Italian

Patagonia by bicycle: against the wind at the end of the world

Argentina's fame is usually linked to tango and gauchos, but much many bike travelers are mostly attracted to its natural wonders that range from northern deserts to the southern Cordillera de los Andes and to the marvelous and desolate landscapes of the land at End of the World, a perfect place for a bike trip, Patagonia.
Just in this extreme land I decided, together with Alessandro, to make my first bike trip.
The enraptured descriptions by Chatwin (the book “In Patagonia” is a must-have for whom is going to make a travel in those lands) have actually influenced me in the choice of my first great adventure on two wheels, although boundless and “free” spaces have always extremely attracted a “prisoner” like me (since I live in the middle of the Alps – gorgeous for other reasons – infinite horizons are not very familiar to me!).

Patagonia by bike: the dream begins!

While we were planning the trip, we realized soon how much depopulated is Patagonia, particularly in the central area where the Pampas reign. Our first idea was to go through the legendary “ruta 40”, that walks across the entire country of Argentina, from North to South, crossing the border to Chile for some step on the equally famous “Carretera Austral”. Actually, once arrived in the town of Perito Moreno, we opted for a detour on the Atlantic coast, partially giving up the MTB, due to harsh weather conditions (the trip has been made in October, early spring) and our will to rest more in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares to do some trekking session on Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy, legendary mountains for us from Trentino.
Furthermore, the last days of the trip have been spent in Buenos Aires to visit the friendly and welcoming Ale's kins. Since the journey took place in 2000, memories are rather vanished, then a detailed summary would be impossible to write: at that time, in fact, I didn't have the habit to keep a travelogue (thing I highly recommend to you all when are going to make a trip!).
Things I haven't forgotten and that I will try to pass on you are my feelings during all those kilometers in a semi-desert landscape without meeting a single soul: these strong sensations of freedom and lightness, absolute symbiosis with the surrounding land and nature, will always be on my mind, all life long. And once you reach a little town, a village, a single fazenda (farm), you are faced to the warming hospitality of the locals, surprised by the passage of two bike travelers and, at the same time, sympathetic with the efforts they easily read on our faces (nothing compared to the struggles they face to survive in those extreme lands!). Here follows some brief notes that Ale took during the trip, step by step.

Stage by stage

Following, there are short notes taken by Ale, my fellow traveller, during our trip, stage by stage

Patagonia: from Bariloche to El Chalten

1st stage: San Carlos de Bariloche - El Bolson Km 130
From San Carlos we head to El Bolson. On a road nearly everywhere tar sealed. The route is marked by numerous climbs. At about mid way there is a camp where you can set the tent. Attractions in San Carlos petrified forest of Arrayanes. There are 3 across the world, the other two in China and Russia.

2nd stage: El Bolson - Epuyen Km 50

Stage totally on tar seal. Only the last 10 km are on gravel road. In Epuyen you can sleep at the camp "Refuge del Lago" very welcoming.

3rd stage: Epuyen – Cholila Km 80

The road is now up, to about 6 km, even if the road is fortunately sealed. After this climb begins dirt road that will be with us for almost every kilometer of the journey. This stage is characterized by a wonderful panorama that has accompanied us for every rode meter. From now on the road will be asphalted just few kilometers. Cholila is a small village where you can sleep in a small dormitory on the main square. Better arrive in the village with some food as there is no store but a petrol station to buy anything to eat.

4th stage: Cholila - Esquel Km 120

Stage in which we crossed the Los Alerces National Park. They are very hard km, with numerous climbs, toil paid off by a wonderful panorama filled with numerous lakes and waterfalls set in a rich vegetation. Esquel is a fairly large town with paved streets and numerous hotels and hostels where to sleep.

5th stage: Esquel – Passo International Futaleufu Km 85

It's a stage almost flat. It begins to be felt the wind. To the pass we enter in Chile and we must pass the Chilean border (Region de los Lagos) in the province of Palena. Just after the border about 5-6 km is the first small town of Futaleufu. In Chile it is possible to plant the tent on the fringe of the street without any problems.

