Chris' 1994  R100GS/PDChris' new bike, a 1996 F650ULTIMATE JOURNEY Erin's 1997  F650
Living a Dream . . . 2 Live-N-Ride

January 14, 2002 -- Day 970

Credit to Famous Ruta 40, skirting the Andes Mountains in Patagonia

-- Story by Erin --

Saturday, Jan 12, 2002 - Still not feeling well but needing to push on we left El Calafate to begin the hard journey up Ruta 40. The start of this road begins just 30 or 40 kilometers outside of town. As we merged onto Ruta 40, we instantly felt the effects: deep gravel, deep sand (in places), wind and the terrible feeling of not being in control of my motorcycle. We made it to the first waypoint, Tres Lagos (135kms), without much trouble, only stopped a few times to pick up water and petrol cans which had flown off various bikes. Tres Lagos basically consisted of one petrol station. In fact, it was the last petrol station we would see for the next 350 kilometers.

Almost immediately after leaving Tres Lagos, Marcelīs bike started having trouble, it was losing power and dying. The boys pulled it apart and tried different things. After much tweaking and cursing, the bike started up again. All of scratching our heads trying to figure out just what had we done to fix it?  We went along, fighting the road and the wind while still trying to look at the scenery.  A challenging task to say the least.  As the afternoon wore on the road became harder to fight as the gravel was getting deeper, the rocks bigger, and the tracks less predictable. At one point Pete (a.k.a. Sancho), on the R800GS, tried to change tracks and got caught up in the deep stuff too long. He finally lost control of it and did a big 360 degree turn so that Chris watched Sancho's headlight swing around like a lighthouse, followed by a cloud of debris and the taillight laying on it's side. Fortunately he was not hurt, besides a banged up knee, but his panniers were in worse shape and he broke his one remaining mirror. The crash crushed his panniers so that the contents spewed out like a jack-in-the-box. We managed to collect all of his belongings before they blew away and bang his panniers back together. Remember what I said about safety in numbers?

At 8p.m. the long day was coming to an end but we were nowhere near a town or even any shelter.  We wanted to pitch our tents, but the winds were too strong and we couldn't find any buffer in the flat plains. The sun was sinking in the sky and the temperature was dropping quickly. We finally came upon a house by the side of the road, which represented the whole of the town of Tamil Aike, as it was represented on our maps! The kindly owner came out and greeted us with his young son, Oscar.  He generously let us make camp in his barn, which contained a huge diesel generator, chicken feathers, bits of sheep wool, a few chewed bones, big steel hooks hanging everywhere (think of all those "Friday the 13th" movies!), a few drums of diesel oil, and oil darkened the earthen floor.  There was even a small hole cut in one of the side walls so that the dog chained up outside could pop his head in and see what was going on.  At least it was shelter from the cold wind! He obviously has many travelers staying there since he showed us the small fire pit where we could cook dinner, the cut wood we could use, the hose with free flowing drinking water from the mountains, and the outhouse. The farmer helped us set fire to a huge tree trunk, using diesel as the starter fluid!  His young son, about 14 or 15 years old, was very friendly and it seemed in need of some company. He hung out with us, looking at our bikes and chatting. The sunset was spectacular that night as were the many stars in the clear night sky. We slept well that night until about 3am in the morning when the dog popped his head in the hole and decided he was angry about us being there and barked for about a half hour!

The next morning we got ourselves together, ate breakfast and faced the challenge of the second day on this godforsaken road. It started out badly and got worse. The gravel was so deep that it felt impossible to change from one wheel track to the next without wiping out badly. Thankfully there was so little traffic on this route, maybe 15 or 20 cars a day we passed, that we could spread out and each take a different track across the width of the road. We made good progress and finally made it to the town of Bajo Caracoles by lunchtime. Sancho nearly made it all the way to the petrol station before running out of gas about 100 meters from the pumps. After filling up we ate lunch in the small cantina and planned the rest of our day. Chris and I wanted to go to see the Cuevas de los Manos (Cave of the Hands) and the boys wanted to head for the nearest border crossing, Paso Roballos, with Chile.

So, we said farewell to each other and agreed to meet up again on the Chilean side in a day or two. It was about another 80 kilometers (round trip) to the caves from Caracoles. The ride to the caves turned out to be really spectacular as it winds through a painted canyon with basalt columns and magnificent colors. The caves themselves were a bit disappointing as the art looked more like graffiti to our untrained eyes. The caves are famous for their hand paintings and the paintings of the local animals by the native Indians which date back over a thousand years ago.

When we returned to Caracoles we then joined up with Ruta 40 once again for the last 130 kilometer stretch up to the town of Perito Moreno. The road got worse again and it was a tiring fight against the wind. Finally the wind got the better of me and blew me off the road. The road was raised about 3 feet, and I slid/rode down the sandy embankment.  I got down to the flat dirt but couldn't see what was ahead of me with all the dust flying.  I was able to control the bike and stay upright until I was about stopped. At that point the bike hit soft dirt and my handlebars turned abruptly to my right, making me drop the bike in a puff of dirt! No injuries to me or the bike, just sheer frustration at the last 2 days. We finally arrived in Perito Moreno where the pavement began again, mercifully. From here we turned west toward the border with Chile and decided to head for the Chilean border town of Chile Chico for the night.

Marcel on Ruta 40 -- he didn't like the haircut we gave him...

Taking a break...

Sancho, Jason, Marcel, Chris, y Erin

How many overland travelers does it take to fix a motorbike when we can't find the problem?!?!  The bike just stopped!   We fiddled and we played, connecting and reconnecting fuel lines, pumps, and electrical connections... an hour later, the bike just started....

Boo, Sancho's ride decides it's time for a break...

The name Boo comes from the side of the tank which has 800 written down the side

Not a bad place to travel in numbers -- Marcel banged the panniers back into shape and we were on our way

Sancho (right) is feeling better while Jason and Marcel sing along -- It's Chris' turn to make dinner and the natives are restless!

The plains eventually give way to colorful mountains hills

Cuevas de los Manos -- Caves of the Hands

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