22 February 2011

CYCLING ARGENTINA - Mendoza to Buenos Aires

2 February 2011
Mendoza – Las Catitas

We left our bedbug-ridden accommodation and headed East on Ruta 7 towards Buenos Aires, more than 1000km across the pampas. It was a good day as the road was pancake flat and the temperature (I guess) in the low 30’s. We camped fairly early at a petrol station along the road which had some grass at the back and a shower. A Japanese cyclist called Nobu arrived from the opposite direction and also pitched his tent where we were camping. He’s been cycling for the past year and a half.

3 February 2011
Las Catitas – Alto Pencoso

We awoke to a fairly strong wind, probably sounding worse than what it was due to the popular trees we camped under. The pampas consists mainly of large open plains, and is therefore quite exposed. We saw little in the way of interesting sights just low bushes and sandy soil. The wind was against us all day, but at least it was nothing close to the wind in Patagonia.

In Argentina road fatalities are not just indicated by a humble cross but by little shrines and sometimes quite elaborate ones, the purpose of the collection of empty plastic bottles at some shrines still baffles me. The shrines surrounded by red flags have an interesting history and (I understand) pays homage to Antonio Gil.

We camped in the municipal grounds of the small settlement of Alto Pencoso. People went out of their way to accommodate us, even unlocking the community hall’s toilets for us. Mostly people were just amazed at these two foreigners on bicycles arriving in their tiny village.

4/5 February 2011
Alto Pencoso – San Luis

20km Down the road Ernest’s back hub eventually packed up totally. He tried to do makeshift repairs, but it was too badly damaged. We were fortunate enough to get a lift into San Luis where he could buy a new hub. Spoking and straightening the wheel is a time-consuming activity, and the next morning Ernest was still not happy with his work so we moved to a cheaper hostel and spent another day in San Luis. San Luis is actually not a bad city; it has a lively town center with, as usual, a central square and some nice buildings surrounding it. I still find the language a bit of a problem; it is surprising how few people actually speak English. I also seem to find food a bit of a problem as this is beef country!! Argentinians are the biggest consumers of beef per capita in the world and God forbid that one should be a vegetarian in this country! At least there’s plenty of good wine and pasta around as well.

6 February 2011
San Luis – Picnic area (close to Villa Mercedes)

It was an excellent cycling day, the wind was slight, it was bit overcast and the road fairly flat. We cycled along quite happily until we spotted a really good picnic area next to a river, and we thought we may be able to camp there. People were swimming and having a picnic on the grass under the trees and we went to investigate.

We explained that we wanted to put up our “carpa” (tent) and camp for the night which was no problem. Smoke from the asadas (barbecues) was hanging thick in the air and people stared at us in amazement as we cycled in. They even came to have their pictures taken with us. We hadn’t even unpacked the bikes before our neighbours presented us with a plate of barbequed meat. Not wanting to be outdone other neighbours also came with a huge plate of meat. True to Argentinian asadas they don’t bother much with salads and other food, just a huge plate of meat. Even I tried a piece of meat, as I felt too embarrassed to turn them down.

7 February 2011
Picnic area – Old petrol station (Washington)

All good things come to an end as it started raining the previous evening, with some heavy storms during the night. We woke at 8h00 but it was still raining so I crawled back into my tent. Eventually the rain stopped and goats and sheep came wandering past. It was 12h00 by the time our tents had dried and we got on the road. What a lonely stretch of road it was. We saw little in the way of life along the road and when we finally reached a disused petrol station we were out of water. We filled our bottles at the still functioning tyre repair workshop, and decided to camp there seeing that there was water – we camped on the porch of a vacant house on the premises. I’ll be more careful tomorrow and take more water with me for the road.

8/9 February 2011
Disused petrol station – Laboulaye

We set off and soon reached Villa Mackenna where we spotted several service stations, a camping area and a Motel. We stopped and had a nice lunch at one of the petrol stations and then carried on along the road. Once again there was not much along the way but large cattle ranches, vast fields of corn and soybeans. The crops are probably for cattle feed as I have not noticed much soybean products in the shops. I guess that in a beef eating country like Argentina soybean products will never been very popular.

