Paso Roballos, Argentina to El Calafate, Argentina
November 6 2014 – November 10, 2014
Drying out in the wind
We were so happy to leave the persistent rains of southern Chile. Until we realised that by crossing the Andes into Argentina and onto Ruta 40 we were exchanging rain for wind. Relentless, violent, cold wind. Wind that was blowing so fast, if you were lucky enough to have it behind you, you could experience an erie silence at 100km/hour. It was the first time our Senas sounded so clear, and with no pressure on your chest or turbulence on your helmet, it was positively relaxing. Until the road made a turn and that 100km/hour wind suddenly threatened to shove us right off the road, our necks strained to keep our heads upright, and we were deafened by the whiling gale in our helmets. That would be our world for the next week of riding, and I hated it. It was exhausting and frightening. And in the desolate Patagonian pampa, there is no-where to hide from the wind, because there is literally nothing at all.
The elusive Argentinean peso
Our first stop was Bajo Caracoles. It showed as a small town on the GPS. We hoped to change some money, grab a meal, rest for a minute and fill up the bikes. The GPS was generous and it was really more like 3 buildings and a gas pump. There was no food in sight, but the fellow at the gas pump graciously agreed to sell us some Argentinian pesos at an outrageous fee. We then returned all of the said pesos to him in exchange for gas to get us to Gobernador Gregores. We pulled into the mining town a few hours later, windblown and weary. At this stage we knew there was an official and unofficial exchange rate for pesos, given the currency’s instability. After paying our dues and then some earlier in the day, we were determined to find a good exchange rate. We asked several folks before someone pointed us to a bakery on the edge of town. On our way we checked out a few hotels and suffered from a horrendous case of sticker shock. These were the most expensive prices we’d seen the whole trip, and the quality to price ratio was poor. This was a mining town in the middle of Patagonian nowhere and as we would discover, mining means money.
Bedding down in a bakery
We trudged off to the bakery feeling defeated by the wind and local prices, still having nowhere to stay for the night. The Wolf had a friendly chat with the baker whom, he learned was a Chilean expat. He agreed to change some of Chilean pesos for the Argentinean variety at a great price and commiserated with the Wolf over how expensive things were in Argentina. Then he did a wonderful thing, he offered us to stay in his bakery for the night. He had an extra room in the back that he used to bake in before building a new wing, and it had heat and a stove. We were so grateful, and celebrated with bowl of pasta before we swept away the excess flour from the floor and laid down our sleeping mats.
Riding at an angle
Our baker friend and his wife woke us up with fresh bread and baked goods and after thanking them profusely, we headed out into the wind once again. It was a brutal day of riding made worse by roadworks and long stretches of rocky gravel. The bikes had to be at a 60 degree angle to continue in a straight line with such strong side winds, but at that angle, traction loss occurs, especially on loose gravel. Eventually, after hours of riding on the knife’s edge, I finally got the balance wrong and was blown over, falling in a crumpled, crying heap. The Wolf helped me pick up my bike, wiped away my fearful and exhausted tears and tried to offer encouraging words. There was nothing to be done, but get back on and keep at it. When we finally arrived in El Calafate we were both so tired we were fighting before we’d even checked into a hotel. The prices were predictably high, and despite my desire to sleep somewhere nice the night before my birthday, we ended up dorming with a crew of frenchies. I sulked upstairs while the Wolf bonded with his people.
A temporary loss of motivation
At least the frenchies made themselves useful by recommending a better place to stay. We moved ourselves to the Albergue Mochilero, and decided to stay for a few nights to recover. That’s when I decided I really didn’t need to see Ushuaia so badly after all. I did not think it was worth 3 more days of riding in winds like that, and tried to convince the Wolf that I could just photoshop a picture of us next to the Ushuaia sign and we could save ourselves a bunch of trouble by just cutting straight over to Puerto Natales instead. That night for my birthday, he surprised me with tickets to the Banff Mountain film festival that just happened to be in town. Watching all the other adventurers doing cool things and being bad ass made me reconsider my stance, and with one more day of rest, I was once again determined that we should make it all the way to the bottom.
Up close and personal with Perito Moreno
But first, we had to go and see the spectacular Perito Moreno glacier. As we pulled into the parking lot we spotted two adventure bikes, more crappy beemers wined the Wolf. As we got closer, I recognised the gigantic license plates with the GP suffix as South African. That’s when I knew we had finally managed to find Matthew and Megan from The Great American Trek after following their adventure since we started planning ours. We planted some Wolf & Zebra stickers on their bikes and went to go witness the glacier’s calving that we could already hear and thunderous cracks.