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January 8th, 2012 | Argentina

El Calafate at Last…!!

As usual, my eyelids opened at dawn’s crack…!! It felt as though I had fallen asleep just minutes before…

My Companeros were still dead to the world, and no amount of floorboard-squeak changed their status…

They lay where they fell...!! Tres Machos slumbered on as I packed and loaded the Big Fella...

Making as little noise as I could, I dressed, packed my bags and carried them outside to load the bike…

Pannier split...!! The ripio had drawn a measure of revenge for letting us through...!!

Temporary fix... Bungi cords to the rescue...!!

I then went for a short walk to kill some time while I waited for the guys to stumble out of bed… I was itching to go, wanting to get to El Calafate as quickly as possible…

We had no cell phone signal or internet at Bajo Caracoles, or here in Tres Lagos, and with Patricia on her way to Miami for a hopefully final visit to the hospital, I was fretting for news…!!

The lads were ready to roll a short time after I got back from my walk, and we loaded up quickly and got on our way…

There was no breakfast served at the hostel, and since handing over the money the previous evening, we had not had any contact with the owner at all…!!

Pablo discovered that the ripio the day before had split his pannier, breaking the rivets and the spot welds that held it together… He use a strip of duct tape and a few bungi cords to hold the ensemble together until we got to Calafate…

We idled out of town, careful on the thick layer of smooth pebbles that covered the first few kms to the highway…

With a “WHOOP…!!” that was probably heard in Tres Lagos, we swept onto the “asphalto”, and screwed the taps wide open…!!

"Look Ma...!! No Ripio...!!" A 180 km of smooth riding lay ahead...

Despite the good conditions, we still stuck to our original plans to ride for about 60 km before taking a break… Our first stop was on the shores of Lago Viedma… A solid layer of cloud overhead made the usually turquoise waters appear gray and leaden…

Parked on the shores of Lago Viedma... We were taking it easy this morning....!!

Still recovering from the effects of the last two days on Ruta 40's ripio...

A strong wind was blowing, but for the most part we were protected from it by a low bluff that hugged the shores of the lake… Only when we crossed a bridge or climbed up onto the plateau, did we have to deal with a few wobbles…

We stopped again to let Pablo Caracoles catch up to us on the far eastern shores of Lago Argentino… When he finally arrived, he was in an even chirpier mood than usual…

“Ronnie….!! I love you…!!” he screeched as he came to a halt among us…!! “Nada ripio today…!!”

"Otros Grandes...!! Why you carry Don Ronaldo so fast...!! Why you no wait for Don Pablo and "Valkiria"... You no like Suzuki...??"

I managed to get a cell signal and caught up with Patricia by SMS, just as she boarded her flight from Provodentiales to Miami… I wanted to be there for her, and felt more than a little frustrated that I was “trapped” in the middle of nowhere, without the means to join her…

Ezekiel and I rode most of the way together, letting Augustin and Pablo bring up the rear...

About time too...!!

We got to El Calafate, gateway to the Glacier National Park, at lunchtime, and spent a good deal of time trying to find accomodation…

The first half dozen places we tried were either full, or had no internet signal, something I was not prepared to go without…!!

The town was chock full of tour buses and back-packers, all looking for place to park, or place to stay… The sidewalks were lined with tourists, the restaurants doing a roaring trade…!! The was high season, the time of year when the weather mostly played ball, and people came from all over the world to hike in the mountains…

We decided to have a light lunch at the service station, where we queued for petrol for over half an hour… Pablo and Augustine had a few words with a Chilean biker who tried to push into the queue, and then hooted at us while we were all filling up…

He ended the conversation with a stern look and put a finger to his lips, indicating that the Chilean should keep quiet or face the consequences…

“Ronnie…!! Chileanos…!! Me no like…!! WE no like…!!” he indicated every Argentinian within pointing distance…

When I questioned him about this later, he told me that during the Falklands War with Britain, Chile had allowed the British to use their airbases to refuel etc, and this had riled the Argentinians no end…!! Argentina had fought for the independence of Chile against Spain in the 1820’s and I could understand why modern day Argentinians no longer took too kindly to their Chilean neighbors… Fair enough…!!

El Calafate at last...!! We celebrated by taking photos of each other at the entrance to the town...

Our digs in El Calafate, the Cabanas Keu Shaionk....

