Saturday, 20 December 2014

Tierra Del Fuego. Cycling North from Ushuaia to Rio Grande

(next page: Escape from Tierra Del Fuego. Rio Grande to Punta Arenas)

We've been in Patagonia for about a week now. I've lost complete track of time and have no idea what day it is. Oh, it's Friday! Everything is a bit of a blur, so I'll try and summarise it relatively quickly.

We flew on the 4:45am flight from Buenos Aires, so we arrived in Ushaia very early. LAN didn't charge us anything to take out bicycle on the flight. It came within our baggage allowance (of 2x 20kg pieces). So if you want to fly with your bike from Buenos Aires, don't fly Aerolineas Argentinas, fly LAN instead. So it cost me €90 in total to transport my bike from London to Ushuaia. I'm pretty pleased with that price!

We set up our bikes in the airport, which took several hours. I discovered that Ortlieb handle bar bag mounts are only good to be used once, so I can't use mine unless I can find a quick klick mount, which I have been assured is impossible in Argentina. With that in mind, I have reverted to a trusty bum bag (fanny pack) for my camera and petty cash. Looking cool! Haha.

Buenos Aires was hot. Patagonia doesn't seem to know what is going on. We landed in frightfully windy weather. The short ride from the airport to the centre took a while and it involved a lot of leaning sideways into the wind, yet the next day we had the most gorgeous hot weather.
A memorial to Las Malvinas (The Falkland Islands). It's definitely not something to joke about with Argentinians. There is a strong naval presence down here and everywhere you look there are references to Las Malvinas. It's an incredibly nationalistic neck of the woods.

Some typical ramshackle wooden housing in Ushuaia.

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A frightfully creepy window display in Ushuaia.

Tierra Del Fuego National Park
We headed into Tierra Del Fuego National Park to test out our camping equipment. I had used most of my stuff while riding up to Scotland the month before, but Vijay's tent needed to be put to the test. The weather was phenomenal! No winds, bright blue skies and very warm. It's not so bad down here after all.
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Our camp spot in the park.
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These little orchids were growing everywhere. I think they are called dog orchids.
This is our Austrian friend, Benjamin. He is also cycling north, but is heading off a few days after us. No doubt he will catch up with us, as we are planning to take it pretty slowly at first.
Testing out one of Vijay's camp stoves. He has a Trangia mini and this fella which burns twigs and little branches. It is definitely the most fun to use.

The wildlife around here is ridiculous. You are completely surrounded and everywhere you look there is something fascinating to watch. I find myself constantly snapping photos.
Ashy-headed goose
This fella was perched right above our tents. Perhaps he was the bird that pooped all over my new Hilleberg!
A Patagonian fox (Zorro)
Southern Caracara (Carancho)
Black-faced Ibis (Bandurria)
Midnight over Lago Roca
After a night of camping, we headed to the end of Route 3, just to say we had.
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Beech Oranges, or Cyttaria, some kind of fungus. It grows everywhere around here.
Empanadas are seriously great road food!

Leaving Ushuaia...
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Heading up and over Garibaldi Pass (900m) which is the highest point on Route 3. It's an 8km climb, but it was very mellow and not very taxing. Compared to cycling Kirkstone Pass in the Cumbrian Lake District, this was a doddle. So far the trip has been much easier than my ride to Scotland. Could I be tempting fate?

Lago Escondido (Lago Fagnano in the background)
There was a great view from the top of Garibaldi Pass followed by a fantastic downhill ride all the way to the "village" Lago Escondido. There was nothing there, so we chose to wild camp behind some bushes to the side of the highway. It was too far to get to Tolhuin, because we set off from Ushuaia late in the afternoon. Fortunately the days are incredibly long here and it never seems to get really dark in my tent.
The next morning we woke up early and rode about 4km to Lago Fagnano before having breakfast. We didn't have much water, so we figured we would get some from the Lake and boil it up for some porridge. Exciting stuff!
My MSR Whisperlite stove in action. It's a great piece of kit, and is very powerful. The most useful thing is that it can run off petrol which is very easy to find. To fill the bottle cost about 5 pesos, which is really cheap - about 40 pence/ 60 cents. At one gas station they wouldn't let me pay for the gas, so I was really pleased with that! The only problem is that it is very sooty. It's not the cleanest of camp stoves. Vijay has a trangia mini, which runs off ethanol which you can find anywhere in Argentina. Alcohol is a much cleaner fuel source and is not a problem if you get it all over your hands. That said I am very pleased with my whisperlite. I understand that there are quite a few countries where finding ethanol can be pretty tricky. That's never a problem with petrol. Plus, now I can say "We're cooking on gas(oline)" and mean it literally, not just figuratively.
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Taking a break by Lago Fagnano, which lies on a faultline between the South American plate and the Scotia plate.
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STOP! (shooting the road signs)
"Watch out for Guanacos!!!"
"Watch out, Guanacos!"
Guanaco roadkill.
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Our second campsite between Tolhuin and Rio Grande.  Nobody was there, but it obviously gets a lot of use as it was strewn with trash. Foxes were scavenging all over the place.

