The last days in Argentina and Chile

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After a rest day in Fiambala I headed on. To be honest my motivation to cycle was quite low. Over the last two weeks I was always focused on getting over the Paso de San Francisco and that was done now. I needed a new goal.

Luckily I bumped in to Luis, who was on the way back south to his home city San Juan. I joined him and we had two great cycling days. After more than two months of cycling along I enjoyed having some company, it’s so different to have conversation. When we reached a junction with the Ruta 40, we had to split up. I turned north towards the city of Salta, while Luis cycled south. Though I wasn’t alone for a long time. Just 30 km later I met another cyclist. Adrien from France was riding north as well, so we teamed up.

Most of the time we were surrounded again by the typical dry environment I had experienced already further south so often. But then there were surprisingly lots of green areas, especially around the few villages, what was new for me and didn’t feel like Argentina to me. It was a nice change for my eyes.

A few days later we rolled into Cafayate. It’s surrounded by vineyards and so it wasn’t a surprise to be a quite touristic town. It turned out we got there just for the right time, as at there was happening a wine festival with free tastings at night. Of course we didn’t miss that and I could improve my knowledge about wine quite a bit.

Salta is the capital of the same named province and the biggest city in the north of Argentina. I wasn’t really keen to go there, but I had to pick up my new passport, I had applied for in Bariloche, from the German consulate there. The plan was to stay two nights and then head back straight into the Andes.

It came differently. Although I had received a mail from the German embassy in Buenos Aires that my passport is already in Salta, it wasn’t there. For a week I got every time I went to the consulate the answer that it will arrive tomorrow. Of course it didn’t. I thought it would be the Argentinian Post, who messed it up. But then it turned out the embassy in Buenos Aires has never sent it to Salta but had marked it in the computer system as sent. Anyway, at least I knew then, that the passport will arrive a few days later. In the meanwhile I organized my yellow fever vaccination, what was surprisingly easy and even for free. After almost two weeks I got eventually my passport and was free to leave the rather boring city of Salta.

blog_pasosico (1 von 38)camping and cooking with Luis

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Ruta 40 – very often it’s just a straight road like this

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What a place

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The camping in Salta. There I spent two weeks waiting for my passport. Not really exciting.

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Together with Adrien, who waited with me in Salta. It felt so good being on the bike again and not being trapped in an ugly city. Through a long valley, past lots of cactuses and a few villages we got over 4000m pass to San Antonio de los Cobres, a small town in the middle of nowhere, just surrounded by rocks and dust. It felt different to other Argentinian towns. Like already in the villages before, most of the population is indigenous.

We rested a day to get more acclimatized before we started our last cycling leg of Argentina. Our bikes were heavy, as we were carrying supplies for about a week and already after a few kilometers I figured out, that it’s not going to be an easy ride. The road condition wasn’t the best and especially the headwind made it very slow. Still we got over the first highpoint of 4500m.

Another problem is finding a suitable place to camp in this wind. Some dunes gave our tents just little protection, but it worked out somehow. The nights are freezing cold over 4000m. The water bottles were completely frozen the next morning, but once the sun was out, it became quite warm quickly.

One night we spent at the border control. The guys there were great and gave us a luxury room with bunk beds, a kitchen and a hot shower. But the best were the bowl of Empenadas they gave us for dinner. Not a bad last night at all in Argentina.

Before we could leave the next morning we had to go through the customs again. After crossing the border between Argentina and Chile nine times, I was used to the process, but this time they made it bit more complicated than usually. For a reason one guy was determined to find an ID number on my bike, although I told him more than once, that he won’t find one. He figured it out himself after searching on the complete frame for a while, but he still needed that number for document. All the border crossings before no one needed it. Anyways, at the end he took just any number and gave me the papers. Border bureaucracy can be weird sometimes.

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From the high point on 4080m before Sant Antonio

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And the first high point of Paso de Sico

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The mornings were freezing in high altitude

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Olacapato – tough life there I guess

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Ten kilometers later we crossed the actual border to Chile. Time to say finally good bye to this huge but impressing country. I had definitely a great time there and hope to come back one day. There’s still heaps to see. Thanks to all those kind people, who helped in a way. Muchas Gracias!

The landscape changed a bit, it got more volcanic around us and it looked even more other worldly. We descended after another high point into a flat area and suddenly the wind started to go nuts.

Soon the crosswind made it impossible to ride and forced us pushing our bicycles. We could already see a police station 4km away, where we hoped to stay overnight. Initially I thought it wouldn’t take us too long, but we were slow, super slow. After two hours of pushing we only made 3 km. The wind got stronger and stronger and it went uphill for the last part. After every hundred meters I had to stop, but that wasn’t easy too. Without leaning my body against my bike the wind would have just knocked it to the ground. At one stage I realized the wind or rather storm was too strong. Too strong to push on. It was frustrating, as under normal circumstances it would have taken just a couple of minutes, but now it even seemed to be impossible to make the last 800m – at least with my bike. I laid my bike on the ground and sat down to think what to do.

