Week 94 & 95 - Ushuaia & The Proposal!
Yet again it was crazy windy with long straight roads for 300km that provided virtually no shelter from the incessant wind. We topped up our tanks at 'La Esperanza' and filled our bellies with some empanadas and choripan (kind of like a hotdog) from a little caravan Cafe.
It was then back on road to get a few more Km under our rubber before we found great little campsite at a fishing club by the river. Within about ten minutes of arriving I managed to lose Kelvin's ear bud that he had lent me...doh! Now all in all I had managed to lose the equivalent of a whole pack, plus another one gone! After a bit of chatting with the guy on the gate he showed us their 'Refugio' for tents that we could also get our bikes in, so we set up camp in there. Areas like this for tents are quite common in Patagonia, I think due to the regular strong winds they have there, and it's great...well, at least when it's not really rammed. We were so tired after battling the wind all day, so we just bought some Empanadas for dinner to make life easier, and they were delish!
We got off to a very sloth-like start the next day, again venturing off the normal tourist trail to 'Reserva Provincial Cabo Virgenes' with a 'Pinguinera' (Penguins). The dirt road on the last section was quite gravelly and when the road wound around the wind would side-swipe us, so it was so hard to stay on track. I have to say though, it was definitely worth the effort because there was literally no-one else there, the fee to get in to the reserve was nominal, and it was just fantastic. We parked the bikes up and then walked around all of the paths, which were so unbelievably close to the Magellanic penguins, and the beach view was awesome. We watched a seal chasing the penguins across the beach, but the penguins were a lot faster than the flapping seal, almost taunting it until it ran out of energy and gave up chase. For me it was heaven. I'd never seen Penguins in the wild and they were so beautiful and great to just watch.
On returning to the building at the entrance we enquired about wild camping spots and the ranger told us about a little spot just off the path a little further back up the route. We managed to find it, and it was a great little spot; windy but good. We even had a humungous old cable reel for shelter and to cook under, which was a saviour. It was quite a barren area, however it had plenty of wildlife besides the Penguins. We were visited by a bright orange bird (Long-tailed meadowlark), among several others, and in the morning we were joined by an inquisitive Armadillo who ventured out of his little burrow, which Kelvin named 'Kevin'. Kevin trundled off in to the nearby field for a while before returning for another little scoot around our camp, before retiring to his cosy little shelter in the ground.
Following some much needed coffee we rode back to Rio Gallegos. Again it was so windy, and my back was killing. I don't often suffer from bad back ache but the length of time we were spending on the bikes plus the wind was wreaking havoc, probably because I was quite tense riding in the high winds. Taking breaks was hard because leaving the bikes was difficult as the wind would have them over in seconds if you didn't park them just right, and there was little shelter. I tried to move as much as possible on the bike but it just wasn't cutting it and I was looking forward to getting off for a bit.
We headed South to the border between Argentina and Chile and got on a ferry to Tierra del Fuego. It was super easy, no pre-booking required, and 9000 Chilean Pesos (£8:65) in total for the both of us and the two bikes. It was a little rocky although nothing too crazy, but we still stayed with the bikes to make sure they didn't hit the deck. There were lots of bikers coming off the ferry before we got on, which wasn't surprising considering it was high season, and a lot of them were in big tour groups.
We disembarked the ferry on to Tierra Del Fuego and headed South a little to Cerro Sombrero to find a hotel/hostel, which also allowed camping. We had planned to camp but it was just so windy that we decided to get a bunk room for 12000pp (£11:53), which was an ok price for Chile, and we actually ended up staying for two nights as we were both so shattered and my neck was in so much pain as it had decided to spasm up...falling to bits! I was definitely using my upper body far too much in the wind, too tense in my arms and grip, but this was the first time in my life I had been subjected to so much constantly strong winds that just battered me. Must relax more!
