Cerro Castillo (Chile) to El Calafate (Argentina)

Day 1 Cerro Castillo to Police station

Full steam ahead! An incrediable 93km today. Almost a world record for us.

We left early morning and headed straight to the Chilean border. Managed to get stamped and on our way really quickly. The road at this point was dirt but not too bad. At the Argentinian border we met another cyclist heading inthe same  direction, a Catalonian from Barcelona. He had flown to Punta Arenas, bought a bike and was on his way to Peru. Brave soul!

We carried on for a further 6km on this undulating dirt road. When we reached the main road it was heaven, with the famous Patagonian wind behind us, we managed 40km in 1 and a half hours before stopping at a petrol station for junk food. Oh, we also met another couple cycling the same route.

Turning off the main road on to the so called short cut the surface of the road was atrocious. Full of huge rocks, pot holes filled with water/mud and very corrugated. Vanessa’s Brookes saddle sure got a workout. We had to keep stopping to check our panniers. We managed another 40km on this road, which took us 5 and a half hours and we felt every bump. There were no buildings or shelter for 30km. We had our hearts set on the only marked building on mapme, where we hoped to get some shelter for the night. This was marked as a police station next to  river. We met an English girl cycling in the opposite direction with only her headphones for company. We stopped and had a chat and wished her well (knowing how bad the road and head wind would be for her). Once we arrived we scanned around. No one seemed to occupy the premises, so we quickly pitched our tent next to the building.

Abandoned police station
Regular river dish wash
Day 2 Police Station to Rio Bote

Setting off early the weather was relatively calm, with a slightly favorable wind, which was just as well as the dirt road continued to be atrocious. We had consolation in the fact that we had already covered the worst of it, although we found the going pretty slow due to some very wet sections. At one point Vanessa got another soaking from a pot hole via an inconsiderate driver but we were determined to knock off the 30km left of the road before lunch.

At around noon we reached the main road and took shelter behind a large service station at the intersection where we planned to make lunch. There we found 3 other bikers, from the US, Torry, John and a guy from Alaska whose name we didnt catch (apologies if you are reading this blog). They had sheltered there overnight and were making a late (apparently typical) start to the day. They planned to cycle the same 70km dirt road we had just finished, in the opposite direction (into the wind,). We did our best to warn them just how poor the road was and that it may be quicker to cycle the extra 60km on the main road. However they still seemed keen on taking the road to hell. Only when they wheeled out their bikes from the shed did we realize why…they had the biggest fat boy tyres we had ever seen on touring bikes…even so, the mud would still make the going slow. We bid them good luck and, after eating lunch, headed on our way.

We made steady but slow progress on the main road with an increasing side wind. The road was a gradual incline for a couple of hours. Around mid afternoon we started to tire. For a while Jon bungeed a couple of Vanessa’s panniers onto his back rack to help with progress. Our aim for the night was an abandoned yellow house, approx 50km before El Calafate, which had been recommended as a resting spot by a cyclist the previous day, but shortly before it we spotted a sign advising of a steep descent for the next 8km. We couldn’t believe our luck, as we free wheeled at high speed down towards the amazingly blue Lago Argentino in the valley below. Approximately half way down the hill we spotted the house and stopped for a look. It was, to say the least, with no floorboards. We decided that with another 4km downhill in front of us we should carry on for a short while longer and the small hamlet of Rio Bote marked on the map.

A short while later we rolled into Rio Bote, having covered a good distance for the day and leaving only a shortish 40km to cover to El Calafate next day. We established very quickly that its not really a hamlet but rather a river, some beatiful trees and a very basic tin house. We walked our bikes off the road towards the house and were greeted by 2 dogs who barked loudly until the owner appeared from the house. We asked if we might pitch our tent on his land? He introduced himself as Jose Gonzales and said we were welcome to as long as we left no rubbish and explained that previous campers had left empty bottles etc.

Jose Gonzales such a sweet man
After assuring him that we were good citizens he mellowed and invited us into his home for some mate. We offerred to cook him dinner as we had more than enough food. We spent the night eating, drinking mate and talking (in Spanish)…actually Jose did almost all the talking and we tried to get a word in…but we guessed he was glad to have our company. We said goodnight at a late hour (for us) and walked the 50m to our tent beside the river for a good night’s rest.
Day 3 Rio Bote to El Calafate

After a restful night we rose for a relaxing riverside breakfast in sunny calm conditions. We took the opportunity to boil the 6 freshly laid eggs Jose had given us the night before. As we were packing up our host arrived and explained that he was taking a morning stroll, although he may have been checking that we were actually leaving (the previous night he had told us about campers who liked the place so much that they stayed the following day too!).

Vanessa set off having packed her panniers first leaving Jon to pack his own and to say goodbye to our excellent host…but not before Jose had launched into another epic monologue on the state of the Argentinian education system.

Back on the road with no wind, flat roads and little traffic (it was early on Sunday) we flew along nicely with the sun on our backs and beautiful views of rocky plateaus to the left and Lago Argentino to the right. Before too long we had covered the 40km to El Calafate and all before lunch! The only downside was that we arrived on the weekend of the town’s biggest annual music festival and found that the campsite which Lonely Planet recommended was teaming with people…meaning we had to wait 2 hours before we could register…but we were just pleased to be in town and grabbed ourselves the 2 largest ice creams imaginable and excitedly planned our following day’s visit to Parido Moreno national park and its world famous glacier.