Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 12 Apr 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970412.rpt
Thursday April 10 72247
Was up and packed the tent before first light on the horizon. Stars still
covered the Patagonian sky.
I left at 7:30 am, picking my way around the cactus-like plants in the
semi-dark. It was still a bit windy, but much less so than yesterday. Light
was just beginning to color the distant horizon. A herd of guanucos ran
across the road in front of me in the dark. The PIAA lights helped.
I didn't see the sun till an hour later at 8:30. Then, when heading east,
the sun was in my eyes, making riding difficult. I used my sunglasses for
the 1st time in South America. At one point a stallion ran across the road
right in front of me. I was headed east at the time and he came right out of
the sun, and I didn't see him until the last minute.
When heading east or west the wind wasn't bad, but when going north, it was
again a pain. Around Hotel Rivera, where the road turned westward, the wind
again picked up.
No services, gas or food, for almost 190 miles until Bajo Caracoles, where I
stopped for gas, and bought a big lunch of carne asado at the Hotel Bajo
Caracoles. In the 190 miles I saw only 2 trucks, which I passed going in my
direction, and one gaucho on horseback. At the Hotel I met 2 Americans from
San Francisco, Summer and I forget, one of whose parents live in Chile.
While waiting for my meal I check out some of the cards and notes previous
travellers have left. One business card looks familiar. It's a green and
white card, showing a GS leaned over in a corner and the BMW roundelle. The
names on it are Joachim and Annette Ahlers from Germany. I have an identical
card at home. These were the two who towed my stricken GS to the nearest gas
station when its alternator failed just outside of Whitehorse, Yukon in 1992!
And then followed me back to Whitehorse. I couldn't remember if at the time
I met them in the Yukon, they were headed north or south. I'll have to write
them and find out when they were here in Patagonia. Small world!
>From Bajo Caracoles, it was a 46 km sidetrip northeast to the Cueva de los
Manos (the Cave of the Hands), on a good gravel road. It was by now 2pm, and
it was a beautiful sunny afternoon and the winds had let up a bit.
The road climbed into some low hills with interesting views of surrounding
cliffs and rock formations. Groups of guanacos and nandus scattered as I
rode past on the bike. Near the end, the road approached the rim of a deep
1500 foot deep canyon, with small stream meandering along the floor far
below. The road dropped partway down into the canyon to a ranger station
overlooking the canyon floor. Along the stream were small trees and some
cows and horses could be seen grazing along its banks. The station was
fairly new, though no one was there at the moment, and it was locked up.
However a sprinkler was on, watering some shrubs alonside the building.
It was a short walk from there farther down into the canyon to where the
caves containing the prehistoric artwork were located at the foot of high
cliffs high on the canyon walls. The artistry was impressive and inspiring,
and remarkably well preserved. Hand, hands everywhere. Red, white, black,
and yellow hands. Isolated hands in ones or twos. Overlapping hands in
masses of 20 or 30. Some hands were painted in solidly, but most were in
outline form, painted by blowing pigment through a straw over an outspread
hand placed on the rock walls. There were also geometric figures and
paintings of animals such as guanacos. Probably the most interesting and
well-preserved prehistoric rock art I have seen on this trip so far.
Next to the ranger station were some campsites, so I set up my tent there and
had the beautiful views out over the canyon all to myself. By the time I
finished dinner it was dark, and the winds had died down completely, and it
was completely quiet.
Friday April 11 72465
In the morning after an initial colorful sunrise to the east it became
overcast, but the complete calm remained. I spent the morning sitting at the
edge of the canyon, looking out over the stream far below, writing in my
journal. There were a dozen or so horses grazing alongside the stream far
below, and at some point something spooked them and then began running across
the canyon floor. They eventually slowed to a walk, but continued across the
stream to the near side and then made their way up the near side of the
canyon, past where I was sitting, and continued up the canyon and out to the
It was 1pm when I left. I wanted to get to the Chile-Argentine border west
of Perito Moreno today, only 150 miles or so. There was virtually no wind
for most of the way to Perito Moreno, and virtualy no traffic as well. I
passed only one truck the entire distance. North of Bajo Caracoles the
terrain became more hilly, and the road correspondingly had more turns and
curves as it wound around hills and down into and out of dry arroyos. One
area was particularly scenic with many reddish rock formations. 30 miles
from Perito Moreno the terrain again flattened out and the weather also
cleared a bit. Not surprisingly, since the two seem to be correlated, the
wind picked up a bit, but nowhere near as bad as two days ago.
