22nd November – Rest day in Coyhaique
I had made myself a home in a picnic shelter and had a good nights sleep, despite the rain during the night. This place is not just cold, it’s damp too from all the rain.
I walked into town and dropped off a bag of laundry as I knew it wouldn’t dry at the campsite. All the Bike Dreamers seemed to end up at the same café with wifi. I began with a Skype to Erin over coffee and then had brunch and caught up on net things, including my blog. More coffee and a piece of nice cake and it was 2pm and time to go back to the campsite. From there, Scott and I walked to the national park next door and did a hike. I mustn’t exercise enough every other day! We got a nice view of Coyhaique, but not much else. With rain showers all around us, I was pleasantly surprised not to need my rain jacket. We walked a total of 8km and made it back to camp just as it started to rain again.
I caught a cab back to town, picked up my laundry and then a few of us went out for dinner. The proposed nice place was vetoed by the fussy eater in the group who doesn’t eat much other than steak, chicken or chips, and on his suggestion, we ended up somewhere bad. I’m not sure which was worse, the food or the service, but none of us enjoyed our loveless boring meals. Plain steak, not cooked how you asked, with no sauce, salsas or accompaniments.
I fell asleep again tonight tucked up in my picnic shelter with the sound of running water from the stream just a few metres away.
23rd November – Coyhaique to Puerto Ibanez 119km / 1890m climbing
With the freezing cold and wet riding day into Coyhaique fresh in our memories, the rain that threatened as we broke camp was unwelcome. As we rode out of town there were grey clouds around and I could see rain falling nearby, but not on me.
I rode with Roffy today, so no music, but the company was nice. We eluded the showers all morning. The closest it got was when it tried to snow. Flakes swirled around, but didn’t amount to much. I’m happy, as it doesn’t need to warm up much and you have sleet or rain instead. There was a lot of climbing today, but it was mostly before lunch. There was lots of wind, but the relative direction varied.
Here's us at lunch.
The climb after lunch was probably the toughest as it was a head wind, but the mountain vistas made up for it. Cold today? There was even snow near the road, had I cared to go and play with it. I wore my beanie, but it was too hot whilst climbing, but too cold without it on downhills. The last pass was at 1400m and then there was a 900m descent over the last 40km to the end of the day.
This is my kind of sign.
There was much wind, so if the road pointed into it, it was a head wind slog, if it wound the other way, we got a tail wind! I got to over 70kph twice today. The mountains today were beautiful, especially this afternoon. Dustings of fresh snow was the ‘icing on the cake’. I really liked this spiky mountain. Speaking of cakes, it looks like a conical cake with candles on it.
There was a really fun downhill here with lots of switchbacks in it.
Look for the moon rising over the mountain.
The town was full of these little house. You too can count the few rooms. Cold windy place. Not sure why you'd live here.
Here’s the view from our campsite.
This is us all having dinner. The girls have got their own table and are having a few wines.
Puerto Ibanez is a little border town. It has half a dozen ‘supermercados’, but none of them are super. Mini-mercado would be more apt. Imagine a shop so small that you can stand in one place and see everything they have for sale. Heading back to camp, I saw the moon rising over the mountain.
The only café in town stayed open just for us, so we all went down there after dinner and abused their wifi, drank their beer and danced to their music. We only left when the lady sent us home at 10:45.
24th November Puerto Ibanez to Perito Moreno 111km / 1201m climbing
Wow! What a day! The morning began with a 1km ride to the Chilean border post on the shores of Lago Ibanez. I had a good laugh to myself as I got stamped out, at the name of the bloke doing it. He took himself too seriously, but the name badge said it all – Bozo. Gold!
Safely stamped out of Chile, we now had a 20 km ride to the border post in Argentina. Hmmm? No man’s land. Who would I like to kill? No one sprung to mind, so we all made it safely to the border and go re-admitted to Argy. Very simple. With no computer, he just wrote my deets into a ledger and stamped my passport. How old-school. No chip reader, computer or scanner. That done, we began a big climb, but the views of the lake/ocean we’d had so far, just got better as we ascended. You could see where aqua-blue glacier water met deep-blue ocean water quite clearly.
