Into the Pampas: Torres del Paine to El Calafate

2/21/2002; 51º06' south- Camp Pehoe. Rode 10km in 2.5hrs.

While at Scott's place in Santiago I met Tenille, who guides biking and hiking trips for a company called Backroads. She was absolutely in love with Torres del Paine, but she could not fathom why we would want to ride our bikes there. Now I know why. Wind & hills. We had the wind riding from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, and the hills on the ride up to the park, but now we have both. To quote a famous musical- E-Gads! At one point I was blown to a complete stand still- going down hill! After 2.5 hours of all out war, we call it quits and pitch the tent across the road from the Pehoe campground (which costs $9 per person, which Mandy and I decide is a bit steep). After discretely setting up camp behind a grove of trees, we walk across the road to get some water. The campground host tells us that camping is not allowed across the street, and we say "right" and proceed to fill up our water bottles and head back to camp for dinner. 45 minutes later the host shows up with two park rangers, and we are forced to finish up dinner, break camp, and move across the street. Mandy, however, manages to sweet talk another host in to letting us stay for free. The campsite wasn't all that great, but our neighbors (on vacation from Punta Arenas) invited us over for parilla- chilean barbecue. And when chileans do parilla, they do it up right- there were several chickens, a couple of pounds of sausage and a pound of hot dogs on the grill just for dinner. They proudly showed us tomorrows dinner as well- half a lamb stashed in the trunk of their toyota corola.

Amigos from Punta Arenas

2/22/2002; 51º09' south- Estancia Hector. Rode 50km in 8hrs; hitched 10km to Estancia:

We woke to light rain, which got worse as soon as we started packing. Motivation is at an all time low, but we finish packing, bid our friends adieu, and start down the road. Rain, wind, hills- what more could we ask for? We are really having fun now! After about 5km we turn the corner and head down wind, the rain stops, but the hills keep going for another 15km. At least we see some wildlife along the way- Guanuco and Fox.

Guanuco

El Zorro hanging around the Almacen (store) looking for handouts.

By the time we reach Laguna Amarga, I am ready for a break and we decide to catch a bus to Cerro Castillo. The only problem is that Laguna Amarga is the last stop for the bus coming out of the park, and by the time they arrive there is no room for the two of us with bikes and gear. So after getting turned down by several busses, we decide to keep on riding. For another 20km we have relatively easy down wind riding, until we turn the corner around the end of Lago Sarmiento and are hit by vicious side winds. We struggle for another 10km, and then hitch a ride with a nice guy by the name of Louise who works for the local equivalent of the department of transportation and who is able to hoist my bike and gear (over 100lbs) into the back of his truck without breaking a sweat. He is not going all of the way to Cerro Castillo, but offers to drop us off at an Estancia about 20km out of town, where he says we will be able to camp. As we are driving along the lonely road he puts in a tape labeled "musica oeste", and out of the speakers comes the haunting whistle of the theme to "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly". Perfect! After a short ride he drops us off at the Estancia and tells us that they are good people, just go up and ask to camp. So that we do, and the owner Hector insists that we stay in the vaqueros quarters, which are empty except for one vaquero since this is the low season for ranching. They also invite us in for dinner, and we enjoy lamb stew and a nice conversation with Hector Jr. Later we have a hot bath with water heated by the wood stove, and then off to bed.

2/23/2002; 51º15' south- Cerro Castillo. Rode 20km in 2hrs:

Mandy woke early and was out and about with the vaqueros getting a taste of the life on a Patagonian ranch while I slept in and had a casual breakfast. As I was biting in to my second biscuit with jelly, Mandy poked her head in the door and said "Quick, get your camera, they are about to brand some cattle". The vaqueros had a bull and a cow in a small round corral, and roped each one in turn, hobbled its hind legs, and branded them and cut a piece out of their ears. Ew. Good thing I didn't have a big breakfast! Later as we rode away, we waved to Hector Jr. and a vaquero as they rounded up some more cattle with the estancia and a beautiful mountain behind them.