The road was once gain fairly narrow with loads of trucks and we had to be very careful staying out of the way of the trucks and cars. A steady headwind slowed us down and it was getting late enough for us to get concerned that we would have to cycle in the dark if we were going to reach Laboulaye. 7 km from Laboulaye Ernest came to an unexpected and sudden halt. The front hub on his bike had also siezed up totally and with a fast setting sun he quickly had to do an emergency repair job before the light faded. We then managed to battle on to Laboulaye in the dark.

The town was much bigger than expected and we even found a hotel room for a reasonable price, where we stayed the next day while Ernest repaired his bike. Fortunately Argentinians are a fairly sporting nation, and one can find a fairly decent bike shop in most sizable towns. Laboulaye was big enough to sport a bicycle shop and we could even find a new front hub for Ernest’s bike. Then it was back to the room for the time consuming job of spoking the wheel again.


10 February 2011
Laboulaye – Rufino

We encountered a head wind from the start of the day, and the traffic seemed to have gotten even worse. The narrow road left us virtually no room to cycle as there was just not enough space for two trucks and us. The grassy verge was of no benefit to us as it was nearly impossible to cycle on it. By the time we reached Rufino we turned off into the town as I dearly needed a mirror so I could at least see what was coming up behind me (Ernest had fitted a mirror in Chile already).

We arrived at siesta time and the place was like a ghost town, but a policeman on a motorbike took us to the town park where we could camp . People here take their siesta seriously and only seem to wake again at around 17h00. No sooner have they woken up from their siesta and the entire town was at the park (which was also the sports grounds), playing football, hockey, running, and even the local marching band was out practicing. What a delight it was to observe a small Argentinian country town in full swing. Once again there was a bike shop where I could get a mirror.

11 February 2011
Rufino – Vedia

It was another windy day on the road and 18-wheelers still came roaring past, causing us to dive off the road every now and then. The mirror I bought the previous day at least helped a bit. Again we cycled past vast cattle ranches. This is the Pampas and home to the Guacos, it’s an area known for tasty beef. With Argentinians being the world’s biggest meat eaters, no decent petrol station comes without a nice grassy area and some barbeques, making it pretty easy to camp at these places (which we did again on this night). An added bonus is that they also come with good clean toilets as well as showers. Most also have hot water on tap as it is quite inconceivable that one could go without a flask of hot water for mate (a herbal tea sucked through a metal straw).

12 February 2011
Vedia – Junin

The wind seemed to have picked up during the night, fortunately it was not as bad on the road as I had expected. The traffic was a bigger problem than the wind. My legs felt lame all day, and we turned off into Junin town where we found a comfortable room. We relaxed lying on the bed watching TV for the rest of the day. I seem to be constantly hungry these days, and after a visit to the local supermarket I had my fill of bread and cheese as there seems to be little else around this part of the world except for meat, meat and more meat.

13 February 2011
Junin – Carmen de Areco

We picked up a nice tailwind for a change, and not being one to waste a tailwind we cruzed all the way to Carmen de Areco. It was a Sunday and the traffic not too heavy, a pleasure to be on the road. At Carmen de Areco we were in luck and had 3 nice petrol stations to choose from to pitch a tent. The best one was at the YPF with a large picnic area at the rear of the buildings, a children’s play park and plenty of barbeque areas, perfect. Ernest cooked the usual large pot of pasta and after a beer and a big serving of pasta I was off to bed.

14 February 2011
Carmen de Areco – San Antonio

I could tell we were going to have a head wind and was pleased that we’d pushed on the day before. We ate our leftover bread with cheese, had some coffee (as I have not yet acquired a taste for mate) and then it was time to leave again.

The traffic was hectic as usual, but once we turned off Ruta 7, it was slightly better. A nice ride through the countryside brought us to the town of San Antonio. Dating from the 18th century it is loaded with history and is also considered home to the Gauchos. We pulled in at the local campground and relaxed in the shade.

