White peaks

Witte toppenFrom Tecka we ride to San Carlos de Bariloche on Ruta 40, a legendary road that runs through Argentina. From the border with Bolivia in the north to Rio Gallegos in the south the ’40’ covers a distance of over 5,000 kilometers. It is one of the longest roads in the world. In 1932 they started the construction of the long gravel road, which has since then reached a cult status and has drawn many adventurers to all parts of Argentina. The gravel road is now rapidly being paved and some parts are diverted to connect other villages and towns. With the improvements to the road a part of the adventure is gone, but the route still has not lost its legendary status. Annually many motorcyclists start a trip with the sole purpose to ride the entire Ruta 40, preferably the original route.

We have just left Tecka as we encounter the first motorcyclists. First some Argentines without luggage and later on Germans with fully packed motorbikes. Excited that after Charlie and Cecilia we now see other travelers, we wave at them and slow down so we can have a chat. Just when our feet touch the ground the big BMWs drive past us at high speed to disappear around the curve. After that we see even more fully packed motorbikes that ride past us waving, without stopping. How about that? Witte toppenIn Africa we were accustomed that other travelers, especially those on motorbikes, would stop to have a chat and exchange tips. We have made many new friends by the  side of the road. Still somewhat surprised we continue and soon we understand why no one stops, because in the next hour we see one biker after the other. If we would stop to chat to everyone of them, we would need three days to get to Bariloche.

From Tecka Ruta 40 runs along the foot of the Andes to the north. The mountains with their snowy peaks lie on our left and on our right we look out over a vast plain. From the moment we could see the peaks of the Andes Peter had his gaze focused on the air to check for the Andean Condor. It is one of the largest flying birds in the world with a wingspan of more than 3 meters. We see many large birds of prey, such as the Turkey vulture, the Southern Crested Caracara and the brutal Chimango, but none of the birds has the span of the condor. At some point we see three very strange birds in a meadow. From a distance it seems like  they have the shape of a goose, but they are as large as small ostriches. Witte toppenOnly with binoculars we see that there are no less than three Andean Condors! We had not expected to see them on the ground. They sit around a carcass with some other birds of prey, which look more like little sparrows beside the huge condors. We can really see their size when they fly away after a while and with only a few blows with their huge wings disappear in the sky. Very impressive!

The closer we get to Bariloche, the more snowy peaks we see. The area is reminiscent of the European Alps with high gray rocks, fast flowing rivers, deep blue lakes and wooden houses with geraniums on the balcony. The mountain air is just as fresh. Along the entire route are large bushes of Broom that have bright yellow flowers that smell delicious. The road follows the meandering river and is a great road to ride with all those curves. At the end of the day we try to find a place for our tent in Bariloche, but it is low season and the campsites are not open yet. It has now started to rain and the wind is very cold. After riding up and down the city for over an hour we do not feel like looking for a campsite any longer. Witte toppenWe park our bikes at the Green House Hostel, next to the big yellow BMW of Charlie and share a dormitory with our friends from Singapore. It is nice and warm in the hostel and from the common kitchen sounds some nice music. To be honest it is quite nice not to be camping today.

The next day we stay in Bariloche because we want to settle some business in the city. We need to find someone who can fix our tent, because the zippers of the inner tent are broken. We have had our green tent for a few years now and used it for a number of holiday before we left. When we left on the big trip, it was actually still as good as new. We can no longer say that now, after more than 200 nights of camping. Peter has repaired quite some holes and tears. Witte toppenIn Egypt, a young dog ran against a line of the tent, leaving a tear in the tent. In Ethiopia, we had accidentally rolled a beetle in the fly of the tent which ate his way out through several layers. And then of course all those cats, that are oh so cute until they put their nails into the fly. Altogether Peter has repaired more than 20 tears and holes that were made by dogs, cats, beetles, termites and falling branches. The extra piece of tent fabric that we took is almost gone.

Apart from the needed repairs, we give “Tent” all the love and care that it needs. We pack it neatly, let it dry when we had packed it wet, never pull the fabric too tight, always wipe bird droppings off and even put on a new water-repellent layer from time to time. We fear the day that it does not help anymore and we have to replace it. And that day seems to come alarmingly close now, because the zippers are broken and the inner tent does not close. Annoying if there is a lot of wind, but even worse because of all the mosquitoes, spiders and snakes that can now crawl inside. We need a new zipper fast!

