Puerto Nadales did beat expectations and it is now time to leave for “la ventura” once again.
Not really sure what will lay in front of me as I have been warned of uphill struggle and badly unsealed roads, but surely it will just turn out to be two or three dsays of interesting road time.
On my way out of town I stop to take a couple of picture by the sea side and then I start the long uphill drive to the border.
The road becomes a real climb after leaving the national route and joining the side road heading for the border. I am still in data range with my Chilean chip so I am chatting with Matteo, one of the Italians I cycled to Ushuaia with. He warns me about the climb and I reply: “no problem, given the inefficiency of the Chilean border I’ll get plenty of rest at the custom point”. Once the words were uttered the result was guaranteed, in and out in 45 seconds flat and faced by an additional three miles of climb!!!!
The Argentinian border post, quite symmetrically positioned three miles down the other slope of the pass, is also terribly efficient. It’s not a problem though, I’m going downhill.
I get to Rio Turbio, a rather bleak place that however has a ski station. I get some water and swap the mobile phone chip back to the Argentinian one discovering it does not work anymore. It’s Sunday so, for the first time in a while, I will have to go few days with no telephone or internet at all.
I get through town quickly and on the other side there is quite a long flattish ride to a cool power station where there are pickets for a dispute that has been going on for three months now.
I stop a few minutes talking to the strikers that tell me the new owner, a Spanish multinational, has refused to pay them for three months now. It suddenly all looks really like the South America encountered by Che Guevara in his motorcycle trip.
After that I leave and start peddling in a rather featureless desert for hours on end. The wind is with me and I have resolved that I will make it to the start of the unpaved section of the road where I will camp tonight.
Shortly after I took this picture I see, in the distance, what could only be another cyclist. It takes me very little to catch up with him and, after unplugging, I started chatting.
Paco, a crazy French who had ever cycle toured before started in Punta Arena a week ago by buying a bicycle (£40) and a bunch of equipment to cycle to Uruguay. his set up is not the most comfortable, having to carry the backpack on his shoulder whyle cycling, but he appears to be full of spirit so I bet on him. The only thing is that he’s thinking of cycling up the east coast of Argentina, the one I did on the bus (all 40 hours of it) and there is precious little to see drink or eat for long stretches of it.
We got to Tapi Aike at eight, with plenty of light still to be had. The couple of Dutch we met along the route were already camped and there appeared to be three more French cycle tourists. Obviously watering holes in the desert are very popular.
The plan today is to skip the “ripio”, i.e. the part of road without tarmac, I’ll see if I have luck with hitchhiking for this part of the road, on the other side I’ll cycle again for the remaining tarmac to El Calafate.
It turns out that the hitchhiking was not as successful as I thought it would be. Perhaps at this time in the morning there are few travellers and lots of cars full of people going to work. Or it might be that, with a rate of one car every four minutes, waiting some forty minute only meant seeing some 10 cars going by.
In the end I saw a overlander type camper parked in front of the police station we slept at and asked if they were going north, they were. We went through the almost 50 miles of the worst gravel and emerged a bit shook on the other end.
I get deposited 50 miles from El Calafate on top of a ridge with a lovely view of the Lago Argentino and a 13 miles downhill in front of me.
On route I find a great example of my pet hate, bad signing.
Find a hostel pretty pronto and then at the same time book the first excursion and the bus to El Bolson, tomorrow rest and then the El Calafate extravaganza commences, more to come….