Saturday, November 8, 2008

It's Been a Funny Old Day...

So rang the suitably apt words of Arkwright (prize of a sweetie if anyone can tell me his first name. My mind's gone blank and its bugging me) in my head as I sat waiting for my seafood lasagne last night. I must have been hungry to have eaten seafood lasagne, but boy, what a day! But first the lead up...

Last I wrote, I was in Puerto Natales, awaiting the diagnosis and no doubt astronomical bill for sorting out the bike. I have to say though, that the language barrier ceased to exist for a minute as he sucked in some air and shook his head. I expect what he said was "Oooo, that's gonna cost ya", and my knees began to give out. As it turned out, matey cleaned out the carburettor ("oxido" apparently) and cut a bit off the bottom of my side stand for me, and all for C$25000, so probably quite reasonable, as he was working from half 5 to half 9 at night at the drop of a hat.
Anyhoo, feeling a lot happier about the reliability of my bike for the next few days on my own, I set out for El Calafate. What a great ride! Heaps of scenery as always, and I got to El C by 3pm, checked into a hostel and immediately went off to see the Perito Moreno Glacier. What an incredible sight! The photos, when they make it on to the site just won't capture what it is like in person. It is huge, and noisy, but in a perfecly natural and "as it should be" kind of way. It'll be quite and serene for maybe 10 minutes, then there'll be a crash, or a sound like cannon fire (and I know what I'm talking about there, I've been to a few Royal Tournaments in my time) as some part of it breaks off in the middle somewhere, and then silence again. If you're really lucky, and what all the tourists are waiting around for, is to see a bit of the front break off, and if you're really, really lucky it'll fall into the lake with a splash like a salto-ing southern right whale (see what I did there? I used one holiday experience to draw a mental picture of another. Clever, huh?). I wasn't really, really lucky, so I didn't see that, but I was really lucky, and went away after an hour or more well satisfied.
Back to the hostel, big BBQ dinner, chat with a local Gaucho who totally reminded me of Uncle David in many ways (beard, long hair, mellow as, but the eyes were just the same), and off again in the morning. This was the bit I had been dreading - the start of the dreaded and infamous Ruta 40. Basically its the road that runs the entire length of South America, under different names in different countries, and the section that runs through Patagonia is notoriously un-paved and dodgy.
The first bit out of El C was easy, tarmac all the way except the last 10km, over the border and it began in earnest (note to self: next male bull terrier I own will be called Earnest. Hightly apt, I think).
Rich had emailed me with road conditions and it sounded pretty rough, and after my last nasty off-sy back before Valdez, I was in no hurry. Not having Rich in tow, or leading for that matter, actually made it easier, as I felt under no pressure to move faster than I was comfortable with. That's not to say Rich pressures me, he doesn't, but when he's there, I always feel like I'm holding him up or slowing him down, even though he is quite happy to go at my pace. On my own, fully accepting of the fact that I'd be camping on the roadside whatever happens, I pootled along. Got to Tres Lagos, the last petrol for 340km, dropped the bike in the street (foot slipped on gravel at intersection, not my fault!), got up, got petrol and moved on. Gravel was far better than I thought, wind was almost none existant (Rich said he'd been blown off the road when he went through), sun was shining and the scenery stunning. With no pressure on me, I stopped for a wee Nana-nap when I felt my concentration wavering, and all was well with the world.
A bit later I met a couple of cycling Austrians, who gave me road condition updates, and a heads up that a 50km section was tarmac-ed, so I had that to look forward to. Shortly after th tarmac, I stopped for the night, sheltered by piles of large stones presumable cleared from the road, and and had a calm night with a marvellous sunset over the distant, snowy mountains. It was Bonfire night, I realised.
