Archives for category: Argentina

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.

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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.

Before the boat arrives at Chile Chico, I meet Sebastian and Candela – from Cordoba in Argentina. Sebastian had cycled all the way from Alaska- not unusually, there are a number of people we’ve both met along the way- not least Nico, who was one of his original group starting in Alaska ..and he’d heard of the Scot who spent weeks recovering from injury in Tumbaco. The road is long, but not very wide.

Somewhat on impulse, I joined in others and cycled east -across the border into Argentina- to Perito Moreno, and south on Ruta 40. (The first town, Los Antiguos, has a large mural dedicated to the issue of sovereignty of a certain archipelago in the South Atlantic – not unusual, I’m told – but not a subject I’ll comment on here)

The change in scenery is considerable – we leave behind snowy mountains (for now, at least) and into softly rolling countryside – the pampas.

The wind ..is pretty strong. Varying between the northeast and southeast, it renders progress a little difficult at times. The spaces between settlements here are quite large – interestingly the distances between reliable water sources has so far been larger than I encountered even in the desert. The road embankment (or the pipes beneath) are frequently the only shelter to be found from the wind.

Just north of Bajo Caracoles (a few houses, a shop, and petrol station) Sebastian and Candela encounter a friend and hitch a lift south- their timetable is a little stricter than mine. I find myself alone for the first time in quite a while – since the first day out from Puerto Montt, in fact.

It takes me three days to cover the 225km between Bajo Caracoles and Gobernador Gregores. At one stage battling into the wind saw me averaging around 9km/h for five hours .. only to round a bend and double that day’s distance in around an hour with the wind at my back. Access to the Internet is a little scarce even in towns. A hundred miles from anywhere (in any direction) it occurs to me that I’m overdue for a check-in; I flag down one of the few passing cars. The driver, Santiago, is very understanding and kindly sends an email homeward on my behalf.

It’s still too early for freezing temperatures at low altitudes, but even when (if!) the wind drops, it is cold at night. My tent has thus far weathered the conditions well, and still keeps the rain out. Spirits are always raised by hot food and drink, and there is no refuge like my bag of silk, nylon, and feathers.

Next objective is Tres Lagos – the road runs broadly southwest, so some hard miles lie ahead – ripio if not upwind as well.