One day two boys sat on a beach in Istanbul. They had met some people that were riding bicycles from Turkey to Kenya. This impressed the boys tremendously, and they dreamt that one day they would also do something great and impressive, just like that. Why don’t we ride a motorcycle all the way from North America to the southern tip of South America, one of them suggested. (Funny, I don’t even remember which of those boys made this suggestion.)
Four years have passed since that day the boys sat on the beach, dreaming. One and half years have passed since they stopped dreaming and left Vancouver.
And now, 42,000 kilometers later, one of those boys is in Ushuaia, the most southern city of the world.
A dream… completed? I thought I’d feel like that. But I don’t want to feel like that. And I don’t feel like that. If a dream is completed that means it has ended. Dividing life in chapters, consequently closing them, moving on to the next one. Fuck that.
I’d rather want my life to be one grand blurry dream, never stopping, never pausing. I’m not going to look back at this trip as something I did, I’m going to look back at this as something I’m still doing. Realizing that life is the dream is the only way of living the dream. To add some emphasis to these words: I’m going to keep this blog alive. De Leven will be Lived.
For a next trip, how about Bangkok to Amsterdam, in which countries like Burma, Nepal, India, Pakistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Kazachstan will be crossed? Let’s see what happens.
For now I owe you the story of the ride from Uruguay to Ushuaia.
When I arrive in Punta del Este, I’m not pleased with what I see. I took a substantial detour to come here, because just before I was going to head south a Uruguayan dude told me about the fantastic parties they have here. But what I see is expensive hotels, huge skyscrapers and a mediocre beach. The Marbella of Uruguay. Apparently we have a different definition of what a fantastic party is.
I almost decide to immediately move on to the next town, but the reservation I made at El Viajero Hostal keeps me just where I am.
Man up, time to get some beers. There are worse places in the world. The weather is nice, and something good is always on its way, it’s just a matter of when it arrives.
Luckily the good doesn’t take very long to arrive. When eating lunch at the beach I get talking to my tattooed waitress and apparently she’s quite the hardcore partyer, and she knows about a rave that’s happening tonight, about 15 kilometers outside of the city. Score.
Just before I head out from the hostel to get absolutely wrecked, Eddie shows up on his Vespa. So it appears we’re going to together then! Amsterdam represent. We all know how these nights turn out…
We make it back to the hostel around 10 in the morning and that makes the quest for the Punta del Este parties complete, which means I can start making my way south.
After a two day ride I arrive in Del Viso, which is a small city right next to Buenos Aires. I’m here to meet up with Felipe.
Felipe is a friend of Bouke and Hanneke. They met when they were traveling in Peru. Bouke told Felipe about me traveling south and Felipe was happy to host me for a few days. Not only was Felipe happy to do that, but also his parents and sister smothered me in hospitality.
The next day I’m ready to move on. Winter is coming and there is no time for delays.
Epecuén is the next stop, which was Felipe’s tip. In the eighties this was a thriving touristy town for the wealthy. Then the lagoon flooded, submersing the entire town. The people managed to evacuate themselves, but the town was lost to the lagoon. Argentina’s very own Atlantis. Decades the later the water has subsided again, exposing the damage the water as done and uncovering the ruins. One former resident has moved back in: Pablo Novak. He used to be the mayor, and now he lives amongst the ruins.
My plan is to camp inside an old building, but when I arrive I can immediately see that this is going to be tricky. Unfortunately, the ruins have turned into a tourist destination. You need to pay an entry fee, and overnight access to the ruins is prohibited.
I turn around and head to the tourist information center. Luckily, because I’m a journalist for the famous livedeleven.com (you don’t know it?), I can quickly obtain a press pass which permits free entry and overnight stay to do my nocturnal photography.
Before I pitch my tent I have a beer in a nearby bar. The locals tell me that there’s going to be storm tonight. In the distance you can already see the lightning. My tent is far from waterproof. Also the ruins would probably be a bad idea, because with the strong winds from the storm a building might just collapse. I decide against it and get a hotel. Too bad!
This was also the first time I tried out the new sleeping bag I bought in Montevideo. It’s a lot more beautiful than I thought it would be, but unfortunately it’s not long enough to keep my nipples warm.
After a couple of days of riding on boring straight roads, I finally make it to the Andes, on the western side of Argentina, where I take a break in Bariloche.
