Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 15 Mar 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970315.rpt
Sunday March 9 68360
It was 38F at 8am this morning, but that was counteracted by the showers
which were nice and hot and had lots of pressure. Camping is definitely
labor-intensive and time-consuming, and makes it even more dificult for me to
keep my journal up-to-date or to get an early start in the morning.
Especially if I'm also cooking dinner and breakfast. In the evening, by the
time I get the tent set up, fix dinner, maybe take a shower, and chat with
the inevitable people who stop by, I don't feel like writing in my journal.
Besides, it's usually dark by then, and typing on the palmtop by flashlight
is not really fun. As a result, I end up getting behind. I may have to stop
a bit earlier in the afternoon when camping.
San Martin is an expensive tourist town situated at the east end of Lago
Lacar. There is water skiing, windsurfing, and sailing on the lake, and in
winter, skiing on the nearby Cerro Chapelco. The road followed the south
shore of the lake for several miles before turning south, following the
valley of the Rio Culebra. It was a beautiful, 2-lane paved road for the
first 15-20 miles, until the junction with route 63. At that point, both
route 63 heading southeast, and route 234 continuing southwest, became dirt.
While stopped at the junction, studying my map, two guys on Honda Transalps
pulled up behind me. They were from just north of San Martin and out for a
day ride. We chatted for a while, then they turned east onto Route 63 and I
stayed on 234 southwest to Lago Hermosa and Villa La Angostura, known as the
"Seven Lakes Drive."
The scenery along this route was beautiful. Numerous picturesque lakes
nestled among green forested mountains. I didn't count the lakes, but I'm
sure there were at least seven of them. At several I was sorely tempted to
stop and camp along, but had decided I really needed to continue south.
Mid-afternoon I stopped at a small hosteria where I was going to buy a snack,
but it was closed for the season. A bunch of bicyclists with their support
van were also taking a break there and it turned out they were from various
places around the US, on an organized 2-week bike trip through the Lake
Districts of Argentina and Chile. Most of this area, from just south of Lago
Hermosa, to south of Bariloche and Villa Mascardi, is part of the Nahuel
Huapi National Park.
As I approached Villa La Angostura, near the north end of Lago Nahuel Huapi,
I started seeing pickups and trailers going by in the other direction,
carrying dirt bikes, and when I finally got into town I found out that there
had been a motocross competition just south of town today. I bought some
groceries in town then continued southeast along the lakeshore until I found
a National Park campsite where I stopped for the night. My site was on the
shore and offered a beautiful view southeast across the lake to the mountains
on the far side.
Late in the afternoon it was still 78F, and people were swimming in the lake,
though it was a bit cold for my blood. Numerous small boats were out on the
lake fishing, the people in them that is, not the boats themselves.
As the sun set in the west, the skies were clear, but there were numerous
pinkish, orangish clouds over the mountains to the east.
Monday March 10 68439
Just as I crawled in my tent last night the waves started picking up a bit,
lapping at the shore a bit louder and at a slightly faster rate. I awoke
during the night to the sound of a steady wind, blowing unimpeded across
miles of open water. There was no rain, but grit picked up by the wind could
be heard hitting the side of the tent.
In the morning it was still blowing up a storm, and was cold, though still no
rain. I looked outside the tent and clouds were draped low over the
surrounding mountains almost down to the lake surface. It was a cold, gray,
blustery morning. One that was just right for going back to sleep, so that's
what I did.
At 11:30 the wind was still blowing, having picked up in intensity to the
point where the tent would occasionally shake me lying there in my sleeping
bag. And it was still gray and cold outside. I lay there awhile trying to
decide if I wanted to get up and ride in this weather or not. I know, what
happened to the hardcore adventure traveller? I also had too much time to
think about other things, like relationships and my future and managed to
work myself into one of my funky, do-nothing introspective moods. I did get
up and venture outside the tent long enough to fix some breakfast and
thoroughly freeze my fingers in the process. It was also long enough to
convince me to crawl back into the tent and read and write and continue in my
funky mood, hoping the wind would let up.
It didn't, and I pretty much did nothing the whole day, venturing outside the
tent several times just long enough to freeze myself. The only good thing
about today was that the second night was at a 20% discount so I only paid
P4.00 to camp tonight.
Tuesday March 11 68439
I awoke in the morning to the sound of waves, gently lapping at the shore.
No wind, whose roar yesterday, completely obscurred the sound of the water.
