Thursday, 20 December 2012

Patagonia - Absolute D E S O L U T I O N, masochism and plagues of Dragonflies

Latest technique to keep warm, wedge my hood under the helmet. 
This here's Oiiil Country, not much else going on
Ok I have to admit it, the weather down here is just unreal and a small 200cc plastic bike loaded to the max is not designed for Patagonia.  Its too light so you get blown all over the road, there’s nothing to stop the headwinds in your face, it has no power whatsoever, and the fuel tank is too small.  Its unsuited for so many reasons but I’m still going somehow.  The last few days have been simply tough and draining.  If you were to compare the journey with a day of the week, it would be a Monday.  A Monday afternoon at work, where you have just had your lunch and are falling asleep at the desk with hours still to go until the end of the day.  In summary I just want to reach Ushuaia now.

Its also getting noticeably colder too and I am having to add a layer of clothing for every few 100kms….Hoping that I don’t run out of clothes before I get to Ushuaia.  I’ve not even mentioned the rain, which works in partnership with the wind.  I’ve discovered that wind plus rain renders all waterproofs useless after 4 hours of a full onslaught, and with me averaging 12hrs on the road every day you can imagine the kind of state I am in.  So after describing all this would it make me sound like a complete masochist if I said I am loving Patagonia, not the cold, but the sheer challenge of this trip.  I still can’t believe I am still going.
Finally a bed in the road on Ruta 3
Santa Julian beach, sunscreen not necessary

Possibly the most exciting place to be in Santa Julian

My corregated iron guesthouse
Santa Julian is where the Argentine airforce was based during the Faulklands
I have had some low points though, the worst being the ride from Rada Tilly to Puerto San Julián.  I will never believe weather forecasts again, or the road sign distances between towns or petrol stations, which are always inaccurate.  It felt like I never reached anywhere all day.  It was truly awful with no shelter and so much relentless wind and rain I couldn’t see more than a few metres in front of me the whole time, so I was riding blind.  Whenever a truck passed I was covered in a sheet of water, and had to crouch like a surfer riding through a tunnel.  After 4 hours I was soaked through and beyond 6 hours I was so cold and wet that I couldn’t feel my hands and could hardly remove my waterlogged (supposed all weather) gloves.  Putting them back on required 15 minutes of painful manoeuvering so after doing this twice I decided to not bother checking my hands again for risk of not getting the gloves back on.  When I finally reached Puerto San Julián the wind was so bad that I couldn’t leave the bike without either me or the bike blowing over so after passing a guesthouse with a sheltered carpark I decided for the 1st time on this whole trip to take a room.  I thought cleverly I could try to dry my clothes for the next morning only to find the heaters didn’t work….anyway moving on…

Puerto San Julián - such a strange place.  If early reports on Patagonia are said to have inspired Shakespeare to write “The Tempest” or Swift to write “Gullivers Travels”, then its not too unbelievable to think Puerto San Julián inspired “The Wicker Man”.  The atmosphere is bizarre, I took a walk along the shoreline path with deserted playgrounds, a replica galleon and a jet plane weirdly mounted on a pole.  I could just sense the people in the houses staring at me.  In the meantime teenagers in rusty, bonnet-less, patched up cars drove back and forth several times taking turns to actually try to run me over.  Weird eerie place, I couldn't imagine spending a whole winter here, but this is what Magellen, Drake and Darwin did on their voyages.  Unlike them I had a bike so not surprisingly I left Puerto San Julián very early the next morning. 

I’ve noticed that there are more and more motorbike travellers on Ruta 3 down here.  Unbeknown to me being new to this biking life, reaching Ushuaia is a popular thing for bikers at Christmas and places to stay enroute can book out, so I thought I would change tactics and leave early to get a head start. Unfortunately because of my ridiculously slow bike I spent the day being overtaken by every bike in South America so I guess that tactic is pointless. 

Loving the break in the storms

Between Puerto San Julián and Rio Gallegos I pulled into a petrol station at the same time as 2 groups of Brazilian and German bikers all on KLR650s and BMW650s and 1200s.   After I filled up I decided to ride over with my 200cc and join them too.  I am, afterall a proper motorbike traveller taking on Patagonia now.  Unfortunately as I pulled up to park amongst them one of my foot pegs fell off.  They gave me a split second glance before actually taking their time to walk around me to continue to introduce theirselves and take pictures of each others bikes.  To add insult to injury I had to borrow a tool to fix the peg back on hahaha.  Oh well.  I rode on only to be overtaken by every single bike 5 minutes later.  

Strange things continued.  I rode though 2 different plagues of dragonflies, which pelted me and my helmet (what the hell are dragon flies doing out here?) and have seen every possible kind of dead animal littering the empty landscape, dogs, cats, armadillos, skunk and even the huge guanacos pinned to barbed wire fences.  Putting all this behind me I finally reached Rio Gallegos on the 19th which is where I am holed up in a nice hostel.  I'm waiting until the winds die down a bit so that I can catch a ferry across the straights of Magallan and onto Tierra del Fuego.  Finally I’m getting nearer to the end of the world.

Ushuaia, somewhere in that direction?

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