24th till 30th of November.
One of the main inspiration sources of which roads to take is the www.bikepacking.com website. Of course you can try to plan everything yourself and especially with the MapOut app it is easy to plan a route but we love to alternate own planning with a route which has been ridden and described. We noticed that especially in the beginning of our trip we would have dared to do more extreme roads if we could have read about it.
For crossing Tierra Del Fuego we will follow a part of the bikepacking suggestion. Starts from the tiny harbour village Porvenir and has a difficulty 5 out of 10, which is suitable for us and our set-up.
Minimal 8 days without resupply or a detour after a few days to Rio Grande. Before leaving we already decide we will detour and add a rest day as we have enough time. Loaded with food for 5 days means at least 8 kilogram extra: breakfast, lunch and dinner. This does not include the water.
In Porvenir we are staying in a hostal that has breakfast included and we can’t resist to wait for it even if this means that we only leave at 9:00. That is also something which still amazes me. We have set 99% of the time an alarm to get up on time, we lunch at 12:30. No go with the flow. Still a rhythm.
Boys from Brazil.
What a joy it is to start straight away with the Y71, gravel road. Bit later we see Aldeir, from Brazil, who was also on the ferry when we arrived. Just started a 3 week biking holiday, focused 100% on Tierra Del Fuego. Biking strong, hills are sometimes conquered by pushing. We are bit stronger up-hill, he is faster on level ground and also taking a lot of photo’s! Very quiet guy.
The fjord we are following is lined with some fishing shacks. No flat road but roller coasters ensure eye candy. Fun to see a beaver during our lunch break. What a big animal. Seems that they are not native, introduced in the 1940’s for their fur and now having a major negative impact on flora and fauna.
For the first time it is really beautiful weather, but still not warm enough to bike in shorts. Enjoying cruising in the sun. Hills dotted with fluffy sheep.
What a luxury that the government has erected refugios here, the first one at 56 km from Povenir. We want to visit the King Penguins which are located at another 55 km, but closed on Monday. This made us decide to take the risk of having bad weather tomorrow but enjoy the sun today while it lasts. Aldeir continues.
We don’t mind as the refugio is not really big and the platform which is meant as sleeping quarters is designed for 2 people. Frank enjoys readying in the sun while I go for a stroll. Once in a while it is good to be alone.
Today we bike from refugio 1 to refusio 3. And the weather god is not in our favour. Where normally we would have the wind in our back he decides to build our character and we get a straight headwind. Very slow progress. What a difference whether you have head or tailwind. Not only for the calories you have to burn to make some progress but also for what you can wear. What is even worse is the expectations you have: this stretch is known for its awesome tailwinds when biking South, only once in so many days you would face head winds…
To make the day into a character building experience 2.0, sheets of rain are added to the experience. The only reason we continue is knowing there is a shelter at 40 km and there is no possibility to set-up camp in this weather with everything being as flat as a pancake and a maddening wind. My mind wanders off and alternates between counting (what I also do when biking uphill) and making a wish list of plants I want to grow in the garden I hope to have soon. Vegetables and herbs which I hope to get from people around me. Even dreaming about own chicken and great eggs. Frank is dreaming of being home and even admits that for him it would be enough if the trip would be over tomorrow. Last last miles are the longest, in Dutch “de laatste loodjes wegen het zwaarst”.
Shelter from the rain.
So happy to see the new black building. Sad to see that the door is already broken and lose from its hinges, so it got wet inside. And we will have to share. Philippe from Germany just started from Ushuaia and happy to be inside. He does not mind to share the cabin, lucky us. And we even share the 2 person sleeping space. Our 3 mattresses just fit, if we would have still have had the 2 Exped mattresses it would not have fitted. We sleep head/toe/head as 3 pairs of shoulders would be too wide. But we don’t complain when we hear the night rain hammering on the roof. There was a brief nice weather window at the end of the evening. Best ever is that Frank can light the stove, at least some of our gear gets a tiny bit dryer.
Morning sunshine and less wind makes it easy to pack and go. As we are heading towards the East we knew we would have more wind but after yesterday it feels even less. Still it takes us 2 hours to cover 15 km and reach the King Penguin park. They have been living here thousands of years ago but were also chased away by the white man. Now they have returned and started a new colony. The farmer owning this land saw the opportunity. Built 2 bird spotting shelters, an information center and a big fence around his property. At least he ensures the birds are protected and not too much disturbed.
Closed on Monday and not cheap but one of the few places in the world where you can see those giants, being 1.20 meter tall and with a beautiful colour we do understand why they are called King Penguin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAgHN_qKpCM
We get invited by Michael and Claudia from 2like2bike. Normally travelling by bike, covering thousands of kilometers, but now having the luxury of a camper to discover this area. Fun to share experiences with a couple similar to our age. They have kids at home and are still doing this!
So happy I could ask some crackers, we are moving slower than expected and lunch supply is already running thin. At least they understand the conditions and the slow progress.
