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South America » Argentina » Chubut » Punta Tombo
April 3rd 2013
Published: May 4th 2013
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Thursday 21/3/13 – We woke up, made breakfast and then packed up with full confidence that the town of Rio Gallegos would provide us with a new rear tyre and a mechanic to change Kenz’s chain and sprocket – perhaps we were expecting too much. We rode around to the Honda dealer we passed on the way into town yesterday, but they had no tyres or mechanic. The other large shop in town (a Yamaha dealer) also couldn’t help us so we then rode around trying to find someone to help us. We found an address on an internet forum for a moto mechanic that lived out in a dodgy suburb. When we arrived at the shop it was closed and there were two Argentinean riders who also required his help. They phoned the number in his shop window and he said he would be down in about 15 minutes. After a difficult hour of chatting to these guys in broken Spanish and English, the mechanic arrived and said he could do the chain after helping the other guys. They had to borrow the owner’s ute to go and pick up their DR650 with transmission problems so we had his full attention for most of the afternoon. One aspect of South American culture that I both admire and also get extremely frustrated by is their relaxed attitude to life. We spent about half an hour chatting with the mechanic dropping hints about how much of a hurry we were in, but he insisted on boiling us some milk and making us hot chocolates while chatting with us before even glancing at the bikes. It was worth the wait though as he really knew what he was doing and treated us and the bikes extremely well. He began by cutting through the old chain and throwing it away, removing the worn front sprocket whilst I replaced the rear sprocket with the new one we had bought in Punta Arenas. He shortened the new chain for us and installed everything back perfectly; including lathing a spacer for the new front sprocket so it was exactly the same width as the Kawasaki original. He then spent the last hour going over both our bikes, emptying half a can of WD40 on almost everything that moved. He was a really nice old guy who had a prosthetic knee and a plate in his tibia (from a moto accident) and struggled to get to his feet after being on his knees next to the bike. He also had a tiny silky terrier called Jackie Chan that climbed over him licking his face when he was lying down working on the bike. The man with the DR had returned a few hours ago and was helping us work on our bikes instead of his own. After 5 hours of fixing the bikes, the mechanic only wanted $25 so we paid and tipped him and chatted to him a little more. His favourite comments were that motos were his life, and that Kenz was the first girl he had ever seen with grease on her hands.

Once we left the mechanic, we realised it was far too late to ride any significant distance so we decided to spend the night in a nearby campsite. They had a resident cat at the camp which followed us around for our entire stay and slept beneath the tent vestibule.

Friday 22/3/13 – Today we rode to the small but beautiful town of El Calafate situated beneath the Andes and close to the Perito Moreno Glacier. As we left Rio Gallegos, we passed 3 large groups of men wearing coveralls and burning tyres on the side of the roads. It was only 10am but they were sitting around drinking beer as huge black plumes of thick smoke roared into the sky and was carried away by the stiff wind. We rode the 300km battling the wind all the way to El Calafate. The wind was so strong, it significantly increased the bikes’ fuel consumption and we had to switch over to reserve before we reached the town. We set up our tent in a nice campsite situated on the small creek which runs through town and relaxed for the afternoon. In the evening we walked around the town whose eastern edge is bordered by a large lake fed by snow melt from the Andes and the glacier we would be visiting tomorrow.

Saturday 23/3/13 – We awoke and got ready for our glacier walk before the sun rose. Just as it began to get lighter, we jumped on a bus which took us on a 1.5 hour ride north to Perito Moreno Glacier. We stopped at a small lookout for our first glimpse of the glacier. This particular glacier has been stable over time as the accumulation zone (top of the glacier which feeds the section that slowly flows down out of the mountains) is extremely large compared to the flowing zone. The huge slab of ice is over 250km2 (the third largest reserve of fresh water in the world) and flows down the valley into the lake at a speed of up to 2m per day. The face of the glacier is over 5km in length and around 170m in height, 70m of which is typically above the surface of the lake.

We continued down to the edge of the lake and had a boat ride which took us along the western face of the glacier. We disembarked on the lake shore just a few hundred metres from the glacier face. After a brisk walk along the interface between the forest and the ice, we strapped on some crampons and headed off on our glacier walk. It was amazing to walk onto the glacier and carefully climb up the various ridges and slopes of the ice. It was mostly cloudy, but occasionally the sun would poke through for a few minutes and light up an amazing display of the shaded white ice in contrast with the highlighted blues of the thick ice. The guide took us on a 1 hour hike before arriving at a small chest where he produced a bottle of whisky and glasses, and poured us a drink with chipped off pieces of glacier ice floating in it. I thought it was a bit tacky and the whisky tasted as bad as it always has, I was much more interested in the small blocks of chocolate which he handed out.

