Friday, June 27, 2014

From under the sea and up the mountains.

It's been a while and this needs updates. It's been like a century since I've written here and people are wondering why the heck I am online all the time. Basically I'm back to 9 to 5 working schedule, or some sort of modern day voluntary slavery, hahaha, just kidding... or not?

Working at NIGSA World.

So after trying to find something to do with life for the time here at Punta Arenas, I ended up in an interview with the guys that organize Patagonian Expedition Race ( and other outdoor races in the Patagonian region. They also help with logistics for expeditions that are held at Tierra del Fuego and basically wherever you want to go in the Patagonian area. The CEO of this company claims that they are the only ones who know the area as they do, maybe it's true.

These guys are quite hardcore. They work from 9 to 7 during weekdays and when races season start, they get lost in the mountains, lakes, woods and fjords to move and set the logistics for the events. In one of these expeditions, one of the guys had to jump over a crack in the ice. He jumped but did not fell right at the other side of the crack and broke one of his legs. They where so far away from everything that this guy had to walk two more days with his 30 kilos backpack to a point where help was able to reach, and who knows how that leg made it. He's a cyborg now. They put a titanium implant to fix his leg. Yeah, they really seem to be hardcore. So what's my work at this place?, IT. Lol.

I'm not so hardcore... yet. I only work from 9 to 5 and with flexible schedule. I left a system, and getting back into another one is quite fucked already. Getting to work from 9 to 7 was a thing I wouldn't even negotiate so I stated from the beginning I wanted a flexible schedule. This means I can go out and do other things like diving during weekdays, ride bike, or go out jogging with the guys in the hope of becoming hardcore. So far, I've been just diving. As long as I reach the goals, everybody is happy and they agreed to my way of doing things. I told them I would be here till around September/October when Antarctica season starts moving, but all is flexible, we shall see.

So I'm cleaning the complete mess on the IT side at this company. Nobody has been managing IT in some years so I'm tiding up and fixing everything there is around to fix; formating machines, fixing hardware, solving network issues, finding bugs on the webpages, sysadmin, among other IT stuff.

Some asked me if I was doing some good money by doing this. Of course... Not. I earn almost nothing by doing this, literally, but I get free room and food plus I'll be able to join in expeditions around the Patagonian area. For this weekend I got assigned the task of going to Torres del Paine national park with a GPS and walk non stop a stretch of the park in order to log a track for a future event. As I'm the tech savvy at this place, it seems they trust me in the handling of the GPS. So hopefully I get the chance to go wild during winter times at the mountains this weekend. But that's the future, let's go back to what has been going on.

So, I'm living at a house provided by NIGSA, I share the house with four foreign girls; two Germans, one Brazilian and one Philippine. It's funny the faces I get from people when I say I live with four girls. :) It's quite acceptable to live in community again after have experienced living at a hostal with people coming and going, but sometimes I still get the hermit feelings and I need to go wild and get some isolation from the rest of the people and the city. Good thing is I have all of this quite near and diving helps a lot too.

People crossing a lake at Patagonian Expedition Race. This was the race at 2013.
Crazy people crossing a glacier. This was the race at 2013.

What's all this diving thing?

As I wrote in the last post I think, I push pedals would go under the water to I breathe from a tank. I took a course to get the PADI scuba diver license. But as I plan to use this as a tool to travel in the future, the plan is to take 3 courses during this winter and get the Rescue Diver license. I've been told there are places in asia where you can become divemaster for free (the next level) and it's fairly easy to get a gig at some dive center afterwards. So I'm about to finish the first of the courses and ready to take next level if everything goes good. Hopefully this also helps if I want to work as deckhand in some ships which would allow me to travel overseas while working on board, hopefully.

So far I've taken a couple of dives in the Magellan strait and I must say it's damn amazing. Most of the people that hear this ask if the water is cold, well yeah it fucking is!, but the neoprene suites make an awesome job insulating from the coldness, the only part of my body that suffers due to coldness are my hands which were completely red the last time I got into the ocean. It's noticeable in the beginning but once you get under the water the sight around you makes you forget all pains.

Being under water is a complete different world and atmosphere. The only thing I can hear there is the sound of my breathing through the regulator and the bubbles making its ascent to the surface. Besides that, all the sounds are alien sounds that yet, I am not able to identify. This plus the buoyancy under the water makes my brain believe I am flying and I love it. Everything has a different pace under water too. The body moves like in slow motion all the time because it's quite hard to do fast movements and most of the time you are at the mercy of the currents. Mind control is also quite important as the mind can trick you and you can fall into a pretty bad situation. Diving in cold waters is some serious shit if you are not using a dry suite.

During the weekend I shall dive once again at the strait (water temperature around 4ºC), right before going to the mountains, torres del paine national park. So hopefully, I will go from the deep sea towards the mountains in a single weekend. I'm excited for what's going to happened in the next couple of days.

And what else?

Well, everything conspired so I could spend the winter at Punta Arenas after all. The bad thing is that I don't have much time to go outdoors during the week, but on weekends I'm still doing things such as going to the local hills, taking night rides through the city and outside the city, diving and meeting people around.

I have to also add that this winter sucks. It's not what I expected so far. I was expecting lots of snow, really shitty weather and fucking cold days. I have got cold days, but Norway has certainly colder temperatures and way much more snow. Days at this city have been mostly marvelous days. Despite the short days, when the sun shows up, we get really clear and sunny days which display a whole range of amazing colors and a contrast I haven't seen somewhere else.

This was taken last sunday. Down below Punta Arenas.

