Patagonia

23.2.2018

Hello everyone, it’s been a while!

Lauri and I finished our long journey already in July 2016. As you may imagine, after traveling for more than two years and three months, there’s a lot of things to do and people to meet when you come home. That’s what happened for me. After settling down for two months, Lauri and I rented an apartment together and worked in Helsinki for sometime. Those were great times. It was good to face the normal life together with someone who had experienced the same thing with you. Then soon life took me to Lebanon where I have been working almost a year now. I often recall memories from my travels and now I finally had time and energy to start to put some stories into the words. I feel there’s so much to share, but so little I can fit in a blog post, but here’s some key moments from my adventures in Patagonia from late 2015.

– Antti


 

Everything was supposed to be ready. I packed my bicycle for the last test ride and started to cycle Brisbane’s hilly roads up and down toward Lauri’s place. On one of those Brisbane’s unlighted downhills where the speed accelerates close to 60km/h I had difficulties steering my bike without riding over the holes on the bumpy road. Eventually I ended up riding over one big hole. I was able to lift my front wheel over it on the last second, but then my rear wheel smashed to the edge of the hole breaking my rim. The last week Australia was planned to be easy, but now I go a lot of work to do.

Lauri at his Brisbane home in autumn 2015. He lived there for a year. I often biked there on weekends while working in Brisbane for last three months of my stay in Australia.

I visited a plenty of Brisbane’s bike shops, but none of them had a proper rim for me so I decided to order a new rim and spokes online. The parts arrived just on time to Bribane’s airport, on the last working day before my flight to Argentina. I brought the parts to the bike shop that had promised to do the wheel work for me. No worries mate, we’ll do it for ya!, they had said, but now when I was in front of them again with all the parts they told me they never do wheel works. I felt very pissed off and wanted to escape that country as soon as possible, but my rear tire was in pieces. Anyway I found a wheel builder from another side of the city and finally got the wheel work done by the evening after six hours of traveling in Brisbane’s public transport system. Now I was more than ready to leave the country! Or so I thought.

In the morning of my departure day I was full of excitement and joy pushing my bike box at the airport. For some reason the self service check-in machine didn’t want to print out my boarding pass. An airport receptionist came to tell me that they can’t let me go for the flight because I didn’t have return tickets. I was aware that Argentina requires return tickets from foreigners who fly there, but I had convinced myself that if asked, I could explain that I’m traveling by my bicycle and I’m going to leave Argentina by riding my bicycle to another countries. I didn’t help now, to get in to the plane I had to buy return tickets which I was never going to use.

So where I was going? My flight was to the southernmost town of Argentina, Ushuaia, which is also know as the southernmost city of the planet. Ushuaia and thousands of kilometers long Patagonia region is known for its strong winds and variable weathers. When arriving to Ushuaia in mid-November there was expected to be spring and the most favourable weathers starting. Another Finnish cyclist, Sissi Korhonen, was also on her way to Ushuaia and with her I would cycle the first weeks.

The plane descended below the clouds revealing the beautiful snow topped mountains surrounding Ushuaia. There were many kind of hikers, adventurers and retirees at the wooden airport of Ushuaia. Many of them were about to go to Antarctica. It was snowing and the wind was blowing heavily. The roads were bumpier than in Brisbane. The center of the town was mostly built for tourists.

I took this photo from the airport of Ushuaia Airport right after building my bike. The excitement and the anticipation were at their highest when looking at these spectacular views and thinking what South America might bring.

I pedaled ten kilometers of a gravel road between two gorgeous mountains to Ushuaia’s free camping ground. The grass field of the camping ground was soaking wet and the wind was stormy. The weather was exactly what I had heard it to be. Except one traveling truck with a South America’s map and tens of signatures on its side, I was the only one at the camp site. I was just about to go to sleep in my hammock when the door of the truck opened and someone there was waving his hands as a sign for me to come closer. The door was closed immediately to prevent the horizontally flying snow to get into the truck. I walked closer and the door was opened again. It was too much for that French couple to watch my survival through their window and they invited me to stay the night in their spacious and cozy truck instead. Soon I had warm soup in front of me, and Gauston and Elisabeth started to tell me their story. They had traveled crisscross South America for months and had more stories to share than my limited Spanish and French allowed to understand. It felt good to be in the warm truck and watch through the window how the storm was hitting my hammock outside while the mercury was dropping below the zero.