On the walk back we took another route which had many crevices, deep holes and small caves where Kenz slipped and slightly rolled her ankle. I had the nerve to suggest that she ice it for a while. Luckily she could walk well enough to scale back down the glacier to the forest floor. Here we took off the crampons and got used to walking around without them. We then sat down and ate lunch while listening to the huge chunks of ice fall off the glacier face into the lake. I got lucky and managed to see the second half of a huge slab fall off and bob around the lake.

For the afternoon we walked around the various lookouts back on the other side of the lake which overlooked the glacier face. Many times we heard huge cracking noises and waves where pieces of ice had just fallen off; but at one time we were staring at just the right spot when a piece of ice about 50m high slid off the glacier face and crashed into the lake with a huge wave and roar just a few hundred metres away. It was an amazing and humbling experience.

After our top day we decided to go out for a classy meal (our first in Argentina), where Kenz got the chicken wok, and I got chicken breast rolled in cheese and bacon. And for entertainment we got to watch a 5yo child lose his shit just outside the restaurant and refuse to move for about 45mins, no matter what his parents did. Eventually they bought him some chocolate at the shop next door, I’m sure that taught him an important lesson.

Sunday 24/3/13 – We decided today would be a rest day, so we did our laundry and then chased it around the campground. Kenz washed the clothes in a large trough outside of the campground amenities block and then we hung them out to dry near our tent. Of course the wind picked up and began howling just as we began hanging them. We got sick of picking up all the fallen clothes every half an hour, but at least the wind dried the clothes fast. We paid our camping bill for the 3 nights and they didn’t bother charging us for the bikes. At many campsites here you are required to pay for each person, each tent and each vehicle that you have for each night. All of a sudden camping can become quite expensive; however the Argentinean campsites have been reasonably priced and have had great facilities. In-between the shifts of collecting migratory socks and t-shirts, we sat by their restaurant using the WiFi and gazing at the whole lamb (split from food entry hole to exit hole) roasting over an open fire. With the sun setting and our mouths watering we prepared our own dinner, another bowlful of pasta. We were inspired enough to run down to the shop and buy some salami and vegetables to give the meal some (more?) flavour. Chewing on the pasta and watching the bubbling fat drip off the shrivelled lamb’s heart, down the animals opened rib cage and into the flames didn’t really make our meal taste any better though…

Monday 25/3/13 – We woke up early this morning and keen to get back on the road. The outside of our tent wall had two circles of damp sand stuck to it that conspicuously smelt of dog urine, and I suspected at least one of them belonged to the old white and grey terrier-type dog that has been sleeping by our tent every night. I briefly thought about pissing on him and then throwing a few handfuls of dirt at him, but figured he probably wouldn’t get the message.

We rode out of town and returned back towards the town of Rio Gallegos under a black stormy sky. Just before we reached our destination, the storm broke and the rain started falling. It’s quite rare that it rains on days where we only travel a short distance, usually it only happens on the long gruelling 400km+ days. Despite this fact, we still didn’t feel very lucky as we were soaked through after just a few minutes of riding in the rain. Riding in rain isn’t so bad unless the road is full of potholes (we have rarely seen them since Central America), or the road is full of trucks. Today the wind was blowing just right so when a truck went past we got a huge faceful of mist and water all over us. This coupled with the intense buffer of wind from the trucks and my dodgy rear tyre made for many moments where the bike danced down the highway and my wet underpants became incrementally wetter and browner. Around 15km from Rio Gallegos we approached a permanent police checkpoint where the policeman motioned for me to pull over, he probably wanted to check our import permits and insurance. Despite having all the required paperwork, I was in a bad mood from riding whilst wet and cold, and didn’t feel like assisting an asshole on his power trip, so I just rode straight past him. I don’t think he was expecting this and as Kenz was close behind, she also rode past him as his ‘pullover’ hand gestures becoming more aggressive. I didn’t even bother glancing back so I can only assume he also didn’t like the rain because we never saw him again.

