South America, part 2

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South America, part 2
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South America, part 2

South America, part 2
Dust, storm and gravel

After around 14,000 kilometers through five countries in northern South America, the journey continues through Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Gripping nature, huge distances and storms require stamina.

Josef Pichler, Renate Pichler

January 17, 2008

The sun flickers over the seemingly endless expanse of the Atacama Desert, the wind is driving desert grasses in front of it. In the middle of the loneliness we reach San Pedro. A dusty road runs through the town, every second house is a hotel or a restaurant. South America, what we have experienced so far, was different: rudimentary, tourism seemed a minor matter. Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia are behind us. And with it the most adventurous contrasts between people, flora and fauna. We drove our motorcycle over the highest Andean passes and endless plains.

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Now we are standing in front of the only petrol station in town and are amazed at the range on offer. There is actually 93, 95, even 97 octane gasoline. Sensational, because previously the KTM 990 Adventure had to digest 80-octane broth, only possible in “bad fuel mapping” mode. Now we can switch the ignition system back to the consumption of high-quality fuel and widen our awareness of the new impressions in Chile. With a full tank on the famous Panamericana. It cuts straight through the desert, steadfastly heading south. For hours we hear nothing but the wind and the calming roar of the two-cylinder.

The huge lighthouse, the landmark of the glamorous seaside resort of La Serena, is visible from afar. A few kilometers further is Coquimbo, the most important fishing port in the area. When the fishermen return from their nightly fishing trips, a small crowd emerges. The prey is brought ashore, swordfish are unloaded, even a giant squid has gone into the net. Pelicans, seagulls and mustached sea lions argue loudly over the fish waste.

In the next few days the desert scenery changes to an ever greener landscape, the Andes come within sight and soon Santiago, the capital of the country, too. Breather for the loyal KTM, which is checked through in a workshop. For a few days we enjoy a big European city.

The first stage of the journey leads to Paso Bermejo. It doesn’t need to shy away from any comparison with the Stilfser Joch in the Alps. We drive up the narrow serpentines with great pace, overtaking some heavily loaded semi-trailers that fight their way to the top of the pass at walking pace. The initially lush vegetation becomes more and more barren, and Portillo, Chile’s most famous ski center, is finally reached at 2900 meters. An eight kilometer long, great gravel road begins there. The finest Ripio, as the South Americans call the gravel, tempts you to step on the gas. At 3800 meters above sea level, we park out of breath in front of the statue of the Savior. The snowdrift right next to it is six meters high, and the slope is partly completely icy. We carefully feel our way down the valley. Shortly before reaching the main road, a barrier appears. We drive around it and realize that the Paso de la Cumbre, as it is called on the Argentine side, was not yet open. Which explains why we haven’t seen a single vehicle in the last hour.

One last look at the icy southern flank of the almost 7000 meter high Acongagua, then it goes on on the Argentine side of the Andes to Mendoza. Cattle graze on lush green meadows, the first vineyards appear. But the signs of civilization don’t last long as we continue south on the infamous Routa 40. Loneliness spreads, hundreds of kilometers lie between the individual, sometimes tiny villages without any infrastructure. Only parts of it are paved, the majority is gravel. The strong wind makes driving difficult, gusts of up to 120 kilometers per hour tear the motorcycle. We experience Patagonia from its unpleasant side and are happy when the first houses of Junín de los Andes appear.

Along the Ruta de los Siete Lagos, loneliness is over. Christmas time is also the holiday season in Argentina, and the lake area is a popular holiday destination. The once dusty slope is currently being expanded into an asphalted panoramic road. When we couldn’t even get a parking space with our motorcycle in the center of Villa la Angostura, we flee from the hustle and bustle over the Paso Cardenal Samore to Chile.

Puerto Montt welcomes us with rainy weather, typical for the area. There is still one free room in the Hostal Suizo, and after a hot shower, your spirits will return. In addition, there is a gnawing feeling of hunger. The landlady recommends Curanto, the national dish in southern Chile: a thick soup made from mussels, chicken legs, smoked pork, beef fillet, potatoes, beans, coarse sausages and all kinds of exotic seafood. Exactly the right thing for seafarers who come to their home port on the icy Pacific after ages, or for hungry motorcyclists.

Before we tackle the legendary Carretera Austral road, which is 1,350 kilometers long, we visit Chiloe, the second largest island in South America after Tierra del Fuego. The population consists mainly of Huilliches, indigenous people who had to submit to the Spaniards and were able to keep their mythology alive despite Christian proselytizing. Today they live from salmon farming, agriculture and tourism.

Back on the mainland, we finally steer the enduro onto the most famous road in Chile. In 1976, dictator Pinochet began building it, which quickly became the most complex major project in Chile. 10,000 soldiers broke through the most inaccessible areas for 20 years. The Carretera Austral cost 200 million US dollars and is still just a simple gravel road for long stretches. Occasionally the rainforest along the road gives a clear view of the surrounding waterfalls, mountains and glaciers. Suddenly a section with ghostly dead forests follows. The volcano Hudson, which erupted in 1991, smothered all vegetation in the area with its ash rain.

With Cochrane we reach our southernmost point on the Carretera Austral. The sleepy nest only comes to life once a year: at the rodeo. The festival lasts two days, during which 50 Huasos (that’s how the cowboys are called in Chile) fight for the day’s victory in front of a frenetic audience. The two of them skillfully drive a young bull through the arena with their agile horses. The whole thing is not without danger, paramedics often have to carry fallen riders out of the arena. Small fights on the fringes of the festival, however, are not noticed by anyone, the customs are still rough in this wild part of Chile.

A narrow slope leads over the Paso Rodolfo Raballos to Argentina. The Argentine border guard clearly has time, takes our luggage completely apart. Who knows when the next traveler will come by.