I packed up camp without fixing breakfast, planning to have breakfast in
Bariloche. I was on the road by 8:30. The sun was out, and it was a
beautiful, crisp autumn morning. It was 40F, and at 65mph felt a lot colder.
I was wearing my Capilene short sleve shirt, my long sleeve turtleneck,
Aerostich fleece jacket, and my Aerostich. I was warm, but wondered what I'd
do when it got really cold down in Tierra del Fuego. I think the warmth of
the tropics have softened me.
The road went east-southeast, following the north shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi.
Across the lake, on the south shore I could see San Carlos de Bariloche. The
road, as it had been since it became paved just north of Villa La Angostura
on Sunday, was a beautiful 2-lane ribbon of asphalt, twisting along the lake
shore. It would remain that way all the way south to Esquel.
At the east end of the lake I turned south on Route 237, and followed it
along the south shore to Bariloche. Bariloche is known for its swiss-looking
wooden chalets, situated on its steep streets at the foot of Cerro Otto.
Also for its chocolate industry. In the summer it is a center for hiking,
climbing, and watersports on the surrounding lakes, and in the winter is a
ski resort. It was too touristy for my tastes however, and I stayed only
long enough to exchange some money, buy an early lunch, a roll of film
(US$12.50 for a 36 exposure roll of Kodak slide film - ouch!), and some
I rode a loop along the south shore of the lake to Puerto Llao Llao, Bahia
Lopez, Colonia Suiza, Cerro Catedral, and back to Bariloche. The little
villages were too touristy for me, but there were some excellant views of the
surrounding lakes and mountains on the 40 mile or so loop. There were
several cable cars and ski lifts to the tops of some of the surrounding
peaks, but I decided against stopping, preferring to head south to Lago
Mascardi. I gassed up on my way out of Bariloche.
Route 258 south from Bariloche, skirted the shores of Lagos Gutierrez and
Mascardi, nestled between the surrounding pine-forested mountains. At the
south end of Lago Mascardi, shaped like the letter V, I turned off the main
highway onto Route 81, a dirt road heading west along the south shore of the
lake. At the point where the western arm of the lake, Brazo Tronador,
turned northwest, the road split. The road to the right, along the western
arm of the lake, went to Cerro Tronador. The road to the left, continued
west past Lagos Los Moscos to Lago Hess and the Cascada Los Alerces. The
Americans I had met at the Chilean/Argentine border had told me about these
Both roads had traffic control and were one way in for certain hours, one way
out for other hours, and two way for the remainder. The only one I could
take at this point in the afternoon (2pm) was to the falls, 10 miles west, so
that's where I went. The falls were beautiful but not spectacularly so. I
didn't waste a picture on them, but them I've passed on photos to far more
beautiful sites during this trip, sometimes with regret later.
I returned to the intersection at the south end of Lake Mascardi, and got a
campsite at Los Rapidos, on the lakeshore for P4.00.
Wednesday March 12 68591
I had been thinking of riding the 40 km to Cerro Tronador and then doing a 2
hour round-trip hike to a refugio partway up the mountain. Tronador has
several glaciers on its slopes. However the weather this morning was cloudy,
and the road there was one-way in until 2pm, and one-way out after 4pm,
basically meaning I'd spend another day in the area. So I decided against
going to Tronador. I had seen other mountains and glaciers and would see
more. You can't see everything I had to keep reminding myself.
The main highway, 258, continued south to El Bolson, past Lago Guillermo, and
through more spectacular mountain and lake scenery. The road was twisty, the
condition was excellant, and the brisk morning air made for an enjoyable
ride. The mountainsides for the most part were thick pine forests, and a few
of the surrounding peaks had snow. The area around El Bolson, had numerous
hostels and hosterias along the road, but this was clearly the offseason.
Trees had tinges of color as they began to change colors.
South of Epuyen I consifered taking the dirt road south to Choilla and
through the Los Alerces National Park, to Esquel. However a couple of miles
in I caught up to a road grader and the surface was loose, thick dirt. I
asked the operator how far the road was like this and he said for most of its
130 km. I really wasn't in the mood for 130 km of loose, rocky, dirt, so
turned around and returned to the main road, which also went to Esquel, but
through less interesting scenery. March is the beginning of the offseason,
and like most tourist areas, is when road maintenance gets done.
