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 – lozjohnston@gmail.com
Adrian – adrianswalkabout@gmail.com

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.

Santiago!

Glasses of red wine lined up on a table

Wine tasting in a Santiago wine bar… hands down the best wine bar I’ve been to.

12-13 November – Days 113-4

Santiago, Chile
Distance: 0kms

One of the cool things about Santiago I noticed straight away is that they have ‘public’ pianos on street corners and in parks and plazas throughout the city where anyone can just sit down and pump out a few tunes. It’s excellent! It’s also lovely and warm here; the city has that feel that Sydney gets in early summer.

The other thing that was hard to ignore was the amount of rubbish everywhere. Mountains of it. Apparently, the public servants are striking at the moment as a part of a pay dispute, so rubbish just isn’t being collected. The strike also meant that several of the public institutions such as museums and national parks are closed.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Chile is holding a national election next Sunday. It’s almost certain that the next President will be a woman – given that the two primary candidates are female, it’s hard to see it any other way. Which is excellent! It’ll be the first presidential election where voting is not compulsory and it’s widely thought that Michelle Bachelet will win, returning to the top office after a stint as President from 2006-2010 when (according to one of my tour guides) she was the first female national leader not just of Chile, but of a South American country. I also happen to know that she was awarded an OAM last year.

Military changing of the guard

The very elaborate changing of the guard ceremony outside the Presidential Palace in Santiago

Chile – and Santiago particularly – is working for me… I think it’s at least partly because it reminds me of home. There’s good food, nice coffee, exceptional wine, lovely weather and this sense that I just can’t put my finger on but I think it might be something close to civil order. As in people drive in a way that’s predictable, and more generally seem to ‘live’ in a way that is similar to Australia. I like it!

Funnily, other than Australia, Chile and Argentina are the only two countries I’ve visited (and I’m not just talking about this trip, I mean ever!) where people use ‘how are you’ as a way of saying hello rather than a genuine enquiry into the state of someone’s welfare.

I did a couple of city walking tours here just to get a sense of the place. It was interesting – and very impressive – to see how the country has developed and changed since the Pinochet, who came to power in 1974 after a military coup in 1973, transferred power to a democratically elected government in 1990. It’s all so very recent…

Adrian also got Beamsky serviced. Other than having a few screws loose and therefore in need of tightening (the bike, I mean), all was fine. So we’re good to go for the final few thousand kilometres to the most southerly point of the South American continent!

One of the many historical buildings in Santiago

One of the many historical buildings in Santiago

Santiago wine bar art...to help you assess how you're doing!

Santiago wine bar art…to help you assess how you’re doing!

11 November – Day 112

Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile

Distance: 359kms

Today was another border crossing day – and I can confirm that, consistent with our first experience, crossing between Argentina and Chile is a relatively smooth and seamless process. The ride over the Andes was beautiful (albeit cold), with snow by the road and mountains on all sides.

Malbec in Mendoza

Old wine barrels (that are still in use!!)

Old wine barrels (that are still in use!!)

8-10 November

Mendoza, Argentina
Distance: 0kms

Our long weekend in Mendoza started with a full day winery tour – as well as an olive oil factory and a small artisanal chocolate factory where they also produced homemade jams… and absinthe! The weather couldn’t have been better.. it was just a lovely day to be out in vineyards. We went to three different types of winery… a small boutique producer, a mid-sized one and finally a massive commercial operation which looked more like a soft drink factory than a winery. At each stop, we had tours of the production facilities and were told about how their particular wine was produced (and what was special about it). It was very interesting – and enjoyable; we got to taste some pretty nice wines.

Industrial winemaking... inside a mass producer's factory

Industrial winemaking… inside a mass producer’s factory

The next day – Saturday – Mendoza ran out of water. Literally. The first inkling something was amiss was when I tried to drop off a load of clothes at the Laundromat around the corner from our hostel. The woman said no and to come back on Monday because ‘there isn’t any water.’ When I pressed further, she just shrugged in a pretty relaxed manner and repeated that there wasn’t any water, so I couldn’t get my washing done. Still, back at our hostel we seemed to have water so I didn’t really think much more of it… until a few hours later, when the water stopped there, too.  Apparently it happens reasonably often… the city temporarily runs out of water, so literally turns off the taps to certain areas of the city, one at a time. The irony is that Mendoza is one of the most ‘first world’, progressed places we’ve been in for a loooong time… yet sometimes there’s just no water… and the people are so relaxed and matter of fact about it. It really gives the term ‘water crisis’ a new meaning.

We’ve been spending our time here relaxing, exploring the city in foot, checking out the local markets, parks and monuments and hunting down the most delicious empanadas. It’s lovely!

 

7 November – Day 108

Chilecito, Argentina to Mendoza, Argentina
Distance: 638kms

6 November – Day 107

Cafayate, Argentina to Chilicito, Argentina
Distance: 496kms

We had two long days on the bike for a couple of reasons… firstly, there aren’t too many places between these cities… and secondly, we wanted to have a few days off the bike in Mendoza.. which effectively had to be earned! Probably the most interesting thing that we saw was an olive farm that extended at least 20 kms along the main road and was at least 100 trees deep (if not more). I’ve never seen so many olive trees in the one place!