To Rio Grande! (I have met the wind and it is not my friend!)

We left the shore of Lago Fagnano quite late. Our tardiness was made worse by the fact that after 3km I broke my chain! Then while I was fixing my chain Blenk managed to break the valve to his inner tube! Not a good start to the day.

This entry is not dedicated to our misfortune regarding kit, nor is it really about the Road to Rio Grande, or Chile. It is about the wind.

We had read about the wind before we´d left and we´d been told about it´s strength but we weren´t ready for it. I don´t think anything can prepare you for the strength of the wind here. As we turned north on Ruta 3 from Tolhuin the full strength of the strong northerly wind hit us full in the face. It´s power is incredible, as is it´s relentlessness. You instantly feel the cold air sucking the warmth and energy away from your body. Your mouth becomes parched as each individual particle of liquid is evaporated in seconds.

When the wind isn´t in your face it strikes at your side causing you to ride constantly with a list. You still find yourself caught offguard by a gust that blows you onto the gravel hard shoulder.

The wind has the capacity to instantly destroy morale, moments of respite from pedalling (like freewheeling downhill) are taken away from you. The wind is so strong that it is necessary to push hard even downhill.

Rest stops seem to offer little comfort as well. The landscape is so bleak and shelter so sparse that there is never refuge from the wind.

To conserve energy we rode in closely ordered single file the man at the fron taking the brunt of the wind whilst allowing the two behind to ride in his slipstream. After a couple of km the point man would retire exhausted to the back and the second in line would take the lead.

The only good thing about the wind seems to be that it blows at it´s stongest from early afternoon to late evening. During the night and early morning the wind is not blowing.

This means that we have had to take the decision to ride at night and in the early morning – it would appear that in Patagonia cyclists must become nocturnal or else truly suffer for their art.

I can say that after two hard days in the saddle, and after Dick had damaged his knee slightly, we made it to Rio Grande and we were very tired but ecstatic.

Ushuaia to Tolhuin

It was quite an emotional day leaving the Abra Ushuaia….. Marga and Hector had been exceptional hosts to us and we had enjoyed practicing our Spanish on them almost as much as they had enjoyed practicing their English on us…. The hostel dog, Kaitek, knew something was up because she was pining around us all day as we made our final preparations to leave. So after getting our bikes and gear in order we mounted up and headed down ruta 3 with Marga and Hector waving us off literally until we were almost out of sight. We had no set destination for the first day choosing instead to play it by ear – or more correctly, by aching thighs.

The road out of Ushuaia took us up through our first little Andes. Finally crossing over them at the Paso Garibaldi. The road between Ush and Garibaldi is excellent – paved, without too much traffic and with absolutely breathtaking views… There was only a light breeze blowing and we ended up climbing up and out of the Paso Garibaldi at about 3pm, we had gone from near Sea Level to 490m above sea level in the space of a day…. this was our first taste of altitude but it won´t be our last.

On our way up to the Pass we noticed that the people tend to bib their horns and wave encouragement to you on their way past…. we´re guessing that they´ve seen a lot of tourists in their time!

Before we descended out of the Pass to our first stealth campsite by Lago Escondido we stopped at a Mirador (Viewing Point) to get some photos of the view over Lago Escondido and also Lago Fagnano….. Interestingly here was one of the first reminders that the Argentinian people still seem to hold the issue of the Falklands quite close to their heart….. the Mirador is graffitied with two slogans, the first: “Islas Malvinas = Argentino” (Islas Malvinas is the Argentinian name for the Falklands) and “Ingleses son piratas” (The English are Pirates)….. Photos of this fine political rhetoric will be on the website soon!

From the Mirador we had about 5km of pure downhill along a winding road cut into the side of a cliff face – it was fun! Especially after climbing for most of the day.

We stopped off the road just past the tiny Pueblo of Lago Escondido and were all asleep by sunset.

There is not much to report on the third day – it was simply a transit day really. The landscape became slightly more bleak and the wind got up a little bit but we pushed hard all day to reach what we thought would be a fair sized town – Tolhuin, on the Shores of Lago Fagnano. We needn´t have bothered!

It´s wrong to badmouth a place when you only spend a night there but the town of Tolhuin was in all honesty a bit of a hole. It looks like a back water town that has twigged that it has massive tourist potential and then upped all the prices without offering any service. I think the worst offer we had was a shared room in a hostel type centre for 200 pesos….. when you consider that we only spent 120 pesos on staying in the Abra Ushuaia for a week you can see how this annoyed us a bit. All the roads were ripio (unpaved) and everything had a run down / decrepit look about it. We were finally directed in the direction of a campsite right on the banks of the lake. We rode down to the site expecting nothing…. we were pleasently surprised to discover Camping Hain. A beautiful campsite on the shore of this beautifully blue, millpond lake surrounded by imposing tree covered hills. All for the princely sum of 8 pesos a night! We were also privileged to meet Roberto the dueño of this little site. We spent a very pleasant night here before starting our turn north up towards Rio Grande, where apparently there might be some wind………

Our first day touring! – Well, the start of our trip….