The first two days of riding from Ushuaia were perfect. The landscapes were breathtaking as we were surrounded by mountains and the weather was very forgiving. Day three should have been quite easy as the roads were very flat and we only had about 75km to ride. We set off in the rain, but we made great progress for the first hour or so. Once we hit the Atlantic Coastline that all changed as we cycled straight into a headwind, which slowed us down to around 10 km/h. The mountains had all bit disappeared and there was nothing but vast skies and howling winds. The funny thing is that by the end of the day I would have killed for a headwind. Why on earth would I think that? Because worse than a headwind is a sidewind.

The sidewinds hit us so badly that we could barely ride in a straight line. Our speeds dropped to lows of 6 or 7 km/h. When vehicles drove past us it blew us all over the place, onto gravel shoulder and off the road. We persevered for quite some time, taking periodic breaks until we eventually had to stop and push the bike for a few kilometres. We were being truly battered by the elements. Was I possibly being punished for suggesting that cycling up to Scotland was tougher? I take that statement back. This was hands down one of the worst winds I have ever ridden in. The vast and bleak landscape only added to the misery. We could have stopped and set up camp, but we didn't have any water to cook with. There seem to be no services between towns here, and those distances are usually around 100km.

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There are lots of shrines for people who have died on the roads here. The roads here are mostly straight with very few sharp turns, so it might be surprising, but people here don't here to any kind of speed limit, or common sense when it comes to overtaking. I didn't find the traffic on route 3 a problem until we got caught in that awful wind when we had little control over our bikes. Now I can't wait to get to San Sebastian so we can get off route 3 and head west on some quieter roads into Chile.
Finally, some Guanacos! ALIVE ONES!!!!
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Looks lovely, didn't feel it.
This road sign says it all!

It was at the brow of this hill that we caught sight of Rio Grande which gave us some motivation. Just a little bit further and the road would bend, meaning the wind would be behind us at last! ABOUT TIME!!!!
A busted up suspension bridge.

The road into Rio Grande is not spectacular. Well, Rio Grande is not a spectacular town at all, but we are happy to be here resting and recovering from a brutal day of riding. The people in this town are incredibly friendly. We were able to cruise into town, being pushed along at around 18 km/h by a tail wind. We didn't need to push at all. I wasn't really aware of the wind at this point, I just felt like I was riding and electric bicycle.
Rio Grande

CASA COREA! It's like I never left. Korea keeps following me around.
We checked into room 101. Uh-oh! We stayed in a slightly pricey hotel as we couldn't find the hostel. We also treated ourselves to some local wine and a steak. It would have been rude not to.
My pink, wind ravaged face says it all.

The next morning checked in the local hostel "Hospedaje Argentino". It looked closed, but just as we were about to leave a taxi driver pulled up who happened to be the owner's Mother. She rang him up and we got sorted out with some nice cheaper accommodation.

When we arrived in Rio Grande yesterday I felt battered, but proud, as we had conquered the winds and battled it out. Today I just feel exhausted, hungry and depressed.

We're probably going to stay here for another day so we can rest up and sort a bunch of stuff out. Vijay's gears are not doing what they should be doing. He's been having a lot of trouble getting into his lowest gears, which are essential when you are going to be cycling up hills and into winds. There's no real need for high gears, because if there are any downhills while touring, you usually just want to give your legs a rest and coast the whole way.

Our next big destination is Punta Arenas, in Chile, which I imagine will take about 3 days of cycling! First we head north along route 3 before heading west at San Sebastian. Once at Porvenir we'll catch the ferry across the Straits of Magellan.

(next page: Escape from Tierra Del Fuego. Rio Grande to Punta Arenas)

1 comment:

  1. Great blog - one of the best write ups I've seen on cycling in Patagonia for a while. Superb photos too. Great wait to get down there and check it out for myself. You seem to be having much more fun than this guy for example: