Sometimes it seems that when cycling in South America that it is just a forward march through the relentless wind but after reaching Punta Arenas everything started to change. Punta Arenas is the last major city you go through before reaching Puerto Natales which is the gateway to the Torres Del Paine National Park and that means that mountains were on the horizon-literally. As you cycle towards Puerto Natales you can see huge monoliths rise up from the horizon and it gives you a real lift as you cycle towards them, giving you something to aim for and perhaps a bit of shelter from the wind. This was the start of the Patagonian ice field a solid mass of ice and glaciers stretching over 700km between Chile and Argentina and is the third largest glacier ice mass in the world. Something told me this was going to be fun!
I didn´t visit the Torres Del Paine National Park due to its huge entry cost and the fact that all the free campsites were fully booked, but it was great to cycle past the park and the mountains within it. From Torres Del Paine National Park you cross back into Argentina and there is another 250km of cycling to do before you reach the next town which is called El Calafate. El Calafete is famous due to it being the home of the huge Perito Moreno Glacier and although again entry to see the glacier is quite expensive this was something I was not going to miss. I remember showing pictures of this glacier to my collegues back at Flight Centre in Auckland to make them jealous of my upcoming trip and I can tell you the glacier is even more majestic in real life.
On the road to El Calafete I had the pleasure of being joined by two other cyclists; Monica from Poland and Hector from Spain. It was great to cycle with these two as we all cycled together in the sunshine and shared our travel stories over dinners and different campsites. We even all stayed in an Estancia (farm) together for the night with the owner letting us all sleep in his spare room which luckily for us had three beds. The owner of the estancia was called Marcelo and he was a real gentleman welcoming us in, and also cooking us a traditiomal Argentinal meal of roasted lamb for dinner. A real treat and an experice I wont forget.
Once all three of us reached El Calafete it was time to visit the glacier but with Monica already having visited it and me having to make some temporary bike repairs I decided to cycle there alone the next day. By cycling there I managed to avoid the $20 return bus journey but it did mean it would take me 2 full days rather than one so I waved goodbye to my new friends and set off to see the glacier. The ride there was brilliant with no wind and a great twisty turny road around the national park to the glacier. Once the glacier came into view…wow. I had never seen anything like it. It was beautiful with the sunlight reflecting off the mass of ice which stares back at you whilst making a cracking sound all the time before huge bits of ice collapse off the main glacier and come down crashing into the lake below. I swear bits of ice as large as houses were falling off since the glacier is still moving forward, a beit around 2cm per year. It was a really special place and is somewhere not to be missed.
From the glacier you cycle another 250 km this time with massive sides winds to the town of El Chalten, which is the famous town of the Fitzoy peak and Chalten National park. This park consists of a famous 2 day hike and after dropping my bags and bike off in the Casa De Cyclista in the town I ventured out to do the hike. The only downside is that since I do not have a backpack I had to carry two of my panniers at all times with me, consisting of food, stove, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and extra clothes. Everyone was staring at me as I plodded along but I was not to be denied the hike and as I ventured up to Mount Fitzroy it was a beautiful site with the clouds parting and the sun coming out just as I arrived to the main lookout.
The great thing with El Chalten is that since it is much smaller than Torres Del Paine it is free to enter and free to camp without reservations so I was able to enjoy myself and take my time as I hiked up to all the different viewpoints on this national park and spend the nights in comfort in the free campsites.
From El Chalten, my intention was to originally cycle back into the pampa and the wind and take a 250km detour to avoid taking two ferrys which cost a total of $80! But after talking to my sister she told me to stop being stupid and kindly paid for me to take the two ferrys so what loomed next is the famous border in the bush with a 40km cycle followed by a 40 minute boat ride followed by a 15km hike with bike until I was once again to leave Argentina dn head back into Chile. So thank you Linny for the donation and I will cover this most remote of border crossings in my next post.
Buy me a beer!! Thank you
This blog follows my cycle ride from Reading, Berkshire to Reading, Pennsylvania.