Rio Gallegos to El Calafate

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February 5th 2006
Published: February 5th 2006
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Camping at Estancia Pelk AikeCamping at Estancia Pelk AikeCamping at Estancia Pelk Aike

If the riding doesn't get to me the relentless hedonistic pace of the Patagnonian nightlife will surely wear me out.
"Then they climbed back on their mounts and hurried to reach a village before dark, but the sun set, long with the hope of acheiving their desire, when they were near the huts of some goatherds, and so they decided to spend the night there; as much as it grieved Sancho not to be in a town, it pleased his master to sleep outdoors, for it seemed to him that each time this occured it was another act of certification that helped to prove his claim to knighthood."

(Don Quixote First part, Chapter X)

The above quote seems to sum up quite nicely my 4 day trip from Rio Gallegos to El Calafate. Riding north west into the wind was an extremely beautiful ride but tough going in places. The long spaces between, campgrounds, farms, service stations combined with a slow gradual climb as I move inland and of course my friend the wind meant quite long but enjoyable days in the saddle.

The passion for sheep farms continues to swell in my breast. After a relatively easy day ony my third day from Rio Gallageos I arrived at the place I had intended to camp/lodge. The only
Brief EncounterBrief EncounterBrief Encounter

Miko is student from Tokyo. I met her in the middle of nowhere in Patagonia. Unfortunately she was going south. We discussed, in Japanese, the condition of the road and the traditional academic rivalry between Keio and Waseda Univeristy. Very bizarre, Haruki Murakami type scenario.
problem was it wasn't there. There was a sign and a little hut but nothing else. I pushed on. Just as I was cresting a little rise in the road the wind started to blow. After about 30 minutes of particularly ferocious blasts I decided enough was enough and hopped off the road. Saw a gate for the Estancia Pelk Aike and went to ask ask if I could camp. 17km of dirt track and 3 hours of granny ringing later I arrive at a small Estancia tucked into the side of a broad windswept valley. I was greeted by the farmer, Walter, at the gate. He was very friendly, spoke good English, expressed mild surprise at my chosen mode of transport, gave me water and let me camp. Don't suppose he gets many casual visitors just dropping in for the night. Watched the sunset eating tuna sandwiches in my tent. As soon as the sun dipped below the mountains their shadows raced dramatically down the valley, in a matter of minutes it was lights out. In the morning no sign of Walter but there is another farmer. We have a brief rudimentary conversation in Spanish (i.e I said "Si"
A room with a viewA room with a viewA room with a view

Evening view from my tent in Estancia Pelk Aike. Sadly I was not joined by Helen Bonham Carter.
and pointed in the vague direction of where I thought El Calafate was). I think the main point he was trying to convey to me was that there was a mountain track which went directly to El Calafate via a beautiful secluded lake and another estancia. The subtle nuances of Patagonian Spanish however continue to evade my comprehension, plus I didn't have a map, so I decided to go back the way I came. The experience did however give me an indication of the kind of fantastic back country riding opportunities that Patagonia offers.

On the fourth day Ruta 40, the road that runs the entire length of Argentina (known as the "Grand Old Lady") finally showed me some love (Vincent from Toulouse if you are reading this thank you again for the water). The gradual climbing ends and there is a sign which declares that the next 8km are going to be a sinous descent. Excellent. I met truck drivers Paulo and Hugo at the top. They have a really cool looking old fashioned lorry. We discuss the view and our respective destinations. And the view is simply amazing, a wide undulating valley floor that stretches towards razor sharp snow capped mountains. Gliding down the road feels like landing in a plane.

I had intended to have quite a short day and stay at Rio Botes just 40 km shy of El Calafate at the bottom of the descent. I arrive at Rio Botes and there was small rundown hotel. A sign says the hotel is closed. A cursory inspection of the rear of the premises reveals some chickens, a power generator and a dog that looks like a well used toilet brush. Signs perhaps of human life but not necessarily an open hotel. I resign myself to 40 more km of riding and start to pedal on. However after a few hundred metres I turn back and decide to try again. Then I see a lorry pull in. At the instruction of the lorry driver, his travelling companion a young boy, knocks on the window. The door to the hotel is opened and they go in. I decide to follow suit. The interior of the hotel restaurant is interesting but shabby. A huge stuffed condor lurks in the corner, a baseball bat hangs above the bar and there is an old metallic table football game. The
Paulo and HugoPaulo and HugoPaulo and Hugo

Paulo and Hugo two friendly lorry drivers I met at the top of a really spectacular hill.
proprietor is grey haired gruff man. He does not look at all pleased to see me. I suspect he may have skipped the customer care modules of his hotel management training vocational course. Aftering ordering a coke I enquire whether it would be possible to stay the night at his estbalishment. I was informed that this would not be possible due to the fact the hotel is fully booked for the evening. I had my doubts about that but asked whether I could camp. At this point the proprietor explained that the business plan for the establishment had been designed to focus exclusively on providing services for "camiones", lorry drivers. Notwithstanding my natural affinity with Paulo and Hugo earlier in the day this was not a point it seemed that he was prepared to be flexible on. Reluctantly he gave me some water and even more reluctanly I pushed on into the late afternoon and a headwind.

