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Motorcycling through Patagonia: A 30-year dream

While backpacking around the globe on the age of 22, John Apps had a dream: To embark on an epic motorbike journey. 30 years later, he lastly made it by motorcycling through Patagonia as he rode to the bottom of South America.

The yr was 1987 and I used to be sitting in a bar in Yangshuo, China. I used to be three months right into a backpacking adventure and, whilst having dinner with my travelling companion, we sat and checked out a world map on the wall behind us and mentioned what our next huge journey can be.

It was universally agreed that it will be a motorcycle journey from London to Cape Town through Africa. I chose the BMW R80GS as my weapon of selection and Olaf selected the Yamaha XT 500 (the one with the gold wheels). The seed was planted at that second and it turned a dream.

Realising a dream

Having been side-tracked by jobs, different adventures, mortgages and grown up life, 30 years after sitting in that bar in China, I was lastly able to understand the dream of a long-distance bike journey. I discovered, with age, my functionality to cope with actually tough dwelling had diminished and South America had develop into my destination of selection.

It appeared to supply the whole lot: rainforests, high mountains, unimaginable beaches, deserts, world class metropolises, historic history, heritage and the world’s southernmost metropolis (Ushuaia), the place I had spent many Antarctic tourism seasons operating the ship operations for a serious Antarctic cruise company. Not solely that, however I reside in Mallorca, Spain, and my Spanish, while not great, is sweet sufficient and made the continent a really perfect place for me.

Your author John Apps

So, I had my bike, I had the vacation spot and I had approximately eight weeks to spare to make an journey. I needed it to be more than infinite miles of hardcore driving, for me this was going to be about seeing the nations, visiting a number of the well-known sites and a few much less well known, catching up with a number of previous associates and hopefully staying at a number of the incredible places that I had been including to my ever-expanding record of locations that I need to keep at.

I decided to focus on Argentina and Chile as I’ve been obsessive about Ruta 40 since reading about it within the 1990´s. The mythical street, which runs three,100 miles from the south to the north of Argentina, principally within the shadow of the Andes, presents infinite dust to check man and machine.

Route planning

All the newest reviews I had heard have been that it was going to be absolutely paved and would soon develop into just one other freeway. I needed to get to do no less than some of it how I imagined it to be.

So, I might fly to Buenos Aires, head west in the direction of Mendoza and then south to Ushuaia, before heading north again on Ruta three, almost 2,000 miles again to Buenos Aires. I might divert into Chile to journey the Carretera Austral, the Chilean equal of Ruta 40, just with extra rain, before coming back into Argentina to journey the section of Ruta 40 from Perito Moreno to El Calafate.

Motorcycling through Patagonia
The majestic peaks of Mount Fitz Roy

So, In October 2017, I loaded the bike onto a aircraft in Heathrow with its vacation spot being Buenos Aires, and I set off a number of days later to satisfy it there. On arrival, I discovered the bike had been bumped for more essential cargo and I had a four-day look forward to it to reach. Javier and Sandra from Dakar Motos have been overseeing the import, so I used to be free to explore the town, see the sights, eat plenty of great steak, take pleasure in some fabulous Malbec wines and usually sit back for a number of days.

I met with a good friend from my Ushuaia days who beneficial that if I used to be going to Mendoza, I should attempt to detour to go to Villa de Merlo in the Comechingones Mountains in San Luis Province. It’s a well-liked vacation spot for Argentinians, but less recognized to European and American guests. So, having collected the bike, despatched a set of spare tyres to Bariloche on the native bus to collect once I arrived, and discarded about 20kg of over-packed weight at my pal’s condo. I set off.

Setting off alone

It´s all the time with some trepidation that you simply set off on your own, on a heavy bike from an enormous city that you simply don’t know. In your mind, you marvel ‘is this wise?’ and, and not using a bike-hardened bottom from years of driving only for pleasure, the primary day turned an epic 11 hour, 600-mile lengthy journey. I rode out from Buenos Aires, across the Pampas to Rosario, then west to Cordoba, before crossing the Comechingones Mountains on probably the most implausible alpine street and descending onto the plains under.