15 February 2011
San Antonio – Buenos Aires

We followed Ruta 8 East in the direction of Buenos Aires and soon found ourselves on a highway. Much easier than cycling on that narrow road. Closer to Buenos Aires traffic became a bit hectic and about 10km from the city centre we eventually got kicked off the freeway. We slowly battled the rush-hour traffic on one of the regular arterial roads, which spat us out right into the city centre as it became dark. Every few hundred meters there was a traffic light so it took forever to reach Ave 9 de Julio (the main road). It was 21h00 by the time we found a room. Although the hotel was rather expensive it was really nice and right in the city centre.

What a lively city Buenos Aires is, street cafes everywhere, and people out and about until the early hours of the morning.

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16 February 2011
Buenos Aires

We walked around town, down Ave Florida a pedestrian mall jam packed with people and street vendors, down to Plaza de Mayo with its pink palace (or presidential office), past lovely old colonial style buildings and around the famous Obelisk right in the middle of Ave 9 de Julio, with its 8 lanes in each direction it must be the widest main road in the world.

Eventually we decided to sit down at a sidewalk restaurant, and while looking at the menu a very skilled thief nicked my bag (which I’d placed on the ground between my feet). So good was the thief that neither Ernest nor me noticed anything. This was quite a disaster as my wallet with cash and bank cards was in the bag, as well as my camera, glasses, and the disc with all my photos which I’d taken in South America since arriving in Ushuaia. Most of the rest of the day was spent cancelling cards, ordering new ones, and contacting home so someone can send me money.

17/21 February 2011
Buenos Aires

Early morning I was woken by a phone call from my bank to advise me that they will have a new card delivered, but it may take 7 working days! (We may be waiting here for some time). Again we wondered around town, and down to Puerto Madero (a waterfront area with a bunch of modern skyscrapers), and South to San Telmo district with its narrow cobbled street, old buildings and antique markets. We carried on walking to La Boca district with its colorful houses and home of Boca Juniors football team. Eventually we took the bus back to the city centre and scanned the shops for a new camera.

Fortunately there is a lot to see in BA, and we’ve been spending our days visiting all the interesting places. I’m in awe of all the beautiful old buildings in the city.

03 February 2011

CYCLING ARGENTINA - Los Libertadores Border to Mendoza

27 January 2011
Road side camp to Puente Del Inca

Three years and 10 months on the bikes! All day long the road zig-zagged up the pass. Although the gradient was acceptable it was still a steep and dreadfully slow 22km climb up the pass from where we’d spent the night. Roadworks along the way also caused more long delays. Eventually we reached the tunnel at the top of the pass and the authorities were kind enough to give us a lift through the 3km long tunnel. Once on the other side it was still 18km to the customs office. We flew downhill past the small settlement of Las Cuevas with just a few timber restaurants and a strong smell of lentil soup. Then it was onto the small touristy village of Puente Del Inca where we found a basic campsite. At least we had a sight of Aconcagua from the road, the highest peak in the America’s (6 960 m). Ernest cooked supper and then it was an early evening for me. Puente Del Inca has the most amazing scenery with high mountains all around which turned all colors of the rainbow at sunset. In addition there was a natural stone bridge across the river which has turned a lovely orange color from the sulfur spring waters running over it. The remains of an old spa were located directly under the bridge and were slowly turning the same color.

28 January 2011
Puente Del Inca - Uspallata

Ernest had some work to do on his bike and it was midday by the time we finally left. We cycled past Cementerio Andinista a small cemetery for climbers who died an Aconcagua. Then past Los Penitentes a well-known ski resort, now all boarded up (because it is summer and there is no snow). The pinnacles around the town are supposed to resemble a line of monks but I looked and looked but could see nothing that resembled a line of monks. Then it was a long mostly downhill run to Uspallata. Unfortunately we had a headwind all the way which made us pedal even on the downhills. The views were sublime and it is no wonder the film “7 Years in Tibet” was shot here. It was a stunning ride and we stopped many a time to try and capture the beauty of the surrounding mountains but to no avail. We had a scary moment when a large truck and trailer overtook us on the downhill and burst a tire right next to Ernest (who was ahead of me). I got quite a fright but things could have been much worse as pieces of tire flew everywhere and the truck swerved madly from side to side. Soon we reached Uspallata and what a surprise it turned out to be. It is a true oasis of poplar trees in this absolutely barren mountain landscape. Uspallata is a small town but with a campsite and all the necessary shops.

