We've made it to the end of the world: the most southern point that you can get to by road on the planet, which is quite an accomplishment, but it has not been without its obstacles. We've had one bike problem after the next, so much so that we are now stuck in Punta Arenas, Chile until we can get the proper parts flown in to this section of the world.
More than a month ago in northern Chile, the engine started overheating on crisp and cold days. So we took it in to the KTM workshop in Santiago where they fixed the water pump, changed out the coolant, and we figured our bike issues were behind us.
But not far down the road, on the Austral Highway into Chile's Patagonia, we realized that the bike was low on oil. This was strange since “consuming" oil was not something that this bike had ever done. So we went out of our way to get the right type of oil in Coyhaique, filled her up, and hoped that all was good once again.
We continued our way south, trying to get to the beautiful mountains and glaciers of Chaltén and Torres del Paine National Park, but before we could reach them, Tim noticed that there were strange bubbles forming on the front tire. Though the tire was not yet ready to be changed, because of the bizarre bubbles, we knew the wise choice would be to change it as soon as possible. And unfortunately for us, the only place to do so was Punta Arenas, Chile, meaning we would have to bypass Chaltén and Torres del Paine. But no problem, we thought. We'll just hit up those destinations on the way back north.
After putting on the new (and expensive) front tire from Punta Arenas, we headed into the frightfully-strong wind toward Ushuaia, which is truly the end of the earth, or at least the end of the road in South America. In order to get there, you have to cross the Strait of Magellan, and due to high winds the day we got there, the ferry wasn't running. We waited a good five hours with the hope that things would calm, but no such luck.
Yet something great did happen because of that delay: we met a fellow motorcycle traveler from Australia named Luke (under the instagram handle lukegetslost), and so at least we had company to share in the misery of being stuck without a ferry. He was wonderful for a good laugh, always positive, and it turned out he worked in the same industry as Tim (as a hand model. No, just kidding. The reality of their jobs is too boring to explain here).
We were able to get rooms in a nearby hotel for the night, and were thrilled to see that the next morning was calm and clear. The ferry only took 20 minutes (we went on the small ferry at the Bahia Azul crossing for 4,900 Pesos/~$7.40).
Once onto the island of Tierra del Fuego, we rode through the intense wind on an angle to a bay where a colony of King Penguins live year round. King Penguins are the world's second largest penguins, and they're the ones with the reddish-orange chests (Emperor Penguins are the largest. Monarchy-wise it kind of makes sense, right?). For me, this was a huge draw for coming to such a windy, cold, and distant place: to see penguins!
The Chilean government has taken great measures to make the bay a penguin sanctuary, now called Parque Pingüino Rey. It cost us 12,000 Pesos a person (~$18) to enter the park, and after a quick presentation in the museum, we were off to see the penguins. Interestingly enough, I learned that King Penguins do not live in Antarctica, but only on the surrounding islands, such as Tierra del Fuego. Emperor penguins are the kings of Antarctica, I mean, er, emperors of Antarctica, since they live nowhere else. Ah, this is getting confusing.
We were told to stay quiet, and to even turn off the beeping of our cameras. They said it's because this is a breeding colony and they're a fragile species, as studies from certain islands have shown a 90% decline in their population in recent years!
Even though we were kept at a distance and behind a wooden bird blind, it was amazing to hear the squawking chatter that the penguins made, completely oblivious to us. Fluffy grey babies huddled next to their mother (or father!), and the odor of fish that they exuded was so strong, we could smell them from even where we stood. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and was certainly the highlight for me in coming to Tierra del Fuego.
After the penguins, we all headed off through the wind into Argentina (there are lots of borders to cross in Patagonia), and we finally found ourselves gliding through the snow-sprinkled mountain pass of Garibaldi on our way to Ushuaia. It had just snowed the day before, and yes, it is cold in Tierra del Fuego, oh yeah, and windy, did I mention that? But that drive was simply stunning as we were surrounded by jagged peaks with deep green pine forests dusted in snow. Since leaving the Austral Highway, this was the first time that we'd seen beautiful mountains. It had been many days of riding through nothing but dry grasslands with guanacos (llama-like animals) and sparse trees bent over as they strained against the wind.
But Garibaldi pass felt like a whole other world as we made our way along the paved road that hugged the mountainsides with vistas of lakes and valleys all around.
