Antarctica – and the final post for the trip

Orne Harbour, mainland Antarctica

Orne Harbour, mainland Antarctica.
If you want to see more pictures from Antarctica, click here.

If you get the opportunity at some point in your life, go to Antarctica. It truly is an extraordinary place. It’s bleak, yet dazzlingly bold. Harsh, unforgiving and breathtakingly beautiful. And… the penguins are hilariously entertaining, cute and kind of stinky.

We had an incredible 12 days in and around Antarctica including many hours spent on the Antarctic mainland and nearby islands – and many more hours spent on the open ocean travelling to, from and around the continent. Notorious for its unpredictable weather, we were astonished with the extent the sunshine and just sparkling weather we enjoyed. One of the expedition leaders on the trip had done something like 150-160 voyages to Antarctica and he said that the weather we had was in the top 5 of all trips he’s ever had. So yes – we got lucky.

We climbed up hills and slid down steep, snowy slopes over 100m long – an action which was simultaneously exhilarating and somewhat chilling, given that it resulted in me filling both my pants and the inside of my jacket with cold, wet powder. We spent hours watching penguins nest, groom, feed, mate and fight – and waddle back and forth between the water their rookery via so called ‘penguin highways,’ which in some places were thin, trampled channels beaten 30cm lower than the rest of the snow via hundreds of pattering penguin feet. We cruised past icebergs the size of highrise buildings while riding in rubber duckies around the Antarctic Sound. We ate, and we ate, and we ate, and we ate (the food was amazing). And then we celebrated, because Adrian proposed – and I said yes.

I hadn’t realised that some penguins were so loud. Or so smelly. Especially the gentoo penguins, who seemed to poo everywhere – including on each other  with a powerful, projectile stream of goopy pink. I hadn’t realised that killer whales and minke whales would come right up to our boat. And I hadn’t realised that even with three pairs of woollen socks, I could still have cold feet!!

Suffice to say, it was just fantastic. Happily, neither of us was sea sick although while we were crossing the Drake Passage there were one or two occasions when an intense and rapidly rising wave of queasiness sent me off to lie down for an hour.

After the cruise, we countered the remote wilderness of Antarctica with the urban jungle of Buenos Aires – our last stop before returning home Sydney.

This will be the last blog post on the twobytwowheels adventure. It’s been a fantastic, incredible, challenging, uplifting, disappointing, exhilarating, fun and unique experience which I am so happy to have been able to share with Adrian and also, at times, with other travellers along the way. I am proud of what I’ve accomplished – and feel so very fortunate to have had the opportunity to do so. And I’m excited about being back home!

If you want to get in contact with either of us, write to:

Lauren –
Adrian –

For anyone wondering what happened to the bike… we shipped it from Buenos Aires back to Sydney and it’s arrived safely. Hopefully Adrian will be able to get it repaired early in the new year so he can get back out on the road.

So… that’s it! Thanks for coming along for the ride. Hope to see you somewhere sometime soon!!!

Made it to Ushuaia!!!

Adrian taking a break on the bike tour along the Caminito in Buenos Aires

Adrian taking a break on the bike tour along the Caminito in Buenos Aires

30 November

We’re in Ushuaia now – the most southerly city in the world! Daily temperatures aren’t quite reaching double-digits (in fact at night, it dips below zero!) and the city is ringed by snow-capped mountains… it’s beautiful and rather exciting, because tomorrow we jump on a boat and head towards Antarctica!

The last post I published had us still in Bariloche. Although we looked at flights, trains and hire cars, the only reasonably priced way to get to Buenos Aires was by bus… so after seeing the bike safely packed on a truck, we settled in for the longest single bus trip I’ve ever been on… 20 hours straight and 1,500kms! Surprisingly, we both got some sleep and the seats were better/roomier than we’d expected.

