Patagonia – against the wind
“Here in Patagonia we say: Quien se apura, pierde su tiempo! If you hurry, you waste your time. Stay another day Florian! “Carlos tells me, my couchsurfing host in Puerto Natales. And he’s right. The last days had been difficult. More difficult than expected. And that has to do with the wind. It blows here almost constantly, mostly from the northwest, which means for me headwind or crosswind.
At least I’m not the only cyclist here who agonizes himself . I’m not talking about the cyclists who come from the north and fly with the wind, no, there are a few others who have opted for the more difficult variant. Like Jamie from the UK, whom I encounter on my third day from Ushuaia. She has been cycling for two years plus and just came from Australia, Jamie is in good shape – unlike me. Together we fight against the wind, which doesn´t come from the sea but from the mountains. As the road then turns west, the wind turns into an unforgiving headwind. No obstacles stand in it´s way (except the stupid cyclists), the landscape is empty, the famous argentinian pampa has begun.
We cross the border to Chile. Tierra del Fuego is an island, and the argentinian part is separated from the rest of the country and surrounded by Chile. I ask the border official if the wind is so strong every day. “Strong? That’s nothing, it get´s way stronger at times!” Is his answer and I search for a sign of sarcasm in his face – in vain.
My passport is stamped and I just want to continue when another officer comes up to me. He wants to check my bags because it is prohibited to bring fresh fruit and vegetables into Chile. He seems to have the sixth sense and points determined at those two panniers where I keep my food. I assure him that I don´t have any fresh things, but he still wants to check for himself. He makes a find and takes one kilo of dried chickpeas and the just bought honey. All forbidden. Not the best beginning for Chile, it´s 150 kilometers to the next store, the next few days meals will be white rice and bitter coffee.
The first spanish word I learn today is ripio, in english gravel, because that´s what is the road made from now on. Fortunately, a new road is being built and for a few kilometers we can havea go on a not yet finished concrete road. It makes cycling a bit easier, but the wind is so strong that I soon have to switch into the first gear to get any further.
The wind has long blown away my ideas of a relaxed and stressless journey. This is hard work and it´s not possible to take a break. Nowhere is it possible to build a tent, it is necessary to find a sheltered place. And that comes in the evening at an intersection in the form of a waiting shelter. Almost every day, cyclists find here shelter from the wind and spend a night, the walls are full of scribbles with greetings and sayings.
In the evening the wind stops suddenly, but I’m too tired to continue cycling now. My legs and knees hurt, my neck is tense, my wrists ache. I´m no longer used to cycling and desperately need a few rest days.
But first the next city has to be reached. We get up early to escape the wind, which rises with the sun but blows with less intensity in the morning. I don´t like to set an alarm and to hurry in the morning. No time for a prolonged breakfast, with fresh-baked bread and second coffee. But I also know that it makes sense and I am glad that Jamie is there and pulls me along. Without her I would probably still be in Argentina for a long time, or would have given up after 20 km. But sometimes it’s easier as two and we share the struggle. In the evening we find refuge in an old fisherman’s hut. Actually a fairly miserable shed and it stinks like fish, but after a hard day in the wind and with rain coming every protection is welcome. And it has great views too.
The next day we meet three brothers from Switzerland. They have managed to take half a year off each and want to cycle from Ushuaia to Colombia. (By the way, where are my brothers and sisters?) They are a little disillusioned by the wind and the hard start, but that doesn´t detract from the good mood. Together we leave Tierra del Fuegeo by ferry from Povenir to Punta Arenas. There we camp together for one night and they have the strength to continue the next day, as well as Jamie.
When the wind wins
I take another day off and I´m happy to be alone again. When I make my way out of Punta Arenas, it seems that the wind here is even stronger than the days before. As soon as the somewhat hilly landscape turns into open pampa, I quickly find myself pushing my bike on the roadside. The wind comes from the side, in violent gusts, and cycling is simply not possible anymore. It lifts up the front wheel, tackles the handlebar, and keeps pushing me almost into the ditch. It is dangerous and after a little while even pushing is hardly possible. I have never experienced anything like that, even not in Australia. That can´t be normal, today must be a particularly windy day, I think. I seek refuge in an abandoned police post, completely out of energy and after only thirty kilometers. Outside, the wind howls, storm is the right way to call that, and the house wobbles with every gust of wind. I have no idea how to proceed. Puerto Natales, the nearest city, is 200 km away and seems unreachable with winds like that. A bit later three chilenian cyclists arrive, similar exhausted and hopeless like me.
The storm storms the whole night. The next morning we want to try it together. We make it ten kilometer far, in three or four hours, and decide to wait until the evening. Because often there is a period of about two hours in the evening where it is almost windless. We leave at six o’clock but don´t get very far. As darkness falls, it is still storming and I´m preparing myself to spend the night behind a hill next to the road. But the other cyclists decide to try to stop a car.
In my eyes a senseless undertaking. To hitchhike is difficult here and then with four people plus bicycles and bags – no way. But it doesn´t take five minutes and two big tourist buses stop, one of them with a trailer. The drivers work as tour guides and are returning home to Puerto Natales with the empty cars. In the trailer is enough space for all bicycles and luggage.
I´m a bit reluctant to take that ride, it feels like giving up, but it’s the right decision. Cycling is simply not possible in this wind. Only when I sit inside the car do I realize how tired I am. Not only my body is completely exhausted, my head is tired, too. Being constantly exposed to the wind that pulls on your clothes, shakes the bicycle, that howls in your ears, that’s pretty stressful. In the car it is warm and windless and for the first time I realize how beautiful the landscape is. The warm evening light of the sun lets the nearby mountains shine and through the glass window, the wind-swept fields look quite different and peaceful.
On of the drivers invites us to pitch our tents in his garden and the chilenians make an asado, grilled large pieces of meat over the fire. And red wine of course, because this is Chile.
Puerto Natales is a quiet little town, gateway to the Torre del Paine National Park. Carlos, a super nice guy, invites me to his home and I rest for a few days, because if you hurry too much in Patagonia, you are just wasting your time!