Glaciers, guanacos, and pumas. Oh my!

We’ve included lots of fun animal facts in this post so you can impress all your friends.

El Chaltén

El Chaltén sits at the base of Monte Fitz Roy, a monstrosity of a mountain somewhat akin to Middle Earth’s Mount Doom. The towering giant had been visible earlier, but as we pedalled into the city, it was shrouded in clouds. Our first impressions of the town? Hooray, back to asphalt! Next impression? This place seems to have been constructed entirely for tourism.

We did a customary tour of the town, starting with the tourist office which was downwind at the other entrance of the city. With some intel, we turned around in search of camping options and felt the infamous El Chaltén headwind for the first time. Woof! In our short ride back up through town in search of shelter, Cat was blown across the road two or three times. The town’s camping options were disappointing: somebody’s front yard absolutely packed with tents. And at 150 pesos per person (almost $10 USD), way overpriced. Fortunately, since we were four1 we opted to pay a tiny bit more per person for a comfortable apartment, nestled behind the local ferreteria. To get a cheaper nightly rate (1000 pesos), we negotiated to stay for four nights.

Our apartment’s wifi signal (like every wifi signal in the town, seemingly) was spotty at best; yet, we were able to scout the weather and wind reports for the next few days. The next day had the least wind so we made plans to do a trek. The “if you have one day do this one” trail, Lago de los Tres, was a 20km loop.2

Trekking Fitz Roy

The morning dawned, and we were up and out of the apartment by 9:30am. Bass flaked, opting instead to spend the day relaxing. The town’s main road was packed with trekkers clad in North Face and Patagonia, wandering toward the trailheads, talking about granola bars.

Besides long,3 the trek was… meh, just ok. The weather wasn’t the best, the trail was crowded, and Fitz Roy hid behind clouds all day. We did spot a curious caracara while we were wolfing down a lunch of empanadas and cookies. The caracara has really grown on Cat since its first appearance in the hills of Rocha in Uruguay.4 There, the caracara seemed to be in charge, ahead of the turkey vulture in the pecking order; down in Patagonia, it is certainly an underdog to the massive condor.

Glacier Fitz Roy, shrouded in clouds.

That evening, we found a Happy Hour5 and treated ourselves to a burger and a beer beers. Bass had made some tour biker friends while we’d been out hiking: Al (a Brit) and Menna (a Swiss). They’d just rolled into town from the south, and given the camping situation in town, they were grateful to share our apartment with us for the night.

Naturally, just when we needed it, the town’s only ATM ran out of money. Since the town is, by and large, cash only, this resulted in hordes of anxious tourists. Luckily, between the six of us, we had enough money for a couple of boxed wine liters for the evening. Phew! ?

The next day, Kale went to figure out the bank situation.6 Someone at the ATM said that they’d heard “the bank would been recharged in 30 minutes.” Reluctantly, Kale sat and waited, about 10th in line. Sure enough, cash was reloaded into in the ATM — woo! The maximum withdrawal amount here was 1500 pesos per transaction — a 95 peso fee is attached to each transaction. Criminal! Fortunately, we have a Charles Schwab account that reimburses foreign ATM fees. Kale made three transactions before heading home. On his way out, he halfway considered selling the pesos at a premium to someone at the back of the line, which was now down the street.

Riding in the Pampas

Our encounters with tourists humans had been few and far between while cycling the Carretera Austral, and although we appreciated the perks of being back in civilization (supermercados and cervecerias, mainly), we were quite happy to be getting back on the road. As a bonus, we got some spectacular weather for our ride out of town and the best view of Fitz Roy we’d seen.

Monte Fitz Roy was named in honor of Robert Fitz Roy, the captain of the famous HMS Beagle, the ship Charles Darwin used in his explorations. Captain Fitz Roy had travelled up the Santa Cruz River in 1834 and charted large parts of the Patagonian coast. The mountain’s sheer granite faces make it difficult to climb and difficult for snow to settle on them — which is why the peaks look so clean in contrast to the lower peaks that surround it.

The day’s plan? A whopping 120 kilometers to the famous “pink house” — an abandoned restaurant about halfway to the next city, El Calafate. We’d read about the pink house in a few blogs, and heard from Al and Menna that it was a good place to stay (read: the only place to stay along the windswept, shelterless pampa highway).

