|Jeinemeni National Park behind Chile Chicos|
|The road from Chile Chico to Los Antiguos|
Chile Chico is less than 10 km from the Argentinian border so it did not take long to cross back into Argentina. Los Antiguos is the next town almost immediately over the border. You certainly could not mistake being back in Argentina with their national flag on practically every street corner. I initially thought this was possibly because it was a border town that they like to show their colours but I found out a few days later that the 25th of May is a big Argentinian national holiday. Premier Gobierno Patrio (First Patriot Goverment or Revolution of May) was the week in 1810 when people from the Rio de la Plata region set up the first government without the Spanish Viceroy. I always find it interesting on this trip to observe the similarities and differences once I cross a border. Even if there were no flags in either town a quick trip to the bakery would confirm which side of the border you were on. Obviously I celebrated my border crossing with a quality Argentinian sticky bun. My excitement at being back to fantastic bakeries was soon tempered by the stupid speeds they drive at on these long straight roads in Patagonia.
|The long and not so winding road|
That evening I arrived at the town of Perito Moreno. It was a complete boy racer town and while I was out for a stroll that evening I saw a fight break between a few young lads at the traffic lights. As far as I knew Perito Moreno was going to be the last town of any significance that I would be passing until I got to El Calafate, over six hundred kilometres further south. I knew from a while back that this long isolated stretch was coming up and it felt all too reminicent of the very start of my trip back up in Alaska when I had 800 km to get to the first town of Fairbanks. That initial isolated stretch was in the summer but I was now in the patagonian winter so while I wouldn't say that I was dreading it, I was certainly conscious of the fact that I had to be careful. I had a large supply of food with me leaving town. The girl in the bakery gave me a few looks when I bought 30 bread rolls and several buns. I was going to be following the famous Ruta 40 almost all the way. This stretch used to be mostly gravel but over recent years they have been paving lots of it.
|The guanaco is related to the llama. It has shorter fur. |
Same same but different.
|They don't always clear the fence.|
Once out of town I had a paved road and strong tail wind for the whole day which helped to get a decent distance done. I would only really notice the wind whenever I stopped because while I was cycling in the same direction and around the same speed it was almost silent and certainly quite peaceful cycling this open Patagonian expanse... bar the occasional speeding van attempting take off.It is difficult coming from Ireland to comprehend just how desolate and unpopulated this part of the world is. I wasn't counting but I probably passed less than ten buildings that day once out of Perito Moreno. Nearly all the land is owned by vast Estancias which are a kind of large estate or ranch. Although you may pass a few entrances to these various estancias in a day, many of them could have another 20 or 30 kilometres down a dirt path to get to the main house. They are extremely isolated and particularly in winter once the snow arrives. This is very much frontier territory.
Late in the afternoon with some dark ominous clouds approaching I decided to keep an eye out for shelter. Thankfully after not too long I spotted a house about a kilometre off the road. The gate was locked so I had to take all my panniers off, throw them and the bike over the gate, repack and cycle down the long drive way. Being as isolated as it is around these parts many home owners would have some sort of gun so I was certainly making sure to shout hola very regularly so as not to startle anyone! As I got closer to the house it looked like nobody was living there. This was confirmed when I went around knocking on all the doors and did a tour of the buildings. All I was looking for was some sort of shelter in case of a downpour and thankfully I found some. Around the back there was an old garage type of building with no gate. There was a slight smell of dead animal and there were a few too many animal bones than I cared for but this shelter was going to have to do. Obviously I was not the only one to have made the most of this cover from the elements with a puma probably using it occasionally. Thankfully (I suppose) the only cats I saw were two annoying little black domestic cats who pestered me for the evening sniffing and scratching at my food bags!
