As we left Bariloche the whole landscape changed. The mountain view faded making room to the steppe-like plains.
As we were riding straight on the Ruta 40, the sky got covered in clouds. Ahead of us it was looking really dark. We were wondering if we were going to hit the storm, or if we were going to be lucky, as most of the time, and go by it. We stopped and put our rain gear on though. And we were glad we did, since this time we were not as lucky and we went straight through the storm.
At some point it was raining so hard that we could barely see the road in front of us. On the bikes stopping and waiting for the storm to pass is not an option, as you’re not sheltered, so we kept going slowly. Then the rain turn into hail that was hitting us so hard it was hurting. I was only happy that this happened while we were on paved road, as here it gets pretty nasty and muddy when it rains.
After about an hour and a half of riding through the storm we managed to get to Gobernador Costa, where we decided to call it a day. We found a cosy hostel that looked like a grandma’s house, with warm and clean rooms and some delicious pies. It was perfect for our soaked bodies and gear. We slept like babies till the next day.
From all the shaky gravel we’ve done so far all the jb weld on my bike gave in, and the whole front of the bike was wiggling like crazy, so Vasile zip-striped all the broken parts on my bike. Hopefully it will hold well enough until we find a BMW dealership, as it looks like there is none in Patagonia.
Next morning we packed up everything and headed to Perito Moreno (the town, not the glacier). The road was mostly paved with short sections of gravel in between. It was the most boring day of riding in the whole trip, just straight road through the steppe and the wind started to show its wings, hitting us from one side or the other.
We got to Perito Moreno, a little town in the middle of nowhere, where there is nothing interesting happening, yet the cheapest hotel room was $65 USD. We asked some guys if there were any hostels*around, with more economic prices, and the answer was “No, there aren’t. But if you want, I give you the keys of my house, and you can stay there. I am going to work now and I will be back in the morning, so no one will bother you.” Once again we were blown away by how friendly and trusting people were here. He just met us and he was offering us the keys of his house. We took the offer and we went to his place, had a good rest and we were ready for another day’s ride.
The next day was another straight ride through the steppe. The wind started to blow stronger and stronger. I was leaning into the wind big time so I could go straight. As I am not a big person, I was afraid that the wind would blow me off the road, as a few times it almost happened. We were looking for the turn we were supposed to take to go to Cueva de las Manos (The hands’ cave). At some point I saw a gravel road to my left and I was thanking God I didn’t have to ride on that loose gravel in that wind.
Along the way we saw a variety of animals specific to Patagonia: the fox, the guanacos and plenty of nandus.
We stopped in Bajo Caracoles to gas up and when we asked the locals where the road to Cueva de las Manos was they told us we just passed it. Turned out the gravel road that I saw was the road we were supposed to go on. As it was very windy and the road was supposed to be pretty bad, we decided to leave my bike at the gas station and go two up to the cave. And it was a good decision, as the road was indeed very bad, stretches of very loose gravel *and stretches of semi-dried mud ruts that made it quite technical and challenging even for Vasile.
But the ride was well worth it, as Cueva de las Manos (which is a World Heritage site since 1999) was incredibly interesting. The cave is in a canyon well hidden in the steppe, in the valley of Pinturas River.
Those paintings are dated 9000 b.p., so that makes them over 11000 years old! That is unbelievable! And yet they are so well preserved. And it was so amazing to find out more about the way people lived back then and how they were using everything nature was offering them.
After this beautiful history episode we turned around to Bajo Caracoles. We met here a group of 5 Argentinian bikers with a support vehicle. They were heading south to Gobernador Gregores. As the hotel in Caracoles had no rooms left, we had a sandwich and decided to head there too. We had to rush a bit, as the road from Caracoles to Gobernador Gregores was supposed to have a stretch of about 70 km of gravel, and it was passed 5 pm already.
On the way we met another fellow rider, Dave, a guy from Seattle on a V-Strom 650. He left Seattle 18 months ago (now that’s a vacation!) and it looks like he is still enjoying it. He told us about a gorgeous place, El Chalten, which was supposed to have world class mountaineering. So we decided to check it out, and instead of going straight to El Calafate, to take a detour and see El Chalten.
Turned out that part of the 70 km of gravel that we were supposed to have on the way to Gobernador Grigores had been paved in the meantime, so there were only about 30 km left. But most of it was very loose gravel, with some tracks here and there.
But we made it, had a good rest, and the next day we were ready for the longest stretch of gravel we had in Argentina.