29 January 2011
Uspallata - Potrerillos

The party next to the campground in Uspallata carried on through the night and little sleep was had. It was 12.30 the following afternoon by the time we finally left. Again the road followed Rio Mendoza and the scenery was as spectacular as the previous day. Although it was mostly downhill there were still plenty of uphills and narrow tunnels as we followed the river. This is also a popular rafting destination and we could see many tour operators carting people to the drop off point for a raft down the river. Again a headwind picked up and I was kind of sorry that we’d left so late. However, we reached Potrerillos early and found a campsite close to the lake with beautiful braai places amongst shady poplars and other trees. Ernest had to have a braai in Argentina, and he bought a large chunk of beef and wood which he strapped to his bike, and that evening he was in his element just tending the fire.

30/31 January 2011
Potrerillos – Mendoza

It was a fairly short cycle to Mendoza, but first we had some solid hills to cross before going down into the valley. Once we reached route 40 junction the road widened and at least we had a shoulder to cycle on. This is wine country and we cycled past many a wine farm offering wine tasting and wine tours. Allthough Mendoza is a fairly large town it was an easy cycle into town. We found the accommodation frightfully expensive but still settled for a room in one of the hostels in the touristy part of town. It's high season and prices are at a maximum, the weather was however fantastic and in the high 20's.

Included in the hefty room price were bed bugs which, together with the disco next door, kept me up all of the first night. Fortunately the hostel had a nice garden with a swimming pool and some shade where one could relax during the day.

1 February 2011

We decided to stay another day in Mendoza, as there were things to do like internet, etc. We also booked for the braai tonight (eat all you can) of course for Ernest as I haven’t changed my vegetarian status quite yet.

02 February 2011

CYCLING CHILI - Puerto Montt to Los Libertadores Border

3 January - Puerto Montt – Puerto Veras - 20km

At last I felt that we could give the cycling a try and we cycled the short distance to picturesque Puerto Veras with its strong German influence. What a touristy place it was, I guess that picturesque places like that will always come with the hordes of backpackers, fancy hotels and pricy restaurants. Unfortunately it was overcast and drizzling so we did not see the famed volcanoes from across the lake.

At least my ankles held out and I felt a bit more confidant to continue north. Walking was still causing a lot of discomfort but at least it appeared that I could cycle.

4 January - Puerto Varas – Frutillar - 43km

We cycled along to the next village along the lake, looking for a campsite on the lake, but could not find any. We did however find a lovely campsite in someone’s garden and camped under a cherry tree. I was happy that a second day on the road went well without any aches or pains.

5 January - Frutillar – Osorno - 70km

I could not wish for a better start to my recovery cycle. The road was excellent, with a wide shoulder, a tailwind and it was a beautiful sunny day. For the first time in a very long while I could cycle with short sleeves, and could appreciate the countryside. Needless to say I was very happy.

We even found excellent accommodation in Osorno. Right in the town centre and with ground floor, outside rooms, TV and hot showers. I could not ask for more.

6 January - Osorno – Los Lagos - 95km

It was another perfect day on the road as we followed the Pan-American Highway North. The weather was warm, a slight tailwind and excellent scenery past forested areas. We turned off the highway to the small and very un-touristy village of Los Lagos. We found some rickety accommodation in centre of the village, more a homestay than a guesthouse.

7 January - Osorno – Loncoche - 84km

One of the best days one can have on a bike. The weather was warm; the road was good, gently undulating, past forestry areas and all this with a gentle tailwind. I was truly happy to be out on the road. We stopped at a roadside stall to pick up some cheese, something that seems to be quite popular around here. We pulled into the small village of Loncoche and found an excellent room in town (outside & ground floor). Ernest went off to the supermarket and came back with a bag full of salad stuff. He then proceeded to make an awesome noodle salad and I stuffed myself before crawling into bed.