We decided to have the set menu dinner on site the first night, which was really tasty, plentiful, and I have to say, much needed. The following day though it was off to the supermarket for some supplies so that we could cook for ourselves, and on our return we had a chill out in the hotel area lobby where we met guy walking from Ushuaia to Alaska. He was trying to break the Guinness World Record for how fast the journey could be done walking. Sadly he had fast walked down one long section and ended up getting seriously painful shin splints (Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome; MTSS), which had put a spanner in the works somewhat. He was checked over for stress fracture, and was all clear thank goodness. I think realistically his world record attempt was over before he'd really got started, which was such a shame, although he was now thinking of slowing down and just enjoying the scenery.
The following day there was some mild rain, although for once the wind was barely blowing, so we were good to go, but sadly it was long straight tarmac roads yet again. We stopped at Rio Grande YPF for fuel and food and met a Brazilian guy travelling with a 4x4 and also the Ural guys (Friends4Adventures) once again; this was the third time we'd bumped in to them on our trip, and they were now heading back up North to ship their Ural's back to Europe.
Then it was on to Ushuaia, and at this point it was pissing it down with rain. We stopped just before Ushuaia for the obligatory entrance to Ushuaia photo, although besides a quick selfie we didn't bother with any crazy theatrics...it was quite funny watching some people on the other side of the road who, despite the rain, were prancing around and acting like they were on a photo shoot. They were there before we arrived and probably a good while after we left, but each to their own, whatever floats your boat, and I realise that going to / getting to Ushuaia means different things to different people...it only meant something to us afterwards...read on!
Venturing in to the town we found 'Lo De Momo's', which had been recommended to us by our travel bike buddy Paul and we managed to camp in the lawn area of the hostel. This wasn't advertised but because we had been 'recommended' by Paul who was now a friend of Momo, we were invited to camp for a much cheaper rate than to stay in the hostel, plus the prices in Ushuaia were just crazy! We were super grateful. Paul, Meghan and Dave (the couple we met back in Gobernador Gregores on the Husqvarna 701's) were already all there and also camping, so it was great catch up. We got a huge Milanesa sandwich each and had some beers at the hostal, and then sat up 'til about 1am with a Japanese guy called 'Jun the backpacker', a super nice guy.
The following day was 'tourist day', where we went around Ushuaia and took loads of photos, visited the huge 'USHUAIA' letter sign for some more obligatory photos, and also the popular Ushuaia sign down by the port where all the little stalls were. Later that evening it was off to the bar to meet Simon and LL Cool Jace (Jesse Cameron). We had far too many beers/cocktails and not enough food! After meandering back to the hostel super slowly in the pouring rain, Kelvin proceeded to fall asleep half in tent, half out because he was so wasted. Needless to say, we were all considerably hung over the next day and Kelvin was in bed until about 5.30pm! I went off to do some pre wild camping shopping and took some photos around the town. We then met Meghan and Dave who had done a sailing tour, clearly they didn't drink enough the night before, or them Canadian's are just more hard core! We also decided to book flights home, now that we had more of an idea of when we'd need to go back and where from, and the ticket prices weren't too bad, plus they were actually available direct to the UK.
Meghan and Dave had been doing some research and found an amazing place to go for a really decent 'Asado' in the town. In relation to the daily budget it was expensive, however in relation to real world living (i.e. you have a job) it was such good value and really great food, plus the waiters were brilliant! Despite eating plenty, we still managed to save a little room in the desert stomach and stopped for some ice cream on way back.
Maybe it was the ice-cream or the full stomach but I had an awful night's sleep. To make matters worse I dreamt about going back to work, most likely as we'd now booked our return flights home; I woke up in a proper anxiety state. Welcome back to reality!
Luckily the next few says would take us in to the wilderness, and we headed out on Ruta J with Meghan and Dave. Simon turned up at the hostel just before we left so we said hello and then goodbye again for few days. We rode right to the end of the road i.e. the end of the world, so we could have a good view of the end of the Beagle Channel where it opens up to the ocean and the next bit of land is Antarctica. After a very blustery stop, we back-tracked to Km 58 in search of an awesome wild camp that Paul had recommended.
