South America | Chile | Chilean Patagonia – Point of No Exit
I did take the bus down from El Calafate to Puerto Natales in Chile and other than the last fifty kilometers inside the Chilean border, it turned out to be the right choice. The scenery from El Calafate is just endless Steppe which I have already seen plenty of and will see more. Puerto Natales is a decent enough little town – mainly a fishing port and a center of tourism in their summer. Its more or less mandated by law that the tour buses have to bring the tourists there on their way to Torres Del Paine National Park and then not have any availability of buses until the next day. It gets people staying in the beds and shopping at the stores in town.
Anyway – it was New Year’s Eve and around eleven or so I thought I should go out for a quiet drink at the local bar. Hoping I’d get in I went down the street to a place mentioned in my guide. Looking in, there were three women who looked like they worked there playing cards at the bar. I opened the door and asked if they were open.
They were open but there was not another soul in the place except for a guy working behind the bar who turned out to be an englishman who moved there five years ago. In the span of three months he had made his decision, fell in love, got married and opened the business. According to him the place was usually jumping at midnight – especially new years’ eve – but not tonight.
And so it was a strange kind of quiet new year with the bar owner giving me first a jello shooter, then some champagne, them a home made hot pepper vodka shooter along with the beer I had ordered on arrival. A lot more people eventually did show up around 12:30 or so. Maybe that’s latin time new year. The next day I saw some posters for a few special parties that were going on outside the bars and having had a few more drinks than planned just spent the day in Puerto Natales.
The family that owned the campground invited both Jinn, the Japanese cyclist and myself for New Year’s Day Dinner and I believe there was a private joke going on in the family about me and then there was the fact that I was from the home of Santa Claus – at least that’s what I was told.
More cyclists showed up later including one from Germany who had cycled down from Canada starting with a circle loop of British Columbia in January of 2005. Yes – that’s right – January! Check out his website (in German):
So it was January 2nd when I finally set off and cycled just over a hundred kilometers through mostly Steppe landscape and among more foxes to a small place called Chico Morro, stopping at a restaurant for dinner and being invited to camp on the grounds. Jinn from Japan and Michael from Germany stopped in, but left before I was invited to stay, so I don’t know where they ended up. The next morning I turned off the main road to a pretty good dirt road to a place called Rio Verde and camped in the most amazing place on an ocean inlet. It had rained on me on the way but once I was there the seas became calm and smooth – most beautiful! The morning ride was also quite nice with a good tailwind and some condors in the sky. There were also a lot of Darwin’s Rheas (big emu type birds) along the road, but the day turned a bit harsher in the afternoon with strong crosswinds and then headwinds before I finally lost a bolt that holds my rear rack up. I found a type of replacement, but needed to do something better about it in Punta Arenas.
And then there was Punta Arenas where I really didn’t want to go, but simply camp before the town and then take the boat across to Tierra Del Fuego, but that was not to be. I missed whatever campsite there was on the way into town and then fought the wind downtown to a hostal called Paradiso for 8000 pesos where I was awoken more than a few times during the night by other hostal stayers who had gained a great proficiency in slamming doors and talking loudly in the early hours of the morning. in the morning I arrived at the ferry to find that the schedule changes every fifteen days and despite all the local information I received there was indeed no morning boat. In the afternoon after fighting the wind to the terminal, I found that due to bad weather there was also no boat, so it was back to la punta de no salida to find some new shelter and it would be the Hostal Roza for a little bit more money but still quite reasonable at 13000 pesos or 26 USD.
So now I’m a little ticked off with being stuck in this little city even though its only for one day. I’m killing time here in Punta Arenas(literally translated to mean Sandy Point), Chile and thought I’d pass on some observations about South America in general and some difference between the countries. Notice that I’ve used the term ‘in general’ and that is in and of itself notice that there will be some gross generalities here, but in general these are some of the things that I’ve found to be true…and sometimes annoying…and sometimes surprising. And remember that I’m operating on almost no sleep, so I’m a…I´m a little cranky.
I’ve noticed that there are police and soldiers everywhere, or at least it seems that there are police and soldiers everywhere – except where there’s absolutely nobody which is quite a few places. In town centers there will be several police on every streetcorner, especially in the tourist areas. Along the highways, there are police checkpoints. In Argentina, we had to pull over twice in our bus several hundred kilometers from the border and get off for a passport check and luggage inspection. I think that was a search for drugs. In La Paz, Bolivia, there are riot police all around the area near the presidential palace – same goes for Lima Peru. They have barricades leaning against the buildings. And if there is a demonstration, they’re ready. The tear gas is out and ready to fire. How often do you see a soldier in Canada? Or a police officer for that matter?
I’ve also noticed that there really is a thing called Latin Time and forgive me if I’m telling the same old story as before. For instance, a bus I was going to take one day was due at 3 p.m., but on arrival at the departure point they told me that it would probably arrive around three thirty more or less (mas o menus in spanish). So I went for a walk and hustled to make sure I was back in time. I think the bus actually arrived at around four thirty or five o’clock.