We’d never cycled so far in one day,7 and with a late start (it was after 1pm by the time we were packed up and ready), we were a tad nervous. The howling north-westerly wind was blowing in our favor though, which gave us a little confidence.

Our French counterparts decided to enjoy the weather and spend one more night in El Chaltén so we were back to a twosome for the day.

Sure enough, with the wind at our backs and a nice downhill, we began the ride at a blistering pace. Despite stopping for pictures, after two hours we’d covered 50 kilometers! Our speed decreased as the road flattened; yet, by 6pm we had made it to the intersection for Ruta 40.

Back on the 40!8 We’d said goodbye to Argentina’s iconic Ruta 40 on December 30th, 2016 when we turned toward Cholila and the Parque Alerces. Surprisingly, the pampa route was littered with wildlife. We saw guanacos for the first time, a fox, rheas, and an armadillo — but more on all these guys later.

The Pink House

Finally, after 30 kilometers on Ruta 40, we rounded a bend and there she was. Nestled about 100 meters off the road and toward the adjacent river sat the pink house. As we entered, we saw a weathered sign that read: “Luz Divina Restaurante.”

The place wasn’t in terrible condition — the windows had long been smashed out, the bathrooms were defunct and full of trash, but the rooms themselves were quite clean, with a handful of medium-sized rocks (for anchoring tents) the only things littering the floor. The coolest thing? The walls were covered with messages from previous visitors, most of whom seemed to be tour bikers. The earliest of these that we could find was dated 2013, so perhaps that’s when the restaurant went under?

Scouting out the “pink house”.
Inside the “pink house”
Our contribution to the wall of the pink house. If you visit, you can find it in the corner of the green room 🙂

We ventured back outside and toward the river, where we found a perfect spot for our tent, protected from the wind and complete with a fire pit. Given the evening’s clear skies, we felt comfortable sleeping outside. Plus, the howling of the wind made being inside the abandoned house a little creepy.

Fire, wine, pasta, dulce de leche,9 sleep.

The next day we awoke to voices and peeked outside the tent to see a group of kayakers, preparing to launch into the river. A guide was providing a safety overview to the group, in English. The other guide noticed that we were awake (our tent was easily visible) and approached. He informed us that we were on private property, but camping was not a problem — “just take your garbage with you.”

Excellent!

It was a beautiful day and we were 94 kilometers away from El Calafate. We had been lazy in El Chaltén and hadn’t switched into our road tires. Since we had (at least10) a few more long days on asphalt, we decided to take a day to tune up the bikes, switch the tires, and enjoy the beautiful (and free) campsite. Plus, we expected Bass and Fred to arrive later.

At 4pm, we were joined by two Spanish cyclists from Basque country: Nacho and Simon. They were travelling north and had been on the road for about a month. We shared stories and camp spots. They have an awesome instagram account: 260litrosmasloquesurja. Cat spotted a fox, which appeared to be gnawing on underripe pears which had fallen from a nearby pear tree.

A few hours later, Fred and Bass arrived. Shortly after that, Richard and Julia showed up.

Our settlement had turned into a thriving village. Everybody ate dinner by the fire. Just after dark, we were joined by two more cyclists, a couple from Poland. We’d first encountered them a few weeks back at the Confluencia. They seemed exhausted and joined us by the fire.

People slowly trickled back to their tents. With the stars shining brightly overhead, Nacho gave Kale a few (much needed) lessons on night shooting — here are the results:

Another Day at the Pink House

The next day began in much the same fashion as the previous. The kayaking group arrived, the guide give us same rehearsed speech about the land being private and take your garbage with you, blah blah blah, then left us to enjoy the sunshine and turquoise colored river.

We said nos vemos to the Polish couple and then to Richard and Julia. Given the spectacular weather and good vibes, us, the Spanish lads, and Fred and Bass decided to stay. Over breakfast, we realized that, collectively, we had the necessary ingredients to make a pizza… all we needed was an oven… hmmm…

Our goal: pizzas for lunch.

Wandering the area, we were able to find materials to for our oven: some scraps of sheet metal, a few bricks, a stout 2’ x 1’ x 1.5’ steel frame (clutch!) and an assortment of rocks. Using mud (dirt + water, duh!) as a sealant and wood for fuel, we constructed a beautiful oven.

Naturally, we needed to preheat our oven to pizza-cooking temperature. This required us feeding the fire for a few hours before cooking. While the oven was heating, and being sweaty from the hard construction work, we took a dip in the glacier river.