6th stage: Futaleufu – P.to Ramirez Km 50

The road is really hard for the many climbs and the uncomfortable road surface with many holes and stones. The wind makes it harder. In every town, even the smaller one, there are many Hospedajes where you can sleep and eat a hot meal.

7th stage: Pto Ramirez - Villa Santa Lucia Km 33

Two small villages. Throughout the day water, water and more water on the head, a drizzle strong, important and thick is with us throughout the day. Villa s.ta Lucia is a junction of two trails where the our trip on the Carretera Austral begins. A Villa S.ta Lucia there is a radio that is called Radio Madripo, is a small shed.

8th stage: Villa Santa Lucia – La Junta Km 75

The Carretera Austral, they call it here with a name that is more appropriate: Camino Austral which means austral path. It's a dirt track surrounded by a dense forest. The road seems a cartoon for how the landscape is spectacular, only the wether is not a postcard and partly ruin the way.

9th stage: La Junta - Puyuguapi Km 80

Numerous falls, streams and the Pacific Ocean, this is the panorama that we see in this part of our trip. Puyuguapi is a small group of fishermans houses.

10th stage: Puyuguapi – Villa Amengual Km 70

We stopped in this small village at night and we went into the shop-house. I think is also the only general store, and we ate and drank something hot.

11th stage: Villa Amengual - Coyhaique Km 145

We arrived at Coyhaique and after several kilometres of dirt path we have the asphalt. This is a 'real' town with low houses, where people comes also from neighbouring places to do shopping. We slept in a welcoming house with a German guy and Dutch girl

12th stage: Coyhaique - Balmaceda Km 50

All asphalted kilometers, in a continuous up and down. Precisely in Balmaceda we returned to Argentina. Patagonian landscape with a vast stretches into infinity (Pampa Argentina).

13st stage: Balmaceda - Perito Moreno Km 300 circa

We started with the intention of making a hundred kilometres in MTB. After ten, two gauchos offer us a passage on their pickup to the town of Perito Moreno and since it is the only place with human presence here to 300 km and we are a little behind on the road map, we accept.

14th stage: Perito Moreno - Comodoro Rivadavia Km 600 circa

Another transfer, this time by bus to the Atlantic coast in the town of Comodoro Rivadavia, the largest of all Patagonia (about 400,000 inhabitants). Many Italian immigrants who live here and we get in their circle for breakfast. We stay an hour there to respond to their thousand nostalgic questions and to hear their stories that taste epic.

15thstage: Comodoro Rivadavia - Puerto Deseado Km 150

The next goal is Puerto Deseado, the whole road is paved but very busy. We come to the village on the Atlantic coast in the evening and immediately throw us into a restaurant to finally eat an "asado" that we will not forget for a long time.

16th stage: Puerto Deseado - Rio Gallegos Km 700 circa

After a wonderful trip by boat on Ria Deseado, the fjord on which stands the village where live thousands of penguins, many dolphins (the most Southern species that exists or "tonina overa") hundreds of seals and many different species of birds ( cormorants, gulls ...) we are preparing to face what will be our last bus transfer: we move to the extreme southern tip of Continental Argentina in Rio Gallegos.

17th and 18thstage: Rio Gallegos - El Calafate Km 315

After a goodbye to the town of Rio Gallegos (we'll fly back to Buenos Aires from here) we are going towards west toward El Calafate. They will be two days of hell because of the mythical Patagonian wind that up to now had spared us. But the game worth it because we will rest as tourists in PN Los Glaciares visiting glacier Perito Moreno and making a boat trip on Lake Argentino towards glaciar Uppsala. 

19a tappa: El Calafate - El Chalten Km 145

Along Lake Argentino almost all day we reach El Chalten after long fought against the wind. Fortunately, the road is almost completely flat, and tonight we should not bother looking for a place to sleep because we have already had indications in El Calafate. Along the route we were very impressed by the amount of dead guanacos (animal similar to a blade but typical of Patagonia) on the roadside, invested during the night when these animals (such as deer on the highways of our Trentino) remain dazzled by the headlights of the few cars passing here.