We turned up wet and miserable at the same campsite that we had stayed at a few nights ago. The campground was empty and we just managed to catch the caretaker as he was leaving. He gave us one look through the driving rain and told us to go sit in the camp kitchen and to have a hot drink to warm up. He drove off and we took his advice and headed towards the kitchen. Unfortunately we walked up to the building and discovered that the door was locked and all the windows tightly shut and locked. After a 10 minute argument about what to do in the pouring rain (a scene that looked as though it came right off the pages of a Hollywood movie script), the caretaker drove back in his car and threw us the kitchen keys with an apologetic grin on his face. As he sped off again we jiggled the keys in every conceivable pattern but couldn’t get the damn door open. If this was indeed a Hollywood movie I would have donned a figure hugging latex suit and broken in through a window, but I stupidly left my full-body latex suit back in Australia. Whilst we argued a little more about what to do the rain stopped instantly, one second it was raining, and the next it just stopped immediately. We hurriedly set up the tent whilst there was no rain and once we were done, the resident cat carefully stepped over and resumed his place in our tent vestibule, almost as if we had never left a few days ago.

The caretaker returned a few hours later and finally showed us how to open the kitchen door with the kitchen key. It was no simple task requiring not just a simple key turn, but you also had to hold the knob tight, lift the door upwards, and whisper a verbal summary of Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Everything” backwards using binary code (i.e. no clue how he did it). With a flat stare and a mumbled thankyou we walked in and reheated last night’s pasta for dinner. If he knew you needed a PhD in physics and a metal plate in your head to open the door, why did he just throw us the keys instead of walking an extra 3 steps and opening the door for us? With my feeble knowledge of quantum mechanics and an extreme bout of rage, I tried to will a grand piano into existence just above the caretaker’s head, but either my personal grasp over the mechanics of the universe were less than I assumed or I didn’t listen closely enough in the physics lectures I never went to, because a piano never appeared.

Tuesday 26/3/13 – The wind last night was simply incredible. The tent was buckling, folding and writhing in a prolonged moment of near collapse for the entire night. Correctly pitching the guide ropes out made little difference and a few times the roof of the tent was almost slapping me in the face. I spent most of the night staring at Kenz who spent most of the night staring at me (I’m not sure who got the better deal). We barely got a handful of hours sleep between us, although someone did as I found a furry cat-shaped indent pressed into Kenz’s bike jacket which had been stashed underneath the vestibule for the night. We decided to wait for the wind to ease before heading off, however lunchtime came and went before the wind dropped even slightly. I have only felt wind like this twice in my life, once as a child at the south Bruny Island lighthouse, and once more recently when I got caught in a south-westerly change in a small boat down near Maatsuyker Island. With the wind finally calming slightly and blowing at just a fraction of what it was last night (the fraction being about 15/16ths) we packed up the tent which surprisingly was in pretty good nick with only one attachment tab ripped off. We got some fuel and then rode out of town. Again the roadsides around town were lined with blue coveralled men burning piles of tyres in what I assume was an ancient (but currently failing) ritual to appease the Patagonian god of wind. The fires certainly enjoyed the wind as the tyres were burning so intensely under the gale that each turned to thick grey ash in just a few minutes. I kept glancing at a pile of burning tyres about 10m upwind from us as we fuelled up before hurriedly paying and leaving this crazy town behind us.

We then rather sheepishly approached the same police checkpoint that we blasted through yesterday, but luckily it was a woman stopping vehicles on this side of the road and she waved us through after a quick chat. I began by stuttering ‘Sorry, you don’t understand Spanish’ in awful Spanish as a cunning attempt to convince her that I indeed spoke no Spanish. It must have worked as she glanced at me, muttered something and waved us on thinking we would take up too much of her time. We then rode north for just under 400km to the city of Puerto San Julian. The ride was one I never want to repeat, most of it was spent with the bikes on a 30⁰ angle and us gripping the handle bars with white hands trying to relax. Riding in wind like this is difficult and draining as you have to just relax and let the bike get blown around by the wind even though it feels like it’s about to slip out from underneath you. Fighting the wind is extremely dangerous and a sure way of either falling off the road or off your bike, so the result is a strange battle within your mind trying to get your body to relax while your brain keeps thinking that the end is coming with the next gust of wind or corner. Again every passing truck was a hair-raising experience, but we finally made it with aching shoulders and necks to the small coastal town.