The wild camp spot was literally the best I'd ever seen, but by gosh did it make me work for it! It was so tough for me with the heavy ladened bike; I fell several times on logs and wet grass and big grassy mounds. Confidence definitely played a role as I was the only one that struggled significantly, but in the end I made it and it was so worth it! What an amazing spot! The good thing was, the reason it was so hard to get to was because it was totally secluded and a good kilometre or so away from the dirt road, through a little wooded area and down a long grassy wooded hill (warning....likely impossible to get up again if raining), before getting to the beach area. We were quite confident we wouldn't see anyone else for our entire stay here. (Approximate GPS: -54.89435, -67.17934).
After camp set up, making a fire pit was top of the list, especially as the temperature really dropped in the evening. Saying that, we were extremely fortunate in that the weather forecast for the next two to three days was quite uncharacteristic of the area (so we were told) with high daytime temperatures of about 23 degrees, with little wind and no rain.
Sitting around the fire in the evening we could hear the Whales in the channel, and we saw what looked like a sea otter, or something very similar. We all chatted as we cooked our food, drank the box or two of Chilean wine that just about managed to survive the multiple squashes from my falls on route, and ate some yummy chocolate. It was just an amazingly quiet and serene place, and our idea of heaven.
The following morning, Meghan made us some amazing bread on a camp stove plus she had some Dulce de Leche, which together were scrumptious. Who knew you could make bread using a camp stove; we learn something new every day! We chatted some more and then Meghan and Dave left about 13:30 to start the boring journey back up north. We went back to the wooded grassy hill to see how they'd make it up, and both did really well with no 'off's', despite me putting them off by taking photos. I was definitely a bit nervous about getting out of there on my bike, but we'll come to that later!
We chilled out in our little haven, walked around, took photos, saw whales in the distance a sea otter, seals, cormorants, seagulls and two small foxes playing around the shore line. It was nature's cinema. By the evening the sea was so calm, barely a breath of wind was palpable, and for a few hours we heard the Whales all along the Beagle channel. Kelvin flew his drone for a little while to get a birds eye view of where we were and it did look amazing.
We made another fire, cooked a great curry and just enjoyed our surroundings. We stood on the bank watching the birds, the seals and just the stunning calmness of it all. Then randomly Kelvin got me to close my eyes and I felt him get down on one knee....it suddenly dawned on me what was happening and it was 100% totally unexpected! With a hand made whittled wooden ring, he asked me to marry him. I was ecstatic and giggled rather a lot, but I said yes eventually after I stopped giggling for a few seconds to be able to get the word out! It truly was a beautiful and happy day, and the area lit up warm orange as the sun was going down, and glistened off the calm water.
The next day the water was so calm it was almost unbelieveable. The water was crystal clear and we could see the Whales in the channel, and every ripple they made. Anything that moved in the water or touched the water was clear to see, it was just that calm. There were so many seals! I even saw a Whale breach in the distance, which was a first for me. We watched the sea until about 14:00 and then packed up.
To say it was hard work getting out is an understatement. I fell off right at the bottom of the hill, before I'd really made much of a start. I got caught out by some rutted bumps as I was trying to turn about 60 degrees up the hill, and the dew hadn't lifted as it was in the shade which made it super slippery, so I just hit the deck. Kelvin removed the big bags and got both bikes up the hill. From there we managed to get them both out through the field and woods, and back on to Ruta J. If it had been raining I don't think there would have been a chance in hell of making it up out of there, so if you do ever come to this place and you're not a decent enduro rider or have a loaded bike then I'd consider giving it a miss or camping at the top of the hill!