We can now say that we have officially started our tour. After a week of waiting for bikes, buying kit and doing our last minute preparations we finally got around to starting today! We were originally going to start from the centre of Ushuaia but a Brit couple we met who are out here trekking suggested that it might be a nice idea to start from the very end of the most southerly road in Argentina – “Ruta 3” It lies about 30km to the southwest of Ushuaia along some fairly hairy gravel track roads – and takes you right into the heart of the Tierra del Fuego national park. As we arrived at the gates to the Parque Nacional (After about 12km riding) Jamie realised that he didn´t have the group whip money with him. This caused some consternation and gnashing of teeth – but it did give us an opportunity to engage in some friendly foreign exchange trading with a local passing in a van. After haggling I think we got the standard rate of 3 pesos to 1 dollar.
Upon entering the national park we head downhill continuing on the road and passing through some amazing scenery – around each corner is a photo opportunity, after stopping five times in the space of as many minutes we decide that only the truly wonderful will be worthy of photographing otherwise this trip would end up taking us a very very long time indeed! A couple of points of note however. The first was the moment when we finished the first leg of our descent down to the end of the road. Up to this point we had been in the treeline so we could not truly appreciate the beauty of the surroundings but as we finished our descent and turned a corner the trees receeded. This was a moment that is difficult to put into words. We all spontaneously applied the brakes and broke into smiles. All around us was mountains and we were sitting in the middle of a lush green valley with a large clear water lake in the centre, a river running from the lake down inevitably towards the sea. It is one of the most instantly calming places I have ever been and I think the other guys share my sentiments. If it were possible I think I´d actually be content to build a house there and just sit! The second point of note relating to the fauna of the park – that fauna being Beavers. The reality of a Beaver dam is a site to behold….. as we rounded a corner we saw a lagoon that must have been at least 100 metres across, when we approached closer something didn´t look quite right – the water appeared to be hovering a metre or so above it´s normal level. It was at this point that we realised we were looking at a Beaver dam, and not just any Dam – the Hoover Dam of the Beaver world. There are some photos in the gallery of this and it truly is a site to behold. We didn´t get to see any beavers though because apparently they tend not to venture out until early evening….. but even the Dam is well worth it.

So we arrived at the Fin Del Mundo……….. and had some lunch. We then fitted our cycle computers and after a couple of photo opportunities in front of another “Fin Del Mundo Sign” at the start line we set off……….

On our way back we stopped off at the most southern post office in the world and get our Passports stamped at the “Fin del mundo” (No we aren´t above a bit of shameless tourism now and then!) We also dipped our toes into the Beagle Channel. Yes. It was cold. Yes. We are slaves to the photo opportunity. Yes. We are idiots. The next time my feet hit sea however will be the Carribean – and who will be the idiot then? Okay probably still me but I digress….

The trip back to the hostel for our last night in Ushuaia went well and we have spent the rest of the day preparing for the next few months on the road. Here´s to hoping that they all go as well as today did.

I´m off to bed now because it´s gone 1 in the morning here and I´m meant to be cycling at 9am tomorrow.

hasta luego!

The chariots have arrived…

Just a quick update for you all: the last two bikes arrived yesterday morning! We can now really get cracking. We spent most of yesterday putting the bikes back together and setting them up, then went for a little ride out to the Tierra Del Fuego National Park. We still haven’t been able to get any photos up yet, but when we do, hopefully they’ll give you some idea of how beautiful this part of the world is! The scenery is truly spectacular.

Last night was also the inaugural meeting of ‘Meat club’. All sorts of meat are cooked in front of the diners over an open wood-fire, and for the meagre sum of 25Pesos (5Pounds) you can eat as much as you like (which we obviously take to mean ‘as much as you can’). So during this massive dinner, ‘Meat club’ was formed.
The first rule of Meat club is: You do not talk about Meat club.
The second rule of Meat club is: no smoking (until after the meat)
Third rule: anyone goes limp or taps out, the meat is over.
Finally: If it’s your first night at Meat Club… you have to have meat.*

The plan is now to get everything ready to go today, take tomorrow to go and see the penguins and then head off on Sunday morning with fully-loaded bikes and even fuller stomachs!

* If you haven’t seen the film ‘Fight Club’, this will make no sense. Our apologies!

First Impressions of Ushuaia

The thirty minutes preceding our landing in Ushuaia, or “The Promised Land” as I have taken to calling it were the most amazing minutes of any flight I have ever been on. The view from the window as we flew alongside the Andes over the craggy scubland of the foothills was breathtaking. Snow capped every peak and was evident even at lower levels.