Suddenly a car stopped, only the second vehicle, what passed us that day. Some French tourists offered to drive me and my gear to the Police Station. Usually I would have refused their kind offer. I actually never accepted any ride or have taken a bus to skip a part. I always had the idea to cycle every single kilometer, where it’s possible. But that day it wasn’t possible to get on with my own power. Relieved I accepted and packed my stuff  in the car. Though it was clear that I’ll cycle back for this 800m the next morning. After they dropped me they helped Adrien, who struggled same as I did, but  he was as usually a few hundred meter ahead of me, as his bike is much lighter. We entered the police station and asked if we can sleep somewhere on the floor or if we can pitch a tent in the windbreak of a house. Usually the Carabineros in Chile don’t have a problem with that, especially in such a location and situation. But they didn’t want to let us sleep there, instead they insisted to drive us to a mine just 6km away. There we would get a room, beds and a shower.  Sounded tempting and I should have been very thankful to that offer, but it meant I would skip 6km of cycling. I explained it to them, but they still insisted to drive us there. There was no other possibility. With that crazy wind I would have never reached mine by myself and around the police station there was no wind protected place to pitch a tent. Even heading back was no alternative, as the crosswind would have made it hard as well.

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Good bye Argentina – Hola Chile – for the last time

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So I found myself packing my gear a second time disappointed into car and a few minutes later we were at the mine. Indeed, thanks to the nice guys there we got a room with bunk beds again. The next morning I woke up early, I still had the plan to ride back, but the wind was still hauling. Luckily a bit weaker than the day before, but the in total 14km I had to ride, would have taken the whole morning and usually the wind got stronger after noon. I was still kind of scared of the wind and definitely didn’t want to get trapped at the same place again. It was a hard decision, but finally I decided not to go back and continue riding towards San Pedro. Later I regretted that and it took me few days to forget about it. It’s my only gap I had to leave so far. Hopefully it stays the only one.

After 30km we reached a great wind protected place behind some rocks with an awesome view on a salt lake. Even though it was early, we decided to stay, as the wind was picking up again and who knows if we could find such another good place.

From there it was just another day ride to the village of Socaire. We were finally back in civilization. We left behind the freezing nights, the strong icy wind and even the sandy gravel roads. With tarmac beneath our wheels we reached easily San Pedro de Atacama the next day. It’s the last stop in Chile before I cross into Bolivia.

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awesome campspot

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And back in the tropics…

Chile: Cactuses, desert and a long way up

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When I arrived in Los Andes I had no idea where to stay. After having some tough days I was mentally ready for a break of few days, but as usually things worked out perfectly for me.

While I was searching for a free open WiFi connection, to check if I got an answer from a Warmshowers hosts I had contacted a few days earlier, I bumped into a bicycle shop. I had to buy a new helmet, as my one disappeared on a campground a few weeks ago. One of the guys in the shops, Jaime, was really interested in my trip and because it was close to siesta time he immediately invited me for lunch in a cheap nearby restaurant. In the meanwhile I found out that I could stay with the Warmshowers host in San Felipe, which was just 15km away. Unfortunately the host had to work till eight. Jaime though offered me to stay at his place for couple of hours and even offer me to use his shower ­– the first one in ten days. Just amazing this uncomplicated hospitality.

Christian was another great host and even organized a big birthday cake for me. My first present though I got from the nature – just after midnight, I was lying in my bed and almost asleep when my bed started shook for a few seconds. It took me a while to realize what it was. After a look in the internet I found out it was a 5.3 Magnitude earthquake, too weak to cause any damage. I’m in one of the most seismic active regions of the world, as the Nazca Plate moves under the South American Plate and over the next weeks I experienced a few more little ones. One time I was talking to some locals about a potential place to camp when suddenly the earth shook. While I of course showed a surprised reaction the locals just ignored it. It’s just normal here and those small tremors don’t do any damage. According to an earthquake recording page in the internet, there were more than 1500 within the last year.blogchile (1 von 62)blogchile (3 von 62) blogchile (4 von 62) blogchile (5 von 62)

After leaving San Felipe I had the choice of either taking the Ruta 5 also known as Panamerican Highway, which is Chile’s longest Highway and connects the north with the south or taking small back country roads. I chose the last option, although it would be harder and much slower. The Landscape was different again from what I had in Argentina. It was even dryer, but the main difference was the vegetation. Suddenly and the first time in my life I was surrounded by cactuses. It felt like being in the Wild West.  Although I loved it I wasn’t motivated to ride for some reasons and on some days I was more sitting in the nature reading a book than sitting on the saddle of my bike. But why not, I have no reason to rush.

It was pretty hilly and I came along a series of tunnels. Some of them were even quite long – up to 1,5km. But scary thing was they had no lights and just one lane. Even with all my lights on it was still black and while rushing through I hoped that no car would come from the other direction. Luckily those roads weren’t busy at all.

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After a couple of days I made it to Coquimbo, the biggest city I’ve been to for a while and it was quite shock to ride through the heavy traffic. The city itself was rather boring and not beautiful at all, but again I had a great Warmshowers experience. This time my hosts were a shared house of students, which reminded me of home. I could have stayed there probably for much longer, but I was also keen for the next challenge.

Somehow I had to get back to Argentina, which sounds easy, as the border is never far away in Chile, but then there are the Andes in between, which makes it difficult. I chose to take the Paso de San Francisco. First though I had to get further up north to the city Copiapo from where the pass starts. Unfortunately this time there was no real alternative as to take the Ruta 5. It’s a two lane motorway and bicycles aren’t actually allowed, but nobody seems to be interested in it. In fact it was one of the safest roads I cycled on in South America, due to a wide shoulder. For about 30 or even more kilometers I even had two complete lanes for me. As this part wasn’t open yet for cars and all the traffic had to go over two lanes. For me on a bicycle it was perfect, I could bypass the barriers and enjoy the fresh tarmac without the hustle of overtaking cars and trucks. As I got further north I got into the southern parts of the Atacama. The vegetation disappeared – nearly completely – and I was just surrounded by lots of gravel.

