Is Torres Del Paine the jewel in Patagonia's crown?
03.12.2012 - 06.12.2012
3rd December – El Calafate to bush camp 126km / 1393m climbing
We were told ‘The wind in Patagonia always blows from the west.’ Heading east this morning we were therefore surprised to find an unwanted easterly head wind. We almost always head south, or west so would have loved it another day. Oh well! It was quite a slog and the drizzle was annoying. We were also told that, ‘It never rains around here.’ Four of us rode as a small group until the 600m hill at 50km when we spread out like honey on a hot crumpet. It got cooler as I climbed, but with the exertion, I got hot under my waterproof top. I had to keep it on as it was drizzling. Not enough to wet me, but enough to make me keep my waterproof jacket on.
The wind was a big part of today’s challenge.
Lunch was at 75km, and the warm truck was a welcome respite from the cold. The paved road became unpaved, and with the rain around, it had gone muddy.
The campsite is a new one for BD, but it was a large flat grassy field. We’ve had worse staying in paid camping. There was plenty of room for everyone to spread out and some took it to extremes.
Dinner tonight was late. Both cooks fell asleep in the afternoon and thought the other would wake them up to finish off dinner!
It’s been cold all day, but tonight is freezing. There were down jackets out in force tonight, but we had a lovely campfire using a stack of wood spotted by the side of the road earlier in the day. There are no trees on the pampas, just clumps of grass.
I won’t miss the pampas, one early explorer described it as, ‘A thousand miles of what could be the least interesting country in the world.’ I wouldn’t go that far, there’s always something of interest if you care to look, but I wouldn’t describe the Argentinian Patagonian pampas as spectacular. I can’t wait to get back into the mountains tomorrow when we go to Chile.
4th December – Bushcamp to Cerro Castilo 92km / 349m climbing
Today we crossed another border. First thing though was to ride. 35km of rotten unpaved road first up. Imagine a European cobblestone road. Now sprinkle it generously with round rocks ranging in size from marbles to oranges. That’s what we rode on. On reaching the sealed Route 40, we turned right and the cross wind became a headwind. We’ve been lucky with wind generally, but Patagonia is playing catch up. It was really tough. Hidden behind a shed, lunch was a welcome respite from the wind. If the thought of continuing crossed my mind, I only had to step out of the wind shadow of the shed to reconsider!
Crossing the border out of Argy was annoying. First 50 teenagers on a bus got queue-jumped in front of the 10 of us, then we had to fill in paperwork to LEAVE. I’d expected it on entering, but got none, but now we have to tell them who we WERE as we try to leave. The map of Argentina on the wall was funny in that it had the Falkland Islands with ‘(Arg.)’ written next to it. I’m sure that Great Britain would disagree.
Unsurprisingly, the wind continued into Chile where we’re camping in the little town next to the border. There’s no campground, but we’ve taken over someone’s generous-sized back yard. One shower for 30 people meant a wait, but at least it was hot. It’s so consistently windy from the west that the trees have grown crooked.
We had a nice fire tonight.
5th December Cerro Castilo to Torres Del Paine 78km / 839m climbing
Today was special.
The wind here is relentless. Finally Patagonia is doing what it should, but it’s wearing us down. It began cold and windy and everyone who’s usually slower than me bailed out before starting and went in the truck.
Here's my tent being flattened as we packed up in the morning. The 'campsite' is really someone's back yard.
Dressed and ready for a cold day on the bike. I've never worn so much whilst cycling.
Leaving town and slogging it uphill into a headwind I wondered if I had made the right choice. Then I saw something that made my heart sing. As I crested the hill, there were 5 condors circling together not far away. I stopped and watched them for about 10 minutes and in that time they did not flap their wings once, despite the roaring wind. Condors are such amazing flyers. I rode on inspired and knowing that I’d made the right choice to be on the bike and amongst these mountains so I can stop and soak it in whenever I want.