Next day (the "funny old day" of the title), keen for an early start to get some distance in before the wind got up in the pm, I was on the road by 0715. Made it to the petrol in Bajo Caracoles by 9am, and met a local guide with perfect English, who showed me an alternative route to Coyhaique, that went through mountains and forests instead of wide open desert, and was fully tarmac-ed all the way. Flexibility being the name of the game, off I went, with only a short 127km section of Ruta 40 left to do if my new route was to be followed. By now, I was much happier on the gravel, confidence growing but lessons learned, so no problems at all. Got to Perito Moreno by noon for more gas, dropped the bike again (clumsy U-turn this time. Well, I ask you! The sign said tourist info turn right, so I did, up a one way street!Bloody Chileños! And no tourist info either! Bastards.) and set off to Los Antiguas and the border, and then to Chile Chico and the port.
Got to the port by 2pm, only to find the next passenger boat was in the morning, but the people telling me this were loading a boat for trucks only, so I spoke nicely to the captain, and they squeezed little ole me and my bike on for the 3 hour crossing to the other side. Unfortunately, being a truckers' boat, they all sat in their cabs, nice and warm, and I had to stand about outside getting cold. For 3 hours, in a howling wind. It crossed my mind that I had signed nothing when I got on board, and if they chose to, they could steal my stuff, tip me and the bike over board and the only record of me ever having been anywhere would be my arrival in the customs shed. After that, I'd have disappeared off the face of the earth. But they didn't do that, I only thought they could have if they'd wanted to.
I spent part of the journey looking out for dolphins and albatrosses etc, but then realised that it was a big lake (a very big lake), not the sea, despite the waves, so gave up that search, figuring it to be a bit of a waste of time.
On the other side at Puerto Igniero Ibañez, a bored customs man decided all the documents I'd got at the proper Chilean border needed changing so they looked like they came through his border, so he carefully copied everything from the documents I had on to a new set, just so he could put his stamp on them. I guess it was legit, as there was road access to P I I from Argentina, but I didn't see the need for it. By now it was 7pm, and I figured I could find a bed for the night, as I was bit weary from a long day, and Coyhaique was only 116km away. But, no beds to be found as P I I is a ghost town, so I bit the bullet and decided to move on to Coyhaique, where a bed was guaranteed. It was still light, and would be for the next 2 hours, plenty of time to cover 116km on tarmac.
And this is where it got really surreal. As I left the town, I realised that I was having fun. I was making my own way in my own time with no worries about what anyone else was doing or thinking, and the fact that I was still driving this late in the day didn't bother me at all, even when the serpentine road started climbing into the mountains and it started to snow. Despite the conditions, the road and scenery were possibly the best I had yet encountered, and I only wished I could have seen it in more sunny conditions. The road stayed clear of settled snow, while the trees took on a light frosting, and I just kept thinking that, that morning, I had been in a vast desert flat-land, bordered by distant mountains, and now here I was, a ferry ride and 400km of gravel later, driving through mountain passes with forests on all sides in a different country.
Coyhaique arrived, I stumbled across a Hospedaje for the night, found some food (the seafood lasagna) and just sat with a beer, marvelling at the crazy day I'd had. Possibly one of my favourties of the trip so far. I even managed to check the internet and find out that there was a boat to Quellon on Isla de Chiloe the next day at noon, so all was perfect.
Next day, it turned out the boat to Quellon was only for Chileños, but with a bit of skilfull negotiating, they agreed to take me and the bike, although the sailing was to be at 7pm, check in about 4pm. So here I am now, after a truely stunning ride through the valley to Puerto Chacabuco in the pouring rain, hiding from the rain and waiting for the ferry, and telling you all about it.
Think I'll go and get some lunch now though, and see where this all goes from here. My only regret is that the sun is not out, as I suspect the rumoured spectacular views from the boat may well be a bit hidden in the mist, not to mention the darkness that happens each night about 9ish. Ah well, things are on course, and all is right in the world. Except my feet are a bit cold, and my clothes a bit wet, but those are just temporary things, never fear.
Love and hugs to you all, now go and get some of that ice cream you just know is in the freezer wanting to be eaten up. Off you pop.

1 comment:

James said...

Where are you Steve? Long time since last post! Have you met up with Ric again yet? Hope things are going well anyway :-)