Ushuaia and The End of The World

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South America » Argentina » Santa Cruz » El Calafate
January 14th 2006
Published: January 14th 2006
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Lest we ForgetLest we ForgetLest we Forget

The Malvinas are always Argentina. Signs everywhere along the roads!
I was sitting in the window seat of a restaurant, just snacking and watching the world go by when I noticed nearly everyone going past was staring in at me!…I was getting a bit self conscious….was it something I was eating? bits of food hanging out of my mouth? fly undone?…..later, as I was walking home, I looked at the window and realised it was a mirror!..everyone had been looking at themselves…hmmm

This is totally a tourist town, hordes of touries from all over the world…. cars, buses, bikes of course, 4x4s, trucks, all manner of tour vehicles, and all manner of tour shops, clothing stores (everyone needs a fleece here!) restaurants and bars…only one laundry and a 2 day wait, can’t find a barber shop. When the cruise ships come in the population bursts out and the streets are chockers, smell of plastic cards melting under the buying sprees,

While the bikes are parked right on the main drag people are constantly stopping, well the blokes all stop and check them out, most of the women are trying to get their men moving, a bit of role reversal from outside the shoe shop!

The city. I call
If Dubbya Comes!If Dubbya Comes!If Dubbya Comes!

More street grafeet
it a city but it really has more of a ‘town’ feel to it, is at the head of a fiord-like bay cutting between the mountains. I think it may be part of the Beagle Channel, part of the maniac maze of waterways that some brave soul discovered as a way around the bottom without going right around the very bottom, confused? so was he. How they ever found their way thru’ in sailing ships and rowing and whatever is mind boggling, especially given the local meteorologicalistics and the furious currents.

There’s a pretty and pretty efficient little port with enough room along the main wharf for several large ships and the usual mountain of containers behind razor wire onshore. Smaller wharves service the tugs, customs launches and tour operators smaller craft. On the other side is a semi-sheltered bay with a collection of mega yachts and even a few braver little single masters.
All the yachts here are serious looking tho’, not your show boats down here.Looks like a fishing boat has just pulled in given the sudden flock of seagulls. Funny how you can look along a vast stretch of coastline and not see a single gull, then a fishing boat comes in and the sky is full of them. Like eating fish and chips on the esplanade.

Behind the town the mountains constant overbearing presence almost forcing the city into the sea. Jagged and ragged peaks of cold stone spearing up into the sky. Patches of snow stand out against the bleak blue-black rock faces, it just looks soo cold!…Low bullying clouds hanging around the peaks and occasionally building strength and crashing down over the city with rain and hail even. Can’t imagine how bad this must be in winter if this is mid-summer, lots of photos about with snow scenes, especially in the fleece sales departments!! hmm point of sale anyone?

We pull out, fine day and a lovely cruise back along the new shiny bitumen, rolling thru’ the mountains and pine forests. Then back on the rippio dodging the road workers, another 6 months and it will be asphalto all the way. 100 kms or less and we are are on the plains
Hard to believe there were any mountains at all. One kilometre they´re there, next, they´re all gone! Back across 150 kms or so of rippio with more choking dust. How can it be blowing such a gale yet the dust just sits there? And it gets into everything, really fine like talcum powder. Then thru’ the frontier with ease, dodging rain clouds and on to the ferry. The rain clouds are close to me now, just off to the left, they are barely higher than me, bottoms roiling and building, like a wild westerner’s cheeks, building up his chewing tobacco for the big spit.
Further off I see the grey mist of rain falling out of other clouds, we dodge left and right, turning closer, then away, finally get to the ferry and one is just approaching! So is the rain! A bunch of young blokes on a bus tour gather around the bike as usual and question us at great length on all the usual questions.
Just get on in time as it pours, rain and hail even.
Then on, and on, cruising well and making the most of dry weather, cool music and great roads. Every 50 or 100 kms I see an Estanciia (station, farm, whatever), like little villages, which is what they are, houses, barns, stables, workshops, schools?, and they are all, each one, painted in the brightest, freshest colours you could imagine. In contrast to the general drabness maybe but they all look like they were painted yesterday! And moreover, each estancia has its own colour. So one will have white walls and bright red roofs, and its for all the buildings, right down to the chook shed and the dog kennels!..truly…..the next one might be blue on white or green on cream, fantastic! Every building the same colour scheme, wild!
Another estancia was a sort of town, right on an intersection of highways, and they had masses of flowers, some sort of hyacinth, purples and whites, and planted everywhere!, across the median strips, around the roundabout, up and down the side streets, in every front yard, incredible!
The road follows the coast for a while, sparse, desolate, pebble beaches and deceptively placid looking sea. (I saw, at the ferry, the violence and power of the tides that rip thru’ these channels) Low cliffs encircle little bays, no sign of life, animal, vegetable or mineral…nada!..a deserted estancia right on the beach front road, the hulks of two ships dragged up from the sea the bare ribs of one stark against the clear blue sky, huge warehouses, shipyard, residential houses, shops and stores, an old stone church overgrown with weeds, somehow it all looks appropriate in the desolation of the whole area.
Eventually to Puerto Natales, something over 800 kms, a new record, nearly 12 hours but since its light from 3am til 11pm you don’t notice it so much.