There are condors in each of these photos.
I saw many guanacos, some hares and a red fox too. These are guanacos.
It wasn’t too long into the ride when I got my first glimpse of the rock towers that give the park its name. They and the ‘horns’ would be in sight for the rest of the day. WOW! I did take lots of photos, but you expect that of me.
Stopping later at a designated lake view for a photo I saw another group of 5 condors. Today keeps getting better, or maybe I shouldn’t speak too soon. After lunch, with ‘only’ 25km to go, the wind got stronger and the road got steeper. It consisted of short very steep ups and downs. With the wind and gravity against you and a loose road beneath you, many people admitted that, like me, they’d walked their bikes at times today. It was impossible to stay on at times as the wind got funnelled in places and would have blown you off, which happened to some.
How windy is this? It makes my shell look like a down jacket!
I rode with ‘little’ Rob after lunch, so we both had company. I don’t use music when with others, but with the howling wind I couldn’t have heard it anyway. Glacial lakes added to the views this afternoon and the stunning peaks of Torres Del Paine just kept getting closer. We are camped at a place with a beautiful view of ‘the horns’ with a glacier to the left.
Here’s a tourist advertising slogan for Chilean or Argentinian Patagonia, ‘Beautiful Patagonia – it will blow you away.’
I’d dreamt about cycling through the Andes since I came to Torres Del Paine 8 years ago. (This bit and the Inca Trail hike.) Today was a fulfilment of that dream. It was one of my favourite days, but also tough. There’s not supposed to be a link, but many of the most spectacular days have been challenging cycling. I guess that’s much easier to bear than tough cycling and boring scenery.
We had our usual Bike Dreams dinner together in our campsite, then went to the restaurant/bar to do Sinta Claus, the Dutch version of Santa and they do it on the 5th of December. It’s a ‘secret santa’ so we each had someone to buy for. We then wrote a poem to go with it. The person reads their poem, opens their gift and then gives one from the pile to the next person. It was a bunch of fun and it’s nice to know I’m far from the only poet in the group!
6th December – Rest day in Torres Del Paine NP
In keeping with it being a rest day, I didn’t get up at 6am for the day hike to the towers. I did it in 2004 when I was here and would love to do it with Erin one day when we come here, which we will because it’s so beautiful that it’s worth the effort. I still think so on my second visit.
This is the view from our campground.
This bird is a caracara.
In the morning I rode to a nearby hotel and Skyped Erin before returning to camp for lunch in the restaurant.
I took these photos on the way there.
This is the view from the hotel.
In the afternoon, 4 of us swapped one saddle for another and went horse riding for a couple of hours. It was just outside the park with the same aspect of the peaks that we have here. We had a great time riding and the scenery was spectacular.
This is the lake next to our campsite.
I mustn’t get enough exercise on a daily basis, because on returning to camp I went for a 90 minute hike up a nearby hill to a condor’s nest. You can’t see it from the top, but what you can see is an impressive 360 degree view of the park. I thought it was windy here in camp, but the winds up there were brutal. The path was 45 degrees and with the wind howling behind me, it pushed me up hill. The return started with a knock-me-down wind that put me on my ass. I had to lean so far forward into the wind that it felt weird, but it was the only way not to get blown over again.
There was a fire through the park a few years ago and in such a fragile environment, it hasn't regenerated. It was from a campfire that got away and unbelievably, they still allow fires. You'd think they'd learn.
How's this for close-knit travel. This is a bus with 20 Germans that sleep in the bit on the back. Like a Japaese capsule hotel, each person slides into their 1m x 1m high and wide bed and they're stacked 3 high. Is it really your own space when there's someone snoring and farting above, below and next to you?
Dinner was in the restaurant here in the campground. It was identical to what I had at lunch, but with BBQ chicken instead of steak. It was a set menu with the same soup and desserts, rice, potatoes and pasta as lunch. I’m glad the protein was tasty as the rest was boring.