Simon, constructing the pizza oven.
The water was really cold. Which makes sense, since the river’s source is a glacier.
Pizzas are almost ready!

The pizzas were exceptional. Bass also made a cake for dessert! Afterward, it was siesta time (except for Fred, who decided to bike the 24 kilometer round trip north to La Leona11 and purchase a few bottles of wine… Classic Fred). Kale enjoyed a jam sesh inside the abandoned house, enjoying the favorable acoustics provided by its wooden floors.

That afternoon, the fox returned and gnawed on some more pears. Kale spent an hour attempting to get close with his camera; however, was largely unsuccessful. The fox didn’t really seem perturbed — (s)he’d simply, casually run into or around the nearby brush whenever Kale got too close, reemerging somewhere else nearby. Despite being outfoxed, Kale managed to get a few decent pics of the sly creature:

El Calafate

The next day brought cloudy skies and some rain. We said goodbye to Nacho and Simon and began biking toward El Calafate. The 94 kilometer ride was made more difficult by the rain, unfavorable (yet relatively light by pampa standards) wind, and, for Kale, the fact that he was unknowingly carrying Cat’s heaviest pannier.12 Cat insists the swap was an accident. Kale is skeptical.

An old barn provided us with some shelter under which we could eat our lunch.
Fred leaving our lunch spot.

During the last 30 kilometers of the day we encountered heavier traffic and passed an international airport. Along with the airport in Ushuaia, the El Calafate airport is the primary airport used by tourists visiting southern Patagonia.

We rolled into El Calafate and learned that there was a music festival going on through the weekend (it was Wednesday evening). Unfortunately, this meant that hostel prices were hiked up. And with no cabañas around, we didn’t have another option. We conceded and paid the increased price. Grumble. The influx of people and tourists (with the airport near and the music festival in town) had us reminiscing about quaint, little El Chaltén.

The hostel was fine and the wifi, halfway decent. The next day brought more rain — so we stayed inside and blogged. We planned to visit the Perito Moreno glacier the next day.

Perito Moreno Glacier

The glacier is 80 kilometers from El Calafate. To avoid the 160 kilometer round trip, we decided that we would take a vehicle. The bus tickets were pricey (450 pesos, or approximately $30 USD per person) and a taxi would cost us about 2000 pesos total. “Let’s hitchhike!”

We hit the road early and began walking, in the rain, toward the edge of town. At 8:15am we arrived at the roundabout at the edge of town, where our hostel had advised us to hitch from. Some other hitchers had beat us to this “prime spot” so we resisted the urge to upstream them, and settled in about 10 yards down the road from them. Buses, vans and cars passed, but no one seemed to want to stop. Some stray dogs provided us with great entertainment by chasing and snapping at the passing vehicles. Finally, at 9am, a pickup stopped and picked up the two hitchers in front of us. We were now at the front of the line!

Two more French hitchers showed up and, following hitcher-etiquette, settled in line behind us. Then, two more emerged. “Wait a second, what the &$^#* are they doing?”, Cat exclaimed… Yep, we were getting upstreamed by some shitty hippies. Bass threw some rocks in their general direction, feigning he was aiming at the nearby trashcan. We cursed them under our breath.

At 10:40am, we gave up.13 We informed the French hitchers (behind us) that we were going to grab a taxi and advised them to upstream the upstreamers. Which they did.14

Cat, hanging thumb, rocking Kale’s beautiful (yet unsuccessful) sign.

We walked to the closest hotel and called a taxi. The round trip cost 1800 pesos ($117 USD). An hour or so later, we made it to the entrance of Los Glaciares National Park and each paid the 330 peso entrance fee (gah!).

Sidenote: We later learned that Richard and Julia had attempted to avoid the fee by biking into the park at 4:30am. As they passed the entrance, Richard’s bike had tripped a fishing line placed across the entry which was connected to a cluster of noisy cans. A security guard appeared and required that the two sit and wait until the park opened at 8am and pay the entrance fee.

Twenty minutes after entering the park, we stopped for our first view of the glacier… wowzer.

First some pictures, then some facts.

Glacier Perito Moreno is…

  • One of only three glaciers in the world that grows rather than retreats (almost 7 feet per day)!
  • The world’s third largest reserve of fresh water.
  • One of 48 glaciers that comprise the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. With an area of 16,800 km² (6,800 mi²) it is the second largest contiguous ice field in the world. Along with the Northern Patagonian Ice Field, these present day ice fields are remnants of the last Ice Age (18,000-17,500 years ago), when all of southern Chile and Argentina was covered in a thick sheet of ice.

