Patagonia day 36: Torres del Paine to Puerto Natales

February 2, 2020. 97 km.

Last (full) day of biking! Always a bit of a mixed feeling, but physically I am definitely ready for a bit of a longer break. It was raining when I woke up, but the weather report said it wasn’t supposed to last. I packed up slowly inside my tent, and sure enough the ran broke, I packed up my tent for the last time on this trip, and got on the road a bit after 10.

The clouds made for somewhat more dramatic views of the park on the way out.
The clouds made for somewhat more dramatic views of the park on the way out.

The first 10km or so were the same bit of road I had already biked twice the day before. Only section of road in Chile that I’ve biked on three times. The rain made the road a little muddy, but it was still reasonably pleasant. Lots of small hills along the lake and river.

Soon I reached the Lago Grey turnoff and continued the other way on novel road toward the park exit. I had hoped for a tailwind which I didn’t get. In fact it might have been more like a headwind, but it was (at least comparatively) really calm so I’m not complaining.

Just outside the park, the road started climbing up into the hills. Lots of road cuts, decent views (especially after reaching Lago del Toro), and an increasing number of trees.

There was a very distinct transition in the early afternoon as I came down out of the hills into a valley. The road flattened out, the scenery got much less rocky, and pastures of cows became much more common. It felt a bit like a reprise of areas farther north - similar trees, similar cows, much more frequent streams.

Weeks of dust plus the muddy roads in the morning lead to the first time that my belt drive started squeaking enough to be really annoying. I eventually got annoyed enough that I stoped by a stream and squirted a few bottles worth of water over the belt and cogs to clean them. Pretty easy as drivetrain maintenance goes, and it actually worked quite well. By the end of previous tours it has often felt a bit like my bike (mostly the drivetrain) is barely making it through. Shifting gears usually becomes an increasingly significant part of the adventure, and eventually I just stop worrying about all the weird creaks and clicks. On this trip there was that one hiccup early on that resolved itself, and 10 minutes spent cleaning mud off the belt. And it feels good as new. I like the Rohloff/Gates combo generally, but the complete lack of maintenance on this trip really shows the difference they make.

It wasn’t a particularly difficult day, but I think getting so close to the end made it a little harder psychologically. It was pretty exciting to get to the top of a small hill and see a view that included Puerto Natales (granted, in the far distance).

The pavement came back permanently near the Milodón Caves park (I didn’t stop). There were a few more small ups and downs immediately after that, and then it was just a few tens of km across the plains to reach town. Traffic picked up once I hit the main road, but as has been common in this part of the road most drivers were really respectful and gave me lots of space. Once I passed the airport, much of the traffic was taxis with their trunks bungee-corded partly closed over large suitcases. Signs of a different kind of traveler.

Closer to town the casual bike traffic also picked up, then walkers, and then a bit of a mini traffic jam coming into town. Probably partly caused by lots of tourists and walkers taking photos with the milodón sculpture in the roundabout or the nearby concrete hand.

The waterside in Puerto Natales is quite nice. Even comes with a bike lane. And blue concrete spheres that small children really like climbing all over.

There’s also a sculpture that I choose to interpret as a couple people trying very hard not to be blown away by the wind.

A few blocks away from the waterfront is the central area of town, though it took me a little while to find the place I was supposed to stay. Turns out it’s behind (and owned by) a popular ice cream shop. Which in turn is next to a very nice coffee shop (yay non-instant coffee!).

However, once I figured out to ask in the ice cream shop, they told me to wait and 15 minuted later a woman showed up and told me that I would be staying in a different room nearby for the first night because they were overbooked. Not the best news, but not much to be done. Luckily it was only a block away and was still much more luxurious than anywhere I had stayed in the last month. Free shampoo and conditioner and everything. It also turned out to have a tub that was deep enough (more or less) to soak in a hot bath which was a-maze-ing. I must have been more tired than I thought, because I barely made it to the grocery store and through a simple dinner before crashing for the night.

The next day I moved over to my originally booked room. It was annoying to have to move, but worth it because the place was really comfortable and pleasant. The first room was just as comfortable, but not nearly so cute.

I had planned two nights in Puerto Natales to have a buffer in case anything went wrong, but that left me with nearly two full days to wander around town (the ferry boarded on Tuesday but not until 9pm). I spent the first day mostly just walking around. I visited the small local museum, which was quite nice though tiny, and eventually ended up back at my room to relax for the late afternoon and evening. Definitely worth treating myself to “luxury” accommodation at the end of the trip.

Bronwyn Woods