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Coquimbo

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Under the Highway

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On the motorway

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Copiapo

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Copiapo is the last city and the last place before it goes up the pass and the next civilization is 450 km further, the little town of Fiambala in Argentina on the other side of the Andes. So I had to stock up with food for a week and plenty of water. My bike wasn’t that heavy for quite a while and took me a while to get used to that. It was a weird feeling passing a sign saying the next gas station 450km away. I was definitely excited about the next days, especially how I would deal with the high altitude. The first day weren’t really hard though. It was not steep at all, only a gentle incline and a tailwind made even easier. The remoteness was different to the previous days on the busy highway. There were only a few cars and basically all belonged to some construction workers or miners, one car stopped to supply me with a bag full of grapes – awesome. So I made my way up a valley to 2000m and the following day onto 3300. There I ran – as planned – out of water, but I read before that I should get water from a mine. When I saw the buildings I was relieved, but as I got close I realized that they were all abandoned. Shit – I thought. Was the information from internet really that old? Without another choice I kept going, still optimistic that my water problem will get solved somehow. And it did. Two kilometers later I saw another complex of buildings, new and definitely not abandoned. At the entrance the security guys were more than happy to refill my bottles, but they were also a bit worried to let me keep going. The sky was cloudy and it looked definitely like rain – or snow? Additionally the wind got stronger and stronger. I got the kind offer to camp in the windbreak of the security building. My plan was originally to get a few kilometers further.  I decided to consider their offer while having a little break, but before I could make up my mind I got another even better offer, which I definitely couldn’t deny. The security officer had called his boss and organized for me to stay at the mining camp. A few minutes later I rolled my bike into a room with a comfy bed and my own shower. It was like a hotel room. Before I was actually pretty keen to spend my nights in the wilderness in my tent, but I couldn’t say no to this comfort as well. They even allowed me to eat in the canteen and it was quite interesting to see how the miners live as well.

After a big breakfast I headed on. The first highpoint at 4300m was ahead of me and for first time I could feel the altitude. My body was just not yet used to the low oxygen and I was breathing hard while riding up the switchbacks. Luckily I only got some headaches and not more. It was actually the steepest and hardest part of the pass. From 4300 it went down to the Salar de Maricunga on 3800, where the Chilean Immigration was. Even though it was still early I decided to stop und give my body a chance to catch up with altitude. The headaches disappeared and on the next morning I felt ready to ascend further. Now the sky was for the first time clear and deep blue. The landscape was just breathtaking and hard to describe.  I felt like being in another world up there. Surrounded by some of the highest mountains of the Andes I cycled up to 4300, where I stopped again for the night beneath the three 6000m summits of Cerro Tres Cruces.

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The next morning I woke up before sunset. It was damn cold, so cold that my water bottles were frozen. A breakfast and a tea warmed me up, but it took still forever till the sun got over the mountain range. After a slow ascent to 4600m I went down again to 4300m at Laguna Verde. At the first view of the lake I couldn’t believe the color is real. So different to the brown and red of the mountains. At the shore of Laguna Verde is a refugio, whch is just a little hut with two rooms. When I arrived there I was welcomed by Eduardo, a Chilean Mountaineer Guide. He arrived there the day before witch his German client Andre. They were staying there for a few days to acclimatize as preparation to climb the Ojos de Salados, which is at 6893m the highest active Volcano in the world and the second highest mountain in South America. To my advantage they were happy to share some food and I enjoyed having some company after some rather lonely days before.

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Cerro Tres Cruces – all three peaks are over 6000m

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around 16 liter water I was carrying at one stage

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Ojos de Salados 6893m – highest active volcano in the world and second highest mountain in South America

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Laguna Verde

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The refugio at Laguna Verdeblogchile (44 von 62)
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That are actually hot pots

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After two nights on over 4300m I was used to the altitude and so I started on the next day for the last climb. And three hours later I reached the top of the Paso de San Francisco on 4730m. I was relieved that everything went well, it was such a great feeling to have made it and to know that it would go downhill now for more than 150km. Also with a view on the next months, when I will ride on the Altiplano for several weeks in high altitude, it was a good test. blogchile (54 von 62)

Finally on the top

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The way down went quickly and I was so keen get back to civilization, especially for a supermarket and something different to eat. Unfortunately it was Sunday and everything was closed, so had to wait another day. From Fiambala the last section of Argentina starts for me before it goes up again on to the Altiplano. I’m excited. blogchile (56 von 62)blogchile (59 von 62) blogchile (58 von 62)

In the refugio on the way down

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Ruta 40 and over the Andes

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In Las Lajas I stocked up with food and left into the vastness of the Ruta 40. Lots of southbound cyclist I had met had taken a bus on this section. According to them it would be just too boring to cycle it. Well, I still have the intention to cycle every kilometer, so taking a bus has never been an option anyways. Remembering Australia, where I cycled over 3000km in the outback and still loved it, I couldn’t imagine being bored so soon out there.

The Ruta 40 or in Spanish Ruta Quarenta is Argentina’s longest road and even one of the longest in the world. It stretches from southern Patagonia up to the border to Bolivia, always parallel to the Andes.

Once I left the town I was surrounded by – let’s say – nothing. It was dry, only little vegetation, sandy and rocky. But I was astonished by the vastness. I don’t know why, but I’m always fascinated from this kind of landscapes, where I’m able to see the road for kilometers until it eventually disappears behind the horizon.

On that day a tailwind pushed me forward, but after 50km the wind turned into a headwind and slowed me down to 10km/h. That was the point, when I realized that I actually had miscalculated my water. My map showed me a few rivers, but of course they were all dried out. I was still not used to that, as water had never been a problem further south over the previous months. I passed no houses either, but there was still traffic, although just very little.

