8th March 2013

Tough Miles Blog 23: Argentina & Chile

Jon here:

The final stint, with only 21 days till Christmas. By this stage we had ridden through 24 countries, covering over 25,000 miles. The question remains…..did we make it to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, commonly regarded as the southernmost city in the world?

Day 217, Friday 14th December. We woke up at 8.30am in a rustic Bolivian farm house. Our fear and anxiety from the previous night had now changed to feelings of excitement. With blue skies and sunshine the epic mountain road sweeping through a deep valley was no longer a nightmare, but rather a motorcycle adventurers dream. The landscape was incredible, and the last 50km of gravel cliff edge road was a perfect way to finish off Bolivia before crossing into Argentina.

30km outside of Villazon we finally joined a brand new stretch of tarmac. Despite our love for off-road, the asphalt was a welcome change at the time, and I felt a great sense of self-achievement having accomplished our route through the depths of Bolivia.

Having been told the Argentine Peso is quite frankly ‘all over the place’, and that once we were in Argentina we would be unable to withdraw US dollars, we decide to use a bank in Bolivia to withdraw $400USD each. After sorting the money, and then using an internet cafe to drop Team BMW a quick email advising them not to follow our route down ‘Highway 1′, we headed to the border.

This particular border crossing was the busiest of the trip so far. Whilst Pete sweated it out waiting with the bikes and luggage in the blistering midday sun I joined the back of a lengthy customs queue. Things seemed to be looking up as an official noticed our bikes and much to our surprise took our passports straight to the front. This good fortune didn’t last long though, as we then sat for hours waiting for the Aduana office to re-open after lunch. It was late afternoon by the time we finally made it into Argentina, and despite not having ridden many miles it already felt like it had been a long day. At this point we took a moment to congratulate one-another, as we had now ridden around the world from the UK and more than fulfilled our original objective of riding from Alaska to Argentina! However, we were soon brought back down to earth by a large road sign….

This was a blatant reminder of how far we still had to go in order to reach Ushuaia. No doubt there would be many more more Tough Miles ahead.

We stopped at the first town in order to withdraw some local currency, get a bite to eat and try and sort insurance. This makes it sound relatively straight forward, but as usual each of these tasks proved almost impossible! After-all you’re on a biking trip, generally in the arse end of nowhere, in towns not exactly set-up to cater for your average gringo tourist expecting to use chip and pin in a Sainsburys Local. Forget worrying about extortionate cash handling and non sterling transaction fees, just plough through your cards until you find one that works, and if your lucky then enjoy the sound of an ATM rattling through potentially counterfeit notes and dispensing some of your hard earned savings!

It was a huge surprise to actually stumble across an insurance office, but no surprise to find it closed for a few hours. After killing some time trying to find money and food we went back for a second attempt. Thankfully it was open this time, but despite donning a large sign saying ‘buy motor insurance here’, I wasn’t shocked to hear the guy say, “no, we don’t do motorcycle insurance”. Of course you don’t. We sat on the pavement exhausted, and made a decision to simply forget about it for now and ride on without it.

In true Tough Miles style, a few kilometres down the road we realised we had forgotten to change our Bolivianos into Pesos. Unfortunately we still had a significant amount, and therefore decided we had no option other than to turn back. Unbelievably, upon arriving back at the border an Aduana official approached us to hand us some paperwork they had forgotten to give us as we entered the country! This was a huge stroke of luck, as getting out of Argentina without the necessary paperwork would have undoubtedly caused a serious headache! Pete then proceeded to explain our problem with regards to exchanging our currency, and much to our amazement he was allowed to walk back across the border, without repeating all the usual formalities, visit a money changer and stroll back into Argentina! Job done, time to hit the road.

