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Published: January 6th 2010
Ruta 40 runs the whole length of Argentina, that's 5224km - we travelled on it briefly in northern Argentina but its down here that it comes into its own. If you want to go south in Patagonia its either the desolate tarmac coast road or the unpaved Ruta 40 running parallel to the Andes. Of-course we take the unpaved option. Its totally different to the Carretera Austral winding along lakes and through forests, here we are out in the open on vast flat scrubby plains with a constant wind that roars down off the Southern Patagonian Ice-cap and blasts straight across Ruta 40. Its a challenge, you need to stay in the tracks in the gravel but the wind is constantly blowing you off-course into the deep gravel - its one of the few places in the world where you wear-out the tread on the sides of your tyres when going in a straight line!! And it is straight, dead straight for mile and miles.
Theoretically we've been in Patagonia for days on the Carretera Austral but this feels like the real Patagonia - the vast wind swept plains stretching as far as the eye can see, sometimes so flat
you have mirages causing the distant hills to float way up above the horizon. The skies are also vast, so vast you can actually see the shades of blue changing from the horizon to the Zenith. There really is nothing here for hundreds of miles - this feels like a real wilderness, and its great.
We start by completing the circuit of Lago Buenos Aires - we have clear blue skies and can see the views back across the lake to the snowy mountains and ice-field we rode through yesterday in the rain. Its tempting to head back but we must keep going south so we turn onto Ruta 40 and start the 300 miles of gravel. Its reasonably early and there are lots of patagonian hares bounding around - although there was one less after we went down the road!! There's other wildlife around too; a few herds of guanaco, some rheas running down the road in-front of us flapping their wings and the occasional armadillo that makes a dash for it across the road. There isn't really any other traffic we see more guanacos than cars. Settlements are few and far between as well - after 70
the start of the gravel section - see how far the bike is lent over and we're going in a straight line
miles of gravel we see the first signs of life at Bajo Caracoles with its one pump petrol station and one room shop cum cafe, all looked after by one bloke. We arrive and pull up at the petrol pump, slowly but steadily the rest of the group arrive and go inside for a coffee. As the chap is inside serving coffee (or rescuing people who have got locked in the toilet) he cant be outside serving petrol. Finally 50 minutes later he comes out to dispense petrol to the dozen or so bikes that are now lined up, he's still not in a rush, he knows the next petrol station is 225 miles south of here.
Fuelled up we set off for another 120miles of gravel. After one small brow there's a giant dip in the road which we hit really hard. There's a brief wobble then the bike is upright and on its way with Edwin thinking 'phew, we got away with that' - then I land!!! We hit the dip so hard I took off and when I land firstly Edwin isn't expecting it and secondly I don't land centrally on the bike so we have
typical Ruta 40 scenery
see how big the sky is - and it changes from pale blue on the horizon to deep blue overhead
a big wobble as I'm trying to clamber back onto the seat and Edwin is trying to keep the bike upright and in the track in the gravel. The rest of the journey to La Angostura, our overnight stop is uneventful. La Angsotura is a working estancia set down in a dip so there's no wind. There's a big cosy lounge filled with family photos and everyone is sat round chatting, reading playing cards etc. - all very homely. Its shared rooms with bunk beds tonight, the 4 girls take over one room but we get told off for giggling all night and keeping the menfolk awake.
The track in and out of the estancia is well rocky and more challenging than the road. We've been told that the 1st few miles of the road will be really bad but the rest of the 105 miles of gravel will be easier than yesterdays - never believe what you are told!!! The first few miles are on good compacted gravel but then it gets worse and worse - its very cobbly and slippery, like ball-bearings scattered over a hard surface, and at times there are no tracks to follow. Any
tracks that are there always seem to be on the wrong side of the road, luckily the few cars that come towards us seem to realise what's happening and move over to pass us on the wrong side. Quite handy as getting out of a track over the pile of deep gravel is well tricky. It stay like this for most of the 105 miles and it takes us 3 hours to cover it - not too bad really.
Occasionally there are patches of colour in the barren brown landscape - a small patch of yellow flowers, a deep blue lake in the distance. And most amazing of all SOS phone masts where you can pick up a mobile signal - they look really weird on the side of a gravel road in the middle of no-where, and who is going to come and rescue you?? Would take quite a while for the AA man to get here.
The last 90 miles of the day, down into El Calafate are on tarmac - nice, smooth, non-slippery, non-bumpy tarmac - but it doesn't feel so wild and remote, feels like you are going back into civilisation. We are accompanied
a herd of guanaco
theres a little one over on the right
by milky, turquoise blue rivers and pass more stunning deep blue or turquoise lakes backed by snowy mountains. You can even see the glaciers coming down to the water and get glimpses unto the Southern Patagonia Ice-field. Eventually we roll into Calafate where, after 7 days of riding gravel roads, we get too days off. But there's no time to rest - this is glacier territory and there's lots to see and do.
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