While I was thinking how to get water a family stopped in their car next to me. Father and son got out to drink a liter bottle of beer and to talk to me. By the way the father was still driving afterwards, what didn’t improve my faith in Argentinian car drivers. Without asking they offered me to top up my bottles with cold water and before they left I even got bread and some more groceries, even though I tried to reject, as I was carrying heaps of food. As so often problems just solve itself. The wind was getting stronger and I gave up for the day. Finding a camp spot was as easy as it could be. There were hardly any fences, so it was possible to camp everywhere. Another thing I love about this endless landscape.

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There are not many place on the Ruta 40

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Into the vastness

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Lunch break – hard to find shade

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Chos Malal – the middle of Ruta 40

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The next town was Chos Malal, what’s the middle of the Ruta 40. Also I had to turn my map of Argentina, what meant I crossed about half of the ninth biggest country of the world. A crazy feeling, just the same distance again and I’m already in Bolivia.

I decided to leave the Ruta 40 for two days and took instead a gravel road along the volcano El Tromen. On the way up the police stopped me trying to convince me to return, as it shouldn’t be possible to ride over that road with a bicycle, only with a four wheel car. Well, I couldn’t really believe them and explained that I’m carrying enough food and water, so I could easily return if I really had to. It’s always funny if people think some roads aren’t possible for a bicycle, in worst case you just have to push. However, after that discussion I was still excited how bad the road will get.

It didn’t get really bad though. It was just a steady climb up 2200m and definitely worth the effort. There were just a few Gauchos riding on their horses and taking care about their sheep and goats. On the top just next to volcano, I stopped at a little hut to ask for water. The guy was obviously really happy to meet another person, what probably doesn’t happen very often up there. He invited me straight into his little hut, which consisted just out of one room with one window with a great view on to the volcano. Unfortunately my still limited Spanish stopped to have a proper conversation with him, but apparently he’s living up there all his live. So different.

 

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El Tromen

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He helped me out with water and even gave some grapes.

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This one was sitting in the middle of the road. A Tarantula. At that I had no idea, that they aren’t really dangerous. Just big, like a hand.

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Camplife

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Before Mendoza I had the choice. I could either take a straight 150km gravel road, the old Ruta 40 or make a detour of more than 100km over San Raphael, but it would be all on tarmac. I chose the more adventurous way. 150km gravel lay ahead of me, I was carrying lots of water as I wasn’t sure about its ability. I just knew about one reliable river and had no idea how many houses and traffic there was. It started as bad as it could. It was sandy and I had to push a lot. Demoralized of that I just did it more than 30km on my first day. There was no traffic at all and the few houses I passed were all empty. I was already thinking to return to the main road, but through my stubbornness I pushed on.

The next day the road got better and I got more motivated again. After another 25km, I could already see the river in a canyon, though the road got worse again. Worse wasn’t actually the proper expression, as it got so bad, that it would have been impossible for cars to move on. Heavy rain probably had eroded an actual canyon into the road. That moment I was smiling, as was still able to continue on my bike, but just until the road literally completely disappeared. Where the road leaded down into the canyon the road got washed away by landslides. I was standing there for a moment und couldn’t believe it. I thought there must be another way around, but the slope was just too steep to push my bike around. In a last attempt I climbed up on the rim of the canyon and walked for one or two kilometers, just to see that the road was destroyed on several points. Of course I could have dismounted all my gear and could have carried around and down the steep slope somehow, but it would have been quite dangerous and would have taken the whole day. After thinking about it for a while I decided to head back. There was no other way. Even if I had been able to get down into the canyon, I wouldn’t have known how it looks like on the other side.

Angrily I started heading back. I passed junction and apparently there was a connection to another gravel road, which was going parallel to the old 40, where I was. But I had no idea about the water situation there and I was already pretty low on water and would just come back to the main road with it. Also I was done with gravel road and just wished to be back on a reliable sealed road. Luckily the way back was more downhill and even through the sand I got a bit faster. At least I had a strong tailwind on the 240km around, what I rode in just two days, so I didn’t really loose time through this adventure and I was still happy to have tried it, the landscape was great, much nicer than on the main road.

 

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A storm is coming

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The end for most cars…

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…and finally the end for me as well. I had to return.

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Oil fields

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That seems to be a tradition in South America. Putting plastic bottles filled with water next to little crosses or places of accidents.

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Towards the pass.

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I wasn’t interested to go into Mendoza, what’s probably just another big city. So I turned west towards the Andes. My first higher pass, the Paso de los Libertadores, was lying ahead of me, as I planned to cross back into Chile. It’s the main road connection between those two countries, as there’s Chile’s capital Santiago on one side and Mendoza on the other. Accordingly there was heavy traffic, especially on the first day of climbing to the little town Upsallata. Some tunnels -short but narrow – made it even scarier. Every time I had to wait for a gap in the nearly constant flow of cars and truck before riding through as fast as I could.

