Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 22 Mar 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970322.rpt
Sunday March 16 69884
It rained all night, probably the most rain my tent has seen this trip. It
passed the test with flying colors. In the morning it was gray, cold, windy,
and still raining. I adjourned to the kitchen building for breakfast: coffee
and breakfast rolls I had bought the day before. From the building I could
see the bay and it was a frothy sea of whitecaps. I decided to wait the
weather out a bit. It didn't stop raining until 3pm and I spent the day
reading and writing, drinking coffee and tea, and snacking on the loaves of
bread I had bought. The clothes I had washed the day before were still wet,
so I hung them up inside to dry.
It remained overcast the rest of the day, but by evening it seemed to be
clearing and I hoped it would clear off by tomorrow morning. I was going to
head south irregardless.
Monday March 17 69884
In the morning it was still overcast, but not threatening to rain, and the
skies showed signs of clearing. I packed up the tent and loaded the bike and
then headed for a hot shower. My towell was drying in the kitchen building
and when I got there I found three very muddy dual-sport bikes parked outside
and three guys, in the process of getting up, sacked out on the floor inside.
They were from Mar del Plata, several hundred kilometers south of Buenos
Aires, and had arrived early this morning about 1am from Sarmiento. They
said there was a lot of road construction and it was very muddy in places and
a lot of road tar in others, and they showed me their riding gear splattered
with tar. We agreed to regroup for a photo after they got up and I had my
I had planned to get some breakfast on the road, so hadn't eaten anything,
and when they offered me some hot milk and cookies I hungrily accepted. Of
the three dual-sports, only Javier's Honda Transalp 600 is (was?) available
in the US. Alberto was riding a Kawasaki KLE 500, a vertical twin, and
Kawasaki's version of the Transalp. Julio was riding a big Suzuki DR800S
single cylinder thumper. Its front end looked similar to the BMW R1100GS,
with a fixed, high-mounted front "beak" fender, and a smaller fender mounted
just above the wheel.
They were on their end of the summer vacation, having to wait until the end
of the tourist season in Mar del Plata because of their jobs. They were also
headed south, but planning to go west to the Moreno Glacier near the Chilean
border before heading to Ushuaia on Tierra del Fuego. I was going to Ushuaia
first, then stopping at the glacier on my way back north. But we decided to
ride together for today or at least part of it, since just south of Fitz Roy,
about 175 miles south of here, I planned to visit the Parc Nacional Bosques
Petrificados (petrified forest). After they finished packing, and some group
photos of the four bikes, we finally got underway at 11:30. There is always
some reason not to get an early start.
The first intersection leaving Rada Tilly and Rodriguez turns the wrong way,
heading back north, and I'm hoping this isn't a trend. With their smaller
tanks, we had to stop more often to gas up. They decided to also ride to the
Bosques Petrificados, and 90 km south of Fitz Roy we turned west off Route 3
towards the park. It was 30 miles of ripio to the park, for the most part in
good condition, allowing us to cruise at 40-50 mph. At several spots the
gravel was thicker and the tracks less well-defined and the bike moved around
a bit more. There was only one pucker-factor incident where the bike got
into a bit of a fish-tail. With their lighter, less-loaded bikes, they
tended to ride a bit faster on the ripio than I. By itself the road wouldn't
have been worthy of comment. What made it interesting was the strong, gusty
wind which was blowing out of the north, perpendicular to the road. It
tended to blow you out of the tracks you were following, and into the loose,
thick gravel on either side. Then the bike would slide around until you'd
get it back in the track. It was tiring fighting the wind and gravel.
The park itself was situated in an arid area of low mountains, very dry with
little vegetation, unlike along the coast, which while dry, still had grasses
and low brush. There were numerous petrified tree trunks scattered along a
short loop trail. Most were broken apart into 5-6 foot long sections, but
one was 20 yards long or so. In the distance, across the desert floor, was a
mountain formation, called "La Madre and Hijo" (mother and child) because
there was one larger peak and a smaller peak alongside.
Back on Route 3, we blasted south another 106 miles, before stopping to camp
at the municipal campsite in San Julian on the coast. Camping was P5.00.