And then there’s the bank machines and the banking system at least in Argentina for that matter that can be baffling at times. It’s the first time that I’ve been in not one, but four countries in a row outside of the USA that all have bank machines where you can take out US Dollars. I can’t imagine that going on in Europe or Canada, or even in the USA being able to take out a foreign currency from a local ATM. Maybe you can and I just don’t know about it! In Argentina, the banking system has to contribute to the entire economy being in a slowdown. It took me over an hour to cash a traveller’s check at a cost of over $6 USD per $100 check(cheque in Canadiense). I’m told that when a person in Argentina needs to pay there phone bill, they also take over an hour in the line-up, so how many people are standin in a line-up in Argentina every single day waiting to pay their telephone bill? How much time is spent by the entire nation of Argentina in a year by people just simply paying their telephone bills – all on account of a really slow and expensive banking system?
And why is it in Chile that they make a new schedule for their ferries every fifteen days? How can people know with any regularity when the boats are going to sail? And why doesn’t anybody know this other than the company that operates the ferries? And why can’t I make a new reservation at the counter where I’m told the ship is cancelled and instead have to go to the office in town to do that?
And why is it that there are frequently places to take a number for service, but no sign to tell you to do it, and then they almost hide the place where the number is shown and don’t bother to call it out loud?
People here in the parts of South America that I’ve been to seem to be pretty nice, but I would have to say that the Bolivian people are the nicest, followed by the Argentinian, then the Peruvians and finally the Chileans. The Peruvians are the people who seem to be the most likely to be found drunk at nine o’clock in the morning and the Bolivians the most likely to be found face down in the park or on the street corner at 10 o’clock. The Peruvians don’t even think about going out until after 11 or 12 or 1 or eveb 2 – same goes for Bolivia and then crawl home around 10 in the morning.
The Argentinian food seems to be the best and the most European influenced, the Chilean the most American influenced with Hamburgers and Pizza available in most places I’ve seen in the south, the Bolivian food seems to be the worst quality overall and the Peruvian food just a bit better than that. For awhile I had resigned myself to the factr that there was no good bread in either Bolivia or Peru and then once in each country I found some that was actually almost decent. I have resigned myself to the fact that there isn’t any good coffee in the south of Chile – no not even the espress(o).
My favorite stuff is still a decent empanada and I do like the big Menu Libre Parillas that I’ve seen and eaten at. It’s a big buffet with a barbeque of lamb, beef, chicken and sausage.
Its true that in Chile you will think that you know even less spanish than you did before. First of all they make up their own words for stuff that doesn’t exist outside of Chile in any form of the language. The they talk a mile-a-minute, so you are totally lost. And in Argentina there’s the sh sound unique to its country for double ‘L’ and y and a few other shounds making for some adjustments in speaking the new language.
And what about roadsigns and streetsigns? I understand it being a luxury in small towns in a country like Bolivia, but in Chile and big cities in Argentina?
And here’s something I’d like to know: Where do people stop putting toilet paper in the toilet and start putting it in a bin? Is it in Mexico? Just where is it?
Oh well – here’s some cycling road reports:
Mon Jan 2 (during ride) Low 10 high 26 and mostly cloudy
From: Puerto Natales to Chico Morro
Total: 109 kms paved
Avg.: 18.8 max 48.7
Ridetime: 5 h 47 m
Sleeping at: Chico Morro Cafeteria out back in a nice sheltered spot
Comments: Easy cycling day – scenery not that great – saw four foxes – two dead tow alive, one that seemed to skip down the road in front of me for about minute before heading off into the brush. Some wind and rain in the afternoon. Some interesting sverely windblown trees and a couple of nice lakes along the way. Mostly flat after a climb out of P.N. and then rolling hills.
Tues Jan 3 (during ride) Low 16 high 24 and mostly cloudy – some rain
From: Chico Morro to Rio Verde
Total: 85 kms
Avg.: 16.5 max 42.5
Ridetime: 5 h 6 m
Sleeping at: Seasise near giant squid sculpture near Rio Verde
Comments: Headwinds most of the day. Rain in the late afternoon. Ashphalt and gentle rolling hills for first 52 km, then good ripio road with nice scenery. Morning scenery was “thinking scenery” aka endless steppe. Along ripio road down to sea some flamingoes and just bfore Tehuelche lots of Darwins Rheas.
Wed Jan 4 (during ride) Low 16 high 24 and partly sunny. Windy.
From: Rio Verde to Punta Arenas
Total: 94 kms
Avg.: 16.7 max 55.2
Ridetime: 5 h 37 m
Sleeping at: Hostal Paradiso (8000 pesos shared bath) Didn’t work for me but it is actually a pretty good place.
Comments: 1st 10k hardly any washboard – next 15 newly packed and sprayed semi-surfaced, then 10k newly graded with tailwind. Rest of the ride on pavement with classic Patagonian headwinds and crosswinds. Lost a bolt that holds my rear rack up, found a replacement in my gear after about an hour of trying different options.
Thurs Jan 5 Low 14 high 22 Rainy and windy
From: Punta Arenas to Ferry and back again and there and back again!
Total: 30 km
Avg.: 13 max 26.8
Ridetime: 2 h 19 m
Climbing: 98 m
Sleeping at: Hostal Roza for 13000 ($26 USD) Private bath and TV, towls and the whole lot!
Comments: Have nicknamed Punta Arenas la punta de no salida (point of no exit) and la punta de no regressor (point of no return)
The boat to Porvenir schedule changs every fifteen days, something that escapes both the guidebooks and the locals attention. Bike shop near plaza has some bolts and parts but no service and in theory you are not supposed to even bring your bike into the shop, but they let me because it was not busy in the morning.