Friday, 12 April 2013

Ushuaia. 11.04.13


Our last day biking south turned put to be a beauty. I am amazed that other bike blogs don't mention how just how fantastic this days ride is. Perhaps everyone gets tired of such scenery by the time they reach here, but we were both bowled over by the land.

(Editor; The next day it was raining, and the landscape was blocked by cloud. Perhaps that is why - most don't get to see it).

Scotland anyone?

Then on Thursday 11th April 2013 at 4.05pm we reached Ushuaia. Would we stop and take the standard bike tourist photo?

Of course!








(It is a very tall sign.... )

The Beagle channel seen over the town roofs.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Tierra del Fuego. 5th - 9th April 2013

Tierra del Fuego, the 'grande isle', divided between Argentina and Chile. Only the Antarctic landmass is further south.

The sole 'ashphalte' road, routa 3', heads along the top of the island, turning right down the east coast before finally heading west to our final destination, Ushuaia. (Editor; Billed by the Argie's, a little too loudly, as the most sourtherly town in the world, something which hints of the not-so-friendly rivalry between the two countries; the Chilean town of Puerto Williams is actually more south).

But rather than this possibly busy road we took the ripio that crosses the lonely interior of the island, serving only massive estancias that are usually hidden away from the tracks themselves. Stocked up on food (there are no shops) we headed off from Porvenir.

Day 1. Awhile ago I spoke of 'screaming at the wind'. For 50k the wind decided to scream back; it is louder than I am. We headed north/westerly along the cliff top. We knew it would be a hard stretch - WindGuru had warned us of that - but it was a bit gruelling none-the-less. (By hard I mean winds of 25mph, gusting 50mph). But after that we turned inland and east, now with a demon of a tailwind. Hoorah!

The only structure we saw that first day which could provide respite from this onslaught was a fantastic, new, 20'x15' shelter. Unfortunately it was locked solid. It was now very cold, and if it had been raining as well I think I would have resorted to kicking it open; but it was dry so we set our tent behind it. It still did a good job of sheltering us that night.

Much more of a shelter than it may appear.

Day 2. Today the landscape expanded into impressively large expanses of land, mainly used for sheep rearing. That night, just as it started to sleet and lightly snow, we came across a large forestry outfit which to our relief had rooms.......and a canteen style kitchen, complete with a canteen style cook who took us under his wing. He fed and watered us to bursting, before we snuggled into our room. Mucha gracias, Manuel!

Canteen cook, Manuel. Not from Barcelona. Works part-time for Lady Penelope.

Day 3. This morning saw a cold but sunny sky and great biking, through the sort of landscape I now know I love - expansive, views for 30k or more with no sign of man except the dirt track you are on. Wonderful stuff. We approached our last border, leaving Chile for the last time. Argentina had saved money on its side by not building a bridge, thoughtfully leaving the approach to their border post as a ford through a freezing river, necessitating stripping down to our grundies. Afterall, we are in Tierra del Fuego, its supposed to be a bit difficult. A few kilometers further on we sheltered that night, respectfully, in a small, isolated capilla - chapel - on a hillside.

I figured that Don Jose Mendez Behety, in whose memory the chapel was built in the early 50s, wouldn't have minded. The 15' square chapel was just the right size for us, and the balmy 9 degrees inside was better than the outside temp which had dropped to 2 degrees. We looked out from our vantage point over the valley stretched taut like a canvas below us.


Day 4. The fourth day would likely be our last wild-camp. We pitched up in a large, open valley, the sheep contained by an ox-bow bend in the river.

Our tent fitted in just to the left, under the ridge.

For once the wind disappeared, leaving a completely calm evening and night. Two foxes and a condor kept us company, and the evening sky put on one of its showstopping performances. I will miss them.

Although it is easier to appreciate the beauty of this land when the wind takes on normal proportions, the wind is such a part of the landscape that it is like waiting for a missing relative at sunday lunch when she is absent. You may not want aunty to kiss your cheek, but if she isn't there, you still miss her.

Day 5. Our very, very last day on dirt continued in the same vein; at times basking in the sunshine, with no or little wind, through sublime biking country. All-but empty, huge, stretched vistas; I felt very happy.

Our day ended with the 17k stretch of tarmac into Tolhuin, the last stop before Ushuaia itself, and the end of our journey south.



Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Punta Arenas. 3rd & 4th April 2013


Punta Arenas, the gateway to Tierra del Fuego. Approaching the city you start to see signs declaring 'routa del fin de mundo' -- the route to the end of the world. I liked the signs and the small city. As our ferry across the Straits of Magellan and onto the island itself did not leave until 4pm the following day, I had time to savour some of its culture and history.

Before leaving town I enjoyed some... in the... in the former Braun Palace, surrounded by...
If you have not read the story of....
... ...his extraordinary men and this expedition in particular, I heartily recommend it. However, beware; if you are a male this tale will make you feel completely ordinary and inadequate.

Then we continued our rather more modest expedition by ferry, crossing the Straits of Magellan....

..... and landing at Porvenir, on Tierra del Fuego, and thus our own routa del fin de mundo.



Advertisement feature. 02.04.13


Advertisement feature.

Today was a Grand Day. The sort of day which you are not expecting, which to a casual observer would have no obvious, special qualities; on the face of it just another day. Let me explain.