I've been taking some cool pictures too and as I have some time now I have been working with them doing some editing to enhance the colors and actually do justice to the landscape I capture with the camera.

Some random flamencos.

Not many adventures have been going on though. Living in a city is quite boring compared to what happens when you are on the road. This has made me miss the road in several occasions in the last month, and the thought of taking the bike and just ride somewhere else has crossed my mind in more than once. Still I know I have to stay in the city as the goal is to reach Antarctica once the season starts, after that, hopefully, Punta Arenas will be history for me. Sometimes though, I wonder if I will be able to leave this city at all as so many things show up randomly and attract me. We'll see.

And what's to come?

Finally some adventures are about to come. Diving and Mountains for the weekend. Hopefully next weekend I'll go to San Isidro lighthouse again and have some awesome diving times in shipwrecks, deep diving, and even a night dive if all goes fine. If I get night rides it's obvious I need to get night dives, isn't it?.

I'm still on road to Antarctica and some people have contacts that will try to get me on a yatch as deckhand to reach the white continent, in the meantime, adventure time between the sea and the mountains.

I hope to update the blog in the following weeks as some cool adventures are approaching.

Check some of this amazing pictures I've been working with lately and tell me what are your thoughts :)

Pictures here and here.

Until then.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Night Rides.

It usually happens around 10 in the night. Slowly, one by one, as drops falling from the water tap we all start crowding Tom's den. Warming up our heads for what's to come is a ritual we must not avoid. It usually takes some time till the gang is complete or maybe incomplete, but once ready, we depart for the night.

Smoothly through the city we surf our way through the semi empty streets, the short traffic jams and passers by. Most of them are on their way home, for us, we are on our way to the skies. We are there to get rid of what the day threw at us, emancipate our souls from the bad and get rid of those thoughts that trap us in our minds. We are there to set our spirits free from everything. We are there to live.

It takes little to reach the base of the San Cristobal and the only back door we can use to enter the place. Usually the hype and the warm up makes us reach that point in no time. Still, we are far to complete our quest, we still need to avoid the guards that will try to get rid of us and cast us out of the place.

In pitch black night we start the ride, sneaking our way through the wannabe gates poorly guarded by a guy that maybe won't even notice we are there. Sometimes it may work, sometimes it may not, it will probably depends on the karma of the riders in the gang. Still, the speculations hits; “is it the right time to go up?”, “what if the guy is outside?” “and the pick up?”. The mind trying to play its tricks on us. Time to shut it down and start the ride.

Covered by the night we start riding up, in what will be next hour till we reach the goal for the night. Nobody says a thing. All silent we push our pedals up the hill protected by the darkness that sometimes, just sometimes, breaks due to the shiny city lights.

Down there, the city and the lights that won't break our darkness anymore. We still have to keep pushing up, and now, try to avoid the pick up that takes rounds from time to time. They want to cast out the probable intruders that sneaked through the only back door of the park. They are looking for us.

Covered by the night we make our way through the park, pushing uphill, alert to any sign of light in case we have to hide. We have to avoid the pick up that may block the pass and chase us down all the way to the exit doors. No way we want that. We are on a mission here and we need to summit.

We may get lucky as most times or we may not. Usually we reach summit and get our price; shinning lights all over the horizon. Distant sounds of cars, parties, people, buses, the monster called city. But the monster is down there and we are up here with the place only for us. Small tiny people existing down there not noticing in the monster they are living in, but we can notice for them. We are surrounded, trapped in the middle of shinny lights that have no end in the distance.

We are still half the way though. We still need to go down. Feel the the speed, the wind and the night. No lights will enlighten the road and show you the way. It's the bike, your instinct and you. For the new ones it gets hard at the beginning, some of them get tempted to turn on their lights and go slower as the way looks completely different once you go down. For the ones that have been doing this for a while, it's another successful night in which we got to be free. Far in the distant, like stars the city lights randomly show up through the trees. Nothing can stop us now, the pick up, the guards, some dogs, fuck them off, we already got to the top and we are paid for the job. It's time to go home. We sneaked in, and we sneak out. We don't really care anymore though.

We surf the now empty streets on our way home. We are the owners of the streets as few cars pass by on the late night streets. Slowly the gang dissolves as everyone takes their own roads home. It will be till a next night we say, we meet at Tom's den, where we will all gather to reach the top again.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Uncertainty no more.

On monday I went to talk to the diving guys. Their office is around 15 k away from Punta Arenas. As usual, I took my bike to place because still, after 2 weeks here, I have no idea how to take the buses. Walking and biking is the norm for me and I'll try to maintain it during the winter despite the ice and the wind, unless someone gives me a ride of course.

On my way to their offices I got the first sight of the hills behind the city covered with a thin layer of snow and small spots of snow here and there over the city. It's quite early for snow it seems and lots of folks are saying that this winter will be one of those we will remember in the future years. It snowed most of the morning and the wind was awfully cold. I couldn't help but think about those old days back in Norway and how happy the snow and the coldness make me. I felt like a small kid living the life and laughed like the mad guy I am.

After some minutes being lost, because I decided I won't look at maps anymore but will only ask people for guidance about finding places, I found the office of the diving guys. Patricio, friend with Kanaan received me at his office and showed me the equipment they use for the diving classes and told me a little about what they do and what they are currently working with. We talked about my journey to get here and how I wasn't sure about leaving for taking the course somewhere else. Coti, another of the guys who work for the diving company showed up and I got introduced to him. The usual talking kept on and then I mentioned how I would like to reach Antarctica if I stay around for the winter. Instantly Coti asked if I spoke english and if I knew how to cook, he asked for my number and told me he had some contacts that could have more information that may get me there. Wow, that was unexpected.