We then had a few days in Buenos Aires, with Adrian mainly doing bike stuff and me mainly exploring the city. We did both do a full day tour of the city by push bike (if you can’t motor, pedal, right?!!) which was very interesting; I learned quite a bit about Argentinean history generally and the recent Argentinian revolution specifically. ‘Recent’ is the operative word there… it was within my lifetime, which is very grounding. Often when I learn about civil uprisings and wars, they were so long ago that it’s hard to directly relate to what happened. Not here though. There is a ‘stolen generation’ of people who are my age who were taken from their parents by the ruling party as young children and adopted by pro-party families while their parents were sent to re-education camps, were killed or simply ‘disappeared.’ I wonder if, or when, we will ever learn.

The Argentinean president, a woman, returned to the top job while we were in Buenos Aires; she’s been off for a month after needing neurosurgery. One of the things that struck me about the public commentary on her first public appearance was that she was no longer wearing black in mourning of her first husband (who died in 2010), but wore a white blouse. Not what she was doing, who she was meeting, what the outcome was or even how her heath is. Nope, it was all about the colour of her clothing. It was pretty disappointingly familiar. That said, I like Buenos Aires – it’s a big, vibrant city with lots going on and a good vibe.

I bought a swipe card for the public transport system, charged it up and went exploring by bus and subway. It was excellent! I also spent some time in Buenos Aires (and in Ushuaia today) looking for a warm ‘puffy’ jacket and winter gloves… neither one of us really had the requisite Antarctica gear and we definitely didn’t want the experience ruined because we were just too cold to enjoy it. The bike is now on its way back to Sydney. With one of the key replacement parts going to take 45 days to even get to Buenos Aires, plus time for the actual repair, it wasn’t practical (or even possible) to just leave it there… we’re due back in Australia in only a few weeks and there just wasn’t the time. So.. it’ll have to be repaired in Sydney.

Thanks again to everyone for your lovely messages etc! I’ll probably write one more post after the Antarctica cruise and then that’ll be it for the Two by Two Wheels blog!!!

Bike update

22 November – Day 115

Bariloche, Argentina
Distance: 0kms

Well, we had the very sad task this morning of sorting through our goods and chattels to determine what we no longer needed and could therefore send with the bike on a truck to Buenos Aires later today. The news from the mechanic wasn’t good… basically, when the thieves cut Beamsky’s wires they also shorted the bike’s computer. The bike won’t work without a new computer, and there’s just no quick fix or band aid solution to get around it and get us down to Ushuaia. The computer – basically the bike’s heart and brain – is a very specialised part which has to be ordered from Germany… and it takes 45 days to get to Buenos Aires.

So – the bike part of the trip is now officially, definitely over.

We need to be in BA when the bike arrives so we can liaise with the BMW shop there as well as our insurance company to work out the best way forward in terms of repairs etc… however because it’s a long weekend in Argentina, the bike won’t get to BA (1600kms away) until Tuesday. We’re looking at our options – either fly to BA or hire a car here and make a road trip of it… albeit one where Kevlar jeans and leather gloves are not required!

We then need to fly down to Ushuaia from BA to make the start of our Antarctica cruise! Yup, we’re going to Antarctica for 11 days on the “Sea Explorer”. We can’t wait… and it’s definitely been nice to have something to look forward to after the hassles of the last few days. It means that the trip will end nicely, which is good!

With everything that’s happened with the bike, and the fact that we now don’t need time after the cruise to ride the bike back up to Buenos Aires but will have to fly instead, I have been trying to bring our flights forward to so we can be home for Christmas. No luck, unfortunately – the best Qantas could offer was a change fee of $1500 each!!! Which is just too much. So… if anyone knows of someone in the ‘special considerations’ section at Qantas who would be willing and able to move us to an earlier flight, please let me know!!!

Thanks to everyone for your good vibes… we really appreciate it. Although we’re both obviously very disappointed, it only takes a quick scan of the newspaper to remind us that we’re actually doing pretty well; that we’re lucky enough to be healthy, to be travelling and to have the means to get home.