After setting up the tents we rode back into town for some dinner supplies,
then returned and fixed a communal dinner of rice, cheese, and eggs, and
bread. There was plenty of mate to drink, hot this time (which is a lot
better), and some whiskey to finish off the evening. The straw used to drink
the mate has a filter/strainer built in at its bottom end. Sort of like a
small tea ball, except the mate leaves are on the outside and the mate is
drunk by sucking the liquid in through the strainer and up through the tube.
You fill the small cup (un mate) about half full of yerbe mate, the dried
leaves, and then add hot water to the top. You can get between 10 and 15
cupfulls before changing the leaves. I really like it. It's sort of like
After talking it over among themselves, they decided to change their planned
route and go to Ushuaia first, like me. They were quick to tell me that if I
ever wanted to proceed on my own, they would understand. They didn't want to
affect my trip. So we agreed to continue south tomorrow to Rio Gallegos, the
last big town before crossing over to Tierra Del Fuego by boat. Otherwise,
with their original plans they would have headed west, not far south of San
During today's ride to the Bosques Petrificados, the plastic mounting bracket
for my GPS cracked on one side. Hopefully I can repair it with the glue I
bought to repair the cracked electrical connector for the cable going into my
Spanish in Argentina is very different from most other countries, even
bordering Chile. In fact it is generally not even called Spanish or Espanol,
but rather Castillano. The most obvious difference is in how the letters
"ll" and "y" are pronounced. In other countries they are pronounced as the
"y" sound in English. In Argentina they are pronounced as a soft "j" sound
as in "azure." In grammar the Spanish "tu" is replaced by "vos." It made
understanding conversations the first couple of times I was exposed to it
difficult, and it still requires a deliberate thought process to do the
Tuesday March 18 70226
Since we were only going 150 miles to Rio Gallego today, we didn't need to
get a real early start and didn't leave until about 11:30. It was pretty
much just a blast south on Route 3 to Rio Gallegos.
It's interesting to watch 3 bikes just ahead of you, heeled over into the
wind on a perfectly straight road. Several times the gusts were strong
enough to blow me partway into the oncoming lane. This would be real fun on
Gas prices become cheaper the further south you get in Patagonia. At first
this seems opposite what one might expect, since it is the northern part of
the country which is developed and Patagonia consists of vast unpopulated
areas, and vast distnaces between settlements. However most of the oil and
gas is processed in the south of the country, and there are few if any taxes,
partly to encourage development and settlement in the south, thus prices are
The first time I bought gas in the Lake District of northern Argentina I was
in for a shock. It was .81 Argentine pesos per liter (about US$3.05 per
gallon) for unleaded "normal" 85 octane. There were several days I spent
over US$50 just in gasoline. Here in Rio Gallegos, for instance, "Normal" 85
octane unleaded costs .411 pesos per liter (US$1.56 per gallon). Also, fuel
for cars is called "Nafta" here in Argentina. "Gasoline" is diesel fuel for
We stopped in Rio Gallegos for the night, camping at a small hotel, near the
bus terminal at the north end of town, that also had camping. It was P3 per
person plus P2 if you wanted a shower. We all forewent the shower.
I find a Castrol dealer in town and buy the motor and transmission oil I need
for the 10K service on my bike, already 470 miles overdue. I'll wait until
I'm in Ushuaia to actually do the service, however decide to buy the oil here
where I know I can get it.
Dinner tonight is pasta, eggs, and cheese, accompanied by bread and fruit
drink. Generally mate is not drunk with dinner, but sort of as a pre-dinner
drink. It is also drunk in the morning and at lunch. You can walk into
almost any establishment and see someone with un mate.
As the sun sets, clouds begin moving in resulting in a beautiful orange and
blue patchwork of clouds and sky at sunset. It also gets windy and cold and
we wonder if it will rain overnight.
During dinner Julio, Alberto, and Javier, discuss their options for tomorrow.
