Patagonia: The Windy Bit. Punta Arenas to El Chalten
Last minute purchases in Punta Arenas enable me to carry extra food and water after my struggle through Tierra Del Fuego. The Carradice saddle bag proving a trusty capacious companion adeptly allowing me to burden it with yet more stuff.
As the worst of the winds subside, Anita an Austrialian cyclist and I roll out of town ready for our next round of battle with the wind.
The days take a familiar pattern. By morning side winds propel us, forcing us to awkwardly hunch and lean in to the wind. By lunch we are met with head winds. By afternoon we are slowed to a crawl, eventually forcing us to find shelter and sanctuary off the road.
The estancias huge ranches of sheep and cattle are common place in this part of the world. Surrounded by poplar and conifers they provide a welcome relief from the wind, sympathetic to the Patagonian weather and accustomed to weather beaten cyclists the estancia owners and guachos are ever accommodating.
Whether it is a quick refill of water bottles or a patch of land to pitch a tent and camp the night. Some offer a welcoming wet nose and wagging tail by morning when the tent is unzipped.
Others invite us in to worker’s kitchen for a warming drink and something sweet. Each offering an interesting glimpse in to the workings of these vast ranches and the lives of the workers and guachos. Far from their North American counterparts the cowboys these are a shy and retiring bunch more happy to be out in the harsh Patagonian winds that chatting with strange foreign cyclists.
A bout of food poisoning leaves me low on energy with empty legs and my eyes fixed firmly on my front wheel I find little solace in the landscape only the final evening’s sun set before arriving in Puerto Natales signals a change in weather. Pink skies and lenticular clouds give way to high pressure.
By morning blue skies and no wind sees us on the road late. Happy to lounge on the grass relaxing and topping up our Vitamin D than cowering and grimacing in the wind.
After some well earned rest and relaxation I bounce on to Torres Del Paine for the Full Circuit before the next leg north.
Bus shelters which provide shelter and sometimes even accommodation for the evening are superfluous under blue skies.
Whizzing along we retrace our steps back to Torres Del Paine and the border crossing at Cerro Castillo.
Along with another moody sky and fence post shot.
As paved road gives way to the gravel ripio roads Anita takes a nasty spill between border crossings.
As we limp to the Chilean border we part company, Anita requiring stitches to her knee she hitches a lift on a bus to El Calafate in need of medical assistance whilst I continue in my own company.
Riding late in to the evening on Ruta 40 the pampas are bathed in light. The land once found dull and boring transformed as the low light brings this landscape to life. Spend long enough somewhere and you can’t help but find some beauty somewhere.
Running low on water and day light, Emilio an estancia owner pulls over to enquire if I am ok. After a brief chat my bike is bundled in to the back of his pick up, the side of beef taking up the passenger seat is casually thrown in to the back and we drive to his estancia.
Once my tent is pitched, I’m offered a shower and then a hearty meal of Beef, Lamb, Nandu, Chorizo and Black Pudding washed down with beer and enough fine Argentinian red to make my head thump the following morning.
It is a fortuitous evening spent with Emilio, his son Adrian and his grandson. Three generations sat around a table. Questions fly back and forth as we try to understand each others respective lives. Life in rural Argentina. Life in England.
My Spanish tested, sometimes fumbling, sometimes iliciting a red face on my part and the odd laugh along the way we talk late in to the evening. After weeks spent amongst English speakers it feels great to speak Spanish once again.
Half ritual half drink we share Mate in the morning. Bonded over this drink we part company and I retrace my steps back to Ruta 40. The 10km drive down Emilio’s estancia offering fine views back to Torres Del Paine.
As the wind lulls over the next few days I enjoy the ripio to El Cerrito and a quick ride in to El Calafate to find Beat and Lucia ambling down the high street. Once again reunited like oldbfriends.
The following day Beat and I make the day trip to the Perito Moreno glacier.
Stood on the walkways in front of this glacier the scale is staggering. Stood at over 50 metres high, spanning 5 kilometres in width and extending back over 27 kilometres this sea of ice is every bit as jaw dropping in person as it is in the photos you see.
On a warm summers day under the intense Patagonian sun the soundscape that is created is every bit as impressive. Creaks, groans and inevitably as huge blocks calve falling the height of the face a thunderous boom resonates, followed by gasps from the walkway opposite.
We spend 4 hours exploring the walk ways finding new vantage points each as impressive as the last before its time to head back to El Calafate.
A tail wind out of El Calafate the following day pushes me toward the turning to El Chalten with it bringing a sense of momentum and rhytmn that has been so sadly lacking in this trip so far.
Early starts favour sun rises.
Over 120 kilometres away Monte Fitzroy unexpectedly comes in to view across Lago Viedma.
The grandeur of Los Glaciers National Park drawing ever closer with each pedal stroke.