(80) ‘No paine, no gain’
After a hard start with unhelpful bus drivers and headwinds and headaches from not just from beer and wine we were looking forward to spending a bit of time in a national park and with Sara. We were certainly in for a treat.
Friday 29th November
We got up after a good night’s sleep and went for breakfast. Tim got to enjoy his crunchy nut cornflakes that had been kindly sent by our friend Becs. Although we had sorted through our things it seemed to take ages to pack our bags and gather all our things. We did a little on the blog and found there was a problem with Sharon’s SD card. Feeling fed up with technology Tim did yet another virus scan while Sharon and Sara went to do a little shopping. By the time we were ready to leave it was now 4pm and we felt like we hadn’t achieved much. We were heading to Torres del Paine which is a popular national park in Chile.
We picked up a couple things in town and headed down to the water front. It was stunning riding as we made our way along by the water and this time with very little wind.
We rode out of town stopping what felt like every five minutes to take pictures it was stunning. Sharon started to struggle a bit after having a nasty bout of home sickness. It was hard to imagine how far we still had to go and not only missing this Christmas but also the next was a lot to take in. The thing that were helping was the stunning scenery and having Sara with us.
We were soon joined by a group of cyclists from Chile heading out to see some caves. We rode with them for a bit and while they went in to see the caves we found a quiet spot to cook enjoying the view.
We enjoyed some of the beef that we had the previous night with mash potatoes and onions. We were still having problems with the stove and after a few tries Tim ended up using the diesel jet for the petrol. This seemed to work for now and with a couple gas canisters as a back-up we could relax.
We went in to see the huge cave once we had finished tea and with the sun slowly setting it produced amazing constantly changing landscape. The clouds slowly changed shapes with the sun shining through at different angles. We had only really seen mountains in Ushuaia on this le of our trip and it had been flat since then with only the odd climb but we were now heading into what would be the start of the mountains. We found a camp spot on the side of the road knowing we would have a hard gravel road ahead we settled down to a good night’s sleep.
With the scenery we had today it looked like we were in for a treat of some fantastic views which helped as it can be hard at times and we can feel isolated during our trip especially being close to Christmas.
Saturday 30th November
We left our roadside camp spot and rode up and down for an hour or so stopping regularly to take pictures of the stunning scenery. Tim mentioned something about cake and within seconds we agreed to stop and have tea and cake. It was nice lying in the sun and we could have stayed there all day except it was getting chilly. We got going soon warming up as the sun came out and got to the beginning of a large detour which could have meant about 100km extra. We were looking at the sign when a bus pulled over and the driver said it was ok for bikes to pass, it was such good timing and made us happy we had gone this way.
We started along the track and soon stopped for a 2 hour lunch in the warm sunshine. We all fell asleep! The afternoon was cooler and the road was getting hillier and we were soon stopped by a road block. We understood the man told us we could pass after 7pm so we headed down a track out of the wind to make dinner and bake some delicious bread to pass the time.
As the temperature dropped we packed away our things and headed back up the track to the now deserted checkpoint and rode past the sign – we might have thought twice if our Spanish was better!!
We rode on with no problem for many miles except the wind, it was so fierce in places with Sara registered 49 mph at one point. As we were struggling up a hill a man in a truck stopped and told us off for riding past the sign.
We tried to explain that his colleague said it was ok after 7pm but he kept saying ‘no way’. Anyway we kept going after he left but it was steep and winding and clearly not safe to camp with construction workers all around us. We finally stopped around 9pm having found a semi suitable camp spot that was past the worst of the road construction all feeling totally exhausted.
Sunday 1st December
With the wind picking up in the night we wondered whether we would stay put knowing how bad the tents were pegged down. We did however stay put and all slept well after our tough day to find there was hardly any wind with a clear blue sky. We sat and had breakfast which Sara had prepared knowing we were in for an amazing day of scenery.
With a couple of short climbs and descents we soon treated to the start of some amazing scenery.
