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Argentina

(291km - 8days)

 

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24 November - Cape Town, South Africa - Ushuaia, Argentina

It was a 5h00 start to catch an early morning flight to Ushuaia via Buenos Aires, a 9-hour 20-minute flight, and then a further 3-hour 30-minute flight to the final destination. All went well except for having to pay for overweight baggage on the last leg. At Ushuaia airport, it was straightforward to locate a taxi to take me, bike and panniers into town and to Hostel Haush which would be home for three nights. At last, I’d arrived on Isla Grande de Tierra Del Fuego, an island shared with Chile and separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan. The island forms the most southern tip of the Americas, and it was from there that boats left for excursions to Antarctica.

 

Ushuaia was picture pretty but freezing. There was, however, more than enough outdoor stores to stock up with much needed warm clothes. It stayed light till rather late, and it felt strange going to bed when it was still light outside. By 23h00 (24 hours since waking up), it was finally time for bed.

 

 

25 November – Ushuaia

With its snowy mountain backdrop, Ushuaia reminded of Alaska. With brightly-painted, corrugated-iron roof homes, it was a picturesque town. Situated on the Beagle Channel and at the foot of the Andes Mountain Range, Ushuaia is commonly known as the most southern city in the world – although, with a population of about 64,000 it wasn’t much of a city. Its southern location meant it was rather cold year-round with a high of only nine degrees in the warmest months. Heating systems were on all year-long (including in the summer).

 

With only one pair of sandals, a beeline was made for shoe shops and a small fortune spent on a pair of very comfortable light-weight Merrell hiking shoes, hoping it would keep my feet warm. Gas for the camping stove was equally pricey.

 

The rest of the day was spent wandering around the many shops, stocking up on all things needed for the next few days. The local bike shop, Ushuaia Extremo, did an excellent job of reassembling the bike.

 

26 November - Ushuaia – Tierra del Fuego National Park – 50 km

Dressed in my warmest clothes (including the brand-new shoes) it was off into the National Park. The park gate was only about 12 kilometres from the centre of town and a leisurely cycle along a dirt road. Although bitterly cold, the scenery was spectacular. The end of the park road indicated the end of Route 3 and was known as “The-end-of-the-world”. It might have been the end of the road for many, but it was the beginning of the route in the Americas for me. After a short hike around the park, it was back to town while tiny snowflakes fell from the sky. It, unfortunately, melted immediately, and it wasn’t possible to say I have cycled in snow.

 

After much deliberation, a pair of rain pants, as well as a beanie, was purchased for the anticipated cold weather to come. Both would prove well worth the expense in the month ahead.

 

 

27 November - Ushuaia – Tolhuim – 109 km

With great excitement, it was time to be on my way and I was keen to see what was in store for me. The route headed uphill out of Ushuaia and over the mountains, past numerous ski resorts, some even with chair lifts. The road was in good condition, somewhat narrow but sealed. Motorists were friendly and always gave me a wide berth and a little warning hoot.

 

After about 50 kilometres, the road reached the top of Paso Garibaldi with a view over Lago Escondido and Lago Fagnano. Mountains provided some shelter from the wind, as I sped downhill past Lago Escondido and on to Tolhuim, situated on the shores of Lake Fagnano. Tolhuim was a strange town and hard to find accommodation or shops; maybe there just weren’t any. Eventually, there was a good enough spot to lay my head for the night. It was good to be on the bike again.

 

28 November - Tolhuim – Rio Grande – 113 km

Waking to lose, corrugated-iron roof sheets banging in the wind, one instantly knew it was going to be a long, hard day into the wind. Swirling dust clouds made for a desolate and lonely scene while heading out of Tolhuim. The route led in a northerly direction to Rio Grande, straight into the infamous Patagonian wind. It was bitterly cold, and rain pelted down, driven by a near gale-force wind, it hit my hands with such force I wished for thicker gloves. Although dressed in all the warm clothes in my possession it was still bitterly cold.

 

As if it wasn’t enough, my rear gear cable gave problems, but there was nothing one could do but battle on and work with the three gears left. It didn’t make much difference, as one could only average about 10 km/h at best. As the day wore on, the wind grew stronger, slowing the pace to a mere five kilometres an hour. Still, I battled on, past vast windswept and barren-looking estancias. Goals became shorter and shorter, four times five kilometres sounded far more doable than 20 kilometres at that stage. Every five kilometres or so, I rewarded myself with a sweet or biscuit, took a sip of water and then, head down, headed off into the howling wind again. Midday I crawled into a stormwater pipe running underneath the road, if only to give the mind a break from the wind. It’s incredible what all runs through a person’s head while sitting alone in a stormwater pipe. It was indeed a mental game, and back on the bike, I fought the wind with every turn of the pedal. About 20 kilometres from Rio Grande, a kind Argentinean offered me a lift. Smelling victory over the day I declined his offer. On seeing him disappearing in the distance, I could kick myself wondering what was wrong with me. I gripped the handlebars and pushed down hard on the pedals. Eventually, Rio Grande rolled into view. Exhausted, I crawled into Rio Grande, booked into the first available guesthouse and went to bed, feeling rather pleased for surviving such a harsh day on the road.

 

29-30 November - Rio Grande

There’s nothing better than waking to the smell of coffee and toast. An excellent breakfast was included in the room price (in Argentina, a typical breakfast usually consisted of coffee and croissants or some other pastries). At least the weather cleared, but the relentless wind didn’t abate – maybe it never does. Irrespective of what one read or heard about the wind, nothing could quite prepare you for what is in store. If it weren’t that Ernest and I’d battled into storm strength wind for days along the Red Sea Coast of Egypt, I wouldn’t have believed it possible.

 

I could feel a bout of laryngitis coming on (it must have been from breathing all the icy cold air) and was pleased for a rest day. First things first, and it was off to find a bike shop to have the gear cables replaced. The friendly chap at the bike shop advised getting off-road tyres for the dirt road ahead. He could only get the tyres the following day, and leaving the bike at the shop was no problem as the wind was blowing at between 85 and 100 kilometres per hour.

 

1 December - Rio Grande – 19 km

With the bike fixed, all was ready to roll. Unfortunately, the wind won the day as after battling for 10 kilometres out of town I eventually gave up and returned to Rio Grande. It’s not just that it was hard, it was just too dangerous and scary. The wind blew one like a rag across the highway. Back in town, Hostel Argentino was slightly less expensive than where I’d stayed before and made a good place to wait out the weather. Three more cyclists, heading in the same direction, were waiting for a break in the weather. Looking at the weather there wasn’t much hope of that, but there wasn’t much choice other than to wait and see what happened. In the meantime, some fine red wine was enjoyed and war stories swapped, stories which became more impressive the more wine was drunk. 

 

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