It's 360 miles to Ushuaia, and from the information we've been able to get,
about half of that is ripio. They have limited time left on their vacation,
and it would mean riding to Ushuaia tomorrow, sleeping there tomorrow night,
then turning around and riding back north the next day. Coupled with the
uncertainty about the weather and wind and road conditions tomorrow, they
decide to pass on going to Ushuaia, instead heading to Glacier Moreno per
their original plans.
They invite me to stay with them if I come through Mar del Plata, and I have
to promise that if I make it to northern Argentina and the Buenos Aires
environs, I will stop in at Mar del Plata. They assure me the women there
are the most beautiful in Argentina, and particularly like American men. Of
course they say, with a laugh, it doesn't matter since I have a girlfriend
They are keeping a journal among themselves, which they plan to use for an
article to the Spanish motorcycle magazine, SoloMoto. If it is accepted they
say they will send me a copy.
Wednesday March 19 70469
This morning it was 0C at 7:30AM. I used my heavy 3-finger gloves for the
first time, with glove liners. And my fingers were still cold. I think I've
gotten soft traveling through the tropics.
9 miles out of Rio Gallegos the road turned to gravel and remained so until
Monte Aymond on the Chilean border. But the ripio was very good, much better
than the road to Bosques Petrificados, 2 days ago and I could do 50mph
safely, probably more if it hadn't been so cold. Along the way I saw several
lone guanacos, and a half dozen nandus alongside the road. They would run
from the sound of the approaching motorcycle.
At the border itself, the road was paved for a half kilometer on either side
and the border formalities were straightforward at both the Argentine and
Chilean posts. I couldn't take any fruit into Chile and had to leave the 2
apples I had just bought last night. I knew about that restriction but had
forgotten about it.
On the Chilean side they were doing road construction, paving the road, and
for the next 5 miles, traffic was diverted from onw side to the other. But
the surface you traveled on was good dirt/gravel.
Finally 10 miles after Monte Aymond I hit pavement again. One lane was
paved, the other lane ripio. This is common in Southern Chile, but was my
first experience with it. The paved lane was in my direction, which meant I
had right of way over oncoming traffic, which also used the paved lane, until
they had to yield it to traffic going in the direction I was.
All the same, when the big truck rigs went roaring past on the ripio, they
would throw up lots of gravel, pelting the bike and me. I got several good
hits to the helmet from flying gravel. I had never got around to fashioning
a headlight protector, although my PIAA lights were protected by neoprene
covers. But my headlight survived without a hit.
18 miles from the border was the turnoff south to the ferry crossing to
Tierra del Fuego. The road continuing east to Punta Arenas actually became
two lanes of paved road, though I don't know for how long. The 10 mile
stretch south to the Strait of Magellan was also under construction, and for
most of it's length a single lane of new concrete was already laid out,
though it was not yet open, and the road paralleled this ribbon of white
concrete all the way to the coast. Again it was in very good condition,
allowing easy travel at 50 mph. It was still cold, but it had gradually
warmed up as the sun rose higher in the sky.
>From the turnoff south I began to see big rigs and cars and trucks coming
north, so I guessed a ferry had just arrived from the island. I hoped I
could get there before it loaded up and headed back across, though if I
missed it it wasn't a big deal since it ran about every hour, the crossing
taking about 30 mintues.
At the loading ramp, there were about 4 big rigs, a bus, and 4-5 small trucks
and cars waiting. Several big rigs were still coming off the ferry.
I asked the man directing the loading and unloading where to buy a ticket and
he said on the boat. He also assured me I'd cross on this run.
They loaded all the other vehicles first, and I was the last one on the
ferry. There was still room to spare for several more big rigs. Within
minutes we were off and crossing the Strait of Magellan. It was an open ferry
and you just waited in your vehicle or on the car deck during the 30 minute
crossing. I snacked on bread and cookies while talking with several of the
truck drivers. Before you knew it, people were getting back in their
vehicles in preparation to drive off on the other side. I turned to one of
the truck drivers, and asked when and where do I pay, not that I was anxious
to fork over my money, but I don't like to have to dig through my layers of
riding gear for my wallet with a line of people waiing behind me. He smiled,
shrugged, and said it was my lucky day. I rode off without paying a peso.
