The fun part of the start of our trip is that we both have our firsts. Even before my first fall we had our first repair; the vibrations had loosened my left mirror to the point that I could lose it. We have seen our first lamas, hummingbirds and fucsias topping 2 meters. Keep on practising, Bertus!
For the first time I could drink while riding, thanks to my new Platypus system. I have fallen over once with my bike, and once the bike has toppled over by itself, while I wasn't even near it. Soon we'll scour up a piece of wood to stabilise the bike when it's on soddy grounds. This will cut down on putting back the righthand mirror and indicator as well, like we had to do today.
I have had my first Edvardian breakfast (coffee with lots of sweet cookies), and we have eaten our first steak from our own BBQ. The first skin has been shedded after the first sunburn. But my rain gear has dried up long since the first spot of rain. Also, the first discomfort has shown itself. For the last 3 weeks I suffer from what Adriaan thinks is an inflammation of a wrist muscle. A few movements are painful, others are not, which sometimes makes me forget I can't do everything right now. And falling on that wrist doesn't help either. Oh well, enough of the complaining; it will surely pass before I turn into a boy. And something else, we officially have declared hay fever season opened for Adriaan ...!
We have finished our course. That went quicker than miss Karin expected, she ran out of material with an hour and a half (of the 9 hours in total) to go. And already we have great fun. We understand the Chileans better, and Adriaan is even capable of haggling in Spanish. It takes a few days (and some money), but it sure pays off.
After a delightful 6 days in Pucon it is time to move on. The lake and the volcano of Villarrica have been beautiful, but people assure us there are better places a bit to the south. We ride south, passing Lican Ray and Conaripe, where the asphalt changes to gravel again, towards Pullingue, but we don't find what we are looking for. But it is still early and we are doing great, so we ride towards Futrono, via Los Lagos. A decent distant, but we have asphalt again. We expect to find a campsite here, but alas. Maybe at the south side of the Ranco lake, so on we go. After 65 kilometers of gravel we need to find a place to sleep, especially since it starts to rain a bit. Finally we succeed near the village of Lago Ranco. It takes getting used to: no hot water, barely adequate bathrooms, and a lot of scout-like boys partying until 6 AM. We pack up early, pleased we have quality camp gear. It has rained this night, and not everybody had a watertight tent. There are several sleeping bags and pieces of clothing drying in a meager morning sun.
Via Osorno we reach Lago Puyehue. We end up on a campsite at the lake, with the snowy Osorno volcano behind us. Actually, we are in the garden of the female owner of the site, and again a beautiful place which we have completely for ourselves. The owner obviously has a love for gardening, and quickly we have the idea of planting our farewell gift we received from The. The lady is honored, and we are somewhat glad we got rid of the space-hogging packet (sorry The!).
We use this place to catch up on the laundry as well. Furthermore, Adriaan has found a chemist selling ointment that hopefully helps cure my wrist. Unfortunately he can't help us with the hay fever medicines for Adriaan, but he has some metal pins for our BBQ.
After three days on this gorgeous spot it is time to move on, else we will never reach Ushuaia. We have done some maths, and have decided not to go via Puerto Montt with the ferry, but to enter Argentina from here. And precisely today it rains. The owner smiles warily when I tell her we expect to see the sun on the other side of the Andes.
It's about 25 km to the border, and we ride over asphalt. Luckily we stay dry when the bikes are exported. The entrance to Argentina is 40 km ahead. The easy parts are asphalted; the hard parts (we have to ride 'over' the Andes) are what they call here 'ripio', also known as gravel. Halfway (on asphalt) there is a pickup truck which has been converted into a camper. It has broken down. The man looks unmistakenly Dutch, and yes, two stranded travelers. Their gas cable has broken, and they don't have tools to fix the defect. There you are, stranded on a piece of no-mans land, can you imagine! We can help them with one of our pliers, but they just came from Argentina, while we are heading there. Finally they decide to borrow our pliers and return with us to Argentina. Because of this delay we are chilled to the bone, so we decide to call it a day. And everyone says rain here only lasts a single day, so why torment ourselves any longer? It's nicer to enjoy a cabana with an open fire place, and some pasta with red sauce (Adriaan's recipe), flushed down with our first Argentinean Chardonay. Yep, world travel is hard work.
Our next stop is Bariloche, a kind of Val d'Isere in the Andes. Not exactly our favourite spot, but great for Adriaan's medicines and a delicious lunch. Then we're off to Esquel. But after 35 km Adriaan parks his bike at the side of the road. A tube has sprung, and gas is spraying out. That's a bummer, we don't carry spares for that. The only thing we can do is return to Bariloche. Fortunately we quickly find a company that can help us. One of the mechanics also has a bike; that creates an instant bond. They don't have the right size tube, but one is quickly bought somewhere else, with 4 clamps as well. After the job is done, we are invited for a cup of tea (just like in Turkey), and we get our first 'mate'. That's a kind of herbal tea sipped through a kind of pipe, and is part of the Argentinean folklore. The cup that holds the pipe is passed along. Later on we regularly see hot water machines at gas stations, which you can use (for free) to make your 'mate'.