The only campsite in town wanted $30 for electricity-less mud patches, so instead we wild-camped nearby on the sidelines of the local soccer pitch which wasn’t being used for the night. We went for a short ride through town to buy some supplies for dinner and Kenz began wondering why cars behind her kept beeping their horns. She then realised she had left some equipment on top of her panniers which was falling off on each speed hump that she rode over. Red-faced, she bread-crumbed her way back across town following the trail of assorted motorcycle equipment lying in the middle of the main street, thankfully all was found with only one item slightly damaged. We then cooked dinner in the dark behind one of the soccer goals with a full moon above us.

Wednesday 27/3/13 – Whenever we wild camp, we always try to pack up early before most people are awake and able to stumble across us. This morning was no different and we watched a beautiful sunrise as we packed up camp. Today we travelled a windless 450km north, but unfortunately this stretch of Patagonia was otherwise no different to the rest of Patagonia (i.e. everything-less). There is literally nothing in Patagonia except for small towns about 1 full fuel tank apart, endless horizons dotted with stunted shrubs and endless roadside fences meant to keep the cattle (that I am yet to see) either in or out. The only reason you don’t fall asleep is the guanacos and rheas (emu-like birds) that often run next to or across the road. The only excitement that punctuated the otherwise boring and almost too relaxing ride was an armadillo that ran across the road in front of Kenz. The one other memorable kilometre of the 450 that we rode had an odd coloured dam which had a few flamingos standing in it.

As we approached the coastal city of Comodoro Rivadavia, the wind picked up and we went on a wild goose chase across town trying to find their tourist information centre. Eventually we found their recently moved office and the two ladies here were extremely helpful and immediately suggested a nice campsite just south of town. Just before leaving, Kenz asked where we could find a moto shop in town and the lady produced a phonebook sized folder and flipped to a page entitled ‘tiendas de motos’ (motorcycle shops). Here was a list of all the motorcycle shops in the city. We steadily began to work our way down the list only being hampered by the afternoon siesta (where all the shops are shut) and the fact that every road (and city) in South America has at least 3 different names (and typically each name consists of 3 or 4 long words that are in a random order that changes between street signs, maps and the time of day). Eventually we arrived at the eighth shop on the list and they had the right size and type of tyre in stock. We bought it and then rode around to a gomeria (tyre changer); apparently just because a shop sells tyres and has a mechanic on-site doesn’t mean they can change the bike tyre! In a jiffy my bike was sporting a brand new Metzler Tourance tyre and was full of confidence about the road ahead.

We rode into the campsite, set up the tent after dark and then spent the next 30 mins trying to fix our portable cooker which had decided tonight would be the night it died. I talked the portable cooker back off the window ledge by promising to cook something other than pasta, and by thoroughly cleaning it and replacing the fuel filter. The three of us then cooked another bowl of pasta and chatted about how great it felt to be alive.

Thursday 28/3/13 – Last night was another windy night, but fortunately we had set up our camp in a secluded corner with protection from trees on 3 sides of the tent. Our bikes weren’t so lucky with our towels blowing off during the night and snagging in a shrub not too far away. We were also entertained for much of the night by two cats fighting on-and-off outside the tent. Over here each hotel or campsite has strict hours for showering each day, often 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours at night meaning it can be a bum’s rush for a bum wash. This morning was typically busy and made extra terrifying as none of the showers had doors or even shower curtains. It reminded me of going to the pool as a child and being in the shower room - just a big tiled room with shower heads poking out of the wall and many podgy middle-aged hairy soapy man-bodies standing around either unashamedly or awkwardly. It was one slow horror-show flash-back until I realised I was now one of those podgy middle-aged hairy soapy man-bodies standing there awkwardly. I swear many psychiatrists summer-homes have been funded by the kids who had to shower in those old-fashioned swimming pool shower rooms.

We headed north for 460km towards the city of Trelew, a journey that is only split by a single small town with a gas station. Besides from this thin sliver of civilisation, there were only shrubs, guanacos, rheas, wire fences and the flat horizon. Riding in Patagonia is like Groundhog Day, you ride for 300km and every single kilometre looks like every other kilometre. You could be caught in a strange cascading fold in the space time continuum and riding the same kilometre of shrubs, flat horizons and straight road 150 times before the spell is broken as a small town suddenly appears on the horizon. It’s a strange place.