We kept talking for a bit more but my decision was already made, IpushPedals will go into hibernation mode for the winter and will turn into IdiveInTheStrait. They gave me so much information in so little time and told me about several places I could go that I felt I had to stay in the area for the winter and maybe a bit more in order to complete the diving courses I want to take. So if I stay in the area, the machinery to reach the white continent now will start to work in order to try to find a job for the next summer season. By then, if everything goes right IdiveInTheStrait will become IsailBoats, lol. But all of those are just ideas of the mind that are not worth of thinking yet. For now, I will stay in Punta Arenas, I will try to find a regular job and earn some money in order to pay all the courses that I will take and start diving by the end of may or the first weeks of june.

Funny thing, the diving courses are given during winter. Usually in the past years they gave the Open Water course in a swimming pool because the suits for that course are wetsuits which don't isolate that much from the coldness of the Magellan strait. This year though, the swimming pool is closed which means we will have to take the dives into the strait. I shall get ready for such experience, eating like a pig in order to gain some fat for my body. Good thing, I already took a swim in the strait to get a sneak peak of what's to come.

Everyone is in the right place at the right moment for some reason. Now that I look back, it's funny how I was lost in my mind and in imaginary things that weren't real at all and all of that jazz made me get confused and were guiding towards what I didn't want at all, for now. It's funny how when I decided I would stop thinking and picturing the future, deciding for things that still weren't real at all and instead I  would throw myself to life, everything changed for good. It's good that everything is clear now and that I am back in track. I guess I had to experience all of this uncertainty  in order to come back to the world of here and now. Good thing all is sorted. It's funny too to look back to the past week and realize how crazy one can go sometimes. I hope I don't forget the lessons.

Until then.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Lost in the mind, still in Punta Arenas.

It's funny how life goes on when you are somewhere you don't know, with some ideas that you would like to carry on but with not a clue on where to look for. It's funny how there is to learn to be patient and calmed and look around in the search of opportunities and just wait and hear what your guts, instinct, heart has to tell you to decide what to do. It's funny how easily I forget all these things and collapse in a world of decision making and start getting stressed out of nowhere because I need to know what's ahead. It's crazy to think that I know I shouldn't really get stressed by these things and how I know I have to hear what my guts tell me but still I forget all of it and fall into weird-ful thinking. It's funny how anxiousness ends up hitting me and guides me through the wrong paths. It was funny how I had to start talking to people to seek for some advice when I know I have to hear what my insides tell me instead of asking to others to tell me what my insides are telling them. I guess I still need more road time to tune my instinct and keep on with the learning on how to hear what the inner I has to say. Being surrounded by too many people disbalances me. Probably I have to learn how to live among people again.

I am about to start my third week here in Punta Arenas and I was about to leave this town for good as there was “nothing” to do. Still every morning I would wake up with the feeling of not leaving the city at all. Till today, I don't know why. It's quite weird considering Punta Arenas is just another city in the south of Chile and quite big for the Patagonia with no real attractive to a person like me. There is a mall, a huge tax free zone where you can buy lots of things, lots of shops in downtown, lots of people going and coming, lots of tourists in summer and winter, and still now, that winter is almost arriving, tourists coming and going. Still every time I take a walk next to the sea, or look up across the Magellan strait, or when I look up at the mountains, there is something that catches my eye. This city has something. Maybe it's the weather.

Still, not hearing at all this feeling I had decided I would go back north to Valparaiso and take a diving course there for the winter, then I would continue the pedaling north towards Perú and maybe to the Jungle across Brazil. Everytime I thought about buying the plane ticket and going through the process of organizing things to fly I would just feel lazy about it and would delay it mentally for the next day. Then in the evening I would feel anxious about leaving and with a weird do not leave sensation. Next day I would repeat the same. The idea of diving is damn amazing but once I picture myself going to Santiago and then to Valparaiso everything changes and procrastination hits.

I took the decision of going back because I got the answer from the ski center. They told me they didn't have money to hire me now so they could hire me in mid June. In the meantime a CEO of a big hotel wanted to talk to me and offer me some job. I went to him to talk about it and the offered me a position as a bellboy, but, I had to shave and cut my hair in exchange for minimum wage. The answer was simple, no fucking way. So after some fast thinking and being pressured by the starting date of the diving course in Valparaiso I decided I would leave. Still, 3 days later, I had no idea which day I would do it, and didn't feel at all like organizing things to leave.

Yesterday night, for some chances that life throw at us I met Kanaan again thanks to Alexandra and Bartosz. They are a couple of Polish bicycle tourers who are staying at the same hostal I am staying at. They invited me for a beer and to meet another bicycle tourer from Alaska who was on his way to Ushuaia. Knowing some of those bicycle tourers I asked what his name was, they told me it was something with K, like Kan, Kev, or something like that, I asked Kanaan? And they said YES!. What a surprise! Definetely I had to go and meet this man with who we had an awesome time at el Chalten.

Kanaan got quite surprised too and it was nice to meet again. He told me about his plan and his desire to maybe come back to Punta Arenas after reaching Ushuaia because for some unknown reason he liked the city a lot (sounds familiar). I told him what I was thinking but I wasn't feeling that sure about leaving the city for some reason and that as I didn't have much to do here I would probably leave, I mentioned him the diving course and this is when the shit hit the fan. He spent his stayance here in Punta Arenas with a diver who told him there is a course starting in the following weeks. The course is given during winter months and they dive at the Magellan strait and sometimes in the San Isidro Lighthouse. Uh?. Diving, San Isidro lighthouse, Magellan strait, winter. Click.