Parked and ready to be washed....

We eventually found a great place on the edge of town, and parked our bikes on the lawn between our A-Framed cabana and the next…

The owners, a young couple, helped us immeasurably, by laying on a hose pipe to wash the bikes with, lending Pablo a drilling machine and a bag of rivets to fix his pannier with, and dragging a big BBQ barrel to the front of our cabana so that we could toss some meat onto it later…

Muchas Gracias Carolina…!!

Our cabana was a double-storey affair, and I commandeered the bedroom downstairs next to both the kitchen, and bathroom, while Los Argentinos shared the two upstairs bedrooms…

Augustine and Ezekiel then hopped on their bikes and headed back to town to do some shopping…. They returned half an hour later with all the necessities needed to make dinner; meat, potatoes, cheese, bread, crisps, cold-drinks and beer… What more could a man want…??

We made short work of all of this...!! I thought that the olives were enough to satisfy our vegetarian needs, but the boys wanted potatoes as well....!!

Ezie took care of the meat, while Augustine boiled the potatoes... I did the dishes...!!

The Heineken went down a treat with Ezekiel and I, while the Philistines among us, mixed theirs with Fanta Orange...!!

Pablo got the fire started and then Ezekiel took care of the BBQ-ing… Apart from the huge slab of meat, we also had a few chourizo sausages and a single large “blood sausage”… If this doesn’t get your haemoglobin count up, then nothing will…!!

We sat around the kitchen table, listening to some local music, and discussed the last few days we had ridden together…

I was secretly glad that I hadn’t hooked up with a bunch of gung-ho bikers, who were determined to show off their off-road skills, and we had seen enough of those further up north… I was thankful instead, that the four of us had bumped into each other in Rio Mayo, and all we wanted to do was get through the worst of the ripio in one piece…

We had ridden very well as a team, each one setting his own pace, but mindful of the fact that we were facing the challenge together, ensuring that each got through the worst sections with the help of the others if need be…

The last three days had been exciting; exhilarating; even terrifying at times; a laugh a minute at others…

We had met many interesting characters, been greeted and congratulated by many locals who envied us, and wished they had the opportunity to join us…

There were times when we lapsed into comfortable silences at the kitchen table, each of us remembering our own personal battles withe conditions we had endured… There were a few deep sighs, then we would look up at each other and laugh out loud again, starting sentences with “Remember when…..”….

The story so far…

It has been a character building exercise of note…!!

The camaraderie we have shared over the last three days has been brilliant, especially since they initially spoke very little English, and my lack of Spanish was by then legendary…!!

We had got by with laughter, hand signals and Spanglish….!!

Barely a few hours into our ride together, they had helped me repair only the second puncture I have had on my journey…!!

Had it not been for them, I would have struggled, and maybe even limped back to Rio Mayo to have it sorted…!!

It had taken us three days to cover just 860 km, most of it on the most difficult gravel roads that I had ever ridden on, let alone seen…!!

There has been much providence and good luck involved in us making it here in one piece, although Augustine fell twice yesterday, and I nearly came a-cropper around a sharp bend littered with cricket ball sized rocks, and on a few other occasions as well…!!

The weather had been kind to us, and the days had been warm and clear, although the early mornings were a little chilly…

The scenery….?? Spectacular, “FANTASTICO”….!! Bleak, inhospitable in places, but we always seemed to be riding through grand vistas, following a narrow thread of road that wound away to the far horizon…

We planned to spend a few days resting up in El Calafate, our base to visit the Puerto Moreno Glacier tomorrow…

After that we will split up, I tackle some more dirt roads to Puerto Natales, while my friends head for the Atlantic coast to make their way to Ushuaia from there…

©GBWT 2012

 

3 comments to El Calafate at Last…!!

  • Charmz

    I feel as though I am there with you. I can only imagine what you are getting up to, I’m pleased that you have managed to ride with some other bikers and are having a laugh a minute with them. Thanks for all your hard work so far, I know how difficult it is for you to keep this site up. Stay in that saddle of yours…we don’t want to hear that you have come a cropper. Take it easy GB.

  • Mark Behr

    Take your time and enjoy each day. Have fun and think of us poor people you left behind 😉

  • Hi Ronnie, well done and great to meet you yesterday. Perhaps we can catch up over a drink later this evening?

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