Supposedly it cost US$1 per person andUS$14 per car, though I don't know what
it was supposed to be for motorcycles.
>From the loading ramp, it was 115 miles of ripio, through the very small
village of Cerro Sombrero to the Chilean border post at San Sebastian.
Tierra del Fuego is essentially split down the middle with Chile having the
western half, and Argentina the eastern half. The Chilean side of the island
is much less develped than the Argentine side. On the Chilean side there are
several very small villages, and numerous large estancias (ranches). On the
Argentine side, there are 3 cities of significant size, Ushuaia, Rio Grande,
On the Argentine side of the frontier, the road remained good ripio for the
10 miles to the coast and the town of San Sebastian, Argentina, where the
road became paved and turned south towards Rio Grande. It followed the coast
most of the way. It was windy, though not as bad as 2 days ago, and I was
glad to be on pavement.
I gassed up in Rio Grande and was tempted to stop for lunch, but decided to
press on to Ushuaia. I still had 130 miles to go, 60 of those ripio, and it
was after 2pm. South from Rio Grande the road cut across the interior
steppe, and the trees on the surrounding hills were turning red, orange and
yellow. Other wind-gnarled, stunted trees grew in surealistic woodlands
along rhe road, with lichen-like, or spanish-moss like stuff draping off the
branches. It became overcast and colder.
In the distance, to the south, the Fuegian Andes could be seen, rising above
the steppe. On Tierra del Fuego the Andes run more or less east-west along
the south edge of the island.
70 miles from Rio Grande, just north of Tolhuin, on the eastern end of Lago
Fagnano, the pavement ended. At the same time the sun came back out and
would remain out for the rest of the way to Ushuaia.
The road followed the southern shore of the lake for a while, also passing
Lago Escondido and a smaller lake. The road was good ripio but very dusty,
and at this point there was no wind to blow the dust away, making it
difficult to pass the occasional big rig I overtook, the dust completely
obscurring the roadway and any oncoming traffic, as I approached from behind.
One truck was particulary difficult, and it wasn't until we began to climb
up a grade that I was able to pass him. The road climbed up to Garibaldi
Pass, where there was a good view back down to Lagos Fagnano and Escondido.
About 10 miles from Ushuaia the road was under construction, and there was a
stretch of several miles of pavement, before it again reverted to dirt for
the last several miles into Ushuaia.
I stopped at the tourist center fot information and got a lead on a
campground on the northwest edge of town. I tried to find a place from which
to send email, but was unsuccessful. At two places I couldn't dial the
Sprint access number, another wasn't set up to accept my modular phone
connector, and at a fourth where I could dial Sprint and they had modular
phone jacks, they wouldn't let me connect my computer to them. I really
wanted to send out a batch of email from the "End of the World", but it was
looking increasingly problematical.
After buying some groceries I found Club Andino, where I was to camp. The
camp sites were located at the foot of a small ski slope which had a T-bar
lift to the top. They were very basic, with small fire pits and a few
electric lights. Club Andino was up on a hill in back of the town and there
was a good view down to the city and accross the Beagle Channel to the
islands on the other side. There were hot showers and a small house with a
kitchen and dining/living room, and several empty rooms with mattresses on
the floor which could be slept in for P7 a night. The kitchen and dining
area was available for all to use at no charge. Camping cost P5 per night.
Thursday March 20 70848
I have a lazy morning, sleeping in, then fixing a large cheese omelet for
breakfast. It is a beautiful morning, sunny and a warm 75F. I sit outside,
overlooking the Beagle Channel, and compose replies to email, some of them
from as far back as January when I was in Quito. By mid-aftrnoon however
clouds move in and the temperature drops 20 degrees to 50F.
In the morning an Australian couple had arrived on bicycles and camped
several sites away. During the course of the next several days we would
exchange stories of the road. They had started 8 months earlier in
I begin to do some of the bike maintenance which is about 800 miles overdue.