I was relieved that it got better after Upsallata. It was a slow steady climb and unexpectedly not steep at all to the basecamp of the Aconcagua on 2900m. With 6962m it’s the highest mountain of South America and the highest outside Asia. The next morning I watched an awesome sunset with a cloudless view on the snowcapped peak. And then the work began. On the altitude of 3100m all the traffic leads through a long tunnel. Of course it’s not allowed to pass this one on a bicycle. If you don’t want to hitch hike you have to take the old pass road. What I did. Over countless switchbacks and 10km it goes up to 3800m, where a massive four ton bronze statue of Jesus is waiting. On the last meters I could feel a bit of the altitude as my breath got shorter, but around noon I was standing next to the statue. Not alone though. It was the 13th of March and the 122. anniversary of the statue. There were heaps of Argentinians and Chileans celebrating that event. I watched a bit still being surprised, as I thought I would be nearly alone on the top. The way down went fast, as it’s much steeper on the Chilean side. On the immigration I got controlled as never before. I had to empty everything, as it’s prohibited to bring fresh food into Chile to avoid spreading pests and diseases. They even had dogs probably to smell meat. Well at the end and they didn’t find anything and I could roll down to the city of Los Andes.

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El puente de Inca. Hot springs formed these rocks.

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Sunrise at Aconcagua

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Ice. It was a cold night on nearly 3000m.blog_ruta40 (44 von 48) blog_ruta40 (45 von 48) blog_ruta40 (46 von 48)

Countless Switchbacks

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On the top of El Paso de los Libertadores

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So much fun riding down.

Heading north from Bariloche

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The Nahuel Huapi Lake around Bariloche

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In Bariloche it was time for another longer break and again Yasko and I could stay in a Casa de Ciclistas. Thanks to Esteban, who opens his beautiful house for cyclists like us. It was s a bit away from the city center and first we were swearing about this location, as we had to climb up a steep hill on a pretty hot day when we arrived there. Another problem was to find his house. House numbers in Argentina apparently aren’t logic at all. But eventually we succeded and just crashed down in the garden.

We had no plan how long to stay, but very quickly we both got very comfortable in Esteban’s house, so that neither of us made a move for our departure. The days were just passing by. There are quite a few things to do around Bariloche, somehow though I had no motivation to explore it. After moving on and seeing great landscapes every day, my mind was satisfied by it and I was more tempted by just hanging around and doing nothing.

We weren’t the only guests. Esteban had his cousin including his family there and later some other cyclists and friends arrived. Every night the small living room and the kitchen were packed with people as we tried to cook together. We adapted Argentinian habits quickly, what meant no dinner before 10pm, sometimes it got even nearly midnight till we started eating. I enjoyed the company, practiced my Spanish and learned a lot again. So glad that there are awesome people like Esteban.

Of course I had to do a couple of things as well. My laptop’s hard drive didn’t survive the bumpy roads of the Carretera Austral and I needed a new one. A computer shop was quickly found and the computer is running again as it was new. At the German consulate I applied for a new passport, as my one is expiring soon. It worked out easier then I initially thought. They even send it to Salta in the north of Argentina, where I can pick it up from another consulate in a few weeks, so that I don’t have to wait somewhere for six weeks. The only thing is, I had to pay about the double price as I would have in Germany. But travelling without a passport won’t work that easy, there’s no way to save that money.

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One of the plenty lakes at the Ruta de los Siete Lagos

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I made the 20,000km full.

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After almost a week it was time to say goodbye to Esteban and his comfy house. For the next days we should follow the Ruta de los Siete Lagos, what means road of the seven lakes. Sounded great. But first we had to ride over a busy section and unfortunately I can’t tell anything good about many of the Argentinian drivers. Especially the bus drivers are mad. One literally pushed me from the road. The moment he overtook me, the driver honked super loud. It was scary and for a moment I had no idea what happened, that I automatically changed from the asphalt onto the soft gravel, what caused me to fall. Nothing happened luckily to me, but it was a scary situation. I still have no idea, where the sense of honking in the moment of overtaking is. It’s a bit too late for a warn signal.

Anyway, the next day the traffic got luckily less and we enjoyed the road leading along beautiful lakes and mountains. Somewhere just after Bariloche I also made my first 20.000km full. It’s just a number, but it was still a crazy feeling. I never planned to get that far, actually I’ve never planned to cycle at all or travel in South America when I started this trip more than two years ago. But that makes me even more excited about what will happen in the next 20.000km.

We camped about 20km before San Martin de Los Andes and just had to roll down a mountain into town the next morning. While that I discovered that something is wrong with my rear hub. We had a quick stop on the city plaza, where I decided to look for a bike shop. When I wanted to push my bike towards the road, I was wondering why the pedals are spinning as well.  Somehow I got to the bike shop, where the hub gave up completely. I was so lucky, that it didn’t happen somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The shop could build me a wheel with a new hub, they needed till the evening though. Well, I had no alternative and so we prepared with lots of food from a supermarket for a day of waiting in a park. While sitting there, we bumped into Roxanne and Pablo. They are cycling tourists as well and invited us straightaway to stay in their apartment for the night. It followed a great night with good food and even better conversations with those two awesome people. We talked a lot about Cuba, as they both have studied there for five years. They just quitted their jobs recently and started travelling by bicycle. The apartment wasn’t actually theirs but from some friends who weren’t there at that time, so that they could stay for a while, before they wanted to continue riding further south. At the end I was even happy about my broken hub, otherwise I wouldn’t have met Pablo and Roxanne.

The next day was the last day of riding together with Yasko. I always loved the freedom of cycling alone, but it’s always a weird feeling to get back to it once you got used to have company. Usually it’s pretty hard to cycle with somebody, as everybody has a different pace and different camping habits and so on, but with Yasko it had worked pretty well. However, the junction came where we had to split. He went east towards Buenos Aires and I continued north.