In Perito Moreno I stopped to top off the gas tank, and buy some groceries.
Outside the grocery store 4 young grade-school girls stopped to talk. They
asked if I knew the name of the town and were surprised when I did, I'm not
sure why. They wanted to know if I had babies. Somehow I can't see a bunch
of young boys asking me that question. They gave me directiins to a
Panaderia several blocks down the street, and I said bye and rode away. When
I came out of the Panaderia, my Perito Moreno fan club of 4 was waiting
outside. They asked me to write my name and address for them. I wrote it on
a slip of paper and handed it to one of them. The other 3 wanted a copy
also, and when I suggested they copy it from the other girl, their faces
showed that clearly was not what they wanted. This was not merely my
address, but a memento of their having met an American motorcyclist. So I
scribbled my name and address on 3 more slips of paper and handed one to
each, much to their delight. One girl was particularly delighted that my
last name was the same as her first name. Then I told them they should write
to me at that address and send me their addresses and I would write back.
They're the charter chapter of the Doug Ruth, Motorcycle Adventurer, Fan Club
in South America. We'll see if they write.
On my way out of Perito Moreno, it began to sprinkle a bit, but that only
lasted a couple minutes. At the north end of town I turned west on a newly
repaved Route 43, towards Los Antiguos, 30 miles west on the border with
Chile. This was the first paved highway of any length, other than the paved
streets in the towns I passed through, since midway between Puento Arenas and
Puerto Natales in Chile, 8 days ago, and it was nice to be able to blast
through some curves at 75 mph without worrying about loosing the front end.
I stopped for the night in Los Antiguos, which had a very nice municipal
campground, with numerous trees and manmade wind blocks, picnic tables,
fireplaces, and hot showers. Though at P3 it cost more than I had paid at
any of my last 8 nights campsites (zilch), it was worth it.
Saturday April 12 72607
It was an unbelievable 60F when I got this morning at 7 AM, and with no wind
it was actually too warm with my Aerostich fleece jacket on while fixing
breakfast. I did put it back on when I left 2 hours later as the wind had
picked up a bit, but it looked like it was going to be a beautiful, sunny
day. The border was only 2 km west, and I'd be entering Chile for the 4th
time on this trip.
The Aerostich fleece jacket stayed on only 2km to the border. by that time
it was 68F, sunny, and too warm with it on. I think it was the first time
since leaving Rada Tilly on the Atlantic coast that I didn't use it while
riding. I also put away my heavy 3-finger gloves in favor of my lighter pair
as my hands had started sweating inside the heavier pair.
Border formalities at both posts were straightforward. The official at the
Argentine customs desk did ask if I had another document for my motorcycle
and showed me a document which I had never seen in my previous 4 entries into
the country. I told him I had never been issued such a document in the 4
times I had entered Argentina and only had the one document I had given him.
He was satisfied with this and there were no problems. He had a huge German
Shepherd in his office who either didn't like my face or the way I was
dressed and barked and growled furiously at me the whole time. I was glad I
was on the other side of the window from him. Later, talking to Bernhard and
Elke, two German motorcyclist I would meet in Chile, they had the same
experience. Both officials, immigration and customs, came outside to look at
the bike and I gave them a demonstration of the GPS. A common question is
who owns the satellites and if you have to pay for the right to receive the
Several km past the Argentine border post was the town of Chile Chico, on the
south shore of Lago Gen. Carrera (called Lago Buenos Aires in Argewntina). I
stopped at a grocewry store there to buy some supplies and outside met a
French woman travelling with her husband. They were hoping to hitch a ride
along the same route I wasa going. She lived in French Guyane prior to
leaving on this trip 4 months ago, and was a pharmacist there. I got some
useful information on the Guianas and Suriname from her. She explained a
couple routes for getting to those countries, but none were straightforward.
One possibility was to ship the bike by sea from Belem in Brazil. Another
was by road north from Brazil, but involved one or more river crossings in
small boats, problematical with the bike. A third possibility was a road
which branched off east to Suriname from the road north from Manaus, Brazil
to Venezuela, but the condition of this road was supposed to be very bad, if
it was even passable. In addition she said the economic and political
situation in Suriname and English Guyana was very bad right now, and it was a
bit dangerous to travel in those countries at the moment.