We arrived at the halfway point of today’s ride, a gas station (called YPF but pronounced in Spanish as ‘ee’, ‘pee’, ‘effe’) and 3 houses in the middle of nowhere, literally the only buildings in a 200km radius. We pulled in and queued up behind 11 other vehicles to get some fuel and then sat down and ate lunch. When we returned to the bikes we saw that Kenz’s rear wheel had a puncture and was deflated, great. So we removed the back wheel and began trying to change the tyre, not an easy task when you constantly have about 10 car-fulls of people lined up next to you waiting for fuel with nothing to do but stare. We were having trouble breaking the bead on one side of the tyre when a burly Argentinean man came over and started jumping up and down on it. While we sat there watching him trying to turn the entire wheel assembly into dust, his burly wife made us a cup of mate – the local tea here that everyone drinks. To make mate they 3/4 fill a cup with yerba mate tea leaves, pour boiling water over it and then suck it up using a metal straw with a filter on the end; they then refill the cup with boiling water and repeat the process every 15-20 minutes. Grateful of the generosity of the Argentines both in time, advice and in mate, we accepted the drink which made me actually gag and Kenz grimace behind her hand. It truly tasted awful and the woman couldn’t believe that we didn’t like it very much; it must be an acquired taste. The man popped the tyre off, grabbed his wife, gave us a wave and left the scene. Kenz and I got the new innertube in and then accepted the help of the many men standing around to get the tyre back on the rim and then on the bike. Men are typically drawn to motorcycles over here, especially when they have just spent 300km in the car with their family and are now waiting in a slow moving queue. Once everything was fixed we were shaking hands, getting photos taken, telling our story and looking at photos of other men’s bikes on their phones.

As the wives of the men began dragging them back to their cars we took off north towards the city of Trelew. The highlight of the second leg was a hairy armadillo that crossed the road in front of me. He scurried across the road looking like an AFL football with armour plates and long thick grey hairs poking through the gaps. We arrived at Trelew but were disappointed to find there was no campground in town. It seems to be a feature of Argentinean cites that their campgrounds are in the smaller country towns about 30km away. The lady at the tourist information centre said there was a campground in the nearby town of Rawson, which was the start of a 3 hour portion of the day which has since been named “The Waste of Time and Money”. We headed to Rawson doing circles looking for the campground trying to find the street names we had been given that either didn’t exist or were signed a different name. We got frustrated and asked at the centre of town where a guy told us it wasn’t in Rawson but Puerto Rawson, another town about 10 km away. We took his instructions of ‘take the first left at the first roundabout and go straight, straight, straight for 6km’ and we ended up at a smelly fisherman’s wharf in the middle of nowhere. It was getting dark now and we pulled out a brochure we had picked up at the information office for a farm where you can camp. The location on the glossy brochure stated the camp was located just 7 km between the cities of Trelew and Rawson. If that wasn’t vague enough, was it 7km from Trelew OR 7 km from Rawson (or Puerto Rawson?)??? And just in case you had any hope of actually finding this place, it didn’t state which of the 3 main roads between the cities this place was actually meant to be on. We picked the main-est looking of the main roads and headed back towards Trelew hoping to stumble across the farm. We were now heading west into the setting sun and couldn’t see a thing and promptly arrived in Trelew in the dark. The city actually looked pretty dodgy and didn’t have a very nice feeling so we abandoned hopes of wild camping and just started looking for somewhere to stay. The second hotel we went to was cheap, clean and secure and it had parking across the street in a neighbour’s backyard. But best of all, the receptionist was a totally insane but friendly guy. He was portly with a comb over and kept giggling and speaking in Spanish interjected with random English sentences, like ‘I love you’, or ‘penguins are crazy’, he was definitely a trip!

Friday 29/3/13 – The reason the insane receptionist was imitating penguins was likely due to the huge population of Magellan Penguins nearby at Punta Tombo. We were keen to check them out so we warmed up the bikes and took off. I was actually riding Kenz’s bike across the street from the neighbour’s backyard when the bike just died with some suspicious looking smoke coming out from behind the headlights. There was no power running to the bike at all, and I immediately knew the main fuse had blown. Ten minutes later I had replaced the blown fuse and I turned the key and blew that one too. About an hour later we had the seat off, fuel tank off, upper and lower fairings off and the headlights off and we now staring at a spider web of dusty wires pondering what they all could mean. We retraced the wiring back from the battery to the various nondescript black boxes strewn across the bike but found only minor rubbings and no exposed wires. Whilst I was staring at the wiring diagram of the bike’s electrical system in our bike manual and feeling like Indiana Jones trying to decipher some never before seen Egyptian hieroglyphs, Kenz found a small rub on a wire coming from the starter relay and a small smear of ash on the bike frame nearby. We taped up this breach in the wire insulation and installed a new fuse, and the bike roared to life and then stalled as we had no fuel tank on the bike. We were all greasy and had half of Kenz’s bike apart so we figured we would spend the morning doing maintenance and see the penguins tomorrow. We similarly stripped my bike down and went over all the wiring and did some other maintenance. My battery was almost bone dry (what did we pay for when the bikes were serviced just a FEW WEEKS AGO??). Whilst we were working on the bikes we watched a stray dog humping a hole in the fence for about 20 mins every half an hour, he was a tenacious little guy!

