically though "this was it".  I knew right away it was an earthquake as I unable to stand because the room was moving so violently.  My helmet was on the floor -  I grabbed it and put on along with my bike jacket, then bare-ass naked, went under the desk and hung on.  It seemed to go on forever, then it stopped.  I jumped into my jeans, my boots, and ran out  and knocked on the other three guy's bedroom doors, advising them "We’ve got to get out of the hotel, now!"  They all responded with “it's, over I’m going back to bed”!  I though, "OK.  I’ve done my part" by checking on them, then thinking they were nuts, flew down the twenty flights of stairs.


No more than five minutes later, I met them outside.  I guess they thought about it for less than a minute, and decided maybe it would be a good idea to get out of a building that just had the bejesus shaken out of it, not to mention possible aftershocks.  As soon as we could, against the wishes of the hotel staff, we went back, got our belongings, loaded our bikes, and headed out of the city.


Water and electricity were out, food and fuel limited.  I was surprised that they allowed us to ride on the massively damaged roads and damaged bridges, this would never have been allowed in North America, so we were lucky that we could in this part of the world.


Within two days, we were crossing the border into Argentina where everything was operational.  We were lucky.  We just had the crap scared out of us, navigated over some messed-up highways and bridges, had limited food and accommodations, but were able to leave.  Others had their world turned upside-down, ripped apart, and lost loved ones in the process; we were blessed and we knew it.


Arriving in Ushuaia, Argentina, The End of the World, we finally ran out of roads, and it was time to start dealing with getting ourselves and bikes back to our homes in North America.


I am saddened that it had to end.  It’s been a great adventure; one I will always remember.  I have these wonderful flashbacks now and then of certain events, or roads. or scenery, or people, and become lost for a moment reliving them.  The trip had been so spectacular!  We traveled through so many countries, crossed so many borders, road so many miles, met so many people, that it’s hard to accept it’s over.


There is no doubt that the bond between the four of us has grown because we shared this amazing experience. We will all take away something different from this adventure, but there is no doubt - having shared all these experiences has had a profound effect on the way we see ourselves, our lives, and the world we share.  It will take time to fully absorb it all, as we transition from our life on the road, back to the one we left behind 21,000 kilometers and 2-1/2 months ago.


I encourage you all to travel; travel to places that are outside the comfort zone, go to places where have to get the globe out to find where the heck they are, challenge yourself in your choices of places to travel, and interact as much as possible with the local people.  The news and newspapers you read are controlled, and manipulated with a limited perspective, the "spin doctors" at work if you will, often with a political "increase the readership" agenda.


When you travel, your world will become much bigger.  At the same, you will see how small the world really is.  You will see that although governments and borders separate us, you will find that we are all more alike than different.  You will learn -  that which effects one, effects all.  You will know how truly blessed we are, and how myopic and self-serving many of us have become.


I also encourage to download and view a presentation that I found that puts it all in perspective. I don't know who created it, but I thank him or her for putting it together.  It's called Global Village, and viewing will definately give you pause, and if nothing else, help you better appreciate what you have, and understand what others' don't.  Clicking on the link below and selecting "Open" will allow you to download the presentation; selecting "Save" will allow you to save the zipped file:


Download the Global Village Presentation


- Vincent

Vincent's Photo Gallery



Chapter Three Dispatch from Roger

Thoughts on The Ride thru Argentina and Chile

  • Argentina is much more "first world" than Bolivia and Peru.  It is more like Columbia.
  • The wine country around Mendoza would be a great place to visit again.
  • The ride from Mendoza to Santiago was one of the best motorcycle rides in the world.  We were lucky that the weather was perfect and we could take the dirt road over the mountains and not the tunnels.
  • Mt. Aconcagua was awesome and we had perfect weather so we could see the summit.
  • Santiago is a very nice city and I would like to go back here to ski Portillo and some other mountains near the city.
  • We experienced one of the worst earthquakes in history while staying on the 20th floor of the Crown Plaza Hotel and we were all scared out of our minds.
  • The road south out of Santiago was very badly damaged but because we were on motorcycles we had very few problems getting through.
  • I feel very bad for the people of Chile for the loss of life and because the destruction from the earthquake was so widespread - it will take years to fix.
  • The people in Chile are a “can do” people and very friendly.
  • The roads in Chile are very good.
  • If it is windy, it is very hard to ride the dirt. The winds can be strong enough to blow your bike off the road, and even if you are standing still it can blow you and the bike over.
  • Torres del Paine is one of the most beautiful places on earth and you have to hike up to the Torres. The hike is only 9 km up hill and then 9 km back down.
  • The food on the trip in Argentina and Chile is very good with lots of Trucha (trout) and if you eat meat, the lamb is fantastic.
  • Ushuaia is a very nice small city in a beautiful place in the world.  I am not sure that I would want to live here but it is a fantastic place to visit.
  • I am sure that I will be back here to take the cruise to the Antarctic.
  • Route 40 was the hardest riding of the trip and I am glad that it was not windy.


Roger Hansen

Roger's Photo Gallery


Link to Dan's Continuous Blog

Dan "The Professor" Moore is blogging the ride as well.  If you're interested in viewing his commentary and photos, please click on the image below:

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