By Jenny (with photos and one video)
Soon we will cross our first borders but first more miles to get down further south. It made me ponder on how far we have travelled in the past 7 days. Last Saturday we crossed from the east coast to the west side of Argentina and had just joined Ruta 40 part way along it’s length at Tecka. Ruta 40 for those not acquainted with it, is a road that runs parallel to the Andes from the Jujuy province in the north to Punta Loyola in Santa Cruz province in the south and is more than 5,000km long. There are long stretches which are described as ripio (an unpaved road), although there are many kilometres of asphalted road under construction. From Tecka we headed south and on our first day to Rio Mayo encountered 2 stretches of unpaved road. These areas were detours specially laid while they constructed the main road and comprise loose gravel areas and hard stony areas which can be particularly challenging. I would like to give a flowery description of Rio Mayo but not a flower in sight. A very sad place and we did not hang around after a night in a not very salubrious hotel. We were headed for Perito Moreno getting an early start as the map showed the entire road to be ripio, but after a few kilometres the road became asphalted and we whizzed along. We had planned to stop the night at the town of Perito Moreno but it was a national holiday for the Malvinas and everything was closed. In Jim’s words ‘a one horse town that looked like the horse had left too.’ We did manage to find a lone bakery open and a garage so we refuelled on coffee and Bertie refuelled on Infinia (Super Plus 98 Octane). It wasn’t a difficult decision to push on and thankfully the road was good all the way to Gobernador Gregores, added to which in the latter miles even the wind dropped. The terrain during the day had been much hillier which made it more interesting for us but we had to feel for a group of Norwegian cyclists we passed who were cycling the Andean trail from Quito in Ecuador to Ushuaia and had been on the road since 01 August. It made us offer up a little prayer of thanks for our 1200cc engine.
Local info told us that on our next leg there was a stretch of ripio about 80km long leading to Tres Lagos and we were prepared. True ripio is much more compacted and should theoretically be easier to ride, until you add in the wind that blows relentlessly across the road. The 80 km turned into about 115km. It was frustrating to ride along with a beautiful new asphalted road just feet away and know that you can’t get up on to it. The ripio has made Ruta 40 a favourite with adventure bikers. Between the ripio and the 60mph+ winds it is certainly a challenge. However, from a comfort perspective this adventure pillion would take the asphalt any day. Over this stretch of road we managed to lose 2 of the 3 bolts holding the back mudguard on and had to remove it completely. At the small café cum fuel stop outside Tres Lagos we bumped into 2 bikers from Poland, riding 125cc bikes which looked precariously loaded and we exchanged info on road conditions and places to stop, with notes hastily scribbled on the map and bits of paper and thank heavens for the notes page on Jim’s phone. We bade each other farewell as they took one road to El Bolsen to explore Mt FitzRoy and we headed to El Calafate. Snow capped mountains appeared in the distance as we road alongside Lake Argentino. Having given up trying to take photos from the back of the bike due to the endlessly gusting wind, we pulled over to try and get some photos, but standing up proved to be a challenge to, so it became a case of aim, snap and hope for the best.
El Calafate proved to be a multiple horse town, full of tourists all there for the same thing, the Perito Moreno Glacier. This was a sight we wanted to see too so reluctantly accepted that we would have to be among the masses for a couple of days as we needed a rest from the bike after what had been several very challenging days riding. We’re beginning to accept we are not as young as we’d like to think we are. Being a tourist town you get tourist prices but we managed to find a lovely self-contained room with a little kitchen area so we could cater for ourselves which was a welcome break from the often monotonous offerings on the menus and we could fill up on some fruit and vegetables. Our digestive systems would thank us.
The ride up to the national park was beautiful and a doddle with the luggage removed from Bertie. I’m sure he heaved a sigh of relief. There was only one mishap when we stopped to take a photo and my carefully balanced helmet decided to roll off the rock it was on, down the slope and onto the road. Few minutes of panic as Jim ran to retrieve it before it could be crushed by a tourist bus. We had opted to take a boat tour to the base of the glacier. Unfortunately we were joined by several busloads and suddenly it didn’t seem so romantic. However the glacier when you approach it is an awesome sight. The boat ride should have been renamed as boat stop as once in front of the glacier everyone piles to one side of the boat for 40 minutes of photo snapping. After a while we opted to sit in the sun on the other side of the boat enjoying the beautiful view of the lakes. Patience paid off and we were treated with the perfect moments as the boat slowly turned and we had the glacier totally to ourselves for 5 minutes, and those 5 minutes made it all worthwhile. There was better to come as there are a series of walkways opposite the glacier from where you can see its path between the mountains. It is a sight that renders you speechless and there is no way I can describe it and do it justice. It is one of 3 glaciers in Patagonia that is still growing and as the ice moves large chunks are continuously falling away from the front edge, and there are the sounds of the movement within the glacier. WOW, that’s all we can say really. VIDEO LINK HERE http://youtu.be/zwGTITswcbo
We liked El Calafate with its endless tourist shops, walking shops and restaurants, it reminded us of places around the Lake District, existing solely for the tourist but with a nice comfortable feel about it.
All too soon though it was time to move on as we still had a date with the bottom of the world.