Kanaan told me he would send me an email with the email of the diving instructor so I can get to talk to him and check the information about the diving course. At the hostal they told me they have plenty of job to do for at least a couple of weeks so they have no problems in me staying around for some time till I figure out what to do. From what I've read the commercial diving license is valid only in Chile, on the opposite the license they give here is the PADI, not commercial, but valid everywhere in the world. For some reason I want to stay in the area and I think now I got some chance to actually do it. Probably I always had the chance but I was kind of blind thanks to the anxiousness. Tomorrow I will go and talk to the people and check what's gonna happen.

Until then.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Punta Arenas and the uncertainty

Several things happened this days I've spent here in Punta Arenas, from taking some days off the bike and hitch hiking to the southernmost point of the continental mass of land till having the bike checked several times because something was wrong with it. I have been thinking what to do with life for the winter season too. I wasn't supposed to get to Punta Arenas in the first place yet here I am. Last days have been kind of crazy but here is a brief of all that has been going on.

Faro San Isidro and the coldness.

Alejandra is from Punta Arenas but she left this city 10 years ago to study at the university in Temuco. She didn't know much of the area and one of the goal of coming back for her was to visit as much as possible before getting into a job so we teamed up in order to do some trekkings and get to know the area. Among all the places we visited we decided to take a trip to the last of the lighthouses in the american continent, the Faro San Isidro, located around 80 kilometers south of Punta Arenas.

Initially I thought about going by bike, but the bike was unrideable by that time so I took some days off the pedaling and decided we would walk our way to the lighthouse.

We left Punta Arenas with not much luck for hitch hiking, after around 15 kilometers of what someone picked us up and we made it before sunset to San Juan, a small village and the last of the villages south of Punta Arenas. We camped at a reddish forest next to a river and with a crazy level of humidity. It was kind of cold too so we tried to make a fire, unlucky us though, all branches, trees, and whatever it was lying around to make fire was so wet, that making the fire was impossible. I decided to make a fire with the nuclear, but even for the stove, the small twigs I found around were too wet to have a good fire, still, we are talking about the nuclear here, not your regular wood stove, so anyways, after sometime, I managed to make a steady fire that allowed me to drop in the wet twigs I had for cooking. With the leftover of the fire we tried again to do a huge fire, but it was impossible. Finally we gave up as it was really really cold and hit the tent to sleep.

We departed really late the next day, but we knew the lighthouse was 4 hours away from our starting point so we took it easy. When I say we departed late that day, it was really late, we woke up around 11 am and ended up leaving our camping place by 2 pm. It was quite weird to sleep that much. Despite having slept more than 10 hours I woke up feeling tired and spent the rest of the day feeling sleepy and with not much energy, quite weird considering I have really active days almost everyday when on the bike.

The walk went quite slow but steady nonetheless, still, we arrived to the lighthouse after sunset which made it kind of difficult to inspect the area and find a nice camping spot. I've been getting used to night talks anyways, and after a couple of rounds to the place I found a nice camping spot to spend the night. The next day would be tough and we needed to rest.

On the third day we were going to do what we were there for; take a swim in the cold Magellan strait waters. We decided this before leaving Punta Arenas, it was a must do once you reach the southernmost point of the continent. Lucky for us, there was kind of a clear sky and a good sun to warm the body, the bad thing, good weather means wind, and winds over here and not your regular warm wind, over here the wind is what makes everything cold. After not much of thinking, Alejandra went really slowly into the strait. I could hear some nonsense and swearing from the distance till her head disappeared under the cold waters. She came out being someone else and thanked the sea for the dive. Then something happened and she went into the water for a second time. Tough girl.

For me, the thing went quite different. As usual, and as the chicken that I am when it's about getting into cold waters, it took me a little longer to get into the strait. I slowly started taking out my clothes in order to get used to the cold winds, which were very cold indeed. Once naked I stared at the sea for a couple of minutes till I couldn't hold it any longer. I ran into the waters and the coldness hit my body at once. It was quite a surprise to notice that once in the strait, the water wasn't thaaat cold or at least that was the initial feeling. I took a small swim and headed back to the beach. It was then when I noticed my knees where purple and I couldn't feel my feet, every single finger was numb. Yep, the water was cold. Instantly after getting out of the water I started shivering and the cold winds splashed against my body. Slowly, because my body wouldn't allow me to move faster I dried myself and put all the clothes I could on. My feet were still numb. Alejandra was already inside a small hut we found and having chocolate to let the coldness go away. Despite the water being soo cold, I thought it would be much much worse. It wasn't that bad and the coldness helped a lot to wake up and get some energies.

After having some soup for lunch to warm up we went for some hiking and ended up doing a night trek, again. The landscapes at this latitude are simply amazing, and quite different from what I was expecting. North of Punta Arenas, the only thing you can find is pampa, but south of the city, trees and forests started to show up. It was quite weird even to see that what I thought would be red and orange colors on the mountains were still a strong green with no signs of going red soon. We reached the now, southernmost point of our walk, bahía del aguila. Quite special place. When we decided to go back to the lighthouse and the hut, the sun was already gone, night trek again. I'm getting kind of used to the night treks and have got some experience in order to not get lost in the woods when it's pitch dark, which is pretty good.

We came back on the fourth day and it didn't take us long to come back to civilization. After taking a bath in the Magellan strait when winter is almost here, you are ready to face whatever comes towards you, so the walk that took us 4 hours the second day, it took us around 2 on our last day. We reached San Juan really early and with such a luck that the first pick-up we saw that day picked us up and in no time we were back in Punta Arenas.