The whole morning was filled with views to die for, and I did my best to match it by falling off my bike! It was a really steep hill. Not just steep, but crazy steep, like they were all morning. I’d stopped to take a photo and to restart is always a challenge. Just as I tried to take off, my pedal flipped and clipped in, which I didn’t want. I was now going 0kph and not gaining traction. My clipped in foot couldn’t put down and I went down with the bike. My knee got scuffed, but it was the heel of my hand that took all my weight. It blew up into a nice bruise and was very sore holding the handlebars for the rest of the day.
How steep? Look at the heads coming up behind me.
Lovely views in the morning.
The road between the borders was really bad unpaved, and I thought it was just because neither country wanted to maintain it. Unfortunately, it got no better and was one of the roughest, most difficult roads of the trip. It had all the usual gravel road issues like corrugations, but the biggest problem was the loose rocks. If you lost the line of the car wheels, there was a line of fist-sized rocks waiting to grab your bike. It was dangerous and hard work all afternoon. The only redeeming feature was that the first and last third 20km of the 60km after lunch were a tail wind. The middle of the afternoon was even more challenging as it was a gusting cross-wind. With a loose road beneath you, it made it hard to fight the side gusts. Six people got blown off their bikes and fell today, so I wasn’t the only one.
Here's my bike on the road.
25th November Perito Moreno to Bajo Caracoles 131km / 1310m climbing
It was windy all night and didn’t let up today. There was this windy sign on leaving town, so I expected no less.
Here's an elaborate roadside memorial.
I made good time up until 30km, but then the wind picked up and was mostly a head wind and it then took me the rest of the morning of hard slog to get to the lunch truck at 70km. For reasons known only to Rob, we started at 9am today instead of the usual 8am. This meant that by the time I got to lunch, with the head wind, there realistically wasn’t enough time to complete the day before the 6pm cut-off, so I took the truck from lunch. The scenery was not spectacular and the wind was still there, so I didn’t miss a great arvo on the bike.
Beautiful small flower bushes lined the road.
This town of Bajo Caracoles is tiny. I’m not joking when I tell you that our group of 34 has nearly doubled the population. You need to multi-skill in a town so small. The bloke who runs the hostel/camp site is also the town policeman and the baker.
I had Midnight Oil’s ‘Place without a postcard’ on my music player today and thought it might have been apt for Bajo Caracoles, but I was wrong. They might only have 40 people in town, but they still have a postcard.
We rocked up and went straight to the hotel/shop/bar/service station to get diesel for the truck. In the shop I saw a coffee grinder with beans in it, so 6 of us ordered coffees. We got served instant coffee at $2.50 a pop! Turns out that the grinder was just a decoy. With people passing through, they probably catch victims daily. Display fresh coffee beans and then serve instant? Not happy Jan.
I’ve got really dry skin. So dry in fact, that my hands are splitting and bleeding and very sore. In Bolivia it was the 4000m altitude that caused the dryness, but here I don’t know why. Nivea (‘For men’ of course) has been an important thing to have on this trip, but I’ve not used it in awhile. I’ll be using it now, but it’s too late as my hands are already in a bad way. Speaking of ‘bad way’, it’s not only my hands, my bum’s feeling like it’s ridden the 9000km that it has, but I’ve spared you details of that. The ‘Aussie Butt Cream’ has nearly run out (thanks Erin for that), so we’ll see how things go.
26th November Baja Caracoles to Las Horquetas 109km / 551m climbing
The wind was ever-present today. Initially it was a tail-wind, then a cross wind and then a head wind. The road trended south-west today, and the wind was a westerly, so it varied from headwind to half head wind and half cross wind or full cross wind. Very challenging. I’ve said every day is different and today was not so much about the scenery but the clouds. They were really dramatic with it being fully overcast, but the colours and shapes underneath were beautiful.
I don’t know what it is with me and animals that are normally timid, but today I patted a wild guanaco, a relative of the llama. I saw it cross the road and took some photos when I got to it, then a dog came up. While I was having a leak, the guanaco sauntered over and started sniffing my bike! Rob rocked up and I got a photo of him with the guanaco behind him and then it came over to me and I patted it. Deer de ja vouz, the two of them followed us for 5 kilometres. Every time I’d look back, there was the dog and guanaco running after us. They seemed like animal buddies.
