Patagonia ARG

12 February upto 05 march 2015: Patagonia Argentina: 670 km
El Chalten – El Calafate – Rio Gallegos – San Gregorio – Punta Delgada

Wind, a crazy packed Casa de Ciclistas and impressive mountains – our memories of El Chalten, our entrance into the argentinian part of Patagonia. The village, quenched in a corner between the Campo de Hielo Sur, the Lago Viedma and the Pampa is one of the most turbulent places in Patagonia, and that means something down here where wind is quite a usual thing. Coming over the mountains from the enormous icefields it brings their cold into town and we ˋre glad to have once again a Casa de Ciclistas to stay. A place where we meet some old friends from the Carretera as well as new ones 😉
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Angel, Quique and Victor from Spain, Edwin and Sebastian from Ecuador and Columbia; there are Fanny and Tancrede from France and even Cherri and Charmian, two british girls whom we met five months ago in La Paz for the first time.
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The Casa is even more crowded than the one in Coihayque. The backyard of around 10x15m is filled by 18 tents and inside every free inch is occupied by people chatting, cooking, queuing for the bathroom and, and, and.. Itˋs more than generous from Flor to open her place to all of us and on top she prepares the best empanadas in town 🙂
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El Chalten itself is a small and cozy village and has, although very touristic, a really nice atmosphere. It attracts tourists because of the huge amount of hikes one can do around in all difficulty levels and the best: all of them are free. This part of the Nationalpark Los Glaciares lies in the sole part of the world which is not ´owned´ by any country: on the maps there is just a white square and the precise location of the border is unknown, so that neither of both countries (Chile and Argentina) can claim possession and collect entrance fees 🙂
We go out for “only” 2 daywalks. The first to Laguna Torre at the feet of Cerro Torres,
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the second to Lago de los Tres, at the feet of Cerro Fitz Roy.
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On both occasions we get magnificent views of the mountain ranges and glaciers who flow into the Lagunas, but the most crazy sight is for sure a guy who jumps into one of these Lagunas for a swim next to some big chunks of ice …
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On the day we leave we have our first encounter with real patagonian wind and it is a nice one for the first 90km: tailwind, 30km/h without pedalling. Then we have to take a turn and get diagonal headwind, guess which one we liked more 😉
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To get from El Chalten to El Calafate, we have to cycle a nearly perfect “U”, so the third day should bring headwind but – as a real nice surprise – is completely windstill. We take advantage of this unusual condition and just pass by El Calafate (the hometown of the Argentinian president Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, also known as La Kirchner) and ride on to the Lago Roca. There we intend to do a hike on the Cerro de los Cristalos which should have a marvellous 360° sight over the icefields.
We stay for three days on the free and beautiful campsite “La Huala” and get the company of some wildlife but have no luck with weather.
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The Cerro is all the time covered by clouds and as we try to do the hike anyway, halfway up it starts to rain and hail and we have to return.
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Of course we can´t leave the region without visiting the main attraction: Perito Moreno, an enormous glacier, covering about 350km², and with parts as big as cars or houses breaking off every day.
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The glacier is really impressive as you look at it, even from the visitors terraces which are some hundred meters away. At this distance the hearing and viewing of the ice breaking off are not similar anymore, so one has to pay attention since the sound reaches him only after the ice is already broken off…
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What we donˋt like is the organisation around though. It feels like a well organized machine to earn money, just one street from the entrance to the glacier, 30km forth and 30 back, no hikes or campsites and itˋs forbidden to leave this road in general. Not nice but not a problem by car nor by bus, but by bicycle itˋs a tough ride for one day and from the entrance to El Calafate itˋs another 50km more.
When coming back from the glacier we spend a day in El Calafate at La Cueva, a former refugio for climbers which burnt down and is now being rebuilt, mainly by volunteers who help a bit in exchange for free accommodation. We could actually camp where the new building is being constructed, a new entry at our list of unusual campsites 🙂
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We stock up supplies for six days before we leave El Calafate and head to Rio Gallegos, 315km away on the other side of the continent.
From here on we ride solo again, as we cross back over to the Atlantic Ocean, and all the other cyclists, including Diego and Dieisson, head south towards Puerto Natales and the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine.
And now we are really into the Pampa, very different from the Carretera Austral. Here there is just yellow and green grass, sometimes a river (but very seldom) and the road is wavy, not as steep as the Carretera.
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It is a nice change not to having to pedal in low gear all day and it is not boring at all like many other cyclists say. Wide views, rolling hills under an endless blue sky with everchanging white cloud formations – cycling along is a little bit like meditation. For the greater parts we have wind in favour and even beat our record for distance in one day: 109km – thank you wind 🙂
In the evenings the same wind is not so nice anymore. Although not too cold, it makes putting up the tent or cooking a real challenge but once settled down we can enjoy wonderful sunsets, with a coloured sky as far as one can see.
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It doesnˋt take us six but only three days to reach Rio Gallegos and then itˋs onto the last part on the continent before we cross over to Tierra del Fuego.
Another 110km, only because the road was built around the huge private properties of the Estancias down here, built in a straight line the distance would have been only half.
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We pass once more the Chilean border at the Paso Integracion Austral, and at night we seek a sleeping place in the only village this side of the channel: Punta Delgada (San Gregorio). The wind now blows from the South and this means itˋs really, really cold and cloudy. When we are searching a place, a municipality car passes by and the guy bring us to the alcalde (mayor), who gives us the keys of a municipal house. So we get a roof over the head, a stove to cook on and above all: shelter from the tormenting winds 🙂
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The next morning it is an easy 12km wind-in-the-back ride before we reach the Strait of Magellan which is a natural passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The ferry is free for cyclists and as usual we arrive like 2 minutes before the ferry leaves without knowing its schedule 🙂
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A 15min boatride to cross the Estrecho de Magallanes, then we set foot (and tyre) on the island Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost part of South America, and finally start cycling towards the end of the world…
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