We rode back to Ushuaia and it definitely looked like the weather was turning. Once we got back to Lo de Momo's we saw Simon again, so after setting up camp we all went off for some food and ended up with Milanesa sandwiches again, and then just hung out in the hostel until late ish, but not as late as most South American's call late! Maybe 12-1am at best, lol! The next day we went to get lots of laundry done, about 4kg in total! We were super happy, and so were our clothes, as we'd been hand washing for ages, and it's just not quite the same. We decided to get the Ushuaia 'stamp' for our passports but only due to the significance of this location with the proposal. We also got caught up on transferring photos and video to the hard drives and charging stuff...always an ongoing thing in this modern travel world!
Back at the hostel, Simon sold his motorbike to Gary, who'd flown in directly from the USA to Ushuaia. I think he was 72 and wanted a bike to ride all the way up from 'The end of the world' back to the USA. Super fab! We had a good chat and Simon was getting all prepped ready for his return to Oz.
In the evening we decided to go for a belated celebratory steak and wine at 'Parilla La Estancia'. It was totally amazing, just so unbelievably tasty; the Argentinians definitely know how to cook a mean steak! It was £40, so a whole days budget for everything, however given the quality and that it was our celebration of engagement meal, well worth it.
The following day it was off to the bike shops. The plan had been to only stay one night but we found a place selling Motul oil for 500 pesos (£18:10) a litre and Kelvin's bike was slightly overdue on an oil change, and we tried to do the oil changes earlier rather than later where possible. Also, a guy we managed to meet through social media who lived in the East of Ushuaia sold us his DR650 filter, which was amazing as none of the shops sold them...a couple of Uber rides later and we were sorted.
We therefore decided to stay one more night and do the oil change the next day, after we'd sourced all of the bits we needed. Following our productive shopping trip we went to see Angela and Graham (Mowgli Adventures) in their van, which was parked near the harbour in the car park. We ended up staying until about 11pm and drank four bottles of wine between us! It was a great impromptu evening, and such a good laugh. We didn't get back in time to cook with Simon, so we felt bad as it was his last night, but sometimes these things just happen. On our return to the hostel we met a French guy and several others, who then proceeded to have a party until 5.30am!! Needless to say we were so tired, but I think everyone had a great time!
We eventually did the oil change at around 12.30pm once we'd both started functioning. Shattered doesn't quite describe how we felt, but at least we weren't on a schedule. We also managed to sort Kelvin's starter switch, which had decided to break. Gary turned up as well as he had left his hotel and decided to join us motley crew and pitch his tent. He gave us some metal putty for the starter switch repair, which was much needed and he did a little work on his KLR from Simon, while Simon went for one last hike up in to the mountains surrounding Ushuaia. Sadly Paul was unwell so stayed in his tent the whole day pretty much.
That night we went to say bye to Angela and Graham with a couple of bottles of wine and stayed a while chatting. I was so cold to the core that evening, I couldn't get warm for some reason. We had a really good laugh, said our farewells and then headed back to the hostel, but Kelvin wanted one last amazing steak, so we went back to the same place. In fact I think it was our last restaurant steak in Argentina, and the only proper restaurant we'd had steak in Argentina, so we definitely made the most of it. We were lucky as it was the best steak yet, just so, so tasty. This time we didn't treat ourselves to any extras so the whole meal was about £20 total. It was so worth it! I know we're always saying how 'expensive' things are but it's expensive on a travel budget, however relative to UK prices it was unbelievably cheap and superb quality in comparison as well. Then it was back to the hostal. We sat and drank wine with Paul and Simon until about midnight, and then we just had to go to bed as we were beyond tired. It was a little bit pointless as there was a BBQ party until about 2.30am and people were talking outside, right near our tent, but we did sleep a little so we can't complain. We'd been so lucky to be able to camp so close to the centre of town, and for a bargain price, we definitely couldn't moan.
All in all we ending up spending a total of four nights camping at the hostel following our return from wild camping, instead of our planned one night. At least we'd spent some time with lovely people, given the bikes more TLC, and eaten the best steak we'd ever had! Even with the sleep deprivation, it was definitely the life!
Our little camp spot