Witte toppenBariloche is both in winter and in summer a popular destination that attracts especially wealthy Argentines. On the way to the city center we pass luxury boutique hotels, we are overtaken by expensive sports cars and downtown we pass upscale restaurants and a large casino. Like the surroundings, the center reminds us of a village in the Swiss or French Alps. Outdoor shops are interspersed with souvenir shops and windows full of chocolate. In each of the outdoor sports shops we ask if they can repair our tent. Once the problem is clear, the staff shakes their heads. We look at the tents in the window, but none of them meet the stringent requirements we have. We want a three-person tent we can pitch without using the fly, in which we can sit upright and lie in the length of the tent, with two entrances of normal height and ventilation possibilities. In short: we want a copy of our tent. The only tent that comes close costs more than € 1,300 here. That is a big bag of money, that would takes us very far during this trip. Let’s first try to fix it, perhaps a tailor can help.

Witte toppenIt appears to be a lot harder to find a tailor in the touristy town of Bariloche. We drive crisscross around the city center and only after a few hours we finally find a small shop full of colored yarn, elastic bands and all kinds of needles and pins in a back street. When I ask if they mend clothing, the girl nods “yes,” but once she sees that I take out a tent she steps back. She does not fix tents and is not willing to make an exception to that rule for us. If they cannot help us to get a new zipper, we should maybe try to buy new ’runners’, the small piece of the zipper with which you actually close the zipper. In Spanish, I ask her if she sells runners. The girl looks at the zipper of the tent, pulls out a box and takes out six runners. I have to pay 42 pesos, the equivalent of €2,50. Let’s see how far this will get us.

The next morning at the hostel we say goodbye to Charlie and Cecilia for the third time this trip. Our friends leave for Chile and we move to a campsite a few kilometers outside the city. We hope that we can fix the zipper of the tent today so that we can sleep safely tonight, away from the bugs.

Witte toppenOnce on the campsite, Peter starts to work on the tent. After he has watched some YouTube instructional videos, he opens the seams of the zipper to take off the old runners and put on the new ones. With a piece ductape as reinforcement he sews everything back together. It is done so neatly that the scars are barely visible. The first tests with the new runners are promising. After a few hours I hear: “I’m done!” Together we pitch the tent and then the real test follows. Peter opens the zipper, closes it again, opens it again and closes it once more. It works! The zipper runs even better than ever. Happy as children with new toys we open both zippers at least 25 times. We should have done this so much sooner, it would have prevented a lot of aggravation. And that for only € 2.50!

The next day we wake up well rested and start our next job after breakfast. No work on the motorbikes, the tent or the website this time, but work for Honda! A few weeks ago we received an email through our website from a production company in London. The company had been commissioned to make a film for Honda. They had found our website on the internet and asked if they could use some of our photos. We did not quite know what to make of it, but did send them some pictures (when we were still in Johannesburg). Three of our photos from Egypt and Sudan proved suitable for the movie. Witte toppenThe result: “True Adventure Episode I:” The Dream “” was a cool movie about the history of Honda in the Dakar Rally with super shots of Honda Africa Twins racing through the Sahara. Our photos were used at the end of the clip. And although they are only visible a nano-second and you can only see them if you do not blink your eyes, we are still pretty proud that our photos were used!

We thought that was it, until we received another email from London. A second movie would be made for the ‘True Adventure’ campaign of Honda with the theme: motorcycle travelling. For this movie they were again searching for pictures and movies of travelers that were riding a Honda motorcycle around the world. But that was not all, because they also wanted us to make a movie ‘on location’ in which we would say a few words. For our contribution we would receive a small fee to cover expenses. We are not actors, but we will surely manage to “say something” on camera, right? And if we thus appear in the advertising campaign of Honda, maybe for the new Africa Twin, that would be super cool, would it not? We decided to stay a little longer in Bariloche, close to good internet and informed the company in London that we would be happy to participate.

Witte toppenWhen we were still at the Green house hostel we sent photos and videos to London. We now received further instructions and the script that we have to read. The text is in English and because that is not our mother tongue, they asked us to translate the paragraph that we have to read into Dutch. That proves easier said than done, because the English text is quite poetic and the literal translation sound really bad. But with some creativity and some help from friends back home, we soon have nice sentences on paper. The instructions indicate that they would like to receive three movies in English of each of us, always in a different location, and one movie in Dutch. A total of eight films, so we have to get to work! After taking some time to learn the text by heart, we start filming. It takes an hour before we find a suitable place for the camera. When we are finally satisfied with the camera position, Peter starts his acting career. It appears to be quite difficult to say the text when the camera is rolling and only after 22 shots we have a clip where we are both happy with. That is one, only seven more to go.

