Italy- Terra del Fuego (2001-2002) - diary

by Claudio Del Grande

I leave Luceto, a village of Albisola Superiore (SV), on Thursday 5th  April 2001.
The goal of the travel is to reach Tierra del Fuego, the end of the world.
I use a 17 years old motorbike at which I fixed the engine before the departure. I build a bulbar and a luggage rack using recycled iron tubes. The boxes are pretty expensive so I use office drawers that I place at the luggage rack. On the top of a box I place a 10 litres fuel tank. The bulbar will protect  the engine in case I fall down and I place a 5 litres tank for the water on it. A reserve for long distances and camping.
I have no sponsors and no support. If I had had one the motorbike would have been less improvised…….
In the boxes I have only the necessary. Tent, sleeping bag, fuel stove, clothes, some underwear and a few spare parts for my motorbike. On top of all the stuff I tie two tires. In Russia is very difficult to find tires needed.
The motorbike is pretty heavy and difficult to ride for the few kilometres. I cruise at about 80 km/h in order not to force the engine and appreciate the landscape. I am not in a hurry to get somewhere.

The real travel starts in Belarus, here there are great differences compared to our way of  life, the society is still strongly socialist.
Different is Russia where this born philosophy seemed to leave space only for frantic capitalism with no rules.
Though these differences, both share similar habits and are proud, hospitable and generous.
I start to sleep mostly in tent, at the end of  the travel I’ll reach 70% of the nights.
The tent gave me unforgettable moments, I put it up in the middle of nowhere where I didn’t need anything.
Many times I got hospitability in Siberian villages where I ate and slept for free. Here hospitability is surprising. Many persons used to come to the house where I was to say me goodbye. Every night if  I wanted I could have asked hospitability without using my tent. It’s almost impossible to be refused.
After not many kilometres on the way I have been forced to change the destroyed rear bearing, side sprocket. There is nothing available for motorbike so I use the available oil and I adjust the valves clearance every 12000 kilometres. With the first dirt roads from the front fork seals started oil leakages.

Russia is an immense country, the biggest one; the first village that you meet in Europe is not so different from the last one in Asia. But is not boring at all. Cities are majestic and share a “great future”;they’ll come too similar to ours, loosing their charisma kept with a great deal of effort.
Crossing Siberia one can understand how hard and interesting explorations eastward were. Very hot in summer and very cold in winter. During the nice season armies of mosquitoes can discourage the strongest.
Land of deportation of the ex Soviet Union. The casualties reached approximately six millions during and after the Stalin regime.
Kolyma Highway known as the road of the bones, build by the prisoners, played a bad trick to me at about 600 hundred kilometres from Magadan. I tried to reach the   northernmost part possible.
In the Yakut’s land there was about a hundred kilometres of missing road that forced me to take a barge, my companion was a herd of sheep.  When I reached  again the dirt road a fallen bridge because of the flooding of Kolyma stopped my way to Magadan. Paved road is an ancient remind. When rain fall roads turn to became in mud puddles where overloaded trucks go deeper and deeper as if was butter. Every 20 kilometres I am forced to grease chain and remove mud from the cylinder in order to avoid overheating. North is gone, I move South to Vladivostok. It’ll cost me 7000 km but without  regret.

Kamchatka peninsula in the north-east part was the most important military base during the cold war, its existence was intended to stop a potential USA invasion coming from Alaska. The same Russians to get in the peninsula needed to be residents or to have a special pass. A land belonged at Russia as far as 18 October  1867 when the State Secretary William Steward bought it for $ 7.200.000 only two cent per acre!
In those days was a deal badly criticized, today an immense oil field.
In this season no ship sails to Alaska, I have no option I need to fly. The motorbike will be loaded in the same aircraft for the sum of $ 2.5 per kilo. The qualitative standard compared between Siberia and Alaska is incredible. Prices are so high that almost I faint. A sandwich here has the same price as room in Russia.
I reach Prudhoe Bay beyond the Arctic Circle, the northernmost point reachable overland in the American continent.
During the summer rivers are crowded by fishermen committed to decimate salmons that try hard to go upstream against current. The goal: to reach the sources where to lay their eggs before dieing. Yes, Caviar’s eggs. To meet black bear and grizzly along the road is rather common, here as in Canada the trash buckets have proper  openings in order to avoid bears to get human refuse. If they associate human odour with food for public security they would have to be suppressed as they would see persons as “walking steak”. Grizzly are majestic, agile and fast, to see them  moving is shocking.
In North America the most dangerous animals are elks, apparently harmless, very aggressive. Wolves? Too shy, I used to hear only their freedom yell. Around here can be seen old abandoned mines, in use at the beginning of the twenties.
North landscapes are scattered with glaciers and mountains gave me unforgettable sights, almost unreal.
I spend a few days in the Utah’s canyons riding in the gorges’ roads of Canyonlands.  I visit the Grand Canyon  and Monument Valley in Arizona where get in the crazy city for gambling, Las Vegas.
At this point I am halfway, 8 more months and I’ll reach Tierra del Fuego. I changed for the second time the tires, chain and sprockets. Because of many kilometres and my bike’s age, the distribution chain hitting the guides starts to be noisy.
Others strange noises accompany the engine song, let’s hope it copes the task.
Unfortunately in the whole America from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, native Indians have to fight to get back their rights for many centuries not recognize and far from to be that way.
American look like “eternal children covered with toys for adults”, impression confirmed by an old yankee with whom I had a speech. Of course Americans are more efficient of us under many aspects. Their detached politeness, professionalism and organization  are surprising. In USA and Canada to drive is extremely relaxing, users understood that cars and bikes are means of transportation and not the object to discharge their daily frustrations. They drive respecting personal space.
Entering Indian reserves the nice frame changes suddenly, abundance outside disappears and leaves room at misery and alcoholism, real disaster for these populations. But they have a big “advantage”: the use of alcohol and cigarettes so opposed in the rest of the country, for obvious side effects for wealth, in these areas are not subject to any fee….. 