The rest of the day continued on a paved road with a healthy tailwind. That evening I made it to some shut up prefabricated buildings where there was just one man keeping an eye on the place. He welcomed me, seemed happy for the company and cooked a hearty stew. The buildings had been used to house workers while the road was being paved the year previous. Later that evening his supervisor happened to call by for the evening and we shared a mate together. Mate is an Argentinian obsession which is a bitter tasting finely chopped herb packed into a special cup and drunk out of a metal straw. You top the mate cup up with hot water after the few sips and pass the same cup and straw around. The only heating in the place was from the gas stove which he left burning and as there was no electricity we were using candle light. All very romantic.
|Dips in the landscape provide shelter for plenty|
of animals. I think this guanaco may have
met a puma because it wasn't road kill.
|David y Miguel, campeones de metegol!|
|The gentleman Hector Ricardo Garcia|
|The aptly named Estancia La Siberia|
|Setting of in the snow from Tres Lagos|
|Alaska bound. Great photos on his Facebook page EcosistemaAmerica|
The day I finally cycled into El Calafate I was more wrapped up than I have ever been on this trip.. two pairs of thick merino wool socks, my water proof cycling shoes, neoprene shoe covers, cycling leggings, water proof trousers over that, several tops, rain coat, two hats, buff, hood and two pairs of glooves. My hands and feet were still a bit cold! Before I could ring Lucas, my couch surfing host in El Calafate, I needed to visit the local mobil phone shop to try and fix my phone. I had to take a step back from the counter when I realised that I wasn't quite smelling of roses. That is one of the problems with all the layering is that it can be tricky to regulate the temperature. It was definitely time for a shower and a clothes wash!
I didn't want to seem rude when I arrived into Lucas house but I couldn't help but laugh a little at the absolute state I made of the front of Lucas apartment when I wheeled my bike and gear in. The muck and sleet combination went everywhere. - Disculpe por el caos Lucas!
|Perito Moreno glacier|
El Calafate is a popular tourist destination in southern Patagonia primarily due to it's proximity to UNESCO world heritage site of Perito Moreno Glacier. Taking a break from the bike I got a tourist bus out to the national park to view it. The bus dumped you out there for a few hours and I was initially wondering what I would do to pass the time waiting for the bus to return. As it turned out I was quite glad to have hours to mostly just stand there and stare at this massive wonder.
|50 metres high and stretching back 14 kilometres|
|Lucas trying out the bike before I finally hit the road|
|Slip sliding away|
|The truck for de-icing the road had skidded off in the ice!|
I had 140 km from La Esperanza to Rio Gallegos so I was hoping for some of those favorable headwinds and some decent road conditions. Leaving the camp the police man at the gate told me that there had been rain during the night so to watch out for the ice. After a cautious start the road seemed okay as it appeared to have been treated to melt the ice. The traffic was driving significantly slower than usual so it was obviously quite easy to skid. After about 20 km suddenly the road became very icy and slippery. I skidded and fell off my bike. Thankfully it was a relatively slow motion fall so I was fine. All around me was extremely slippery. It was difficult to get cycling again along this particular stretch of road as it was so slippery. It was hard to get a speed up and I almost felt the slower you go the more likely you are to fall. While walking the bike back onto the road a few times I had to take baby steps of literally a few inches at a time. I decided to cycle along the gravel at the side of the road and even that was icy but better than the road. There was no way I was going to get close to Rio Gallegos if these conditions continued. After around three kilometres I came upon a truck that had skidded off the road. It turned out that this was the truck for treating the ice on the road but it had had to swerve off the road to avoid another lorry that was sliding into it's path. I talked to the guy who was minding the truck and he said he was fine. The road had been treated from this point on so I was able to cycle properly again. It was incredible the difference between where the road had been treated and where it was still just ice.
|My first sighting of a sign for Ushuaia on my way into Rio Gallegos|
|An asado in Federico's place|
It was a long monotonous stretch for the most part and I made sure to keep an eye out for any icy patches. That evening I arrived into Rio Gallegos at about 7.30 pm shortly after Argentina had kicked off in their first match of the world cup. The place was like a ghost town. Federico, my couch surfing friend met me at his house and after a quick shower I was off to his friends house to catch the second half of the match. Argentina is well know for it's meat and grills but with the nature of this trip and had not really had much of a chance to experience this. I certainly made up for that during the time I spent in Rio Gallegos with Federico consuming several meat feasts. He also introduced me to another Argentinian institution which is Fernet Branca which I briefly grew to like while in Gallegos but it was a short lived love affair!
|Another fantastic asado with the lads|
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