The Furious Fifties were howling appropriately as I lay in bed feeling the building rock with each mammoth gust and thinking “oh it could be a bit rough on the road today”. It took quite an effort to wrench myself away from Puerto Natales that morning, I’d found very much a home away from home there with days filled with easy conversation, reading and the drinking of much coffee, tea and beer.. not necessarily in that order through the day :-) I even happened to meet a lass from Montreal which was ace, we had a lot to talk about, I have fond memories of my years there.
An American girl, also taking in interest in travel by bike, asked me one evening “like… how many, like, outfits do you have..?“. She had noticed I think that I live in my long sleeve merino top and 3/4 camo longs. I told her my morning suit and dinner jacket were at the dry cleaners… she just looked at me oddly for a moment and then decided maybe it was best to change the subject.. asking me if I had done The Trek. She had and said she thought it wasn’t good enough that the campsites in Torres del Paine did not all have hot water…
In Puerto Natales I realised how tired I have become, or perhaps just lazy… and with some pressure from friends considered terminating my journey there but my bike was sitting there, laying the guilt on so before I really had time to think about it I was loaded up and rolling out of town in the teeth of a howling gale. I struggled to find my legs and briefly thought of turning back but by the time I had 20km under my wheels I had convinced myself that it made more sense to continue on for the 255km journey to Punta Arenas… it’s all about the mind games when the legs are unwilling.
So.. back to the pampa, the vastness of bugger all away from the mountains. With the wind from the west I had a vicious cross-tailwind for the first 50km or so which helped me along although only at about 25km/hr average as the gusts sent me skidding all over the place and simple tasks like putting on a windshell for a passing shower became insanely difficult. I still needed to stop at a lonely roadhouse for a ridiculously expensive coca-cola before my legs started to feel good. From there for the next 50km I was able to cruise comfortably at 45km/hr as the road turned directly east for a while. By 1pm I already had 100km under my wheels…. Then the road turned south-south-west across a particularly stark, barren stretch of terrain with kilometres long draggy climbs and of course the gale became a cross-headwind. My speed plummeted into single figures and the day that had started reasonably comfortably became something of a grovel. I didn’t dare retreat into some music for this stretch, despite the road being mostly empty I needed my hearing to be able to avoid the very real risk of being blown under the wheels of the occasional passing truck as I fought to keep my bike upright and on the right side of the road.
At 2pm I badly needed to rest so sought refuge from the gale in a little metal bus shelter at the junction of an access road for one of the vast estancias that exist out on the plains. I stretched out on the hard bench inside and despite the buffeting & rocking from the wind I was instantly asleep, rare for me, for a much needed siesta. I think if there had been water here I would have been tempted to stay the night…
I planned to camp for the night, but with no water and no shelter from the wind anywhere I kept going into the evening, arriving at the tiny, windswept little commune of Villa Tehuelches with 150km under my wheels. The village with its brightly coloured metal roofs seems to exist mostly as an administrative center for the surrounding area, it has a small shop on the highway, a large administrative building and bugger all else.
I asked the coppers at the checkpoint if there was a place to camp, they said no but there was a hospedaje. Not dirt cheap at 10,000/night but the thought of a decent bed in a private room for a good nights kip out of the wind was attractive. The interior of the place was overwhelmingly tacky… at breakfast I sat next to a large pink flamingo while looking at a wall painted with glossy orange sunset over Torres del Paine. This mural sported non-authentic features such as a lightswitch and door knob. Here I met an Italian cyclist.. it had taken him two days to get here from Pto Natales… I didn’t feel smug, rather I thought he’d been quite sensible… looking fresh as he did while I felt utterly destroyed, lol. Breakfast itself was as bad as the decor, given it was included in the price I tried to eat a decent meal with the miles ahead in mind but the combination of dry bread and weird jam, a mess of runny eggs served with an even weirder topping of strawberry yogurt.. and bad coffee just would not go down.
The wind had died to nothing overnight so at 8.30am I rolled out into the eerie calm, legs feeling somewhat empty from the previous days efforts. The wind eventually returned, fresh from the west – a crosswind again but not quite as strong so I was happy to cruise along to random selection of tunes :-) Approaching Punta Arenas at midday the road turned southwest, into a rapidly freshening wind. The final 20km were not fun, wrestling the bike again in the wind with increasing amounts of heavy traffic approaching the urban ugliness that surrounds the city.
The girl in the tourist office was unhelpful with regard to my questions re places to stay so instead I just cruised around the downtown core for a while. the first couple of places I spotted were cheap but grisly…bunk beds rammed into airless holes crammed with noisy people, mostly from Israel. I eventually found a quiet, airy place for a few quid a night.. and met another Montreal girl. We drank beer as a priority. Dark ale from the local brewery.. recovery drink :-)
So, Punta Arenas.. I have not as yet been inspired to pull my camera out. Food and beer being higher priorities after the stiff ride from Puerto Natales. It is not a particularly pretty place… just a relatively modern concrete town, albeit one with some decent ‘frontier’ history. I am only staying here long enough to catch the boat tomorrow across the Straits of Magellan (oh the romance of it :-) to Tierra del Fuego and the next leg of the journey…