Chile: El Calafate to Punta Arenas – Torres, new friends and an ending

If travel were to be reduced to a tick-list, we would be at risk of falling off the bottom.  Torres del Paine was to be that final point – a place we’ve both dreamed of and been inspired by as the ‘Patagonia’.  Our original masterplan to cut straight through into the park from El Calafate was foiled by bureaucracy, so the longer way round got going with a 100km+ day despite a late start.  No large prizes offered for guesses at the relative wind direction.  The next day, with a change in direction and rocky surface we slump to just over 40km in 7 hours – thankfully to discover later that others resorted to hitching a lift,  justifying our perception of it as sheer, unremitting slog!  The difference a wee puff or two of wind can make :-)

A third and final entry into Chile ensues, together with hurried eating of a tomato and banana to avoid quarantine confiscation.  Not long afterwards we’re onto our final stretch of dirt road – and trying not to think too much of all the ‘finals’ that are racking up by the minute.

Long awaited, the Torres del Paine gain imposing bulk increasingly as we inch closer
A little bit closer, and I remember reading stories of first ascents of the rock spires I'm finally looking at myself. Tales of finger-tips on ledges, frayed ropes and sheer contrary stubbornness. Now not-reflected in the alkaline waters of Laguna Amarga.
At the foot of the Torres at 5pm we re-meet our Asturian friends from El Chaltén and El Calafate. We're jollied into doing a 4 hour walk to the nearest 'free' camping before dark - avoiding paying even more in camping fees to what is beginning to feel like a money grabbing exercise for not much return in park stewardship
The next morning we wake to rain and descending cloud. A sign at the cooking shelter proclaims "Please do not ask us about the weather - this is Patagonia, we do not know" First amongst other presumably frequently requested answers. After an exploratory potter up towards the look-out, a retreat is called - the weather hustles us back down to our bikes
Morning calm after a (naughty) night camping by an un-authorised lake shore. Battered all night by proper Patagonian squalls, our tent has happily coped with it all - reinforcing our complete lack of envy for the myriad of others we've encountered on this trip.
Washing up amid the rushes
The calm lasts about as long as it takes us to pack our bikes. The morning is spent slowly working our way round and about the lakes. Stunningly strong gusts from all possible directions sometimes propel us forwards, but much more frequently topple us sideways-ditchwards or leave us crouched over the handlebars clutching the brakes to stop ourselves being flung backwards. Water is whipped up and flung about to create rainbow glitters - all too transient to capture in an image - this one hints, nothing more.
Slowly the gusts settled to our rear quarter. The little cover here had been burnt off in the recent fires leaving large areas of blackened branches over apparently lifeless soil
Like Cerros Fitzroy and Torre, looking back somehow seems to inspire even more than the approach

With the passing days, the prospect of hitting the buffers looms larger.  The night before Puerto Natales, our camp is wind-blasted again – despite more tree cover than the night before.  The campsite does, however come with plentiful supply of tasty (non-hallucinogenic) mushrooms.  The richness of this experience distracts us – it’s hard to ignore.

Another finality - Sarah leaving behind the last bit of dirt road a little north of Puerto Natales
Approaching Puerto Natales the countryside opens up and draws us back to our previous trips to Shetland and Orkney

Puerto Natales is a place which seems to have achieved a better ‘feel’ to us than the unabashed touristy glitz of El Calafate and the Argentinian Lakes towns of Bariloche, Angostura and San Martín de los Andes.

At the junctions with distant estancias along the road to Punta Arenas, are these slightly bizarre bus-shelters. They work perfectly as lunch-stops, and as we're joined by more cyclists, we find they fit 4 quite nicely

Just as our last days of pedalling are threatening to overwhelm us, we gain company.  A suspicion of mine actualised, Jeff Volk and Cat Magill shore us up with much, much conversation – both reminiscences of so many unshared but joint experiences down the Americas; and an infinity of potential future forays. Jeff’s adventures in northern México had guided as we were finding our feet in strange Spanish-speaking lands.  He shared these particular ones with his brother Jason, our friend and compañera, Anna Kortschak,  and Cass Gilbert.  Oh, such a small world!

Not much to do other than pedal - the landscapes are barely undulating, sometimes with low scrub and sheep - and fleeting sunshine. Really quite cold too, though I slightly too resolutely stick to shorts and sandals, as much to make an unknown point to myself as to prove anything rational.
And amazingly, the only wind generators bigger than the 'personal' house based ones appear just short of Punta Arenas, within sight of Tierra del Fuego.

After an abortive side-trip to the penguin colony just north of Punta Arenas (shut as we’re out of season), we plod to a halt.

20 months and 28,000km – and we have finished.

For a while at least – maybe/possibly only a short one.

Time now to clean the things to be kept, discard the things that have been nursed through and way beyond their dying gasps; and work out how to sleep in the same place most nights without going anywhere new each day.  My normal half-living in the plans and dreams for next weekend/month/year has been stilled by a life where I can live in the present so comfortably as it is about movement and change.  The ending has already brought a return to floods of ideas for the future – though a moment of insight shows me that they are all about getting our present systems properly fixed for getting back out there – almost nothing about anything else.  I do know that my music and medicine will work its way back to the fore, and only a few months ago I missed them – but not so much lately.  A life in flux – best to wait and see, methinks…



  1. WOW! It’s been a while since I last caught up with your exploits but I wasn’t disappointed looking at these last photos. You’re ‘off the beaten track’ feats of endurance and endeavour are as ever an inspiration. So, you’re heading back to Oz soon? What a trip. Ned and I are glad that we shared a tiny microcosm of it with you. We miss life on the road and are itching a little bit to get back out there on our trusty bikes. Stay in touch – Charlotte & Ned x

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