I'm due for a major 10K mile maintenance - valve adjustment, new plugs,
change all the fluids. I'm also due for a spline lube, but haven't decided
if I'm actually going to do it, or feel guilty for not doing it.
When I removed the PVC tube which holds my torque wrench and which is mounted
on the outside of the Jesse bag between it and the muffler, I was surprised
to find it partially melted and the plastic bubble material wrapped around
the torque wrench inside also melted. It had survived the heat of Mexico and
Central America but for some reason melted between Santiago and here.
I adjust the valves and install new spark plugs. The right side exhaust
valve continues to worry me. It had almost completely tightened up in the
3300 miles since the last maintenance interval. The adjuster screw has
virtually no room for adjustment left. Something is not right with that
valve, and I fear that before this trip is over it may require some major
work. For that matter, the other valves, while not to the same degree, also
continue to consistently tighten up between maintenance intervals. I suspect
something is not right with the valve seats I had installed just prior to the
trip. We shall see.
I clean up some of the oil which has covered the right side of the engine
around the base of the cylinder and around the oil pressure sensor on the
left side, so I can see if the leaks are getting worse or not. I also goop
some high prerssure silicon around the oil pressure sensor in an attempt to
slow the leak there.
I notice that my right-side Jesse bag has a cracked weld at the top,
outside-front corner where the two sides join at the opening at the top.
It's about 3/4" long. Actually I had the same thing happen to one of the
other corners after returning from Baja before this trip. It's interesting
that it cracks here since it's not a high-stress area. Aluminum welding is a
bit trickier, and thus probably tougher to find a competant welder, so I'll
probably just try to find a shop where I can drill a stress-relieving hole at
the end of the crack to keep it from propogating.
Friday March 21
In the morning, just as my omelette is ready, it begins to rain and I move to
the small house and eat my breakfast there. The couple from Australia also
come in and we hang out there for most of the morning while it rains and
blows outside. By 1:30 the rain has stopped and I ride into town.
I check out a couple more places in hopes of sending email, but again have no
luck, and I resign myself to the fact it will not be possible here in
Fortunately finding a place to change my oil is not so difficult, and at the
local YPF service station, they let me pull inside out of the wind and cold
to change my oil. I'm due for a 10K service and I change the engine, tranny,
driveshaft, and final drive oils, and install a new oil filter.
By now it is after 3pm and the motorcycle shop is open after lunch. They are
well stocked with name brand motorcycle parts, gear, and accessories, and
have numerous used bikes on display outside. However they only have 5 and 10
weight fork oil, not the 15 weight I want. I decide to wait until later to
buy it. I had also hoped to buy cleaner for my foam oil filter, but they
didn't have any of this either. I'll just have to use gasoline I guess.
Back at the campground, I finish cleaning up oil leaks, and straighten the
bash plate, which was as distorted as I've ever seen it. It was bowed in in
the middle. I don't remember hitting anything that hard. Actually I think it
may have been from bottoming out on some of the hotel steps I've ridden up.
Several well-placed wacks with a heavy mallet which Fernando, the guy running
Club Andino, lent me, straighten it out. The rear two rubber mounting
grommets are completely trashed. Fortunately I brought spares.
I discovered earlier today that my brake light had been on continuously; I'm
not sure for how long. The front brake switch is the culprit and it appears
part of the tip of the plunger has worn or broken off, with the result that
it stays on continuously. A couple of layers of duct tape on the brake lever
solves the problem. Now the brake light is normally off, but I now discover
that applying the rear brake fails to turn the brake light on. The rear
brake switch is also malfunctioning, but is continually open. In the process
of diagnosing the two faulty switches I manage to blow the fuse two times.
It begins to rain before I solve the problem with the rear brake switch and I
call it quits for the day.
Saturday March 22
In the morning I get up early and ride into town and make a phone call to
Sweetie. I had last talked with her when back in Quito, though had sent
email from both Lima and Santiago. Both times I had been a bit disappointed
not to have received any email from her, but I knew she was putting in crazy
hours on her contract back in DC and chalked it up to that. Early in the
morning I had the best chance of finding her at home, but I had lost track of
the time difference between Argentina and the Eastern US. I thought I was
one hour earlier, but when I got through I discovered I was 2 hours ahead.
