Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Torres Del Paine & Perito Moreno Glacier

(next page: Bariloche to Puerto Varas)


"Do not ask about the weather. We are in Patagonia. We don't know."

I couldn't think of anything more suitable to say.
We've decided to put cycling on hold until further north when we get to the Lake District, but in the meantime we hit up a couple of National Parks en route north. Patagonia is gorgeous when you're by the Andes, but in the plains there is little to see and the boredom becomes more than a little overbearing. It's a little like watching paint dry while running on a treadmill. But when you hit the mountains...OH MY!

In Puerto Natales we visited Torres Del Paine National Park for some hiking. I didn't spend nearly enough time here and certainly intend to return one day explicitly to go hiking and camping.

The horses are loaded with wine. They're not drunk on wine, they're just delivering it to one of the lower camps. Thanks guys! Of course I bought a 1 litre carton for the end of the day.

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Patagonia Pea (Lathyrus Nervosus)

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Campamento de Las Torres.
My Hilleberg Nallo 2 is back in action after some repairals. I do love this tent despite its flaws.

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Mirador de las Torres. This place was heaving with throngs of back packers. I have no idea how nobody is in this shot. I decided that I would come back again for sunrise at 4am.

It's not a selfie. I'm just photobombing my own photo of nature.

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I got up at 3:30am to hike up to Mirador de las Torres to see the sunrise. It was far too cloudy to see the main towers, but it was wonderful to be up there all alone for sometime. Quite a few hikers turned up about 45 minutes after myself, but there wasn't much to see so I headed down. It was a great decision as I got a spectacular view of the sunlight of the first peak. It was a burning orange.

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A little zoom in on some of the backpackers who hike up with their sleeping bags to stay warm.

The sun peaking up the valley.
Twisted tree carcass.

Mountain top glaciars.

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Patagonian Sierra Finch

Southern Lapwing

Rufuos-collared sparrow

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Leaving the park the clouds cleared giving us a clear shot of Las Torres.
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No hiking here. Just a little boat ride and a stroll around some viewing platforms to gaze at an unbelievably gigantic glacier. I think they said that it stands around 75 metres high and is around 5km wide at its terminus. I might as well have had my eyeballs massaged. A lazy day with a lot of pleasure.
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(next page: Bariloche to Puerto Varas)

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Escaping Tierra Del Fuego. Rio Grande to Punta Arenas

(next page: Torres del Paine and Perito Moreno Glacier)

We spent two days in Rio Grande at the Hostel Argentino, because we had got so battered by the winds the day before. We hoped that during these days the winds might have calmed down a little bit so we could set off towards San Sebastian without getting a royal beatdown from the elements.


Vijay spoke to a 78 year old, retired bicycle mechanic named Oscar who advised us that the winds are not so strong in the early hours of the morning, so we set off at 6am along the coastal roads out of town. Oscar wasn’t wrong. For two hours we headed north with very little trouble. Soon enough the winds started to pick up and by 10 am they were back to full force and we ground down to a halt again. To cut a long story short, it took us over eleven hours to ride for 80km. it was horrendous. We had to stop and take breaks so frequently. It felt like climbing a mountain pass all day long, except with zero reward. The worst thing was that the landscape was so dull. The whole east coast of Tierra Del Fuego is just a huge flat expanse with no trees, so you can’t even see any evidence of the wind. I can't really convey how bleak the place is. The photos don't do any justice to the landscape and its utter nothingness. The monotony was severe that I had to listen to some music just to maintain some sanity. I even preferred to ride behind Vijay just so I could watch his wheels spinning for some entertainment and see the patterns of the road emerging from underneath his panniers.

A creepy seaside Jesus.

This cliff was the most interesting natural feature we saw all day. After this it was mostly...flat.
The high point of the day.
Sorry, I mean this was literally the highest point on the road for the day.
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A pile of trash. We had a cup of tea here. Exciting!
One of many roadside leg breaks.
Finally we can see San Sebastian!
This is it?

When we arrived in San Sebastian (Argentina - there is a San Sebastian 14km west at the Chilean checkpoint), there was nothing but a hotel and a gas station with no shop. We walked in to inquire about the cost of the hotel rooms and instantly got sucked into a conversation with a seemingly friendly but drunk Argentinian man wearing a trucker's cap with the Sun of May (Argentinian flag) on it. He grabbed my hand and embraced me and wouldn't let go. It was a little bit awkward in the first place, but then things got weird. He asked us where we were from, so we said England. His instant response was to tell us that his brother had been killed in the Falklands war. Nice to meet you too!

The hotel cost $50 USD, so we declined and headed over to the Argentinian border control. They offered us a place to sleep in the waiting room, which we were delighted with. It was warm, had a little kitchen, but best of all was free!
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My bed for the night.

CHILE. Disaster strikes!

