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Day 121 – Antarctica (King George Island, Antarctica)

01 Feb

We were picked up by a van from out hotel at 4:40am.  We then made two more stops at two other hotels to pick up the other 4 people for our expedition to Antarctica.  There was one couple from London (in their thirtees) and Dad/daughter from Minnesota. 

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Six of us and two pilots left on small 10-seat plane on time at 6am and were in the air from 3 hours. 

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The plane landed at 9am on a short gravel runway on King George Island where we were met by Alejo, our tour guide, and his daughter, Josephina. 

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Alejo spent 3 years in Antarctica and knew it very well.  He was an excellent guide and knew all the places to visit and understood the weather changes in case we needed to leave Antarctica earlier   in case of sudden weather changes, which occur frequently.

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Alejo gave us a brief tour of the main station areas where the Chilean and the Russian Research stations were located.  All building were built out of what looked like metal containers and welded together to create one-story buildings.  The Chilean base is the largest on the island followed by the Russian research station.  There are a total of 8 countries permanently represented in Antarctica throughout the year for a total of about 250 people.  Only 80 people stay in Antarctica in winter months (about 10 people from each of the 8 countries). 

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We left on a small motor boat around 10:30am to see the glacier.  All of us were given orange suits and special boots to help with the wind. 

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December through February is considered summer here with temperatures of -5C on average (and -10C with the windshield factor).  The glacier view was grand. 

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We were surrounded by icebergs in the middle of the ocean. 

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The temperature of the water was -3C, which kills a person in less than 10 minutes.  We saw a hump whale, which is something that happens fairly irregular.  The whale was immense and moved slowly in the ocean immersing in the ocean with his large tail.  We took some nice photos.  Dozens of pinguins were swimming around us.  They seemed to be very happy to see the infrequent visitors.

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We then went on the shore where we saw the fur seal that was just sitting on rocks and observing us. 

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Gintaras took a pictures of Vadim with the seal.  It was amazing.  There are no animals living in Antarctica other than the seals that come on shore.  The only flora of Antarctica consists of what looks like moth.

After our first adventure, we went on other side of the island to see the penguins on the shore.  We were able to approach them very close.  They did not seem to be scared of us but, on the opposite, show curiosity. 

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There were hundreds of penguins on the rocky beach resting on the sun with their little ones.  It was an experience of a life-time to be there.  It’s hard to describe the feeling of joy and pure unbelief that this is really happening.

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After the penguin observation, it started to drizzle and wind picked up its speed.  Alejo told everyone to get in the boat and head to the main station, where he took us to the Russian Orthodox Church, a beautiful wooden structure that was build in Russia in Altai and transported to Antarctica in pieces in 2004. 

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We went inside of the church.  It felt very inviting, warm and safe from harsh outside conditions.  We met the two Russian church servants that were surprised but happy to see the Russian speaking visitors.

The weather cleared up a little and we were allowed to go for our last adventure on the other side of the island where we saw a few dozens of elephant seals.  They were large in size and layesd peacefully on the shore.  We took some nice pictures. 

Upon return, to the main station we got on the plane and left the island as the weather started to change.  We traveled 4 hours back to Punta Arenas, where we started, because of strong head winds.  We arrived to the airport at 8pm.  The expedition was amazing and we will never forget this unique visit to the sixth continent.  We suggest everyone to see Antarctica if the opportunity presents itself.  You will not regret it!

Routes taken: Air / 1,500 km

Miles ridden:  None

 
 

Day 120 – Continuous Strong Winds (Punta Arenas, Chile)

31 Jan

We left El Calafate at 8am and had to fight strong winds coming from the right side for 8 hours until we reached Punta Arenas.  At border with Chile, Vadim went through Rio Turbio point whereas Gintaras went through a different point a few miles further down the road.  Miraculously, we both reunited at the border point where Gintaras crossed. 

Upon arrival to Punta Arenas, Vadim went to the office of DAP airline to go through orientation for our trip to Antarctica tomorrow whereas Gintaras went to look for a hotel for us.  The Antarctica orientation took about 45 minutes and had some general logistics about the trip.

Routes taken: RN40, RP7, 9

Miles ridden:  365 miles (584 km)

 
 

Day 119 – Another Day in the Gravel (El Calafate, Argentina)

30 Jan

Thanks God nothing happened to us today.  We left our lodging at 8am so we could budget for any unforeseen delays on the road.  There were about 10 cars that passed in the first 3 hours of riding. 

