Patagonia day 30: El Calafate to old police station

January 27, 2020. 113 km.

Breakfast at the hostel brought more conversations with people traveling the “normal” way. They talked about how Chile (aka Torres del Paine) was really expensive and touristy. And which cities hundreds or thousands of km away they would go to next. Quite the contrast from the crowd on the Carretera Austral. It didn’t really seem tempting. I think I either like staying in one place for a while or doing this bike touring thing.

I got on the bike around 8:30, and even without much of tailwind I was back at the intersection with Rt 40 in 1 hour and 45 minutes. Quite a contrast from the trip in the other direction. Once I have more of an internet connection I can add images from the gps tracker I have. It sends my location every 30 minutes and makes dramatic changes in speed pretty obvious.

The scenery today was much as before. Mostly brown, with occasional patches of green along the rare streams.

There are very few signs of civilization around here, though there are fences along the road almost everywhere. The guanaco don’t really seem to pay attention to which side of the fence they are supposed to be on though.

The wind picked up a little, but was a tailwind as expected. It was actually fairly welcome as I slowly climbed the 20km long hill at the 40-60km mark. It went on for a very long time, but was the grade were it’s possible to just keep going in a low gear without needing breaks or ending up with burning leg muscles. It was still nice to see the final rise though, and I stopped for lunch with a view out over the plains I had crossed from El Calafate.

A pair of birds were very excited about the crumbs I dropped from my bread and weren’t at all skittish about approaching me or my bike.

The other side of the climb was a very gradual downhill for the rest of the day (all 50km or so). It was gradual enough to look flat, but what with the slight slope and the tailwind, I think I literally went 10km without pedaling. It was like magic. The only real change in the scenery was a shift from yellowish brown grass to some sort of darker scrubby thing that was almost black.

Once more, near the end of the day, I turned right. But this time, by some sort of magic, the wind stayed mostly a tailwind. Something about the angle of the roads and maybe a shift in the wind too. The road surface got much worse though, as I’m taking an unpaved shortcut to cut off an extra 80km or so of (mostly westward and therefore headwind-prone paved road).

The beginning of the gravel road had a guard of sorts. No idea why.

The going got a lot slower on the unpaved road, though there were occasional stretches where I could still get up to 20 km/h or so. The road is pretty bumpy with lots of large rocks embedded in the surface. Different than the loose gravel of parts of the Carretera Austral, but sometimes fairly uncomfortable. But I wasn’t in a hurry, the traffic was really low, and I had dramatic clouds to look at. And mountains in the distance that I’ll get back to in a day or two.

Nearing my target for the day, there was suddenly a bit of topography. I rolled down a tiny hill and saw the abandoned police station that is the only building in miles.

The wind was picking up quite a bit, and turning to a crosswind again, so I was happy to stop. The building is an abandoned building, so has a few rooms full of junk and dirt. But quite a few rooms kept clean by touring cyclists, lots of signs and signatures on the walls, and a handy map of Torres del Paine that I used to think about day hikes to do once I get there.

Being indoors makes setting up camp pretty easy, as I just put my ground cloth down on the floor with my sleeping pad and bag. There’s a stream nearby, though unlike on the Carretera Austral it took some effort to find a relatively non-murky section for filtering (on the upstream side of the road). It’s about 9:30 as I write this and nobody else has shown up, so I think I have the place to myself (except for the mice). I skipped the pink house, but am still getting one night of the abandoned South American building bike touring experience.

Bronwyn Woods