Hector Jr. and a ranch hand herding cattle in front of the Estancia with Mt. Balmeceda in the background.

2/24/2002; 51º15' south- Cerro Castillo. Layover day:

Even though we only rode 20km yesterday my knees are still on the rebound, and so we decided to give them a full day to mend even though Cerro Castillo is not exactly the most thrilling place in the world. The highlight of the day for Mandy was picking Calafate berries with a couple of local kids. Legend has it that once you taste a Calafate berry, you are destined to return to Magellen. We also befriended Fernando, the local tourist information representative, museum curator and switchboard operator (the switchboard in Cerro Castillo consists of a single phone with call waiting and call forward capability). Fernando grew up in Puerto Natales where he stays on his days off with his mother and three brothers. He had a lot of good information about the area, and spent some time with me adding and correcting regional information for my web site. He has contributed to the local tourist information web site (click here), and has also taken many beautiful photos which are found in guide books and pamphlets of the region.

The gas station in Cerro Castillo

2/25/2002; 50º53' south- Camp on Ruta 40, Argentina. Rode 70km in 7hrs:

The first order of business was to get our exit visa at the Chilean guard post. I was a bit concerned that my replacement passport would not be accepted, but the border guard had obviously seen a replacement before, and I had no problems. Then we waited a bit for our friend Fernando to return from Puerto Natales with some carrots and apples, and then we are off. As we leave Chile, four soaring Condors bid us farewell. We just beat the 10:00am bus to the Argentine border, and we ride off on our bikes as the bus load of tourists look on.

We are now officially riding on Ruta 40, "La Quarenta" in Argentina. The road surface is commonly referred to as "ripio", and so I looked up ripio in my spanish/english dictionary: ripio [s.m.]- debris, refuse, rubble. That about sums it up. The seat post shock is a godsend. The good news is that we have a strong tail wind, and so we make good time despite the loose, rocky, washboard surface. Along the way we meet an Italian riding the other direction who has been on his bike for the past 8 months riding down from Columbia. He rode most of ruta 40 down from Perito Moreno (600km north of where we are), and does not have much good to say about it. All ripio, few ranches, few cars, little water, boring. We chat for a bit and then bid him adieu, and he faces into the wind and starts peddling like a madman in low gear. Now there is a guy who knows how to ride Patagonia. At 5:00pm we call it quits for the day and set up camp on the lee side of a pile of rubble in the middle of nowhere- best campsite for miles.

2/26/2002; 50º27' south- Camp on Ruta 40, Argentina. Rode 30km in 4hrs, hitched 10km, rode 20km in 2.5hrs:

Onward through the Argentine pampas. This place makes Montana- the "Big Sky" state- look like a fishbowl. After 30km of ripio our buts and backs have had it, and we hitch a ride for 10km to where ruta 40 intersects the road from Rio Gallegos and heads west to El Calafate. The good news is that the road is paved from here to Calafate; the bad news is that the wind is directly in our faces. And it is strong. We do battle for 2.5 hours, argue about how best to hitch-hike, don't get a ride and set up camp in a ditch on the lee side of the highway. Welcome home.

2/27/2002; 50º27' south- El Calafate, Argentina. Rode 70km in 5hrs:

A good day of riding. The plan was to wake up early to avoid the worst of the wind, and so the alarm went off at 6:00am and we awoke to the patter of rain on the tent. Not the greatest motivation for another day of riding in the pampas. But at least there is little wind, so we roll out of bed and start packing to see what the day will bring. After a spectacular sunrise we are packed and on the road by 8, starting off with about 10km of uphill. Then we reach a long downhill run, and go 10km in 20 minutes, hitting a maximum speed of 45km/hr. Yeehaa!!!! Another 50km of long flat stretches with moderate hills and moderate headwinds brings us to El Calafate by about 2:00pm. Back in civilization again- restaruants, internet, ice cream. Tomorrow we are off to view the Perito Moreno Glaciar.

Sunrise over the pampas

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