The bike is wrecked.

The rear wheel failed pretty badly before I arrived to town, besides having problems with the inner tube the wheel was also fucked. After a close inspection and having three different guys taking a look at it, they all agreed that I had to replace the wheel, the bad news, none of them had a replacement for me. It took me 4 days to finally find a place where they had an acceptable replacement 2 more days to find a place where they could do the job. Damn it's difficult to find people with enough knowledge about bikes in this latitudes!!. After having the wheel fixed I noticed that there is something wrong with the frame too and the inclination of the wheel, it's biased to one side which may be frame problem or the wheel being wrong, I am not sure and have not had more time to check it. I think I will have to wait till I reach some place with someone experienced who can give me a hand on fixing it.

And now what?

Well, by the time I am writing this I am still in Punta Arenas figuring out what to do. I wasn't supposed to reach this place from the beginning, I was supposed to turn towards Argentina south of Coyhaique and then head north to Buenos Aires to keep on north. But for some reason I came all the way south. I have options for the future but the season is coming fast and soon it will be really hard to keep on pedaling through this area. I could stay here in Punta Arenas though and spend the winter here, but that means getting a job doing something, living in the city is expensive and demanding. I've tried some options already, but so far, I haven't found something interesting to do. It's mostly regular jobs which don't seem interesting at all. Still I am waiting for a response from the ski center they have here in town, which sadly, is not a big thing. They don't have money for hiring now but still the administrator of the place told me she will talk to the main board in order to request budget to see if she can hire me or not. I have to wait for that response and see what I do with life.

Recently I moved from Ale's house to a hostel where I am taking care of some small things in exchange for food and accommodation. I was feeling kind of weird being so many days at Ale's not doing much for life, so I found out about this hostel that needed help and they happily said yes because they needed some things done. So far I've been painting things that needed to be painted and helping in general things around the house. Fair deal for me at least, I do some work in the morning till around 2 pm and the I have the rest of the evening free to do as I please, I get all the food I need plus Internet access. At least I'm feeling useful while I wait for the answer from the ski center.

So for the future, uncertainty is what rules my life. I have no idea what I will do or where I will end up during the winter, which is certain though is that the bike needs to be repaired and I need to do something with life for the winter, after that, it's most likely I will continue pushing pedals.

Till then.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Good bye Pampa and to Punta Arenas we go!

After three days of rest at El Calafate, I decided I had to keep on the move. Not much happened during our stay at the city but there was a possibility that Florencia would join Kanaan on a ride from El Chaten towards El Calafate. It took them longer than expected to leave El Chalten and I couldn't wait more, I had a weird urge to leave El Calafate and keep on the move. Connor decided he would wait another couple of days in the hope of meeting them again. Everyday we spent at El Calafate was colder than the day before, winter is coming fast now and I had to keep going.

Good bye Pampa Relaxo.

I said my farewells to Connor and departed from El Calafate with the goal of entering Chile near the Torres del Paine national park. For the fist day my goal was to make a 100k in order to take it easy the following days. I expected a flat road all the way so I should be done with it quite fast. I was wrong.

After around 50k a huge climb appeared in front of my eyes. An 8 kilometers climb called cuesta Miguez that took me exactly one hour to complete. I guess it's the only proper climb I could find at this side of the pampa. From then on everything went quite smooth for the rest of the day. Finally I got to experience the so feared winds of the pampa, lucky for me, after reaching the top of the climb I got it over my back which helped me to advance like mad. In no time I reached where I wanted to be for that day. Next day was pretty much the same.

View from half the climb of cuesta miguez.

I have no idea what's going on in this picture.

A dude next to the road.

On the third day things changed. After having a light storm during the night I woke up to face a strong headwind that would not let me pedal at all. It was a fantastic day though, sunny and blue skyes. As I slowly approached to where I would cross towards Chile clouds started to populate the skies. I would look towards the Chilean border and would see nothing but a huge mass of dark clouds covering the pass. Bad omens for someone on a bike. It was most likely it was snowing over there. On the Argentinian side, still a bright sun and blue skies. After some rethinking about crossing the border there I decided I would keep pushing on over the Argentinian side. At least I had nice weather.

I'm kind of getting used to people being wrong, and even me being wrong. In a matter of minutes the blue skies became grey skies and a light rain started to pour. Good thing, wind changed direction and now I had tailwind instead of headwind. Temperature started to low down suddenly and I started to freeze as rain started to become snow. I was going at the speed of light though, tailwind was doing its magic. From now on everything with the weather went from rain, to snow, to rain again, to snow again and so on till I finally reached Río Turbio, the coal mine town.

Initially I thought about calling it a day at Río Turbio, I was cold, I was wet, I was tired. As I entered the town I crossed through a huge coal refining factory right outside town, right next to the road. Heavy traffic was on the road too, something I hadn't seen in the whole pampa and not even in the carretera austral. I mean, I would have cars passing next to me every 5 seconds.

I crossed Río Turbio at the siesta time. It was 4 pm and nobody would be in the streets. Typical Argentina. As I crossed the town several dogs started to chase me in my slow pace through the hilly town, which by the way, was not nice to the view. Dirt all over the place, unmaintained buildings, and nobody in the streets didn't help to the sight either. I didn't glance any camping, hostel, shelter, albergue, or whatever where I could get a warm shower and some rest. What called my attention is that I started to see chilean plates on cards. I was really close to Chile.

