Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports

Date: 29 Mar 1997 
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list 
Subject: Trip Report - 970329.rpt

Thursday March 27	70916

However the day dawned bright and sunny and warm, and after a leisurely
breakfast I decided to hang out here a day and just kick back and relax.  My
campsite was at the edge of the grove of trees and looked out onto a grassy
meadow along the winding river.  Flocks of sheldgeese would fly along the
river, their white-tipped wing and tail feathers presenting a beautiful sight
as they flew past.

Late in the morning I heard the train whistle in the distance and I hiked out
into the meadow to where the narrow-guage tracks crossed the river on a small
trestle, and waited for the tourist train to pass by.  It made for an
interesting shot with the river and mountains in the background.

It remained sunny in the afternoon, though the wind picked up, and I found a
sunny, somewhat sheltered, spot at the foot of a large tree and wrote some
postcards and updated my journal.  Several of the kids wbo had arrived last
night came by and we chatted for a while.  In the afternoon, some more kids
were dropped off and set up their tents near the first group of kids.  Two
seperate families with young kids parked nearby and set up some tables and
chairs.  It wasn't clear if they were there just for the day or planned to
camp since they hadn't set up any tents.

Around dinner time I decided to make a quick run back to the Confiteria at
Lago Roca, 6 miles away, for some groceries and postcards.  I don't think I
have ever, during this trip, left my tent unattended while I was away.  I've
always been a bit nervous about leaving it unattended, especially with any
gear inside it, such as my sleeping pad and sleeping bag.  Here, I had talked
with some of the kids camped nearby and they seemed nice enough, and the two
families nearby had small kids they were playing with.  I packed my expensive
gear like my camara and palmtop back on the bike, but left my sleeping pad
and bag in the tent, and put my stove and pans under the vestibule in front. 
I wasn't going to be gone for long anyways.

When I return 45 minutes later, the first thing I notice is that both
carloads of families have left.  Hmmm.  That gives me a bit of an uneasy
feeling as I pull in and park the bike.  I really dislike it when the first
feeling I get is one of suspicion.  I walk over to my tent, unzip the fly to
the vestibule, and "F__k, f__k, f__k!", my MSR Whisperlight stove and all my
cooking pans are gone!  I unzip the flap to the tent and look inside and am
relieved to find my sleeping pad and bag and several otther items inside

My first thought was who stole my stuff, then that I was going to be eating
cold spagetti sauce tonight, then that it was going to cost a pretty penny to
replace those items down here.  I knew there were stores in Ushuaia which
carried similar gear, but it wasn't cheap.

Then my mind returned to my stolen gear and who might have taken it and was
there any hope in recovering it.  If either of the two families in the cars
took it, I was screwed and there was basically no chance of recovering it.  I
had no way to know where they might have gone from here and even if I did, to
go after them would be problematical.  Besides, my gut feeling said they
didn't do it, even though I had not met or talked with any of them.  

That left the highschool kids who were still camped nearby, and were in a
noisy, festive mood at the moment.  I walked over to their camp, still in my
Aerostich.  The added bulk probably made me look more imposing than my 6',
158 pound frame would otherwise.  Eight of them, 5 guys and 3 girls, were
hanging out in the largest tent, with the front flap open, one of them
playing a guitar.  I said hello, then said that my stove and pans were stolen
from my tent.  They all pleaded to have no knowledge regarding the incident. 
I repeated that my stove and pans had been stolen, and that I didn't know who
had them, but that if someone here had them, please return them and there
would then be no problems.  They continued to plead no knowledge. With that I
thanked them and left, returning to my tent.  I walked over to where the two
families had been, on the remote chance that I might find something over
there.  Not 5 minutes later I hear someone call out "Senor" and two of the
kids, a boy I had talked with earlier that afternoon and one of the girls,
approach.  She is carrying my stove and one of my three pans.  They say they
found them near one of the tents of the other group of kids who arrived this
afternoon, and that they don't know these kids.  They say the tent belongs to
a fat kid who is fishing.  I don't know whether to believe this or not, but
thank them for returning these items.  At least I know know it wasn't the
families in the cars who took my things, and I think there is a reasonably
good chance I'll get the rest of my gear back as well. 