The wind got stronger as the day wore on. Lunch was at 60km and provided a respite from the wind. As I got back on my bike after lunch it smashed me around. I pedalled on, riding at an acute angle to counteract the cross wind. The lunch truck passed me after half an hour and I’d only done 5 more kilometres and it was tough going. At this rate I’d be in late, any more wind and I’d be even later! My hands were numb, the wind was freezing and so was I, so I took the truck option. Wise move, as the wind has just got stronger all afternoon. Some people’s tents have already been destroyed and I wonder if some others will make it through the night. It’s a challenge to put a tent up in a gale! As they say, camping was meant to be in tents. It sure is! Tonight will definitely be an in tents experience.
Here are a few photos of people struggling to put up their tents.
We’re staying at what is technically a construction site. It’s a half-built place for people to stay. There is plumbing to the toilets, but no electricity. The dining room is finished, so we had somewhere to cook and eat out of the howling wind.
I’d been given the llama for no other reason than I’d do a poem and was told to make it about the llamas previous life – before it ‘died’ and was replaced. (We’ve had 3 ‘llamas’ on the trip, but one of the incarnations was a cabra/goat.) I did write a poem, but made it clear it was my last. Here it is.
Llama poem #3
So you want a FINAL llama poem that you’d like me to write.
I’ll do it this LAST time for you and I won’t put up a fight.
This one’s going to be spoken by Limpka, just using Malcolm’s voice
He got the llama again, so he didn’t have much choice.
You want to know what I got up to in my last life?
All sorts of crazy stuff, I was always in a bunch of strife.
Carried with my temporary owner and out for a ride
Was preferable for me than being stuck inside.
Life wasn’t all good for me, some bad things happened too.
Who dipped my head in chocolate sauce and made it look like poo?
So Gerdie tried to wash me. What the heck?
Next thing I know, Yol’s broken my neck.
Richard went and lost me and I went missing for awhile.
So you cheeky sods replaced me with a llama of wool pile.
I’m irreplaceable, I’m Limpka your llama
Reincarnated for you, I bring good karma.
Fred made fun stories about what was good or bad
Others didn’t like having me, and that makes me sad.
This is reincarnation number four – the last one was a goat.
That only happened because Yol destroyed my throat.
From a proud llama to a goat – just my luck.
A goat? A cabra? What the?
You showed me no respect with what you did in your beds.
You stressed me out so much, but I’m now on meds.
We started together in Quito, then headed to Peru
Across the altipano of Bolivia and the salt lake too.
Now we’re in Argentina, for the second time
Crossing back from Chile, across an invisible line.
And now you poor cyclists have wind the rest of the way.
There’s nothing like a gale to really make your day.
Please be nice to me between now and the end.
Give good llama speeches, I really am your friend.
It’s time to wrap this up, and tell you where it’s at.
Stop waffling rhymes to you and finish talking crap.
So where do I go next? Which direction do I lob?
The person riding tough, his name is Rob.
You don’t only get me for being dumb or for bad luck
Little Rob is a committed cyclist and really avoids the truck.
So Rob, for being strong and tough, with wind not being a drama.
I now come to you, I’m your lucky llama.
This was the wine on the table at dinner. In Australia it is a termite control pesticide, but here in Argy, it's a 'quality' box wine! Enjoy some Termidor!
I took the chance of the last bit of light to grab this photo.
27th November Las Horquetas to Estancia La Angostura 84km / 100m climbing
The wind howled all night, but no one’s tent blew down. Getting it packed up was another challenge though! I used rocks to hold one end down while I rolled from the other end. The good news is that the wind that’s still blowing is going to be a tail wind for the first 48km until we turn off the paved road. Yee! Haa! What a tail wind it was! All flat paved road, but I did the 48km in an hour and my maximum speed was 61.2kph, hampered only by my lack of gearing! That for a flat on my mountain bike is a new Personal Best(PB)
We almost had the road to ourselves, so could spread out to catch the wind. Here are a few photos of us riding.
