Porvenir, Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales 30th Jan – 4th Feb 2012. 60Km (Total 690Km cycled)
Highlights: Steak, wind, broken spokes, veggie curry, cake and meeting other cycle tourers.
Day 22,23,24 and 25: 31th Jan. to the 2nd Feb. 2012 – Goodbye Tierra del Fuego.
We had two days off in the little town of Porvenir. But, since WiFi wasn’t working in the town at all and there wasn’t much to Porvenir in terms of amenities, we decided to jump on the boat to Punta Arenas. We arrived rather too early at the tiny port only to find that the restaurant we’d planned to wait at was shut. Undeterred, we set about cooking up a storm on our trusty Trangia, and were soon eating some hot rice. While waiting to embark we met an American couple, Christi and Tauru, who were cycling almost same route north as us and who who enthusiastically forced biscuits on us (we like them). They are both legally blind and riding a tandem with a trailer. They’re a very inspiring couple who entertained us with tales of their ride from Ushuaia. They’d taken the same Bella Vista route as us, so we had fun comparing notes. Their excellent website www.twoblindtoride.org is definitely worth a read.
Having disembarked the ship we cycled directly to the hostel which had been recommended to us, Hospedaje Independencia. Peli went to check it out only to be told by the friendly owner, Eduardo, that unfortunately they were completely full for the night. If you’re planning to stay there, arrive early as it’s really popular and the small garden where you can pitch a tent fills up quickly. Eduardo suggested a nearby hostel in the next street, so we managed to get a nice – but rather dear – room at Hostel Aventura Austral for the night.
As we had a few errands to run in Punta Arenas, we returned to Hospedaje Independencia the next day and pitched up. Again we noticed just how massive our tent is. We squeezed into a space which had been occupied the previous day by at least two cycle tourers/backpackers’ tents. Yet another cycle tourer referred to it as our ‘villa’, so I think its found a name!
I had a very unwelcome surprised while doing some light fettling of our bikes to fix my slow puncture, oil our chains, etc. Irritatingly, I found a broken spoke on the non-drive side of my rear wheel. I fixed it relatively easily, as I was carrying spares. I’d initially had problems with my rear wheel not being up to the job during our tour Down Under last year. Since then, I put a lot of effort into tracking down the strongest rear wheel possible to carry me, and our luggage, through this tour of a lifetime. I’ve written extensively about it, here. I was annoyed to find a broken spoke so early in the tour – fingers crossed this is not the start of a big problem.
Day 26: 3rd Febuary 2012 – Leaving Punta Arenas.
We got up nice and early (for us). It took us a while to roll out of the gate as we discovered that my slow puncture was still causing bother. While fixing it we had a great chat with Matt, who had arrived from Alaska after a 20-month journey. We picked up a lot of useful tips on where to camp and eat, route planning, and the like. Cheers, Matt!
We didn’t fancy running out of food again and so embarked upon a massive shopping stop as we left town. We developed quite a good approach to filling our panniers: Peli would run around the supermarket and get the essentials from a prepared list. We’d then pack it all, see what we had more room for (such as the all-important cake and biscuits), and go for a second supermarket sweep. After all, there is no point having spare air in the panniers when it may as well be filled with calories!
So, we eventually started our northbound journey at about 13.30. We expected the coming ride to Puerto Natales to take about five days.
The weather forecast had not been pretty. There would be water, and lots of it, coupled with more strong winds. We’d therefore prepared for wet and early starts.
For the first 30km we felt like we were flying. We met a group of ebullient cycling Italians (and a Swiss chap) who wished us the best of luck against the wind and sped off towards Punta Arenas.
Then, the wind and Ruta 9 turned against us.
For the next 14km we were tossed around willy-nilly by the wind. It hit us almost straight-on, swiping the front panniers like sails. This made it incredibly difficult to maintain a straight line, especially when cars and lorries overtook us. We made wobbly progress, half on the road, half on the gravelly hard shoulder, towards a police checkpoint, where Peli tried her luck in asking for a place to camp. The officious chap in charge sat her down and strictly advised us not to camp here as the winds were too strong and would throw the tent about in the night. We took his advice and rode another 10km to where the land dipped down, and provided a bit of shelter.
An early night and an early attack on the wind the next morning were booked. While pitching up I received another unwelcome surprise: yet another broken spoke! This was getting very unfunny. It was right next to the one I’d fixed the day before. This means I’m now out of spokes in that length.
Day 27: 4th February 2012 – Abandon Ship!
The wind didn’t abate all night, so our intended early start was slightly delayed. We later learned that the Torres del Paine had had wind of up to 120km/h during the night.
The first five kilometres lulled us slightly into a false sense of calm as they went by reasonably easily. But again the wind put its boots on and threw us around good and proper. The next five kilometres seemed to take forever and took all our efforts to keep the handlebars straight. It was simply not safe to ride: one minute you were balancing along OK, but the next you were either in the middle of the road or on the gravel hard shoulder fighting to stay on the bike. Or, even worse, on the ground.
So, we decided to swallow our pride and try to hitch a lift to Puerto Natales, since the Italians and French we’d met the previous day had said the road to Puerto Natales would be boring compared to other scenery South America had to offer. Plus, we knew that the weather wouldn’t be nice for the next few days.
After cooking our porridge in a handy bus shelter (they make them sturdily in this part of the world, and they contain amusing grafitti from fellow cycle tourers) we got out our thumbs and tried to hitch a lift. We were across the road from an abandoned-looking petrol station and cafe, whose toilet could easily win the “worst public toilet of South America” contest. We later learned from some other cycle tourers that the petrol station wasn’t abandoned at all, it was simply resting its eyes, and an excellent hot chocolate could be procured from within (if you knew the magic word).
After two hours of airing our thumbs without success we were getting rather cold in the wind, and slightly despondent. It was Saturday, so there were very few large vehicles passing. We made our mind up to at least start heading in the right direction to keep our bodies warm, even if it meant pushing the bikes. We didn’t really have much choice.
We’d been walking/start-stop-wobbly-cycling for just under two kilometres when some very ominous-looking dark clouds started to head towards us. We were seriously considering pitching the tent to at least shelter from the rain, when we heard a car approaching. We half-heartedly flashed our thumbs… and what was this? The mini-truck was pulling to a halt – success at last! We more-or-less threw the bikes in the flat-bed and were tucked up in the warmth before the first heavy drops hit us, speeding towards Puerto Natales.
Two hours later – and many days faster than planned – we were dropped of at the tourist office by our chauffeurs. They smilingly declined our offer of a bit of cash towards petrol, and wished us a happy stay in ‘Bendita Natales’. We never got to chat to them during the drive, or got their names. They just drove us there, for which we are very thankful!
So, we’re currently pitched up in a touristy town trying to sit out the rain. One of the reasons we came to south Chile and Patagonia was to see the famous Torres del Paine. It seems we’re now paying for the good weather folk have had here for a while, so we have to make some tricky decisions about what to do next. Luckily, we have a great tent which makes sitting out the rain easy. (Have we mentioned before what a great tent we have? :)
We will either stay put here for a few days and hope for a gap in the weather. Or, we might take a bus up to the park (to ensure we have lots of food with us), camp out in the park for a while and hope for an afternoon or morning with a dry spell. We’ll then head over to Argentina and onwards and upwards, to the north!
One good thing about staying in Puerto Natales is that Peli has finally been able to have a proper, tasty vegetarian meal (which hasn’t been made on a campstove). We discovered the excellent El Living cafe and tucked into a treat of a lunch of vegetarian chickpea curry, followed by CAKE. If you are ever here, do give it a go – it serves truly scrummy food.