The next day I push on to Osorno in Chile. Miraculously I find a new rear tire which I badly needed. I called the same company twice the day before, asking if they had a tire. They certainly didn’t, and it would take a week for them to order one. I show up, and magically they have one lying around. Persistence wins the game.
Leaving Osorno means leaving the last city I will see for a long time. From here on I’ll be on the Carretera Austral, a beautiful Chilean road which swirls alongside the Andes for 1,200 kilometers. It’s very popular for motorcyclists, traditional cyclists and hitchhikers, and rightfully so. About half of it is paved.
As you might expect by looking at the map, you have to take a couple of ferries to get around.
It’s pretty much inevitable that you’ll meet other bikers on these ferries. It’s a very popular road to travel by bike and this is main season. All the bikes are parked together on the boat, and the bikers like to hang out around their horses.
First I meet Marcello. A fast speaking Argentinian, who has been training his fast-speaking-skills for the past twenty years in Santiago (An average person from Santiago puts Busta Rhymes to shame). The only English he knows is “allright, motherfucker”. I imagine he’d fit right in with my father’s bicycle friends. We ride together for 2,5 days, in which I understood pretty much nothing of what he said to me. Luckily that doesn’t stop him from speaking. Despite not understanding much, we laugh a lot together. Who needs words anyway?
It doesn’t take long before Marcello and I are joined by some more Chileans. The group reaches it’s peak size at 5 man strong. It’s fun to ride in a group like that, but I can’t help but feel that I wanted to travel alone and that this is not what I came here for. One thing is for sure: it’s great for my Spanish.
My Spanish has now reached the idiot-level. I participate in group conversations and for a short while, people think that I speak Spanish. Pretty soon comes the moment that I no longer have any idea what the conversation is about, and I proceed to insert wildly offtopic comments. Questions are met with a puzzled face. This makes you appear more like an idiot, than someone that just doesn’t speak Spanish. Great fun.
It doesn’t take long before the group falls apart though. Some people are rushing like hell to get somewhere, others are feeling lazy, and Marcello and I fall in between those two categories. Together again. But soon I say goodbye to Marcello as well, as his destination is not as far south as mine.
I’m happy to be alone again. Stop every 2 minutes to take a picture, then do a ridiculous distance without taking breaks, then have some delicious salmon for lunch, have a beer, take a stupid long lunch break, or the next day just eat some cookies all day, get up super early one day, get up super late the next day. Without even having to explain yourself.
I’m bushcamping quite a few nights, and I always wondered how lonely this would actually get. Turns out: yes, it’s lonely, but no, it’s not bad.
The feeling of loneliness is a wondrous one, and can come to you in many forms. A negative form is when everyone around you is having fun together, sharing jokes, but you have no one to talk to. But what if there is no one to compare yourself to, no laughter to be jealous of? Just nature at its very best to keep you company. I find this a very positive feeling of loneliness.
And it’s good for the soul. When you’re trying to tell yourself something, you might not always be listening to yourself. But your own voice gets relatively loud when all else is silent.
Just after crossing the Argentinian border again, I crash. Pretty hard, at 60 km/h.
This stuff looks like mud, but it’s actually clay a.k.a. slippery as ice. Luckily, I’m fine and the bike seems to be working. Just the right pannier and its frame are fucked, not in a state to be driven around on dirt roads. But, yeah, gotta get somewhere. So I drive at 15 km/h to the nearest town, which only takes about an hour. At the hospedaje, the people are as welcoming and helpful as can be. Within half an hour, my bike is clean. My clothes are being washed. A Bolivian welder is summoned, who welds everything back together in a few hours. They feed me. Incredibly hospitable. The next morning I’m on my way again.
Now I’m on the Argentine side of the Andes, I start to understand what everything was saying about the wind of Patagonia. It’s not just strong, it’s ridiculous.
If you ride a bike, you know how nice it feels to lean it in a turn. Well, try riding in Patagonia. You can lean your bike nonstop for 2 hours on a straight road. I didn’t even bother sitting on the middle of my seat anymore, I sat on the side of it because the bike was leaned so far down. Not quite the same feeling, and actually not that much fun. At times downright terrifying.
On this photo it looks like it’s a windy day, but this was actually one of the rare days that it wasn’t windy. It’s just that the wind always blows from more or less the same direction (west), so the trees actually grow into this shape.