I lock the stove away in my saddlebags (paranoia sets in quick, doesn't it?),
while the two kids return to their camp.  I then walk back to their camp with
the one pan I've recovered.  I show it to all the kids and say there are
still 2 more pans and a plastic cup which have been stolen and ask exactly
where the other items wwere found.   They're a bit vague about exactly where
they were found, pointing in the vicinity of one of the other tents, and
again mentioning the fat kid and saying he and several other kids with him
were not their friends.  I tell them again that if the items are returned,
then no problems. Then I walk around the area to see if I can see anything,
or find the "fat kid."  I'm tempted to open up several of the other tents,
but refrain from doing so.   I think to myself that if the kids back in the
tent knew where the rest of my pans were they would return them.  After all,
the most expensive item, the stove, had already been returned.

As I walk towards a tent some distance away I see 4 kids approaching from
across the road.  One of them is definitely fat.  I walk over to them, show
them the pan I'm holding, tell them that my stove and my pans had been stolen
from my tent, that I've recovered my stove and this pan, but that two pans
and a cup are still missing.  They plead no knowledge.  I repeat that I don't
know who has my things, but that if one of them has them, please return them
and there will be no problems.  They insist they have no knowledge.

I leave them and continue on over to the other tent.  There are two young
guys cooking dinner outside.  Neither one is fat, and they are not with the
other two groups of kids.  I repeat my spiel to them, saying if the items are
returned then no problems.  I honestly don't think it is these two, and feel
a bit bad for implicitly accusing them.  They probably think "F__king
Gringo."  Walking back towards the first group of kids I see the fat kid and
his three friends approaching.  They are holding out my remaining two pans,
the plastic cup, and my bottle of CampSuds (soap concentrate) which I hadn't
even noticed was missing. Not surprisingly, they claimed to have found the
items lying nearby a tent not belonging to any of them.  I was inclined not
to believe this bunch, and said I didn't know who had taken my things, but
thank you for returning them, just to let them now I suspected they were
involved.  With that I returned to my tent and padlocked the flap shut behind
me. :-)

I suspect what happened is that my stuff was stolen by one of the kids I
hadn't talked with earlier that afternoon.  At the time I first confronted
the kids in the tent, the other kids may or may not have known about the
theft.  But after I left, the kid who stole it, if he hadn't already done so,
admitted it to his friends.  The kids I had talked with earlier in the day
then convinced him or the rest of them that I was a cool dude and that they
should return the items.  Who knows?  At least I got my stuff back.

It raises another interesting question.  I'm actually writing this entry over
a month later on April 22, several days after Alex and I had our falling out
on the ferry to Puerto Montt.  The issue was the best approach to dealing
with problem situations, confrontationally, aggressively, calmly, or
passively, or somewhere along the spectrum in between.  I wonder how Alex
would have dealt with this situation and if his confrontational approach
would have yielded the same end result.  I suspect not, that the kids would
have reacted to direct confrontation, by saying to themselves, "F__k this

Given the resolution, I was pretty sure there would be no further problems,
but all the same I made sure all my gear was locked up on the bike when I
crawled into my tent for the night.

Friday March 28	70929

I packed up and left the National Park, planning to buy and write a couple
more postcards and then mail them on my way through Ushuaia.  I was still
planning to ride to Estancia Harberton, 53 miles east of Ushuaia on the
Beagle Channel.  I had forgot that today was Good Friday, and all the stores
and post office were closed.  I really wanted my postcards postmarked from
Ushuaia, so it presented a bit of a dilemma.  

While pondering my options a rider on an XR250 with a dufflebag strapped
across the back pulls up outside the cafe just down the street.  It's a cold,
windy, rainy day and he is bundled to the hilt against the weather. 
Kunihirio Obara was from Saitama, Japan, near Tokyo.  Unfortunately, as I
write this I don't remember where he started his trip (I believe he had his
bike shipped to Santiago) or how long ago, though I do remember from here he
was planning to ride north through Central America, to the States, and then
north to Alaska.  He planned to reach the States in about two or three months
and Alaska by July or August.  We went into the cafe where we had some coffee
while looking at maps, comparing routes, and exchanging stories.  He had had
mechanical problems twice where he had been stranded and had to use a pickup
to get the bike to the next town.  In Bolivia and in Southern Chile he had
encountered a lot of rain and twice had to turn back because the road
conditions were too bad.  If a little, light,  XR250 had problems, what would
it be like on the Beemer?  Although that's not always the right question,
since the biggest determining factor is often the rider.  I had no idea what
his experience was.  The single dufflebag he carried on the back of his bike
made my bike look like a Winnebago!  After drying out, we exchanged
addresses, wished each other well, snapped a couple photos, and went our
separate ways.