I topped off the gas tank at the Copec station in town and a man there tried
to convince me I should take the ferry across the lake from Chile Chico to
Puerto Ibanez, that the road around the south and west end of the lake was
very rough and twisty. In addition the boat would trim about 180 miles off
the disatance. I thanked him but said I wanted to see the area around the
lake which was ringed by mountains and the lake itself was a brilliant
blue-green color when the sun hit the water at the right angle.
The skies to the southwest were overcast and dark and treated me to a full
rainbow from end to end, and the skies around the lake alternated between
sunny and overcast, though I had no rain. A steady wind blew out of the
west, down from the mountains, but nothing compared to what I experienced
north of Tres Lagos. Hereafter, those winds would be the reference point,
and I doubted if any would ever again compare.
The road followed the southern shore of the lake, more or less, to the small
village of El Maiten, at the southwest tip of the lake, where it crossed a
small arm of the lake by bridge, and headed northeast along the lake. Along
the way it offered beautiful views of the lake and several good-size islands,
and the mountains surrounding the lake, though the mountains were more often
than not partially obscurred by clouds. Here and there where the lakeshore
was bordered with flatlands, one would find estancias (ranches) sheltered
among groves of tall, brilliant yellow beech trees. With the lake and
mountains as a backdrop it made for a spectacular setting.
As I made my way north along the lake it became increasingly overcast and
cold and as I left the lake and headed north along the Rio Tranquilo river
into the bordering mountains it began to rain lightly. However, the road
itself was a good gravel road and offered great traction and was no problem.
In the vicinity of the small town of Villa Castillo, named after the nearby
peak Cerro Castillo which resembled a castle with its peaks jutting up out of
snowfields, there was a National Reserve with camping, and that was my
intended destination for the night. I encountered one large truck barreling
around a corner on my side of the road and had just enough room to avoid him.
With traffic so rare, why is it one always encounters the oncoming traffic
At about 4pm, 4 miles from Villa Castillo, I approached a left-turn corner
and saw a truck pulled over on the righthand side. The driver was just
getting out of the cab and running back around the corner, and motioned for
me to slow down. As I rounded the corner I saw a XR250 parked along the road
and a BMW R100GS-PD, equipped with Darr bags and a German licence plate,
sitting crosswise in the middle of the road. 3 people, 2 men and a woman, in
riding gear were wrestling with the Beemer, in the process of pushing it
off to the side, out of the middle of the road. I parked my bike and helped
push it to the side. That was how I met Claudio, on the XR250, from Talca
south of Santiago Chile, and Bernhard and Elke, on the GS, from Germany.
They had been riding together for the past 2 days.
Bernhard had rounded the corner, and concentrating so much on the loose
gravel surface, had got too far over on the lefthand side. A truck was coming
from the other direction at a good clip, on its side of the road, and
Bernhard couldn't avoid him and hit the truck headon. He readily admitted it
was completely his fault, and not the truck drivers. It had happened less
than 15 minutes before I arrived on the scene. Amazingly neither Bernhard
nor Elke were seriously injured. Bernhard's left wrist and elbow were very
sore from taking a frontal impact, though neither appeared to be broken.
Even more luckily, when the bike hit the truck, the front wheel had gone
under the bumper, avoiding impact, and the whole impact, for the most part,
was taken by the roo-bar, the external frame around the front of the fairing.
The impact had completely buckled the central support member between the
roo-bar and the steering head, pushing everything back so that you couldn't
turn the handlebars. That was why it had been difficult getting the bike off
the road. The handlebar was bent a bit, and it appeared the forks might be
tweaked a bit, but the bike appeared to be rideable if we could straighten
I had the most complete toolkit so I dug it out and we went to work.
Bernhard was feeling a bit shocked and shakey, not surprising after such an
accident, so we had him lie down while we took care of the bike. It quickly
became clear that we couldn't straighten the central support member while it
was on the bike, so we pulled the windscreen, turn signals, and fairing side
panels off the bike. The large allen bolt attaching the roo-bar to the front
of the central support member was bent at a 15 degree angle and required
significant elbow grease to remove. Two more bolts holding the support
member to the steering head and we had the support member off. While working
on this I related how I had a similar problem with my roo-bar after my
accident in the Northwest Territories back in '92. However my roo-bar had
not been pushed back quite so far, and while I couldn't turn the bars to full
lock, I had enough range to continue on.
