Veteran travellers Mario and Sandra spent 4 months in the saddle and covered 20 thousand kilometres from Chile to Tierra del Fuego. This is the story of their adventure
“Sometimes a dream is like a partner who is there beside you through thick and thin. As time passes, just the knowledge that it exists is enough for you, until one day, something happens that sparks off an intense desire to change that dream into reality.
Then, as if by magic, all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, and for the first time, you are confronted with the actual difficulties you'll have to face, difficulties you know you can handle, which have you repeating the line from the famous Mel Brooks film: “It… could…. work!!”
The rest is history. We’ve ridden across dozens of countries from Norway to the Ukraine and on to the Crimea. In Asia, we travelled across Indonesia and all of South East Asia, from Ceylon to Borneo, and from Vietnam to Burma. Then we decided to cross South America, a four-month trip through Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, down legendary roads like the Ruta 3, the Ruta 40, the “7” Carretera Austral and the “5” PanAmericana for a total of about 20,000 km”.
The adventure begins: making preparations
“So our adventure began – there was Sandra, my partner, me and our Vespa. It took us a year to organise the journey. Considering the vast size of the area we would be travelling through, and the differences in geography and latitudes (and therefore in the weather), we had some trouble working out what clothes and equipment to bring. Perhaps even more important was choosing the right time of year. It turned out that the best time to travel was between November and February when the weather would be in our favour, especially if we set off from Chile and followed a somewhat convoluted clockwise direction.
Sending the Vespa ahead turned out to be more difficult than expected. We had it serviced, then packed it into a special steel and OSB crate we made ourselves that complied with all the current legislation. Sandra looked after the shipping to San Antonio, a port about 100 km from Santiago.
We created a blog for the journey where all our friends could follow our adventure, especially our friends from the Vespa Club Trieste e Gatti Randagi). On the day of our departure, they asked us: “Are you sure you know what you're doing?”
Incidentally, I'd like to state that it would be impossible to mention all the people we met and made friends with, because there are so many of them, and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out”.
From Santiago to Argentina
“I'll never forget the emotion I felt when I started the Vespa in Santiago, after being separated for nearly two and a half months. The next step was to load our luggage and set off (laden like mules) for the Argentine border. It was like being under a spell, as the quiet study hum of the engine washed away all our doubts. We climbed to 3,500 metres, through the Paso de los Libertadores, then under the shadow of the Aconcagua and on down to Uspallata, Mendoza and San Juan, where the members of the local Vespa Club were waiting for us.
Then we travelled up the Valle de Lerma as far as San Salvador de Jujuy, and from there took the Quebrada de Humahuaca to Purmamarca. After this we began the climb to a pass at 4,200 metres, which took us to Salinas Grandes.
Down on the other side of the valley, we started heading North again towards the Bolivian border, which we skirted before taking the most incredible road in Argentina, Route 81. It goes in a practically straight line for over 850 km and crosses the Chaco region bordering Paraguay. We did it in two days under a blistering sun, with the temperature hovering around 50°C and sometimes more. Another problem in this area was refuelling, and the first petrol station we found was only after 350 km!
That section taught us to keep a good reserve supply, even when it didn't seem necessary”.
From Paraguay to Brazil
“We arrived in Asunciòn, the capital of Paraguay, accompanied by Diego and members of the Paraguay Vespa Club who were waiting for us at the border. Thanks to them, we were able to truly experience this magnificent city, which lies near Lake Ypacarai, considered the most romantic spot in the country and the inspiration for countless poets and musicians. Here we had the pleasant surprise of being interviewed by the local press and TV station, which broadcast a special program about us.
Leaving Asunciòn we crossed Paraguay and entered Brazil, then back into Argentina where we took a break at Puerto Iguazù to visit the park and its famous waterfalls. From there, we headed down to the state of Missiones, where we visited the ruins of a Jesuit mission built in the 17th century in the style known as Guarini Baroque.
The weeks flew by, and we met some really fabulous people. We came across many bikers, especially Brazilians, who all wanted to talk to us and have a close look at this “great little machine” that was taking the same road as them.
We made a detour to the town of Rosario where we found a crowd of Vespa enthusiasts all wanting to meet us. Together, we took the road that runs along the banks of the majestic Rio Paranà and arrived in the town centre with its huge obelisk, the monument to the Argentine flag raised for the first time by General Manuel Belgrano.
We said our goodbyes to our friends from Rosario and set off on the Vespa for Fray Bentos and the Uruguayan border. By mid-December we were in Montevideo and spent a few days visiting the city and the local markets that spring up everywhere on feast days. After a short stop at Colonia del Sacramento, we took the ferry back to Buenos Aires in Argentina”.
