29th of October till 9th of November 2019.
Wild is the wind.
Only when you have been here you would understand what they mean with Patagonian winds. Only when you have been outside when nature is a raging beast you understand when they say the wind can be brutal and can drive you insane.
I know that the dates don’t match with week numbers completely but a slight alternation is needed to keep the whole Torres Del Paine story together and give you an insight into El Calafate and El Chalten. Besides Torres Del Paine, El Calafate and El Chalten are the other two highlights not to be missed in Patagonia. Or is Patagonia only endless roads with brutal winds, condors hoovering above your head, guanacos watching you when you’re pushing by?
On a bus.
After an amazing week in Puerto Natales where our walking legs got much stronger due to hiking the W-trek, we headed with the bus to El Chalten. For people following us on the map: El Chalten would be the village after O’Higgins. But we took the boat to Puerto Natales because the passage between O’Higgins and El Chalten was closed. We could have waited for the passage to open but are happy we already hiked Torres in the mean time. Now taking the bikes to El Chalten means changing buses 3 times to get to where we more or less ended some time ago.
Down Argentina way.
Crossing the border back to Argentina. Raging wind rocking the bus from side to side. Driving in the middle of the road as the wind could push it of the road. Only going to the side when there is oncoming traffic. We look with different eyes. Looking at shelter possibilities, checking at the same time what iOverlander says, how people drive and if there is escape possibility when on the bike. But mainly crocheting or sleeping, so as not to completely spoil the surprise when we will be biking this road back down South again. We do wonder how it would be if you have headwind or from the side with the same force as today.
Arriving in town late. Cold, windy and it starts to rain. Surprised that the 3 first accommodations we check are fully booked if you want to have 3 days at the same place. We finally go where Roel is staying even if this means biking to the other side of town against a fierce headwind.
Being tired of not having biked we don’t want to go out for dinner but cook a simple meal, the benefit of staying in a hostal. No cutlery available, as it seems that visitors take it with them. Even pots and pans seems to disappear when people go hiking (and they don’t return them).
El Chalten is 95% a tourist town catering for climbers and hikers.
One sweet world.
Main attraction is the mountain FitzRoy.
Some Wikipedia background: The first Europeans recorded as seeing Mount FitzRoy were the Spanish explorer Antonio de Viedma and his companions, who in 1783 reached the shores of Viedma lake.
Argentine explorer Francisco Moreno saw the mountain on 2 March 1877. He named it FitzRoy in honour of Robert FitzRoy who, as captain of HMS Beagle in 1834, charted large parts of the Patagonian coast.
Cerro is a Spanish word meaning hill, while Chaltén comes from a Teluelche word meaning “smoking mountain”, due to a cloud that usually forms around the mountain’s peak. FitzRoy, however, was only one of a number of peaks the Tehuelche called Chaltén.
Come rain or come shine.
Next day rain is pouring down and weather forecast says it will stay like this the remainder of the day but tomorrow should be better. Easy decision to just stay in, as we have enough time to wait for a good weather slot. Did you know Robert FitzRoy was the first person to work on a weather forecast and even made it available for small fishing villages in the UK, limiting the number of widows.
In the evening we enjoy a juicy steak together with Roel. Fun is spoiled a bit by the annoying waiter, or maybe he is the owner? We are not used anymore to the arrogant attitude of people who have served too many arrogant tourists. Frank thinks he has some kind of social disorder, as he behaves totally ridiculous towards the customers.
Next day we are greeted by sunshine. Bright blue sky dotted with a few white, fluffy clouds.
Discovering and hiking FitzRoy is a joy. Beautiful hike, 8 km easy, 1 km super steep. Argentina offers this park for free to all visitors. Hence it is crazily busy at the last kilometer.
Like ants people are crawling up and down the mountain. Arriving at the end of the hike you view the frozen lake in front of Mount FitzRoy (3,375 m), enjoying the view and watching people crawling around.
We spot people moving towards another top. As we try not to pre-read too much we almost missed the second lake. A beautiful admiral blue lake, we did not know was there! The few vertical meters make a difference between a frozen lake that people walk on, or a non-frozen one. @weleaf were here 11 months ago and said they even could swim in the lake that is now frozen. So strange how only a few weeks can make such difference.
Highly recommended hike!
We cook together with Roel and enjoy vegetables for the first time in a long time.
Next day we hike the Laguna Torre Hike.
Smooth hike to the glacier lake with a few moderate hills. Bit of wind, more overcast than yesterday. Also here the impact of a few forest fires. Wind is picking up.
Crossing a last hill we are hit by a raging icy wind. Hits us square in the face as its speeds over the lake, but even the wind does not blow away the clouds around these Torres mountains. Again we are blown away by the force and beauty of nature.
Our sore legs get a rest day before we head off again, together with Roel.
First 80 kilometers the winds are in our favor and we fly across the pampas.
Following RP23 is really fun! 80 kilometers done, way before lunch. Our record!
Take a walk.