For those who are familiar with the support member, the lower two arms were
buckled into the shape of two parallel S's. I dug out my collapsible hatchet
and we tried to pound them straight, but they were too buckled and the metal
was too strong. Attempts with two Vise-Grips also failed. I suggested the
only alternative was to cut through the lower two buckled arms, which would
then allow the single larger upper arm to be straightened. After getting
Bernhard's approval, I dug out my small collapsible hacksaw, and cut through
the lower arms. Once that was done, several well-placed blows with some
large rocks had the bracket straightened sufficiently to hold the roo-bar in
its correct position and allow the forks to move. A couple blows with the
hatchet, straightened the large allen bolt, more or less, and we bolted the
support bracket and roo-bar back in place. Succcess!
The forks were still tweaked a bit, so we loosened up the axel and
triple-clamp pinch bolts and applied some more elbow grease and torqued them
into a more-or-less straighter configuration. The handlebar was still
tweaked considerably, but that would have to wait.
By the time we had the bike "fixed" and reloaded, it was 5:30 or so, and
getting darker, colder, and windier. We agreed to ride together and find a
spot to camp, and I mentioned that there was supposed to be camping in the
National Reserve near Villa Castillo. I rode the PD back up onto the road
surface from where we had pushed it off to the side. By this time Bernhard's
left hand had turned a whitish-blue color but, he could still move everything
with relatively little pain and he said he could ride ther bike. Claudio
lead, followed by Bernhard and Elke, and I brought up the rear. Bernhard
quickly found that the impact had somehow tightened up the steering bearings,
and that, combined with the slightly skewed forks and handlebar, resulted in
a rowing motion, making riding very difficult. Moving the bars rapidly back
and forth from lock to lock several times seemed to free the bearings up a
bit and improved things considerably.
We arrived in Villa Castillo as dark was setting in, and discovered that the
National Reserve was still 30 km away. We decided to find someplace in the
village where we could set up our tents for the night. In the last half hour
the temperature had dropped considerably and a strong wind was blowing down
from the surrounding mountains. A local resident said we could camp in his
yard or in the stable out back, and so in the lights of our motorcycles we
set up our tents in an area somewhat sheltered from the wind by some trees
Then we walked into the village and found a cafe which was still open at
8:30pm and treated ourselves to large platters of Bistec a Pobre (beef steak,
topped with two fried eggs, onions, and a huge mound of french fries on the
side), and several large beers each. The restaurant was decorated with
numerous momentos of previous travelers who had stopped there and with
momentos of the owners travels as well. He had lived for a period in Denver,
Colorado. There were many Western-type articles hanging on the walls:
stirrups and spurs, bits, and beautiful silver-studded bridles. The walls
were also decorated with numerous photos of scantilly-clad women, and he
joked that they were his cousins. On the wall next to one such photo, was
the harness used by a bull-rider to hold onto the bull while riding it, and
he held up the harness and then pointed to the photo, and a good laugh was
shared by all. He was very proud of his childrens grade school diplomas
which were displayed prominantly on the wall. At the end of the evening we
each had a shot of Pisco, and Bernhard and Elke insisted the dinner and
drinks were on them in payment for the help we had given them that day.
Elke was a lawyer and Bernhard also worked in the legal profession and they
were planning to open their own office in the future. They had, within the
last couple of years, also ridden in Canada and Alaska. They were also the
types to do most of the work on their vehicles, both modification and repair,
themselves, though it had been mostly on the two Land Rovers they owned.
They had also travelled throughout Europe by Land Rover, and after this
latest incident on the bike, their second accident of this trip, they joked
that their next trip to South America would be by Land Rover.
Claudio was from Talca, south of Santiago, where he was a bank teller. He
had a great sense of humor, somewhat self-deprecating, especially when it
came to his camping and motorcycle touring experience, both of which he
readily admitted were minimal. "Experience. experience" he would say as we
discussed bike or travel equipment or our experiences. He had been
travelling several weeks now, but admitted this was only the 2nd or so time
he had set up his tent, I had guessed as much, as earlier in the evening, in
the dark, he set up his tent while reading the instructions. We all shared a
laugh at this and joked that his lightweight tent was going to blow away in
the wind that night. At the end of the evening, Claudio had secured a
bed in a room at the restaurant/residencia and didn't sleep in his tent
anyways. That would also provide some material for good-natured ribbing.
His stories and discussions were more often than not accompanied by facial
expressions and eye movements which only added to the humor content.
Claudio spoke a bit of English, and of course Bernhard and Elke spoke it
fluently, but for the most part the four of us communicated in Spanish. The
several times that Bernhard, Elke, and myself would lapse into English,
Claudio would attract our attention and we'd revert to Spanish.