Meeting Vespa friends
“Thanks to the kindness of other Vespa enthusiasts from the Buenos Aires Vespa Club, we got to know this vast city better. The stories our friends told us were interwoven with what we could see: it was an intoxicating mixture, the history of the Café Tortoni and the Biela, the tango dancers in La Boca, Puerto Madero, the VIP district of the city with its statue of Manuel Fangio, who they told us was the authorised Vespa importer in the 1950s, showing us original documents bearing his signature.
Leaving Buenos Aires we headed for La Plata where our friend Ariel was waiting for us and invited us to spend Christmas with him and his family and other members of the local Vespa Club.
When we set off again, we followed the coast and after Mar del Plata and Bahia Blanca, we came to the city of Viedma, the Gateway to Patagonia, where we saw in the New Year.
We began 2013 by taking the Ruta 3 to Puerto Piramides on the Peninsula de Valdes. Even if it's tiny, young Argentines love spending the first week of the year in this little seaside resort.
On our arrival we knew instantly that we had no hope of finding a bed for the night in either a hotel or a hostel, and even less chance of finding a place to pitch the tent! The nearest town that we knew of was Puerto Madryn, about 100 km away, so we decided to ask the local fire brigade if they had any suggestions. They let us pitch our tent inside their garage. We jumped at the chance! From this unusual base camp we went seal and whale watching and covered our first 200 km of dirt roads, using them as a bit of practice for what we would soon be facing. We still had 2,500 km to cover between Puerto Piramides and Tierra del Fuego on the Ruta 3, with strong cross winds and long straights, often accompanied by the ever-present guanacos that more than once ran out in front of us”.
Tierra del Fuego
“By mid-January we were in Tierra del Fuego and took a ferry across the Straits of Magellan to the Isola Grande and then on to Ushuaia, the “town at the end of the world” on the banks of the Beagle Channel.
We had covered more than 13,000 km and were at the southernmost point of our journey. Now it was time to start backtracking. A couple of kilometres from the town we found Lapataia Park, with three important sights. One was the Train at the end of the world, a steam train used by prisoners serving life sentences to take the wood they had collected for cooking, heating and construction to the town, because at that time Ushuaia was a maximum security prison for dangerous criminals. Continuing through the park we came across the signpost that marks the end of the Ruta 3 after 3,079 km, and further along is the Isola Redonda, home to the southernmost post office in Argentina. Here Mr Ignacio, the postmaster, will happily put one of his beautiful stamps on any piece of paper or postcard you present him with. Last but not least, we crossed the Beagle Channel by boat, among colonies of elephant seals, sea lions and penguins”.
The Magellan region
Leaving Ushuaia we rode to Punta Arenas in Chile's 12th Region, known as the Magellan Region, often along long stretches of “ripio feo”, dirt roads with gravel and potholes. Here, the Vespa's small wheels caused us several very tricky moments.
After visiting Puerto Natales and the Torri del Paine Park, we entered Argentina again on the Ruta 40. This brought us to Lake Argentino and the town of El Calafate, whose glaciers make it one of the most spectacular places on the planet.
We headed back North again on the Ruta 40, which was then being resurfaced. While the first section was covered in asphalt, it wasn't long before we were back on a dirt surface with loads of gravel and terrible ruts (here known as calaminas or serrucio) left by passing lorries. They were so bad it seemed parts were flying off the Vespa along the way.
Here too, we had to be careful because of the lack of petrol stations, but the stunning scenery around us more than rewarded us. We crossed Lake Buenos Aires to re-enter Chile, this time tackling the Carretera Austral, or Ruta “7”, built by General Augusto Pinochet to forge a land link with this part of the country.
Up to this point we had been lucky with the weather, but here we ran into a rainstorm that created problems for us. To get to Chaiten and catch the ferry for the island of Chiloè, we had to travel 400 km through woods, over potholes, on gravel and worse. We certainly didn't break any speed records, and when we touched 20 km/h it was like flying. It took us two days to get to our destination. From Chaiten, the ferry took half a day to get to Castro, the capital of the island of Chiloè, a town famous for its gaudily painted stilt houses and for its wooden churches, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
We spent a few days on the island, and then headed off again towards Pueto Montt where we decided to go back into Argentina to visit San Carlos de Bariloche, the famous ski resort. Back in Chile, in Osorno, we continued our journey along the Ruta 5 (the PanAmericana) to Santiago.
We still had a few days in hand before starting home so, after a short break, we decided to head for Valparaiso and then La Serena. We also went to Bahia Inglesa, a famous seaside resort that lies about 1,000 km north of the capital. By early March we were back in Santiago, where we prepared the Vespa and the crate, which we sent to Valparaiso for shipping back to Italy.
In a trip lasting almost four months, we covered 20,400 km (1,100 on dirt roads), we saw countless fabulous places and met hundreds of wonderful people with whom we are still in touch. And all of this was possible thanks to the Vespa: a true means of communication in the widest sense of the word”.