We wandered the platforms and enjoyed the vastness and blueness of the glacier. Every few minutes, the glacier would calve and emit a loud cracking sound.15 A few times, this was followed by the booming sound of the falling iceberg hitting the icy water below.

As usual, Kale was mostly interested in the wildlife.
Note the pupil dilation of this caracara as it investigates an approaching human (Kale). Nature is cool!

Back in El Calafate, we hit up the local cerveceria, La Zorra, for happy hour and some pretty good wifi.

Groceries. Bed.

Back to the Pampas

The first 30 kilometers of the next day’s ride, back to Ruta 40, went quickly (back the same way we’d come in passing the airport once again). We spotted some trees (a rare thing in the pampas) and stopped for lunch at a small creek. The bugs were relentless, so we ate quickly.

After lunch we had a brutal, 20 kilometer, 900 meter climb. At the top, we were rewarded with a smooth, steady downhill, and aided by a tailwind (24 km in 45 minutes, yeewwwww!). We finished the day’s 94 kilometer ride at an AGVP station in El Cerrito (aka the middle of nowhere) at 7pm.

Our planned route from El Calafate to Puerto Natales.
Climbing 900m.
Cookie break on the pampas.

El Cerrito

The “town” of El Cerrito is two buildings. One is a police station (we didn’t see) and the other, AGVP. AGVP stands for Administración General de Vialidad Provincial. Essentially, they’re a network of buildings, scattered throughout the pampas, which provide services to the highways and roads. This one was currently staffed by one fidgety bald man and his wife from El Calafate (their shift at this particular location is for ~2 weeks).

He showed us where we could pitch our tent and then somewhat offered us water from inside. Unfortunately, he was a bit anxious about “jefe” showing up, which is why, he explained, we couldn’t use the facilities or cook inside.

He warmed up when Cat began talking to him, and after sitting outside the front door for a few hours, (snacking and warming up) we were allowed to enter and use the kitchen. Cat pretended to be interested in the pictures he was showing her while Bass made dinner. Kale and Fred contributed by drinking some of the wine we’d picked up in El Calafate.

The real jefe of the AGVP, Miguelito. Unlike the other AGVP workers, Miguelito calls El Cerrito home, full-time. He seems to have accepted his proportions and is super chill.
This guy slammed into a window of the AGVP during our breakfast. Although shaken, he seemed to shake it off and scampered away shortly after this photo was taken.

From El Cerrito there are two ways to get to the next map-worthy location, Tapi Aike, our last stop in Argentina before we would cross into Chile. Option 1: 70km of ripio. Option 2: 140km of asphalt. Originally, we had been tempted by the asphalt; however, after chatting with fellow tourers, Menna & Al and Nacho & Simon, we opted for the ripio for a few reasons… Less cars, less kilometers, and (primarily) there is an estancia halfway between where a man named Marcelo lives. Both twosomes gave high praise to his hospitality and said he was a “real gaucho!”

Ripio to Estancia de Marcelo

With hope for a dinner of cordero (it had been rumored that Marcelo makes a great asado), we started on the ripio. 15km into the ride, we experienced some brutal headwinds.  The knock-you-off-your-bike-but-its-okay-because-you’re-going-slow-because-it’s-a-headwind kind of winds. The backyard of a vacant police station (the first building we’d seen all day) provided some protection from the wind and a good lunch spot.

This strange and frightening scarecrow marked the entrance to the ripio route.
Back to ripio!
Downhill into… guess what? More pampas!
In the distance you can see the vacant police station, which we used as a wind barrier during lunch.

At around kilometer 33 we spotted an estancia. Because the Spanish lads had said kilometer 35, we were uncertain if it was the estancia de Marcelo. Fred volunteered himself to scout out the next two kilometers just to make sure. Of course, five minutes after he pedaled off we realized how silly it was…we could just go ask if this was Marcelo’s place. Plus, there hadn’t been anything on the road since the lunch stop, so the chances of there being another estancia within 2km was slim to none. Slow brains. Whatever. Sorry Fred!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, an estancia is essentially a farmhouse or a ranch.