8/9 January - Loncoche – Temuco - 88km

I could not believe my luck as it was another perfect day - clear skies, sunshine and no head wind. I knew my bad luck had to change some time. We pedalled along at leisure until we reached Temuco, quite a large town. After looking around a bit, we again found an outside ground floor room, something that I always prefer to being cooped up in a 3rd floor room with no outside windows.

We also stayed the following day, did some laundry and some internet. A walk to the interesting local market brought us again to the cheese sellers, fruit, fish, and meat vendors, and also to the local horse butcheries - something that appears to be quite popular around here.

10 January - Temuco – Collipulli - 102km

It was another excellent day on the road, although we had a bit of a head wind in the afternoon. We had to use a lot of sunscreen cream as the time in the cold South has clearly softened us up. It was so nice to be in hot weather without a howling wind. We pulled into the fairly small town of Collipulli. I just love these small villages where people go about their lives without the tourist influence. Each town has a park/plaza in the town centre, and colorful wooden houses. We found a room in the centre at a very reasonable price and just chilled out for the rest of the evening.

11 January - Collipulli – Los Angles - 77km

Blue skies abound and the sun was out as we biked along the Pan Americana highway (Route 5) north. As in the previous days there were plenty of small stalls along the road, mostly frequented by the truck drivers. There were a few hilly sections, as we crossed a number of large rivers along the way.

Soon we reached Los Angeles and turned off the highway to inspect. Not to be confused with the Los Angeles in USA, this is an agricultural town, but also close to a National Park and therefore a jumping board for those wanting to visit the park. This region was hard hit by the severe earthquake a year ago, and the town is still busy recovering from the disaster – rebuilding is in the progress, and many buildings are still in ruins. We found a room, and could pick up BBC on TV – I don’t seem to have missed a lot, in fact it is sometimes amusing to see what is considered to be World News!

12/13 January 2011
Los Angeles – Chillan

We made some sandwiches for the road and set off at 11h00, nothing unusual in this part of the world as people go to bed rather late and only get going at around 10h00. Ernest spotted a welding shop on our way out of town and quickly had his bike’s front rack repaired – it broke along the infamous Ruta 40 when he was being blown over on the gravel roads. It was nice to cycle in warm weather for a change and we even looked for shade when we wanted to rest.

Chillan was interesting as it had an old city with cobblestone roads and is also the birthplace of Bernardo O’Higgins who is regarded as the liberator of Chile.

We found Chillan rather interesting with many squares and parks; in fact it was so nice that we even stayed the next day. The town had a nice Town Centre with a mall and plenty of shops and interesting roadside cafes. There are also some very interesting churches near the town centre.

Chillan was partially destroyed by earthquakes in 1742 and 1928, and sits near the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake (magnitude 8.8) which again caused severe damage. The damage is still quite visible and our accommodation was slanting at such a degree that we thought we might just roll out the door.

14 January 2011
Chillan – Linares

Again we only left after 11h00, heading north on the Pan American highway. We turned off for Linares and found a little cycle path between the two lanes heading in and out of the town. Again the town surprised me with all its old buildings; unfortunately most are still off limits due to the earthquake of Feb 2010. Close to the town square is the Cathedral Church of San Ambrosio de Linares, one of the nicest buildings in town.

We found some nice affordable accommodation (with cable TV), we could store the bikes in a spare room and, as usual, Ernest lit his petrol stove and cooked some pasta in the bathroom.

15 January 2011
Linares – Talca

For the first time in a long while we had a slight headwind. We felt rather lazy and turned off for Talca. Talca is a university town in a wine region and that sounded pretty good to me. Unfortunately we found Talca to be badly damaged from the Feb 2010 earthquake and all the cheap accommodation in the older areas that we’d heard about was destroyed – there were mostly just empty lots where these hostels had stood. It’s rather shocking to see such devastation.