‘Lunch’ was waiting at the 48km mark, but we’d only ridden for an hour! We turned here, so got a cross-wind instead, and it became unpaved, but not too bad. I was at the end before noon!
Here are some photos taken whilst riding at 50kph!
Tamsin has stopped to enjoy one of Andy's famous roadside teas.
Here's Roffy with a trailer. It was on the turn-off from the highway.
The estancia is 5km off the highway, but there’s showers and some grass to put our tents on.
It was a lovely sunset.
We are in a remote part of Argentina. It’s so remote that buying food is impossible, so we had 3 days supply on board and then today, one of the trucks drove Kirstin to a town a 100km off the road we’re on to buy food for the next 3 days to get us to El Clafate.
28th November - Estancia La Angostura to Estancia La Siberia 67km / 553m climbing
From one remote farmstead to another with unpaved road all the way.
We have been so blessed with weather on this trip and today was another one of those days. Lots of sun and no wind had people shedding layers before they’d ridden too far. I didn’t start with any extra and just had a cycle top and shorts all day.
The landscape here is vast, but flat and wide with just some hills scattered for interest. We’re east of the Andes and crossing the ‘pampas’ which has lots of grass like spinifex and no vegetation higher than about 50cm. I’m guessing that the combination of lack of rain and strong winds make it impossible for trees. Big grassy plains like the Russian steppes.
Lunch was in the shade of a concrete drain that went under the road. Didier set up the food in the shade of the tunnel and we sat and soaked up the sunshine. Rob’s done 4 trips through here and says he hasn’t seen a day so still. We are the charmed group or more recently have been called by the crew, the ‘Lucky Weather Edition’.
The road wasn’t too bad today and a nice surprise near the end was a lake appeared on my right. Past it were the snow-capped peaks of the Andes, which are rarely out of sight, even if we aren’t riding through them right now. We can’t as we need to follow roads and there aren’t many out here. That’s why we’ve come out of Chile and onto the Route 40 in Argentina before we can head west again and back into the mountains. There are no roads in Chile going south through this part of the Andes. (At least without using lots of ferries.) It’s so remote out here that we see no shops or civilization between where we leave from in the morning and the evening. Some nights we bush camp and it can be days between cold drinks.
There were some cannibal grasshoppers on the road today. When there was a dead one, others would be crowded around and chowing down on it. I guess in a place with very little green, even locusts adapt.
Arriving at Estancia La Siberia was a let-down. I expected something at least like last night with it’s green grass and cold beer. There’s no one here, so we’ve just put our tents everywhere and made ourselves comfortable for the night. Maybe they only open it for Dec/Jan/Feb for the tourist season? The weird thing is that Bike Dreams had this booked and were in contact with them just 10 days ago. Very strange. It’s about as barren and desolate out here as the Russian version with the same name. The water ran out and no one could find the tank, so unlike the early ones, I didn’t get a shower. I do like where I’ve put my tent, in the weeds and under a peach tree.
Dinner was fantastic and the queue for seconds attests to that.
After dinner a group of us chased the sunlight up the hill opposite the camp and watched the sunset from there. The views of the lake and surrounds were beautiful. We’re already so far south that sunset is about 9:30pm. On the way up the hill I found a patch of fossilised oyster shells. How cool is that? Here I am in the Andes mountains and I find the quartzified remains of an ancient seabed. There were heaps of the shells, many whole and quite large. Unfortunately I don’t have spare weight to bring one home. Very random to find and it just reminds me what a wonderful world we live in.
Everyone else might have gone to bed, but 6 of us sat up and enjoyed a moonrise with Jupiter right next to it. Watching the full moon, we were all surprised with a shooting star that appeared to hit the moon. Our involuntary ‘wows’ and ‘whoas’ were mentioned at breakfast the next day.
Our final treat before retiring was a skunk that trotted up to where we were. I’ve seen too many dead ones, so it was nice to see a real one.
29th November – Estancia La Siberia to Tres Lagos 93km / 550m climbing
Today ended up better than it looked at halfway. The morning was good, even with a wind. Sure, it was unpaved, but it wasn’t rotten, loose stuff. The scenery was just more pampas, so it was a day to just knuckle down and get it done.