After lunch we walked down to the Palaeontology Museum which was a museum attached to an active lab. As recently as 1997 the museum did an excavation at a nearby site where a man found a huge dinosaur femur which is now on display. We watched a BBC documentary about the research that this museum was doing and about how important the Patagonian fossil finds are in the current understanding of the evolution of dinosaurs. Perhaps the most interesting piece in the museum were some dinosaurs eggs which became fossilised and were cut open revealing crystallised silica.

We walked back through the city and tried to get some food for dinner, but nothing was open except for an ice-cream shop. The city was a ghost town. I’m not sure if there is some sort of rule prohibiting Catholics from leaving the house in the evenings during Easter over here, but the streets were practically deserted. On the walk home we stopped at a walk-in ATM where you have to swipe your card to get in the room to use the machine. We retrieved the money from the oldest ATM that I have ever seen (I’m surprised it didn’t print the receipt out in green ink on the paper with the rows of holes punched down each side). We turned to leave and realised that the handle on the inside of the door had been snapped off and we were now two tourists obviously with pockets full of money and stuck in a glass room containing two soviet-style ATMs, ankle deep receipts on the ground, a broken door handle in the trash can. And the glass room was on a street corner in a deserted dodgy looking city. After much banging on ATMS, windows, security cameras and handle-less doors, and after a few short moments of personal anguish and soul-searching, a lone man came walking past the corner. We got his attention by banging on the door and asked him to open the door but he had no credit card to swipe. After sizing the guy up, we crossed our fingers and slipped our credit card under the door to him. Thankfully he was an honest guy and opened the door for us allowing us to escape. It was a strange end to a strange day.

We walked back to the hotel and cooked some pasta on our petrol-cooker on the hotel room floor – just another night in Argentina.

Saturday 30/3/13 – We were keen to see the nearby penguins so we left early and rode the 100km south to Punta Tombo. When we arrived, we were a little disappointed to see it was a full-on tourist attraction with A-grade facilities – we thought you could just walk down to a beach in the middle of nowhere and observe the penguins by yourself. We paid the fee and walked through the onsite interpretive centre and then rode the shuttle bus down to the edge of the colony. When the tour guide and the rest of the busload of people took a left, we took a right and we enjoyed a self-guided 3.5km tour around the colony. We were expecting to see a lot of penguins, but we weren’t expecting to see so many. They were literally everywhere and most were oblivious to us, although one took a disliking to Kenz and charged her honking wildly. I never thought a penguin could be scary, but this little guy had an attitude problem and kept staring at Kenz and waving its head from side to side and upside down. The site is home to over 200,000 pairs of breeding Magellan Penguins, most of which had just raised their chicks and were leaving to migrate. The young penguins were moulting all their baby feathers meaning that there were blizzards of thick puffy penguin chick feathers blowing around the colony. My bushy beard worked as an air filter straining incredible numbers of these feathers out of the air. This gave me a classy looking quality, like a wizened old man with the softest white beard in all the land. Most of the penguins were lying around or squawking with a few fighting and chasing others away. We got to see some penguins coming and going from the ocean and walking up and down the beach, as well as many parents grooming their juveniles helping to pluck out their baby feathers. We also got to see some other animals, some rodents that share the colony eating the grass and shrubs around the nests, some guanaco, rhea birds, and a falcon swooping down to peck at a dead penguin.

After we returned to the bus, and then to the interpretive centre, we did a short walk up to something called the wind dome – a lookout on top of a hill that was incredibly windy. We hunkered down behind a small wall here and ate lunch before riding back to Trelew. On our return we stopped at the supermarket to replenish our dwindling pasta supplies, and I managed to sneakily buy Kenz an Easter egg for tomorrow without her realising.

