Friday, 31 December 2010
WINDS OF WRATH ON ROAD TO HELL
When I read this title I wonder if perhaps I’m not exaggerating the experience – but that just shows you how easily one forgets! Previously, cycling South along the Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia, I’d had some troubles – mostly relating to rain and cold conditions. Since my last report from Coyhaique however, I’d started to experience some unnervingly strong winds even before crossing the border into Argentina. Fortunately those winds were mostly in my favour as I was moving in an Easterly direction by that time (the wind in Patagonia is mostly from the West, but don’t rely on that as it can change in a minute!). I’d taken the ferry across the wind-whipped Lagos General Carrera to the town of Chile Chico, from where I crossed into Argentina and was blown through the semi-desert scrub Eastwards along the shores of the same lake (now called Lagos Beunos Aires) to the farming town of Perito Moreno. This was the point from where I was to tackle the INFAMOUS ROUTE 40 South. Not unexpectedly my good fortune soon ended, the paved road didn’t last long, and I was now moving Southwards with the wind almost directly side-on. Just keeping the bike on the loose stony surface became an exhausting task, and any form of shelter for setting up camp at night was rather scarce (I camped in ditches along the road, in the storage shed of a government road camp, and behind a rather inadequate thorn bush – providing me with a puncture for my troubles). I also had to carry plenty of water, as most of the rivers indicated on the map were either dry, or far and inaccessible from the road. The loose road surface meant that I had no base from which to resist the wind, and on one particularly exposed stretch I was not only being blown off the road while cycling or pushing the bike, I was also being blown over just standing and trying to hold the bike upright (in my ignorance I used to think that such powerful gusting winds should have a name and be mentioned on TV News – which usually includes a damage report!). After a number of spectacular crashes I was sitting in the dust next to my bike wondering what to do next, when a pickup truck appeared from beyond the horizon and thankfully gave me a lift to where they turned off – after that some hills provided a little protection and I could struggle onwards to the tiny village of Tres Lagos (luckily there was a protected camp site, as well as a shop – I was running out of food due to the lack of “pit-stops” along that isolated route). Enough of the woeful stories, because further South there were more paved roads and I managed to grind my way through Argentinian Patagonia back into the Southern part of Chile. (I stayed over a day in the touristy El Calafate, and on Xmas eve I was camping in the shelter of the petrol station at a hamlet called La Esperanza – and the locals kindly invited me to their Xmas party where I was stuffed full of meat and beer). Back in Chile at the hostel campsite in the town of Puerto Natales, the day after Xmas, I met up with Leana again. She had been stuck there for a couple of weeks and she could still barely walk from the ankle injuries she sustained while on a trek in the nearby Torres Del Paine Nat Park. Although my rough plan was to carry on South to Ushuaia, we went to enquire about the ship back North to Puerto Montt. The Navimag ship “Evangelistas” was leaving on the night of the 27th- I was also looking forward to getting back out of the miserable weather – and when Leana offered to pay for my passage I wasn’t going to refuse! It turned out to be a wonderful 3-day voyage through the maze of fjords and channels, with close views of glaciers and snowy mountain islands (not to mention the good food and rest I got on the ship!). So, more than 4 weeks and 2000 km after heading South into Patagonia, I’m happy to be back in Puerto Montt. Since we´ve arrived this morning it feels incredibly hot and humid – probably in relation to the cold which I´d become accustomed to in Patagonia (I´m looking forward to cycling in shorts/t-shirt/sandals). From here we’ll probably take a more leisurely and slightly different route North than what I did on my way South (hopefully Leana´s feet can hold up to the cycling). Daily distances cycled since my last report from Coyhaique have been:- Cerra Castillo 90 km; Chile Chico 36 km (+ ferry); Perito Moreno (Argentina) 79 km; Unnamed Camp 103 km; Bajo Caracoles 35 km; Las Horquetas 95 km; Lagos Cardiel 96 km; Tres Lagos 68 km (+ lift); Lagos Viedma 56 km; El Calafate 117 km; La Esperanza 167 km; Tami Aike 81 km; and Puerto Natales (Chile) 114 km. Total distance cycled so far in South America is 2 985 km, and total for the trip is 69 454 km.