Patagonia Eps 1
01 February 2024
Some blog followers will know we quite like hooning around on motorcycles when we get the chance.
Our motorcycle tours generally happen during the hurricane or cyclone enforced off-seasons although for nine months from November '21 through until August '22 we had an epic time riding over 17,000 kilometres around South and Southern Africa, much of it off-road......and so the seed was sown.
Over the course of the one hundred and eighty seven nights we spent at anchor last autumn, the idea slowly germinated.
One hundred and eighty seven nights. That's a lot of guitar practice but more honestly, a lot of YouTube. And it's surprising what you can find down that Internet worm hole. Take your choice from a selection of wars, the antics of slippery politicians and, fortunately, sailing channels of people cruising the Beagle Channel and off-road motorcycle touring.
We have always toyed with the idea of sailing way down south to penguin land but, not only is it a long way, but every night, having found a sheltered but totally desolate, rocky and kelp strewn caleta, we'd have to launch the dinghy and one of us, probably Anne, row ashore to tie up the boat in a spiders web of rope. All while it's blowing seventy knots. Not many peoples idea of fun, least of all ours.
After scary nights in these caletas we'd no doubt arrive in one of the few ports down there where we'd be anchoring or rafting our beautiful, racy, plastic fantastic amongst the rufty, tufty steel and aluminium boats that frequent these waters. No doubt this would draw some critical looks and clearly audible "tutt, tutts" with the odd "harrumph". It would be like going to a heavy metal concert dressed in tutu.
However, is it really that bad? I've read of people doing the Beagle Channel in twenty seven foot, 1970's Albin Vegas and I've seen pictures of a cruising catamaran in one of the aforementioned caleta, albeit showing a decidedly bracing 06c in the cabin.
No doubt, quite soon, some yoof will round the Horn on a foiling kite board or jet-ski giving that weird pinky and thumb wave, so loved by both that generation and embarrassingly by those of an older generation who should know better. You can tell them even without the funny wave, they'll call you, "dude" and if you ever get close enough to shake hands it will be more like thumb wars as they try to give you the dudes version of a Masonic handshake.
Anyways, dudes, the problem we faced was how could we see the sailing conditions for ourselves and find out first hand what it was like without flogging all the way through the Canal and thousands of miles offshore to the frozen south in Time Bandit.
And so the idea to use a motorcycle to do a recce of the miseries of sailing down to Ushuaia was born. Well, the recce thing was just a fortunate and convenient excuse. I really did fancy riding the classic Ruta Cuarenta and Caraterra Austral routes through Patagonia.
I won't bore you with the complexities and bureaucracy of buying a vehicle in Chile. Just trust me. Don't even think about it. If you must do it; rent.
Firstly, last autumn, we had to head to the Chilean embassy in Washington to get the essential, personal RUT identity number before we could even think about buying some wheels, but in the end, after four visits and two tellings off, we got it.
We landed in Santiago on 29th December and had the pleasures of two weeks faffing around at motorcycle dealers, agents and notaries. Two full weeks it took, but finally we were ready. Until we found we'd been sold, or I bought, a "lemon". Firstly a major steering problem needing a new bearing then new fork seals. "Oh, didn't you read the Spanish small print, section 2b, saying suspension wasn't covered?"
That cost another three or four days and about a million or two pesos but finally we moved the bike out of the hotel garage and onto the street. We carted all our gear from the room and loaded our luggage for an anticipated three months touring into the three aluminium panniers. Luggage plus tools and spares for self sufficient maintenance if punctured off-road in the wilds, along with the tent, tent poles, ground sheet and tiny cook set. All loaded up and just as the bike had finally taken on the look of a true, off-road adventure tourer, Anne climbed on....... and the whole flippin' lot slowly and elegantly fell over in the street.
Out went all the camping gear. Tools were limited to the essentials and clothing pared to an embarrassing and potentially smelly minimum.
Finally, having shed some weight, we got saddled up, wobbled our first few hundred metres up the road and made the first eighty kilometres to Los Andes in the foothills of...... the Andes.
Waking to a bright blue sky we eagerly set off through the dusty villages heading for the hills and the border crossing to Argentina. Up and up we went round endless hairpins, climbing to nearly three thousand metres before arriving at the border checkpoint......and a two hour customs and immigration process. Fortunately, years of going through the same tedious clearing in and out process with the boat had prepared us for this usual nonsense. Finally clear of the border checkpoint we wound our way down the eastern side of the Andes onto the dusty plains and dustier villages of Argentina.
We spent the night in a very comfy cabana and next morning started heading southwards. Five hundred miles later, in the sleepy mining town of Zapala we hit a major problem.
Our fuel ejection system totally packed up. Three days treatment at the local service centre seemed to get things moving again so we set off on the next five hundred miles through the stunning volcanic deserts, ravines and mountains before arriving once again at the Argentine / Chile border where we did the whole clear-in and out thing again, just going the other way.
The grand recce plan had been to get to Puerto Montt then catch the Navimag ferry to sail the seven or eight hundred miles through the Chilean archipelago to Puerto Natales. This would give us a good, close up look at the sailing conditions and, perhaps a look into the caletas where we'd possibly be frantically trying to row hundreds of metres of rope to tie onto a spindly tree onshore.
Unfortunately, the fuel ejection problem came back with a vengeance and another three days were lost while the problem was dealt with. On the advice of the head mechanic, our motorcycling trip was over. It had all just become a complete pain-in-the-ass. All that planning, jumping through the bureaucratic hoops and mental effort then, before even we got started on the Careterra Austral, the game was up. But we had a problem. We were motorcycle owners, as yet without transfer of ownership papers - these follow four to twelve weeks after money changes hands - and we were now a thousand miles south of Santiago, the most likely place we could sell the damn thing.
Thinking laterally, as this was a kind-of sailing inspired trip, we contacted Rachel at the Ocean Cruising Club HQ. Rachel then put us in touch with Eduardo, the Port Officer at Puerto Williams and home of the legendary but now, I think, abandoned Micalvi, haunt of many a Patagonian cruiser. With Eduardo's help we found Raúl who is going to look after the bike while we continue by ferry and bus.
Now, where's my white knitted cardigan?
YouTube: SV Time Bandit