The final descent into the airport involved some aerial acrobatics that are mind boggling and have a tendency to leave the stomach firmly lodged in the base of the cranium! Arriving in the airport there is a very Nordic feel to the whole place. Wooden slats line the walls and wooden beams support the roof. Outside the terminal resembles a chalet rather than an edifice of modern transportation. We catch a couple of taxi´s to our new home for the next few days. Passing through the town the Nordic feeling of the airport continues – these are not the white walled Spanish buildings I was for some reason expecting, they look Scandinavian and the snow capped mountains which loom all around the town reinforce this.

We take lodgings at the Hostel Albergue “Abre Ushuaia” – a lovely little hostel where the owner welcomes us with open arms. The owner seems as keen to practice her English on us as we are keen to practice our Spanish on her! We reach an accomodation and I agree to write a couple of signs in English for her if she will try and speak in Spanish with us – explaining where we don´t understand.

Having unpacked and then taking the best shower in the history of mankind, each of us unashamedly ignoring the sign exhorting us to keep our “showers short”, the idiots hit the town. The first thing that is apparent is that this is a tourist town. Accordingly it´s a little more expensive, there are loads of excursions to go on and there are lots of travellers and tourist hanging around. Not surprisingly given the stunning scenery of the Tierra del Fuego national park is only 12km away, and the islands of Penguins just out in the bay. As everyone in this town seems keen to tell us we really are at the “Fin del Mundo” (The end of the world).

We grab a couple of beers in a little bar over some shops – where we drink European lager, but only because they don´t have Quilmes (The very tasty local brew) We then head down to an all you can eat restaurant which set us back about five quid. The food was incredible – Fuegian lamb (a spatch-cocked sheep cooked over an open fire), chicken, black pudding, pork, chorizo and finally something which I tried but must confess did not enjoy – Chinchurene. That my friends is intestine. It did not taste good. It didn´t help when Blenk looked over at me and asked if we were meant to eat the outside or “just suck the stuff out of the middle” – he was of course referring to the semi-digested food in the poor animals guts when it was slaughtered.

We leave the restaurant full, finally sated. We head back to that little bar and have another couple of beers before heading off to bed.

Our first impressions of Ushuaia? We love it!

Hasta Luego.

(Due to techinal problems we will be bringing you fotograficos tomorrow – gracias.)

The First Leg – London to Ushuaia (Argentina)

After some emotional farewells at Heathrow airport we set off on our “Gran Viaje Trans-Continental!” As we climbed out of London we knew that we were about to catch our last glimpses of the UK for the next few months. It was perhaps fitting that as we gazed out of the window of the plane fireworks were bursting over the capital. A fanfare of blasts and colour wishing us well on our way. The flight from Heathrow to Charles De Gaulle went off without a hitch and it seemed that no sooner had we taken off that we were landing in Paris. “This travelling lark is easy!” I thought to myself…. I was in for a rude awakening!

The real marathon leg of the journey was the trip from Paris to Buenos Aires – although all it involved was sitting. Not really much to report about the flight except that I got chatting with an elderly Argentinian chap who was very friendly and helped qualm my fears about South American hospitality! The only other note in my diary that is worth mentioning is this sentence – “We are due to land at Pistarini at 9am – which I think is about 12pm UK time. Either way I am knackered and not looking forward to catching this last connection to Ushuaia!” As it turned out my apprehension was prescient. After passing through passport control and immigration without a hitch we strolled through to baggage claim – then something happened that I have never experienced in the entire time I´ve been travelling on planes – the first bags that we see are mine, Blenks and Rich´s! Then we see Blenka´s bike…. excellent. Now we wait for mine and Rich´s…. and we wait….. then wait a bit more….. we top this off with a little bit more waiting. Then the conveyor belt stops and the doors are shut. Hang On Senor there must be some mistake. ¿Donde Esta Mi Bicicleta? Apparently still in France…. The plane had reached it´s freight capacity and we would have to travel on without them. Air France will be forwarding them onto us here in Ushuaia. Not to big a problem really as we get to enjoy this beautiful city – but I digress.

So now with just Blenk´s bike – but fortunately all our luggage we start trying to get to the other side of the city to Jorge Newbury Airfield to catch out connection. This is a forty minute drive at the best of times. After sorting out our baggage with Air France we were left with barely an hour to make hour connection – the leisurely three hours originally built into our itinerary had been massively eaten into. Cue “El Conductor Loco” (The crazy driver) – those of you who have travelled abroad before know how crazy regular cab drivers are so this should give you some flavour of exactl how “Loco” this dude was! After telling the minibus driver of our predicament (and paying a small premium on our fare to go straight away rather than wait to fill up the bus) we were off. The man drove like a demon, weaving in and out of traffic, forcing other cars out of the way, squeezing into gaps literally too small for the minibus to fit into. What was meant to be a forty minute journey took only half an hour – a whit knuckle ride but the driver had done it. We arrived in time to catch our connection to Ushuaia.

We have arrived! Viva Argentina! Viva Las Idiotas!