Pueto Natales, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina
November 2 – December 8, 2014
Slow boat to Puerto Montt
As you might have guessed from our frequent yet subtle references to the hellish wind, the 1500km ride from Paso Roballos to Ushuaia had left us with mixed feelings. The Zebra and I were determined to not subject ourselves to that same experience by riding back up North and we both agreed that the Navimag was a perfectly acceptable way to achieve that goal.
On that crisp morning on November 25th we boarded the Eden, a 136m Corsican refugee ferry, for a 4 day cruise back to Puerto Montt. Granted the term “cruise” might be a bit of an overstatement. Built in 1983 the Eden is a bit rough around the edges and offers for all entertainment an old collection of bootleg DVDs. Nonetheless, we enjoyed those 4 days entirely spent doing nothing. No mountain to climb, tire to change or meal to prepare, just the relaxing hum-hum of the massive diesel powerplant fighting the Patagonian winds on our behalf. The downtime also gave us a chance to befriend Dacaluf, a French family of 4 travelling the world in an old Renault fire truck turned into a massive RV. We will see them again.
We found Puerto Montt as we left it, grey and rainy, and decided to head straight to Puerto Varas, a more charming town on the shores of Lake Llangihue. There, we had the pleasure to see again our friends Megan and Matthew from the Great American Trek and meet Peter and Leonie from Amsterdam to anywhere. We shared a beer, exchanged our latest stories from the road and agreed to part ways like riders should, riding away with a nonchalant wave of the hand.
Farewell WolfmobileAs our riding crew veered right toward volcan Osorno we continued North to cross the Andes for what would be our last time. Pine trees progressively refused their coverage to a grey powdery soil, unsure of whether be snow or sand. The border crossed, our DRs gently carved sweeping turns before coming to a halt on the shores of a lake blue as the sky in its happy days. Luck had it that we found a campground nearby, allowing us to both let our thoughts drift in its shimmers for a bit longer, but also spare our budget the abrasion of this touristy region.
We did not want to leave, hoping that if we stayed motionless time would also come to a stop. In 4 days the Wolfmobile was to be entrusted to Greg, its new adopted father, and it made us sad. So we once again took the long way, wandered North to San Martin de los Andes, found a dirt road through the hills to let him drift through turns and remember all the fun we have had together. Greg looked like a squid, but he promised he would take good care of the Wolfmobile, he patiently listened to an hour long lecture describing all the ways he liked to be taken care of and agreed to soon buy quality replacement sprockets. My ultimate attempt to postpone the ineluctable failed and I reluctantly let Greg ride away with my bike. At least he did shifted into 1st smoothly enough.
A Zebra on a bus
Bariloche really is a lovely town, in many ways akin to those Swiss villages floating on Alpine lakes. We dragged our melancholy there, looking for the motivation to tackle what would be the last leg of our South American adventure, a 1600 kms ride to Buenos Aires.
A long wrestle with our GPS failed to produce a fun route, I settled for the short way and decided to go at it cannonball style.
Inexplicably, the Zebra opted out and instead booked herself on a pullman overnight bus. Wrapping up a 30.000kms ride on a bus bus felt like Grandeur and decadence but I had to concede that spending 20 hours behind me crossing the dull central valley of Argentina was only marginally preferable.
In the wee hours of the morning and without fanfare, I dropped the Zebra at Bariloche’s bus station. For the first time in 9 months, we would not spend the day together.
We bumped into Marcello a month earlier as he was riding into el Calafate. Warm pizza acted as a strong catalyst for an instant bonding resulting in a promise to pay him a visit should we ever drive through his town.
Knocking at his door that evening, I must confess I was unsure how welcome I would be. An old lady with a suspicious look on her face slowly made her way to the barb-wired gate. “Buenas tardes” I said “Soy un amigo de…de..del motoquero” naturally I had forgotten Marcello’s name. She stepped away from the gate, pulled her cellphone and made a call. A few expressions went through her face making it difficult to assess whether the situation was turning favorably, but she eventually settled on a smile and said: “Marcello es en camino, vamos a tomar una copa”.
It took Marcello an hour to join us, more than enough time to exhaust my limited Spanish vocabulary. Regardless, we all cheerfully feigned to understand each other and had a lovely time discussing what brought a French gringo to this remote part of the world.
Marcello arrived before this cordial misunderstanding fell apart to take me on tour of Neuquen by night. From a viewpoint overlooking the Rio Negro, he explained how that river makes the region uniquely fertile, sustaining large orchards, agricultural exploitations and bringing wealth to Neuquen. We joined an eclectic cast of characters at a popular food truck to acquire two massive sandwiches before heading to Marcello’s place for a good night rest. Leaving Marcello’s kindness and hospitality was not easy, but my Zebra was getting impatient in Buenos Aires.