Patagonia: Cry of the Guanaco
Write it down, write it all down before you forget! Write about the bikes, the people, the roads, the plains, the mountains, the lakes, the rivers, the glaciers, and the guanaco. Don’t forget the guanaco …
Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
We gather in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. Some of us are united by blood, others by friendship, and others are complete strangers. But we are all united by a common dream—to ride the fabled Patagonia. Four will ride BMWs while the rest of us are on Guanaco 650s (actually Suzuki DR650s, but sometime during the trip we christened them Guanacos, after the wild, long-necked, llama-like creatures that inhabit Patagonia, and the name stuck).
Ushuaia is as dramatic as you’d expect the end of the world to be, with rugged snow-capped mountains on both sides of the Beagle Channel. Charles Darwin sailed through here in 1833 on his way to the Galapagos Islands and the theory of evolution that altered the way we see the world. But Ushuaia didn’t have 55,000 people back then. Today, it’s actually one of the largest cities in the Patagonia region and the launching site for Antarctic expeditions. The weather can change in a blink here, too, which we learned on a boat tour that began beneath blue skies and calm seas and ended with blustery winds and whitecaps roiling a boat whose windshield wipers stopped working.
Porvenir, Tierra del Fuego, Chile
We leave Ushuaia beneath clear skies but are delayed an hour at the city limits by electrical gremlins in Lyndon’s BMW. After a valiant effort to fix the bike fails, it’s loaded onto the support trailer until we can find someone who knows their way around a modern BMW’s electrics. Meanwhile, Lyndon will use ride leader and guide Eduardo’s Guanaco 650. Eduardo joins Diedrik in the support truck. Word has it that Diedrik brought just one CD of music for the whole trip. I pray for their sanity.
We set up a meeting point farther up the road and, in an effort to make up lost time, rip up and over the rugged mountains around Ushuaia and serpentine down the other side along a mountain-lined lake before stopping for gas and snacks. A steady wind pushes us across broad flat plains toward the Atlantic Ocean and the Chilean border. That’s when some of the Guanacos begin to stumble and cough and lose power. Mine won’t run in top gear with any enthusiasm and other Guanacos are behaving similarly. We deduce that some of us got dirty gasoline at the gas station and Diedrik works repeatedly over the next couple of days draining carbs of the foul fuel.
Motorcycle & Gear
2014 Suzuki DR650
Helmet: Shoei Hornet X2
Jacket: Alpinestars Bogota Tourer
Pants: Aerostich AD-1
Boots: Alpinestars Mono-Fuse GORE-TEX
Gloves: Aerostich Elkskin, Alpinestars Drystar
Luggage: F-Stop Guru V2 camera backpack
Crossing into Chile, we learn a new dance—the Border Tango. Step One: Check out of Argentina. Get motorcycle paperwork from Eduardo. Stand in one line, sometimes two, get passports and paperwork stamped. Step Two: No-man’s land. Get back on the bike and cross several miles of unpaved and uninhabited land between Argentina and Chile; apparently Chile and Argentina have been neighbors since the early 1800s when they gained their independence from Spain, but they have not always been neighborly. Things are good now but the no-man’s land persists in Patagonia. Step Three: Check into Chile. Fill out one or more forms. Stand in more lines, passports and motorcycle paperwork in hand. Stare at a typically dour agent as they check the paperwork. Wait for the inked hand stamp to land upon your passport with a metallic and wooden thud.
The road to the small fishing village of Porvenir is in the process of being paved, but today most of it is still dusty gravel. Hans and his son Thijs kick up a dust storm ahead of me. When the wind blows sideways it is cinematic—the late afternoon sun casting the grasslands in a warm light as the dust billows dramatically to the side. But when it blows straight at me it’s a nightmare. We aim toward the fading sun, which is making every speck of dust on my visor glow and obscure my vision, forcing me to peer through a one-inch slice of shade provided by my helmet beak. I lean into the wind and skim across the plains, wary of guanaco on the side of the road. Arriving in Porvenir on the last rays of the day, we raise our beers for a toast and then feast on ceviche and fish.