That evening we stopped at Humahuaca. Despite not being in the guide book, Humahuaca, a small city in the Jujuy province, seemed to be a bit of a tourist hot spot with various hostels to choose from. Unlike your average backpacker we had the bikes to worry about, so we based our decision on finding them a suitable home for the night! Most people reading this probably dream about owning a big garage, well they don’t come much better than this…..

With the bikes safe and sound Pete and I filled the room with our stinking bike gear and headed out for a well deserved pint or two.

The following day we hit the road by 9.30am. At this stage we were roughly 1450km from Mendoza, where we planned to spend a bit of time with friends and service the bikes. Our aim was to try and cover this distance over 2 days, a bit of a push on a DRZ400 but certainly doable…..especially with the luxury of a custom made Bill Mayor Saddle. Whenever we stopped I couldn’t help but look around the bikes to make sure everything appeared OK. Pete shouted over “Stop poking around Engineer, just sit back and enjoy your Empanada for once”. On this occasion lunch was ruined by yet another tyre failure. The Mefo Explorer had been a fantastic choice of tyre, providing good grip on and off-road. Having been fitted in Oceanside, California, it had covered a huge number of miles. However, my rear had finally given up, and a piece of missing tread now exposed a large patch of canvas.

As we’ve seen many times before, within a matter of minutes a helpful local was on the case. He rushed down his lunch in order to lead us into town before the dreaded siesta ruined our chances of rescuing the day. We followed him around in his rusty pickup truck visiting various motorcycle shops to try and find a replacement tyre. Unfortunately we were out of luck. Despite being worried about how long the tyre would now last we had little option but to push on. By the time we reached the next town it was 2pm, and everywhere was closed until 4.30. At this point we made a decision to cross our fingers and continue the ride. There was a much larger town 100km away, where we would stand a much better chance of finding something. Thankfully the canvas held up and we eventually managed to find a new tyre. The only option was a skinny Pirelli road number, which we fitted on the pavement. Who needs a centre stand??

With my new ‘low-drag’ badboy Pirelli we pushed on into the evening, covering another 300km. This left us with a mere 800k’s to reach Mendoza the following day. All in a days work for Tough Miles.

On Sunday 16th December we rode 800km in blistering heat through desert terrain. A long day, and we both struggled to stay awake. Sometimes it’s so hard to occupy your mind, and if you start watching the clock it’s crazy how long a kilometre can feel. Upon arriving in Mendoza we were totally knackered. We stopped at the side of the road in some shade, got the laptop out and set about trying to contact our friends and find a hostel with suitable parking. Dripping in sweat, feeling partially deaf and exhausted, these times are tough.

Mendoza is an incredible city, with beautiful wide streets lined with trees, Argentinian steak houses and decent bars. I was finally experiencing the joys of Latin America Pete had told me about. The climate was great, with nice warm sunshine yet cool in shade. One of the main tourist activities in this region is wine tasting, with all the hostels organising large tours around hundreds of wineries. Although this sounds like great fun, we didn’t have time for this, Tough Miles had business to do.

Monday and Tuesday were spent hunting down new tyres, fitting new chains, changing oil and spark plugs, and generally making sure the bikes were ready for the next stint. Besides these service requirements it was a chance to get the laundry done, back up the riding footage and see to any online admin. We also needed to look at the route, time was tighter than ever and we had a mission to complete.

Our final tyre choice at this stage was limited. For Pete we managed to find a pair of Metzeler Sahara 3′s from a small independent shop. These were expensive, but seemed like a good tyre to hopefully finish the trip on. I was able to get the same for my front, but not for the rear. The ‘emergency Pirelli’ would do for getting me down to Chile, but it was wearing more quickly than I had hoped, and we still didn’t know what kind of road conditions to expect in the deep south. With this in mind I opted to carry a Pirelli MT-21, and only fit it if sh*t hit the fan.