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Yakso, me and our fabulous hosts Roxanne and Pablo

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After a month we finally had to split

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Siesta at the Rio Alumine

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From my Campspot

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From there on I had no idea where to go, as there were quite a few options. I could go back to Chile for a while or just a short time or stay in Argentina. I had no idea what would be nicer and I wished to have a cycling buddy again, who would just prefer one or the other. Eventually I stayed in Argentina, as I assumed there would be less traffic. I rode over a gravel road again along the beautiful Rio Alumine. The landscape had changed a lot within a day. It got much rockier, dryer and dustier, just the River was like an oasis in the Valley. There were almost no cars or other cyclists either and only a few houses. I enjoyed the loneliness, though it was still weird to be alone. It was definitely a new part of my South America adventure.

I decided to leave Argentina, but just for a day. I left over the Paso de Ilcama and went back after a 900m climb over the Paso Pino Hachado. It was a long climb over switchbacks and a first taste of what will probably expect me further north. I just managed to reach the Argentinian border control before sunset. On half way up a car stopped next to me and started talking to me, I just understood half of it but before they left, they gave me bag of tomatoes. At least 3kg. I was happy about the tomatoes, but I still had carry them up the pass. Anyway, I cooked a great dinner out of it, thanks to those generous people. The next morning it was 50km downhill to the town of Las Lajas. From there I would continue over the Ruta 40 again.

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I love the Araucaria trees

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What an awesome sunset a Lago Alumine

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It was a long way up over the Paso Pino Hachado

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A first taste of what will expect me on Ruta 40. A dry and vast landscape.

Carretera Austral

blog (1 von 72)The Casa de Ciclistas in El Chalten was exactly what I needed. As the name says it’s a house for cyclists. Florencia, who’s the owner, lets touring cyclists camp for free in her garden. As El Chalten is a bottleneck for cyclists in Patagonia, there were lots of people passing through everyday, some days up to 15. The kitchen was the center of the house. Here we cooked and ate together, information and stories were shared. I just loved the atmosphere and it felt a bit like a home. Also to be surrounded with the same people for a few days was great and what I was craving for. Florencia made the place special. Even though there were always lots of new people she always tried to care for everyone. When I arrived she cooked straightaway a huge meal for me. It wasn’t hard at all to get stuck there for over a week.

I probably could have done nothing for a week, but being surrounded by mountains like Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre makes it easy to go trekking. Together with Javier, who was cycling south, I went for a couple of hikes through the national park.

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hiking partner and Spanish teacher Javier

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The Casa de Ciclistas in El Chalten

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There’s no road connecting El Chalten directly with Chile, but over two ferries it’s possible to get to Villa O’Higgins in Chile. Though there’s just a hiking trail between those two ferries, which makes it difficult with a heavily loaded touring bike. During the time in El Chalten I heard all those crazy stories about the crossing from the people heading south and I was really excited to do it by myself.

Together with Yasko and Marco I started towards Lago del Desierto. On the ferry David joined us and after getting the Argentinian exit stamp in our passport we started, not cycling though but pushing. Till the actual border it’s just a seven km long hiking trail and damn steep as well. Even though it was already quite late we wanted get that tough part done. Indeed, the trail wasn’t made for our heavy bikes. Luckily we were a group and could support each other pushing our bikes up the steep slope. A few times I had to take off my entire luggage, as the trail was more a trench than a trail and too narrow for my panniers. If it wasn’t steep, it was muddy or rocky. Those 7 km definitely belong to the hardest km of my trip and I will never forget the moment when we finally reached the border sign. Exhausted and relieved we just crashed down there for the night. On the next day we had to follow a 15km bad gravel road down to the second ferry. We had to cross a couple of rivers though which meant again putting all the gear off the bikes and carrying it over separately. The first thing I did at the jetty was to jump into the incredibly blue water. It’s a hard piece of ‘road’ and the ferries costs a lot, but  it’s definitely worth it. The alternative to ride another few km on Ruta 40 in Argentina, doesn’t sound tempting at all and  I didn’t want to miss the first part of the Carretera Austral either.

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Yasko, Marco, David and me

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muddy

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finally at the border

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crazy river crossings

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Villa O’Higgins is the most southern town on the Carretera Austral. The road was built by the Chilean army in the 80s to better connect this remote area to the rest of Chile. The last section was even just opened in 2000. Together with Yasko I started riding north. Quickly we had to realize that we would need much more time than we initially thought. The road, as it’s build in not an easy terrain, goes up and down and up and down, with some really steep climbs. Of course there is also no tarmac and the gravel is partly in really bad condition. It’s slow uphill as well as downhill, cause it’s  just impossible to go fast on this kind of bumpy road. The landscape though was rewarding for all the effort. Mountains, glaciers, valleys, lakes, rivers and just very low traffic. What more do you want?

It’s lonely on the Carretera, but on our first day we bumped into a local fisherman. We stopped and while we were talking to him he caught a fish, which he offered us straighaway for dinner. On the same day we found an abandoned wooden shed for the night. We weren’t the first cyclists there, and we found lots of tags on the walls and some cyclists had even left some spices and other stuff behind. There was even a fireplace inside where we could cook the fish. What a great first day on this awesome road.

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Yasko had to climb into a cable car next to bridge

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Our home for a night

blog (26 von 72)And from outside.

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Our usual dinner

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The next days were equally amazing. The weather turned to be perfect and we were getting slowly further north. I loved the camping. Usually we found a place on a river, made fire and enjoyed the great views.

I hadn’t heard much about the Carretera Austral before, but apparently it’s one of the most popular places for cycle touring. While it was always a rare event to meet another cyclist in my previous countries, here we met daily up to 20. Mainly because the majority of travelers were heading south. In comparison, in Indonesia I met in two month not a single other cyclist. After a while we even didn’t stop anymore for everyone, as we wouldn’t make any progress and just talk about the same stuff again.