Unfortunately, our sense of bliss was to very quickly come to an end as Tim pulled over after smelling something burning. It turned out that it wasn't something burning, it was worse. The chain guard had broken off and now the chain was literally eating into the swingarm body of the bike!
Tim did his very best McGyver impression to get us to Ushuaia by zip-tying the chain guard in place, but by the time we arrived there, the zip-ties had been burnt away and now formed a blackened pile of incinerated plastic.
“Well, it seems bad, but it's not like it's the end of the world for us," I told Tim. “We have tons of zip-ties. We'll just keep zip-tying it until we can get somewhere that can order us a new guard."
“It is the end of the world!" Tim said as he pointed at Ushuaia all around us. I guess in that sense, he was right.
So it's true, we had arrived at our southern-most destination. But like the heavy grey clouds looming above us in this cold summer weather near Antarctica, we did not feel like celebrating.
But celebrate we did, as we met up with lots of other motorcycle travelers, who all managed to cheer us up tremendously. Yet the problem for us was that this motorcycle had become our entire life over the past year and a half of travel, and to watch it fall apart again and again was heartbreaking. It was emotionally draining. Each time we'd just try to put on that smile and say, “When we get this fixed, everything will be alright." But after over 50,000 miles of extremely tough riding (80,000 kilometers), we knew it would never be like it was when it was brand new.
We waited three days in Ushuaia for the weather to become nice enough to leave, and then headed back the way we came to Punta Arenas, Chile where we could get the parts we needed at KTM. We said goodbye to Luke and the rest of our new-found friends, and brought the bike into the shop. The new chain, sprockets, and chain guard were going to arrive in just two days, and because we wanted to leave feeling confident in our bike once again, we decided to get an oil change and a new back tire as well, just to be sure that we wouldn't need to have any maintenance done on the bike anytime soon.
That was wishful thinking.
With everything done and installed, we picked up the bike yesterday and went down the block to an ATM only to find a gushing oil leak had sprung from somewhere in the engine. The mechanics at KTM pointed out where it was coming from, and were able to get a new gasket for it within the day. Phew, we thought. At last we had solved all our problems and could finally be on our way.
That night we decided to check out a presentation by Ana Grechishkina (Ihaveadreamtravel.info), a solo female motorcycle traveler from Ukraine who has been traveling the world for the past 5 years and happened to be in the same town as us. Plus, she has a KTM 1190 too! We of course had to go, but on the way there, noticed that the back brakes were now pulsating on and off, as if they were affected by the ABS. Good thing we were at an event filled with motorcycle experts who all gathered around the bike, each making their own diagnosis, until someone noticed that the ABS sensor plate was bent and activating the ABS whenever the brakes were being applied. Back to KTM we'd have to go in the morning.
Ana's presentation was a real hit, and an inspiration for us, especially since we're going to be presenting at the Overland Expo in Arizona this May! Ana is now striving to hold the record for traveling the most miles around the world on a motorcycle as a solo woman. We are certainly honored to have met her, and truly hope she never stops following her dreams.
That was last night, and this morning we brought the bike back to the shop, only to find that our tire pressure on the new rear tire leaked down to 15 PSI overnight. Not good. So after fixing the ABS plate, we checked the tire, and found the leak on one of the spokes in the rim. The problems just never end! We were all packed to go, helmets on, gloves on, and then realized that we are going nowhere.
There are ways to quick-fix this spoke leak, but we decided to properly resolve it with the right OEM part. We just so desperately want a working bike that we don't have to worry about, and we're tired of things being “fixed" with zip-ties and duct tape. We want to be confident in our motorcycle once again so that we can do what we love: explore the world.
And so here we are, stuck at the end of the world, waiting for the part to come in five days. It's cold, rainy, and expensive in Punta Arenas, but it could definitely be worse. We need to just stay positive and thankful that we have our health, we have each other, and tons of incredible memories so far to look back on. I just keep reminding myself to think of baby penguins, and it always puts a smile on my face.
Fingers crossed, no new leaks will spring out of nowhere! Please send us your good luck vibes!
We'll keep you informed, and for our most up-to-the-minute news, check us out on facebook or instagram, and check out Tim's book Maiden Voyage on Amazon to see how it all started.
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