Instead of finding a lonely Marcelo (as imagined), we saw a half dozen gauchos out and about, herding sheep. One of them (who we found out was Marcelo) showed us to an empty space in a barn. After a quick sweep, we settled in a twiddled our thumbs. What do we do when we have no tent to set up?! … We reached for the whiskey. #lightentheload

Out behind the barn, we could hear the gauchos finishing up their herding. After, they gathered in what appeared to be the slaughter-area, just behind our barn. From the window, we could see a fresh sheep skin and a white greyhound with a bloodstained snout… eeeek!

Bass went to investigate and brought the whiskey to share. Very quickly, he returned to the barn. “Hide the whiskey!” he whispered, frantically. Apparently one of the gauchos was actually the jefe. And whiskey is apparently a big no-no for his staff. The jefe came to see us and said we could stay in the barn, but we could not share whiskey with the gauchos — or even talk to them. Also, we were not to wander toward the sheep, horses, or anywhere really. He did tell us where we could get some fresh water at least. Los jefes in Patagonia mean business!

Under house arrest, we made some dinner and settled in for the night.

Gaucho monitors his cordero.

Asado con Gauchos

The next morning, we packed up and started to push our way out of the estancia. Just when we were saying goodbye to the gauchos, they told us that jefe had left and they were having an asado. The entire dynamic had changed and the mood had lightened. We stayed for the classic asado of cordero.

The sheep they had killed the day before was actually a 3-month old lamb, “de leche” (meaning it has only fed off its mother’s milk).

One of the gauchos was headed toward Tapi Aike and, with full bellies, we accepted his offer to drive us to our next camp for the night. We quickly loaded up the bikes in the back of the truck. Surprise rest day!

El cordero de leche.
Gauchos have strong hat game.
Monitoring the asado.

Tapi Aike

In Tapi Aike (which is another “town” kind of like El Cerrito, except it has a gas station and mini market!) we heard it was best to camp outside the police station. The officers were extremely friendly and showed us a sheltered garden where we could put our tents. With the trees and the fence, we were very protected from the wind.

On our hitchbike, we had seen16 two more tour bikers on the route headed toward Tapi Aike. They — a couple of German scientists (Julia and Simon) who started in Brazil and were heading south as well — arrived a couple of hours after us. We chatted and learned that they had skipped El Calafate and were thus low on food. Luckily for them, we had ample fruits and veggies to share, as we would be crossing the border into Chile the next day and we would have to forfeit any remaining fruits, veggies, dairy, etc. before crossing.

We enjoyed a veggie-filled meal and made sure to finish our wine as well.

The next morning, we packed up, but were super distracted by the four kittens running around (they had been inside the night before because of the danger of roaming foxes).

Kitten!

Back into Chile

We17 hit the road and after 12 kilometers we had another classic decision to make: ripio vs. asphalt. This time, the distances were the same, but the ripio had a slightly more favorable elevation profile. Unsure what to do, we decided to flip a coin. We each gave it a flip and tallied the results. The first round was a tie 2-2. The second… 3-1 ripio. Ok, we’ll take the ripio. Onward!

200 meters in, we came to an intersection where the road perpendicular reconnected us back to the asphalt. That’s all Bass needed to express his (extreme) doubts about the ripio. He would take the asphalt. Not wanting to split the group, the three of us also turned left and got back on the asphalt.

The riding was tough and into the wind. At 2pm we reached the Argentinian customs office and had lunch. This meant crushing any and all fruits, veggies, dairy that remained. Bass whipped up a delicious fondue. From there, it was a 6 kilometer ride to reach the Chilean customs office. Like the last time we entered Chile, we had to fill out forms. Rather than our panniers being searched, this time we were required to put all our panniers through a screening machine.

Once reloaded, we found the local drinking trough (where we caught up with the German scientists) and had a beer. Midway through the beer, Richard and Julia showed up! They’d camped at Estancia de Marcelo the night before, but had to hitch to the border since Richard’s wheel had cracked on the ripio (his diagnosis: overuse of his worn out brake pads had put too much stress on the rim). Ouch! They’d set up camp at the local bus station, where there was wind protection, a roof, and even an indoor area with a fireplace where we could warm up.

The German scientists resumed biking south (they planned on arriving in Puerto Natales early the next day). We headed to the bus station to join Julia and Richard’s camp, still unsure of whether we would head straight to Puerto Natales, or take the 110 kilometer detour through Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine, which promised to be beautiful, weather permitting.

