Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Punta Arenas – Puerto Natales

During our aborted attempt to move north, Jaun; a Spanish cyclist, had arrived at the hostel. As it was apparent that Ja's knee was going to require some more serious R&R, and Jaun was bored of cycling alone, it seemed that the most obvious solution was for Ja to go on ahead by bus and for Jaun and I to cycle it and meet him there.

Everyone talks about the wind when cycling across Patagonia. It's one of those things that you know about, cos everyone talks about it, but somehow think it won't be as bad as everyone makes out, or that maybe they were exaggerating. It turns out, of course, that it is, and they weren't. If the Inuits supposedly have a hundred different words for snow I wouldn't be surprised to hear that the Patagonians have as many for the wind. I certainly came up with a few choice names for it as we were going along. Jaun added to my Spanish vocabulary by teaching me some of the words he was using to describe it (none of them printable). Suffice to say it was another four days of incredibly slow going into a head wind that seemed determined to keep us from getting there. It was like a bad joke at times, repeatedly being pushed off the road, getting off the bike to push it back onto the road, only to be pushed back off again. This was particularly disconcerting when cycling through what looked like fairly innocuous landscape, only to notice that the signs indicate they are actually live minefields; a reminder of the political volatility that is still such recent history between Argentina and Chile.

We found some great places to stay along the way though, the first night spent in a shed outside one of the estancias, the second in a derelict outhouse offered by the owners of a cafe (where my dog protection plan backfired completely), and the third in a really cool camping spot just off the ruta. The outhouse we stayed in was protected by what, at first sight, seemed to be a vicious guard dog who barked incessantly, kept trying to chase the bikes and bite our feet and panniers. I employed my usual technique of pretending not be worried and barking back, I don't know how my bark translated, but from that point on the dog refused to leave my side. It turned out he was only a few months old, and I think was very starved of attention. The first indication that dog was becoming a problem was when my coat disappeared. Obviously with such a limited wardrobe as the ones we are carrying, every item is sacred, and the loss of my jacket was much mourned. Initially we wondered if the wind had blown it away, but this wasn't likely, and unless it had been taken by a large German motorcyclist we had been briefly chatting to (which seemed unlikely) the only other suspect was the dog. Extensive searching failed to turn it up although we did find 2 chewed tea-towels and an apron in his kennel, further adding to the suspicions) and eventually I had to leave, without coat. We were however accompanied by the dog, who was repeatedly trying to attach himself to my foot. This was amusing for the first kilometer or so, assuming he would soon tire and go home. After about 10kms I started to get worried, but we had gone to far to take him home, so hoped that consistently ignoring him would do the trick. After 20kms he was still going strong, I could just hear his little paws tapping along besides me. At 30k he resumed his attempts to try and get onto the bike; jumping up every time I slowed down, until I accidently ran him over, at which point I was unable to ignore him anymore, having to check he was ok (which he was, and absolutely loved all the attention he got). When we found a place to stop for coffee after 40k the owners assumed he our dog and bought out food and water for him, after which he jumped onto my lap and kept trying to lick my face. In total Dog followed us for 60km, before finally turning back for home (I hope) after a particularly long downhill stretch where there was no way he could keep up. For the next two days I kept imagining I could hear his paws, and turning round expecting to see him. I imagine he might turn into some kind of Lassie character, helping out other cyclists and performing heroic acts on his long journey home. Ja was a little more cynical about the dogs potential fate when he heard what had happened.

Jaun and I finally arrived (minus dog) in Peurto Natales in time to join Ja for New years eve, which we celebrated with dinner, followed by another midnight bbq, and finished off with dancing till the small hours in a local bar.

A nice welcome to 2010!!!

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