Sunday 31/3/13 – We slept in this morning and ate breaky in bed – a banana, some yogurt and half an Easter egg each. Seeing as though it was Easter Sunday, we decided to relax and it was about noon before we had packed up our rooms and went to pack our bikes. We ran across the road to where our bikes were parked in the hotel neighbours back yard and knocked on the door. There was no one home and her two dogs, a big German shepherd and a lassie-type dog were out and barking furiously when I knocked on the door or rattled the gate. We went back and the hotelier said the lady leaves for work at 10 and returns at 6pm so we could get the bikes then. Apparently there were no other options despite our protests. By now we have spent enough time trying to get things done in South America that we’ve worked out you need to be proactive when trying to get someone to do something they can’t be bothered doing. I told her I was going to jump the fence and tie the dogs up and then ride the bikes out, she didn’t think it was a good idea but said little. Then I wrapped a towel around my fore-arm in case the dogs were more serious than they looked (although being big, they just seemed like the types who bark furiously until you cross into their owner’s territory and then they’ll lick you to death). Her eyes almost popped out of her head and she furiously started making phone calls. Still she couldn’t contact them but we at least convinced her to open the gate rather than me jumping it. She opened the gate and I walked in with the dogs not seeming to care once I actually crossed the line into their backyard and we retrieved the bikes with no fuss at all. Sometimes it’s so much easier dealing with animals than people. The lady was so put out that she wouldn’t talk to us afterwards, but that was no great loss.

We decided to ride slightly out of our way so we could visit a small Welsh town called Gaiman where they apparently have the most amazing desserts and cakes. We rode into town and found there was very little going on, however we found a fantastic restaurant where we had an amazing lunch. I got gnocchi stuffed with plums, bacon and nuts with a creamy tomato sauce and Kenz got an amazing grilled lemon chicken with creamy rice. Unfortunately we never got to taste any of the desserts that the town had to offer as we were stuffed full. Gazing through the menu I read the Welsh word for beer: cwrw. That’s the perfect word for beer; you can probably only pronounce it when drunk.

We then rode back out to Rawson to track down the campground we never found a few nights ago. In the light of day and with the help of Google maps, we managed to find it in near the beach town of Playa Union. It was a tough campground to find despite it being about 3sqkm in a beach-town of about 10,000 people. We walked along the beach to where the river mouth reaches the ocean. They get enormous tides here, and all the boats at the harbour mouth were sitting on the mudflats well out of the water. It’s strange site seeing boats lying on mud or tidal flats completely out of the water, it’s a powerful but sombre sight.

Monday 1/4/13 – Today was a day I did something I never thought I would do; I paid someone to take us out in their boat so we could go dolphin watching. In my defence they have amazing little dolphins in the waters around here that are well worth checking out; they’re unlike any dolphin I have seen before. We rose early and rode down to the harbour where the boats were all on the mud flats the night before. We jumped in an oversized rubber dingy and headed out of the harbour, passing a number of sea lions and huge groups of seabirds sitting on the beach, harbour and rusty boats. We travelled for about 5 mins and came upon a small group of long bottle nose dolphins (just like Flipper) which hung around the boat for around 20 minutes only occasionally breaking the surface. Apparently these dolphins aren’t very active or social with boats so they only breach the surface to breathe. We then left this pod and started looking for the dolphin we had come to see, the Commerson’s dolphin commonly called the panda or skunk dolphin. It’s a very small dolphin but has a unique appearance, with a white body, but a jet black head, tail and dorsal fin. They are only found in a small area of South America and are notorious for being very active and playful, often leaping from the water to spin in the air. Very soon we could see them leaping from the water on the horizon and when we got closer, they began riding the bow-wave and leaping out around the boat. They are amazing to watch, easily the most playful dolphin I have seen, and their markings look so unnatural – almost as if someone has dunked their heads and tails in a bucket of black paint. Soon another boat turned up full of heaps of screaming teenage girls and the dolphins became even more active riding between the boats and leaping from the water. It was a pretty special experience despite the soundtrack of screaming girls from the other boat.

We spent a relaxing afternoon back at the campground where we snuck into an adjoining hotel and used their WiFi in the foyer. We eventually got kicked out as you can only pretend not to understand Spanish or their hand gestures for so long. By the time we got around to cooking our dinner it was dark and as we ate, a large owl landed in the tree next to the tent. I sat watching its silhouette against the night sky as I ate. I was determined to see it fly out of the tree as I am a little nerdy about seeing big birds flying, but after 10 minutes of staring I got distracted for a moment and when I turned back it was gone, dammit!

