[Sally] Our first great milestone in our journey - "The End of the World" in the furious 50s is complete and now it's time to head north, destination Alaska. We head back to Rio Grande along the same lovely roads and scenery and spend a night there just on the outskirts of town. There's a great little Italian restaurant around the corner, El Chesare, which we're fortunate to have experienced.
We head off the next day to Rio Gallegos and we know it's going be a long day. It's only 360km which is quite moderate, but some of the road is unsealed/dirt/gravel, we have two border crossings to get through and a ferry to catch.
We're 10 minutes out of Rio Grande and the wind is so fierce I'm reduced to tears, crying in my helmet, fighting to stay on the road. I'm proper scared, and we're still only on paved roads. I pull myself together and just get on with it, only having one further moment of shear terror reducing me to tears. Since Ushuaia I've worn thermal long johns and 2 or 3 thermal tops under my rinding gear which keeps me warm enough, and when we started off today I turned on my heated handle bar grips and heated seat. Now riding along I'm getting sweaty with fear and with the efforts to keep my bike on the road, my back side is too hot and feels like it's on fire. But I can't move my hand off the left handlebar to reach over 6 inches to the control on my handle bar to turn the seat heat down. It feels quite a biblical moment with 'end of the earth', wind, fire and water. And quite apt that I'm in Tierra del Fuego, the "Land of Fire".
We reach the first border exiting Argentina and entering Chile for a bit. From here on it's dirt road for about 50kms. We can't ride much faster than 50kph and thankfully the dirt road is quite solid most of the way with not too much deep gravel to scare the pants off you. The wind is ever present but seems to have calmed down a bit. We reach the ferry crossing at Cerro Sombrero (a different crossing point than on our way south). This one runs all day and takes about 30 minutes to cross this narrow point on the Strait of Magellan. There's a long queue of trucks, so we ride alongside to the front where some cars are queuing. This works well with loading the ferry as the trucks are called to fill the big gaps first, then the smaller vehicles called to fill the smaller gaps. I had a bit of trouble riding onto this ferry and as I was being called to one side on the wet and slippy ramp and nearly lost it. With a bit of help from the ferry guys I got myself parked up ok. We pay for the ferry on board which is Chilean $4500, about Aus$10. We have a hot chocolate on the ferry and enjoy the 30 minute rest before carrying on to the next border, crossing back into Argentina. This border was very efficient when we passed through about a week ago, but now there's a long queue of cars. We try and park close to the front but are pleasantly surprised when a border guard runs up to Jeff, shakes his hand and waves us to the front - Yay! I love motorbikes - queuing in Sally's world :)
The rest of the ride to Rio Gallegos is still quite windy so we're glad when we get to our hotel for the night. They have a restaurant and it's the eve of valentine's day - as luck would have it for Jeff - he can book us in for a special valentine's dinner. That gets him off the hook nicely :)
I can't wait for tomorrow - we're finally going to get over to the West side where hopefully the scenery will be better than the East side of Patagonia. I'm hoping the wind will be less too, but perhaps I'm dreamin'.
We head for El Calafate today, but first we have to get out of Rio Gallegos. It's a Sunday and we're hoping the striking blockaders are having a day of rest. We haven't seen any of them since arriving in Rio Gallegos last time a week or so ago and we have to leave on that same road. Thankfully there is no blockade, but on the very outskirts of town there is a police checkpoint. The guard can't speak any English and my Spanish is still quite poor so after a few puzzled looks, some random Spanish words and a bit of charades he gets bored with me and moves to head honcho, Jeff. He has to get off his bike and dig into his luggage for his passport. The police guard flicks through his passport and sees enough border crossing stamps to satisfy himself we are tourists and lets us move on.
We stop about half way at Esperanza for fuel and food. We have a great hot dog with fresh chimichurri from a street stall at the petrol station. This is the best on the road lunch we've had yet. It seems quite a busy little hub in the middle of nowhere.
We arrive to a totally different Argentina in El Calafate - it's very touristy and has a nice feel to the town with lots of nice restaurants and shops. We plan to stay 3 nights to clean up ourselves and the bikes, and do a bit of sight seeing. We ride up to the Perito Merino Glacier 75kms away and is a really nice ride once inside the Los Glaciares National Park for about 25kms. The Glacier is stunning:
The next day we plan to leave, but decide we should get new rear tyres first as we've done 5000km already and don't think they'll last another 2000km before we get to another town big enough to have tyres.
We fill up with fuel first and are greeted by another group of Brazilian bikers, who are fascinated that I have my own bike and that we’re riding around the world. They too want to take photos with us, and after they take a few photos we part ways. The fuel pump attendant has given us directions to a place that does motorbike tyres just around the corner and up the hill. It takes a couple of loops around before we notice a sign outside a house. But we can’t rouse anyone - it is only 11am after all - they may still be in bed.
Two guys on motorbikes turn up looking for the same place - a Brazilian and a Spaniard - and thankfully they can speak English and Spanish. With their help, and some random bloke we thought was the mechanic in the first place, the random bloke leads us in his car to another place. Again, we can’t rouse anyone at the address - which looks like some shack. Some guy comes up and says the bloke works in town and doesn't start work in his workshop here until 5pm. Thankfully with the help of the Brazilian and the Spaniard we go into town and they find the mechanic and he agrees to go to his work shop at 3pm and that he has a contact for tyres as well. We know if we wait until 3pm and wait for tyres another few hours can slip by - but we need tyres, so decide to spend another night here and get it done. It's better that getting a tyre blow out in the middle of nowhere further up the road. By 6pm we're all sorted and got new rear tyres each.
So we're all set to leave for El Chalten tomorrow.