At last, the publication of my arrival into Ushuaia. About time, I’m sure you’ll agree… Punta Arenas (7th Sept 2017) – arr Rio Grande (10th Sep) – dep Rio Grande (18th Sep) – Tolhuin (18th Sep) – Ushuaia (22nd Sep) Tierra del Fuego – a name that had been embedded into my psyche for so long…
…there were a still a few remaining adventures to be eked out before I ran out of land….not since the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica had I ridden my bicycle along an actual beach. With not a soul in sight, it’s hard to exaggerate the sense of peace I felt riding through this special place.
On the vast open stretches of Argentinian pampa even a small headwind can induce boredom and I occasionally fantasised about a speedy arrival in Ushuaia after so much time on the road. These thoughts were normally fairly fleeting, however, and would be rapidly alleviated by a favourable change in wind direction, the appearance of a world class geographical feature or some kind of entertaining interlude.
Time to strap on the backpack…. It’s -10C as I lie in the dark, waiting for the next 100 km/h gust. Each one worse than the last. Then it hits… A surge of adrenaline courses through my body as the tent is flattened against my entire body once again… I have been unable to stake out the tent on the hard rocky ground, and it feels like I might get blown off the mountain.
“Viento en contra o al favor?”. Notably off-colour with some kind of fever, I was doubting whether I should head off into the desert at all. “Oh you’ll have a strong tailwind, definitely a tailwind”, replied the farmer. Not twenty minutes later I was experiencing the strongest headwind of my life.
“Todos los pasos están deshabilitados (All the passes are closed)….It’s very complicated here in winter my friend.”, the Villa O’Higgins carabinero officer explained. “The river can be up 100 metres wide and 3 or 4 metres deep.” After days of strangely warm weather and high rainfall in Villa O’Higgins, his words made some sense. Maybe it was impassable? After all he should know what he’s talking about, right?
Villa O’Higgins, the end of the Carretera Austral and the start of our planned escape route out of Chile: a ‘wade’ across the multiple freezing water channels of Paso Rio Mayer (next post).
The last few posts are all centred around Patagonia’s favourite subject: the weather. But down here in Winter it really is the primary consideration for any day’s activity and it’s a topic that’s hard to avoid. … Several ‘rest’ days holed up in Hospedaje Ana Luz gave us time to contemplate how bloody cold it might get. Dropping to -10C and lower at night with undeniable consistency.
“Even in March, people were arriving from Ushuaia telling us how we’re ‘gonna die down there’. But it turns out it’s all hype. It was colder in Bariloche than it was in Ushuaia! It’ll be fine. I mean, really, I’m not sure what the big deal is.” The words of travellers in Villa Cerro Castillo. A few days later we were camping in -11C and 3 foot of snow.
…Heading into Patagonian Winter and all the inevitable suffering it would entail, I started to question whether it was all worth it. Then the temperatures started to plummet and the landscapes turned white and my unhelpful attitude started to changed. I came to realise this would be a whole new experience for me and the excitement I once knew and associated with this trip began to return. A whole new set of logistics and challenges would be surfacing and I felt that I would be growing once more.
What exactly is the Carretera Austral? And…
Happiness comes from solving problems. Which is lucky because in bicycle touring, they can be endless. With the harsh weather conditions down here in Patagonia, it doesn’t take much to become stuck…