There are two types of travellers in the world – some who judge a place through the experiences of others and the others who form their opinions through their own experiences. During my ride around the world I have learned to ask for other travellers’ advice but have always looked at a place through the prism of my own experiences.
I had heard a lot about Patagonia – about its natural beauty, its fierce wind, bitter cold and how expensive it was! I’d been told that Patagonia would be too cold and I’d not be able to set up my tent on a campsite. I was told that the winds were so strong that I would not be able to ride. Some people actually suggested that I take highways instead of Routa 40, just to cross into Patagonia!
I am very clear about why I am doing this ride. Sure, there will be difficulties that I will encounter but that has never stopped me before. Their ‘advice’ made me even more determined to explore beautiful Patagonia on my own terms.
After crossing the Chile border, there is a 24km stretch of no-man’s land until you reach the Argentina border. This stretch is heaven on Earth. You can see snow, several lakes, beautiful mountains and very unique trees. Through my journey from Puehuye to Baja Caracoles, I kept stopping every few minutes because the surroundings were so pretty that I just could not resist. The yellow flowers that framed these roads had to be seen to be believed. I could even smell their fragrance through my helmet. Truly magnificent.
I started my ride through Patagonia on a very positive note and was excited about what experiences I was sure to have in the coming weeks! I decided to make a halt just before Baja Caracoles, as I could not just pass through without absorbing more of this magical place. I stopped in a very small town and found a camping ground that had many other back packers and travellers. I went inside and found a nice green spot for me to set up my tent. The fee for using the camp ground was $16 per night – nearly the same as what I would pay for a room in Colombia or Peru or Bolivia.
At the campsite, I met Marco and Jonathan, two travellers from Italy and Switzerland. They were in their mid-twenties and were travelling though Patagonia. They were travel addicted just like me and worked to earn money, just to spend on their travels each year! We ended up being tent neighbours. The best part about having a neighbour from Italy and Switzerland, was that I got pasta that night and awesome coffee in the morning. We had similar interests, were on the same wavelength and had the same sense of humour. Marco and Jonathan were great fun and I would love to meet them again somewhere, someday soon. The next day I got ready to leave for El Calafate, while the boys got ready to head to El Chalten.
So far, I was lucky with the weather – nice sunny days and chilly nights, not too much rain and the wind was manageable for the first couple of days. My ride on Routa 40 was very enjoyable – though there were no hotels, nor proper restaurants. I usually set up my tent close to a police station or a petrol pump. The nights were cold, but bearable. When I say bearable, you have to believe it, as everyone knows that I have zero tolerance for cold weather. Though my resistance to cold seems to be evolving.
It can be a little tricky for bikes with a small fuel tank like mine, which can hold just enough fuel for rides up to 250km. I have to always make sure that I don’t miss any petrol pumps that are located between 150km and 250km from each other. There are times that I have had to take a detour to a small town just to refuel! Knowledge of the location of the next petrol pump is of prime importance and you need to mark these on your GPS map. There have been a couple of times that Nutella (my bike) flashes her reserve fuel warning – and while it keeps flashing for 50km sometimes, I keep praying that she doesn’t run dry before we make it to the next petrol pump. She has been an awesome girl right through our ride!
I met several riders along the way and they all told me that I could not leave Patagonia without visiting Mount Fitzroy. So I changed my charted plan and rode to El Chalten instead. After seeing Mount Fitzroy, I strongly recommend a visit by all travellers in the region. And the best part is, I met Marco and Jonathan once again and we stayed in the same hostel for a couple of days!
After absorbing the beauty of El Chalten, it was time for me to head to El Calafate to view the world famous glaciers at Los Glaciares National Park. I rode directly to the park, paid 500 pesos and entered at 5pm. The ride to the Perito glacier from the park entrance was nearly 30km. And when I reached, there were absolutely no people around as the tourist buses visit here only between 10am and 5pm. It felt like my very own personal glacier!
I walked along a beautiful pathway that has been constructed for tourists. When I reached the Perito glacier, I was speechless. I had never seen something like that in my life. I was awestruck by this quiet and huge mountain of ice. The silence of the evening was only broken by the sound of ice calving off the glacier. I spent a few hours there, but decided to leave before it got too dark, windy and cold! On the way, I met Carlos a fellow biker, who owned a hostel in El Calafate. I got his address and headed towards his hostel and found it very comfortable for bikers and travellers. There I met a Brazilian biker too, who unfortunately had to abandon her ride due a fractured ankle caused by a fall on loose gravel.
After I left El Calafate, I encountered wind! I now truly understand what people are talking about when they refer to the Patagonia wind. Battered by winds that can reach speeds of 70 – 80kmph and hit you from the front and the sides, I must admit, it is scary. You really have to use all your skills and presence of mind, to maintain your balance when riding. Fortunately, I made it safely to Rio Gallenos – riding through rain, fierce winds, gravel and slush! When I was in El Chalten, the manager at Hostel Franco, offered me lodging at his mother’s house when I was in Rio Gallenos. The lovely family gave me a bed to stay for the night.
The next day, I rode towards Rio Grande. It was a cold day, but the wind was not as crazy as I had encountered the day before. I reached the town centre and tried to find a place to camp or a hostel to stay. My map showed that Hostel Routa 40 was quite near, so I headed in its direction. When I reached there, I found out that the hostel was closed for renovations. However, Guillermo Fabian, the hostel owner, said that if I was okay with the current situation of the hostel, I could stay the night. I immediately took up his offer, as it was raining and was bitterly cold. I parked my bike and got inside a beautiful warm house for a steaming cup of coffee.
The next day, before I left, I enquired about the bill. He said that he had checked the ‘Ride To Be One’ Instagram posts and he got to know that I had just gotten married. He said that my night’s stay and breakfast was free – it was his wedding gift to me! I can’t tell you how amazing it is to meet kind and supportive people along my journey.
And, I am finally here in Ushuaia – at the end of the world. Having covered more than 60,000km, riding through 25 countries in 4 continents, a world that seemed so huge when I started my ride 10 months ago, suddenly seems so tiny. If I could reach from India up to this point, I believe I can achieve anything!
Words by Maral Yazarloo