Next day more northwards, turn off to the Park of Pain, welll that’s what it sounds like and that’s what it feels like…more rippio and just interminable corrugations, I’m tired, its bad for me and for the bike, its shaking the shit out of both of us. On the asphalto Grant often drags the chain and I head off, but when we see dirt, crikey, he’s up on the little pegs, the neon sign that says “welcome to DAKAR” goes off in the central cortex and he’s gone! Leaving behind a cloud of dust, yours truly and all the gratuitous advice that’s been so liberally espoused!…and inevitably company is parted, I turned back and crossed the border thru’ to Argentina again! I keep forgetting to photocopy the form as each frontier person has to decipher all the necessary info from the crumpled, and by now, almost illegible rego papers.
However, they’re cool and I meet up with 3 guys I’d seen earlier, a German, on a Yamaha, a Canadian and a Venezuelan both on 1150 GS’s just like mine going the same way. So we did another 70 kms of rippio and then a good bit of bitumen into Calafate. The wind as we crossed the high plain on the rippio was getting really strong again, trying to keep the bike in the wheel ruts of the gravel was getting more difficult as the wind just blows you across the windrows of loose gravel.
Got to Calafate and the guys went off to find a campground .. (in South America camping is much more common and a good alternative whereas in Central America it was not possible so we had not really considered it an option) so I stopped for a beer and asked the waiter if he knew a cheapo hotel. He put me onto a mate a few streets away but he was full, he told me of another around the corner and when I got there, there was Rafael, a Venezuelan guy we’d been riding with all down the coast from Puerto Madryn, (1200GS) too cool. I got the last room and later found out that one must always book ahead here as its chockers with touries at this time of year…and they’re all here to see the glacier!
Raf and I went out this morning, 80kms to the Moreno Glacier, only the last 20 of rippio, I’d been expecting 80 kms of rippio so every kilometre of this absolutely pristine bitumen was a bonus!!….streaking across the plain at 140, beautiful clear blue sky going on forever, then down into this immense glacial valley, trying to remember the geography lessons, I’d always been fascinated by glacial geography, now here it was!…across the valley floor, dead flat, the curved walls of the valley rising up, trees on the slopes and a sort of furry grass cover..higher up the bare rock faces with snow patches blindingly white. Along the valley a milky tourquoise lake, maybe a river?, the melt from the, imagine a Neapolitan of azure blue sky, brown/blue//black mountains, green slopes, milky tourquoise lake…you get the picture..?? camera could capture the scale, the magnitude of this panorama…You hear of stunning beauty, well this was stunning, I was just grinning inanely to myself in the helmet, wondering if it was just me, but at the next stop Raf said exactly the same thing to me!…
Finally to the park entrance and the last 20 kms of rippio but a horror with roadworks piling up loose dirt, water trucks (on the way out it was raining and really hairy!).passing the roadworkers, buttoned up in padded overalls, bored, in beanies, battling the giant concrete spreader leaving its trail of concrete like some prehistoric snail, these guys were too tired to wave back or even smile…too much tourist traffic..

Then the first glimpse of the glacier, crikey, from all the photos etc I was just blown away, this was too bizarre, a giant frozen river of ice you could see the start, right up in the mountains and here it was oozing slowly forward, but just melting in time to go no further…Massive wall of ice with agonised fissures and cracks into which you could see the most intense ice blue colour. And the surface, Ha, I thought I would be able to walk on it but its all jagged and fractured, silly me.
In the carpark and walking down the excellent wooden walkways, (not overdone, you know, quite quaint almost, rural, little country fair type safety rails, like Peninsula Valdez, a very understated infrastructure for the touries..surprising as they get millions of people here to see this spectacular view)
Anyway, on the walk down you start to hear the cracks, like rifle shots, and the creaking and moaning, the occasional roar and splash as huge chunks break off. The front wall is kilometres wide and probably 50 metres high so when the chunks break off its pretty speccy!!
There’s not so many people as we got an early start and everyone is waiting, camera ready, when and where will the next big one be, constant cracking and grinding, the whole thing is so vast that even tho’ we seem to be right there in front of it, the sound takes a few seconds to reach us you’re always a bit behind the action unless you’re watching the exact spot, everyone twisting and turning as new sounds happen, then out on the big face, a major chunk, plummeting into the water, as its half-way down the sound reaches us and everyone turns, clicking, snapping, jaws dropping..fantastic!!
We hang around for a few hours, see a few more smaller calves, big mobs of touries now, starting to rain, the carpark has 30 big buses and a multitude of cars, its pissing down, we head off nervously and v slowly, twisting and turning on the muddy slopes, dodging more buses, cars and trucks, the grader has thrown up more windrows of soft earth and also scraped smooth clay surfaces for us to slide over…at last back to the asphalto and would you believe it?..fine and sunny, perfect day again, it was only in that valley.
Zoomed back to town and dried off on the way…stopped in for a cleansing cerveza and who should rock up but Grant!

Tomorrow I’m heading off across country to do a big loop for Bariloche. Grant is going the macho way up the notorious Ruta 40. It’s several hundred kms of rippio and depending on a/ who you talk to and b/ the weather, it can be just a boring, rattly 700 kms of dirt road or a hell-on-earth with all sorts of problems. In either case I’m taking the smart alternative but not questioning anyone’s right to achieve their own goals. Grant told me the other day that he actually prefers riding on the dirt to asphalto…I explained that it’s the same as how some men prefer sex with goats, others with women…for me it’s the bitumen and women, but I don’t make any value judgements about others predilections.

Now, the computers here are going to be pretty slow I’m tipping so I won’t even try to upload anything.
You might like to try Raf’’s site, it’s a damn fine website altho’ its in espanol! But the pics are good
he might even have some of today at the glacier....
OK, don’t know where, don’t know when etc etc …hope you’re all back at work and over the festivities.
I’m sort of advertising the bike for sale anytime after Santiago. I’ve got a few interested parties but between the paperwork hassles and getting the actual bux it may end up with the old plan B of keeping on keeping on to Alaska, I’m just not sure at all of future plans…..Hey, what’s new


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