All in all this trouble has cost us over two hours, so we won't reach Esquel in time. But another biker knows a good campsite halfway to Esquel. It is in El Bolsan, about 130 km away, so we decide to go there.
We start to get to know the Patagonian winds, although we haven't even reached that place yet. Furthermore there are dark clouds over the lake we pass, and over the hills in the distance. But suddenly there is a ray of light piercing through the clouds. It has something eery, like a finger from God. And so my day is made. The campsite is easy to find, and turns out to be good. But we forget to take a picture of a tent with a Christmas tree. Oh well, you can't do everything right in your life, but take it from me, it was a very funny sight.
On our way to the south we also want to visit the glacier nature preserve. And this involves a decision: do we ride from Rio Mayo almost 1100 km over asphalt, or do we take the shortcut (still a hefty 600 km) over gravel. I feel good, and I have to learn sometime, so we go for the gravel option. I used to do 20 km an hour, now I can do 60 or 70. At this rate we could be there in 3 days. But the gravel keeps getting worse, the terrain gets more 'hilly' (and thus more bends in the road), and the feared Patagonian wind increases in strength. Of the planned 256 km for day one we only manage to make 196 km. But tomorrow is another day, we'll see.
When we wake up, the wind is stronger still. Again we face a choice: continue on this road, or turn around and make other plans. It's hard for me. I feel less fresh than yesterday, but I don't want to quit yet. On the other side we now know services from here to the glaciers will deteriorate, and will cost more and more. And when it turns out I can't make it after another 100 km, we have to ride 300 km back. So we decide to return, and after 65 km we find an asphalt road leading to the coast.
About 60 km for the coast we face another decision: do we skip the glacier, Ushuaia, and the cold (I thought it would be summer here!) and head north, or do we give it another try. Ushuaia and the cold and crowdiness don't appeal to us, but we sure want to see the glacier. So from Pico Truncado we turn south again. We make a slight detour via Caleta Olivia; I don't fancy 60 km of gravel with a strong side wind at 4 PM. I wouldn't mind early in the morning, but not now. And at 5 PM a last stretch of 300 km to Puerto San Julian is also a but too much, so we stop in Fitz Roy in a hospedaje with restaurant, where I thoroughly enjoy a large Milanese (a kind of steak) with papas fritas.
Next day we get up early and ride to San Julian, at the Atlantic Ocean. There is a camping municipal with warm water. Great, my clothes are so full of sand, a pig could easily take a comfortable mud bath from the dirty water. We use an Internet cafe to pick up our mail; we can't use our GSM and modem in Argentina. And hereby I want to thank everybody for the Christmas wishes we received. We also checked out our own website. Looks nice, and so many hits; unbelievable!
We have chicken on Christmas Eve, and white beets with lots of garlic in a decorated tent (borrowed from the reception of the campsite), with candle light and shreds of Christmas music from our radio. And fireworks at midnight, as if it were the New Year already.
I did a quick prayer in the candle light, and would you know: we wake up with the silence of an absent wind. No wind, the prayer worked. We quickly gather our stuff and before 9 AM we are on our way again. We think it will be a breeze, less than 500 km to El Calafate, near the glaciers. After about 150 km especially I am unpleasantly surprised by the 200 km gravel stretching out in front of me. We still can take a detour over asphalt, but I don't want to buckle. The road is fairly flattened, and the wind is almost gone. And the wind there is, is at least not sideways. Adriaan starts planning for a night of wild camping. But all goes well. After an hour we have traveled 60 km; a new record for me! After 4 hours (including stops and waiting for a herd of emoes (or nandoes) with young) we have reached the asphalt again, and we are proud of me. In one day's ride from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. With a little fantasy we are at the glacier on Christmas Day; that would be a white Christmas for us!
After two days we finally reach the Perito Moreno glacier, and I am glad we pushed on. The sight is impressive. To get there you have to enter a nature preserve. The ride towards the glacier (I'm sitting behind Adriaan on his bike) is about 35 km, and during that trip you start to wonder where they have hidden that thing. After all, it should be a wall of ice about 5 km long and 50 meter high, not something you can easily miss. After 30 km we see small icebergs floating on the lake, and suddenly it is there. What an awesome sight! Sharp-pointed, blue-white, and beautiful!! Huge masses of ice, in a lake, surrounded by trees and exotic plants like orchids. And the sound of ice breaking off the glacier is fantastic. I think it resembles gunshots, or thunder. The trick is to keep looking. Because if you look up when hearing the sound, you are too late to see what happened.