Here we are, at the end of the world. A few days ago, we reached Ushuaia, the most southerly city in the world and the closest to Antarctica (1000km away) . It has been a quite incredible adventure crossing Patagonia, which involves crossing in between Chile and Argentina numerous times no matter how you do it. There are days when you can enjoy beautiful lakes and mountains, and other days where you spend all day fighting the wind and seeing nothing. In fact some days when your feet are freezing, you scream at the wind because you cannot move further than 10kph and you end up sleeping in a storm drain under the road because it is the only place you can escape the wind. It is also the most expensive country we have travelled in South America, and the further south you go, the more expensive it becomes (tip- the exchange rate is horrible here so if you come, change money in Chile or wherever and bring lots of cash). However, when you arrive at the Glaciers, you take a breath in amazement, and the final ride past the snow-tipped peaks surrounded by the reds, oranges and golds of the autumn trees to arrive in Ushuaia at the end of the South American continent you know it has all been worth it.
Our Patagonian adventure:
10th March – Campsite at the border (in Argentina) to Villa de Angostura 29km
This area is just stunnning and our first day in Argentina was a short day and very beautiful. The route passed by crystal clear lakes and we were surrounded by mountains but never had to climb one!
11th – Bariloche (el yeti 8km beyond town) 90km
12th – A different campsite in Bariloche 5km + a loop called Circuito Chico 40km
The area around Bariloche is beautiful, and it is a great base to start exploring and visit the surrounding area, but although we spent a few days camping in Bariloche, the town really is not anything special and the famous circuito chico cycle route was a disappointing bicycle trip. It was also incredibly expensive even to camp. After the first night up on a hill, we found a campsite on the lake. But for 200 pesos (about 20 dollars) it seemed very expensive to sleep in our tents, freezing cold on the hard ground. I would strongly recommend passing through Bariloche but not staying there. The area surrounding Bariloche is stunning though.
14th – Lake Guillermo 50km
This route was awesome. Very very pretty but we found it very difficult to find somewhere to camp. We tried one lake but were moved on by a park ranger and ended up cycling late in the evening, until dark before we got off the road and headed down a path into trees to camp. We passed signs that also said no camping but this time we were lucky not to be disturbed. It was freezing cold so washing myself with a bottle of water was invigorating but very very quick!
15th – El Bolson 90km
El Bolson is famous for breweries and specialist beers. Unfortunately we could not get any cash. The banks were empty and as a result, so were my pockets. We were gutted to miss out on the artesanal beers but very fortunate when we met a nice couple called Charlie and Ingrid. They offered us a cabaña but when we explained we had no money, they gave us a room in their house. We shared wine and alfajors (chocolate covered biscuits to die for) and chatted into the night. They told us that most of route 40 was paved now, and would be faster than passing back to the ruta Austral in Chile so we decided to keep going South. They told us they would open their doors to more cyclists like us, as we thanked them the next morning. Great people.
16th – Museo Leleque 80km
There is almost nothing between El Bolson and Esquel. Late in the afternoon, the wind had become intolerable and our pace had dropped to a crawl. There was a police station and we went to talk to the police man who had a wonderfully large plot of perfect camping ground, a cuddly dog, and a little gun to ward off bandits…. but he was lacking anything in the brains department.
“Camp here? Well actually no, this is a private property”, he said.
(I said nothing but thought, if he is a policeman, then the place is paid for by the public, so that made no sense).
“And it is very dangerous here. The Mapuche are causing trouble, have you not seen in the news?” (I could only see his fluffy dog who wanted to play with us but OK, and if it was dangerous surely it would make more sense to be close to a nice man with a gun and a radio than to be out on the road in the dark?).
“And there was a volcano that errupted in Chile. There could be fires”.
“Oh really?” how totally unrelated, I thought. Well I knew there had recently been some big forest fires, and we knew about the volcano because we were near there when it had errupted but it was now totally calm.
“What about the museum opposite?” I asked, as my patience wore thin.
