Back up North! Puerto Natales – El Chalten: high peaks, glaciars and pampa

So after a 40 hour boat trip, we made it to Puerto Natales, the base to visit Torres del Paine national park. After 1.5 day more with the cyclists and backpackers we met on the boat, we headed out. So after a 6.5 months, 10.000 km trip to the South, I was now heading North!!!

‘Mi Negrita’ still looking good after seven months on the road!

We aimed for the West entrance of the park and wild camped just before it at ‘mirador Grey’, from where we got to see the first glimpse of the mighty ‘cuernos’ (horns).

Entering the park as a foreigner is expensive: 21.000 pesos chilenos they let you pay (30 euro). Apart from that, all the campings are super expensive too (read: 15 euro/person/night). Wild camping can get you into serious trouble, but we were going to see if one can stand out of sight and give it a go.

The wind had picked up tough! Here that meant 60 km/h side wind, making you lean into it. We wanted to spend three days in the park and the dirt road is only about 60 km long, so plenty of time to take it easy.

At the end of the day, after visiting some waterfalls, we found a spot where there was a little less wind. My tent being stronger than Jelle’s, we just pitched one. We sure needed two pair of hands to not have the flysheet fly off to the other side of the park! Amazing how much protection you can get from just 1.7 kg of plastic and aluminium.

Next day, after breakfast, we were both curious what we could see on top of the hill. So we hiked up a bit, only to get more curious and go higher…and higher…and higher. In the end we hiked for 4 hours through beautiful scenery, to an amazing and unexpected viewpoint over the ‘Cuernos’.

hiking up from our campspot

our beautiful view, all to ourselves

Then, we cycled out of our illegal wild camp spot to approach the east entrance of the park and do the world (?) famous hike to the ‘torres (towers) del paine’. Spectacular to say the least, but with hundreds of people around, definitely a very different experience too.

 

yes! that’s a puma! very safe though, we sure weren’t alone here…

Same day, we cycled out and camped at the lake with a beautiful sunrise over the ‘torres’…worldclass!

back into argentina

We were now at 60 km from the border with Argentina, from where it was another 210 to El Calafate, the home base to visit another world-famous site: the perito moreno glaciar.

So we got back on the ruta 40, which I was now planning to follow 1500 km to the North. It only took me 7 km though to totally loose it mentally. Headwind was slowing us a bit down, I was using Jelle’s draft, but still couldn’t follow. Hearing me telling him that I couldn’t keep up, really pissed me off. It had been more than three months since I started to feel weak, and still had these kind of very weak moments. With such a large distance still to go to the North, I got a bit desperate for a moment. But hey! What can you do? Sitting next to the road doesn’t fix anything. So slowly we continued a bit, to pitch the tents in a creepy field with animal parts (including a horse head) laying around all over the place. The dead trees protected us from the wind though. All I thought off was to search an nutritionist in town. I couldn’t continue like this.

on the road towards El Calafate, playing basketball at the petrol station of a ‘village’ with about 6 people

I wasn’t very sure what to expect from the ruta 40 going North. Other cyclists we had met, warned us of the killer headwinds slowing you down to 5 km/h. So we were pretty happy to average 90 km/day and get to El Calafate without problems!

camping at the ‘vialidad’, the company maintaining the road. very helpful!

We had now swapped the spectacular mountain landscapes from the Carretera Austral with the monotone Pampa landscape this part of Argentina had to offer. A landscape like that simplifies the day a lot. There’s almost nothing to visit or stand in awe for and the only people you usually meet are other cyclists or hitchhikers.

Therefore we met Hugo again, the Argentinian who teamed up with us for five days north of Coyhaique, Chile. The feeling to see a soulmate of the road unexpectedly again in the middle of nowhere, is hard to describe. Utter joy!

He gave us a great address in the city, where we pitched the tents in the garden of a lovely grandmother running a guesthouse. We ended up staying four nights… Jelle decided to not continue cycling the ruta 40, but instead take a bus to Bariloche from El Chalten. That way he could discover the beautiful lake district, be in time in Santiago to catch his plane home and spend his last weeks of holiday in slightly more entertaining landscape.

From El Calafate it’s 160 km up and back to the glacier, so we wanted to hitchhike. Waiting for two hours for a ride, tested our patience pretty good. But we got there! We were happy that it all worked out, but it also convinced us once more that traveling by bicycle and having the freedom to go wherever you want, is a true luxury. There’s just something depressing in getting refused that many times.

Not only it’s size, but definitely the noise of ice blocks cracking and falling off, make the glacier a very impressive sight. It’s actually one of the only glaciers which is in balance, meaning that it’s expanding and retrieving at the same speed.

We also met a lovely Belgian couple, with whom we had a great night in town, but also happened to know lots about nutrition!

So with a new diet, Jelle and I got cracking on the last days we would cycle together up to El Chaltén.

We camped another two nights next to the road to make it to the trekking mecca of Argentina. We looked up the ‘Casa de Ciclistas’, where the solidarity and friendship between the cyclists is so beautiful, that we ended up staying a week.

Around the little village lays a web of beautiful one-day and multiple day hikes. Another pearl of Patagonia! We were being so spoiled these days.

We hiked for four days, seeing Fitz Roy mountain and others from different angles, but hanging out with our new-made cyclists friends, was equally as beautiful.

 

 

 

 

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