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We saw many hares, guanacos (lama family), and rheas (ostrich looking birds).  

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Gintaras was going very slow after his accident yesterday.  The winds were very strong. Vadim was blown off the road into deep gravel and almost lost control of his bike but he managed to get out without falling.  We fought the wind all day and our necks hurt as a result.  This is not even a joke how strong the winds are and what it can do even to our heavy bikes.

Upon arrival to the hotel, Vadim asked the hotel owner where he could wash his bike.  Vadim’s bike was all covered in soft asphalt after he rode on fresh asphalt for 200 meters.  One of hotel owner’s friends cleaned his bike for 300 pesos (equivalent of $75), which is very expensive according to local standards.  But it was worth the price.  3 hours of washing Vadim’s bike with gasoline removed 3 kg (6 lbs) of asphalt.  Vadim personally washed his boots, lower portion of his pants and top bag with gas to remove the sticky asphalt grease that was getting everywhere.  The whole effort paid off as 90% of the asphalt was removed.  We hope another 10% will come off after a hot wash in Punta Arenas this week.

It is cold in Patagonia now.  We don’t think we quite expected this harsh climate. Vadim had to purchase a new jacket (which could be used under his motorcycle jacket when riding as well), a hat and a scarf from Columbia Sportswear.  These items were not cheap as they are imports but the quality and utility seems to be nice.

Routes taken: RN40, RP11

Miles ridden:  197 miles (315 km)

 
 

Day 118 – Emotionally and Physically Exhausted – Gintaras falling off the bike, Vadim Covered in Hot Asphalt (Estancia La Angostura, Argentina)

29 Jan

We crossed into Argentina around noon today and rode all day down Ruta 40, which is all gravel (in many case the rocks were almost the size of a fist). 

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It was extremely windy.  At times, we felt our helmets would be ripped off our heads by wind.  The gravel road was tough, especially if you ride on it for 3 days in a row. 

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Vadim tried to avoid the gravel on a short segment of Ruta 40 and got onto a new build asphalt road.  He ended up being covered in hot asphalt.  We hope his bike can be washed somehow after this incident.

Gintaras had an accident around 7:30pm after an exhausting day.  When going at approximately 40 kmh his bike lost control in a thick layer of gravel.  He hurt his back.  Vadim raced back to the scene of the accident and assisted Gintaras.  The bike was ok but the side case was damaged at the bottom but should be fixable.  We knew that our stamina for the day disappeared.  We turned off the road and continued for another 5 km off road and stopped at a local farm house for $100/night and $50 / dinner.  They can get away charging this price because there are no other options for 100 km radius. 

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The gas is scarce and one better fill up the gas tank for 300 km to be safe.  By getting some rest today, we hope to be more physically fit and emotionally ready to continue our journey.  We must be in Punta Arenas in two days to catch our plane to Antarctica. 

Routes taken: 265, RP43, RN40

Miles ridden:  310 miles (496 km)

 
 

Day 117 – Beautiful but Exhausting Day (Puerto Guadal, Chile)

28 Jan

In the morning, we spent 4 hours at the mechanic shop trying to fix the rear mud flap on Vadim’s motorcycle. 

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A metal part holding it broke off along with the screw.  The mud flap broke off from the vibrations from all the bumpy roads we had to take.   

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The mechanic fabricated the metal part that broke – the imitation was amazing. 

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We rode all day long down the twisty rode along the lake.  The views were the ones from a post card.  Towards the end of day, Vadim’s mud flap broke off again along with the newly fabricated part from significant road vibrations.  We decided that fixing it is pointless until the end of the trip.

In the evening, we knew that we are not going to reach Chile Chico (our today’s original destination) because we couldn’t go fast on the rocky road.  So, we decided to shoot some videos of us riding on a beautiful road.

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Every time we left our tripod with camera unattended for a couple of minutes (so we could approach the camera on motorcycles) a passing truck would stop and steal our camera.  We had to chase 3 SUVs at speeds approaching 100 kmh and demand our camera with tripod back.  We got so exhausted that we no longer wished to shoot any videos today. 

We arrived at a Terra Luna Lodge (right on the lake) owned by a French guy met in the morning at out hotel in Coihaique.  He built this hotel by himself – it took him 12 years – a really beautiful place with amazing views.  We had a nice French dinner.

 

Routes taken: 7 (Caratera Austral), 265

Miles ridden:  180 miles (288 km)

 
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