Despite being tired, wet and freezing I decided I would continue the pushing towards the border. Ugly town didn't look friendly and something made just keep on. I reached the Argentinian border and they told me I was only 20 minutes away from Puerto Natales. It wasn't raining anymore and the sun showed up to greet me from above. I decided I would keep up despite having done over 100k already. I was 25k away from town and that shouldn't take me much and actually it didn't matter, I would get a bed for that night.

Done with the Argentinian border and done with the Chilean border. Time to do t he 25k. An awesome downhill showed up, straight and down which made me reach 70kms/h. The fastest so far of the whole trip. 70Kms/h is simply INSANE. Having side wind which kept me pushing me to the center of the road was more than dangerous, good thing is there weren't that many car on the road so I managed pretty well. Sad thing, the slope was over quite fast and once again and slow pace thanks to the strongest side wind ever. It took me around 2 hours to finally reach Puerto Natales where once again, the sun showed up to give me a warm welcome to the city. It was funny how the elements played tricks during that day for me.

Finally, Punta Arenas.

After a couple of days rest in Puerto Natales and not much going on in town as I had already been in that town some years ago I headed towards the last city I would visit in the south of Chile, Punta Arenas, the southernmost point I wanted to reach in this continent. When I decided I would keep on south to get some coldness I started picturing Punta Arenas and something told me I had to go that way, what for, no idea, just for the sake of it probably.

I left Natales with no bigger issues, I managed to do 100 on the first day of pedaling. In the morning of the second day of pedaling I woke up and noticed how the rear wheel had lost all the air. Finally a puncture I though. I proceeded to do the normal repair when I noticed the puncture was in the inner side of the inner tube. Shit. Bad sign. I checked the wheel but seemed to be ok. I fixed it and kept on. When I started the pedaling this second day there was no wind at all. After 1 hour all changed and again the strong patagonian wind hit my face. Head wind and after 30 kilometers I couldn't pedal anymore, it was simply impossible. I sat a while to get some rest when the rear wheel suddenly went flat again. Again!? Shit. I proceeded to fix again and once again in the inner side of the inner tube. Fuck. The wheel is fucked maybe? This time I changed inner tube for the last one I had, which to my bad luck, was fucked up too! Oh no, stranded in the kilometer 130 out of 240. Gladly I had some shelter.

Bus stop in the magallanes region.

What to do, wheel fucked up? Inner tube fucked up?... no possibility of repair... hitch hike then. I hitch hiked for around 2 hours but nobody stopped despite the fact I had the bike turned over and with no gear on. Finally a small truck stopped and asked what's wrong. I told my story and the driver agreed to take me to Punta Arenas. After arriving to the city I tried to fix the wheel again, but I kept getting punctures in different parts of the inner tube which lead me to think that the inner tube is death due to being so long time stored inside the pannier or at least I hope it is that and not the wheel the one fucked up.

Looking at the Magellan strait.

I called Alejandra, a friend of my cousin who told me could host me for some days in Punta Arenas. Again to my luck for this weekend, she lives far away from downtown up a hill. I had to push the bike all the way up to her place where finally I got some rest after a really really bad luck day. But so it goes, some days are good, some days are bad, some days are the worst days ever and then again the road provides with some solutions. I am now at a house where I got a nice welcome and going to spend some days here trying to fix the bike and check what the heck is wrong with the wheel. I also realized that the road south keeps going some more kilometers, around 60, so I may take the bike over there or maybe hike over there, with not that much weight though and maybe will camp a couple of days there to experience the coldness of the Magellan strait and its weather. Reaching the southernmost point of the road was my goal, and there I should go. I have to fix the bike first though.

Until then.


Friday, April 11, 2014

The pampa relaxo, mall city and sneaking our way towards the glacier.

As we departed from El Chalten, weird feelings were with us. The happiness of hitting the road again, the sensation of complete freedom embracing us that would lead us towards the unknown. But also the more good times we would have had, had we stayed at Florencia's, everything mixed created a really weird feeling. Still, at least for my part, the itch to move, and the red warning showing up in the hills made me decide to leave that day. It was hard as usual, leaving Florencia's is so damn difficult!!!! But we managed. We departed with Connor with the goal of reaching the city of El Calafate and get to visit the Perito Moreno glacier. The glacier of glaciers. One glacier to rule them all. The one that if you see, then you are allowed to skip any other glacier that crosses your path, or so the tales said. So many people spoke about this damn piece of ice that I had to go there and check if the tales were real. Getting there would mean a detour from my initial plan, but once again, who the fuck cares about time! The only thing that matters here is that winter is coming.

The Fitz Roy in the background, El Chalten somewhere over there. Such great times.

A gringo puto riding away from El Chalten.

La Pampa Relaxo.

Everybody scared me about the pampa. Everybody told me how the winds would stop you and forced you to pedal only 30 or 40 k per day. Everybody would tell me how I had to plan my trips in order to avoid wasting food days and water days and how with tailwind it was so easy to pedal more than 100k in 4 hours. Everybody would also say how after leaving El Chalten, the tail wind would make its magic and I would be instantly in the crossing with the ruta 40. And once again, as the weather guy, everybody was soooooo damn wrong. Nature has no rules!

Right after we left El Chalten, a light head wind crashed with our faces. It went from light to light-strong in the matter of 10 or 15 k and kept like this till we reached the route 40.

