Yesterday we biked across the Rio Negro and officially entered the Argentinian province of Patagonia. So in one sense we’ve made it to our destination. Patagonia inspired this trip and after over 2,000 km of deserts, dirt roads, mountains (and a few volcanos) we’ve arrived at the beginning of the end. But the end is still a long way away. 2,050 km to be exact (according to the km marker on ruta 40 that we saw on the way into Bariloche).
On the “Ruta de Los Siete Lagos” (Road of the seven lakes), an unpaved road from San Martin de Los Andes to Villa de la Angostura, we passed green valleys, a few abandoned wood homes, reportedly trout filled rivers (we haven´t had much luck yet in the fishing department), some gauchos on horseback, and high peaks rising up from turquoise alpine lakes – visible when the sun emerged and the hazy ash-filled air receded. Although we experienced nothing like the horror stories of lakes covered in thick layers of ash, we saw a decent number of cyclists riding with bandanas tied around their mouths, presumably to protect their lungs. I briefly considered doing the same and then remembered our Swiss friend, Hanz, smoking a pack midway up the Andes, and decided we’d probably be fine.
We survived the ash and now that we’re back on a popular route for bike touring, we’ve met more of “our people”. It´s always reassuring to run into some characters far crazier than ourselves. Like the Polish couple who started their trip in Brazil on a tandem bike pulling a gigantic trailer. Silently we both wondered how long we’d last riding that thing before one of us killed the other. I predict one day – at most. Then we met Thomas Grosserichter, a lone German heading north to Salta. He’s training for his attempt at breaking the World Record for the fastest circumnavigation of the world by bicycle which means 18,000 miles in 106 days which or 180 miles a day (the current record is 108 days). Once again, the Euros are beasts. He’s starting in September and his friend is a filmmaker and wants to make a documentary about the attempt so check out his site if you want to see a celebrity in the making: www.cyclingtheworld.de In case you weren’t aware, adventure bicycle touring is quite a lucrative endeavor these days.
In our typical less-than-hardcore fashion, we´re taking a day off in the lakes region instead of crushing miles. Bariloche is famous for its chocolate and ice cream, so obviously we had to sample the goods. Unfortunately, as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Argentina, the prices aren’t exactly compatible with our meagre budget. That didn’t stop us from buying giant amounts of “the best ice cream in South America” at Jauja (still up for debate when we think back to Grido, where you get the same amount for a quarter of the price). Budgetary concerns didn’t stop us from sampling Bariloche’s one and only chinese restaurant either. Alex was powerless to resist the allure of mystery meat dumplings and even though we both knew better, I didn’t try and stop him. But after he (“accidentally”) spent 70 pesos (close to $20) on one bag of coffee from a specialty coffee store, we might have to start cutting back. Especially since I’m currently drinking my fourth cup of the day. So much for curbing my caffeine addiction.
Tomorrow we head south, into the wilds of Patagonia. At this point, the slightly incredulous reactions we get in response to our trip have changed to dire warnings about winter’s imminent arrival. My reply: come on people, it’s not even fall yet. Nevertheless, there’s been a noticeable change in the weather. We´ve started wearing hats and down jackets at night and it’s only going to get colder as we get farther south. So all this makes us wonder if maybe we’re biking in the wrong direction.
Admittedly, the whole idea for this trip was a bit romantic. I wanted to experience the mythical Patagonia of Bruce Chatwin and the Motorcycle Diaries i.e. without the hordes of tourists that arrive in peak summer season.
And the idea of biking to the end of the world appealed to my overly romantic sensibilities. Reality, however, may ultimately trump my idyllic (and impractical) aspirations. Lately questions like “What if it gets unbearably cold?” and “Can we even bike in the snow?” have come to mind a bit more frequently. Then again, Patagonian weather is notoriously unpredictable. Already we’ve experienced pouring rain, freezing cold, hot sun, and crazy winds all in one day. So we’re going to hope for the best and keep heading south. And if we don’t make it all the way to Ushuaia, it doesn’t matter because we’re here, in Patagonia.
Thanks for reading!