The morning dawned and it was a beaut. To the park we go!

Torres Del Paine

The plan was to bike 50 kilometers and camp close to the park entrance. This would enable us to get up early and cross into the park before it technically opened, thus avoiding the expensive entrance ticket (21,000 chilean pesos per person, $33 USD). Given that we were only biking through the park and not doing any trekking, we didn’t feel too guilty. ?

We began the day heading westward, battling a fierce headwind. Eventually, the road changed directions and we experienced gusty crosswinds. At noon, we rounded a bend and there she was: los torres!

Los Torres!

We dined at a great viewpoint overlooking Lago Sarmiento, then charged the final 12 kilometers to Laguna Amarga, the spot where Nacho and Simon had camped before entering the park.

Condor soars in front of los torres!
The Andean condor has the largest wingspan of any bird (3 meters!)
Male rheas build a nest in the ground, where each female he has mated with will deposit her eggs. The male keep the eggs warm throughout the 6 week incubation period and also takes care of the chicks after hatching, keeping both female rheas and predators away.
Guanacos can often be seen leaping fences. Unfortunately, occasionally they get caught in the fence and are left to starve and become condor fodder. Fortunately, this guy cleared the hurdle.
Gaucho violently herding his flock.
Guanacos and the Torres Del Paine mountain range. Yew!
Guanaco attempts to get it on as the herd hurries away from an approaching human (Kale).
Whatchu lookin’ at?
The gang cruising downhill toward Laguna Amarga. Note the guanaco crossing the road!
Baby guanaco suckling some teet.
Team France takes a siesta on the shores of Laguna Amarga.

We considered camping on the Laguna, but the absence of any reasonable shelter from the wind, plus the knowledge that others had been booted trying to camp there (#propiedadprivada) led us to the decision to continue to the nearby campsite, located a few kilometers beyond Laguna Amarga.18

The three massive torres (towers) are gigantic granite monoliths that are UNESCO-declared biosphere reserves. Photo captured at sunset from our campsite.
A majestic guanaco stands upon a hillside as the sun sets on Torres del Paine.

In and Out of the Park

Our alarm went off at 5am. Once outside, we realized that the rain, which had been booming on the roof of our tent for most of the night, was actually quite light. We put on our headlamps, packed up the (dry) inner portion of our tent separately, then, as quietly as possible, packed our panniers and loaded the bikes. By the time we hit the road, it was 5:45am. In the faint light, we could make out the center line of the asphalt road, so we used that as a guide as we began pedalling the 1.5 kilometers to the park entrance.

Although we couldn’t see it, we could certainly feel the road beneath us ascending. The air was unusually still and the humming of our tires on the asphalt, hypnotizing. The sudden crunch of gravel signalled that the road had turned to ripio and the familiar feeling of bumpy earth, resonating through the bike, then our hands, arms, feet and butts. Without the center line, we were forced to dismount and begin pushing the bikes. As we passed the buildings and the PARE (STOP) sign which marked the entrance to the park, we picked up our pace, the crunching of gravel underneath four sets of feet, painfully obvious.

Just after the entrance, the road forked. Following Fred, we veered left and, after a few more minutes of pushing, stopped for a break. Bass had dropped behind, out of sight, but clearly audible. We remounted and began pedalling while Fred waited for Bass. One hundred meters later, the steep incline forced us to once again dismount and push. By now the rain had recommenced. Across the valley, we could see the menacing white and red lights of a vehicle winding along the hillside.

With each passing minute, the road ahead became more visible. From high above emerged the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. From the looks of it, we would be climbing for awhile.19 “Just keep biking” Kale hollered to Cat as the vehicle approached. The vehicle wasn’t a park ranger; rather, it was an empty shuttle bus.

Eager to “rip off the bandaid,” Kale pushed ahead and charged the hill, riding almost the entire way up. Cat had volunteered to carry the wet section of the tent (obviously had not been thinking clearly so early in the morning) and with this extra weight, fell back. Fred and Bass dropped further behind still, opting to push.

Twice during the climb, Kale heard a loud boom. He presumed it was a vehicle, somewhere. Cat didn’t hear it. Later, over lunch, we concluded that it was likely the sound of the nearby glacier calving (similar to what we’d heard at Glacier Perito Moreno).

