Ben is an engineer by trade but an adventurer by necessity. He’s terrible at speaking foreign languages but loves to do so. Being on two wheels is where he’s most at home while traveling the world. Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of Ben motorcycling through South America.
This post was originally published in 2010. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
El Pimero Dia (Day 1):
It’s the middle of March and I’m on the final leg of the famous Carretera Austral in southern Chile. Today I’m riding around a lake that’s half in Chile and half in Argentina. In Chile it’s called Lago General Carrera but in Argentina it’s Lago Buenos Aires. Riding the hard packed gravel road yields some of the most stunning scenery on the trip. The rain has finally let up I have great views of blue lakes and steep peaks at the edge of the Southern Icefield.
I stop often for photos and snacks. It’s a good day to be alive!
El Segundo Dia (Day 2):
Today I cross back into Argentina and begin to ride south on the equally famous Ruta 40. However, instead of magnificent mountain scenery and serene mountain lakes it’s a barren land called the Pampa with little life, rough roads, and strong winds. I fill up for gas at the last “big” town and ask the station attendant what the road ahead looks like. “Todo pavimento” he says. All pavement, I should make good time. 20 kilometers down the road and it’s ripio (dirt/sand/loose gravel). I had a feeling he didn’t know…
It’s a long day on the ripio. The scenery doesn’t change much and I see very few cars. The wind is blowing but it’s not too bad. A full days ride and I arrive in the small town of Gobiernos Gregores. The first 4 hospedajes are full (odd, considering I’m probably the only tourist in this town). The last hospedaje in town has a bed. I unload, head to the tienda to pick up some empanadas for dinner, and then exhaustion sets in so I call it a night.
El Tercero Dia (Day 3):
Up early for a long ride on rough roads. Continuing south on Ruta 40, the wind has picked up and the road conditions have deteriorated. The loose gravel tracks leave me only a narrow path to ride through. The shifting winds make this all the more difficult. Every few kilometers I slip from my path and hit the gravel mound. Immediately the bike swerves and I struggle to remain upright. My heart races as I regain stability.
Midway through the day the ripio changes to fresh smooth pavement. Better yet, as the road sweeps around the bend I now have a tailwind. There’s complete silence – No wind rushing past my helmet and the bike rides upright with ease. Awwww yeah! Finally a few minutes to relax all my tense muscles. Of course it’s too good to last and the pavement gives way to more ripio and cross winds. Here we go again…
Late afternoon I reach El Calafate and see two adventure motorcycles parked on the roadside. I recognize one as Jeff who I met 3 months earlier in Mexico and with him is Oliver who is also riding south. After a few long hard days it’s relieving to have English speaking company and have some “moto talk.”
El Cuarto Dia (Day 4):
Day off!!! Sort of… 70 km away is the Perito Moreno Glacier. There’s a $20 USD bus ride to get there. But wait, I have a motorbike! A short ride through some beautiful lakes shadowed by huge ice capped mountains and I arrive at the Perito Moreno Glacier which is one of 3 Patagonian glaciers that isn’t retreating. It’s HUGE! About twice the size of Staten Island in New York City. I hop in a boat and we set sail for the 70 meter face. I’m amazed by the rich blue color the enormity of this living flow of ice. At one point the glacier advances and a chunk of ice the size of a school bus comes crashing down and smashes into the water below creating a mini-tidal wave. Being in the presence of such power is very humbling.
When I get back to the bike and push the button to start it up, nothing happens. I figure the battery must be dead. After all, I rode out here at low RPMs and with my heated grips toasty warm. I get a good workout pushing the bike out of the parking lot and over towards a shallow slope. The downhill is short and I’m not sure I’ll have enough space to gain speed for a bump start. I run next to the bike and then jump on and continue to paddle with my legs. The road is ending, it’s now or never, and I pop the clutch. The engine lugs and then magically turns over lifting the front wheel off the ground. YES! I decide to ride home at high RPMs and without the luxury of heated grips with hopes to charge the battery. At the edge of town I stop atop a hill and shut the bike off to see if the battery has been recharged. Nothing… OK, fortunately I’m on the top of the hill so I coast down and bump start the bike again. My mechanic skills are limited so I search for someone who knows what he’s doing. I’m ask at a gas station, a tire changer, a car wash, a hardware store and finally find the only mechanic in town.
