The call the southernmost territory of Patagonia Tierra del Fuego (Land of the Fire). Someone obviously got something mixed up somewhere – Tierra del Viento (Land of the Wind) would be much more appropriate! Highlights from the bike trip so far:
• Tourists taking photos of US because we look so funny.
• Getting blown off the bike and into the ditch by the wind.
• Having to push our bikes for 20km along the road, including DOWNHILL against the wind.
• Drinking green swamp water.
• Sleeping in the table drain next to the road for 3 hours.
• Eating, eating and eating more.
• Seeing pink flamingos, getting stared down by guanacos and riding parallel to dolphins for a few kms on a beautiful windless day.
We started out from Ushuaia the day after a night of poker and drinks at the hostel until 3am. What a way to start our big bike trip – we woke up feeling like a bag of shite but excited nonetheless, only to look outside and see it was bucketing with snow. It had even settled on the rooftops and the ground in Ushuaia and was really pretty…. except that we were about to start riding! Oh well, we started out anyway and actually it was really beautiful, the first 30kms of the road we rode through the snow, and it was falling in these huge wet gorgeous flakes. The snow stopped and the weather warmed up as we went over the Garibaldi pass (the smallest pass we will go over at less than 500m). The road through the mountains was spectacular. We camped by a bridge on a pretty little river and were just loving it, what a way to get around. The first 2 days of riding were fantastic, what little wind we had was at our backs, the scenery was varied with the mountains always in sight in the distance and we found some sweet camping spots.
Poker in the hostel… great idea!
Seriously snowing in the mountains near Ushuaia, Mel loving it.
We got hit by the wind on the third day, like with a sledgehammer. I have never seen anything like it. At first we could still ride, if swerving all over the road… kind of fun just trying to ride - finding the wind shadow behind the person in front for the km ‘rest’ that we would have before swapping back to the front….. if you ignore the fact that you’re only travelling at little more than walk-speed (about 7km/h). Then it really got angry and we were off, pushing the bikes with our heads down against the wind and sand blasting into our jackets and burning any exposed flesh. And it just got worse. At times the wind would force us to a complete halt while we struggled o remain upright, or it would turn into a fierce crosswind and literally rip the bike from my hands (we learnt to push from the other side). We came to a large downhill section, at least 2 kms on a pretty good gradient and we seriously had to keep pushing (really pushing!) those damn bikes downhill. Wow!! At least 3 different trucks/utes stopped and told us to get in…. “what were we crazy people doing?… obviously we were being silly pushing these bikes when they could get us to Rio Grande in half an hour”. In fact one guy didn’t even ask – he just stopped his ute, came round and started loading my bike and all my stuff into his tray! I think he was a bit put out when we politely refused, screaming “thanks but no thanks” in spanish into the wind. We could hardy give up now, on the 3rd day?! So after pushing them for about 20kms we had had it, even though we were only 30kms from Rio Grande, quite a big town and a distance that should have been easily rideable. We saw a gate that was unlocked and a patch of trees (rare in this landscape) that looked like they might offer some shelter and took advantage of it. That camp was great, although we were so buggered, and the wind even calmed down overnight which we took as a good sign (but stupidly did not take advantage of it by getting back up and continuing to ride!).
Yeah its looks so tranquilo, you can hardly tell that the wind is blowing at 100km/h and Mel is struggling to stay upright!
The next day we were back to it, the wind started up at about 7.30am and we couldn’t beat it out of bed (another lesson learnt). We only had to push the bikes for about 5kms though – whether the wind was a little weaker or we were getting better at staying on the bikes I’m not sure! Hot chocolate went down a treat at the police checkpoint where the cops were doing nothing (too windy to stand outside checking the cars) and were happy for a chance to chat about bikes. The last 10kms into Rio Grande was a serious treat – the road turned east and we got some of that wind at our backs. How friendly it suddenly seemed, like a nice hand on your back pushing you faster and faster. We were riding at 5 times our pace of the last 60km!
We decided to spend a rest day in Rio Grande. It was definitely not a pretty town, but apparently the trout fishing capital of the world (??? You learn to take some of these wild claims with a grain of salt in Argentina but it did have a very big trout on the welcome sign!). I don’t know how people can live too comfortably in that place though – the whole time we were there the wind howled through the streets, which we were told was normal, and that the only time the wind stopped it was cold and dark (winter). It was no wonder many people seemed just a touch depressed. The break was great though and we camped at a cool hostel with a lovely owner who even gave us a mattress to sleep on as she felt so bad there were no beds. We met a guy called at the hostel called Hirsch who had cycled all the way from Vanuatu via Vancouver and the western part of the Americas, who helped us out heaps with some maps and advice and general encouragement. Its funny we only spent a little bit of time with him but he really gave us a lot of inspiration which we needed in the coming days like “don’t worry guys, the wind will stop/be at your back eventually!” . We needed it….thanks Hirsch and congratulations! (PS. I have added his cool blogsite ‘Make someday today’ to our links at the side of the page).
