Peddling in Patagonia Part 2
21 Jan 2008
|Greetings from Tierra del Fuego, what a name and what a place.
We have now run out of places to visit as we head south, as we have made it to the end of the road, literally. Ushuaia is the southern most city in the world and that's where we are now. The only bit of land that you can ride a bike on south of here is Isla Navarino and that only has one 80 km stretch of road so is not a great pull for cycle tourists. Before we turn around and head north we thought we'd round off our Patagonia peddling adventure.
Our last update ended with us off the bikes in El Chalten doing some walking. Well I know we are meant to be on a bike trip but one thing that was on our list of 'must dos' in Patagonia was another walk. This was an 8 day trek in Torres Del Paine national park, Chile's most famous. True to the pattern of things down here the weather was mixed but we must have done something right because when we really needed the sun to shine and the rain and snow to stop it obliged and we got to see the true magic of the park. We were treated to wonderful vistas of its rock spires, lakes of so many colours and some huge glaciers. Yes I did say snow, and not just for dramatic effect. We walked through drifts as deep as my thighs over the highest pass in a howling gale. We chuckled to ourselves that the weather and countryside was so Scottish making it feel just like home on the 2nd of January, rather than thousands of miles away in the southern hemisphere in the middle of summer!. The route we did is known as 'The Circuit' which goes around the main mountain massif plus two side trips, one to see the three amazing rock towers (Torres) that give the park its name. Not a bad way to bring in the New Year.
We were not alone doing the walk as I think it's on everyone's list of 'must do's'. We met some great folk of all nationalities as we went round so we arranged a get together of our fellow hikers back in the base town of Puerto Natales. As we were dancing away at 4 am the following morning in a bar that also doubled as a house of ill repute we were questioning the sanity of the plan! Not to mention my raging hangover the following day. The lesson learnt was never get into a taxi that, unbeknown to you has been booked by your two 60+ yr old fellow Irish travellers to take it's passengers to the worst bar in town!! True story.
After the hangover had cleared and the muscles had recovered from carrying a heavy rucksack (not something we had done for a while) we headed off south west on our final leg to Ushuaia. This took us a total of ten days and again through varied and interesting countryside.
As we left Puerto Natales the mountains disappeared to our right (west) as we rode out across the open pampa. No trees or hills of any size just wide open scrub land for miles in all directions. It's a wild and barren landscape but so dramatically beautiful with ever changing sky above to complete a superb picture. We had to be very aware of two things; wind and water. The water issue we could control, the wind, well was out of our hands. This area is very dry with just shallow lakes that hold water enough for the sheep and Flamingos but too dirty for us to filter. We made do by carrying extra and topping up supplies from Estancias along the way. With no trees or hills to stop its race east the wind was more of an issue. Fortunately most of the time we were going in the right direction with the prevailing westerly blowing from sort of behind, convincing us we were definitely going the right way.
When the road dictated things became a little more challenging. Riding with a howling gale from the side threatening, and at times succeeding, to blow you into the middle of the road was not much fun and didn't make for a very relaxing time. On the few occasions that we had to head straight into the 'breeze' we were on the flat in our 3rd lowest gear just about going walking pace, hard work to say the least. Thankfully that didn't happen too often but it's a right of passage for us cycle tourists down here having a good battle with the muy fuerte viento, so I guess we may have felt a bit cheated if we hadn't experienced it's full force at some point!
Overall however despite the stories we had heard about the weather here being so wild we have actually done ok. We have had our share of rain, wind and sunshine but fortunately only in acceptable quantities. In Scotland we talk about getting the 4 seasons in one day, well here is almost the same except you can get all 4 in 20 minutes or less! Not that handy when you get off your bike put on your waterproofs and in the time that takes the weather has changed so before peddling a stroke you take them off again and repack your panniers. Camping in the rain is not much fun and in so many of the places we have been it has been the only option, but thankfully on only one occasion did we take the tent down in the rain only to put it back up after a days ride, again in the rain.
When we have been riding in the pampa one of the best things is the feeling of space: so much of it and so little in it. On the quieter roads with hardly any traffic the only things we have to share our world with at that moment are the many birds and the animals. On this stretch we were joined by many Merino sheep that are one of the few farmed animals that can survive the harsh climate, but also Guanacos (llama type animals), Ñandus (emu type flightless birds), foxes, a beaver and a skunk to name just a few. We have also seen many horses loose by the roadside or out in fields, all looking in great condition. They still use the horse a lot for cattle and sheep work and for recreation with most small villages and towns having a rodeo ring. We were lucky enough to see a rodeo in Manhuales on the Carretera Austral. We just sat and watched their horseman skills put to the test and soaking up the 100% local get together. All this as we struggled to blend in, as we were not wearing a wide brimmed hat and long cowboy/gaucho boots. As you can imagine Vick is just itching to get the gear and have a go.
We have seen so many changes in landscape but no more dramatic than when we have crossed over the Andes from the wet and green west to the dry and barren east. We had our final dramatic change in countryside as we swung away from the Atlantic coast of Argentina south of Rio Grande and crossed the lowest southern tip of the Andes before the chain ends in the Beagle Channel at Ushuaia. In 40km you go from one eye catching landscape to the other, both so different but both stunning. Ushuaia is a booming town (that they call a city) with a very busy little port, mainly with cruise boats doing a trip around the southern oceans. It is one of the main ports of call and means that the town has a steady flow of tourists from the sea, road and air. It is also a popular holiday destination for locals although it is expensive relative to the rest of the country. We have enjoyed our few days here in what has been excellent weather by Ushuaia standards and are now ready to turn around and head north.
So where next? As we are not suckers for unnecessary punishment we are busing our way back up to Punta Arenas. My parents are meeting us there and we spend the next few weeks with them including another visit to Torres del Paine national park then a 3 day ferry north through the fjords of Chile's west coast to Puerto Montt. From there our exact route is still undecided but it will most likely be another bus to avoid back tracking and then continue riding in a northerly direction from somewhere in Argentina. To be confirmed.
So just to change things a little, to round up this update, everybody likes a list. So to save me writing any more, and you reading screeds more text, lots of our travels in Patagonia can be summed up in the following user friendly format.............
• 44 days on the bikes, 26 of them on the beloved ripio (dirt road).
• 2851 kms since leaving Santiago.
• Longest distance in one day - 120km, from Coyhaique to Puerto Ingenico Ibanez.
• Longest time in the saddle - 6hr 35mins, again from Coyhaique to Puerto Ingenico Ibanez.
• Problems or cleaning issues with our chains - 0. Thank you Scottoiler (see next update)
• Lowest average speed for a days ride - 8.3 kmph. The rough Chile-Argentina border crossing to Lago Desierto.
• Top speed - 75 kmph.
• 5 ferry's taken.
• 30 + Condors spotted.
• Too many cartons of cheap wine drunk.
• Too few Cervezas consumed.
• 38 nights under canvas.
• 8 Zorro Chilla's seen (foxes).
• Mucho steak and chips eaten.
• 1 fall off for Nick, 0 for Vicky.
• 4000+ friendly waves and toots from truck drivers.
• 5 flat tires, most caused by patches bought in China splitting.
• 1 replaced tire.
• 5 border crossings between Chile and Argentina.
• 4 lifts in the back of pick ups. One through a tunnel that we were not allowed to ride and the others because the road or weather was so bad, or both.
• Panaderias (Bakeries) visited - not enough (Nick), too many (Vick).
• Longest stretch without a day off - 11 days. Because we needed to catch the once a week ferry across Lago O'Higgins.
• Number of days when we wish we'd been working - none!!
Nick and Vicky