zaterdag 16 april 2016

Leg 16: Cochrane (Chi) - Ushuaïa (Arg) (day 577 - 605)

Looking at weather forecasts has now become one of my main activities when I am not cycling.  It's the first thing I do when I find WiFi, before I check my mails and my FB.  There were 3 days of cycling between Cochrane and Villa O'Higgins.  The weather was going to be good for 2 days and average for 1 so I went for it... following the "Carretera Austral" or Ruta 7, the main Chilean way south.

Downhill along the Rio Barrancos to the Rio Baker valley.

Rollercoaster on narrow roads with no traffic...

Pure nature past the puente Don Baucha over the Rio Carrera...

At the end of the day I had to cross a Chilean fjord.
I arrived at Puerto Yungay just in time to see the last ferry of the arrive...

... meaning I had to overnight in the waiting area of the ferry terminal.  4 more cyclists came in later that night: a Chilean couple, Mario from Stuttgart and Walter from The Netherlands.
Especially Walter was a good laugh.  He was cycling north and had arrived in Villa O'Higgins two days before on a Sunday morning, when the shops were closed. Rather than hang around a couple of hours, he decided he would cycle the next three days without food.  Crazy !

There was a little café near the ferry terminal where we all went for coffee the next morning and he developed a crush on the waitress.  He didn't speak Spanish, but that didn't bother him.
Walter: "ik heb vannacht van jou gedroomd" (I dreamed about you last night)
She: "no te entiendo" (I don't understand you)
Walter: "het was een nachtmerrie" (It was a nightmare)

This former 'Dutch' truck provides Villa O'Higgins with food.

This was the 'average' day in the Rio Bravo valley...  Mario and I cycled more than 60km in total wilderness: no villages, no houses, no ranches...

until we arrived at the refugio El Parrillal, our sleeping place for the night.
Once again the wind was present.  The wind will become my fiercest enemy so far on this journey...

We were lucky enough to find shelter in this 'refugio'.  Well, not really lucky, Walter had told us about this place the night before.  The wind howled through the walls but at least we did not get wet.

View from the mirador at Lago Cisnes.

We arrived in the town of Villa O'Higgins, and found out all ferries to Argentina were cancelled due to the high winds, meaning we had to stay an additional day in O'Higgins: a day to forget quickly.

The 'historical' church of VOH, built in 1977. 

VOH was only connected to the Chilean road system in 2000 (before that there was a 100km long horsetrail) and has been growing rapidly since.  People who want to live in the 'Patagonian wilderness' end up in these neighbourhoods.

Mario and I got talking to a third cyclist, Gianluca from Italy, and we ended up sharing a dorm room together for night.  The end of an epic 36-night stint without sleeping in a bed (my last bed had been in Chillan on the 10th of January).

Of course, the fourth person in the dorm ended up being a torrential snorer and neither of us could sleep because of him.

Bahia Bahamondes near VOH: the very end of the Carretera Austral.  The further way south for cyclists is by boat over the lake O'Higgins to Argentina. 
The weather improved.  The proper ferry to Argentina was already fully booked until the end of the week, but a local fisherman was willing to take 20-something cyclists onboard for $40 each.

Gianluca with his fatbike and Mario. Gianluca was a remarkable figure as well.  He had already been to Patagonia 6 times, and had also cycled in Northern Canada, carrying 25 days (!) of food.
Mario was probably the most normal one of all of us.  The only remarkable thing about him was that he cycled in short pants and survived on biscuits.  I did that as well sometimes, but not here in Patagonia where temperatures barely get over 10°C.

Ready to sail with Master Vervenne !

Lago O'Higgins between Chile and Argentina.  

Nearing the Chilean border post of Candelario Mancilla, consisting of two farms and an immigration office with 5 officers stamping out 20 cyclists. 
Back in the 70's or 80's, you know, back when you needed a horse to get in Villa O'Higgins, there was a war/border conflict over this area.  One Chilean soldier was killed, named Mancilla.  Hence the name.

A 17km long 'road' leads to the border...

..where the 'road' turns into a small hiking trail visible on the left.  For a good understanding: this is an official border crossing !

Of course, this difficult Argentinian trail is a must for all Patagonian cyclists !

A muddy section on the trail...

Books of Physical Geography will have to be re-written, as I have discovered a new form of erosion: "cycle-touring trail erosion".  During the summer season, approximately 100 cyclists a week pass through here, and the initial gully formed by hikers and horses, has now deepened and widened that it's just possible to fit a bicycle with 2 Ortlieb front-panniers in there.