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The dust after every car was annoying. Luckily there wasn’t usually much traffic.

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awesome confluence of two rivers with differen colours

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The Chilean Government is still spending money for Carretera, the advertisement about those programs is everywhere. A few sections are full of construction sites, what meant for us lots of waiting. Sometime they even close a road for half a day to do some dynamiting.

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Waiting at a construction site

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Dynamite

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Those spiky things were the most annoying plant I know

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The water comes from everywhere and is perfekt for drinking

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Paved road – finally!

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Awesome Campspots

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Further north the area got a bit more populated. There were lots of farms and fences made more difficult to find place to camp. Luckily the Chileans are great hosts and after asking a couple of times we were allowed to camp on a field or next to houses. One night I definitely won’t forget. At 4am I got desperately waken up by Yasko, who had just slept outside without a tent. All his gear was spread out over the entire yard. Apparently the farmer’s dog was looking for food and found it in Yasko’s bags. After collecting his stuff in darkness he had lost six eggs and three packs of biscuits. The dog even managed to open the zip of his handlebar bag, while he opened his backpack by biting a hole through it. Luckily I had food in my tent, but he chewed my foldable plastic bowl to death.

Over Futaleufu we left Chile and the Carretera Austral behind to go to Bariloche in Argentina. We decided against the comfy tarmac road and instead went over another gravel road through the Los Alerces National Park, where heavy rain forced us to camp for one day on a beautiful lake. Over the day the weather became good again, but we were just too lazy to head on and spend the rest of the day just lying in the sun.

Reaching Bariloche was another milestone for me, till here my route was kind of clear, as there are not many alternatives. I’m psyched for the next months, but I’ll miss the Carretera Austral. It will be very hard to top the last month.

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In the morning…

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…in the evening.

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Back on Ruta 40

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Through the Pampa

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Through the Pampa

When I arrived in Puntas Arenas I also reached America’s mainland for the first time. After those hard days cycling against the wind on a bad gravel road I was ready for some rest. I found a couchsurfing host, where I could stay for a night. Sleeping in a bed was just feeling great. My plan was to head on the next day, but the weather forecast said there would be winds up to 100km/h. I didn’t see me cycling in that strong wind und decided to stay another night on a campground. It was the first time for a long time, that I had to pay for a place, but I enjoyed it to meet lots of other travellers and to share stories. It was even Christmas Eve and the owner of the Campground and Hostel prepared a Asado, a Barbeque, for everybody. It was a great Christmas and different again to my previous two Christmas in India and in Austalia.

The next day there was nearly no wind at all. I had to use this chance and I started towards Puerto Natales. A few km out of town I was in the Pampa again. Lots of cyclists find riding there a way to boring, but I really liked it or I’m rather fascinated by it. Being alone in this vast endless landscape gives me a feeling of freedom. Only the fences which running parallel to the road on both sides are annoying. It makes it much harder to find place to camp, as you can hardly hide somewhere. Just occasionally there some bushes.

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One night I asked on a farm, if I can pitch my tent somewhere. As in the countries I’ve cycled before it wasn’t a problem at all. I was shown a place between two sheds, so I was sheltered from the wind. But I just finished pitching my tent, when one of the farmer came out again and told me it’s a way too cold to sleep outside in a tent. I tried to explain that I’ve a good sleeping bag and that I won’t freeze. I couldn’t convince him though, probably because of my bad Spanish. But he convinced me to get into his house for a coffee. It wasn’t just coffee then, I got a whole dinner and at the end I enjoyed the warmth in the house so much, that I packed my tent and slept inside. It was also a great opportunity to practise my Spanish, even though it’s very limited, I was able communicate surprisingly well.

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In Puerto Natales I stayed for few days with some great Warmshowers hosts and changed finally after more than 18000 km the bottom bracket of my bike. The next destination should be the Torres del Paine National Park. It was detour over a long gravel road, but I didn’t want to miss it and had the plan to do some trekking as well. When I reached a great campsite with a view on the Mountains it was already worth it. The next it got even better. It was the best weather and over whole day I had an amazing view. Just the road got worse and worse, so didn’t make to a free campsite and had to camp wild in the park. It was New Year’s Eve and instead of fireworks I enjoyed a fabulous sunset. I was the only person in kilometres surrounding, just awesome and definitely the loneliest New Year’s Eve I’ve ever had.

The next day I left my bike in a hotel and started climbing up towards the so called towers. The trail were full of people, we’re basically walking up in a line, what I didn’t enjoy at all, even though the landscape was great. I think if you travel by bike for a while it’s getting hard to enjoy touristic places like that one, at least for me. I cancelled the plan to trek more than two days and got back to my bike.

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To get to the Argentinian border I had to ride south for a bit and got eventually some tailwinds. On the bad road it wasn’t a big advantage though. At the border post I asked for a place to camp and got shown an abandoned house just a few meters away. It was perfect, as I was sheltered from the wind. A few minutes later another group of cyclists from the other direction arrived and decided to stay there as well. I enjoyed the company of fellow cyclists and we shared a lot of information. Luckily the house was big enough and everyone could have had an own room.

From the border the Ruta 40 leads just through Pampa again. I took the old road, what’s a shortcut but also just bad gravel road. Some parts looked more like a dry riverbed with big cobbles than a road. At least I had not wind. At night I camped behind police post, there was nobody to ask, when I arrived, but I thought it shouldn’t be a big deal. Just a few minutes after I retired to my tent a car parked next to me. I looked out, asked if it’s alright and got the right answer. The Policeman even made a coffee for me in the next morning. I would have loved to talk more to him, if my Spanish was better. I don’t think he’s busy out there and must be very lonely, so passing cyclists are a welcome change.