I arrived in Merlo standing on the pegs, to save lots of my bum, and checked in to a nice lodge simply as the sun set and darkness descended. The subsequent morning, I rode into the mountains once more and spent the morning filming condors, the most important fowl on the earth by weight, as they sat on rocks ready to slowly ascend on the morning thermals. What a very magical start. This place is value a go to, and I might actually advocate it to you.

Motorcycling through Patagonia
John’s BMW R 1200 GS Journey

Mendoza is Argentina’s fourth largest city, dwelling in the rain shadow of the Andes, most famous for its wines and outside dwelling. The rationale for my go to, apart from wanting to escape into the encompassing Vineyards, was that I had seen on UK TV´s A Chef Abroad that John Torode had visited a restaurant referred to as ‘Siete Fuegos’, the Seven Fires. He referred to as it a ‘Temple to Beef’.

I had booked months prematurely to get in and so, wearing my smartest street trip clothes, I headed into this fabulous vineyard to take pleasure in a set of fire-based cooking methods, fantastic sluggish cooked ribeye, salt encrusted baked salmon, and even grilled fruits. That is the best way to do a motorcycle adventure, and whenever you’re completed you’ll be able to journey out the again approach, alongside the dust roads through the vineyards. All good practise for the street ahead.

Hitting the street once more

I spent three nights within the vineyards on the spectacular Casa de Uco, having fun with their wines and hospitality earlier than heading off on the long trek south to San Martin de los Andes.

This part nonetheless has a 125-mile stretch of ripeo (graded filth) and, in the 35C heat, it was a scorching and dusty experience, particularly each time I handed a car coming in the other way and braced for the hail of gravel and mud that came my method.

Motorcycling through Patagonia
The filth trails of Ruta 40

I camped the night time at Chos Malal, a great place to arrive late and depart early, and headed on to San Martin de los Andes, a picturesque lakeside city at the beginning of the fabulous Route of the Seven Lakes, 70 miles of immense landscapes, mountains, lakes and forests.

It’s justifiably well-known, and on my journey with clear blue skies and no wind it was some of the magical days. It took all day to cover the space as a result of round every corner the surroundings is extra majestic than the last, and if you´re not laughing to your self in your helmet because it’s so breath-taking, you’re stopping to attempt to report at the least some of it to photographs.

Travelling in type

On the finish of the day I stayed at one other sensible place referred to as Las Balsas in Villa Angostura, certainly one of my three ‘treat’ stays on the trip. Sheer luxury and probably the perfect view from a lodge room on the earth. It’s not for those on a finances, but if you will deal with your self, then you may do it in far worse places.

Heading further south from this level, you assume perhaps it is going to get a bit bleaker or extra boring, but you’d be so incorrect. From Villa Angostura, through Bariloche and El Bolson (attempt to arrive on market day because the microbreweries supply tastings on all their beers), Esquel is for steam practice lovers, and Trevelin for the well-known Welsh afternoon teas. All linked by Ruta 40 and miles of countless street through breathtaking scenery.

Motorcycling through Patagonia
On the Street of Seven Lakes

A word concerning the wind. It’s constant and it’s harmful. The wind shoots down from the Andes gusting at speeds of greater than 70mph and also you typically journey at a 30-degree angle to keep heading straight. When a car comes in the other way you get as close to your personal curb as attainable because if a gust comes at the improper moment it could actually push you across the lanes into oncoming visitors very easily. Give it respect and caution always and depart early within the morning earlier than it wakes up.

From Trevelin, I used to be crossing into Chile at Futaleufu, The ripeo street to the border is beautiful once more, and then you definitely cross into Chile and, as if to say Chile is best, there’s three miles of lovely tarmac from the border to Futaleufu, after which it reverts to a mud/gravel street.

Driving filth roads

That street from Futaleufu to Villa Santa Lucia was quite magical, a true filth street operating alongside the Futaleufu River, considered one of Chile’s greatest white water rafting rivers, for more than 60 miles. Then there’s the most effective little home in Villa Santa Lucia, the place you’re invited into the proprietor’s sitting room, which smells of freshly baked bread, whereas she makes you a unbelievable lunch. A day when bike goals are lived out.

