Interesting day – A bit of everything really – Except warmth !! I must still be recovering from all my hiking over the last few days, because it was 9 am before my eyes even opened !! And it was raining – And blowing, of course. Rain wasn’t too heavy, but it did mean I had to jiggle my normal pack up to make sure I got everything in without either my stuff or me getting too wet ! After 9 months on the road, practice makes perfect, and it all got done, and by just before 10 am I was back on that dirt road, headed back towards El Calafate. Boy, am I get sick of dirt roads, and the bad corrugations they always seem to have ! Last night I had to spend an hour or so replacing screws that had fallen out of various places, vibrated loose over the recent pounding over the dirt roads. There are still a few more that I cannot reach easily – They will have to wait till I have some time in one place, and some fine (and wind-less) weather.
Very overcast and cold – 4 deg C when I hit the road this morning. And all the surrounding hills had a dusting of snow on their tops. This is summertime – No wonder Perito Moreno glacier is still growing !! While the countryside is pretty boring (think country Australia – Lots of countryside but not a lot to see unless you are in to fields!) it is quite interesting to see the many Estancias (properties) that dot the countryside. IN fact, the maps mark all the estancias, so you can actually follow your progress just by noting the estancia names as you pass them. Came over one hill and there were a mob of horses wandering up the road towards me – They very kindly kept left, and when I stopped to look at them, they stopped to look at me !! Then it was on through the countryside, with the low cloud and rain continuing.
When I came in sight of Lago Argentino to my left, the ice blue of the lake was stunning, even in the overcast conditions. Must be all those bubbles and sediment in the ice from Glacier Perito Moreno ! By 11.15 I was in El Calafate again, and after topping off with fuel I parked on the main street so I could quickly get some stickers and check for a cambio man as I am running low on Argentine pesos. No luck on the cambio (Argentine really is the hardest place to change money I have ever been in), but found a T shirt and a couple of local stickers for my collection, and then walked over to the camp site I was at 2 nights ago to log onto their wifi to check for email before heading out south towards the Chilean border and Torres del Paine.
The weather had cleared up a bit by the time I reached Calafate, but the wind hadn’t dropped, and as I set off to the SE, it was blowing me along – My gauge which shows actual fuel consumption showed 3-5 litres per 100 kms. I found a relatively sheltered spot to stop and make some rolls for lunch, but even so, it was so cold and windy that I got back in the car and ate them inside ! The vastness of Patagonia really has to be seen to be believed – It just goes on and on. And always this incessant wind. I know I go on about the wind, but it really is amazing – Earlier on I tried to pass a couple of cyclists, but they were doing about 60 kmh themselves, and hardly peddling ! They were wobbling a bit though, so you need to give them a good clear berth.
Passed a gaucho and his dogs herding a mob of sheep at one stage – Very typical of Patagonian Argentina, and I sat and watched them for a while. After that, as I started to get nearer to Puerto Natales, the snow capped peaks of the jagged mountains started to come back into view – But the weather over them was very dark and angry – Not boding too well for the weather at Torres del Paine !! But you notice interesting things as you drive – Horses and cattle all stand with their backs into the wind, and try to shelter behind hills or bushes where possible – They don’t look too happy about it though ! And then, over some steep bluffs we passed, there were some condors soaring on the updrafts – Nice to at last see some condors, as they have been like hen’s teeth so far.
As I approached this little town of Rio Turbio, I passed some cyclists standing by the road trying to head north, and they looked miserable, so I U turned for a chat. They were a young French couple and had no money (because they couldn’t use their visa card at any ATM – It’s a BIG problem down here), and the wind was so strong they couldn’t cycle north, so they were trying to hitch a ridein a vehicle big enough to take their bikes. They were so fed up – Not bothering to go to Torres del Paine (because the wind was too strong for them to cycle there), they just wanted to get far enough north to get away from the Patagonian winds. I gave them a couple of coffee sweets which they were happy about, and left them with their problems.
I don’t quite know what Rio Turbio is – I thought it would be hydro electricity with a name like that. But it seems to be coal, and in the middle of nowhere, and after seeing nothing but open country side all day, suddenly there are power stations and long conveyor belts taking coal from here to there. Weird place – But as it was cold and wet, I didn’t spend any time exploring. It was already 5 pm and I didn’t know what time the border crossing closed, so I pushed on.
Climbed up the hill out of Rio Turbio and soon came to the Argentine border. Only one car ahead of me – I was out and back on the road through no man’s land in 5 minutes ! Has to be a record – And I even had to correct the Adouane official when he tried to give me back the car form – Had to explain that he had to keep it, not me !! He finally laughed and said “ Ah – Si” ! This is about my 8th crossing between Argentina and Chile, so I am getting to know the process and the required forms pretty well ! 10 minutes later I arrived at the Chilean border post at Dorotea, and this time I had prepared much better – I was determined they weren’t going to get any food off me again !! I had run my supplies of fresh food down to just half a tomato, and a couple of slices of cheese and ham – Everything else was gone (apart from an onion I had hidden !!). I dumped the offending pieces at the Argentine border, so when I arrived at the Chilean one I just said I had nothing. They looked in my fridge, saw my (cooked) sausages, which are OK, and that was it. Fastest and easiest border crossing ever.
Surprise surprise, it was still raining and blowing in Chile, and I headed down into Puerto Natales in the rain, looking for a campsite and a supermarket so I could stock back up on food now I was in Chile. I intend to try to drive all the way down to Punta Arenas staying in Chile, so no problems with food ! Puerto Natales is a funny little place – Very back packer-ish, and lots of stores offering camping tour, camping gear, etc. I found a little camp site right in the middle of town, so well sheltered from the wind, and then went in to town, found a cambio man to stock up on some Chilean pesos (easy compared to finding Argentinian ones !), and went to the supermercado and restocked my larder. A roast pollo did me for supper, and will provide me with food for a couple of days.
Hopefully the weather will improve tomorrow as I venture into Torres del Paine. It never got about 12 deg C today, and I am living in thermals and jackets and fur hats all day. I really didn’t expect it to be this cold ddown here in February – But hey, this is Patagonia, and like Alaska, it can snow down here in mid summer – Come to think of it, it snowed last night !!! But I intend to stay here for the weekend as it is supposed to be a holiday, and hopefully I can do some more hikes around the area. I must admit to being quite excited to be here – T del P is really the main target of my trip within Patagonia, so to finally be here is very special. Some sunshine and blue skies would be good…….
Pics here :-
Pics here :-