Glaciers National Park

Parque National Los Glaciares

Arrived in El Calafate, it's time to relax and enjoy the landscape. This town is built on the shore of the Argentinian lake, that receive water from melting glaciers of Hielo Continental, an huge expanse that covers most of southern Andes. One of the most famous glacier that flow there is the Perito Moreno that appears on the horizon after a brief movement by bus. Gangways in front of the glacier allow a spectacular view and we remain there for hours, entranced by that sight. On the way back we catch an eagle that has just murdered an hare and is trying to bring it to its nest to enjoy the meal, while three condors fly through the sky, ready to take advantage from a distraction by the predatory... looks like a movie scene but we are actually living it. On the following day we go boating on the lake, and zigzagging between the icebergs we arrive at the Uppsala glacier, which has an expansion three times bigger than the city of Buenos Aires and a 50 meters high front. I actually cannot find words to describe this heaven on heart, then... go there before “development” also reaches this corner of the globe!

Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy

Arrived at El Chalten, we are about to be involved in two days of trekking inside the national park to see the Cerro Fitz Roy and the Cerro Torre, two mountains beloved by our Italian mountaineer (Maestri, Fava, Salvaterra... and many others). On the first day we follow the Sendero (path) from Fitz Roy up to Capri lagoon (about 1 hour of trekking) and then to the Poincenot camp, both have a wonderful view of the two peaks (3405 meters). Came back to El Chalten, we share information with some guests of our hostel who have already followed the path that leads to the slope of the Cerro Torre, our next destination. Descriptions of the magnificent view from the lagoon make grow our desire to reach it as soon as possible. Early in the morning we are on our way and around 11, after some kilometers spent skirting a huge creek, we reach the De Agostini camp and, some hundreds of meters ahead, the lagoon where the ice comes down from Hielo Continental. We are strongly disappointed to see a cloudy landscape but luckily this excursion is only the cherry on top of these days of rest in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.
Because of our considerably delay, we come back in Rio Gallegos by bus (we don't mind to part with some kilometers already walk through to visit the national park!). Here in Rio Gallegos, after an entire day spent looking for some carton to pack our bicycles, we finally take a flight to Buenos Aires where we are going to visit Ale's relatives.

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires

For many Argentinians the capital city is a faithful portrait of the country and the 40% of them lives in the endless and chaotic suburbs of that city. Buenos Aires is extended around Rio de la Plata river in the homonymous federal district; a fabulous city admired by many visitors for its elegance. The central Plaza de Mayo has always been the cornerstone of any political and cultural activity. Here is located the Casa Rosada (the Argentinian White House), the archbishopric and, not far from there, the Cabildo, seat of the parliament during colonial times. In this square, mothers and grandmothers yearly ask after their desaparecidos relatives, and only in recent years they have obtained some results, thanks to their tenacity. Nearby there is the Avenida 9 de Julio, universally known as the widest street in the world. After the exciting step in the capital city (how much hospitality and generosity we do have received in these days from our fellow expats!!!) we come back in Italy already with nostalgia in our minds for this desolate and seductive land.

 
After the moving stop in the capital (how much generosity and hospitality we have received in these days from our relatives emignrants!!!), we return in Italy with love in the heart for this desolate and seductive land.

Hasta pronto PATAGONIA!

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Leo

Slow bicycle traveller with a passion for writing and photography. If he's not traveling he loves to get lost along the thousand paths that run through the beautiful mountains of Trentino and Lake Iseo surroundings where he lives, both on foot and by mountain bike.
Eternal Peter Pan who loves to realize their dreams without leaving them too long in the drawer, has devoted much of his life to cycling, traveling in New Zealand, the Balkans, Norway Argentina and many other countries. Lately he spent ten months by bike in South East Asia and crossed the Andes by bike.

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