By lunch, the blue sky was being replaced by a grey blanket and the wind was increasing. I’m glad I didn’t’ jump in the truck, as I had a good afternoon, leaving lunch at 11:30 and arriving at Tres Lagos at 2pm. For the last 20km, I rode with a long-distance South African cyclist named Johan. Complete with panniers and everything he needs, he’d ridden from Venezuela. It reminds me how ‘easy’ we do it with our Bike Dreams support team. Love ‘em!
Tres Lagos means three lakes, but I couldn’t see any, or find any on the map!
Here's my tent tonight.
Richard’s been wanting a ‘dodgy bar’ as he calls it, and he got it in Tres Lagos, a town of only 200 people. When the six of us arrived just after 10pm, there were a few people playing cards at the bar and not much else happening.
We cranked up the jukebox, played pool and table soccer and brought the place to life. There’s nothing like a bit of ACDC to bring out the air guitarist in everyone. Unfortunately there were only 4 albums on the jukebox that weren’t Latino. I bailed at 1am, but others kicked on. We have an hour sleep in and only 68km to ride tomorrow.
30th November Tres Lagos to Parador Luz Divina 68km / 270m climbing.
Flat, paved and only 68km. Just what I needed after last night!
What the heck does this sign mean? It's not falling rocks, as there were no cliffs. My guess is loose gravel, but hey, what do you think?
There was wind all day, but hey, it’s Patagonia. I could see the snowy peaks of the Andes and we’re riding towards them. Very beautiful and I know that just to the west is a massive icefield – one of the largest on Earth.
At about the 50km mark I could see a beautiful lake fed by the glaciers that meet it.
I arrived at the end point to find that our campsite no longer had the promised toilets and showers. It’s been abandoned with empty open buildings, but no longer any business or people here. Strange. Two years ago it was all new and promising, but now it’s gone bust. I set up my tent tucked out of the wind and next to a river that overflows from the lake. I had time this afternoon to snooze in my tent and catch up from last night.
Kirstin and Yaap had a kitchen indoors and we had an outdoor meal as the wind had died down.
After dinner, I caught up on my blog. Someone else took this photo.
The fireplace in the house got used tonight.
Another nice Patagonian twilight. It lasts for hours.
1st December – Parador Luz Divina to El Calafate 96km / 816m climbing
Today was a great way to end our 9 days in a row. All paved road and the forecast wind – based on previous BD experience – didn’t eventuate. To top it off, the views of the lake and mountains was beautiful. The lake had glacierbergs in it, a hint of what’s waiting for us at the other end.
Even with a bit of climbing, I still knocked off the ride in well under 4 hours, so averaged over 25kph. The road turns west for the last 32km into El Calafate, and the wind is usually westerly. We had none. Rob still can’t believe our luck.
After the cold, wet campsite out of town at last rest day, I’d told myself that I’d grab a room in El Calafate if it was raining or too far from town. It was neither, with the rain that had threatened earlier disappearing and the campsite being just a couple of blocks from the main road and town centre. Score. I took this photo of a mouse in my tent on my sleeping bag.
We’re all here to see the glaciers. 6 of us have booked BIG ICE trip for tomorrow. Laundry, lunch shopping for tomorrow and buying a Sinta Claus gift (It’s a Dutch Chris Cringle/secret santa thing they do on the 5th of December.) took up my arvo and then it was good-bye/welcome drinks before dinner for those arriving and leaving the trip. Starting now? I know. It’s a long way to come for two weeks and it’s going to be the coldest part of the trip!
A few of us went to a bar tonight. I know. Who’d have thought. Things here in Argy are expensive, but in comparison, my beer, cocktail, sparkling water and shooter only cost what just the cocktail would at home. Shooters? Richard’s idea, and he had fun turning B-52 into Spanish to ask for it. We left at 1am and our glacier day trip pick-up is a 7am tomorrow. Yikes!
Here is my strawberry and basil mojito. Sounded better than it tasted. Based on other's choices too, most of the cocktails here are like an amateur trying to be clever.
Here are the party people.