We took a walk to the local Santa Isabel supermarket (which you get in every town) to get some supplies for supper and for the road the next day.

16 January 2011
Talca – Curico

We left at 10.30 with a nice tail wind, but it was not long before we heard a loud bang, which was Ernest’s back tire having a blowout. He fixed it rather quickly and we were on our way again. This was Wine County and we cycled past many a wine farm which very much resembled those at home in the Western Cape. Once we reached Curico we found the very pleasant Hotel Prat – with a kitchen for guest use, and outside ground floor rooms which is always a convenience as we can park the bikes outside the door.

The town was destroyed by an earthquake in 1928 and rebuilt during the following year. As is the case with the other towns in the area, Curico was once again badly damaged in the February 2010 earthquake. The Plaza de Armas (the main square) is most likely the most visited place because of its trees and plants, as well as the historic bandstand.

In summer around this area the sun only sets after 9pm and it only gets dark at around 10pm, which makes it a fairly long day - no wonder people have such a long siesta in the afternoon. Shops could be closed anything from 12 – 4pm!!

17 January 2011
Curico – Rancangua

As usual we left after 11h00; it was fairly hot with a slight tailwind, what a pleasure! Vineyards stretched as far as the eye could see, always with the ever present Andes to the East. We stopped a few times for a cool drink and soon reached Rancagua. I did not expect much of the town, but was once again pleasantly surprised. Rancagua has a historic section with loads of old houses. It is quite a big and busy place with a very pleasant town square known as Plaza of the Heroes, and is the place where the Battle of Rancagua took place (also referred to as the disaster of Rancagua because O’Higgins and his army had to beat a hasty retreat and hide in the nearby caves).

18/23 January 2011
Rancagua – Santiago

Santiago (population about 6 million) was one of the easiest cities I’ve had to cycle into. Once we got onto the local road, which runs next to the highway, it was straight into the city center. Ernest knew exactly where to go, so we headed straight for the Hostel Chile Inn - where he’d stayed a couple of months earlier before cycling South. It was located in Bario Brazil district close to the City Centre and within easy walking distance of almost everything. Of course, you don’t have to walk because the underground metro railway station was about 100 m from the door and could take you almost anywhere in the city at a fairly cheap rate (we made good use of that).

The hostel was one of the many old 3-storey buildings in the area with high ceilings and large rooms (former grand homes with an upper deck and ground floor courtyard). The staff were really friendly and we even got invited to a free barbeque on the deck (after all, we were like locals as we stayed there a full week). We danced the Macarena till the wee hours of the morning together with the staff and a wild mixture of guests (Italians, Germans, Brasilians, Venesuelans, Mexicans, and of course Chileans from other areas).

We spent a few days wondering around town, enjoying the novelty of taking the underground around the city the funicular up the San Cristobal hill to the statue of the Virgin Mary which offers panoramic views of this vast and pleasant city. My laptop gave endless trouble and I handed it in to be fixed but once I got it back I discovered it was still not working. On the Friday afternoon I took it in to a proper repair shop, and could only get it back on Monday pm, the 24th.

24 January 2011

I finally got my laptop back but then it only spoke Spanish, at least it was working again. I shopped for some essential stuff (i.e. nail varnish) and other stuff and was ready to leave.

25 January 2011
Santiago – Los Andes
81km (+3km through tunnel)

At last we were on our way again. The scenery changed as soon as we left on our way North, and quickly became very desert like. It was boiling hot as we followed the road north to Los Andes via a good old climb up the mountain. After about 55km we reached a tunnel where we were not allowed to pass through on our bikes due to the tunnel being very narrow. The people from the tunnel/highway company quickly loaded us up and took us through the tunnel with their pickup truck. Then it was a pleasant short downhill run to Los Andes valley. We carried on until we saw a small roadside stall with nice lawns, and upon enquiry we found out that they had a campground out back – they also sold homemade bread so that’s where we stayed for the night.