The first place across the border is Bajo Caracoles, a tiny hamlet at the intersection of Routa 40. This is where the only petrol station is within 250 kilometers. So fill up. For the next 200 kilometers, hurricane-like winds on coarse gravel require maximum concentration. The first foothills of the Andes are finally appearing on the horizon.
In the Los Glaciares National Park we visit the Perito Moreno Glacier. It is part of a vast, continental glacier area and one of the few ice streams outside of Greenland and Antarctica that is still growing. Every day, the five-kilometer-wide, 60-meter-high and over 50-kilometer-long ice mass pushes further into Lake Argentino. Floods as high as a house tumble into the lake with a loud thunder.

Crossing the border to Chile is annoying, but the view of the vertical pinnacles of the Torres del Paine massif, which is considered one of the most beautiful mountains of all, makes up for the stress.

On the east side of Lago del Toro we drive towards Puerto Natales until a barrier made of heaped rubble blocks the road. On the spur of the moment, we ignore the ban on driving through, bypass the barrier and enjoy 60 kilometers of brand new, car-free slopes.

The Strait of Magellan alone now separates us from Tierra del Fuego, the Melinka launch is already waiting with an open loading hatch. The sea is rough in the Strait of Magellan and the spray hits the wildly rocking boat. After hours we are relieved to be back on solid ground.

The wind does not let up in Tierra del Fuego either. In addition, huge flocks of sheep block the slope again and again. On the Paso Garibaldi, blowing snow and freezing cold make it difficult to get ahead, but it is not far to Ushuaia. After 21,736 kilometers across South America we are at the southernmost point of Routa 3, here we only continue by ship to Antarctica.

We leave the »end of the world« and turn the enduro north. The unchanged extremely strong wind makes the monotonous journey along Route 3 a torture. Only the Valdez peninsula with the national park of the same name and its sea lion colony, whose scent mark can be smelled long before it comes into view, offers a change in the Argentine steppe. The next attraction on the outskirts of Azul: “Posta del Viajero en Moto” is written in large letters on an inconspicuous house. Jorge has already heard our motorcycle and greets us like old friends. The walls of his workshop are painted, travelers from all over the world have immortalized themselves here. Full of feelings of home, we also discover a »Puch« logo. Jorge is the proud owner of a 250 TF from 1950.

We reach Buenos Aires on a multi-lane highway and visit La Boca with its tango dancers. In Puerto Iguazú we spend the last few days in Argentina and hike to the Garganta del Diabolo, the Devil’s Gorge. From three sides water plunges into the depths, the curious get wet to the skin.

At Peruibe we reach the coast and a small motorcycle paradise. Only the Brazilians worry us: In memory of the fatally injured Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna, they race like crazy. Our route meanders past picture-perfect beaches towards Rio de Janeiro. With the village of Trindade we find the last paradise on our journey and camp right on the beach. Then the hustle and bustle of the Rio Carnival beckons. When we stand at the famous Copacabana, our speedometer shows 28,838 kilometers since the start in Venezuela. Incredible, but our trip through South America is over.

Info – The second part of the South America trip leads through Chile, Argentina and Brazil. The demands on man and machine are getting tougher.

getting there
Flights to Santiago in the local winter season from 900 euros, to Buenos Aires from 850 euros, to Rio from 900 euros. The prices for shipping a motorcycle by air freight depend on the size and weight of the machine and start at around 1350 euros in the case of a single-cylinder enduro. The current MOTORRAD Unterwegs Reisen Spezial offers all information about motorcycle transport overseas, available at 0711 / 182-1229.

A valid passport is sufficient, international registration and driver’s license are not required, national versions are sufficient. A Carnet de Passage (available from ADAC) is not required on the way at the borders, but can help with entry. For Argentina, it is mandatory to have your own motorcycle insurance, which is also checked on the way. It is recommended that you bring copies of all documents with you.

Bless you
Vaccinations against hepatitis and tetanus are strongly recommended for South America. Have the travel pharmacy put together by your family doctor according to your personal needs. The German tropical institutes can provide further information. A strong pain reliever in your luggage can help you get to the next village after an accident. A health insurance abroad with a return option is also recommended.

Food and mineral water in plastic bottles are widely available. The gasoline supply is guaranteed in the larger towns, the octane quality in Chile and Argentina largely corresponds to the Central European standard. In Brazil, however, significantly worse fuel is offered, and people like to mix up to 25 percent alcohol in the fuel here. This can lead to problems with motorcycles that are equipped with GRP tanks, the resin of which is not resistant to ethanol. Motorcycle workshops and spare parts can be found in the larger cities.

Route / refueling
The filling station network in southern South America is nowhere near as dense as in Europe. It is therefore important to take into account the sometimes large distances between the petrol stations when planning the route. In Patagonia in particular, there is often a very strong wind that can make driving difficult and fuel consumption high.

Chile, Argentina and Brazil are considered to be relatively safe travel destinations. There is a tourist infrastructure and a correspondingly diverse range of offers for organized tours.

Hotels and hostels can be found almost everywhere along the route, and camping is also very popular in Chile, Argentina and Brazil. There are numerous campsites and wilderness camping is tolerated. In the national parks, the campsites can be very crowded, especially in the South American summer, so booking in advance is helpful.

Languages ​​/ foreign exchange
Knowledge of Spanish is an advantage; Portuguese is spoken in Brazil. There are ATMs in all major towns, Visa and Mastercard are often accepted, as is the euro as an exchange currency. US dollar reserves are still recommended.

Maps / literature
The maps from Reise Know-How-Verlag and the travel guide “South-America-Handbook” from Footprint-Verlag have proven themselves for 31.50 euros.

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