After about an hour we arrived at the visitors centre at the entrance of the park where we filled in a registration form and rode on towards the massive peaks of Torres de Paine. We rode along the flat road to the main visitors centre to get some more information before sitting down to have lunch.
We were so hungry and as we looked into our food bag we noticed how much our food bag had shrunk. We sat eating cheese crackers then moved to jam crackers as a large group turned up and enjoyed wine and beef kebab sandwiches. All we could do was stare. So we got the last cake out and devoured half of it to make us feel better.
We rode on and what was meant to be a flat road turned out to be a series of very steep hills. The scenery however was stunning all be it the same group of peaks but as the landscape changed around us with red flowers and blue flowers and a lake that was so blue it was hard to imagine it was real.
Add to this the moving clouds and different angels of light it was mesmerising. We stopped to see a small waterfall and after a bit of diverted walkways which looking at the amount of wood they must have used we weren’t surprised there were no trees in the area, we finally found the waterfall. It was nice to see but as always when there is the back of a large hotel plonked next to it, it took away its beauty.
We headed back to the bikes and noticed a load of vintage cars on a rally around Patagonia. They had 4 days left and we thought it looked a ‘rally fun’ way of seeing the area. We got chatting to a few of the drivers who were really great to chat to listening about their adventures. We asked them where we could top up on food when they all reached into their cars and pulled out a few tins of food. It was what we needed and made us very excited.
We thanked them all and wished them luck then headed off stopping at a camp site to have a cupper. We picked up a bottle of coke to perk us up and got going to the ferry which was going to take us to the beginning of a glacier walk to see ‘Glacier Grey’. The climbs became steeper and longer with many corrugations making it hard but the views were just amazing making our going slower so we could take pictures.
As we neared the port a ferry left the dock and our hearts sank. We had got the times wrong and would have to take the next one in the morning. This meant we would have to drink hot chocolate and eat cake in the cafe and speak to some very nice French people but we got through it ok managing to leave with clean plates.
Only one down side – the park had a ‘no wild camping’ policy which meant we had to head the 4 miles back the way we had come to camp and although it was a beautiful campsite it involved the same long and very steep hills. After about 40 minutes we arrived and pitched our tent noticing Tim had snapped another spoke in his back wheel. This was the third spoke that had broken in a week and with 5 left and a road that was very bad and remote we would have to be very careful. The most annoying thing was it had happened after Sara had been with us and not before flying out. If we broke anymore we would have to look into how we can source more. With new ingredients in the pot from our rally driving friends, we were ready for a good feed and a good night’s sleep.
Monday 2nd December
With the rain hitting the tent and the odd gust of wind gently buffeting us the thought of getting up was not appealing at all. We did get up however with Sara armed with a hot cupper each. We soon had the bikes loaded and headed north back to the ferry port hoping this time not to miss it. We were passed by a couple of vintage cars starting the day heading on south and although they were in cars it didn’t feel quite as romantic as it would on a clear sunny day.
We climbed the few sharp hills and soon arrived at the port to be greeted by the owner who was going to let us put our bikes in her container. She always had a smile which seemed to make us feel happier. We scrabbled through our things making sure we had what we needed for a night on the other side of the lake and the right clothes to walk in. We locked the bikes up in the container and made our way to the boat.
We got chatting to a few lovely people and after an hour on the boat we arrived at the base of the mountain ready to pitch. We made a cupper and grabbed a few snacks from the shop at the camp site and put the tent up ready for when we would return later.
The walk to the refuge where we would be able to see the glacier was 3 hours each way passing a tiny lake and on to the larger lake that was much lower. We soon saw our first iceberg (ever!) which seemed strange and out of place in a lake but looked stunning with a vivid blue colour glowing from within. We made good progress stopping on the way to have crackers and cheese before descending the few long descents towards the lake.