In the morning, at the gas station while we were fueling up, we met a Brazilian rider, Raphael, riding a Honda Varadero. He was coming from south heading north. We exchanged travel and road information. He was just returning from El Chalten and he showed us some awesome pictures. He was so excited about it that it just made us more anxious to get there. He was a very nice, friendly guy, who invited us to stay at his place if we go to Brazil.
With our tanks full and our hearts filled with excitement we headed to El Chalten. We had ahead of us about 120 km of gravel road – a mix of packed dirt, super loose gravel, big rocks and as it looked like it just rained the night before, a lot of mud and ruts.
The only place that was supposed to have gas in between was Tres Lagos. I still had gas, but Vasile was afraid that his bike was not going to make it to El Chalten, so we stopped to look for gas. The road to the little town was very confusing. At some point we found ourselves on a big gravel site with big machines working. They turned us around and pointed the direction to us. After we passed through some deep wide mud sections, we found a tiny road all mud, puddles and bumps, that looked like it was heading to town.
We got to town, but we found out that the gas station didn’t have gas in the past year, so we could not fill up. We stopped to eat at a restaurant and it happened that the owner had 20 l of gas. He had an unfortunate event, a car accident in which he broke his collar bone so he was not driving anymore; therefore he had some gas left. Not that we were happy for his misfortune, but we were definitely happy he had gas. We filled up and off we went. As we were leaving the town we met a German couple on a bike looking for the gas station, a bit confused about the road too.
From here on we were on paved road again. Despite the rough conditions of the road up to Tres Lagos we actually really enjoyed the ride. Part of it was probably because we had a good sleep the night before and we had the energy to put up with it.
As we were getting close to El Chalten, the view changed completely and became one of the most spectacular views of the trip. We missed this kind of view in the past few days.
And here is El Chalten beautifully hidden in the valley.
Once we settled down we went out for dinner. The owner of the restaurant where we were eating, and Argentinian girl passionate about climbing, started chatting with us and telling us about the beautiful hikes and climbs in the area. We were planning to do a one day hike to see the Fitz Roy, as we do not have a proper backpack with us to carry all the camping gear. But she convinced us to stay and camp at the base of the glacier and she lent us her backpack.
The hike up was one of the best hikes we have done, comparable only to the trek we've done on the Himalayas, in Nepal, two years ago.
Once at the campsite, we pitched the tent and then continued our hike to the glacier.
The last part, for about an hour and a half, was the most difficult part. Very steep climb up through loose rocks.
And this is what we found when we got up there.
We sat there in awe for more than an hour contemplating the beauty of the nature. It was hard to turn around and leave. But eventually we had to do that. We turned around to our campsite, and the next day we woke up to this.
We have been so incredibly lucky to have such a perfectly clear sky, as apparently this is quite rare in this area. Not many people manage to see Fitz Roy without clouds. We had blue sky both days, so we could fill our eyes with the beautiful view and take it with us.
Once back in town and to the hostel we met Ramon, a nice guy from Ushuaia, who offered to cook for us. As he was a chef we trusted him and accepted
We decided to leave the next day and head to El Calafate. But we received a facebook message from our friends Kurt and Cory that they were in El Calafate and heading to El Chalten the next day, so we decided to stay one more day so we could meet up with them.
It was so great to see them again. With them came Dana, an old girlfriend of Cory's from Williams Lake, Canada, who came to travel with them for a bit. We had a blast together, laughing with tears to all the travel stories we all had since we split in Cartagena. We went to bed late not looking forward to parting ways again. We were just having too much fun together. But they are towards the end of their trip, they met their goal, Ushuaia, and now they have to ship their bikes and fly back to Canada.
So after having some delicious waffles for*breakfast*together we headed to El Calafate. There were only about 200 km of paved road, so we got there early. Since we had time, we decided to go see the Perito Moreno glacier, so we can leave the next day early in the morning. So we dropped some of our stuff in the hostel room, jumped on the bikes and headed to the glacier. There are about 90 km from El Calafate to the glacier. On the way we met a French girl, who lives in Vancouver now, Anne-Sophie, on a unicycle. She's going across Patagonia on a unicycle! Wow, she's our hero!
Once we got to the glacier, it left us out of breath. I do not know how to describe it as no words would make it justice. Neither do pictures, but at least you can get an idea.
Back at the hostel we met again our friend from Ushuaia, Ramon. We offered him some veggie omelette, as that's what we were cooking, but he turned it down with a smile. I guess chefs don't have omelette for dinner?
Next will be Torre del Paine, Chile. Stay tuned.