26 January 2011
Los Andes - Road side camping

We packed up at leisure and as could be expected the road was mostly uphill. Our pace was rather slow and we stopped numerous times to take photos and drink some water. We camped up on the hill above an emergency truck stop with good views of the surrounding mountains. The adjacent cascading stream from the snowy mountains provided fresh water. We stopped there a bit early, but we passed the time and Ernest had a wash in the icy cold river (without anything to drink!). While we were having supper a jackal came wandering past, and soon it was pitch dark and a zillion stars lit the sky.

27 January 2011
Road side camp to Puente Del Inca

Three years and 10 months on the bikes! All day long the road zig-zagged up the pass. Although the gradient was acceptable it was still a steep and dreadfully slow 22km climb up the pass from where we’d spent the night. Roadworks along the way also caused more long delays. Eventually we reached the tunnel at the top of the pass and the authorities were kind enough to give us a lift through the 3km long tunnel. Once on the other side it was still 18km to the customs office. We flew downhill past the small settlement of Las Cuevas with just a few timber restaurants and a strong smell of lentil soup. Then it was onto the small touristy village of Puente Del Inca where we found a basic campsite. At least we had a sight of Aconcagua from the road, the highest peak in the America’s (6 960 m). Ernest cooked supper and then it was an early evening for me. Puente Del Inca has the most amazing scenery with high mountains all around which turned all colors of the rainbow at sunset. In addition there was a natural stone bridge across the river which has turned a lovely orange color from the sulfur spring waters running over it. The remains of an old spa were located directly under the bridge and were slowly turning the same color.

CHILEAN PATAGONIA - Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt

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13/25 December - Puerto Natales

All was not well as yet! I still needed the medication from the pharmacy and had to ask one of the staff at the hostel to get it for me. At least I shuffled along and had a much needed shower. Thank goodness for my laptop! At least I could sit in my room and type up my adventure. To be quite honest with myself, I very much suspect that the problem was due to a lack of walking. After nearly 4 years on the bike, my ankles are not very strong. So all in all, it was my own fault for once again thinking that I can do more than the body was capable of!!!

Both Yutta and Fran├žois arrived back from their hike and both had a great time, needless to say I was very envois of them.

I waited for the ankles to improve, but it was slow in healing itself so I helped it along with some anti inflammatories, just so I could go to the bank and do some shopping. Day after day I waited but progress seemed dreadfully slow. Daily I shuffled to the supermarket, a painful exercise at snails pace. My friends all moved on and still I waited. I could not believe, that a simple ankle injury takes that long to heal. I was bored and desperately wanted to get on the road. I however had the bad news that tendonitis takes 3-6 weeks to heal!!! This was not what I wanted to hear. There are unfortunately certain things in life that one can to pretty little about. This was one of those situations so I waited!!

Morning after morning I woke with great anticipation just to find that there was little difference since the day before. I was close to despair, bored stiff, and with virtually nobody to talk to I even started wishing that I could cycle into the wind.

The hostel where I stayed turned out to be a favorite among young Israeli travelers, and they arrived in their hordes. They seem to favor South America as a travel destination and move in packs – you seldom see one travelling alone. They therefore have little need for other conversation and stick very much together, speaking Hebrew – so that lot was of no benefit to me as I impatiently waited.

And I waited … And I waited … And I waited!!!!

26 December - Puerto Natales

At last if felt as though my injuries were on the mend and I could at least walk around with less pain than before. That evening Ernest arrived from the North looking rather haggard from weeks of battling the wind and the harsh conditions along the Carretera Austral in Chile, and the infamous Route 40 in Argentina. There was a lot to catch up on since I’d left him in Melbourne 2 months earlier, so we talked until late in the night.

27 December - Puerto Natales

That morning we went to the ticket office in order to find out about the Navimag Ferry which sails between Puerto Natales and Puerto Montt to the North – apparently a spectacular 3-day voyage via the channels and fjords. We discovered that this weekly ferry sailed that very evening and there was a cabin available for us – so a quick decision was made to take the ferry, something which I secretly had my eye on for a long time. Although it was quite expensive, it included 4 nights and 3 full days of sailing plus all meals. It would also give my feet 3 more days rest, and it would get me out of the fierce Patagonian wind and cold conditions (I hoped).

