The Journal  

8 March 2006

Tres Cerros

Author: Jeremiah

Photographer: Holly


Race to the End of the World: Tres Cerros , Argentina and Cullen , Chile

February 22-24

It was still raining the next morning as we got a late start leaving Gobernador Costa, sleeping in to complete the recovery process. Besides a little soreness we were ready to go. We held our breath as we rode past the scenes of our two flats. But the tire held up fine and soon we were at the intersection where Ruta 40 turns to gravel and continues south. We took the paved road that turned east, heading towards the coast, riding out of the Argentinean Lake District and into the open grass pampas of Patagonia , an area with one of the lowest population densities in the world.

Too many times previously we had learned that despite what the map and the locals in the nearest town tell you, south of the border, a paved road can end as soon as it appears. Heading east we ran into a construction zone, both lanes closed and traffic diverted onto a hastily prepared alternate road. The bypass was constructed by a grader that had scraped the surface flat and nicely banked the edges so the road became a river when filled with the water from two days rain. We slipped and slid for the next two miles. I duck paddled my feet to keep the bike upright, steam coming off the engine and exhaust pipes that were partially submerged in the water. The bypasses would return to pavement for a few miles before you reached another construction zone and you were back into mud and water.


Our bike was covered in mud from road construction which diverted traffic off the paved highway onto mud paths that stretched for miles.

Near the town of Comodoro Rivadavia our road joined Ruta 3, the main north-south highway along Argentina 's east coast. Turning south the road took us to the coast and we saw the Atlantic Ocean for the first time since we left Belize in November. We would hug the coast for the next thousand miles before reaching Ushuaia, our southern most destination, where we would turn back north to Buenos Aires .

Our guidebook was mostly silent about this part of Argentina , so we decided to ride until nearly dark before looking for a place to stay for the night, relying on our camping gear if we had to. As it neared dark we saw a dot ahead on the map labeled “Tres Cerros.” We wrongly assumed it was a town. Tres Cerros turned out to be a gas station that also held an exorbitantly priced restaurant and motel. It was nearly dark when the gas pump attendant suggested another place a few miles down the road. We headed there to find a truck shop/restaurant/motel, where the owners made us dinner and we crashed for the night, pulling the Guzzi inside through the front doors to park it.


We stopped at a family-run motel/restaurant in Tres Cerros which translates to Three Hills in land that runs flat for hundreds of miles through the Patagonia region of Argentina.


An old Studebaker sat out back of a mechanic shop next to the motel and was probably run by the same family.

The next morning we skipped breakfast because the owners of our motel still in bed while we packed the bike. Continuing south, the rain had stopped, a merciful fact because Ruta 3 was also under constructions, and our off-road diversion became dirt and gravel instead of mud. The further we headed south the colder the air got and we took coffee breaks at our gas stops to fight off the chill from the late Patagonia summer. Along the road herds of cattle, sheep and horses mixed with wild bands of guanacos, flamingos and ostrich-like rheas.

While sticking mainly to the west coast of the South American continent, a small part of Chile cuts east through Patagonia, dividing the nation of Argentina in two. We had plenty of daylight left when we reached the border. Our map showed a 200 mile stretch of road in Chile , so we thought we could make it back into Argentina before dark. Twenty miles inside the Chilean border the road ends where the Atlantic Ocean invades Chile as the Straights of Magellan. A twenty minute wait and we were packed on a ferry with cars, buses and tractor trailer trucks for the half hour journey across the water.


Wedged in between cars and tractor trailers, the Guzzi get ferried across Bahia Azul in Chile.


The ferry ride cost about $7 USD and took about half an hour.


Chile 's ferry system was a bit more modern than Bolivia 's slat-board one-vehicle-at-a-time ferries.

Soon after we left the ferry, our paved highway turned back into gravel, our pace slowing to 20 miles per hour on a road that varied from washboard rough to deep and loose gravel. By dark we were miles away from the border and in need of fuel. Our map showed a small dot ahead labeled “Cullen,” which we assumed was a town. Wrong again. As we approached Cullen we realized that it was an oil refinery. We stopped a passing truck and asked if there was a gas station near by. He motioned for us to follow him to the refinery.


The sun was beginning to set and we had a long stretch of gravel road yet to cover.

Cullen had perhaps earned its way onto our map by the fact that it had a public gas pump. It was after hours but the man we followed, a plant employee, went to rouse the attendant. Without any Chilean money, we bargained our way to paying five U.S. dollars for a gallon of gas. We asked about a place to stay nearby and our attendant shrugged. The closest hotel was hours away at the border. We were just about to head back to the road to find a place to camp when our guide returned. We could spend the night for free at the plant, he offered.

Located in the middle of nowhere, the Cullen plant had to have a place to house its workers. We were given beds in the dormitory and I went to the cafeteria to see if we could buy dinner with American dollars. We were fed a full meal only to have the money we offered refused. Off to bed early, we were happy to have a warm place to sleep in the middle of Chilean Tierra del Fuego.


Smoke stacks signified a plant and hopefully some gas and a place to stay along the gravel road in Chile.


All photographs © Holly Marcus / Page design by Robin Marcus