Sunday, February 10, 2013

Day 15: Rio Grande – Punta Arenas

Last night, we slept in Rio Grande: hotel with sea view, please... and gas station in between the hotel and the sea. After a quick breakfast, we hurried to leave: we had one border to cross and 150km of gravel.

We crossed the Argentinean border without any problems and we thought the Chilean one will be the same. We didn't forget the red tape we had been through 2 days ago. Immigration: ok, custom: ok, agriculture: ok, luggage inspection: zealous lady. Yes, zealous lady. We had to open all our bags!! Just to give you an idea, it takes us up to 30 mins to pack everything on the bikes in the morning when we leave. We had to unpack and pack again everything. Miji didn't hide his emotions and besides throwing the bags loudly on the floor he did a quick strip with pants down to rearrange his clothes... Poor lady excused herself, but there was no need. We were just exhausted and she was just doing her job.

Before reaching Porvenir, we drove on a gravel road alongside the Pacific's shore. At one moment, Isabel shouted: "dolphins!!!!". Hadrien and Mijail braked like crazy knowing Isabel's fondness for maritime animals. The dolphins were jumping, doing flips and swimming backwards for us! What a nice surprise to watch this spectacle during our last day.

We had a good lunch in Porvenir, a small desolated town which once made the paper, a century ago, because of a gold rush.

We embarked our motorbikes into the ferry. The trip was surprisingly accompanied by diving and jumping penguins and we even spotted a group of sea lions.

Two hours later we reached Punta Arenas. It was then the rush to prepare the luggage for our flight, give back our motorbikes, have a last memorable dinner and sleep 3 hours before taking our flight.

Now this adventure is over. We didn't have one day of bothering rain, the weather was always perfectly on our side (except the wind which sometimes was on the wrong side). We are all tired, exhausted, done; but very happy to have made it, to have experienced all those amazing landscapes, delicious meals, excellent weather, good laughs and from time to time also a bit of grrrrr. It was entirely worth it but required a lot of preparation.

We are now taking a 1-week well deserved vacation. Mijail & Isabel are flying to Mendoza, Argentina, to spend time with Mijail's family. Hadrien is going for a few days to Buenos Aires and Montevideo.

We thank all those who followed us regularly on the blog, in their hearts or both and also all those who contributed to the fundraising.

Until the next one!!!!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Day 14: Ushuaia – Rio Grande

We left our house in the forest for another forest: Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego. We drove to Lapataia which is at the end of the Ruta Nacional 3. It is the farthest, farthest you can drive; after that either you swim or walk…

When we arrived, we met 3 members of our "Swiss-7" bikers. Why only 3??? Well, they faced cold, wind and rain when they drove to Ushuaia from Cerro Sombrero, so most of them were just fed up with riding the bikes and stayed in town.

Watching the end of the Ruta Nacional N°3, Hadrien spotted two guys with bullet-proof jackets and a big private yacht coming closer to the park’s bay. We watched with big curiosity the - to our eyes - unknown celebrity getting out of the boat and being escorted to a big private bus. Miji found out that it was the Peruvian president, Ollanta Humala. Of course we would have recognised him, if he would have been a little bit closer to us. ;) 

After this quick political insight, we headed to visit a castorera. By all this Hollywood excitement, Hadrien made us the honour of showing off his latest acquired skills. He managed to drop the bike and have the bike’s wheels up. No harm was done to the man, or the bike. He cursed and pledged not guilty. Hadrien’s truth is: “The fall was mainly due to the tank bag blocking the steering wheel. Thanks to my skills, I only fell once due to this”. Isabel was however very impressed by how fast Hadrien managed to jump off the bike before the fall, definitely chulenguito-style.

After this stunt-show, we continued with the castorera. We were astonished by the extent of destruction done by these cute waffle tailed beasts. As you can see, there were lots of dead trees along the river. Now the park has to control the population in order to avoid more destruction and give time to the fauna to recover. Sad note: you cannot eat castor. :-( (Dixit you know who!)

We were supposed to do a 3-hour trek but everybody was either tired or didn't want to change their clothes or it was Miji. So we went to Lago Roca for a well "deserved" lunch & beer. We had plenty of time to just relax and enjoy nature.

Lazy like we felt, but also because we were a bit sad to leave Ushuaia, we spent 3 hours to pack our bags. We then still took time to write some postal cards, and then went for a last coffee… pfff, it was definitely not easy to wave good bye to Ushuaia…

Friday, February 8, 2013

Day 13: Ushuaia

Mijail started his day by having his breakfast in bed. He was delighted to do so! He deserved it! Meanwhile Hadrien and Isabel were getting ready for the two excursions of the day. Planned were first a boat excursion to see the sea lions and cormorants, and later an excursion to walk with the penguins close to Estancia Harberton.

We started with a tour on the Beagle Channel. It's a strait in the archipelago island chain, separating the island Navarino (Chile) from the Argentinian side of Tierra del Fuego.

First stop: el Faro del fin del mundo, guess what the colors of the faro mean...

Then we went around another island to see cormorants and lobos marinos (south American sea lions). Isabel discovered that cormorants were making the same sound as Mijail when he is hungry.

Here, an albatross.


Sea lions

 More sea lions...

To finalize this first tour, we got out of the boat for a walk on the Bridges island and the guide provided an explanation on the flora of Tierra del Fuego. The view on the Atlantic Islands was splendid and the motorcyclists’ legs & booties where glad to feel "other", "normal", movements.

Once finished, we came back to the port for a quick lunch. Isabel was desperately trying to find books about the history of the region. She walked up and down the blocks indicated by several local people. When she finally found the bookstore, she also found a locked door. Half a tank of fuel was spent later trying to find another, open, bookstore…

Then, for the second excursion of the day, the one that would allow to finally see the penguins (what seemed to be the main reason of this adventure for some that we will not name here); we boarded a huge off-road 4x4 truck.

The truck took us to Estancia Harberton. We then boarded a small speed boat to reach the Martillo island where the penguins have been living for about 60-70 years now. The Estancia Harberton is owned by the Bridges family. Thomas Bridges founded this Estancia - the first one in Tierra del Fuego- in 1886, just a few years after the foundation of the town Ushuaia. He was the first one to develop a touristic use of the site more than a colonial use. Now, the fourth generation of the Bridges family is owning and taking care of this Estancia, including the Martillo island.

Arriving at the Martillo island, we got slowly off the boat. Slowly, because the penguins were all over the beach and we didn't want to scare them off. It was amazing! We could walk among them and watch their doings. There were 2 sorts of penguins: magellanic and gentoo with the orange feet and beak. The younger ones were still changing fur and couldn't swim as long as they had their first fur. They didn't seem to be disturbed by our presence. When they wanted to cross our ways to go for a swim, they did so. It was up to us to take a step backwards.


Their housing consisted in caves the male penguin had dug. The female chooses her partner depending on the house. If she likes it, she would also take the male. If the male wouldn't be at home when she would come back from an excursion or if he couldn't fertilize her eggs, she will choose another male from the neighbourhood. The female likes to keep her habits, so she doesn't change them once chosen the neighbourhood. Kind of like desperate housewives!

The penguins live 6 months on mainland and 6 months in water and they will always return to the same island.

After this impressive walk amongst nature co-inhabitants we headed back into town where we had dinner in the restaurant nominated the best one in Argentina some years ago. We spoiled ourselves and enjoyed very much the exclusive delicacies of the region like the centolla (king crab) and the merluza negra (black hake). The boys then wanted to hurry home to hug their warm beds, while the co-pilot was trying to motivate them to plan a trip to Antarctica... no chance so far... Let's see what the idea will become after a good night sleep.