Got to El Calafate just after the sun had set and get a bed in a large alpine style hostal. Shared a room for the first two nights with 5 really nice Germans (Hello Pia, Alexandra, Cordura, Nicola and Phillip). Have rested

Road workers laying a big pipe on Ruta 5, the road to El Calafate.
for a couple for days in El Calafate before doing tours of the Upsala and Perito Moreno Glaciers. El Calafate is a resort town that is expanding rapidly. The cute wooden decked walkways and well-honeyed tourist trap arcades do not bear any resemblance to the Bruce Chatwin vision of Patagonia that they are promoting. But I have no complaints. I am knackered and glad of the comforts that the hostal and town offers. It also has a lot of cyclists on touring trips, most of them heading south.

The glacier tours at El Calafate are both well worth doing. The glaciers themselves are massive crumbling, edifices that topple dramatically into icy cold water as they gradually retreat from a much more glorious past. The wall of ice is replaced in a matter of months by a new formation that proves to be just as structually unsound. Much like managerial regimes at Newcastle United.

I especially enjoyed the Upsala boat trip. The boat takes you up to the wall of the glacier and you go past massive icebergs with holes and fissures in them. They look like works of modern art that ought to be in the Tate Modern.
Dr "Feels Good" Phillip and his posse of laydeezDr "Feels Good" Phillip and his posse of laydeezDr "Feels Good" Phillip and his posse of laydeez

When Phil travels he travels in style, taking not one, two, three but 4 beautiful laydeez with him, Pia, Alexandra, Cordula and Nicola. A man of few words, about 500 a day, Phillip can't put a foot wrong. If you would like to learn the secret techniques that Phillip uses to such great effect please send me a large cheque.
The opaque pale green colour of the water, due to suspended mineral particles, known as glacial milk, is also spectacular. Coffee on the boat is strong and tasty. Everyone on the boat takes loads of photographs. I tried to be the cool, independent nonchalant traveller but am soon sucked into the frenzy and started clicking away. The downside of digital photography is that the results can be reviewed instantly. One gentleman I met had particularly exacting standards. I had to take three shots before he was eventually satisfied.

On the mini bus on the way back from the Upsala glacier I see two touring cyclists on the road going the other way. My thighs start to twitch. I am on the wrong side of the glass.

The walk to the Perito Moreno glacier reminded me a bit of the televison series Lost. a group of strangers on an exotic waterfront, clinging to the increasingly fragile concept of the social contract that is civilisation. I pretend to be Locke, I hangback from the maingroup, fiddle expertly with my leatherman and stare profoundly into the distance.

Apologise for the length of this blog. I am off to El Chalten
Hands up!Hands up!Hands up!

Takeko san from Fukushima in Northern Japan is 65 years young. She told me that she started independently travelling when she was 60. Wearing a Bob Marley top and lots of beads she explained that she is on a 2 month trip back around Chile and Argentina. Despite being robbed as you can she she is having a great time. Takeko san's previous trips include: a 10 month tour of Asia, including places like Iran; and a backpacking trip in Asia with her 73 year old brother and 70 year old sister. Despite this radical image she was the first back to the bus at the end of the tour (I was second).
tomorrow and then on to Villa O'Higgins in Chile, the start of the Carterra Austral. DonĀ“t think there will be many internet cafes out there, so it may be some time before I blog again.

Apparently it rains a lot in Chile so have bought some cool looking waterproof fisherman's gloves. This means that I will have to discard one pair of my other pairs of gloves. After much painstaking debate I have decided to evict from my paniers my black riding gloves. Despite the fact that they have served me well and are good at fancy dress parties they are quite frayed now and are not waterproof. There is no room for emotion when it comes to the cold harsh logistics of cycle touring.

Am also switching tyres to my offroad tyres as the Carterra Austral road sounds quite rocky going. Purchases in El Calafate include a soap dish and some nail clippers. Am also considering lashing out on a wash bag as my plastic bag from Boots is looking a bit vulnerable at the moment.

Push on.

Additional photos below
Photos: 14, Displayed: 14


Perito Moreno GlacierPerito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno Glacier

The news that Chantelle has won this year's Celebrity Big Brother was received with marked indifference by the people of El Calafate.
Me at the Periot Moreno GlacierMe at the Periot Moreno Glacier
Me at the Periot Moreno Glacier

Just to prove I am really here and shaving, here is one of me in front of the Perito Moreno glacier.
Ice cream shopIce cream shop
Ice cream shop

Helados means Ice Cream in Spanish. I explained to a German girl that I was sitting next to on a bus why I found the sign amusing. She said that she understood the point but clearly did not find it as amusing as me. We parted company shortly afterwards.
Dead woodDead wood
Dead wood

Interesting piece of dead wood. Getting a bit arty now. Sorry.

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