For the other movie clips we get on the bikes to find locations to film near Bariloche. A rock formation, blue lake or snowy peak is much more beautiful than our green tent on the campsite. We take turns to stand in front of the camera, while the other gives instructions as a true director. Witte toppenThe locations are easily found, but making the movies takes a lot of time. The one time we forget our lines, the next time my hair is not looking good and another time a sheep is just making a lot of noise. The longer it takes, the crankier we both get and the harder it is to listen to the well-intentioned instructions of the other. But in spite of everything, we manage to get all movies at the end of the day.

We take the laptop to the reception desk where the wifi signal is strongest and send the videos one by one to London. They are large files and it takes very long to send them. Deep in the night all movies are finally sent. The next morning we receive an e-mail from London confirming that all movies are received. Great!

Even though the “work” is done, we decide to stay a few more days in Bariloche to finish some of our own chores. Peter services the bikes and I work on the website and our administration. And now we are here, I have my Dutch flag repaired. Witte toppenThe red-white-blue flag that is around my bag is as old as myself and has very much emotional value to me. I was very sad when it was teared in Namibia. I carried the flag in the pocket of my jacket for a while, but want to tie it around my bag again. In the shop where we went for the tent, I ask if they can repair the tear in the fabric and replace the elastic band. Only when I am sure they understand what I mean and I feel confident that they will not cut the flag to pieces, I give the piece of fabric over to the girl behind the counter. The next day, I have pain to my stomach from nerves as I enter the shop to pick up my flag. Once the girl sees me, she runs to the back and comes out again showing the red-white-blue flag proudly. Fortunately, the flag is neatly repaired and I can wear it around my bag again.

Now all of our chores are done and I have my flag, we can continue. Our first destination in South America is Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world located in the tip of Argentina. We could have gone there via Ruta 3, but that road is pretty boring. Instead we will first go to Chile to ride to the south via the Carretera Austral to Tierra del Fuego the coming weeks. Once we have seen Ushuaia, we will follow Ruta 40 north and then go and see more of Argentina.

Witte toppenWhen we wake up the next morning, the tent is shaking back and forth by the wind and the rain comes pouring down from the sky. Not a day to ride, more a day to read or watch a movie, so that is what we do. We stay on the campsite and during the day the sky clears. The next morning, the sky is blue and we start packing. After breakfast we walk to the reception desk once more to receive some emails in the Wi-Fi zone. We have one e-mail from London. They were very pleased with the outcome of our films, but would like all involved travelers to submit one more movie. This time, we should not film while reciting one paragraph, but we should read the full text!

Humpfh! We like to participate on a film for Honda, but we are a bit reluctant to spend an entire day filming, since the last day was not much fun. After a second cup of coffee we however decide to stay an extra day in Bariloche to shoot the movies. It would be a shame if our hard work has been in vain. With the experience of the last day, it is a lot faster today. We learn the new text, find the best camera position and only need a few recordings this time. Until late at night we sit in the wifi zone while the two movies are sent to London Mb by Mb. At half past two at night all is sent and we crawl into our tent tired but satisfied. The next morning we receive the confirmation from London that everything has been received and they are now going to edit the movie. In a few weeks we will be able to see the result. Great, that is settled! We pack our stuff and after breakfast leave for Chile.

Witte toppenWe drive through the center of Bariloche and have a beautiful view of the lake and the snow capped mountains beyond just outside the city. It is spring and even on the beach between the pebbles beautiful orange flowers appear. Luckily it is not yet so warm that all the snow has been melted, because the white peaks are really an awesome sight. We follow the shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi and then drive into the national park towards the border with Chile.

A few kilometers before the actual border we enter the office of the Argentine customs to have our documents stamped. It is our first border crossing in South America. Just like in other parts of Argentina nobody speaks English and we must do all the talking in Spanish using the words that we have learned through our language apps. After I have made clear to the man behind the counter that we are really traveling on two motorcycles and that I am not a pillion on the back of Peters bike, the questions are easy: the make, model, color and license plate number. Witte toppenThe import documents that we had received at the airport in Buenos Aires cause some confusion, but once that is resolved, we receive all our stamps.

The customs office of Chile is no less than 30 kilometers away. We have driven through “no man’s land” between two border posts more often, but never this long. The road winds through the national park and through several switchbacks up to 1,220 meters where we reach the top of the pass. Exactly at the highest point we enter neighboring country Chile. “Bienvenido a Chile” is stated on a sign by the side of the road. Great, a new country! And immediately it is very beautiful, because only after two miles we ride towards a huge volcano. The pointed top is covered with a thick layer of snow and stands out sharply against the blue sky. We did not see anything like this during our trip yet, very special!