We had a late start in the morning, had our breakfast and got our exit stamps from the Argentinian border control. From there it was a 14km cycle along dirt roads to the Chilean checkpoint. It was a slow ride, taking us about one and a half hours, which felt like pretty good progress after the day before.
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The bleakness continues.
Believe it or not, this cattle grid and fence is the actual demarcation line between Chile and Argentina. Having lived in South Korea for many years I have visited the DMZ a couple of times. It is so heavily fortified that it seems bizarre to see such a flimsy and porous border like this one in Patagonia.
CHILE!!! Awooga!
The bleakness continues. The road from San Sebastian to Porvenir is all dirt roads. We headed west directly into a headwind that just got stronger and stronger. After 8km of constant battling against the sheer ferocity of these winds coming across from the Straits of Magellan we decided to change tactics. It was time to hitch hike. It was completely unsuccessful of course. When any vehicle came past us they would respond to our hitch hiking thumb gesture with a reciprocal thumb gesture of support and enthusiasm. Thanks a bunch guys!

After some time we tried to ride a little bit further, but our efforts were so futile we decided we might as well just camp it out there and set off really early the next morning. I decided it was time to put my tent to the test. I recently purchased a Hilleberg Nallo 2 as they are supposed to be incredibly tough and come with a lifetime warranty. So I got to work pitching the tent. All was going well until I was inserting the second pole. The first pole was in position perfectly, then it just bent under the force of the wind. Then the pole snapped clean in two and ripped a hole through the fabric of the tent.


My pole. Snapped clean in two. In Patagonia, nothing is indestructable.

 This was a pivotal moment for me. If the Hilleberg couldn't hack it, neither could I. We talked about just bivvying and setting off in the morning, but there was no guarantee that the weather would get any better. In the end we turned around and road back to the Chilean border control. With the wind on our backs we flew down the dirt road at 22 km/h without even pedalling. I was all over the place. We got back there so quickly. We inquired about getting lifts and in the end we paid a local in the restaurant to drive us to Porvenir. It was around 150km and took us about two hours to get there. It was not cheap and I don't care to reveal how much it cost!

It was best decision as there was nothing around for miles - no shelter at all and no streams for water. There were a few estancias further west, but nothing substantial. Despite there being a decent amount of traffic on the road, the area is one of the most remote and unpopulated places I have ever been.

As you get closer to Porvenir the landscape starts to change. The flatness turns into gently rolling hills. Suddenly there is some shrubbery and some flowers. You start to see Guanacos all over the place and in the road. The coastal road is gorgeous around there.

Our bikes loaded up in the back of a pick up truck.

It felt amazing to pull up into Porvenir and get the bikes off the pick up truck. The town is really colourful and looked gorgeous as the sun finally showed its face after hiding away for so long. No more battling headwinds.

The first few days of riding from Ushuaia were so amazing. I knew we would have to battle winds at some point, but I was not expecting it to happen so early in the trip and certainly wasn't expecting it to be so relentless. We have decided that we will take the bus from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, where the landscape will be much more interesting. Vijay and I never set ourselves any goals for this trip and we have no desired to inflict misery on ourselves, so we're quite happy to skip the boring sections. Winds are bad enough, but when coupled with such a monotonous and boring landscape you wonder why you are doing it. You can't even stop to admire the view, because the view never changes.

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So, we rocked up to a hostel which seemed empty apart from ourselves until somebody emerged from there room having heard our voices. It was non other than Benjamin, the crazy Austrian we met in Tierra Del Fuego. He had set off a day or so after us and had cycled with zero rest days the whole way. We thought we had had a hard time on the road until we chatted to Benny. Being a masochistic glutton for punishment,  he pushed himself through the pain barrier all the way. I would hate to be in his knees, because they don't look good right now! It was such a coincidence that we ended up in the same town on the same day, in the same hostel, in rooms facing each other. Benjamin is a very unique guy. When he was twenty he broke three vertebrae while downhill biking in the States. He checked himself out of the hospital because he was worried about the medical costs! He certainly feeds off the suffering. You should check out his blog Benny Bananas.

Christmas decorations Chilean style.
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Dirt cheap wine. About £2 for 1.5 litres!
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Benjamin's ghetto rig. Proof that you don't need expensive equipment to do a cycling trip. His panniers are made from plastic boxes and inner tubes.

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Whale bones.
I don't what the hell this thing is. Half lion, half dog by the looks of it.
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Taking the ferry from Porvenir to Punta Arenas across the Strait of Magellan. It cost about £6 and took 3 hours.
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Moments after this photos was taken a huge waved broke against the hull of the boat and I got completely drenched in freezing sea water.
Ford Granada! I'm loving the old cars in South America.
Merry Christmas everyone from Vijay and Alasdair!
It was Benny's 24th birthday, so we got the beers in and stayed up late drinking in the hostel.
Lennon, the resident dog at "backpacker's paradise" hostel. He is obsessed with balloons. He couldn't be separated from this one. The hostel was really cheap, about £7 a night.
Drinking with Oscar.
Just chilling with my boy, Lennon.

Funky afro trees.
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FLOWERS! It finally feels like summer. "Summer" in Patagonia really means "not winter"
Splendid haircuts.
The Union Jack is official hobo gear in Punta Arenas.
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That's all for now. I have contacted Hilleberg and they replied quickly. They may be able to ship a new tent to me, but I won't know for sure until after Christmas. I am going to try and repair the poles, otherwise I will have to buy a new tent for now.

Oh! I forgot to say, Chile is amazing! I love it here.

(next page: Torres del Paine and Perito Moreno Glacier)