The big trout sign.
On the scenic shoreline of Rio Grande.
Its amazing how much you can eat after only 3 days of cycling. And its not like we weren’t eating on the way. We have totally turned into food junkies. Bring on the ‘Tenedor Libre’s’ (translated as ‘free fork’ or ‘cheap all-you-can-eat restaurant’) we say! I don’t think they are making too much money from us.
Since the wind didn’t seem to be abating we decided to struggle on to San Sebastian after the rest day. Graciela (the hostel owner) checked out the weather from her meteorologist friend before we left and it was only 60km/h gusting to 80. Totally rideable. I shudder to think what the speed was the other day. So it still took us 2 tough days to get up to the border station at San Sebastian where we arrived in the middle of a rain/windstorm (hardly noticed the difference but for the stinging rain) and collapsed into the little ACA hosteria which luckily had a ton of space and rooms going for cheap as chips. The semi hot shower was luxury as was the bed after more than a week in the tent.
A nice sunset on the road
Typical Patagoinian landscape
Yep, sitting in the shelter of a drain by the side of the road, waiting for the wind to abate… hah.
Funnily enough it continued to blow a gale as we continued on to cross the border to Chile the next morning under sunny skies (ok I can imagine you’re getting sick of hearing about the wind by now, sorry). Had some brunch at the Chile San Sebastian (why they call the towns the same name who knows, but its quite confusing) in a little warm café which we didn’t want to leave. But then after that we were off the main road, away from the trucks and onto a little gravel but well-maintained road (‘ripio’ in Spanish), we relaxed and really started to enjoy things. The landscape is sparsely vegetated, filled with a million sheep but it was pretty green, wildflowers covered the ground and there were tons of little lakes with pink flamingos on them – cool. Our luck got better as the wind started to ease through the day and we settled down pretty early pitching the tent out the front of one of these cool little shelters for travelers passing through this road, which you probably wouldn’t want to sleep in, but they provide a great little bit of shelter for cooking and a windbreak for the tent. Earlier in the day we had seen a sweet little place which you could even have slept in – with a stove, bunks and table and chairs inside. I guess they are mostly used for people walking sheep through the area as they all have little sheep yards out the front of the shelters.
Our campsite by the little shelter
Well Hirsch was right and our luck changed the next day, we woke up and there was a slight breeze, from the east! I couldn’t believe it, I thought the wind was nearly always from the west here i.e. in our faces as we were traveling now and this was a bloody good surprise. I mean, it was only a light breeze but that is something. Geez, we had a good time that day …just loving it all. Guanacos (wild llamas) stared at us and sheep ran from the fences as we whizzed by. The scenery seemed so beautiful, especially as we got to following the coast around a big bay where dolphins swam parallel with us about 50 meters out in the sea. And after not having been able to cover more than 60-80kms per day we did 110 on the gravel road, all the way to Porvenir, even with a broken pedal (me) for the last 20kms. That was what we had been waiting for and it was spectacular.
Micks innovative way of filtering water from a little swamp.
I think its usually pretty windy here. This is the only tree we could see for kms.
The coastline of Tierra del Fuego.
Porvenir was a colouful, cute little town with nothing much happening. Perfect for a good nights rest since the ferry to Punta Arenas didn’t leave until 2pm the next day. We ate up a storm and rested before catching the ferry over the Strait of Magellan which was almost disappointingly calm since we had heard that the ride usually shakes up the stomach a fair bit. We found a great little cheap hostal in Punta Arenas to while relax a few days until Dad arrives. We could have gone on the next day and tried to meet Dad in Puerto Natales but there is no rush. We’ve got plenty of time! 460kms and over 1/10th of the ride done – It almost seems to be going too fast (Ha ha, already I am forgetting those 7 hour days at 6kms per hour)!
Self portrait riding to the ferry at Porvenir
Can you believe they let us drive the ferry… Lucky it was a calm day!
Mel having a bit of a rest after all that riding in a field of flowers near Punta Arenas.
Cute little Megallenic Penguins near Punta Areanas.
The colourful roofs of ‘PA’.
Tags: Living, working and travelling in Argentina, South America, The Big Bike Trip, Travel Destinations