Some people say that we are at the right time in the right moment when we are doing things like traveling the world. In this case, I strongly agree, 30 k after leaving el Chalten one of my spokes decided it had had enough and broke. I stopped and yelled to Connor that my spoke had broken. We stopped for lunch and also to repair my rearwheel. I tried both spokes I had and none fitted my bike. What the fuck?. Connor said they were probably too short for my wheel so I tried one of his spare spokes and magic. Worked. Had I been alone in the pampa I would have had to hitch hike my way back to El Chalten or just wait for the birds to do their job with my corpse. Still, Connor had the right spokes and he was there and then. Also is funny how after, mmmh, let say, 4000 kilometers, after crossing the whole hellish roads of carretera austral and when being in the nice and best paved road I could be riding on, one spoke broke, shit happens sometimes I guess.

Bikes and Pampa.

After some 70 or so kilometers we reached the crossing with Ruta 40. The so known road that would take us south. We knew of an abandoned pink house in which every cyclist would sneak in to spend the night. We still had to 30k more to go and it was already sunset time. Riding the 30k would mean to ride at night and risk not to see the pink house over the road. Some hitch hikers approached us from the distance and told us about a small cover in the area and asked if we wanted to camp there. We checked the place and it looked ok to spend the night. The hitch hikers asked again, "do we meet here then?", we said yes. Something wasn't right here. Why would hitch hikers ask us to go and camp with them at some spot they knew of beforehand, and then try to make sure we would join them (?) Maybe nothing was wrong and they were being nice, but instinct would tell me that something was wrong here.I asked Connor for his opinion and he also thought it was weird behavior. We are sorry lads but we keep on! Without even making and effort in telling them we kept on for our night ride.

Finally, after 1 or so hour of pedaling in complete darkness we found a nice and perfect spot to spend the night. A sewer tunnel. Perfect shelter for the cold night and the dew that falls in the pampa at night. Good protection from the sight of drivers and also perfect cover for the wind. 106 kilometers for the first day of pampa was not bad at all, it reminded me of the old days over central Chile where I would pedal nearly the 100k everyday. In contrast, in the carretera austral, the norm would be to be around the 50k or top, 60k. I still remember that path near La Junta, such a hell. This pampa, despite all the horrid tales, was pretty much fine!! Connor even called it La Pampa Relaxo in a noticeable broken spanish.

Perfect bed.

Bike on sight.

Stealth enough!

Towards El Calafate, the Mall city.

Second day of Pampa went quite straight as the first one, a bit more of head wind but nothing really to care. We payed a visit to the pink house and made what we had to do, write our names on the wall. It was nice also to see how other people I've met had put their names there too, Jerome and Stephane from France, in Colombia now, Jacque and Kayla from the states on their way back north, John from england who may be somewhere here in the south, some lads I met while coming south, and many others. 

Connor proud of being the only irish on the wall.

Another day of pedaling at La Pampa Relaxo was done and we spent a nice evening and camping day under a bridge. Hell we even found water every now and then. Tales would talk about couple of hundred of kilometers with no water at all, still couple of rivers on the way where to fetch water from and kept on with the day.

Finally on the third day after we had left the so lovely town of El Chalten we arrived to El Calafate. The intrance was a long downhill to what it seemed to be quite a big town from the distance. After 3 or so kilometers downhill we reached downtown and a complete shock for us bicycle tourers who had spent the last couple of months in small and quiet cities.

Where the hell am I? I asked myself for a second. Suddenly, everything that was around me were stores selling whatever they could sell you; food, souvenirs, clothes, jam, chocolates, books, posters, tours, equipment, more souvenirs, bars here, there, over there restaurants, there too, more souvenirs, A CASINO!!!!!!! WHAT IS THIS!?!?!?!?!?.

So many bright signs surrounded the city, so many people walking through the streets, so many business all around and the sound of the city once again hiting our hears, cars driving by, honking now and then, and the funny look of tourists and locals who probably had seen bicycle tourers before but still got amazed by the funny look of a guy riding his bike with all that load.

We did what we had to do in the city, have a beer, get internet access, buy groceries and get the hell out of town. Priorities man. We kept on and left the city at sunset, instantly after leaving the city the awful sounds went away and the relaxed and quiet pampa was back. We kept on for another 15 k in darkness till we reached a bridge with an amazing camping spot where we would spend the night before approaching the glacier.

The bridge where we camped.

In a mission to Perito Moreno Glacier.

The goal was simple, we knew the rangers would charge us a crazy amount of money to get into the national park, we knew it would be around the ARG$200 for taking a couple of pictures and spending around 1 hour looking at a big piece of ice and get out of the park. With those ARG$200 we could certainly have an awesome meal at some fancy restaurant or buy food for at least a whole week on the road, so definitely we wanted to avoid that payment at the entrance of the park. For this we would try to get as close as possible to entrance and stealth camp in order to start the pedaling before the rangers wake up and start working.

We started the day quite late as we knew we wouldn't pedal that much, Connor got ahead as I got delayed by taking pictures of a bird. After around 25 k I saw Connor on his way back with some more info from a guy he met ahead who worked at the national park. We had just passed the last bridge with water till the glacier, and as the guy told Connor, with possibilities for camping as it is forbidden to camp inside the park. We were still 33 k away from the glacier and wondering where the gates to enter the park would be.

We sat for a while and had some tea and cookies because it was 4 pm. After getting tons of water we departed again with the idea that the gates would be around 10 k away from the glacier. Little did we know but after pedaling a small uphill and around 10 minutes we faced a huge wooden sign in which it was possible to read; “Welcome to Los Glaciares National Park”. Holy cow! The entrance to the park lays 30 k away from the glacier. So that was the reason the guy told Connor that the bridge was THE spot for camping and THE spot for fetching water. It was 5 pm, and it was meaningless to try to sneak at this time, it gets dark around 7 pm in the pampa and in 2 hours with that wind we wouldn't make it to the glacier with daylight. Still, I wanted to go to the gates and check if what other cyclist were saying was true, the ARG$200 fee to visit the park.