Witte toppenAt the Chilean border post, we get the same questions as when leaving Argentina. First we must make clear that we are actually traveling on two motorcycles and then we need to provide information about the motorbikes. In South America we do not use our Carnet de passage, the so called passport for the motorbikes. Instead, we are given a temporary import permit with which we can travel through Chile for 90 days. With a stamp in our passport and an import permit for the motorbikes, we now only have to pass the veterinary inspection before we can enter the country. We cannot take any fruits, vegetables or animal products into Chile. We both have to open our bags so that one of the employees can search them. Once the man has had our dirty laundry in his hands, he has seen Peters tools and he has not fount any illegal products, it is okay.

A new country, also means a new currency. Unlike in Africa there are no men at the border waving big stacks of money in the air. We need to get the money from a bank. In the first big town we find an ATM where we take out 150,000 pesos, a bit more than 200 euros. Enough for a few full fueltanks, some groceries and the first nights in Chile. We continue in the direction of Puerto Varas, our destination for today. It is a scenic route along the lakes and pretty villages with wooden houses. On the horizon we see even more volcanoes, at one point even three together! The prettiest of them, the Osorno, has a pointed top with a thick layer of snow on it. The farther we go, the closer we get to the volcano until we are driving right towards it. What an awesome sight!

Witte toppenWe stop several times to take pictures and sit down on a bench to enjoy the view. We both are a bit hungry and then find out to our surprise that it is already half past seven in the evening. We left late that morning, spent a lot of time at customs and stopped very often to take pictures. We did not notice that it was so late, because it is still so light outside. It is not so far to Puerto Varas, but we now have to hurry to arrive there before dark. Unless … .we bushcamp. Here it is not as open as on the flat pampas of Argentina and not as busy as in Bariloche, so surely we must be able to find a sheltered spot where we can pitch our tent out of sight?

Not much further we drive along a forest with a path that gives access to the lake. We ride our bikes into the woods and walk onto the beach. It seems to be a public beach that is visited by people more often. In the distance we see some farms, but otherwise there is no one. The view is fantastic and it seems to be a good place to stay. We wait for a while to pitch the tent to make sure that nobody has seen us and start cooking on the beach. If we now receive an unexpected visitor, we can always go to Puerto Varas after dinner. After half an hour we feel confident enough to pitch the tent. Witte toppenWhile the sun sets and the sky over the lake turns pink, I cover the bikes with some branches to prevent reflection when a car drives past. From a distance we have a look at the result, it looks good. After a large plate of pasta, we go in the tent with a hot cup of tea. It is not as cold as in Bariloche, which is considerably higher, but still quite chilly. We only go out to go to the ‘toilet’ and brush our teeth, but then quickly go back inside. It is not long before we fall into a deep sleep in our warm sleeping bags.

It is already light when we wake up the next morning. Some cars drive past on the adjacent road and more and more birds start singing. We lie staring at the roof of the tent for a while when we suddenly hear a tractor very close to the tent. Through the window in the tent, we see how the tractor rides on the path toward the beach. The farmer did not see us, but it feels silly to just lie here. We get dressed, light the stove for a cup of coffee and start packing the tent. After that we do not see the farmer again. If everything is packed again after the breakfast, we leave the forest and get on the road for the last stretch to Puerto Varas. Although  bushcamping is not actually an adventurous activity like bungee jumping, white water rafting or safaris, it does add to the feeling of being on an adventure.

Witte toppenThe weather is not really great today. The sky is grey and the Osorno Volcano that we saw yesterday is hidden behind a thick layer of clouds. Without stopping for pictures we ride to Puertoe Varas in one go. We have agreed to meet Matthew and Megan, the doctors from South Africa with whom we had previously tried to share a container for our motorbikes. We never met in South Africa, but did keep in touch by email. They left Buenos Aires a little before us for a trip through the ‘Americas’ and will do some volunteering for MSF (Website and Facebook). A few days ago we found out that they would be in Puerto Varas when we had planned to be there as well. The perfect time to meet.

At the end of the morning we arrive in the center of Puerto Varas. It is a touristic place with many hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. It is pretty busy. We drive to the hostel where Matthew and Megan stay and are welcomed warmly by the receptionist who had already expected us. She tells us that our friends are still in town. We park our bikes beside the two South African BMWs and pitch our tent in the garden of the hostel.Witte toppen Just when everything is set Matthew and Megan happily walk into the garden. It is very nice to meet them and to hear about the adventures they have experienced so far in South America. It is well after midnight that night when we put away the empty bottles of wine and find our tent after an evening chatting about motorcycles, travel, Africa and South America. It remains funny how you have a click with complete strangers when you are dealing with the same.