In California USA perfection gets influenced by the Mexican mess. Los Angeles shows the chaos and the disorder of the close Mexican border.

A close look beyond the border shows that Mexico is opposite to USA. At the custom take place the first motorbike temporary importation, from here on at each custom the same practise will be needed.
The sombreros country, chaotic and cheerful, lets  me enter in another dimension. Mexico and its round and colourful houses. It’s a bizarre country, incredible richness close to the worst poorness. Corruption is at an alarming level, if  one can pay is not subject to any rules, as indigenous you have no rights, Chapas is the evident example. Marcos has everyday more indigenous proselytes tired to live in such a way. This man brought to international attention the situation forcing the Mexican president to improve welfare.
Mexico is rich of history. Indigenous ruins and monuments built during the colonisation make this country very interesting and unique as well.

Rubbish and smell of dead dogs along the road give the welcome in Mexico. Baja California is a mix of USA and Mexico, the real jumble starts as I get the Continent. Mexican driving style is rather dangerous, or you drive as they do or you are dead.

Spare parts are almost impossible to find. I buy two chains but sprockets are impossible to get.

I spend a week in Mexico City in my nice friend’s house. He lives in Iztapalapa, the D.F. ‘s poorest suburb. By his Vocho (Beetle) we go around D.F. visiting a few archaeological sites. I knew Gonzalo a few years ago when I went to work in Mexico with an Italian firm.

In the effort to stop cocaine traffic there are many military check-points. Because of the high corruption among Policemen is impossible to assign this important task to them.

In the Chapas’s jungle many indigenous live in hut. Many of them trying to make a living sell fruit along the road. Many children enjoy targeting vehicles.

San Cristobal’s vivacity and colours sign the end of my staying in Mexico. Hasta luego Mexico.

From now on I’ll visit the seven countries of Centre America: Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador,  Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama.
The customs of these countries are awful. Temporary importations take many hours. The same is valid for a simple stamp on my passport. I have always to pay a child to avoid my motorbike to be stolen and go on walking…… I could avoid all the hassles by “tramite”, children that go through all the custom bureaucracy for $5 or $10 at the maximum. In ten minutes I have all the documentation needed to go on.
Belize is the smallest but ethnically most various among these countries. There are Chinese, Black, Spaniard and Mennonite originally from Germany. All those ethnic groups are mixed together originating curious people. The others six countries subscribed a tight alliance pact “forgetting” the extravagant Belize. Diversity always arouses suspicions. 
Guatemala is the motorbikes’ kingdom, I was very surprised. I do some maintenance to my motorbike and I buy some spare parts that allow me to reach Chile.
El Salvador went out recently from a bloody civil war, let’s hope for a better future. The 2001 earthquake was another bad hit. Honduras and Nicaragua show the signs of typhoon El Niňo. Thanks to foreign aids they are rebuilding the roads. Nature in all the Centre American countries is pretty much the same, active volcanoes and palm tree along a thin strip of land that joins Americas.  
Costa Rica is the most developed and peaceful country of Centre America, one can travel in total serenity. At San Vito I met some compatriot that immigrated there after the Second World War, founding this village. They started the cultivation of coffee that permit to have very good incomes.
I reach Panama, the last of the seven Centre American countries.
While I was walking together with an American a group of bandits assaults us in the middle of the day. A policemen tried to help us with the result that he has been injured at the stomach by a gun. When a thief pointed the revolver towards me I thought it was my turn. Fortunately didn’t happen the worst and the policeman will recover in 30 days. I was admitted for the contusions. The police found my documents. A person saw the thieves take out the money from the wallet and through it in the rubbish.

