Pearl my bike is painted blue, a colour as calming as a Patagonian sky. However she’s built more for comfort than speed. Over the past few weeks in the saddle, Pearl and I have pretty much fused together to ride as a unit. It’s just as Lois Pryce described in Lois on the Loose after months in the saddle through the Americas – she felt herself transforming into some mythical Greek creature: half woman, half motorbike. It’s pure jubilation when you have this relationship with your bike, moulding comfortably as one. For me, there’s increasing trust and understanding of how to handle Pearl respectfully – if I keep it up, she may just get me all the way to Alaska. But what a daring distance to go until I can have strength in that conviction. Two months and three countries into South America, we had put just over 5,000 miles on the clock.
A few miles from Puerto Natales, we squeezed in a visit to a cave whose mylodon remains had been found opening up paleontological insights into the times of an extinct sloth around 14,500 years ago. It was an hour neatly filled. A few miles down the road, we zoomed past Devil’s Chair, a big rock of alleged geological interest situated not far from an area abundant with condors. A flight of condors all took wing from a steep hill making a rather striking spectacle, soaring above and gliding around in search of carrion. Unlike the cave, this place I wouldn’t have missed.
Leaving the calm surroundings of Puerto Natales and our bike-friendly Hostal Don Guillermo, four of us including Andrew we’d met in Ushuaia and his buddy Hilton set off in high spirits for some serious trekking among the last glacier strongholds in the world. A 10 day self-sufficient trip around the complete circuit of Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve boasting 227,000 hectares in the Andes. On arrival after three hours on the bus, we learnt that the full circuit was closed for the season; we’d have to be content with conquering the ‘W’ trail. Better to be over-prepared than under I thought, even if were carrying twice as much food as required in shoddy rucksacks – although it didn’t weigh our enthusiasm down. We’d just have to feast at every meal.
Before peeling ourselves away from the Land of Fire, we set off for a last bite of the Ushuaian cherry, a final sip from the world’s end ‘cup’. We’d been invited to stay at an estancia for the weekend with Juan Pablo and his friends tucked away near the west coast on the border between Argentina and Chile. In departing Ushuaia, we were forced to slide over a slushy road covered in snow – wobbling like jelly for a time – although our bikes made it out of the capital unscathed and upright.