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.
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.
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.
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.
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.