That had used up a good two hours and I still had to find a place to mail my
cards.  I knew there was a small post office at the Maritime Museum, but
didn't know if it was open today.  The tourist office said it was, so I rode
there, parked the bike and went inside.  Fortunately I didn't have to pay
admission a second time, however the post office was closed for lunch till
4PM.  It was now 2:30.  The little shop which sold postcards was also closed
till 4PM , so I had to settle for writing in my journal.

About 3:45 the woman came and opened up the store, and seeing my helmet on
the table, asked if that was my white motorcycle parked outside.  She said it
was lying on its side, that the wind must have blown it over.  Indeed the
wind had been gusting and getting stronger as the afternoon progressed. I
hustled downstairs and outside to find the bike on its side with the tires in
the air.  Gas was still flowing out the carb vent tubes.  The bike had been
parked on its sidestand, leaning into the wind. It had been blown completely
over onto the other side.  Now that was some strong wind.  I almost wished
I'd have seen it happen, just for the spectacle of it.  I righted the bike
easily enough and moved it behind the shelter of a nearby building.

Back inside I buy a couple postcards, hurridly scribble a note on each, then
buy stamps for the slew of postcards I had written here in Ushuaia.  I'm not
a big postcard writer, but reaching Tierra del Fuego was a big milestone, so
I figured I'd send out a bunch.

The woman and the museum curator were sharing some mate and I commented that
I had bought "un mate y una bombilla", but that when I prepared it, it didn't
turn out the same.  They laughed, and while he went to prepare some for me,
she pulled out a small booklet which explained the history of mate and how to
prepare it.  It was cheap, so I bought a copy.  If it helped me prepare mate
like what the curator prepared, it would be worth it.

It was now late enough in the afternoon that I gave up on the idea of riding
out to Estancia Harberton yet that day, and decided I'd go back to Club
Andino, and use one of the rooms in the small house for P7.  That was an easy
call given that it was now raining again.  Fernando had gone to Chile, but a
friend of his was running the place, and there were 7 of us occupying the 3
rooms, one Gringo and 6 Argentinos.

Saturday March 29	70955

In the morning it was cold and raining and the prospect of riding out to
Estancia Harberton and camping there was not really appealing, so I decided
to just head north.  My road clock said it was time to get on the road
anyways.  The night's precipitation had dropped the snow line farther down
the surrounding mountainsides and I put on all my gear, covering the
Aerostich with my rainsuit for added rain protection and warmth.  It was a
cold, wet ride back over Garibaldi Pass, but the pass wasn't high enough to
have snow or ice.  

By the time I got back to pavement it had stopped raining, but remained
overcast.  However the wind began to pick up, and north of Rio Grande I
encountered the strongest wind of the trip.  Fortunately it was a good paved
road, and dry, otherwise it would have been dicey.  As it was, I was riding
down the straights, heeled well over into the wind, and I could see the
laughter and amazement on peoples faces as they passed me in the other
direction.  At one point the raincover on my tankbag began to blow off, and I
had to stop the bike to fix it.  Even though I stopped in an area between two
high banks, the wind made it difficult to hold the bike upright while

Here's an excercise: put your helmet on and close the face shield.  Now place
your left hand against the left side of the face shield, just where the
opening begins.  Now press as hard as you can against the faceshield until
your nose is almost touching it.  That's what the wind felt like to my head
and neck.

At San Sebastian, where the road turned west towards the Chilean border, the
road again became gravel, but the surrounding terrain helped to mitigate the
effect of the wind.  Border formalities on the Argentine side were straight
forward.  The 10 miles to the Chilean border post were along more open
terrain and the wind picked up the gravel from the road surface and flung it
at you.  For the most part the road went west, into the prevailing wind, but
when it turned north, it made staying in the tracks very difficult, and
riding became a tiring chore.