The travel is going to an end, I got South America and exactly in Quito, capital of Equador. Andes welcomed me. I reach the Chimborazo’s base camp, an inactive volcano covered with snow. The road is a series of up and down over 5000 meters. Altitude is not a big problem for my bike apart from loosing of power.
Carneval is celebrated by throwing balloons full of water against transiting vehicles. My motorbike is a very appreciate target.
In order to stop the army during the  indigenous uprising, along the roads there are bus body, cars, diggings, sand, stones and chopped trees blocking the road. I found it very difficult and dangerous.
Mud in the Peruvian Amazon forest seemed to swallow me. For 400 km it took me around five days.
Many river crossings, unstable bridges and puddles made my way very difficult. Two fallings are quite good in relation at difficulties.
In the wood many indigenous live in huts. Coca plantations turn the road very dangerous. Along the road there are many military barracks. Guerrillas reaches the Atlantic Ocean by boats overloaded with coca leaves.
I am again on the Andes, lama’s grazing lands are numerous. Usually men or children take animals to graze, women get very good clothes for winter using wool from the lamas, at those altitudes is pretty cold. At an altitude of 4018 metres passes the highest railway in the world. Slow diesel trains climb slowly these mountains.
I boycotted Machu Picchu, I didn’t intend to spend $60 to see some old stones covered with a horde of tourist. If I have to admit Machu Picchu ruins bored me before leaving. You know….one of those places where you “have” to go just because everyone speaks about or has heard about. I tell you more, Cuzco’s architecture is interesting but invisible to my eyes because of tourist masses, if you go you’ll understand. Am I uncommon? Am I  stupid? I am that way!

Bolivia is wild as I am, as I can realize  in a few kilometres.
La Paz, the highest capital city in the world appeared to me from a plateau at the bottom of a valley at about 4000 meter high from see level, the sight takes my breathe away.
The whether is inclement, it often rains,  we are in summer time but this period is called Bolivian winter because of that. In the villages often I am offered tisanes, after a few days I realize to be of coca leaves. To chew coca leaves is very common to have the necessary energy for high altitude leaving.
A plateau 4000 meters high takes me at the Chilean border. I reach the salt deserts flooded by a meter of water, impossible to cross with any mean. The last 500 kilometres the road turns again in mud and river crossings. The place is mostly uninhabited, there are a few small villages built with mud and straw. There is no electricity, for the night they use voltage generator.
I have no enough gas for reaching Chile, the are no gas stations in such a desolate place. Some people store fuel for emergency uses and to get it it’s very expensive and only in small quantities.
The way I follow is not written in the map but people assure me it takes to Chile. The border crossing is at 4600 meters high from see level; the Bolivian plateau’s landscape appears to be unique. 


I appreciated Chile a lot, the deserted north as far as the “”northern climate” south.
The copper’s land, this country is the most important exporter of the world for this material.
No other country in the world can offer such a peculiarity in terms of landscape, a real jewel.
Chile is a thin strip of land between ocean an Andes. For thousands of kilometres only a road goes through Chile from north to south. Fiords in the south force me to zigzag between Chile and Argentina. In summer time there are ferries in order to avoid this. A characteristic presence in Chile are the “carabineros”, the Chilean police.
Often they check my documents always maintaining a correct and professional behaviour with no arrogance. In many others countries I had to deal with corrupted policemen, they wanted money or my objects. I don’t know if I am skilled or smart but I always left nothing in their hands.
I reach Patagonia and the temperature drops to freezing, but I am close to my aim.
I am on the Ruta 40, a dirt almost desert road. Wind in Patagonia doesn’t easy the job. A few times I am close to fall. I am not completely alone, along the road I meet lama, nandu, armadillos and the Patagonian rabbits. In the middle of no where my chain rips apart and damages the front sprocket cover. I use my last spare part for the “bestia”, I replace the chain, front and rear sprocket with new ones. I needed more than two hours to get everything fixed. The wind lifted up a lot of sand and the bike continuously kept falling down, I didn’t see any car.
I spend two days in El Calafate to enjoy the spectacular sight of the glacier Perito Moreno, one of the beauty in South America. Enormous boulders of ice break and fall in the lake lifting impressive waves.
I go back to Chile to visit El Calafate, where Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre are impressive.
At Torres del Paines I spend a few days in a abandoned refuge sharing the hut with a family of mice. A dinner based on beans and meat attracts a polecat but nothing was left for it.

The Argentinean economic situation is a disastrous despite its raw materials and enormous oil fields.

I cross Magellan Strait and get Tierra del Fuego, half Chilean and half Argentinean. The pass before Ushuaia is covered with snow. “Fin del Mundo” the southernmost point reachable by land. I take a rest in Tierra del Fuego, I camp in the park enjoying the so long desired goal, now I’ll go back to Buenos Aires from where I’ll go back home.

At few kilometres from the capital city I have a problem with the clutch. I disassemble the clutch cover and I realize that the clutch’s bush is merged brazing with the main shaft. I reach a city without using the clutch, here I find a mechanic that helps me to find spare parts. In a week I have the necessary to fix the bike.

I reach Buenos Aires, 85000 kilometres on the way touching 3 continents.
I’ll be the guest at my cousin’s house, he emigrated in Argentina about sixty years ago. It was a big surprise for him to see me to arrive by bike instead of choosing a comfortable plane. I’ve just finished my travel but I am already thinking of a new adventure, this time by bicycle…

your publicity
on this site - all rights reserved -