Gauston and Elisabeth’s traveling truck at the free camping site of Ushuaia.

That night was the stormiest for a long time. When Sissi arrived two days later the weather was already more springlike. There were many cyclists in Ushuaia. A few of them coming from or going to Alaska. Some planned to cycle the well-known Carreterra Austral to Chile’s Puerto Montt. We heard from other cyclists about Casa de Ciclistas, a house of cyclists, in nearby village Tolhuin. In Tolhuin we found the famous bakery Panaderia La Union. It was full of tourists. There we met German cyclist Sebastian who had been living and working in the bakery for last ten months. Sebastian showed us a room which walls were full of greetings from hundreds of long distance cyclist. I began to understand how popular route we were on. Almost all the cyclists who had cycled across americas seemed to either start from or finish the trip to Tierra del Fuego. During next couple of weeks I met more touring cyclists than anywhere else before.

Lunch break on our first day on the road.

In Rio Grande we experienced that well-known wind of Patagonia for first time on the bikes. We desperately tried to get to North from Rio Grande towards the port to get a ferry from Tierra del Fuego island to the mainland Argentina. The strong crosswind made it dangerous to pedal. In one hour we made a progress of just few kilometers. Fortunately a tow truck lifted us to the mid-point of the island, to the border of Chile. At the border cafe there were two French cyclists waiting for the wind to calm down. They had arrived to Ushuaia on the same flight with Sissi. I tried to light up the Primus multifuel stove Lauri had borrowed for me, but the wind was so strong it was impossible to use the stove even on the calmer side of the cafe building. I ended up running after my cooking pot which had been grabbed by the wind. An Argentinean truck driver promised to take us to the ferry port.

Hitchhiking in a truck in Tierra del Fuego.

While rushing into the truck I had forgotten to throw away a jar of honey from my bike pannier. I knew it was forbidden to bring such a things to Chile and might lead for high penalties. Chilean border guards asking to see my bags I hide the honey into the cabin of the truck on the last moment. At the same time our driver was taking coca leaves into Chile, but he said it’s okay because he knew the border guards. The rest of the day we slowly drove on rough unpaved roads of Tierra del Fuego through fields full of sheep. The driver told that the road used to be in even worse condition and getting to the port used to take up to three days. On those days truck drivers sometimes took a sheep from the field and ate it. For us it took a long afternoon and evening to get to the port. While waiting for the ferry at the port our driver made mate for us. Mate is a strong tealike drink which almost all the Argentineans had offered us who we had met.

Except the mountain range separating Chile and Argentina, and a few interesting towns, the biggest attraction of Patagonia was that there wasn’t any attractions. The land is so barren that Argentina has given it free for people who agreed to live there. On Argentine’s side there is basically two roads to the North, one on the East coast. and the another, Ruta 40, closer to Chile’s border. That’s why it wasn’t big surprise that I met Gauston and Elisabeth again, those French which had helped me in Ushuaia a month earlier.

That morning Sissi was feeling sick and she hitchhiked forward to get better. At the noon Patagonia showed me again what it’s climate is capable of. It started to rain hail. The solid gravel road quickly turned into sticky mud, which sticked to my wheels so that it stucked the wheels from spinning. I began to walk my bike. It was hard. On every step my shoes lifted 10cm layer of mud from the ground. It took an hour until the first car passed me. I stopped the car and asked for a lift to the next town. It was a mistake. The car was full of stuff and already had one hitchhiker in. When the car tried to keep going it couldn’t get anywhere because its wheels were blocked by mud as well. I tried to push it off the mud with the hitchhiker without success and by that time there had come many cars from the front and back and they all had stopped because of us and got stuck to the mud also. After an hour of struggle, one by one the cars got free from mud.