The terrain became flat, dry grassland, interspersed with gently rolling
hills, and remained that way to Esquel and on south to Tecka, where I headed
east on Route 62/25 towards Trelew on the Atlantic coast. This was the
northern part of Patagonia, and for most of the next 300 miles the terrain
consisted of low scrubby brush and grassland, very dry. As the Handbook
said, anywhere else, this would be called a desert. The road was paved
and in good condition, and I cruised at 85 mph for most of the way, slowing
only for the occasional "Dangerous Curve". I gassed up in Tecka and again,
210 miles later in Las Plumas. At the latter stop I discovered that the
right-side nut and bushing for my centerstand had fallen off. Fortunately
the bolt, a special allen-head type, was still wedged in there and the
springs were still all there. I removed the centerstand completely, until I
could fix it. I'd have to buy another nut, and come up with something to
substitute for the bushing. It shouldn't be too tough.
The rightside base gasket is leaking worse now, with oil visible all around
the base of the cylinder and down to the oil pan. I also noticed that the
oil pressure sensor is leaking a bit. The leaks seem to be worse when I'm on
rough dirt roads. Also when I'm using synthetic oil, which I am right now.
Hang in there baby!
About half way across, the road began following the Rio Chubut, and the
terrain reminded me somewhat of areas in the American southwest, with red
buttes, and plateaus, and wierd rock chimneys and other formations. The area
along the Rio Chubut, inland from Trelew on the coast was settled by the
Welsh in the 1860s and early 1900s. The towns of Trelew, Gaiman, and
Dolavon, were all Welsh settlements, though much of the Welsh character has
been lost over the years.
I stopped in Dolavon, for the night, camping for free in the municipal park.
Not very scenic, but for the price, who could argue. It was basically a dirt
lot with picnic tables and fireplaces. The picnic tables were the nicest of
the past week however. The restroom facilities were locked up, but nature
wasn't calling, so it wasn't a problem. I rode through town until I found a
grocery store, bought some supplies for dinner, and returned to the park and
set up my tent. I had the whole place to myself, and hoped I wouldn't be
woken up in the midle of the night and told that the park was closed.
Thursday March 13 69116
In the morning when I got up, I found that someone had opened up the
restrooms for me during the night. I spent a couple of hours in the morning
trying to catch up on my journal, now over a week behind. Camping and
journal writing do not mix for me. The sun was nice and warm, and several
times I was interrupted by locals walking by and stopping to chat. One man
asked for a peso. I felt like a scrooge, but out of principal I said no.
I rode the 30 miles or so east into Trelew. Of course I got there during
lunch time when everything was closed, so had to wait till 3:30 for the
hardware store to open. While waiting I found the local tourist information
center, which was open, and got information on Punto Tombo and Camarones, two
areas south of Trelew which have Penguin colonies. By the end of March most
of the Penguins have begun their migration, so I hope I can still see some.
The man at the booth, Sr. Enrique Garcia, said he thought they were still
there. He had lived 10 years in the US, in Glendale, California, and in
Detroit Michigan, and had several children born there. He suggested I stop
by the local paper, and that I'd get my story and picture in tomorrows paper.
I bought a burger for a late lunch, and by that time the hardware store was
open. However they did not have any metric nuts, but gave me the address of a
place several blocks away which did. There I was able to buy the 10mm metric
nut I needed, and I improvised the bushing out of a stack of washers of
approximately the right diameter. One larger washer served as the flange on
the bushing. It worked great. We'll see how long it lasts under load.
While performing the fix in the street out front of the hardware store, I had
numerous people stop and watch and ask about my trip. Argentinians tend
to be very friendly and open.
By this time it was 4:30 and I didn't want to waste more time at the
newspaper so I decided to skip it. Enrique will probably be looking at
tomorrows paper wondering where the story is.
>From Trelew I rode north on Route 3 the 33 miles to Puerto Madryn, then
headed east out onto the Valdez Penninsula on Route 2. From the turnoff from
Route 3 it was 66 miles to the small village of Puereto Piramide where there
was free camping in a municipal park near the shore.
The terrain along the coast in this area, including the penninsula, was
generally flat, with low scrubby bushes and grass. Most of the penninsula
itself is private land and used for sheep grazing. The wildlife areas are
along the shore itself, where there are colonies of seals, sea lions,
elephant seals, numerous bird species, and some penguin colonies. In season,
whales can be seen in Golfo San Jose on the north side of the penninsula, and
Golfo Nuevo on the south side. Admission to the preserve was P5 and there
was a small interpretive center describing the wildlife, habitat, and history
of the penninsula. Shortly after leaving the Visitor Center, I spotted a
group of about 6 Guanacos, a relative of the llama, I believe. They're about
the same size as a deer and are light brown and white in color and sort of
resemble large antelopes. As soon as I stopped the motorcycle, they moved
away from the roadside, and I had to slowly approach them to get within
distance for a good photo.