In the afternoon, I joined the Carretera Austral, Basic Pinochet’s street to hyperlink Puerto Montt in the north of Southern Chile to Villa O`Higgins in the south, and rode right into a changing landscape of temperate rainforest. It was a sunny day, so I enjoyed every minute to Puyuhuapi where I realised, as I reached the water, that I had rode from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

Motorcycling through Patagonia
On the Carretera Austral

The Carretera Austral is totally different to Ruta 40, in that it’s a a lot smaller street. It travels through the Andes somewhat than skirting them and, due to that, just isn’t within the ‘rain shadow’ of the mountains, however quite in the precise rain! The surroundings is unimaginable throughout, but you should anticipate that typically the clouds will obscure it and you could have to rely on good waterproof clothes.

Street circumstances on the hardcore could be dangerous when it’s wet and a number of the steep mountain sections function tight hairpins which could be a challenge on closely loaded bikes. You additionally have to take care when swinging out as vans can typically be coming in the other way and their brakes are usually not so good! Don’t miss it although, it’s a street that may capture your coronary heart and soul.

From Coyhaique you possibly can head 80 miles south, again primarily on the Austral, but you possibly can divert to Puerto Ingeniero Ibanez and take a two-hour ferry crossing of Lago Basic Carrera to Chile Chico, which saves you a 250-miles experience across the lake. Verify the occasions as they modify every day, however it appears as if they are all the time capable of squeeze a motorcycle on.

True adventure

From Chile Chico, it’s solely a couple of miles to the Argentine border once more, then then an extra 60 to Perito Moreno, where you again be a part of Ruta 40 for the 370-mile lengthy trek right down to El Calafate or El Chalten.

This section of street is lengthy, desolate and windy, every part you need from this legendary route. Gasoline stops are near the restrict of a tank’s range, so cease and refill everytime you see a gasoline station. The street is almost all tarmacked now, however there is a section of previous street that’s been maintained away from the current route, which is properly value driving in case you have the gasoline and the will to do the actual factor. It’s clearly sign-posted and it’s bloody fabulous. You can do the entire section to El Calafate in a day, however it’s an extended day, and there’s an enormous sense of accomplishment if you arrive, dusty and wind battered.

Motorcycling through Patagonia
Beautiful views from the street

El Chalten is a superb place to stop for a day or two. There are fantastic mountain hikes around Mount Fitz Roy to do, one of the best gravel street to experience as much as Del Desierto Lake, and some good microbreweries to refresh your self at afterwards and to scrub down the ever present Argentine steaks. Inns will not be the most cost effective here, however properly well worth the worth for the scenery and actions on supply.

From here, it’s on to El Calafate and the Perito Moreno Glacier, which is actually spectacular, and then from El Calafate I headed south once more in the direction of Torres del Paine National Park, after which again into Chile for an additional extravagant keep.

Operating in need of gasoline

The path to the park is just 180 miles in response to the GPS, but because of one gasoline station which was with out gasoline, and the subsequent with a broken pump, I ended up having to miss the border crossing and head one other 90 miles south to get gasoline, then discovered the border crossing closed as it was Sunday, so went an extra 30 miles south to cross into Chile, earlier than turning round to go 120 miles north once more. My 180-mile trip ended up as 380 miles and eight hours. Anticipate the sudden at any time and mark it right down to the adventure of a lifetime.

The Explora Lodge in Torres del Paine Nationwide Park is the jewel in the crown of resorts within the park. set in a 600,000-acre breath-taking wilderness of glaciers, snow-capped peaks, lovely lakes and forested valleys, it´s situated proper in the heart of the park overlooking Lake Pehoe.

Motorcycling through Patagonia
On the street from Futalefeu

The rooms have large picture windows searching onto the mountains, and the lodge is a contemporary marvel of wood and glass. Couple this with an all-inclusive stay that features all meals and exceptional Chilean wines, in addition to a selection of included every day excursions together with horseback driving, trekking, photograph safaris and large barbeque lunches at their own ranch house, then you realize you’re in for a very special keep.

You need to stay a minimal of three nights and, consider me once I say this, it´s costly, however value every penny. It is a memory which can stay lengthy as a means of seeing this unimaginable park. Did I mention it has open-air scorching tubs on the aspect of the lake?