At the end of the trail you get to see this: Lago del Desierto with the Fitz Roy.
I camped here at the Argentinian immigration and it would prove to be one of the more magical moments of the entire trip.

Morning view.  Nice eh ?

The next day, yet another ferry brought me to the southern shore of Lago del Desierto, from where it was a 37km ride to El Chaltén...

...where I stayed three nights at the Casa de Ciclistas.  Founded in 1985, the town is younger than me!  It's characterized by high prices (22$ for a dorm bed, 4$ for a coffee), so I was glad I could stay for free here. 
The place is run by Florencia, a single mother with 2 kids who somehow still has space and time available to host up to 20 cyclists a day.  I presume the donations from the cyclists help her to pay the bills and finish the house.

The garden of the Casa de Ciclistas.  Three rainy nights were spent here.

El Chaltén is the 'trekking capital of Argentina'.  I spent my first of two rainy days inside my tent reading Dostojevsky's 'Crime and Punishment'.  The second day I wanted to read Tolstoy, but changed my mind and hiked a day through the rain in the Parque Nacional los Glaciares.

View of the Cerro Grande on my way to Laguna Torre.

After a 12 km trail I got to see the Cerro Torre...

... and the Glaciar Grande at the Mirador Maestri.

From there I took another trail of 11 km along Laguna Nieta to the Camping Poincenot...

... to return to El Chaltén and the Rio de las Vueltas.  Total distance covered: 34 km.  What a miserable day that was...

I left El Chaltén with a roaring tailwind: I cycled 95km in the first 3 hours, followed by a sharp right turn to round Lago Viedma and then I needed another 3 hours for the remaining 20km to Estancia La Leona.

To avoid the wind, I sheltered during the afternoon at the Estancia La Leona, with a Brazilian cyclist who was even less talkative than me.  I like to meet people who talk less than me :).

At sunset, when the wind died down, I cycled another 10km to an abandoned pink house, which has become a well-known refugee spot for touring cyclists in this region.

My very first 'wind'-sign near Lago Argentino, some 50 km from the tourist town of El Calafate  ! 

Lago Argentino.

After a day off in El Calafate to stock up on food, I continued in an easterly direction for a couple of days in the Pampas.

A farm on the Cuesta Del Minguez with Lago Argentino in the far distance.

To find a protected shelter for the wind, I camped at the Agencia Vialidad Provincial (AVP) in El Cerrito, a road maintenance station along the famous Ruta Nacional 40.  These are the guys who have to replace all the blown-over signposts after the storms.  El Cerrito was just this shack by the way, nothing else.

Disaster the next day, when the Ruta Nacional 40 turned into a gravel road from hell and blocked my wheels, forcing me to do an 85km detour through the 'town' of Esperanza.  That 'man' at that beginning of the gravel road is warning the drivers for the cattle grid.

The next day I once again overnighted at an AVP, this time in a trailer at Tapi Aike.  A real 'metropole' with an AVP, a police station, a gasoline station and a farm.  I guess during the long, cold winter they can all play a game of cards together. 

I was glad to be inside that night.  I felt sorry for an Italian cycling family with two kids I had met earlier that day, who were going to camp somewhere along the road. 

Somewhere along the road can well have been this.  You can clearly see bicycle tracks leaving the road and going down towards the drainage tunnel underneath the road.  I bet a cyclist slept in that tunnel.  It's called 'Khadafi-accommodation.'

The border between Argentina and Chile at Paso Don Guillermo.  The Argentinian border guards were kind enough to fill my water bottles and on the Chilean side, a busload of German tourists let me go through Immigration first.

This is the border between Chile and Argentina.  My bicycle was not supposed to lay down... once again very windy...

The ghost town of Cerro Castillo.  I think it's one of those towns that were created to solve border issues.  There was a church, a municipal office, a hospital, a post office, a police office, a library, a central square and a bus station.  Now it just needs inhabitants.

No budget accommodation in town, so I set up my tent in a sheltered spot of the bus station.
The next day I went to Torres Del Paine.  I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.  Enjoy !

View from the Mirador Lago Sarmiento.

One of the several guanacos I met that day.

Mountain range near Laguna Amarga.


View from Mirador Lago Pehoè.

Lago Pehoè itself.

Lago Pehoè and its famous ***** Hosteria on the left.

Mirador Grey at Lago del Toro.
I camped a night at a campground in Torres Del Paine.  Bad decision, since I was not allowed to pick my own spot and had to sleep between 2 cars whilst the campground was almost completely empty.

Cuevas del Milodon near Puerto Prat. A prehistoric animal lived in this cage.