With the pennisnula being so flat, it was very windy and cold on the ride
out, but the campsite at Puerto Piramide was nestled in among many dwarf
trees and bushes down by the shore and offered good wind protection. Puerto
Pirimide itself was very small, maybe 100 people. There was a small grocery
store and a Panaderia (bakery) where I bought some dinner supplies. Till I
got the tent up and dinner started, it was dark.
Friday March 14 69250
Roads on the penninsula resemble an isosoles (sp?) triamgle with the short
side running east-west along the southern side of the penninsula between
Pueerto Pirimides on the west and Punto Delgado at the southeast end of the
penninsula, and another road running between each and Punto Norte at the
northeast end of the penninsula. The road onto the penninsula to Puerto
Pirimide was paved, but the other roads are "ripio", the local term for
dirt/gravel. I rode the 50 miles to Punto Norte in about an hour. The road,
for the most part cut across the interior of the penninsula. The terrain was
flat, with low scrubby brush and grassland. Here and there sheep were
grazing along the road. You really had to watch out for them. As I
approached on the bike, they would generally run away from the roadside,
however several times, one would at the last minute, change directions,
cutting back across the road in front of me. I think they are even dumber
and more unpredictable than deer.
>From the viewing area overlooking the beach below one could see 3 groups each
with 30-40 sea lions basking in the morning sun. Other sea lions and seals
were playing in the water near the shore. There were one or two elephant
seals also basking on the beach. The tide was out, exposing offshore rocks
covered in bright green plants. Channels between the rocks gave access out
to the sea. According to the information in the small museum at the point
and the rangers there, at high tide killer whales come in close to shore to
prey on the seals and sea lions.
Another couple (I forget their names) arrived by car about the same time as I
did, and we walked down to the viewing area together. They were from Buenos
Aires, about 1200 km to the north. I got my first taste of mate, a
home-grown tea, widely drunk throughout the country, especially in the
interior. It is drunk out of a gourd, called "un mate", with a bamboo straw.
The mate leaves are placed in the gourd and water, typically hot, but
sometimes cold, is added.
I think, officially, this was my first view of the Atlantic Ocean on this
trip. In Mexico and Central America I was either looking at the Gulf of
Mexico or The Carribean Ocean. Maybe yesterday evening, when I arrived in
Puerto Pirimides, if you consider either Golfo Nuevo or Golfo San Jose to be
part of the Atlantic Ocean.
In the parking lot, as I was getting ready to leave, a hairy armidillo
approached, begging for food. He was obviously used to the tourists offering
him tidbits, and would sit up on his back legs and beg.
>From Punto Norte I rode south along the coast, 58 miles, to Punto Delgado,
stopping at Caleta Valdez, about midway. Here were about a dozen elephant
seals basking on the beach. I spotted a Patagonian Grey Fox nearby.
Punto Delgado itself turned out to be private land, occupied by a hotel and
restaurant. However Dario, an employee, who it turned out, owned a Honda
XR250R, said it was OK to walk out to the top of the bluff for the view.
There were no seals or sea lions visible. I returned to the bike to find
Dario looking it over. As I approached, he said, in broken English, "Your
rear suspension is broken." I think I yelled "What!" as I rushed over to
look. Dario sensed my my alarm, and quickly corrected the misunderstanding
caused by his broken English, by saying "Not now." He had spotted the welded
rear shock bracket on the swingarm, something only a motorcyclist would
notice. It turns out he had lived in Santa Cruz, California for several
years and was familiar with The Hollister Off-road riding area.
Before today's ride I hadn't studied my map sufficiently and as a result I
didn't realize how big the penninsula was, and the distances involved.
Otherwise I would have topped off the tank. But I didn't and on the spur
road into Punto Delgado, I went onto reserve. It was about 45 miles from
there back to Puerto Pirimide where there was a gas station. I thought I
could probably make it, but it might be close. After talking with Dario for
about 45 minutes, I somewhat sheepishly asked if I could buy a gallon of gas.
He said sure, and in the end wouldn't accept any payment for it.
The total loop on the Penninsula, back to Puerto Pirimide, was exactly 150
miles. At the gas station, Jennifer approached, asking if I spoke English.