At one moment the roads bents a bit making it already more challenging. Followed by a T crossing where we have to go right. The force is against us now! As we are almost swept to the middle of the road, as the wind comes in gusts so no prediction on how hard to steer against the wind, we decide to push the bikes. During the next 25 kilometers we try to bike but not hearing anything but the deafening wind, combined with being swept to the middle of the road is not a wise combination. More pushing than biking. 4 hours did it take us to cover the next 20 km to a road stop offering the first shelter we encounter.
Then a discussion spins off on what to do next. I think, if we would have been with the 2 of us, we would have camped or taken a room in the hotel. Would have looked the next day at what to do. Roel suggest to already try to hitch hike. Seems that tomorrow the wind will be even more fierce, distance to next shelter (El Calafate) is +100 km and most of the time the wind will not be in our favor. And why not arrange transport now as you probably would anyhow do tomorrow, saves you staying here. I get elected as the one to ask around if anybody would be willing to take us. Pick-ups can’t take you against payment if they are no taxi company (not insured). The first touring cars refuse as they also say that we would not be covered if anything would happen and then suddenly a touring car with local people takes us all the way to EL Calafate, for free.
My head spins sitting in the warmth of the bus and seeing the landscape gliding past. I don’t feel anything of the harsh conditions and wonder if this was the good decision to take. Of course it saved us pushing and struggling tomorrow and a night in an expensive hotel or being exposed to the elements in the tent, but now we are taking a bus back South while we wanted to bike. The fact of being with more than only the two of us impacts decisions. Arriving in El Calafate we go to hostal De Las Manos together. As it has a dorm but also private rooms and a small kitchen we are happy with what it offers. Cook a quick meal and ready for bed. Next day we discover the village and arrange transport to Perito Moreno glacier. We hope we can still arrange a boat trip when we are there and maybe even a glacier hike.
Perito Moreno is one of the most active Glaciers, shedding 2 meters of ice at the front per day, but also gaining the same amount. 250 km2 of ice, 30 km in length, is one of 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field located in the Andes system shared with Chile. This ice field is the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water.
Highest point sticking 70 meter out of the water with 120 meter hidden beneath. Walkways make the visit get a little bit of a Wald Disney feeling but at least nature is protected and people are restricted to where they can walk.
We also take the 1 hour boat ride to be as close as possible.
New on my wish list is a glacier hike, but not for now.
Needing to find a new mattress, as Frank’s has exploded, we need to spend an extra day in town.
And then we are off again with the 3 of us. Roel wants to join until he will take the detour to Torres Del Paine.
Leaving El Calafate with a slight side wind, blue sky and great asphalt.
Also here we are in awe to see that man has claimed all the land. Kilometer after kilometer land is fenced off. Not seeing a lot of farm life as the ground is barren. But the fences are so high that guanacos are caught in them. Must be a horrible death hanging up side down and not being able to free yourself. But then we see one that is still moving its head. Cut the wires and keep it down as we want to see if we can take it to a vet to get the barbwire removed from it’s belly. Trying waving a car down, the first one takes off when he sees a guanaco is involved. The next one turns around and comes to check out what is happening. But when he sees the blood and when he understands that we would like to take the guanaco to the vet he says he can’t do anything. No need to take a wounded animal anywhere. When I suggest he could kill it when it would be too severely hurt, he escapes in a hurry pass, after suggesting we could do it as nobody would be offended.
We try to remove the wires and turn it facing towards its herd. He does move forward a bit but can’t stand up. To not stress him more we leave him and hope for the best. At least he will not die a terrible death, maybe get eaten by a puma but that would be a faster death than hanging in a fence up-side down.
Beautiful asphalt with an encounter of other cyclists just starting their adventure in combination with little traffic brings us to the intersection where we will turn right tomorrow. As there is still a strong wind we ask with AGVP (Administración General de Vialidad Provincial = provicial road administration) to shelter at their place. We can set-up the tent behind or in front of the building. Roel takes the one in front of the building as it also offers shelter against rain, but the remaining space is too small so we go behind the big barn. When I ask where the toilets are the caretaker points to the field. At least he lets us shelter.
Road RP7 is a dream. You cross a cattle grid and it feels if you enter even more wildness, especially in combination with gravel. What a different feeling not seeing any fences. And it is as if the animals have that feeling too. We see guanacos, ostriches, foxes and lots of birds in a blue sky and almost no wind, making it one of those perfect days.
We wonder to sleep at a gravel pit before the junction with the asphalt road but as we are running low on water we decide to continue to the next AGVP location. Just before that we meet Kyla, just started from Ushuaia, biking North. She asks if she could join us, where-ever we would spend the night. She is still trying things out as it is the first time for her on a road trip and being on her own. I totally understand that she did not want to stay on her own at the road workers place.
AGVP facilitates road-workers to rest at night and a shelter for their machines. There is one person responsible per location, working 14 days on and off. How much more welcoming Damian is compared to the guy at the previous intersection. Here they even offer you to sleep in one of their old lodgings, for free. You could even shower and use a toilet inside. He is happy with a small tip. Only disadvantage is that in the middle of nowhere they only have electricity (and WIFI!) through a diesel generator, producing a lot of noise. Fun evening together with Kyla who lives in Alaska and is used to the remote life. Lives in a cabin without running water. Sharing road info, fun to see there is no difference in generations once you are on the road with your bike. What an end of this week.