It wasn't long in the conversation when both of us asked why the other hadn't
sent any email and we quickly deduced that there was some kind of problem
with our email, despite us both using the same ISP. Both of us had sent the
other email, yet neither of us had received the others. It was a bit of a
relief for both of us to confirm that the other hadn't forgotten or lost
interest. Insecurities do creep in at times. For both of us. It's only
Sweetie said reading about Jacquelyn in Lima (she clearly remembered the part
about the backless pink dress. Women! :-) was sort of difficult, even though
it was a perfectly innocent encounter, and I asked if she'd prefer me not to
write about such encounters. But she said, no it was perfectly OK to write
about them and that one of the best points in our relationship was our
honesty with each other. I love you Sweetie!
I've actually debated with myself about including such things, not so much
because of Noemi but because of the inferences others might draw, even though
such encounters are perfectly innocent. Especially given that these writeups
are available for public consumption on the Internet.
I still have no idea what the problem might be with our email, and since I
haven't been successful in sending email since then [I'm actually writing
this entry on April 22, one month later] I don't know if the problem still
exists or not. Clearly some of my email gets through, since people received
the trip reports I sent from Lima and Santiago, and I received email from
other people. In a day or two I'll be back in Santiago, which was the last
place I successfully sent email from almost 7 weeks ago, and I'll try again
to send email from there.
Janet had been back in D.C. on business and my parents had driven down from
PA to see her. They had called Noemi and amazingly managed to call at a time
she was at home, and the four of them went out to dinner together. I thought
that was neat, though maybe I should have been worried about the prospect of
my girlfriend talking with my parents and my older sister with me not there.
:-) Sweetie had always joked that her worst fear was me meeting a Brazilian
bombshell with big boobs, and, not having heard from me, she told my parents
and sister that if they heard from me to have me call her even if I had run
off with a beautiful Brazilian woman. Not to worry Sweetie, you're my
As usual, we talked long enough to break the bank, and it was only our
getting disconnected after an hour that ended the call. This was not the
first time that the phone line got disconnected after a convenient interval
of time such as an hour. I think maybe that is automatic on international
calls to prevent abuse.
Back at camp I resumed my diagnosis of the rear brake switch. Initially it
was continuously open and I figured it was gummed up with dirt, so I removed
it and used gasoline to clean it out a bit. That and judicious tapping and
snapping of the plunger finally got the continuity tester to beep. Voila!
Problem solved! I put it all back together and the brake light still fails
to light. I eventually determine that while the switch closes sufficiently
to trigger the continuity tester, it is with such a high resistance that for
all practical purposes it is still an open circuit. I try to clean it
further but am unsuccessful. At least the problem is with the rear brake
switch rather than the front, which is the more used brake.
Next I tackle the left rear turn signal, which has probably worked for less
than a month, total, during this trip. The problem is that the socket in the
plastic reflector assembly is worn and eventually the bulb vibrates partially
out of the socket until it fails to make contact. Plus one of the contacts
where the spade connector attaches has partially broken. When I open it up I
find that the metal contact has broken completely. I use a 1" length of
hookup wire from my repair kit, tin it with solder, using the butane
soldering iron I carry with me, and pound the last 3/4" flat. This is wedged
in between the socket and the bulb and serves as the new contact. It also
prevents the bulb from vibrating loose out of the socket. The other end of
the wire I solder to a spade connector I fashion out of the remains of the
broken contact. Voila, problem solved! [As I write this a month later, the
fix has worked perfectly without a problem.]
To satisfy my curiosity, I diagnose my heated handgrips, which have not
worked since sometime in Panama. I determine the problem is in the wiring to
or in the grips themselves, which is beyond my ability to fix on the road.
It doesn't really matter since I rarely use the grips anyways.
As a final bit of maintenance I check the pressure sensor and discover it is
a bit loose, so retorque it. I'm not sure why I didn't check that earlier,
probably because the problem is usually with the sensor body itself. I'm not
sure which is the problem in my case.