She was from North Carolina and was travelling with Greg, her Australian
husband, in a Ford Ranger (I believe). They had left the States in November.
He was busily repairing several tires. They had recently had a spate of
tire problems. When they got to Panama and found the Crucero Express out of
business, they ultimately found a roll-on roll-off freighter from Panama to
Chile for US$700.
My reputation, for better or worse, is preceeding me. In the course of
talking and looking at the bike, they spotted the GPS, and said "You're not
the guy writing on the Internet, are you?". Some guy, just several days ago,
had told them about some guy, travelling by motorcycle that was "totally
tricked out" with computer and GPS, and writing stuff on the Internet. Small
world. It turns out that Jennifer, who, as she admitted, knows next to
nothing about the Internet and email. is writing some articles for a 'zine on
the Web. She generally faxes them back, but has used email a couple of
It was 4:30 till I finished talking with them, but I wanted to put some miles
on yet today, and at least get off the penninsula, and some distance south of
Trelew. The road was good the whole distance, with little traffic, and I put
it in high gear, cruising at 80-90 mph. I managed to put on 260 more miles
and made it all the way south to Camarones on the coast, 50 miles east of
Route 50, arriving at dusk at 8:15. Nearby was a penguin rookery which I
wanted to visit in the morning. The last 50 miles, from Route 3 to the coast
were windy and cold, but I stubbornly refused to stop and put on my Aerostich
I topped off the tank just before leaving Route 3. At those speeds, the oil
pressure sensor is leaking more, enough that the toe of my boot was oily.
I found the municipal campsite down near the pier, which my guidebook said
was free, and as I pulled in the man showed me to a site and turned on the
light at my site for me. It was already dark, and I decided that rather than
fix my dinner, I would splurge, for the first time in a week, and buy dinner
at a restaurant. So after setting up my tent, I walked several blocks
towards the center of town and found a "Bar-Comedor", where I had spinich
canilone (sp?) and beef for P6.00.
Saturday March 15 69662
In the morning I took a cold shower, despite having been assured last night
that there would be hot water in the morning. Actually it wasn't so bad, as
it had warmed up considerably during the night, thanks to a layer of low
clouds which had moved in overnight. I also washed some clothes before
leaving. As I rode out of the campsite, the man who showed me to my site
last night, ran after me, and yelled "La boletta." It turns out it wasn't
free like my guidebook had said, and he wanted his P4.00. I apologized,
saying I had thought it was free, and paid him.
It was 20 miles of dirt road out to Cabo Dos Bahias where the penguin rookery
was located. On the way I saw probably more than 40 guanacos, and a Nandu or
Lesser Rhea, a large emu-like bird. The one I saw ran across the road and
over the hill before I could stop the bike and get my camara out.
The penguins nest in small burrows they dig in the ground, in the hills set
back from the beach several hundred yards. These were the Magellanic
Penguins, a medium-size penguin that reaches no more than 2 feet tall when
standing straight. There were probably a thousand penguins visible from
where I could walk. Many more were in there burrows, because as I walked
around I could see into some of the small burrows. It was a cold, overcast
morning, and they were not very active, most just standing around, others
lying down on their bellies. Evidently many had already left on their annual
migration. There were several more large Lesser Rheas wandering around in
the area, but when I approached, they quickly disappeared over the hill. The
penguins themselves were unfazed by my presence, and in fact some of them
were lying right in the fenced-off path and just watched me as I walked
I retraced my route back to Camarones, getting there about noon, and then
back to Route 3, where I continued my journey south. For most of the way to
Comodoro Rivadavia, the road ran along on top of a 2000 foot plateau. It was
overcast for most of the day, and cold and windy. At 80 mph, the turbulent
blasts from the passing trucks were like shock waves.
Approaching Comodoro Rivadavia, as I dropped down off the plateau, the clouds
descended to ground level, and it began to rain. I stopped in Comodoro
Rivadavia for lunch, and to buy some groceries, gas up, and get some money.
When I left town it was raining steadily. I rode 12 km further south to Rada
Tilly where I decided to wimp-out and get a hotel for the first time in a
week. Until I discovered the cheapest room I could find was P28.00 at which
point I headed to the Municipal campsite, which cost P5. Fortunately it
stopped raining just long enough for me to set up my tent.
The campsite also had a nice enclosed kitchen building, with tables, chairs
and lights, and even a gas stove so I didn't even have to set mine up. That
was welcome as it began to rain again. After dinner I read a guide on