Monday, November 23, 2009

El Calafate Cycling

I cycled the best part of five hours - yes five hours - to get to a view like this today! And it was well worth it, the landscape is incredible, and I guess I'm still in the "foothills" of the experience to put it one way. So rewind five hours and I'm back in El Calafate renting out a mountain bike. Iwas told there were essentially two ways to go, east or west along Argentino Lake.

I opted to go East first and came across a nature reserve which was well worth seeing for the somewhat surprising sight of flamingos.

It was a great setting, nestled next to the lake and with the snow topped peaks in the background. I had a good look around, nearly getting stuck in the bog several times over... Clearly the flamingos et al must have looked on thinking what a crazy tourist.

Saying that the birds soon had other things to contend with as suddenly one of the many wild dogs here swam out to one of the islands and had a go at the nests. Cue lots of squawking and general mayhem... After that I decided to leave the wildlife to their own devices and headed further down the coast.

As you can see, it was a wonderful day, barely a cloud in the sky and not too cold, although there was a sharp breeze. Weather like this for the rest of the trip will do just nicely. I stopped for part 1 of a packed lunch somewhere around here. I had come to the end of the road - of sorts - and my attempts at cycling on the beach had literally ploughed to halt. And I started thinking of where to go next.

Clearly there was a lot more to see and I decided to head off west, round the other side of town to see if I could get a clearer view of the snow topped peaks given that they were slightly blocked by the hills on the other side of El Calafate. Heading back that way, I had one of those "small world" experiences when I got chatting to two Dutch women. When I mentioned that I was going on the Dutch boat Europa one of the women told me that her nephew's girlfriend is on the ship, working as one of the permanent crew! How funny I said, and asked her what the girl's name was so I could mention it when I'm on board the Europa... Great idea, said the lady until she realised she couldn't remember the girl's name! In the end, I got a little note - in Dutch - to hand round the permanent crew! Here they are:

They also took a photo of me on the bike to prove to any doubters that this little cycling trip did indeed take place!

So after lunch part 2, this time on the western side of El Calafate I decided to strike out, thinking that just over the little hill on the edge of the town I would find a perfect viewing spot. How naive. This was clearly a case of there always being another "little" hill to overcome to get to the objective. And throw in a nice westerly breeze and it was tough going. But eventually, I thought voila, I'm there as a summit of sorts seemed within my grasp.

Not quite. It was another few kilometres along the rather desolate road, but beautiful and vast landscape.

Not a soul in sight, except for a few fellow cyclists (I temporarily lost my aversion to cyclists due to their pavement abuse in Brussels and joined in a chirpy "hola") and the occasional bus.

But eventually I came round a corner, through another small pass and thankfully next to the road which seemed to continue forever across the plain in a way rather reminiscent of the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk --

-- I had finally made it to a proper viewing point. Or at least one that satisfied me and allowed me to avoid heading off into the sunset along this road...!

It was an amazing view and I took some to take it all in and catch my breath... the latter clearly being the most important thing given my apparent lack of conditioning...! Now there was only the small point of the trip back. Thankfully I had a tailwind, but there is still nothing quite as depressing and morale sapping as seeing this sign in front of you having cycled the best part of a km across a barren plain

But I did arrive safely back in El Calafate. No one had to come out and rescue me, no insurance cover was tested :) Since then I have been recuperating, I feel knackered, but thankfully tomorrow will be a nice, relaxing day. Mini trekking on the Perito Moreno. Should be a walk in the uhhm Park?

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