We arrived in El Calafate in preparation for my old friend from home to join us. Turns out we are stronger than we expected and arrived 10 days early… O well, a few days in a hostel to fully recover and a trip to the Peurto Morino glacier. Not bad but not the best thing we have done; in hindsight cycling to the glacier would have been better and a whole lot cheaper but we wanted to see what it’s like to be a normal backpacker.
Once we had filled our boots with tourist attractions and made the most of a warm comfy room, we re-packed the bikes and went to explore the local back roads. This was mainly to stop our spending as we were bleeding cash being around so many snack shops and bakeries.
The first night we slept on the shores of ‘Lago Argentino’ and with it a failed attempt at a swim, glacial water is cold and the weather is still not tropical shall we say. From here it was onto the ‘ripio’ and up hill, and I mean straight up hill. The steepest climb to date had us almost beaten; I blame the excess food we were carrying, I didn’t want to risk running out of snacks again. From here we picked up a travel companion for well over 15km. Hector as we named him, one of the many street dogs, ran alongside us never venturing too far away, and always coming back to check on us. At one point I thought we may have a new travel buddy for the rest of the trip, however, a tasty looking lamb caught his attention and we lost him on a downhill stretch while he went looking for dinner. He wasn’t too impressed with our meagre rations of cheese sandwiches it turns out.
As we cycled on we came across a free camp site with amazing views over ‘Lago Argentino’, this place, coupled with the sun that had come out to play meant we took a rest day doing nothing more than trying to get some colour on our now pasty white bodies. The legs thoroughly enjoyed being out again; it may be time to start up the tan lines…
A few days of playing around and it was time to return for the expected arrival of Oli, all went to plan and before we knew it the bikes were built and we were ready to head out on the open road again. This time El Chalten was our aim and after a few days of very little wind we hoped our run of good weather would continue. We managed to get out of the waterproofs but not quiet in full summer cycling kit yet.
Amazingly for my self and Oli we managed to meet up with no incidents. Anyone who knows Oli and I will be aware that we are not the best at logistics, i mean, the whole idea for him to come cycle with us started after 5 pints, this is how most of our plans come about it seems...
It was great to have an extra person on the roads with us, cycling in a 3 reminded both Jess and I of Asia and cycling with Jamie, don’t worry mate we haven’t replaced you ;) this one’s useless haha.
We were hoping to impress Oli with our superior fitness and bike handling skills but turns out he went for a sneaky training camp in the Pyrenees before coming, looks like I’ll be hiding behind him in the winds! That being said it has refreshed our relationship with the roads and encouraged us to plough on a little more than we have been doing.
We arrived in El Chalten tired but happy, our biggest day on the bike of this trip and even a brief spell riding into a head wind so Oli can say he has had the true Patagonian experience. Albeit; only for 10km and we were still able to ride rather than push, I’m not complaining though…
We had hoped to stay in a ‘Ciclsta’ similar to the one in Tolhuin; unfortunately we were told that the lady who owns the place was away. We spent our time planning which treks to do and again recuperating doing not much. The next day we set off once again with packs on our backs hoping to get good weather in order to see the famous ‘Fitz Roy’ and “Cerro Torre’. We were lucky with the weather and the trail was relatively easy going so we made good time, that and we now had an extra body to share the weight with. A slight side tour to a glacial lake, Oli and myself reverted back into the 13 year olds we once were and turned it into a competition of who could climb the biggest boulder, I wouldn’t like to pick a winner, there were some very worried faces at times though, mainly from Oli!
The hiking trip was unfortunately cut short due to an attack of tooth-ache that had me awake for most of the night, no tooth ache was going to stop me seeing sunrise on Fitz Roy though, especially with clear weather materialising. It also helped that I was already awake and trekking took my mind of the pain in my jaw.
A quick trip to the local dentist communicating through Google translate, always a nervous time when you’re trying to make a guy who is drilling in to your teeth aware what the problem seems to be.
Luckily the dentist seemed to fix the problem and we didn’t have to waste too many days, Mumma Bury had also spoilt us with the best meal we have eaten so far on the trip so I was glad I was able to chew the delicious steak rather than having to opt for soup! Thanks again Mumma Bury, you don’t understand how much we appreciated such a luxury that otherwise would never have been in our budget!
The infamous cycle route from El Chalten takes you on a ferry ride to a pathless destination where cyclists push, grunt and kick their bikes over the hill to another ferry that will take them to Villa O’Higgings. It is renowned in the cycle touring world and is almost a badge of honour. We will not be doing this route as the ferry does not run until November, to say I was disappointed was an understatement and I have spent every opportunity scrutinising maps willing a route to appear that wouldn’t mean missing too much of the Carretera Austral. Finally this plain stubbornness paid off, with a small amount of research we learnt of a little used pass that will take us to a mere 40km away form Villa O’Higgins, granted there are warnings against this route, especially in summer when it becomes impassable due to river levels, luckily for us though we are here in Winter/spring, the rivers are still fordable, we think. All we know is there is a Indiana Jones esq bridge to get us over the deepest river and we have 12km of pathless ground before we enter Chile.
I was hooked and with very little persuasion Jess was keen as well. Oli, well Oli is happy as long as he has a coffee so I made sure I put the idea to him at prime time and he was only too keen. Now to the downside of this route, I know what down side could there be to no route and impassable rivers eh? Well there is, what should have taken us maybe 100km will take us over 500km.
With our plan set we rolled out with new found gusto, I had a new tooth and we had a route to take us to the famous Carretera Austral, all was good with the world, even the cycle gods agreed and gifted us a tail wind as we rode out. Step up our new biggest day to date 131km. We could almost taste the border crossing. Almost, but not quite. Cycle touring has a habit of luring you in to a false sense of security; one Oli was soon to find out. His sneaky training camp in the Pyrenees was a thing of the past, cycle touring is a whole different beast to tame, Oli was now going cold turkey form his electrolyte drinks and energy gels, his legs were feeling every kilogram on his bike rather than the grams he was used to on his roadie, his body was re-training itself to make the most of the sugary junk we consumed to keep our energy levels up, this may also be a contributing factor to my teeth that have once again begun to ache. A tough few days for Oli but he dug deep and gritted his teeth, it’s never fun when your hurting but he understood that the only way was to keep going, his disposition with camping also wasn’t helping, he has huge kit envy over both Jess and my sleeping mats, thanks Pannier CC, another great bit of advice and kit you helped us with.
We rolled in to our last stop before the “epic border crossing” (read this in an over the top game show voice for effect) I am hoping to see another dentist to sort this tooth, failing that I may try the same approach as Tom Hanks in Castaway and take a rock to it… The sun is shining and the weather is looking good, I have even had the legs and arms out for the first time, let the tanning commence.
Danny and Jessica living the nomadic dream.