The bike gets stolen, damaged, dumped and found

Adrian and the police inspecting the damage to the bike

Adrian and the police inspecting the damage to the bike

20 November – Day 113

Bariloche, Argentina
Distance: 0kms

With eleven days to go until we expected to reach Ushuaia, the official ‘finishing city’ for the north to south leg of the trip, the bike has been stolen. Stolen, damaged, dumped and then found by the police with some of the electronics stripped out, the steering lock filed off, one of the brake levers broken, a mirror and indicator snapped off and a massive big dent in the cylinder head shield.

We were in our room and had just about finished packing up ready to load up Beamsky for the day’s riding when the hostel owner knocked on our door to check if we were there and to ask whether we’d left the bike anywhere. Our big, black foreign motorbike, which had been securely parked inside the front gate right next to the front door of the hostel (a small BnB style place), was not there… and there was a message going around the Bariloche hostel/hotel/tourism operators’ network (which, incidentally, is an impressive way of sharing intel around the town) that the police had found a big, black, foreign motorbike and were looking for its owners. Us.

Damage to the cylinder head

Damage to the cylinder head

The hostel owner accompanied us to the police station and then to where the bike was being guarded by a number of officers, right where it had been dumped sometime this morning.

From what we can tell, the bike stealers have lifted the entire bike up, carried it out the gate of the hostel, cut the ignition cables, filed the steering lock off and then tried in vain to clutch start it for the 1.5km down the hill to the lake… clutch starts works for smaller/older bikes, but not on bikes with a modern engine immobiliser. So then, they just dumped it.

It’s pretty damaged… to the point where it’s impossible to even start the bike, let alone ride it. As I post this, it’s with a local mechanic to see if he can do anything – ie an interim fix – so we can get to the nearest BMW shop about 450kms away. If not, we’ll be looking for a tow truck in the morning.  And we only had eleven days to go before reaching Ushuaia! After making it safely through so, so many dodgy cities, neither one of us can quite believe that here, in Bariloche, the bike got stolen. Still, we’re ok – and that’s the main thing.

More bike damage... where they cut the cables to the ignition

More bike damage… where they cut the cables to the ignition

Back to Argentina

Adrian taking photos of the lake in Bariloche

Adrian taking photos of the lake in Bariloche

19 November – Day 120

Bariloche, Argentina
Distance: 0kms

Bariloche is an absolutely stunning town. It sits on a massive freshwater lake, Nahuel Huapui, and is surrounded by gorgeous mountains. It reminds me a little bit of Queenstown in NZ and a little bit of Switzerland. Although it was really cold when we arrived last night, this morning was lovely – sunny and bright… perfect weather for a 5km walk to the base of Cerro Otto and a ride up the mountain in a cable car! The view from the top was spectacular. We sat in the sun for a while, admiring the view and watching paragliders take off and slowly descend the 2000m or so back to the Bariloche town centre. So relaxing, it was great. We then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering into different shops and cafes and tasting some of the town’s famous chocolate. Dinner was comprised of the best empanadas I’ve had on the trip so far… full of fresh spinach, ricotta and just a touch of garlic, onion and chilli… delicious!

The view from the top of Cerro Otto, Bariloche

The view from the top of Cerro Otto, Bariloche

18 November – Day 119

Puerto Varas, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina
Distance: 280kms

We got new tyres on the bike today and headed for Bariloche, back over the border in Argentina. It’s a town famous for its chocolate – as well as the stunning lakes and mountains that surround it. The border crossing was good; another example of Chilean/Argentinian efficiency. The ride was very pretty, with huge lakes and snow-topped mountains, volcanoes and glaciers accompanying us for much of the route. We also had an early opportunity to experience some of the infamous Route 40 wind, which is so strong that it’s literally blown many a biker off their bike and the only way to ride in it is to lean the bike at quite an angle into the wind. I have to say, I’m happy that I’ll miss most of it by flying back up from Usuhaia to Buenos Aires at the end of the trip rather than riding – and it’ll be easier for Adrian to ride in it without me on the back, too.

