Ushuaia – Tolhuin – Rio Grande, 14/01/2012 – 17/01/2012. 297Km (Total 297Km cycled)
Highlights: great views over Ushuaia as we left; our first passport control; wild camping and tasty camp food; meeting other cycle tourists heading south on the last leg of their journeys; heeding warnings about the wind and learning about what’s ahead.
Day 9, 14th January 2012 – Leaving Ushuaia
Heading out of Ushuaia isn’t the most scenic route, but after the police checkpoint it all changed. Rolling hills and great views of the mountains made it a pleasant ride, though a bit hard on our untrained legs that haven’t seen much cycling in the last few months. So much for going to a training camp.
Not many miles into our ride we spotted Lucas (http://ueli-luki.blogspot.com/) from Switzerland zooming towards us and Ushuaia. He’d started in Quito and was sad to be reaching the end of his wonderful bike ride. It is great to meet such friendly faces on the road with whom you already have so much in common, and to share information about the route ahead and places to camp and eat.
We climbed over the Garibaldi Pass which we found quite tough so early in the tour, but if you had some miles in your legs it would be a doddle. We enjoyed the fantastic view over Lago Escondido which, after a long downhill roll, we discovered would be our campsite for the night. We had seen a Camping Municipal next to the lake marked on a map, and arrived to find a couple of other campers enjoying the spot.
Peli cooked up a storm on our stove – our first ever omelette on a campstove, and mashed potatoes. We didn’t enjoy the view for long as we wanted to hide from the biting bastards (AKA BBs) and we were rather tired. During the night we heard some spots of rain on the tent, which sounded much louder than it was. The bikes and the ground were dry when we woke up.
Day 10, 15th January 2012 – Heading towards Tolhuin
Our first attempt at porridge using powered milk went down a storm, and it’s not just hunger saying that. It still gives a nice, creamy taste but without the horrid UHT taint. And it was even tolerated by Peli in her morning cup of tea as “better than nowt!”.
As we were slogging our way through the wind towards Tolhuin we spotted a touring couple, the lady from New Zealand and the chap from South Africa. We stopped to chat for a while to share tips and stories. They didn’t disappoint, telling us about a little campsite on the shores of Lago Fagnano just outside Tolhuin. They warned that the access road would be a bit rough, though not as bad as what we will endure later.
We received a loud welcome from the owner of the campsite, who was astonished at my Extrawheel trailer. “Nunca he visto eso!” he exclaimed, and he told us he’d seen many cycle tourists with trailers in the past. His campsite, Camping Huin, is a rather mad place, with lots of shelter for small-sized tents in the form of wooden windbreakers. Various bits and bobs – from bike frames to toilet seats – make up the windbreakers, with wooden artwork dotted about the place. The toilet block is a little rundown, but the hot showers are good, there is a communal shelter where you can cook if the weather is bad, and free – if rather weak – wifi at $30ARG per person isn’t bad value.
As we arrived we were introduced to Barbara from Germany who was was having a rest day before cycling to Ushuaia. Her plan was then to head north again for some trekking in the mountains. Barbara was a fellow Hilleberg tent enthusiast, and had a neat little domed version. When she saw our enormous Kaitum 3GT, she asked us with a grin if we were enjoying our “villa”. Happy riding, Barbara!
Day 11, 16th January 2012 – The road that is not there anymore
Even with fellow campers chatting loudly into the night, we managed to have a good sleep and got up and set off bright and early (by our standards, anyway. Barbara was up and off a good hour before we were).
I had seen on several maps that there was a minor road, a Ruta Secundaria, going out to the Mitre Peninsula just north of Tolhuin. It would come out near the shipwreck of the Desdemona at Cabo San Pablo which I would have liked to have seen. But, after having asked at a petrol station and the local police, we were told that it would be a beautiful ride, but that we’d make it only two thirds of the way, after which it would turn into an impassable track to the coast.
So, we continued our slog up the tarmacked Ruta Nacional 3 with the intention of taking the better road down the coast. However, 30km into the wind and heat with untrained legs took its toll and by the time we got to the turn off we were drained, I more than Peli. We only managed a mile in along the secondary road before I needed to call it a day. On one steep bit I was on the brink of collapsing and there seemed to be no suitable wild camping place in sight, so Peli went on ahead while I was hiding in the shade. She came back and reported that on the very summit of the hill she’d found a perfect place to camp. I dragged The Tank (my LHT) and Eeyore (the Trailer) up the last bit and staggered into a brilliant little grassy clearing amongst trees with a panoramic view of the distant mountains that we called home for the night. Others have clearly used this spot to camp before us as trees had been cleared and arranged in a circle around a fireplace made of stones.
Day 12, 17th January 2012 – Can we make it in one day.
The next morning we were as rested as we could be and the need for fresh food, water and fuel was greater than trying to make it all the way to the shipwreck. As we are travelling more slowly than most, our need for supplies to keep us going when wild camping is greater. And, as we really didn’t know what we would find on the way, we headed towards the wind and Rio Grande in search of food and fuel.
The countryside really opened up and showed us some massive skies, open moorland that was either empty, with a few cattle dotted around, or with guanacos.
The cycle tourers who have had the (in)sane idea of heading south and finishing in Ushuaia, ;) would never get a proper feel of what the Tierra del Fuego and Patagonian winds are all about, since it took us nearly an hour to do 5km of hard riding.
We spotted a German and a Spaniard who zoomed towards us and, after a good chat, our suspicions were confirmed that there is zilch, nada, rien, nothing at all between here and Rio Grande.
Many hours later we came to Punta Maria where a very closed cafe and bar was looking very sad in the wind. We still had around 40km to go to Rio Grande, so we found a place as much out of the wind as we could next to the road.
Day 13, 18th January 2012 – Last leg to Rio Grande.
Our new tent behaved fantastically in the huge winds and we had a great and needed sleep. Packing up the tent in high winds in the morning was a skill I think we will master perfectly on this trip. For a first try, I think we did rather well. Peli stretched herself out as flat as possible on our 5.5 metre long tent to anchor it to the ground, while I un-pegged and packed up the poles.
The next 30km into the wind was rather hard and was taking its toll on us. And, horror of horrors, we were soon out of toffees and other thing to nibble on. Finally, on the outskirts of Rio Grande, we reached “our friend the bend”, and we got to really appreciate the tailwind that other cycle tourers had told us about. We just had to sit and steer for the last 10km into town as we zoomed in (and quickly pulled up at a kiosco for fizzy drinks and biscuits).
Rio Grande, if you can, avoid! From what we saw after a lot of zigzagging around looking for a place to stay, it is a dump. Other cycle tourers and even the tourist information office told us to avoid the town’s campsite, as it is in a dodgy area with a surface of large stones which rip your groundsheet to shreds. There were also reports of it being closed when tourists went to investigate. Some of the areas we went through on our search for a bed were right out of the best US movies with nasty ghettoes. Dogs were roaming the streets, there was rubbish everywhere and run-down houses. And then, right bang in the middle of this mess we find incongruous little chic boutique clothes shops with the latest fashions. Who wears these clothes I don’t know, as it’s not the folk from Rio Grande!
It was also a bit scary that nearly all the mannequins in the shops we saw were missing some fingers or hands. Cue Twilight Zone theme tune…
It was a relief to eventually find a nice little hotel. Little is the key word here, you would struggle to get the cat into our room with you, let alone swing it about. It served us well for three nights where we could rest our tired legs, have good web access and get a few administrative things sorted before the next bit of riding over to Chile and Torres del Paine.