An odd thing is that we had to board the ferry at 21h00, but it only left at 4h00 the next morning. I was as excited as a child just to be on the move again. Shortly after 21h00 we settled into our cabin on the Navimag ship “Evangelistos”, and although our cabin had 4 berths we were lucky to be the only two occupants.

28 December - Puerto Natales – Puerto Montt - Day 1

Early morning we sailed, and by 6 AM the ship was maneuvering through narrow passages and fjords. Snow-covered jagged peaks surrounded us and a fierce wind whistled by, so I was happy to watch the spectacle through the cabin window.

That afternoon we passed the huge and spectacular Glacier Amalia, and although it was bitterly cold I ventured outside for a picture or 2. The scenery was impressive with thousands of uninhabited islands, snowy mountain peaks and icy looking glaciers in the distance.

We’d already had 2 good meals that day, and at supper I discovered that I could request a vegetarian main course instead of the usual fish/meat/chicken – so I had a very tasty vegetable stew and rice which came with a small side salad.

29 December - Puerto Natales – Puerto Montt - Day 2

Breakfast like the previous day consisted of bread porridge/eggs, cheese, ham, fruit, yogurt, cereal, juice and coffee. Not bad for 2 homeless people! All the meals have been excellent so far, with enough tasty food to go around. Through a narrow channel we passed the shrine on a small island which is the Guiding Spirit of all sailors, and we also passed an “insurance scam” floating shipwreck before heading out of the channels into the rolling swells of the Pacific Ocean (time to take the anti-seasickness tablets). Although the dinner was good as usual, I noticed that there were less passengers at the meal, and it was fairly tricky to balance your food tray on the way to the table. At least we were rocked to sleep that night.

30 December - Puerto Natales – Puerto Montt - Day 3

Some of the passengers still seemed a bit “green around the gills”, but we again enjoyed our breakfast (proof that the seasickness tabs work). By mid-day we were back in the channels again and sailed smoothly along without having to cling onto every conceivable thing like tables, chairs, and especially railings. The early morning fog burned off and brought excellent views of the Southern Andes Mountains with its jagged peaks and snowy volcanoes. For the first time we had calm sailing and sun at the same time, and the upper deck outside the bar/lounge was very popular that afternoon (by evening some of the paler passengers resembled well-cooked crayfish).

Once again at dinner time we stuffed ourselves in the dining room, and as any good ship will have it there was a little bit of a party on our final night.


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31 December - Puerto Montt

We docked at Puerto Montt during the wee hours of the morning, and by the time I woke up most of the trucks had already left the cargo decks below. We enjoyed our final fancy breakfast and then it was time to pack the bikes and disembark to continue with our normal lives.

We took a short cycle to the city centre where we booked into the hospedaje where Ernest previously stayed on his way South. In the typical Chilean style it was a rickety triple-storey shingle clad home with lace curtains and wooden display cabinets housing all kinds of family heirlooms. I felt that I had finally arrived in Chile proper. The elderly owner of the place is also quite an interesting character (he’s owned that place – simply named B&B – for the past 40 years).

That evening we walked out in search of some excitement, but found that most restaurants and bars in the city were closed and everyone seemed to party at home in the suburbs. However, there were spectacular midnight fireworks at the pier, and our host invited us downstairs for a drink where his family and friends were partying.
1 – 2 January - Puerto Montt

We stayed in Puerto Montt for the next 2 days, waiting for my ankles to heal. I lay watching TV while Ernest proceeded to polish off 2 bottles of whisky and a case of beer!

The weather in Puerto Montt was relatively mild and I was happy to be out of Patagonia. So all in all Patagonia was not as scenic as it sounded, all I remember is a ferocious wind and a hike that went wrong.

That afternoon a fairly strong earthquake hit Chile, fortunately it was quite far north and we only felt a moderate trembling. Our rickety accommodation where we stayed swayed from side to side but fortunately no damage was done.