While inside the Chilean border post, the wind blew my bike over for the
second time in two days, this time it was leaning with the wind and got blown
over on the left side.  One of the officials suggested it was dangerous to
ride a motorcycle in these conditions, and I agreed and asked if either of
the two residencias near the border on the Chilean side were open.  The
closest one, 100 yards away was closed, but he said the other, 11 km west was
open and drew me a map.  It was on the road to Porvenir, where one caught the
ferry to Punta Arenas.  I had already missed it's 2PM daily departure, and
tomorrow, Sunday, it didn't depart till 4 in the afternoon, so I was planning
to return to Bahia Azul and take the same ferry I had come over on, back to
Punta Delgado.  It ran continuously at 90 minute intervals.  But with the
wind I decided I'd call it quits for the day and catch the ferry in the

But when I got to Posada Las Flores, no one was home at the ranch house, and
the lone gaucho I eventually found out back, insisted there was no
accomodation here.   So I retraced my route 8 km back to the main road north
and continued on.  I knew the next town of any consequence with a residencia
was Cerro Sombrero, about 93 miles to the north.  Fortunately the wind wasn't
as bad as it had been earlier in the day near Rio Grande, but it was a battle
nontheless.  I pulled into the restaurant along the highway outside Cerro
Sombrero exhausted with aching neck and arm muscles.  I planned to buy a big
steak dinner and then find the residencia in town, a mile off the main road. 
I shortly found out they had rooms available here as well and the idea of not
having to get on the bike again was appealing enough that staying here was
going to  be an easy decision.

There was a family of four, with two young daughters of 4 and 7 years,
sitting at the table next to mine, and while I was waiting for my meal, he
offered me a glass of wine, and than later with my meal, a second and third. 
We chatted and I learned they lived in Cerro Sombrero and that he was a
welding technician and studied the integrity of welds for ENAP, the national
petroleum company.  Cerro Sombrero was pretty much a company town, with the
bulk of it's population working for ENAP, which provided the infrastructure
for the town.

Later as I was finishing my meal, the father, Hector, whispered something to
Patricia, the 7 year old, and she came over to me and invited me back to
their house.  Hector then added I was welcome to sleep there as well.  So I
followed them back to Cerro Sombrero where we pulled up out front of a
one-story mid-size house.  Hector led me around the side where he opened the
garage for me and I pulled the bike inside.

Marina, the wife shows me to the basement bedroom and then shows me the
bathroom and gives me a towell.   I don't think I smelled that bad :-) but
the hot shower felt good on my sore muscles.  Afterwards they ask if I have
any laundry which needs to be done, so I run back out to the bike for the
rest of my dirty clothes.  I had been planning to do it when I got to Punta

Later that evening I discovered that what I had eaten at the restaurant
earlier had not been dinner, but "once" (the Spanish number 11, pronounced
"Ohn-say").  Or more precisely they had been having "once", for around 9PM
dinner was served.  Chicken, rice, and mixed vegetables,

After dinner Hector asks if I'd like to see the municipal recreation center
and he and the girls, Patricia and Pamela, and I pile into the Suburban and
drive the couple of blocks to where a large building with three large
arched-ceilinged sections housed the rec center.  The left section contained
an olympic-sized pool with high and low diving boards, while the right
section had a multiuse court which could be converted between basketball,
soccer, volleyball, and tennis.  Collapsible grandstands lined one wall.  The
center section was a huge arboretum, complete with large trees and other
plants and flowers, and a stream and several pools running through it. 
Downstairs was a 2-lane bowling alley.  It was a Saturday evening and all
parts of the facility were in use.  A large board in the front lobby showed
the schedule of usage for the various parts of the facility.

Later that evening, back at home, Hector shows me a shoebox filled with
arrowheads and bolas he has found in the area over the years.  Bolas are
spherical stone balls, between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball
which have a single groove running around its diameter.  They were used by
the Indians to catch game, guanacos and nandus.  Three bolas were tied
together with rawhide thongs to form a slingshot-like weapon called a
boleador.  The weapon was twirled about  and then thrown at the legs of the
animal.  Hector said they were fairly easy to find at a dry lake bed an hour
and a half drive south, and said I was welcome to stay another day and
tomorrow we could drive to the dry lakebed and look for both arrowheads and