Patagonia – Day 12: Torres del Paine National Park

Date: 11/21/2014 Friday
Starting Location: El Calafate, Argentina
Ending Location: Torres del Paine, Chile
Mileage Today:  350 Miles
Mileage Total:  1790.7 miles

Leaving El Calafate

The trip to Torres del Pain from El Calafate started with, as usual, the process of herding the cats, and starting the engines, followed by the other ritual of stopping at the gas station.  Our 8:00 AM departure went off pretty well, and once we addressed the gas, we headed out of town, and on to Torres del Paine.


The ride to Torres del Paine

The length of this ride was in doubt from the very beginning.  Each time we would ask the guides how long of a ride it was, we would get conflicting and ever-changing answers.  At the time of receiving all of this confused and inconsistent information, it was hard to understand why.  After completing the ride, I can say that I now understand what it was about this ride that was so hard to quantify.

First of all, because we had two border crossings, the timing of things was in doubt.  But, beyond that, it seems that in Chile and Argentina, they can close any road, at any time, for any reason.  So, because we managed to get with big delays at the crossings, and several closed roads, we did not arrive in Torres del Paine until at least 5PM, a full day indeed.

Border crossing #3 (of the trip)

We’ve already landed in Santiago, and had to deal with Immigration & customers, then we crossed into Argentina after we left Pucon, and today, we had our third border crossing.  As is often the case in this part of the world, the border crossing is somewhat remote.  But, there are a number of other defining characteristics for this type of crossing.

First of all, the scenery at these border crossings is nothing short of spectacular.  The hills, the roads, the mountains in the distance are always striking, and amazing to look at.  And so it was at this crossing (Name of crossing goes here).  Also, it must be said that these remote crossings are quite remote indeed.  If you didn’t have a map, directions and a guide, you would have trouble finding them.  It’s not like in the US, where there will be signs everywhere, and a big, formal border crossing.  In this case, it’s sometimes a very small building, on a dirt road, standing by itself, with a few folks from Immigration, and a few folks from Customs (who always have guns, and sneer a lot).
As we approached this crossing at the Argentinean border, we found ourselves in a somewhat unique situation.  The wind!.  The wind had been constant as we traveled today, and as we approached the crossing, we found that the wind had risen to about a 30 Kph speed, with gusts up to 60kph.

Inside the Immigration office

ArgentineBorder02ArgentineBorder01We left the bikes out in the wind and cold, and headed to the building.  But, in this case, an instant before we arrived on the bikes, a tour bus had arrived at this remote outpost.  And so it was that we had to wait behind the 30 people that were on the tour bus to immigrate before we could leave Chile.  After about 45 minutes of waiting in line, we were processed in the Immigration line, and told to go to the Aduana (customs line).

ArgentineBorder04I’m pretty sure I mentioned this before, but I don’t speak any Spanish.  So, when I walked up the customs window, and presented my passport, Immigration form, and customs paperwork for the bike, I was surprised that the agent would not simply smile, and stamp my paperwork.  Instead, he insisted that I should produce more paperwork, for the Moto (the motorcycle).  As it turns out, Eduardo had already done all of the processing for the bikes a few minutes before, but this customs agent could not read the log book, and simply sat there with an unsympathetic look on his face, asking for more paperwork.  When in a pinch, send for Eduardo and Alain.  So we sent for Eduardo, and waited.  While we waited, the agent suddenly figured it out, and saw that all of our names, and verification of a proper customs passage had been right there, in front of him, as the last 7 entries in the log book.  Hmmm, you really have to wonder about these guys.

Two countries with a common border?

With paperwork completed in Argentina, we headed for Chile.  On the map, it seems that Chile and Argentina share a border.  Well, it is my considered opinion that this is not true, and in fact they share a DMZ of sorts, where there is a clear and distinct distance between the countries. In fact, the distance is about 5.5 miles.  So, we left Argentina, and drove 5.5 miles to Chile.

The drive to Chile from the Argentine border

I’m not exactly sure what happened, but over these 5 miles, someone turned up the wind machine, because we were now faced with riding on a dirt/gravel road, between two countries, with bits of rain, huge amounts of dust in the air, and wind gusts up to 75Kph.  At one point, the bike was almost blown over, and was instead forced into other lane, into oncoming traffic.  Oops, I forgot, there is no oncoming traffic, it’s the DMZ and there is very little traffic indeed.  That said, the wind was ripping through us like a sharp knife through an avocado.

At the Chilean border, once again, another tour bus confronted us.  Or was it the same bus?  I guess it was the same bus, but nevertheless, I still despised it.  After 25 – 30 minutes of filling out forms, and waiting in line, we were presented with a new, and precious gift.  In this remote outpost, we were going to have to take all of the luggage out of the trailer, bring it into the building, and let them X-Ray it, using what must have been their brand new X-Ray machine.

Arghh, the bureaucrats have conquered this border crossing, and the tourists have lost.  And, so goes the battle, and so goes the war.

Leaving the Chilean border crossing

Oh, the roads of Chile

Once in Chile we had an opportunity to drive on some of the nicest roads that you could imagine.  These beautifully pave, well maintained, sculpted roads are perfect for motorcycles, and even better for guys on motorcycles, on an Adventure tour.

Check out this video of the roads of Chile


Stop in the name of love

TDP-RoadClosed01Before long, we stopped at the side of the road, at an intersection that was supposed the be the road that will take us to Torres del Paine.  But, as indicated by a single, lone traffic guard (wearing an Orange reflective vest), we were told that the road was closed, and that we would have to go around.  After what seemed to be 10 minutes of discussion, Eduardo was told that we could go up the road a piece, turn right, and then turn right a while later, and then make our way to a point on the road which is beyond the construction.

TDP-RoadClosed02Off we went.  After 8 miles of blacktop, we turned right, and began our reroute.  After another 15Km of dirt and gravel, we came to a turn, made a left, looked back at another road-closed sign, and all at once, we were back on track.  But these moments of success are always punctuated by the next moment of disruption or failure.

Driving along for another 35Km or so, we came to a National Park exhibit for the Cueva del Milodón Natural Monument.  It was at this point where we were met with yet another sign that said that another section of the road is closed.  When we asked about the road being closed, we were told that the road would not open until 600 PM, and it was now 4:30.  We would have to wait at least an hour before we could start our journey again.

At 5:30 we fired up the bikes, and sped out of the parking lot.  At about 6:03, we arrived at yet another Stop sign, but this time, we were told that we could pass, as long as we were going to one of three hotels within the Park grounds.  Believe it or not, another 20 Km, and another sign denoting that another section of the road is closed.

Finally, after avoiding these signs, rerouting as necessary, and suffering numerous delays, we arrived at our hotel, the Hosteria Lago Tyndall (at Villa Serrano)

About the Author

Cliff Musante

Cliff Musante is a technologist, business leader, motorcycle enthusiast, father, grandfather, and more. In June, 2013 his passion for motorcycles was revitalized, and he set out to ride across Patagonia. Since then, he's logged thousands of miles, ridden across the US, and on July 10, 2019, he began a 120 day trip through Europe, and then on to Russia, China, and parts East. This 'Blog is the story of all of his adventures.