Ushuaia to Rio Grande (Argentina)

Day 1 – Ushuaia to Lago Escondida

When there’s an up there”s always a down…we used to think this before cycling in Patagonia.

Today was the first day of our 2 month cycle. We left early as we were both excited to get our journey underway after months of planning. We were anxious as we knew that the first day’s climb from Ushuaia to the  Garibaldi pass would be very challenging.

View over Ushuaia at the start of our ride
A short time after we set off we met two cyclists coming in the opposite direction. They were at the end of their 3 month journey and wished us good luck.

An hour into our climb it dawned on us that we had made our first ‘rookie’ mistake of the trip…we had forgotten to take out cash from the ATM before leaving and had only 250 pesos ($25) to last us 2 days (potentially 4 days if Tulhuin had no ATM), but we were too far into our cycle to turn back.

About 3 hours into our ride the weather turned nasty (rainy and cold) Vanessa lost feeling in her extremities and we were ecstatic to stumble across a ski resort cafe which luckily for us was open. The owner bent over backwards to warm us up by putting wood on the fire, serving us some hot drinks and, with credit cards not an option, was happy to accept 20 euros Jon found in his wallet as payment and to give us change :-). We now had 350 pesos to last 2 days and, after eating  some lunch, left warmer than when we arrived.

The next couple of hours consisted of a long steady climb towards the pass…the final few kms being almost all in the lowest possible gear (Vanessa renamed the climb ‘Mt. Neverending’) When we reached the top of the pass we were greeted by winds strong enough to knock you off your feet and a majestic view down to Lago Escondido, which was our planned camp spot for the night. First though, we had to descend to the lake. Due to the combination of high winds and large trucks we decided against the main road and took the longer and slightly safer dirt track down to the lake. Most of the descent was on foot holding the brakes due to the steepness and treacherous state of the track. After a half hour or so we reached a designated camping area by the lake, pitched our tent, ate dinner and high fived each other on having completed our first day.

Campsite at Lago Escondido

Day 2 – Lago Escondida to Tolhuin

What a great day…well in comparison to yesterday’s gradients. Before we get to that, let’s mention yesterday night’s campsite. We found a lovely spot next to the lake and had a good night’s rest.

Lago Escondido
Our ride was a breeze compared to the previous day. No wind, few climbs, little traffic and smooth, paved roads. We rode for about 5 hours, saw a few other bike tourers heading in the oposite direction; One solo French lady, a Polish dude who had cycled from Alaska (on a Surley Long Haul Trucker!) over 19 months and a Korean couple who had cycled from America and were planning to cycle for 2 years. We got valuable information for our stay in Tolhuin about free accommodation for cyclists in a panaderia (bakery) and made sure to check this out when we got there.

We also saw our first llama ( actually its a guanaco, which is a close cousin) sign, followed very shortly by our first wild one.

Where are the guanacos?
Unfortunately he didnt hang around for photos, which seems to be the norm.

Our hosts at ‘Panaderia La Union’ in Tolhuin were amazing. Free accomadation, shower, WiFi and use of their facilities. We shared the place with 3 Argentinians from Buenos Aires who were heading for Ushuia and planning on smashing out some big distances the next day.

TOur three amigos from Buenos Aires
It is customary for the guests to sign greetings on the wall of the bedroom at Panadoria La Union, so we added ours.

Signing the guest book at Panaderia La Union
Day 3 – Tolhuin to Lago Yehuin

We left with a Caroline Earley/Mark Gregory size breakfast in our stomachs. The first hour or so was pretty uneventful, as we rode on a paved road with some climbs and the occassional following breeze. We then turned west onto a minor dirt road, as we had decided to take this rather than the busier and quicker main road. The weather was sunny but with a strong westerly wind in our faces, we were travellimg slowly. We found a good sheltered spot next to an estancia (farm/estate) for lunch and enjoyed an wholesome oversized sandwich.

We carried on for another 5 hours over undulating terrain. We saw several more guanacos and what we thought was a coyote but which turned out to be a grey fox.

It took us a couple of attempts to find the correct entrance to Lago Yehuin. Once down to the lake we set up camp between two groups of local drive in campers, who loved using their chainsaws to chop down trees.

Tranquil lake Yehuin before the chainsaws started
Jon bravely ventured into the shallow lake up to his knees to wash dishes (a little  squeal was heard!), as it was very cold.

Day 4 – Lago Yehuin to Rio Grande

Long blog and even longer day!

This was a long day for us both as we over estimated how much we could cover, whilst still enjoying the ride (Vanessa is sooo in team ‘ fun and appreciation’). Our ride started off up hill at 10am and into a head wind. After around 5k, it turned into a side/tail wind and with the sun shinning, we had a pleasant first few hours of riding, with lots of chatting, guanaco spotting and oversized sandwich eating by the side of the road in a sheltered spot.

The next few hours consisted of undulations. Around 6 hours into our ride Jon stopped to try and take a photo of a guanaco jumping a fence, but unfortunately Vanessa’s attempt to stop by unclipping her cleats was to no avail and she landed on her side (fall #1*, slow and pretty painless).

A few km later, whilst climbing a steep hill on the dirt road, Vanessa attempted to unclip to avoid an oncoming vehicle (fall #2*).

We finally reached the main road heading into Rio Grande, 17km to go! This stretch of road was heading straight into the full force of the head wind.

No caption needed
7 very long km’s later. We reached a police check point and found that the route mapme recommended had a locked gate and was private property. We discussed the possibility of climbing the gate in Spanish with two police officers, who disagreed with each other. Unfortunately the more senior of the two said we couldn’t, and that was that. At the same time we realised we had reception on our phone and that we had said Yes to two couch surfing hosts, both of whom were trying to contact us. We called them and opted for the one that spoke the best English, who was also prepared to come and meet us. We headed off again with 10km left to go into Rio Grande (still going extremely slowly). On one occassion an overtaking truck caused Vanessa to move onto the gravel hard shoulder and she ungracefully dismounted her trusty steed (fall #3*). As we rounded the bend to travel in an easterly direction into Rio Grande, we had a strong tail wind, which meant we could get out of our low gears for the first time in a few hours. Shortly after this our couch surfing hosts Flor and Juan arrived in their vehicle and kindly took our panniers, whilst giving us directions to their home. We looked at each other and simultaneously said ‘we’ve just given all our belongings to a pair of complete strangers’. We covered the last 5km to their house, which included a very slow 2km into a headwind. Rounding a corner just before their house, a dog bounced along a pavement next to Vanessa and sent her tumbling (fall #4*). We also bumped into Juan again, who was filling in a pot hole in the street (obviously keen to impress his guests). He need not have worried as their home was warm and incredibly inviting.

In total we cycled approximately 100km (10 hours). We quickly showered and got dressed as our hosts had organised dinner with some of their friends. We were made to feel extremely welcome by all and fed very well. We ate Argentinian BBQ (our first meat over 4 years) and also tried the traditional local drink ‘mate’ (an aquired taste).

Our new Argentinian and Columbian friends
On our second nights stay with Flor and Juan, we were alsojoined by  another cyclist ‘Brandon’ from Columbia.

Brandon’s bike with custom built panniers to accommodate his bajo and guitar
We ate, drank played music and sang. An excellent couple of days with wonderful people.

* We later discovered that Vanessa’s cleats weren’t tightened sufficiently. We fixed this before our next ride.