As we approached the glacier it became more impressive with a face of ice around 50 metres high and a flow of ice that must have been up to 200 metres in height slowly rising up making the icebergs look more like rocks in a stream compared to the huge glacier behind. Glacier Grey is in the south end of the Southern Patagonia Ice Field which feeds dozens of glaciers in the area and covers 4773 square miles.
By the time we reached the refuge the wind had picked up and the clouds were moving in. We cooked up some soup and went out to the look-out where we saw one of the large icebergs had broken off. We would have loved to have gone on to get a closer view but with the wind already gusting to 50 mph and Sharon’s back aching we had to get going. We started the long walk back and made better progress as the wind pushed us up the hill. By the time we reached the small lake the wind was making huge wages and lifting the water off the surface. After almost being taken off our feet we arrived back at the camp feeling wet and cold to find our tents were being battered by the wind. Tim went to secure everything down before we headed in for a beer and biscuits at the main bar. It was nice to be in the warm but we would soon be out in the elements again.
We headed out to the mess hut where the room was filled with cold, wet and hungry trekkers cooking up a various array of pasta and noodles and joined in to refuel our tired bodies. The wind kept increasing and as it did the odd tent started to collapse under the strain of the wind. We headed to bed around 10pm managing to have a cold shower and climbed into our battered tent. We tried to sleep and with it were woken by the odd massive gust misshaping the tent before popping it back into shape. We just hoped it would stay up.
Tuesday 3rd December
We woke up to a cold and damp day. Sara made porridge while we checked the tent for damage before packing away. It had done well but with the odd tear in and strain marks we had got away lightly. It felt like a military operation because of the wind but we managed to get everything in the right place and headed down to the port. The ferry picked us up at 10am and we were soon sat back in the cafe enjoying another piece of cake and hot chocolate J We said goodbye to Amanda who we had met on the ferry and thanked the cafe guys for letting us keep the bikes and kit in their storage container, we packed our things back in the right place even finding Sharon’s overshoes which she had tucked under the wooden walkway that she had left behind. It was 23 km to the next campsite and the wind was howling. Fortunately it was a tail wind for most of it but as soon as it was a crosswind everything would come to a standstill. We dropped down a hill as the road changed direction taking us and our bikes out from under us, it was so strong we all lay on the road at different points unable to stand up or do anything until the wind eased enough to get up and out of trouble. It was like we were drunk being forced all over the road falling off and hanging on to the Armco barriers. If we held our bikes side on to the wind the wheels would start to slide through the gravel as the wind caught the bike with all its bags. We got caught in one gust which Sara measured as 69 mph. It was so tough at times but we covered the miles fairly quickly because the wind was helping us for a change. We just had to be careful as the road was gravelly and we shared it with many other tour buses.
We finally got to the rangers station where Sara caught a bus fed up with fighting the wind and we rode on the final 5 miles to the camp. It was uphill to start with but the headwind we feared as we changed direction didn’t materialise and we were soon at the camp. It was £6 per head so not too bad and we soon had the tent up and coffee on the go. Sara arrived having had to wait for the bus and we sat around eating dinner which included delicious smoked mussels that the vintage car guys had given us. We went to bed watching a film before settling down for a good night’s sleep. Within 10 minutes we realised we’d left the washing outside and not trusting the wind wouldn’t whip it away, Shaz quickly brought it in to dry the next day.
Wednesday 4th December
We got up early to do a day’s hike up to the lake. After breakfast Sharon appeared and was staying behind to look after her back. We packed the few things we needed and headed off to the track. It was steep at first and as we climbed it became more and more beautiful. Having small packs it made for easy going managing to reach the first refuge in an hour less than had been marked. We decided to keep going and reached the next steep section and were soon at the lake putting the stove on for a cupper.
The lake was stunning in a deep green colour with the snow and ice clinging to the sharp peaks that rose steeply behind. We had seen these images before but to sit in this amphitheatre of one of nature’s finest was truly awe inspiring.