Nothing changes more than a human's mind. And that certainly applies to us. Last week we decided not to go to Ushuaia, and now we are there. And on top of that, we've done what many travelers have done before, and many will do after us: standing at the end of the world at the end of the year. And making a symbolic start of our trip from Ushuaia to Alaska. Having traveled 5,000 km already is no problem. And almost 25% of that distance was over gravel. I'm getting better at that. I started off at a cautious 15 - 20 km an hour, now I reach 100 over reasonably good ripio (gravel); we average about 50 - 60 km/h.
Ushuaia. Reaching it goes surprisingly fast. We leave from El Calafate on 27 december, our goal is the national park of "Torres del Paines". They say you can make some excellent hikes there, but the weather prevents this. The wind is strong (after all, we are in Pataginia), and the sky is dark with clouds. We wait a while, but around noon we decide to continue our trip.
On to Puerto Natales. Not for the ferry to the north, but to travel south after all (to Ushuaia). The ripio is remarkably good, we make excellent time. In Puerto Natales we learn we can continue over asphalt for the rest of the trip, so we open up the gas. At the end of the day, with help of the western winds (we travel eastwards), we reach Puerto Delgada. In a restaurant we ask for a campsite. No such thing here, but if we stay for dinner, we can put our tent in the field, and use the shower of the restaurant. All that for less than 4 dollar each! Despite windforce 10 we put up our tent quickly; just to be on the safe side we use extra lines to hold it down. And then we thoroughly enjoy the freshly arrived fish.
Next day we board the ferry to Tierra del Fuego. That's where Ushuaia is; we reach it when the evening falls. Almost coincidentally we end up on a campsite where most travelers group together to celebrate the New Year. A great party, with travelers from Germany, Sweden, Great Brittain, New Zealand and Argentina. After the party we hang around for a couple more days. Together with Lance (the New Zealander Adriaan met on his previous journey) we spend hours in an Internet cafe, and visit "the monument". That's the very last part of Ruta 3 to the end of the world. I certainly am no real world traveler yet: I bought real end-of-the-world souvenirs.
On 4 january we know for sure it won't get any warmer. It's time to head for Alaska. It is raining softly, and that's a bummer; riding the ripio will be slower. And when we can ride on asphalt, the wind is so strong I start to freak. Totally stressed out I reach the border with Chile, all the joy is gone. But staying there is not an option, so strengthened by a hamburger I haul myself back on my iron horse. I have quieted down, after soothing and lifting words from Adriaan, and decide to give it another try. But this surely isn't my day. About 20 km after the border I get a puncture on the ripio...! The air escapes as quickly as we can pump it in. We locate the puncture, and seal it. But I don't trust it, so our average speed drops quickly. And when we finally reach the ferry, it doesn't operate! First we suspect it's the low tide, but when the water level rises, still nothing happens. It turns out the winds are too strong, even for Patagonian standards! After hours of delay at 10 PM we reach the other side. I don't want to continue to the border now, so we crawl in the very first hotel we see. After dinner Adriaan hits the shower, but I can't manage that. With sore muscles I get in my bed, and fall immediately asleep. Tomorrow all will be better...
We manage to cross the border quickly, and follow Ruta 3 towards Peninsula Valdes. We have about 1300 km to go, and the road is boooooring...! No animals in sight, and few inspiring bushes. But the skies are magnificent; exellent 'thinking'-weather for the story I will write later. Piep and I have lenghty discussions, and dream up the most beautiful sentences to describe what we see and experience. It usually doesn't end up in the reports this way, but it keeps you busy. The good news is that my tire holds up nicely, and the wind is in our backs. And we can shed more and more clothes, the temperatures are rising. Yippee!
Just to be on the safe side we decide to look for a new rear tire in Trelew. We succeed sooner than we expected, and not an hour too late. Near the stop the tire is literally worn through. Adriaan and Daniel (the mechanic) quickly agree: a typical production error. Not that this does us any good, being in Argentina with a tire bought in Italy, but just so you know. Before changing the tire we clean my bike thoroughly, and while we're at it we change the oil as well. That was already in the plans. 4 hours later and 400 pesos lighter we continue on our way to Puerto Madryn.
Again the campsite is just the way we like it: reasonably flat surface, adequate bathrooms, nice hot water, and BBQ spots everywhere. I can't be bothered right now; I feel sick. You know the feeling; your skin aches, muscle pains everywhere, an aching head, and 2 hours after dinner you have to dash to the toilet. After a day and a half the diagnosis is clear: I'm suffering from an ordinary flu. Don't ask me how I got it. The doctor we visit says it is a combination of fatigue and large temperature fluctuations. Whatever. For now I'm stuck. We move from the campsite to a hotel, so I have the necessary sanitary plumbing right at my disposal, and I can sweat out the fever in a somewhat cooler environment. To speed up the healing process we even decide to go for Chinese, so I can eat white rice. No great success there. I can't check out the kitchen, but I definitely believe there isn't a single Chinese hand working at the food. Kind of special, a buffet with pizza, pasta, mashed potatoes, salads, and oh yes, some kind of fried rice and noodles. Oh well, another experience.
I grit my teeth. Not of anger, but because of the sand in my mouth. We are 'trapped' in our house, a huge sand storm is raging around our tent. We have reached Puerto Piramides, on the Peninsula Valdes. It is part of the world heritage, and renowned for its birthplace of sea lions and seals. I have recovered enough to take on 80 km of ripio for a visit to this place. We even take a boat trip to check it out some more. We encounter a group of dolphins, fantastic! First they accompany the boat, and then they put on a show with all kinds of somersaults and tricks. We top it up with a short swim. The water is icy cold, and muddy from the wind. We can hardly see a thing. We were thinking of taking a dive as well, but I think I will let that pass.
We take a stroll after the sand storm subsides, over high and scary ridges, to Punto Piramides, where there are still some seals. We have learned the mothers abandon their young three days after birth, to go out in the sea to hunt for food. The babies cry all the time, looking for mother and her milk; very moving.
And now it is time to move on again. Our next goal is Mendoza. We will visit a few more vineyards, and maybe buy a few new glasses. The glass Adriaan has taken with him for the last 5 weeks has finally broken. We fail to reach our first planned stop Neuquen by a small margin. The wind is still strong, and comes from the wrong direction. I had wondered why these Argentine people have fog lights on their cars, but now I know. We battle sand storms, and in my mind the Dutch traffic news mulls through my head: locally dense fog, with visibility of 50 to 100 meter...! Every now and then it even looks as if there are rain clouds hanging low in the sky, but it's all dust. Everything is completely covered.
But now, on 20 january, about 250 km from Mendoza, we hope we have seen the worst of it. The wind is still blowing, but is much weaker. And there is much more water here, so the foliage helps keep down the dust. We even have found a campsite with grass! I think we will stay here another day, so Adriaan can mail off this report.
Chiao (Castillan greeting) for now,