A long stretch of ripio and strong winds brought me to Tres Lagos- a brief stop to stock up on food and water. Cross winds gave way to a strong and persistent headwind as I pushed slowly west to El Chaltén, in the shadow of towering rocky peaks.
I met Sebastian and Candela in El Chaltén, and pitch my tent alongside a few others at Florencia’s place.. some more cyclists – and some already familiar faces. I’d heard from Pedro (from Brazil- headed north, last seen sitting on a gate miles from anywhere, eating biscuits) that Flor and her family were happy to accommodate cyclists.. we are amongst some of the last headed south, racing the rapidly approaching winter. Communal catering is the done thing in the evening, with each contributing something from home; with some searching I locate some raspberry jam and an approximation of whisky and knock out a passable approximation of cranachan. Cyclists are rarely picky eaters.
We are ten leaving El Chaltén – James & Sarah, Heidi & Lee, Candela & Tatan, Raul, Kurt, Mica, and me. Argentina, England, Guatemala, the Netherlands, Scotland, Spain, and the United States.
The first 90km back to Ruta 40 are almost all downwind, so take only three hours – turning south makes progress a little harder, but our scattered group is once again reunited at the pink house where we pass the night. The pink house was apparently accommodation for the next-door restaurant, though both are now abandoned. Being the only shelter for a considerable distance, four walls and a roof are a welcome respite from the wind. We make the place our own for the night, and fill it with good cheer, firelight, scattered kit, cooking smells, and the roar of many gasoline stoves. As I drift off to sleep, the paracord of my hammock proves less than the sharp brass door-hinge it is secured to, and I hit the floor with a loud thump – neither this nor my laughter wakes anyone. It’s hardly the first time I’ve had to stand outside in the howling wind trying to fix something, though I’m usually better dressed.
60km or so south brings us past Lago Argentino- Tatan and Candela have already visited Calefate, so continue towards Rio Gallegos and the Atlantic coast. The rest of us battle upwind the last miles to what turns out to be a surprisingly large town.
The bus fare up to the Perito Moreno glacier isn’t trivial – it turns out to be cheaper to hire a car and drive. It is possible, if not especially comfortable, to fit eight adults into a VW Polo- the exhaust pipe hit the ground a few times, though remained attached. Passing the guard post at the entrance to the national park involved certain shenanigans allowing the rangers to at least pretend to not know we had such an overloaded vehicle. The glacier itself – has to be seen to be believed. The photos do no justice at all to the vast scale of this frozen, yet visibly moving, almost living landscape. With great cracking and booming, pieces of ice tumble into the water below almost constantly, falling as if in slow motion. The glacier advances around two metres a day; it isn’t hard to imagine how the mountains and glens of Scotland were sculpted when faced with such a view.
I set off alone from El Calefate, but I catch James and Sarah at a junction some way east; we are eventually joined by Kurt and spend the night in a somewhat derelict metal shack. In the morning, Kurt heads for Rio Gallegos, and I head down the gravel road towards the Chileno frontier. I catch James and Sarah (who departed at dawn to beat a gale that didn’t materialise) at the police post at Tapi Aike. We make camp accompanied by the inevitable and unending thrumming of a diesel generator- the air is cold, though blissfully still.