We left our gaucho bothy and continued our ride across the flat pampas. The sunlight was thinly veiled, the temperature in single digits, the views expansive. The day started calm, but the tail wind blessed us off and on as the day rolled by. The riding seemed effortless, the experience quite trance-like. The occasional bus, tourist and local, passed by, and it occurred to me that in a vehicle this road would be boring. In a vehicle, for me or anybody, boring. But on this bike, on this day, it held a magical quality which transformed it into a Grand Day.

The pampas, although fairly flat, was far from featureless. We saw lots of rheas, the ostrich-like flightless bird; a lone gaucho on his horse, apparently in the middle of nowhere, waving to us in temporal friendship; sheep, cattle and carefree horses dotted the land, and very occasionally a smoke trail led the eye to an isolated hacienda or bothy, betraying the presence of man. When the tailwind blew, or we had a downhill, we were cruising at 40k+, always great fun on a loaded touring bike. You don't get any of that in a vehicle. Unless maybe its a go-cart.

I got to thinking (Editor; careful now). Retail has the concept of 'add-on sales', where they suggest you have a coke with that sandwich, etc. Or a farmer may take his milk and make ice-cream, thereby adding value to his original produce. Maybe that is how experience works as well, one adding value to the next one? They have a cumulative effect. If you can work out which ones work for you, you can help make your own Grand Day. For me being on a bike is the most obvious way I can build my own Grand Day.

I hope you get to work out your own. If you don't know where to start, may I suggest you try going for a bike ride?

End of advertisement feature.


Thursday, 4 April 2013

Puerto Natales. 30 & 31.03.13

Puerto Natales is the gateway for the very well-organised Torres de Paine national parque, perhaps the jewell in the Chilean mountain landscape and known world-wide for its A-class trekking opportunities. We spent four enjoyable days based there.



It is not often you look at icebegs a few yards from the lake shoreline, and get to handle small fragments of decades-old ice from them.

The above iceberg is about 50' high. That is a very big G&T.
My only complaint about the location of this hotel? We were not staying there.

Although we enjoyed both the the park and the town, I must apologise to all the Torres del Paine fans out there; they say the first cut is the deepest, and for me Fitz-Roy won my heart and did not relinquish its grip on me.


Leaving Puerto Natales on April 1st we enjoyed a blistering southwest tailwind across the flat, exposed pampas, but this posed another problem; what of finding a sheltered campsite that night?

Problem solved when we spotted an unoccupied gauchos 'bothy' just 50m off the road. A quick inspection revealed a clean room, four bunk-bed frames and a wood stove.....I gathered just enough wood for a fire that night and in the morning, which staved off the 2 degree temperature. Perhaps I should introduce a star rating system for these bothys? It was rather cosy actually, listening to the wind howling outside, the interior far more attractive than its outward appearance suggest.



Saturday, 30 March 2013

Three days. 25, 26, 27 March.


Three days of ripio riding would take us to Puerto Natales, and our first salt water, Ie., the sea, for several months. The landscape was big, empty.

But not without humour. At least I hoped it was a joke and not a warning.


Wild camping on this plain on the 26th saw us eat our tea and sit down with a cuppa and some chocolate biscuits, watching the sunset on one side and the full moon rise on the other.

And early the next day we saw the opposite occur.

Dawn as seen from my sleeping bag.

As an american might say, 'It was kinda neat'. We spoke about the fact that at home too many things would have prevented us from doing that, from enjoying that moment. It felt a little special. The temperature was also special at 2 degrees overnight.

Moonset the other way.

It was also special for another reason. I had collected some large rocks to help stake out the tent. A little while later I was handling one large rock when Sarah said, "Dave, that is a black widow spider". I was surprised, but sure enough there it was, sat upon its trade mark untidy egg sack, stuck to my rock. This rock was quickly and gently removed from our vicinity. I also gained a new sensitivity to all the hundreds of similar rocks which surrounded us.

There she is. You cannot see the red markings on her abdomen from this angle.


The following night we crossed the border once again. The Chilean border guards - a very happy bunch - allowing us to camp beside their building, which was good news as the forecast strong, gusting winds arrived at nightfall. At least we provided a minor diversion to the tour group buses which passed through the post the next morning.

We were very glad of the shelter afforded by the border guard post.


A conversation........ 24.03.13

A conversation between the gods of Awe and Splendour.

"Ok, listen up. We have this couple who have been biking north to south through the Americas. They are beginning to think they have seen it all; mountains, snow, salt plains, rivers, deserts, extreme weather, seas, lakes, canyons, forests, high plateaus, lowlands, etc., etc. What do we have next for them?

"Well, they are heading toward Torres del Paine".

"True. But as good as that is it is just more of the same. No, we need something they haven't seen before. Something....spectacular....beautiful.....grand...."

"Ah. It's going to be just fine. Look where they are going next."


"They are off to.... the Perito Merino Glacier....."



I was beginning to wonder where this journey could go next. Not geographically, but in the sense of what could produce the sense of wonder that I had been experiencing on an almost daily basis for some weeks now. The Perito Moreno glacier is where we went; it did not dissapoint.

The gods were correct. It was spectacular, beautiful and grand.

An ice sheet 170m thick, measuring 250 square kilometers, 30k long, and 100m high, 5k wide at the lake end. Blocks the size of several houses crack away - called calving - with loud retorts into the water causing large waves to spread out. There are constant creaks, groans, cracks and retorts as the weight of the ice relentlessly pushes from the rear towards the front. One of the few glaciers worldwide to still be advancing.

Remember, that is a wall of ice over 250' tall.

For scale....see below.