I approached to the entrance really slowly as Connor waited for me back there in order to no be seen by, probably, the same guy who had seen him before. As I approached someone came out from the rangers office where there was a huge stop sign and another sign stating “here you pay”. I talked to the guy and noticed the difference in the prices for locals, argentinians, memebers of the MERCOSUR and others. Locals would pay ARG$30, argentinians ARG$40, members of the mercosur ARG$150 and others, which included Irish and Chilean citizens would pay ARG$215. The ranger also told me that they opened the park at 8 sharp so I could show up at that time and pay my fee to get into the park. Of course man!. I asked him where I could camp. He basically gave me the same info Connor had been given. I said till tomorrow and went back my way.

We went back to the same bridge once again and decided we would wake up at 5 am and sneak our way in latest at 6 am in order to reach the glacier even before they opened the park. Night rides are getting kind of the norm these days. I decided I would just bivybag for that night as setting up the tent would make me loose time in the morning. Some sand would be used as a mat to not feel the hard surface under the bridge. Nothing else but to chill for the rest of the evening and go to sleep early in order to wake up for the night early ride.

Sneaking in, sneaking out.

We woke up at 5 am sharp, we got our things ready quite fast and after a fast and light breakfast which consisted in cookies and Dulce de Leche we got ready to sneak in into the park. 5.50 am and we were on the bikes ready for the night ride. Not a single shit we would see but the barely noticeable white line on the sides of the road that pointed out we were getting close to the edge. Nontheless the riding started smoothly and in no time we were at the entrance.

We slowed the pace, checked the surroundings for any lights or sound but nothing could be heard. Nothing at all but the sound of the tires hitting the pavement as we advanced over the road. Like spies on a secret mission we sneaked in through the entrance of the park exactly at 6 am in a pitch dark night and nobody wouldn't even imagine we were there and then.

After a couple of hundred meter AC/DC started to sound in my mini personal speaker, at the pace of the Black Ice album we kept for the next 30 k of the night ride towards the glacier.

Dawn arrived at 8, and by that time, we were already at the start of the stairs and ramps that guide you to see the glacier, pictures will tell you if it is amazing or not. As we had planned we made some sandwiches and enojoyed the view for a while, just for a while, because then, around 1 hour later after our arrival, tourists started to pack the place with lots of noises and picture taking that destroyed the real essence and vibe of the place. If you ask me, the glacier is great, worth seeing in its magnifiscence, but the place is so touristic, so invasive with nature, and so packed with people, that is not a place where I would like the spend a couple of hours just contemplating nature. I think the place looks more like a theme park where you can walk over the ramps and look at nature and take pictures to then just leave for mall town again or if you fancy, have a fancy dinner at the super expensive restaurant they have next to the ramps, or buy some souvenirs from the glacier's shop. Nature made business. Still, we spent around 1 hour peacefully till the place got packed, so we started phase two of the mission, leave the park.

Our way to leave the park would be hitch hiking, or at least, that is what we had planned. We moved to the parking lot in the hope of finding some pick ups that would bring us back to El Calafate and out of the park. Sadly, as it was still early in the morning, not that many people with private means of transportation where in the place but mostly huge busses full of tourists. We decided to move to another point in the hope of catching more rides and we sat there waiting for the hoped ride out of the park. After 3 hours, nothing really happened. I decided it would be better to walk a bit and not wait right outside the parking lots, but that didn't work either. At 3.30 pm and without lunch we decided just to pedal our way out of the park.

The tail wind in the afternoon made its trick and in no time we had advanced the 30 k and out of the park. When we crossed the entrance, nobody looked at us or yelled at us or anything at all, or at least I didn't hear anything. I didn't even look to the office where the ranger was supposed to be, I just kept on pushing as if I had paid my fee to get in. As the time passed the wind got stronger and stronger so I decided I would push the extra 50k towards the city and pay for camping and have a descent meal. We had had only sandwiches in the morning and nothing else during the rest of they day. We never thought it would be so hard to find someone to pick us up. With such a wind, my estimation to reach the city was 2 hours. Quite optimistic but the tail wind gave me faith on it. Connor told me he was thinking in camping under a bridge 15k away for the city, but my mood plus the hunger didn't want me to do that and I wanted to reach the city at any cost to eat properly. I get anxious when I'm hungry. Connor said he would try to reach the city too in the hope of a massive meal. After 15 minutes, Connor was a small point in the distance, after 1 hour I wouldn't see him anymore. He was somewhere back in the distance.

The pedaling got so easy with such a tail wind that I kept a 30 kms/h pace for most of the way back to the city. At 7 pm sharp I had made the 50k and I was entering the city on my way towards the camping spot. I was starving so I bough some cookies. By this time I thought that Connor hadn't made it to the city and had decided just to camp under the bridge, suddenly he showed up over the bike looking like a zombie, not knowing what to do or where to go but trying to find a spot where to rest for the eternity. Temptation was next to us though, a huge lamb was being barbecued in the restaurant at the camping. Asado patagonico. We were starving so I told Connor we deserved a huge ass meal and we went for in an asado rampage that night.

Mission completed with success! We made it to the glacier and back without paying the fee and getting our bellies full at the end of the day. Such a long day, from 5 am to midnight with just a couple of sandwhiches in the belly. It was definetely worth it though, more than being at the glacier, the day as a whole was pretty darn cool.

Full bellies, tired as hell, time for rest and till then.