The Pacific Ocean at Puerto Natales.
I was sick when I arrived here,  I could hardly pedal the last 80 kilometers.  I tried to hitchhike, but of course no one wanted to pick me up.  I took refuge in a hostel for a night.

Another Difunta Correa 'chapel' (next to the garbage plant of Puerto Natales).

The ruta 9 between Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas near Estancia Flores.

It can be windy over here.

Ruta 9 near Estancia Cerro Negro.

Almost no villages between Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas, only estancias (ranches) with a couple of houses.

Monumento del Viento near Punta Arenas.

I just couldn't make it to Punta Arenas in 2 days and had to camp at the free campground of Parque Chabunco near the international airport.  This would turn out to be the last time I used my tent.

Where is my tent now ?

View from my tent next to the Strait of Magellan.
The next day I was almost blown over by the wind.  I ended up staying 4 days in Punta Arenas because of the fierce winds.

The municipal market of Punta Arenas.  Souvenirshops and restaurants, not comparable to the municipal markets north of Chile.

Punta Arenas harbour with a cruise ship next to an offshore vessel.

I shared a room in the hostel with German cyclist Sam, who had just finished his ride from Lima to here.

We rented a car with some other people from the hostel and drove to the southernmost point of mainland America, Cabo Froward.

Me, overlooking the Strait of Magellan at Cape Froward.


One can fly back home from Punta Arenas via Santiago but my final destination was Ushuaïa in Argentina.  So I had to cross the Magellan Strait with the ferry from Punta Arenas to Porvenir on Isla Tierra del Fuego.

The port of Porvenir, well protected from high waves.

Parque El Recuerdo at Porvenir.  Porvenir has a large Croatian community.

I found a shelter in this parada or busstop for the night, and I actually managed to sleep, even with open windows !

Most of the winds come from the west.

Inscription inside another parada.

Need to translate ?

Paso San Sebastian: the bordercrossing between Chile and Argentina.

Ola Argentina !  This is my fourth visit !

I slept inside the waiting room of the Argentinian immigration at San Sebastian...

...where I met an American and a Brazilian hitchhiker heading north.  We cooked together.

There is some oil exploration on Tierra Del Fuego near Rio Grande.

Monument Las Malvinas in Rio Grande.
Rio Grande, the main base of the Argentinian Air Force during the Falklands War in 1981.

The second-to-last day was spent in Tolhuin, birthplace of Dr. Favaloro, inventor of the by-pass operation for heart surgeries.

Like most of the cyclist, I slept at Panaderia La Union, where there is a free dormitory for cyclists in a building adjacent to the bakery.  I stocked up on bread there so I would not have to buy bread in Ushuaïa. 

Inscription on the wall from Marijke, who I met on the Trampolina de la Muerte in Colombia.

Last day, along Lago Fagnano near Tolhuin.

Last picnic spot of the trip, a brief moment of sunny weather allowed me to undress.

Another stop at Lago Escondido.  On the left you can see Paso Garibaldi between the two mountains.
From there its all downhill to Ushuaïa...

The other side of Lago Escondido as seen from the same mirador with in the distance Lago Fagnano.

A symbolic moment: 30km before Ushuaïa I met José from Spain, who just started his trip from Ushuaïa to Alaska.  You can follow him on Facebook: Un pajaro sin nido (a bird without a nest).

Entrance of Ushuaïa.

Southernmost Grido Helado in the world.

Obligatory photo after more than 30.000 km of cycling and climbing over 30 continental divides.  All in all covered in 605 days...

I arrived in Ushuaïa on the 10th of March, and my flight home was on the 18th, so I had way too much time on my hands...  so I went deeper south to the visit the Tierra del Fuego National Park.

Lago Verde in the Tierra del Fuego National Park.

National Park Tierra Del Fuego, final end of the Ruta Nacional 3 road.

Bahia Lapataia in the Tierra del Fuego National Park: end of the hiking path.

Autumn colours in March...

Fox on the run.

The second daytrip was to the Martial Glacier to get a stunning panoramic view of Ushuaïa, the 240km long Beagle Channel and the Chilean Isla Navarino in the distance. 

On my way back.

No wind this morning when walking to the airport, good for a mirror view of the clouds....

Experienced crime in South America at last: someone opened my bike box in Buenos Aires whilst it was being loaded onto another flight to Madrid and stole my frigging saddle !!!

Last camping spot of the trip was at Brussels Airport waiting for the first train in the morning.  4 days later terrorists destroyed this very place. 

!!! THE END !!!