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Back on the tarmac it felt so easy to ride, but not too long, as the wind started picking up again, of course against me. It got stronger and stronger over the day. I managed to get to turn off to El Calafate,but decided not to do the 70km detour, half of it against the wind. Instead I would go straight to El Chalten, luckily I had still enough food. The next day I made till 90 km before it. The wind was blowing as hell in the evening and there was just nothing to hide behind. After two attempts I gave up pitching my tent and just slept on the ground.

In the morning I woke up with a great sunrise and a first view of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre in the distance. But the best was, there was no wind at all. Relieved I packed my stuff together and started riding. All day long I had this awesome view on the mountains in front of me and with every km they got larger and larger. In the afternoon I reached El Chalten, it was the first time in 10 days that I’ve been in a real town with the opportunity to buy new food. I was craving for some fresh things to eat. I also needed a break of cycling and luckily there was a Casa de Ciclista. A house for cyclists. I heard about it from other cyclists and sounded like the perfect place to rest for a while.

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Tierra del Fuego

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I had never thought, that this trip will get me to South America when I was at the check-in at the airport in Auckland, I had not really realized it either. As a child I was often starring fascinated on Tierra del Fuego on a map imagining how it would look like down there. And soon I would be there. Crazy feeling.

I didn’t just cross the Pacific but also the date line, so was the date and time of the landing before the start. In Buenos Aires I had a 12 hour stopover, where I even had to change the airport from the international one to the domestic one. Luckily it worked out easily despite my bulky heavy luggage. After another 4 hour flight I finally reached the ‘the end of the world’ in Ushuiaia, what’s the world’s most southern city.

I was glad, that my couchsurfing hosts picked me up at the airport, as I was tired as hell and it was really cold. Later that day it was even snowing. I had actually never expected this cold weather, when I planned this trip, as it’s summer time here now. Soledad and Samuel, my hosts, didn’t speak a lot of English. So I had to try my little Spanish straight away, but the communication worked out somehow. Probably I learned more Spanish in those first days than during the last weeks through internet and audio lessons.

I needed a while to get rid of the jetlag and to get used to the new environment. My host’s house was perfect for that though. I already learned a lot about Argentinian culture and habit, so I have to get used to the late dinner, what didn’t start here before 11pm. Again I experienced just great hospitality and that despite the language barrier.

Before I left Ushuaia I went to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, where’s the most southern point you can reach on a road. I had planned to some hiking, but the weather was just awful. Rainy, sometimes even a bit off snow and cold. I hoped it would get warmer quickly as I get further north.

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After three days it was time to say good bye to my fabulous guest family. Ushuaia is surrounded by mountain, southern parts of the Andes. So on the first day I had to climb a bit before I reached the endless flat Pampa. On the mountains was still snow, but luckily I just got a lot of rain. I loved to have long days again, as the sun set at 10 und it was bright till 11. Before I arrived in Rio Grande I finally encountered the famous Patagonian wind for the first time. Within five minutes the rain stopped, the sky cleared and the wind started blowing, of course against my direction. Fortunately I found a Warmshowers host in Rio Grande, where I could rest for two days.

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The rest I definitely needed, as after Rio Grande I had some of the hardest days ever on my bike. The wind didn’t stopped or changed direction and with just 10 km/h I made it somehow to the border in San Sebastian in one day. It was really nasty riding, the wind was coming a bit from the side and some gust pushed me a few times into the loose gravel next to the road. Every time a truck passed me I stopped, as they produced a massive wind gust. Luckily I haven’t had to camp in the wind. On the border I asked for a place to camp, but just got shown the waiting room. It was perfect, there was a heater and a bench had the perfect size for my mattress.

The border crossing was easy. Just the Chileans are a bit strict with fresh vegetables and animal products. First I thought nobody would control it anyway and I didn’t declare the carrots I was carrying. But then I saw how they looked through all the bags of a motorbike, what changed my mind, as I wanted to avoid some trouble. Too bad for the carrots though, who just landed in a bin.

The wind was still blowing and after the border there was no sealed road anymore, just a gravel one. That slowed me down  as well and I could hardly cycle faster than 7 km/h. After a while I was wondering if I’m even able to make to Porvenir before I run out of all my food. The mountains were far away and I was surrounded just by the endless Pampa, what didn’t make it easier, as I never had the feeling to make progress. There wasn’t much traffic at all, but every time a car passed I was covered in a dust cloud. Sometimes I saw some Guanacos, the wild form of Lamas.

At night I still managed to ride nearly 60 km and was lucky enough to find an empty hut, so I had not to camp in the wind again. Apparently I haven’t been the first desperate cyclist there. There were quite a few signatures on the wall.

The next day I got up at 5, as I heard that the wind is usually a bit weaker early in the morning. Indeed, there was no wind at all. I was relieved, it meant I would reach Porvenir at least before the ferry on the next day and before I run out of food. Cycling was so much easier without this nasty wind and I started to enjoy it again, as it wasn’t a constant fight anymore.

Surprisingly I even made on the same day to the ferry terminal, where I asked if I can camp next to a café. It was luckily not a problem at all and I got even invited to cook my dinner inside. From there I took the ferry over the Magellan Strait to Punta Arenas, what is finally on America’s mainland. Tierra del Fuego I’ll probably always connect to some really tough riding days. Maybe even toughest I have had so far.

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