Monday, February 06, 2006

Chile Chico, Chile to Argentina's Ruta 40

Beautiful smiles! In Chile Chico I met Sophia Kuby and Pia Lassak from Munich, Germany. Both are studying Philosophy in Santiago, and during their summer break are backpacking and hitchhiking around Patagonia for seven weeks. These smiles alone were worth the detour to Chile Chico! In a flash, yesterday's cloud is dispelled.

10:30 p.m.

Camped along Argentina Ruta 40, about 60 miles south of Perito Morena. I’m on open pampa about 300 yards from the road. In the past hour, maybe four vehicles have passed. You can see the headlights miles off as they slowly wind down through hills and across the plain. It feels similar to when I camped in the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands in early July. Someone must surely “own” this land, but there are no fences.

Montana bills itself "Big Sky Country", but Argentina is REALLY BIG SKY country! It's simply amazing out here.

It is exquisitely quiet. If you turn your head so that the wind comes directly into your ear, you hear nothing. Absolutely nothing (except the ringing in my ear.) The low vibration of a vehicle can be sensed when it’s miles off. This is such a rare experience, it’s difficult to comprehend and appreciate.

Argentina's "Gran Altiplanicie Central"

The infamous Ruta 40 has in the first 60 miles been beautiful, as far as gravel roads go. Broad and well-maintained. The first 20 miles south of Perito Moreno are freshly-paved, and much more is soon to come, as they are cutting a swath through the landscape that will replace the current winding road with a straighter highway. Only where it weaves in and out of the new highway’s path does the existing road get a bit challenging.

A now familiar photo, eh? But this is the infamous Ruta 40, renowned for its winds and gravel. But right now, it's beautiful!

And this is the view northward on Ruta 40

In Perito Moreno, while looking around for a campground, I met Swiss travelers Esther Tobler and Hanspeter Schweizer from Zurich, touring South America in their expertly-outfitted Toyota Landcruiser. I looked inside and remarked “it’s so clean! How do you keep it that way?” Esther turned to Hanspeter and asked “did you hear that?” She’s the housekeeper. “He’s always complaining."

In Perito Moreno, Argentina, I met Swiss travelers Esther Tobler and Hanspeter Schweizer from Zurich, touring South America. (Esther is hiding.) Hanspeter is a long-time motorcyclist and world traveler. The vehicle is typical of what you see on Ruta 40.

I finally got Esther to come out for a photo: "as long as it's not too close. I haven't done my hair!"

Hanspeter has traveled hundreds of thousands of miles on motorcycle, many BMWs, and we talked about some of the issues with the new models. In Germany, they call them “kinderkrankenheiten” – children’s illnesses.

They have been down Ruta 40 and had numerous suggestions for places to stay and sights to see. Near Moreno Glacier, they said the Lago Roca Campground is outstanding. They recommended a campground about 90 kilometers south of Perito Moreno called “Casa Piedra”. Hanspeter said it would take me about an hour and a half, given the road conditions. I intended to make it my destination, but never saw it. I had passed another campground in a ravine, but it was not that name and saw a sign that Casa Piedra was 12 km, but never found it. I just kept driving until the sun went down.

This morning

Started the day in a fruit orchard: apples and apricots, from what I could see. (I wish I liked apricots – they looked perfectly ripe.) Other campers were breaking camp. I wondered if I woke the dead? (Some were camped nearby.)

A cold shower (not so cold as Pumalin!) felt wonderful, though the douchas or shower stalls in these campgrounds really challenge my ability to maneuver in a small space, and hang things where there’s no place hang them. My clean underwear fell into a wall panel and I had to fish them out with a bungee cord hook!

I met Dante’s father, and told him I ran into his son out at Estancia Chacabuco. He was not at all surprised. I asked him where I could buy international insurance and he gave me directions to a supermercado (generous description for this small market) near the hospital. When I went there, they directed me to a different one.

I asked if they sell insurance. “Si!” and I was invited into the store's office. Twenty dollars for a thirty-day policy. The manager took down my motorcycle information and wrote out a certificate. That was it.

“What did I buy? Is there a policy? What if I have an accident?”

As an afterthought, she pulled a brochure from her desk drawer and said inside there is a number to call. I figure the thing is worthless anyway.

The clerks directed me to an internet café on the main street. At “Intel Internet Cafe”, I was able to plug in my laptop (setting up new IP addresses) and answer some e-mails and download photos from the past week. (There were a couple hundred from which to select!)

I spent three hours there. I hadn’t asked the price, but when I heard the owner tell another customer it’s 1,000 Pesos per hour (about $2), I was a bit shocked. “For me too? I’m only using a little energy, not your equipment. “Si.”

But when I went to pay, he only charged me 600 per hour, a 40% discount! (It’s the first time an internet café hasn’t charged me the same price as everyone else, when using my laptop.)

I asked for a recommendation for a place to get a sandwich and he pointed me to “Café Refer” two doors away. A little pub, they have a limited lunch menu, but the burger I ordered was pretty good (served with a fried egg on it!) That and a “Kunstmann Bock” dark beer; I was satisfied. While dining and looking over the map, a backpacker asked to use the restroom. Her friend waited outside, but asked through the doorway if I were planning the route ahead.

Re-joined by her friend, I met Sophia Kuby and Pia Lassak from Munich, Germany. Both are studying Philosophy in Santiago, and during their summer break are backpacking and hitch-hiking around Patagonia for seven weeks. I told them I might see them down the road.

It was 2:30 when I finally prepared to leave Chile Chico, but since I was only originally planning to drive to Perito Moreno today, about 36 miles, I was in no hurry. At the east end of town, the highway is being worked on and they had just laid a very thick layer of coarse gravel. My tires were sinking in and I looked to skirt along the edge, but soon lost control and laid the bike over. I was able to lift it this time, but could barely get out of the thick stuff and onto a somewhat compacted path.

Just this little workout had me winded and wondering about the road ahead. A short distance beyond is Chile’s border checkpoint, with all three services, police, immigration and customs located in the same small office. In Latin America, "campion" means “champion”, so the officials often have a little chuckle as they fill out forms. “Campion!”

A few miles beyond, the Argentina checkpoint. There is a race between drivers from one to the next, because you end up going through the process together. I was the first from a group to reach the office. But the second to arrive had his family and split them up to cover all the windows! Good strategy.

The Argentinean aduana officer wasn’t going to ask for my insurance policy, but feeling I needed to derive some benefit from my $20, I volunteered it. I’m perplexed why many of these border officials, when they know they have to prepare a document, sift through a stack of forms, pull one out and look at it as though they’ve never seen it before. This was a slow process.

But eventually I was on my way, and incredibly, the road turned to smooth asphalt! I didn’t want to drive too fast, rather just savor the experience! The border town of Los Antiguos, Argentina is very nice, quite a contrast to the rather bedraggled Chile Chico.

I spotted my two German friends walking along the shoulder and stopped to chat. They had got a ride just to the border. I had to take their picture, as I rarely ask beautiful women for their picture. They both have wonderful smiles.

A look back towards Chile, across Lago Buenos Aires. (The western portion of this lake, in Chile, is called Lago General Carrera.) You can't see or hear the wind, but it was howling!

At a gas station in Perito Moreno, I met a Japanese rider who has been on the road since 1999. Six years and he will return in April or May. We started out of town at the same time, but I soon pulled ahead. Though I stopped several times to take photos, I didn’t see him again.

1 comment:

Dicky Neely said...

Ay Chihuahua! Que bonita las muchachas!
The other pictures are pretty good too!
Buen viaje!