The next day the weather is really bad. We decide to stay at the hostel to work on our blogs and Facebook, exchange tips and eat together. The next day the weather is fortunately a bit better so we can get on the bikes for a ride to the Vulcano Osorno. And we do not do that with four motorbikes, but with six bikes, because in a hostel on the other side of town two motorcycle friends of Megan and Matthew are staying. And so we meet Regis from France and Emma from South Africa, who are better known as ‘Wolf’ and ‘Zebra’ (blog). They ride on two Suzuki DR650’s from America to Ushuaia in southern Argentina. Practically the same route as we want to drive, just from the other side.

Witte toppenThe men talk about the technology of the bikes while I talk with Megan and Emma about the typical woman things. And different than you might think, it is not about makeup and clothes, but our shared hatred for loose stones and sand, the pace of our male travelcompanions and the challenge to prepare a proper meal in one pot. Very funny! The six of us ride through the city center, past the lake and towards the volcano. A beautiful setting and really cool to see all the bikes together. Emma and Regis do not join us up the vulcano, but continue their way to Bariloche in Argentina. Their journey is almost over and they want to sell the bikes there.

We ride with Matthew and Megan via a winding road up the vulcano to the lookout at the start of the ski lift. The higher we go, the colder it gets until it is only 4 degrees and snowing! It is cold, but the view is definitely worth it. When we have made enough photos, we drive quickly back down, back to the sun and the warm valley. The view we have from the lake to the white peak of the volcano is just as beautiful!

Witte toppenBack at the hostel we end the day in the center of Puerto Varas with a pizza and a Pisco Sour, a typical Chilean cocktail with pisco, lemon juice, egg white and sugar. After the first Pisco Sour, a second follows and we (read: Leonie) go home singing.

The second movie for Honda called “True Adventure Part II: Live unlike the others” would be finished a few weeks later. The result was very cool and worth the hard work. We are very proud that our adventure has become a part of Honda’s True Adventure!

Distance traveled to Puerto Varas: 36 845 km (22 894 miles)

Click here to see the pictures or watch the Honda Movies first!

Previous story “At the coast” – Next story “Carretera Austral (Part I)

| Leonie | Argentinië, Chile, ZUID-AMERIKA

8 Reacties (Comments) - White peaks

  1. Peter Horrocks

    Yet another excellent entry, good enough for a travel book to buy!

  2. Toine Berden

    Leonie en Peter,

    prachtig stuk proza weer en een goede weergave van wat jullie allemaal tegenkomen in dit stuk van Zuid-Amerika. Ik ben in 2010 in Noord-Chili/Peru/Bolivia/Argentinie geweest met een BMWR80GS met conventionele carburateurs. Slecht lopen/weinig vermogen op grote hoogte, zoals Paso Aqua Negras op 4900m hoogte. Ik ben benieuwd hoe het met jullie motoren gaat op dergelijke hoogten.



  3. Mieke Sinnige

    Er gebeurt weer veel speciaals bij jullie. Maar ook zo mooi om te lezen over het kostbare vlaggetje dat weer helemaal goed is gekomen

  4. Jan

    Hoi Leonie en Peter,

    Fijn weer iets van jullie te lezen en te bekijken! Blijf vooral zo doorgaan, de wereld ligt aan jullie voeten en motorbanden. Mag ik jullie bedanken voor het meebeleven van de avonturen?

    Goede reis verder!

  5. Henrieke Groenewold

    Ps Hetto en ik hebben een huis gekocht in Hoogeveen dat vinden wij al een avontuur hihi moet je na gaan 😉

  6. Henrieke Groenewold

    Wat weer super mooi beschreven en leuk om te lezen.Leuk om jullie te zien in de filmpjes.
    Ik vind het een inspirerend filmje geworden.
    Door jullie verhalen foto s en het filmpje krijg ik zelf ook zin om zo n avontuur aan te gaan. Heel veel mooie dagen nog gewenst en groeten hier vannuit Nederland.

  7. joke en janleen

    Hallo filmsterren.

    Wie veel reist kan veel vertellen. Maar lopen jullie hoofden niet over van alle verhalen en belevenissen?

  8. Jan

    Leonie en Peter

    geweldige ervaring. Blijf genieten.
    En voor mij als lezer een verslag om jaloers te worden.

    groetjes Jan