1 km before Cameron, a 62 people village with no shops, we decide to sleep in the new refugio. 3 bunk beds with an amazing space and immense windows. Clean the dishes in rainwater which was collected at the side of the road. Frank swiping the floor with his tent broom. Great night sleep as no rain or strong winds or other people.
Day 3 can have a slow start as we only have to cover 39 km to Russfin, a small settlement around a sawmill. Beautiful ride through an great guanaco dotted valley. Visiting a rusting gold digging machine and reaching the mill way before dinner.
Hm, different than expected. Wild camping would have been more fun at the valley but here we have the possibility to take a shower, enjoy a prepared dinner together with other guests and Aldeir. You can choose between a dorm bed, a normal room or for a tiny bit more a superior room in the quiet management building. We notice that we are having a different approach of selecting rooms now our trip is nearing its end.
A thousand trees.
I can’t resist to ask if we would be able to visit the production site and they are more than happy to show us around. Laser guided cutting, good protection, they comply with Canadian standards, are certified and all electricity being produced by the wood waste. They only work with a native tree called lenga, a kind of beech. They get the wood from 70 km away. Don’t replant as it is too slow growing… Trees between 40-80 years old find their way to here. Lenga grows back easily when there have been forest fires. Looks like our beech especially once it has been cut and worked on.
Aldeir has spent two nights here as he covered too many kilometers in the first days and was happy to have a real bed and some wine.
You wonder why they have a hotel, have too many travelers knocked on their door for camping? No they facilitated a few years ago foreign investigators and workers which were looking for oil. No oil found but still having the facilities they have opened it up for travelers, generating a nice extra income.
Amusing example of miscommunication and presumptions. I asked yesterday if I could order bread to take away and not knowing the size of the bread I ordered one. She said I would get it for free. In the morning I asked again if I could get bread, she indicating it would only be the small one we had for breakfast. Ha of those I need at least 12 for the next few days. They baked them for us and of course we paid for them.
Wonderful ride on endless roads, herds of guanacos which seem less shy, foxes, geese. We love the endless steppe or is it a desert?
While Aldeir takes a detour to Languna Blanca, we cross border from Chili into Argentina for the last time.
They even check our bags leaving Chili but at the Argentinian side it is just a stamp in our passport. Again you see you should not depend on what others get, previous bikers described that they got meat, empanadas, fruit at the Argentinian border. Non of this is shared with us, happy we have enough own food. At both crossing we are the only people.
Today was a farytale.
Wild camping is allowed, our rule is that we don’t climb fences and prefer to be hidden from the road. We find the perfect spot in an old lenga forest, feels as being in a fairytale. Magic that it only get dark at 22:00, perfect relaxed evening with no wind or rain with great food.
I wanna be your dog.
We continue on RP8, estancia Aurelia being the first real farm we see in Argentina (one earlier but abandoned). One major downhill and I loose track of Frank. Big white dog scares the shit out of me. No Frank around makes me brave and cuddle this really cute big monster, naming it Pinky.
After 10 minutes Frank is still not there, biking back Pinky follows me, seems that Frank lost his sunglasses at the campground and had to bike back. During the next 10 kilometers we have Pinky as a companion, even give her water as she speeds when we bike downhill. Does not want to go home. So we stop a car to ask if the driver knows her, he does not but will ask around. Next half hour an other car stops going to the city. Does not know her either but wants to take her as he believes it is not a farm dog. She willingly gets into the car and takes off.
Our happy feeling is of a short duration as a bit later the first car comes back and the man says the dog is from an ranch next to Aurelia. Hope she will find her way back home (I have sent the photo of her and the driver to finca Aurelia, hope they know him). She is so cute, I also want to have a dog!
After 55 km you would normally turn right to follow the bike packing route but we have decided to stock-up and have a rest day in Rio Grande. Our beautiful gravel road connects with the R3, busy asphalt road but with a shoulder which is wide enough to be safe. The detour is no fun as the last 15 km are full headwind.
Everything has a price to pay.
At the entrance of the city we enjoy a good coffee at the YPG gasoline station. Lots of motor bikers. Great contact with a group of Argentinian friends who are driving down South on the R3. For the first time in our trip one of them asks how we finance a trip as long as ours. Explain of both having worked for +100%, saved for 10 years to enable Frank to stop 3 years earlier than his retirement and give me the opportunity to also stop for a while if we would undertake an adventure. How we decided to do this trip in a weekend. And that life is less expensive than at home when you bike and don’t have the cost of a house or all the fancy food you can buy in Europe, not forgetting social life. And all of this explained in Spanish!
Rio Grande is an industrial, harbour town. Choice between either a cheap hostal or a better apartment with all the facilities (even washing machine). We go for the better, feels almost as being at home. Hanging around on Saturday, Frank even not leaving our tiny home while I ensure we have enough food to cook at home and to cover the next days.
Will you join us during our last week biking?