“Oh no that is closed”.
At that point I said goodbye to the unhelpful, publically funded moron and told Paola we should try the museum anyway. And we were lucky. The caretakers of the Museo were kind to us, and let us camp in the grounds. I was grateful to be treated with kindness and generosity again.They offered us a bathroom, and in the morning we had a free tour of the museum. Facinating to learn about the initial integration of the Europeans with the indigenous population, prior to the inevitable colonisation and gradual extinction of the indigenous people.
17th – Esquel 92km
We rested a few days in Esquel because we were lucky to find a small cabin, which was more reasonably priced, and was run by a lovely old lady called Luzmira who spoke very fast (fortunately Paola managed to keep up!). We also managed to get some money at one of the banks which was a relief. Esquel was a decent place to take a break and also to stock up with food and more gas for our stove.
20th – Tecka 98km
21st- Gobernador costa 83km
22nd – Camping by the road 102km
23rd – Rio Mayo 134km
We had a few days with not much to see, quite a lot of wind (mostly with us or crosswind) and we had covered a lot of distance. Most of the way had been asphalt (except the last few km which was under construction and a little difficulkt as we dropped down a hill in the dark), into Rio Mayo. We were pretty tired and needed to rest again. We spent one night in a hotel but also a rest day camping by the river, at Rio Mayo. The sun was out and despite the cold temeratures so we braved a dip in the river. It was lovely! That afternoon, I also saw my first Armadillo, scurrying on the other bank of the river.
25th – Perito Moreno 127km ….(This was the town. Do not confuse the town of Perito Moreno with the glacier. )
26th – Camping in front of Estancia la piedra (because it was closed) 78km
27th – Bajo Caracoles 52km.
This was a very expensive hotel and store. But there is very little choice if you want a warm shower. It is the only place in the middle of the pampa, and a tourist hotspot for people who want to visit the Cuevas de Los Manos, caves with prehistoric artwork, (mostly handprints).
28th – Tamel Aike 122km.
A big day with very strong wind. It had been tough but we changed direction and we had the wind with us for the last 50km. I race the tiny ostriches called Choique and enjoyed racing the Guanacos too. We were tired as the sun went down and we asked at a “Vialidad” ( a building for road workers) and were incredibly lucky to be offered a bed for the night and a warm shower. Plus they said they could take us to the next town in the morning. Paola accepted the lift and I said I would cycle of course.
29th – Gobernador gregores 102km
The next day the wind was with me, and I went 35kph until I turned West and started climbing a hill into the wind. This slowed me down for a few hours but I arrived at lunchtime which made a nice change!
30th – from Gobernador gregores to the start of the RIPIO. 60km
Oh my, this was hard. All day cycling into fierce headwind. 60km took over 7 hours. When I reached the part of the road that was unpaved the wind had become so ferocious that there was no way I could continue. I tried to put up the tent but this was also impossible. So I turned around to go back to a storm drain I had seen. Within seconds I was flying at 40kph and my feet had not even touched the pedals. I lay under the road in the concrete tunnel where the wind was still making an enormous roar that drowned out the noise of any cars passing overhead. Yet somehow I managed to sleep that night.
31st – Tres Lagos 75km plus 40km on a pick-up truck.
This was a day on dirt and stones that would not have been too hard but the wind was crazy still, and blew me to the side and made it dangerous on the stones or when a car was passing. A long arduous day….and when I finally reached the asphalt, the wind was so strong that I had to get off the bike and push for 2km very slowly, before giving up and ask for a lift from some nice roadworkers so that I could reach Tres Lagos that night, and my poor fiance who was waiting for me.
On the 1st April, we rested a night as the wind was crazy and I wanted to wait and see if it would die down so we could carry on the next day. My father sent me a message asking if we had heard about floods in the North of Chile, in Chañaral, which we had stayed in a few weeks earlier. We had even slept on a dry riverbed near there. The news said that 25 people had been killed. It was a sharp reminder that we were at the mercy of nature.