The Argentine side of the Andes is very different from the Chilean side. Instead of lush and rainy, it’s quite dry. The roads are straight. It’s basically a desert, but the interesting thing is that there are lakes and some rivers every now and then. It does also rain, just not as much as in Chile. So why doesn’t anything grow here and is it a dry wasteland? Nobody knows. I mean, I don’t know.
After a few days I reach El Chaltén. I heard that it was touristy and there should be some backpackers there. I’m tired and I’m longing to speak some English, so I decide to party there for a bit. This does not work out. There are some tourists, but they’re not really the crowd I mingle with. Everyone is there for one reason: hiking.
So fuck it, I’ll go hiking too! Above photos are the result. Pretty fucking beautiful, right!? That’s Mt. Fitzroy.
The next stop is El Calafate. Which is probably Spanish for The Caliphate. Dangerous stuff.
Here, quickly an awesome group of friendly backpackers forms. Lena (Australia), Chris (New Zealand), Briley (New Zealand), Nick (Netherlands), Lucia (Netherlands) and me. All from different places, but united by one true love. The true love I’m talking about is obviously Ricky Martin, who happened to be performing right there in El Calafate, in the middle of dickbutt nowhere, in Patagonia. Of course we got tickets. We were probably the wildest people at the concert. And possibly the least liked. Fucking gringo’s.
I end up staying in The Caliphate for almost a week. Quite ridiculous, but I’m actually traveling too fast. What did I say, two months to reach Ushuaia? I’m not even one month into my trip, and Ushuaia could be merely 3 days away. I say could be, because I’m taking it easy from now on. I guess it was the rushed mindset in which we finished the previous trip in which we reached Ushuaia. Another factor is the lack of touristy party places filled with backpackers on the way. These small towns can be beautiful, but do you really want to hang around in them for longer than a day? I do not.
The landscapes are staggering, but that doesn’t make the trip take more time. The length of a journey appears to be more determined by the stops that you make than by the actual distance that you cover.
But a week is definitely enough for a town that small, so I head to Puerto Natales, for which I once again cross the border with Chile. Here I’m meeting up again with Nick, Lucia and Lena. We spend a day doing some hiking together.
During my time in The Caliphate, I also met Javier, who lives in Punta Arenas. When I’m in Punta Arenas he sees my bike in front of my hostel, decides to check if I’m at the hostel and just as his hand tries to knock on the door, I open the door to go outside, and he almost accidentally punches me in the face.
Javier and his friends Willy, Estefan, and many more like to drive around the town in circles. It’s an interesting hobby and I happily join them. For a few days. We have great music, the views are great, and laughs are had.
While I’m trying to swear at some ducks with Javier’s duck-talking device, Javier tells me that he works for the Patagonian newspaper El Penguino. If I’d like to be in it? Sure, why not?
And that’s how this happened.
Somehow I also end up spending like 5 days in Punta Arenas, which is only 1 day of driving away from Ushuaia. Still, I’m in no rush. This must be the first time that I’m ahead of schedule while traveling. Usually I linger in places in the first few weeks, after which I have to rush to catch up in the last weeks and skip a lot of places. Growing up?
You can only postpone the final destination for so long and I pack up. For the last time before arriving in Ushuaia. It’s only 500 kilometers away (although a fair bit on dirt, which does make it a long day of driving).
From Punta Arenas I take the ferry. It’s just a few hours and when I arrive on the other side of the river it’s still morning. I start my day well by elegantly crashing my fat face while I try to ride off the boat. “The deck was slippery” and other excuses, etc.
Since it’s the last day of riding to get to Ushuaia and a last day of anything should never be a boring day, I decide to pick up the pace a bit and make it to 120 km/h on dirt for the first time. Which goes well.
On the way there a group is forming. First I meet Manuel, from Argentina, and Romero, from Brazil. We ride together for a while, and at the border we pick up four more crew members. The seven bikes together must have been deafening.
I expected that the road to Ushuaia would be similar to the rest of the Argentine side of Patagonia. It’s not. It’s crazy beautiful. And that it was so unexpected made it even better.
And then here it is, the sign that officially marks the end of the road. No further south from here. So yeah, I made it.
Now it’s time to sell the bike. I’ll miss him, he’s been my good friend (and sometimes enemy) for many kilometers now. Shortly after I’ll be flying to Buenos Aires for some celebrations, and then on to The Netherlands, home.
What more is there to say? Oh yeah.
In the end it’s all just jokes, really.