The road eventually leveled and Kale put down his bike, hopeful that he’d reached the top of the climb. Five minutes later, Cat emerged. Five minutes after that, Fred and Bass rounded the corner, wide-eyed. “We must show you something!” they exclaimed.

They’d seen a puma on the side of the road and had come within 5 meters of it. Even in the rain, they’d managed to snap a video. It had almost certainly been there as we passed, but in the intensity of the hill charge, we’d completely missed it hiding in the bushes (no doubt watching us pass…?).

A few kilometers of ups and downs later, we decided to find somewhere to stop for breakfast, ideally out of eyesight from the road. We found a decent spot, alongside a strange, ancient wall of rock (we couldn’t tell if it was a natural wall, or manmade). The wind was picking up and the temperature frigid, but at least the “wall” provided us with a little shelter from the wind. Extra layers were still necessary, so we bundled up. Cooking with stoves is prohibited in the park, so rather than push our luck (despite Kale’s urges), we decided to bypass a nice warm pot of oatmeal and stick with bread and honey.

Breakfast along the wall!
Windy road through the park.
Cat’s in the clouds!

The next few hours of riding through the park provided some fantastic views.

Occasionally we dismounted and explored on foot.
One of the many lakes we passed as we cycled through the park.
Armadillos have poor eyesight and use well developed sense of smell to find their prey (or avoid overly eager photographers).

Mid-morning we rode quite close to the base of the torres, but our view was obscured by the low hanging rain clouds. As the afternoon slipped into evening, however, the clouds disappeared and the impressive mountain range became clear.

Sol, sol, sol, sol!

Admiring the scenery along the way, we reached the park exit around 5pm and began searching for a spot to wild camp (wild camping is prohibited in the park and is strictly enforced). Options were slim, but a few climbs later (ugh!) and with the help of iOverlander, we found a beaut, just as the sun was setting. We sparked up a campfire and cracked some wine, feeling accomplished. Our stats for the day: 15 hours on the bike (including meals and breaks); 65 kilometers travelled (entirely on ripio); and 1,200 meters of elevation gain. Ooof.

Exiting Torres Del Paine.

Lakeside Wild Camp to Puerto Natales

We’d planned on sleeping in. Despite this, Kale woke up at 7am to pee. While he was at it, he snapped a few pictures of the morning light hitting the (now distant) torres and of the noisy woodpeckers having breakfast above our tents. Then he dozed off again.

Morning light, hitting the Torres Del Paine mountain range.
Woodpecker!

In the late morning, we enjoyed breakfast by the fire. The day’s goal was to make it to Puerto Natales, approximately 60 kilometers away. Given the late start, we decided that if we found somewhere decent to camp outside the city, we would take it and pedal in the next morning.

The day’s ride was pleasant enough, and we were aided by a slight tailwind. After 35 kilometers and a few medium-sized climbs, the road switched to asphalt and our speed picked up.

We rolled into Puerto Natales at 7pm (we hadn’t left camp until 2pm), found a reasonably priced cabana and checked back into the virtual world (#wifi).

We’re getting closer!
Old pier in Puerto Natales.

What’s Next?

We have less than one month left in South America. (You can see our route here!) Until recently, we had planned on cycling on to Punta Arenas, taking a ferry from Punta Arenas to Porvenir, then cycling through the harsh terrain of Tierra del Fuego all the way to Ushuaia. After speaking with some other cyclists, we learned that there is a bi-weekly ferry which runs from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams. Puerto Williams is on Isla Navarino and is actually south of Ushuaia! You might be wondering, “how can anything be south of Ushuaia? You’ve been telling us for months now that Ushuaia is el fin del mundo (the end of the world)”. Well, we were mistaken and for that, we apologize! Turns out that Argentinians have branded Ushuaia (which is in Argentina) as the end of the world, when it actually isn’t. According to Wikipedia, Puerto Williams is the southernmost city in the world. And since we promised you that we’d bike to the end of the world, we’re going to honor that and head to Puerto Williams!

From Puerto Williams, we plan on biking along Isla Navarino’s only road westward to Puerto Navarino. From what we can tell, this is the southernmost road in the world. From here, we’ll catch a ferry north to Ushuaia, pack our things and fly home, just in time for spring ?

Chau! xoxox

3 thoughts on “El Chaltén, El Calafate, and Torres del Paine”

  1. I have enjoyed your trip so much! I know you probably don’t want it to end too soon, but we are really excited to see you again and hear about it in person!

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