Tuesday 2/4/13 – We woke up this morning with our tent fly pegs pulled out of the ground, we think it was a local dog sniffing around and trying to get inside the tent for food or maybe for a warm bed undercover from the rain. We packed up the wet tent and had an unsuccessful morning visiting supermarkets which weren’t supermarkets, and closed motorcycle stores. We headed north and east for about 200km out to Peninsula Valdez which is a large national park with the small town of Puerto Piramides. Here we found a mostly deserted campsite next to the beach where we setup our tent in a small corner beneath a sand dune. We then rode to a small headland nearby where there was a large colony of fur sea lions. There were hundreds of adults and babies all snorting, burping and making horrendous farting noises which echoed around the bay. Underwater, sea lions are probably the most graceful and beautiful creatures I have ever seen, but on land they are transformed into loathsome smelly awkward creatures.

When we had returned to the camp the caretaker was there and was tidying up the grounds as tonight was the last night it would be open for the season. After chatting for a while he said not to worry about paying for the night, what a champ.

Wednesday 3/4/13 –Peninsula Valdez is home to many interesting and migratory aquatic animals with many headlands being sanctuaries for seals, sea lions and birds. The coastline is quite beautiful and accessible by around 300kms of ‘improved gravel roads’. As the sun was shining and the birds were chirping we decided to have a relaxing day riding around the peninsula checking out the coastline and perhaps viewing the orcas and whales that were spotted here 2 days ago. Firstly we headed east where we went for a walk along the coastal cliffs and spotted some female elephant seals sunning on the beach. Unfortunately there were no males visible as they have the strange shaped heads which gives the species its name. We did get to watch a few of the seals move along the beach in a strange manner, like those 80’s rappers doing the worm on the dance floor. The seals were so fat that every movement sent a tsunami-like ripple effect of fat all along the length of their bodies, like a fat guy getting hit in the stomach by a cannonball in slow-motion. We walked back along the cliff face and to the bikes as some dark clouds began looming out over the water. After a quick discussion over the next move, we decided to ride to the northernmost point made famous by the BBC documentaries where killer whales slide out of the surf and onto the beach to grab a mouthful of seal. We headed north for about 70km of improved gravel roads before we ran abruptly into a thick wall of mist and rain. We then spent the next 3 hours riding, falling, slipping and at times crying our way through 30kms of the thickest and slipperiest mud known to man. We were so exhausted and disappointed when we reached the point that the visibility was less than 10m in any direction so we didn’t bother walking to the beach but just continued on. 30km in 3 hours is our new record for slowest ride ever (although the most miserable still belongs to the road from Nazca to Cusco in Peru). Sometimes the mud was so slippery we couldn’t stop as our foot would just slip out from under us and the bike would fall over. I dropped the bike once and we had great trouble trying to pick it back up; we also got bogged a few times which required both of us to get each bike out. After about 2 hours Kenz cracked it and we stopped to recuperate and eat a plain bread roll. We were travelling so slow we were worried about making it back out before nightfall. Eventually as suddenly as we hit the rain, we popped out the other side where the road was dry and we were able to hit a speed in double figures. We made it back to Puerto Piramides about an hour before dark, but our bikes were unbelievably muddy, every gap and empty space between the engine, frame and fairings was packed with thick mud and pebbles. We pulled into the hostel, tried to flick the bigger slabs of mud off the bike using sticks and tent pegs, and got straight in the shower. The hostel worker began telling us about the flooding in the state of BA over the last few days where a record amount of rain has fallen and many people either died or were missing.

It’s annoying we weren’t able to see the beach as our friends rode it about a week ago with perfect weather and said it was beautiful, plus I would have loved to see an orca pop out and eat a seal. We found out later that a BBC film crew has been there for the last week and not spotted a single orca, so it sounds like we didn’t miss much anyway. We managed a short walk along the beach as the sunset and were sitting out on the rocks next to an old hut watching the waves until after dark. As we turned to leave 2 young guys arrived on a scooter and jumped in through the hut window, obviously up to some mischief. Being totally exhausted from our ride in the mud we walked back to the hostel where Kenz had to sleep in the girl’s dorm and I had to sleep in the men’s. Despite the gloomy day we are still optimistic about reaching BA in the next few days.


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