PUERTO NATALES TO EL CHALTEN

Our final leg across Patagonia proved to be the toughest but also the most rewarding. From Puerto Natales we decided to skip El Calafate (the jumping off point for the Perito Moreno glacier) and instead head directly to El Chalten 450km north. This should mean we can make the Carretera Austral by Christmas and leave the “mucho viento” (much wind) behind us.

Our first day broadly followed the path we had taken on the bus to Torres del Paine. This time though, travelling at our usual 10km/hr, we could take it properly, including that magnificent lake we rode right alongside of (it must of been on the other side of the bus??).

We passed through the Cerro Castilla border with ease and started along the famous Ruta 40 (the road Che Guevera took on his motorbike). There was not much wind and we managed to clock up 115km and reach Tapi Aike by the evening. Like a lot of Patagonian towns there is not much to say – a petrol station, main roads depot and an Estancia (farmhouse). We camped by the river and soaked up the distant Andean views and the ‘last place on earth’ feeling of remoteness.

The next day we set off along 70km of bone rattling gravel to El Cerrito. Now there are gravel roads and there are gravel roads. This was one was more like a river bed than a road. It was like riding on marbles and it took every effort to keep our bikes upright. Sensing our vulnerability, the wind kindly provided a consistent headwind too. It took us over 10hrs to make El Cerrito. Unfortunately we were behind schedule and had to ride a further 15kms after dinner to get back on track for tomorrow.

Where we sleep between towns is always a surprise and tonight was no exception. Exhausted, we settled for a tunnel under the highway. You don’t get loyalty points for this kinda stay, but its relatively wind protected and can’t be seen from the road – and that will do us just fine for tonight.

We had 5hrs sleep before our 3am wake up call. We had to cover 60km of westward travel before the wind picked up otherwise we’d get stuck. We pedalled hard and a surprise 15km downhill run into Rio Biote just got us there in time. A sweet reward for the last 2 days climbing. PS, if ever asked, llama can run at 45km/hr … we know this as we raced one!

From there we enjoyed some of our best cycling so far - andean and glacial lake views, friendly locals, a tailwind at times and we even found a restaurant in the middle of nowhere that served empanadas and coke!

After 118km we stopped for the night at La Leona, a tourist Estancia that offers food, camping etc (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid supposedly hid out here for a month while on the run from the law).  A perfect place to celebrate our first 1,000km on the road! Two hamburgers and two beers, por favor!

The wind reached the ridiculous again overnight and we had to bus it the last 100km to El Chalten. You can ride a cross wind with a fair bit of effort, but head on it’s just impossible (and dangerous given traffic etc).

So, our time in Patagonia has come to an end. While in many ways this comes as a relief, its been great adventure and a fantastic intro into cycle touring. Long days, sleeping rough, constant wind and a lack of spanish has been a real test. But Jess and I have both passed with flying colours and that gives us confidence for the road ahead.

From here, we take the 3-day overland route to Villa O’Higgins in Chile. This town marks the start of the 1,200km Carretera Austral highway. Some say is the best road in the world to cycle?  We’ll let you know.

Merry Xmas and Happy New Year

Jules and Jess

Carbo loading

Carbo loading

Another Patagonian road

Another Patagonian road

The famous ruta 40

The famous ruta 40

Not exactly 5 star

Not exactly 5 star

Mucho viento

Mucho viento