In my poor Spanish I tell him what’s going on and he immediately starts working on the bike. I must say, the mechanics in Latin America have been VERY helpful throughout my journey. He says the “automatico” (starter relay) is broken. He can’t fix it and a replacement could be 3 days away. Not wanting to wait around I ask if he has any other suggestions. He shows me that I can jump start the bike by taking a screwdriver across the relay’s terminals. This will work but it’s going to be an inconvenience. Together we build a handlebar mounted switch to get the job done. Brrrrrraaaaapppp! Back on the bike!
Argentinean dinner doesn’t start up until 8 or 9 at night so I spend my evening walking around town. It’s a little touristy for my tastes but beautiful nonetheless. Eventually, Jeff, Oliver and I head to a parilla for dinner. These “grill houses” are amazing and we stuff ourselves silly with all kinds of grilled meet and Patagonian wine. This is the life!
El Quinto Dia (Day 5):
Not far down the road is Torres Del Paine national park. Sadly, I decide to skip it, opting instead for the more direct route to Tierra Del Fuego island. Winter is coming and I want to make it to Ushuaia before the weather makes a turn for the worse. So in the morning I say goodbye to my moto friends and hit the road. It’s 300 km to Rio Gallegos across the windiest pampa I’ve seen yet. The wind is so strong that I lean my bike over more than 30 degrees just to keep in a straight line. I’m afraid to stop on the roadside with fears that the bike will blow over. I keep on until I come across a tiny gas station. Sure enough though, they are out of gas (this is quite common in remote Patagonia). Luckily my tank holds enough fuel to make it to the much larger town of Rio Gallegos. The gas station is sheltered from the wind so I sit and rest for a few minutes. There’s a few locals hanging around and they come over to ask questions. Where are you from? Where are you going? How big is the engine? How much did it cost? Do you like our women here? The usual…
Back on the bike and it’s the same: wind wind wind. By now the rain has started too. The riding is exhausting. I scream in my helmet to regain strength, “Is that all you got!” “Ahhhhhh! Bring it on!” I decide to push right through Rio Gallegos after refueling and head south for the Chilean border. My homemade starter relay switch has stopped working so I struggle in the wind and rain to re-wire the system. With frozen fingers I complete the job and continue on and eventually cross the Magellan Straight where I take a ferry to Tierra Del Fuego island.
I’m getting close now!!! A short ferry ride and I’m riding on the island. Cerro Sombrero, the first town on the island is an hour’s ride away and I decide to post up for the night. I find a little hospedaje in town and the owner is a nice woman who clears her garage to make space for my motorcycle. Hospedajes are my favorite type of accommodation. Family’s rent out rooms in their house. They cook me dinner and we chat well into the night.
El Sexto Dia (Day 6):
After a cold shower and a warm breakfast I hit the road. The first 2 hours are through loose ripio. There’s some really thick (and fluffy) traffic as well…
As I cross back into Argentina the pavement begins. The temperature has been steadily dropping and the rain increasing as the day goes on. I’m wearing all the clothes I have but it’s not enough, so I stop at the last small town before Ushuaia and warm up in the gas station. The locals tell me that the final mountain pass into Ushuaia will be colder but the road won’t be icy. Cold I can handle but ice would be very dangerous. There’s not much daylight left but I’m too excited to stop now. I’m back on the road. The mountain pass is beautiful (and freezing cold!) as I round each corner. I start singing in my helmet with craziness excitement, “It’s the final countdown! do do dooo dooo!” and “It’s a long way to the bottom top if you wanna rock-n-roll!” Cold, went and shivering I finally drop out of the mountains and into the southern most city in the world!
I find a hostel, get some empanadas for dinner and celebrate with a bottle of Patagonian wine. I’m fast asleep at 10pm.
El Séptimo Dia (Day 7):
No riding today! Instead I’m a regular tourist taking a boat trip through the Beagle Channel to see cormorants, sea lions and penguins. Perhaps most spectacular is the view from the sea of the city on the foothills of towering snowcapped mountains.
I can hardly believe it. Over the past 5 and a half months I’ve travelled more than 21,000 miles through 15 countries. I’ve seen beautiful land and met the most welcoming and friendly people. I’ve had many mechanical breakdowns along the way but those low points always turned around with new friends who helped out this stranger. I’ll spend a few days here to relax and then ride a fast and “short” 2,000 miles north to Buenos Aires.
Ben is back in the USA and has finally shaved and cut his hair for the first time in 6 months. He’s struggling to obey traffic laws and his patient girlfriend keeps reminding him not to throw the TP in the waste basket. You can read about his journey through the Americas at www.AFewMoreMiles.com. He’s already planning a new adventure.