Christmas is Cancelled

Dated: 13 DEC 18

This place has a short temper. I’ve taken shelter in a refuge, at the back of a ladies house in a bare room, a stack of mattresses can be found against the back wall, the only break in the otherwise empty room, that and the cold steel of a wood burner. This is the Ritz as far as I am concerned or at least it will be once the lady has gone out there, chopped some wood and got the fire a burning. The windows are just sheets of thin clear tarp, flexing in the gusting winds and the pitter patter of rain on the corrugated roof adds to the din. I’m a head of time and no longer have the need or the drive to be outside despite of the inclement weather. Its the sort of weather that is only good for one thing, rugby; perfect for a forwards game, the sort of day when the backs freeze the bollocks off standing near stationary in the howling wind, the ball to slippery for them and their quick hands, it has to be kept in close.

One hour later and I’ve got a pot of tea boiling on the stove, a nest made on a mattress in a corner and a warm meal inside me. Bad weather is bliss when you have a fire and a window to the misery outside. I settle down to a good read and some me time, or I would if cyclist after cyclist didn’t keep ducking in to steal my warmth with a ghastly blast of cold wind as they stagger in dripping wet. I’m not the only one who isn’t up for getting cold and wet. The company is nice really.

The only problem with paying for accommodation is that when it comes to leaving the warm confines of a building in the morning going out into the elements it can be difficult; just one more cuppa then I will go; and one more to be on the safe side. Patagonia has a bleak beauty to it, even when the weather is a touch iffy and you are caught in a shower or two the cloud might permit short peeks at the peaks, it is stunning in a rugged fashion. But when the sun over comes the cloud if only for a minute it is transformed, beautiful, magnificent, nothing short of fantastico. At these moments my face breaks into a gaping smile, gaping because I’m often puffing for breath as I power up yet another short sharp slope whilst smiling, mouth wide open, all tonsils and teeth.

I make it seem that the weather is always a touch English but that isnt the case, I just happen to catch a week of weather before summer takes hold again. I move south along the Austral, tarmac gives way to graded road of stone and dust. In some ways I like the more rugged bone shaking endurance of poor road conditions. I’m in Patagonia after all, it adds to the wild feel of the place. But in reality tarmac would be a damn sight easier and I don’t really feel like I’m in the wilds, not like in Mongolia or parts of the Stans. I’m merely on the edge, despite being the least populated region of Chile, I am never far from a shop (at east once every few hundred k’s), never on single track and at least once an hour a truck will pass; transforming my face from the wide mouthed grin to being pursed like a cats arse, eyes squinting and mouth tightly shut as clouds of thick dust fill the air, kicked up from the wheels of the vehicle.

I can see the wilds from the road, the mountains, forests and ice but to get out in to it I would need to be on a different bike or on foot. One morning when I have decided to take a half day, I’ve earned it after cycling for the last ten or twelve days straight, I run into a chap coming the other direction. He has almost nothing with him on his carbon bike; pretty much just a change of underwear and a rain coat. We stop and chat for a good half an hour or so. Its one of those fantastico days so why not take a moment. Jonas Deichmann is on a half day himself, he is doing a casual 150km, that’s almost as much as a full day for me and I often get a “gee whiz” or a sceptically raised eyebrow when I mention how far I go each day. Jonas as it turns out has just got the world record for cycling from the northern most cycle-able point of Alaska to the Southern most city in South America, Ushaia. He did this in just 97 days if I remember correctly. A reminder for me that there is always someone out there better than you. He is a great guy, smiling almost constantly and clearly passionate about life; he lives by the idea that what has he done this month that he will bore my grandchildren with when he’s old? Not a bad life philosophy though a touch hard for most people.

A few days later, I arrived in Puerto Tranquilo and explored the Catedral Marmol, a formation of marble caves carved out by the waters of Lago Carrera. It is a rare tourist day out when I ditch the bike and get on the water with my camera in hand. The caves are stunning, marble caverns carved out over millions of years revealing layers of coloured rock polished by water and time in to a cave system like no other. It is only improved by the tranquil blue of the water here, you could be in the Caribbean if it weren’t for the temperature.

It was here on this lake where Douglas Tompkins lost his life in a kayaking accident. As the founder of North Face he was a pioneer of Patagonia conservation and together with his wife they donated 10 million acres of privately owned land to Chile to establish five new National Parks and expand three others; an area roughly the size of Switzerland is an unprecedented private effort of conservation. The day I am out on the water it is hard to imagine that these calm waters can turn nasty. It just goes to show that there is no taming Patagonia and it can catch even the most experienced adventurer out. 72 might be cutting it short but at least his lights went out doing what he loved where he loved.

I’ve teamed up with two Slavonians, Mateja and Mitja, and an Australian named Clive. We are on a push to reach the town of El Chalten for Christmas but have three ferries, some of that uncomfortable road and the weather to contend with. On our way we could be in for a treat, puma have been spotted here recently, it would be great to catch a sight of one of these shy animals.

Ferry number one is a simple affair, its free and runs regularly. It is the next one that proves problematic. The main company said flat out “no,” the wind is forecast to remain above the 15kt cut off for the next few days. Looks like Christmas is cancelled. But never fear, where there are desperate tourists there is always someone willing to bend the rules. Pedro owns the alternative option, tucked out of sight behind the lake worthy vessel a smaller craft, sausage shaped and made of fibre glass it is essentially an escape craft, pretty solid but uncomfortable. So together with a gabble of other cyclists, two dogs, a few locals and a sheep we embark.

It quickly becomes apparent that there is a reason that the limit if 15kts wind. It is horrendous, the bow of the boat plunges in the troughs of wave after wave as we head south, the neck jolting impact is enough to bring any sleepers to their senses (we had a few the night before) and I can only think thank god that we are going with the waves not against them. There is no enjoying the vista of glaciers and mountains out of the small port holes, you have to concentrated and tense your body with each crash into the waves. But after a bump of two we make the far shore and spot a good twenty tourists awaiting the return journey north.

It turns out that the weather has held them trapped in the no mans land at the border with Argentina, there is no shop, just a long drop and trees, some of the eager passengers have been stranded four days with rations running low they are elated our arrival. They almost cheer.

Next they almost cry, there is no chance Pedro can be talked into the return journey no matter how many peso waving desperate tourists there are. Looks like Christmas is cancelled for some.

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