2nd April – 40km from tres lagos plus 120km in a car to El Calafate.
After a rest day, Paola caught a bus but I optimistically hoped that the wind would die down and started cycling. The wind only got stronger. I started slow and got slower. It was cold and miserable. I tried to carry on but it was impossible wind so I stuck out my thumb. I was immediately offered a lift for the remaining 120km to El Calafate.
This town was a wonderful base to explore two of the most amazing sights….Perito Moreno Glacier and the Torres Del Paine National park. We rested our legs and visited these places with organised tours. My favourite was the glacier. Seeing a 60m high wall of ice that stretches for miles is quite incredible. We actually walked on top of the glacier, a very different experience, which ended with a whisky with ice hacked from the glacier.
7th – El Cerrito (the day with the crazy dog) 96km
After El Calafate, a dog ran with us for about 20km. She kept running across the road in front of the cars. We couldn’t make her go away despite shouting and throwing stones. And then a car hit her. She rolled under the car but got up and carried on. So we named her “terminator” but we were grateful when a van stopped and a guy took the dog back to the town before we had to change her name to “roadkill”.
8th – Las horquetas hostel 133km
9th – Rio Gallegos 83km
10th – crossed back into chile and reached hostel Rupe just before the junction to go to the Magellan strait ferry 98km
11th – somewhere by the side of the road 108km
12th – San Sebastian (Chilean side) on Ripio 84km .
We cycled to the East to reach Rio Gallegos, a very uninspiring town, and went back into Chilean territory before we crossed the Magellan strait, at Punta Delgada, (we cycled onto the ferry and they didn´t charge us!). We had reached Tierra Del Fuego, the island at the bottom of the world; an awesome achievement! After a night camping by the road, under the watchful eye of little grey foxes, we had a long stretch of unpaved road. After 6 days of cycling and this tough day of rocking around on stones, Paola was suffering. When we reached San Sebastian, she showed me her leg which had swollen up like a balloon. It was not normal. we agreed that I would cycle to Rio Grande alone and she would take a lift to a medical centre.
13th – Rio Grande 96km
Between the Chilean border control and the Argentinian border control, there was more unpaved ripio, but the wind was going East with me and I flew. The rest of the day was undulating hills, and crosswind, as I turned South, but I arrived in good time and found Paola at the excellent hostel Argentino (very bike-friendly). She was desperate to finish the bike ride but the doctor had told her that she had probably burst a blood vessel due to over-exertion and needed to rest it completely and apply cream for 2 weeks. Oh no. I had broken my fiance!! She had done so well, but we couldn´t stay in Rio Grande for weeks. It was bittersweet for both of us as we had done so much but I would finish the last couple of days alone.
15th – Tolhuin 111km
16th – Ushuaia 104km
The last two days were incredibly beautiful. I thought of Paola all the time but I also made a big effort to enjoy it. It was Autumn in Tierra Del Fuego and after a month in Patagonia with very few trees, I was surprised to find hills covered in rich forests with trees painted gold, orange, red and green. Many had a weed or algae hanging from their branches which would have made a great setting for a spooky film. At Tolhuin, I stayed for free at the casa de ciclistas, which is run by the owner of the bakery. And spent the night chatting with other cyclists. Awesome.
The final day to Ushuaia started in a pink glow at sunrise, passing beautiful lakes, and a climb up the majestic Garibaldi pass. It is an incredibly exciting feeling to be cycling the last day in a continent, even though of course I wished Paola was with me. Although not that high, it is so far South that all the peaks that surrounded me were capped with snow. Although I was going West, the wind was mild and the day was a pleasure. The final 20km seemed to take forever as the road rose up and dropped down, only to rise again, before a final descent into Ushuaia. I was reunited with Paola and later with our friend Naoki who we had cycled with in Peru.
We had done it! The length of South America, from Bogota, Colombia to Tierra Del Fuego.
2449km in Patagonia
11,416 in South America
32,924 so far around the world!