In my early twenties I carried around a few mountain images that spoke to me. I was really getting into rock climbing and mountaineering and obsessed over certain mountain faces or treks around the world. One photo I actually had taped to the inside of the canopy of my Jeep Commanche while on a road trip was of Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Chile. I tore it out of a calendar my parents gave me one Christmas. I’d lay in my sleeping bag in the back of my truck and stare at it thinking it had to be a fake photo. It looked like the Caribbean had met the backcountry; the water was a milky turquoise and a carpet of short, dark green brush with purple flowers lined the lakeshore. As a backdrop, huge steel-grey and charcoal walls of perfect, unscarred rock stood towering like the world’s largest cuspid teeth against a blue sky.
Patagonia itself seemed to be the end of the earth and in a very inhospitable place, despite this photo. The winds were said to whisk climbers off the mountain tops to their death. The rock faces were covered in a prickly coat of hoar frost during most of the year and the clouds were like stretched cotton balls caught on the pointy ridgetops. When I travelled to Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia at the age of 23, I never got to Chile or Argentina and wasn’t sure I ever would. It was too far; the ends of the earth.
Twenty calendar years later, however, there I was staring at those rock walls listening to the ting ting of my motorcycle cooling behind me. We almost didn’t make it here, I was thinking.
After we reached Ushuaia, Dave and I decided to take a once-a-week 4-day ferry that would sail from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt covering over 2000 km (1242 m) into the central-west parts of Chile. We liked the idea of travelling by boat as we hoped to see some great scenery, avoid some of the famous Patagonia winds and save some wear and tear on our bikes. Dave’s back tire needed replacing and my chain sounded like I was dragging a bunch of tin cans.
To get to the ferry, we needed to ride about 800 km (497m) north-west out of Ushuaia, Argentina to Puerto Natales, Chile. There was a small ferry in Porvenir, Chile that would take us across to Punta Arenas, Chile in about 2 hours. It left daily at 2:00 p.m. Because we had a border crossing, travelled a few hundred kms on loose gravel roads with high winds and bike troubles making me very slow we missed that once-a-day ferry by 20 mins. We found a hotel and spent a very windy 24 hours waiting for the ferry to leave the next day. Missing that ferry meant we’d also missed our one free day to ride the 200 km (124m) loop through Torres del Paine National Park as we needed to be in Puerto Natales the next evening, Apr. 29, to board.
While checking online, we found out they’d cancelled that sailing but there was a re-scheduled one for May 1. This was great news as we had more time now. In Punta Arenas, we were put in touch with a motorcycle mechanic who incredibly had the parts to fix my bike. We thought we’d have to nurse it another 1000 km (621m) into Santiago, Chile where we could get to a BMW dealer. BMW parts are a rare find in South America. Dave spent the next morning fixing my bike in a driveway along the side of the hotel we were staying in. Unfortunately this was also the place for the family dog to relieve itself so he had to step around carefully and plug his nose.
Relieved to have my bike running well again and grateful for my handy boyfriend, we set off for Torres del Paine after first stopping to reserve our space on the ferry. We found out this was the last trip for the year they would be taking passengers. It was only cargo trips from that date onward.
En route into Torres del Paine we saw another adventure bike riding out and slowed down. It was friends we’d met while hiking around Fitz Roy. Jamie and Casey were riding two-up on Casey’s KLR 650. They informed us they’d also be on the ferry in two days with us. Looking forward to that, we waved and rode off to go explore the park. At the entry gate we found out it was about $77 CAN ($60 USD) for a 3-day pass into the park. It was late evening and we were a little shocked at the price so we turned around and found a place just outside the park to camp. Jamie and Casey had warned us it was freezing cold at night. We built a fire and cooked some soup watching the scene in front of us—one of the best views-while-camping we’ve had on this trip. We felt we were seeing enough of this national park to be satisfied without paying the entry fee.
When we woke up in the morning it was unusually warm and we had a gorgeous blue sky. We decided we just couldn’t miss the opportunity while here so we rode to the entry and paid the fee. There’s no question it was worth it. It may have been more worth it for those who could spend 3 days travelling through and camping or hiking but even 3 hours riding through made it one of the highlights of the trip. What matter is money when you’re seeing a calendar image from your youth in real life?