In sight of Tierra del Fuego

Leaving Torres del Paine meant heading as far south in Chile as you’ll be able to go, all the best way to Punta Arenas, and from here, on the shore of the Strait of Magellan, you’re in sight of Tierra del Fuego and the final leg of the southbound journey, the street to Ushuaia.

Awaking the subsequent day to start out the final push, I was confronted with a huge gale blowing down the strait and, having ridden the 90 miles to the ferry crossing, I arrived to be advised that it was not operating because of the winds and was in all probability going to be out of motion for 48 hours. I now had a option to make: Wait it out to make that final section to get to a place I had been so many occasions earlier than (though not by bike), or start the journey north with a number of days in hand to see a bit extra of locations I had not visited.

Motorcycling through Patagonia
Views of the Andes

I decided to go north, and now remorse the decision as Ruta 3 in Argentina is 1,800 miles of lengthy, straight, windswept emptiness punctuated with towns of little character struggling to survive in this empty part of Patagonia. My recommendation to would-be travellers of this route can be to go south to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires and do this section first. Whereas the trip is new, every part is thrilling, and then it only gets better as you head north on Ruta 40. My means of doing it left the journey north as a bit flat and uninspiring.

This journey was a voyage of superlatives. Epic scenery, delightful individuals, countless wind, and nice food and drinks.  You’ll be able to wait a long time to reside your goals, but an important factor, is that you simply truly make them happen.

Need to experience in Ruta 40 and the Carretera Austral? Here’s how one can…

Getting There

Return flights with a single layover to Buenos Aires might be obtained for as little as £434 when you fly from London Heathrow. Anticipate to pay  round £600 if you wish to fly direct.

Journey your personal bike in South america

There’s a allure to driving your personal bike in such an adventurous plance. At current costs, Moto Freight gives airfreight from London to Buenos Aires with prices ranging from £1,495 for a BMW R 1200 GS measurement motorbike. Go to for more info.

Getting round

For a lot of Argentina and Chile, there’s plentiful good high quality 95-97 Octane gasoline. Further South in Patagonia the gasoline is cheaper as it’s authorities subsidised, but more durable to seek out. Some gasoline stations are over 200 miles aside, and whenever you get there might be out of gasoline or have broken pumps. I solely carried a two-litre emergency provide but did not have to make use of it, though it was very tight on events (five miles vary left). Petrol stations are additionally an excellent supply of Migas (ham and cheese sandwiches) and drinks.

I had South America Maps on my GPS and, for probably the most part, they have been accurate enough for me, although it’s better to get co-ordinates for the motels and so forth. as native mapping was not so nice.


Motorcycling through Patagonia
The view from John’s bed room window on the Explora Lodge

Resorts: These I researched and booked prematurely as the stays shaped the backbone of my travel plans and I ran my itinerary around these bookings. The three extravagances being listed in the primary textual content. If I was to do it once more, I might permit extra time in between to offer more exploration time.

Lodges: I used while on the street and found some wonderful locations, not overly expensive, and if there was nothing to seek out, I camped.

Tenting: I solely camped once I needed to, often if the days have been too long to succeed in the subsequent location. I made use of an awesome app referred to as iOverlander to locate attainable places. This was sometimes completed the night time earlier than once I had web access.

Get probably the most from your journey

Don’t attempt to do too much, purpose for smallish day by day rides as it provides you time to cease and benefit from the places. You’ll have days when it’s a must to do a ‘big one’ however try to hold them to just some. The exception being Ruta 3 north or south. There’s not a lot to see so get it out the best way and save your time for Ruta 40 in Argentina and Ruta 9 in Chile. If heading south, go to Ushuaia. I missed it as I had been so many occasions earlier than, nevertheless it’s beautiful. Go see it.

And eventually, pack lighter than I did! I had approach too much unused gear and clothes!

Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat. The surroundings takes your breath away, the roads are great (usually) and also you don’t want knobblies, however you’re so joyful you’ve gotten them if you do. The individuals are variety and accommodating, the food (should you´re not a vegetarian) is excellent. The driving is out of this world, and the truth that you don’t need to go residence to the same location every night time is what goals are product of.

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