I was soaking wet and cold. I was thinking if I should set up my camp or continue the slow and heavy walk. Then I noticed a truck approaching me from behind. I lifted up my thumb, but lowered it quickly after recognising it. That French couple always seemed to appear there when I was in the most challenging conditions. For them my life must have seemed constant suffering. Gauston opened the window and asked how I was doing. ¡Todo bien!, All good, I answered. Gauston pointed the road while shaking his head, but understood that my mud covered bike was best to stay away from their truck. The sun was about to set down soon. Luckily one pick up car passed me and had space for me on its cargo area. After a freezing drive the driver left me at the gas station in Gobernador Gregores where I received applause from the drivers I had helped to get off the mud earlier that day. I was offered to stay the night at the gas station staff’s warm dressing room. I fell asleep immediately, happily.

In the morning I found Sissi from the town. We had travelled a month together. After trying solo traveling in Australia I was glad to start the new continent with a fellow cyclist. Sissi is an intriguing personality. She had many travel stories to share from Africa, her hitchhiking trips and long walks across Spain. As cyclists we were not on the same level. ”How do these gears work?!”, Sissi asked when hopping on the bike at Ushuaia airport. She barely had had time to test ride the bike in Finland. I didn’t feel myself much better prepared for South America, but in one and half year of bike touring my Pelago Stavanger had became an important part of me. My equipment had found their optimal places on the bike and thousands of kilometers of cycling had molded my saddle into a perfect counterpart of my bottom. Sissi was starting her first longer bike tour respectfully from Patagonia, from one of the most challenging areas for cycling in the World. I was admiring Sissi’s courage to start from the zero. If I had learned anything while cycling from Finland to Australia was to give more time for my body to rest and that’s why I was happy to begin the continent with an easy pace. With Sissi’s Spanish skills we didn’t have any problems communicating with locals and soon I learned the most important phrases while listening Sissi. After a few weeks I became impatient. I wanted to go faster, faster to the warmer areas and cheaper countries. Sissi was planning to go to Buenos Aires on the east coast and I wanted to go more straightforward towards North. So we said good bye to each other and continued our own paths.

I cycled a hard day in a headwind. How come, just when I was finishing the day I saw the first building since the morning. It was estancia, one of the rural farm houses which had proved to be very hospitable in Argentina. I tried my luck and approached the house. I greeted the man who was hunting nearby the house. He guided me into the barn which had a clean guest room upstairs. For sure I wasn’t the first or the last one who ended up in there. The man told that a month earlier there had stayed two motorcyclists. At the farm house there were living two brothers and the wife of one of them. They lived almost completely self-sufficiently. They had two horses and sheep. After having a dinner I asked if I had interrupted the hunting. The man was smiling and he wanted to show me how to hunt. We went out and the man first shot a skunk, telling they were causing harm for the cat and the dog, and then he shot a rabbit.

The gaucho who provided a room for me and tried to make me a hunter.

 

It was Christmas 2015, the third Christmas in row away from Finland. From Perito Moreno I found unfinished building from a construction site and I set up my camp in there. It was a great cover from the wind. I ate a few Christmas cakes and a jar of dulce de leche, the sweet brown thing that was popular filling in Argentinean pastries. I woke up at the night to start pedalling when the wind was weak. I cycled long days, slept in abandoned buildings and under bridges in cover from the wind. On the New Year’s eve I arrived to the mountainous area near San Carlos de Bariloche. Summer finally came to Patagonia. I enjoyed the sun so much I got a sunstroke. In the evening after heavy mountain pass I dragged my bike by the crystal clear lake. I threw up and fell asleep on my bike panniers. At the night I woke up for distant fireworks. The year had changed.

I found this poor dog wandering on the desert hungry and thirsty. She came to me to ask for help. All I could offer was a can of lentils, water and a place in my front rack bag. She didn’t like it, but didn’t have other options.

Stay tuned, more is coming!

Hit like on our Facebook page RiversAndDeserts or follow @ittola on Instagram to get notified when the next post is available.

Also make sure to check out Sissi’s blog Strangerless.com, she has now reached Colombia and is about to continue her journey soon.

¡Hasta luego!

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