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.
It took quite a distance on a dirt road to reach the accommodation, skimming where possible if not jolting over deep corrugations and pesky potholes. Pearl, my bike was doing extremely well; she’d taken a hammering of the rutty terrain firmly on the chin.
The weekend was filled with feisty fun. Some of the guys couldn’t wait to unload their dirt bikes from their trailers and show us how it was done through some deep water in the freezing cold river adjacent to our accommodation. I was impressed and laughed as the bravado grew, risks flying and the odd engine flooding. One of the chicas in our group managed the crossing on her 125cc bike although the afternoon was definitely given over to her teenage son, who casually cruised through the deepest sections of the river – out-shining the older, more experienced men. Such wholesome fun left me warm inside even if my body was numb from the cold. It was all hands on deck feeling ravenous after an afternoon ride-out; we made fresh pizza for nigh on twenty, a hundred or so traditional Argentinian deep-fried meat pies, which were mouth-wateringly delicious and consumed desserts and drink until bursting point.
Traditions were further upheld with a night of raucous singing around the guitar, drunken merriment fuelled by bottles of Tres Plumas – a dangerously quaffable liqueur, beers, red wine and much else besides. Magnificently messy I’d say. Had to pinch myself as I could scarcely believe where I was and the company I was keeping. It rounded off our time on Tierra del Fuego brilliantly; chance meets were letting us taste a charmed life and for that, no one can remove the exultation on my soul for which that brings.
A cosy warmth cocooning your upper body and hands in cool climes on two wheels is a wonderful thing. My plug-in heated gear is the one thing I wouldn’t be without when adventure motorcycling in all seasons. Conditions invariably change to inhospitable temperatures; investing in a Gerbing jacket and gloves were reaping soothing benefits. I never thought for one minute that this would incur an injury. I burnt my hand! The irony wasn’t lost on me that such items were supposed to offer you comfort, keeping you in control and free from the burn that comes with the cold. I’d adjusted the heat setting a little too high but before I knew it, the flesh on my middle knuckle had badly blistered. Conversely, Jason’s fingers were suffering with the stinging bite of one degree Celsius while mine were cooking like French Fries. He was insistent that my ‘hot spots’ was the nicer problem to have although at that moment, I would have willingly traded my frazzled finger for his frozen twiglets.
Staying overnight in the Argentinian side of San Sebastian at the same derelict building we’d squatted in previously (with permission) may not have been one of my better ideas. Jase had wanted to pitch the tent. Where the ripio had taken its toll and left me exhausted the time before, I was now used to gravel roads and was wide awake. I remembered beforehand how my fatigue had acted as a defense shield, slowing down my reactions and emotions. My default mental state before had become weary resignation. Not on the second visit to this place. My heart was pounding enough to deafen my own thoughts as I sat curled in the foetal position inside the disused doorless building. The abandoned place was situated next to a dirt road on which big road trains teared past in the dead of night – creating a supernatural, shadowy scene from the film Blair Witch Project. Arrrgh, me no gusta!
Morning came. The sub-zero chill of the night had touched me with cold fingers and by dawn my face felt ready to drop off. We left Argentina on an eerie note. Moving on, we reflected that aside from some light maintenance as well as exerting a little due care and attention, the bikes had so far run as sweet as a nut. That is, until I tried to fire up Pearl having re-entered Chile and attempt to zoom off in my usual carefree fashion. Pearl was simply having none of it. She jittered, spluttered and coughed. Juddered a bit more with an involuntary shaking force – lurching me forward in the process.
This continued for a few miles until there was no coaxing her on another yard. I felt uneasy by my bike’s reaction, as though I’d neglected my bike in some way, taken her for granted even. I guess with the rough ridges, gravelly grooves and rocks I’d negotiated over, it was hardly surprising that my motorcycle needed timeout. Crying out for some ‘TLC’, Jason opened her up with a couple of instinctive notions as to what may remedy the problem; within minutes the diagnosis became clear. There was a loose connection to the battery. Poor Pearl, no wonder she was struggling!
Crisis averted, we cracked on and skimmed and skidded over 90 miles of mud on a dirt road from San Sebastian to Porvenir. I failed to see anything quaintly pretty or Victorian in Porvenir based on Lonely Planet’s description and both of us were seething after learning we’d zoomed right past a 14 kilometre detour to the king penguins en route. I made a mental note to get hold of a good Chile guidebook, and pronto. After a short overnight stay, we took a ferry across to Punta Arenas. The 150 mile ride over to Puerto Natales was cruisey on solid, pristine concrete roads. The smooth surface permitted the chance to really look at my surroundings without having to constantly read the road. The sun followed us the whole way – it was a pleasant ride soaking up the scenery.