On Wednesday 19th December we left Mendoza and began our journey towards Bariloche. Whilst packing up on another stinking hangover some girls came out of the hostel and asked if they could take some photos. One of them said “I want to show my boyfriend what real men do”. I laughed and thought to myself, really, is this really what real men do? What the hell are me and Pete doing then? At that point in time I would have given my right arm to to be tucked up at home in bed with a hot water bottle and a horlicks!

As Pete had already explained to me, leaving Mendoza on a hangover was inevitable, and on top of this we had to stop and buy more oil, spare bungees and fuel. The weather had taken a turn for the worse, and for the first 200km it was cold, wet and windy, with bundles of tumble weed blowing across the road. Tough Miles, but this is what real men do! In the afternoon the hangover lifted and the weather perked up. We made good progress and finally stopped at a town called Santa-Izabel. We had covered 450km, therefore leaving 800k’s to reach Bariloche the following day. Another classic 450,800.

As we neared Bariloche the scenery was stunning, with the road following a winding river through the hills. However, the weather soon became freezing, and as we entered the town it began to snow. Recent riots meant the streets were quiet, and most of the shops seemed to be shut. Nevertheless we didn’t have any trouble finding a decent hostel with parking, and before long we were toasting to a successful couple of days, and trying our best to chirps up any local talent.

Our next stop was Rio Gallegos, the capital and largest settlement of the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz in Argentina. Basically an absolute shit hole, but certainly a convenient stop on the way to Ushuaia. On Friday 21st December we spent a couple of hours in the morning fixing Petes custom dash before leaving Bariloche. Bending the brackets back into shape after his accident in Colombia had weakened the structure, and eventually led to a couple of cracks. It was no big deal though, and after a quick visit to the local welder we were able to head off into the wilderness. The ride that day was freezing, and the rain soon set in as we ventured down a long straight road through absolute baran landscape. The road really did feel like it went through ‘the middle of nowhere’.

This particular ferry crossing is only 30mins, and once on the other side we had 110km of gravel to enjoy. The surface was fine for my Pirelli road tyre, and I was still able to leave Pete in a cloud of dust. I can hear him now….”a really dusty one that mate, I had to hang back to see where I was going”.

Before crossing back into Argentina we stopped for some lunch at a small cafe on the side of the road. As we came back out I noticed my rear tyre was completely flat. Another day, another tyre change.

It’s basically a full unpack luggage off jobby, pretty painful but there’s no point moaning. It soon became apparent that the heavy duty tube we fitted was the wrong size for the tyre, and a crease had caused the tube to chafe and eventually split. Thankfully this didn’t happen whilst riding at high speed. At this stage we decided to swap my rear for the Pirelli MT-21, as our spare tubes would then be the correct size.

Now for the final time……the border crossing back into Argentina was very quiet, after which we only had 250km of tarmac to reach Ushuaia! The ride was so cold I could barely feel my fingers, but my spirits were kept high by the prospect of reaching the finish line before sunset.

The last 150km was awesome as we cruised through the snow-capped mountain range, and by 9pm we had at last made it to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego! Mission Complete.
We parked up next to the sign, shook hands and said “that’s that then! We really have made it. That was one hell of an adventure”. Amazing.

This Tough Miles mission took us through 26 countries, covering over 30,000 miles in just 8 months. Particular sections of the trip were extremely challenging, but despite numerous crashes and countless hangovers we did it! The DRZ400S was an exceptional bike of choice, and all of the time and effort we put into preparing them certainly paid off. It really is a dirt bike you can ride around the world.

The support we received prior to and during this journey was simply incredible. Without the exceptional help of various individuals we really couldn’t have made this a success. Thanks again for all of your support, and we really hope you have enjoyed being part of our mission.

Hundreds of people have been kind enough to donate towards our fund raising page for Cancer Research, and amazingly we have now raised over £5500! This is a great achievement, and Pete and I are really grateful for all your donations.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Tough Miles!

Although the mission was complete, we still had to get back up to Buenos Aires……….after some serious celebrations in Ushuaia…..Tough Miles style!