The pub (and city and country) with no beer…

A sign on a supermarket shelf telling customers that the sale of alcohol is banned for the day

Alcohol aisle in the Puerto Varas supermarket on the day of the alcohol ban – the covered all the shelves with shade cloth!

17 November – Day 118

Valdivia, Chile to Puerto Varas, Chile
Distance: 220kms

Today is election day in Chile and, in a very familiar sight, people are streaming into local schools to cast their (voluntary) vote. In a few of the cities we drove through, the police had closed streets around schools to cars and there were people walking everywhere. I didn’t see hoards of volunteers handing out ‘how to vote’ cards though – maybe they don’t do that here?

We started the day with a leisurely walk along the river into town for coffee. The sea lions from yesterday had moved upstream about 500m and were hanging about right outside the fish market.. not surprising really, given the guts etc being chucked by fishmongers into the water – and in some cases, right into a sea lion’s mouth! It was very entertaining to watch.

There’s a famous brewery in town, Kunstmann, and we’d planned on doing a brewery tour followed by lunch in the (apparently) excellent restaurant there. What we hadn’t planned on was the fact that it’s illegal to sell or serve alcohol in Chile on election day. Seriously. The ban applies nationwide, for the full 24 hours and appeared to be strictly followed… at the brewery, we were advised that we could still do the tour if we wanted to, however they would only be offering alcohol-free beer as a part of the tasting (not withstanding Adrian’s pleas for just a little taste of the other stuff!). We were also welcome to order a beer flight in the restaurant, however we would only get alcohol-free beer. So disappointing! And yet somehow hilarious…

Adrian standing outside the Kunstmann brewery

Adrian standing outside the Kunstmann brewery

Later on, once we’d reached Puerto Varas, there were a few more examples of how seriously the ban is taken: the restaurant we ate in for dinner had big signs in their window saying ‘we’re not serving alcohol today,’ and in a local supermarket, they’d actually draped shade cloth over the shelves in the alcohol aisle and plastered it with big signs.

We’re in a part of the Chilean Lakes District that is famous for looking (and being) like Bavaria in Germany. I’m not sure I agree. There were other towns further north that definitely reminded me of Switzerland or southern Germany, but not where we are now. The only German-eske thing that happened was when I walked into a hostel to check their rooms and prices, the first question the woman asked me was ‘do you speak German?’

Sea lions in Chile

Sea lions by the promenade

Sea lions by the promenade

16 November – Day 117

Pucon, Chile to Valdivia, Chile
Distance: 229kms

We had a lovely (self-drive) scenic tour of several of the lakes this morning – they’re all slightly different yet equally impressive. Still no sailboats though… maybe it’s not a thing here? It’s another glorious Chilean spring day… perfect weather for being outside.

Lunch overlooking one of the lakes was a picnic of freshly-baked bread, gourmet olive tapenade (from the olive farm we visited in Maipu, near Mendoza), salted almonds and dried apricots. We were entertained by a friendly pack of local dogs who seemed to ‘own’ the park and really went for each car that drove past. I don’t know how they managed to say out from under the wheels each time; they seemed to get sooo close… but they always survived to chase down the next car. And the next one. And the next one. I was very glad that we didn’t have to ride past them on our way out of town; I’ve had more than my fair share of dog chases while on the bike and don’t feel that I need to experience any more games of chasey first hand!

A boat on the shore of a lake

One of the lakes where we stopped along the way

We made it to Valdivia by early afternoon and went for a walk along the river here into the old town. The surprise for the day came in the form of multiple sea lions lounging around on piers just outside of the city centre! A few minutes before seeing them, I saw what I thought was a strange sign on the promenade along the lines of ‘DANGER do not under any circumstances walk your domesticated pets along here at RISK of ATTACK.’ At the time, I thought it was pretty funny that they’d warn of some sort of random attack on domesticated pets (just domesticated pets?!) and put it down to an over-zealous local council. Then I saw the number – and size – of the sea lions, sunbaking on the rocks right next to the promenade and also on some of the wharves and piers and all of a sudden it made sense. A little Chihuahua would probably make quite the tasty meal for one of these guys.