Into Argentinian Patagonia2
February 18, 2013 by cleanwatt
I continued my passage South along Ruta 40 from Bariloche.
In pursuit of a new life and relief from judicial persecution, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid with Etta Place fled to South America. First port of call for them was Buenos Aires, from where they headed West into the vast Patagonian wilderness. They found a chunk of land agreeable to them, near the town of Cholila, I imagine due to the similarity to the American West from where they came from, there they started a small homestead and began an honest living farming cattle. Cassidy wrote his friend in 1902: “I settled for ever. I have 500 cattle, 1500 sheep, 28 saddle horses, two laborers who work for me, plus a four bedroom house and other many things, United States were too small for me”. It seems as though they happily led this lifestyle until their past caught up with them in the form of the ever pursuing Pinkerton Agency who had inevitably followed their tracks and were once again hot on their heels. They sold the ranch in 1905, and moved on North, eventually meeting their demise in San Vincente, Bolivia after a payroll robbery in 1908.
I would be passing right by their cabin and was excited to have a look into a story I’m fascinated with.
I had the entire compound to myself, so after milling about for the afternoon, inspecting the American Outlaw’s handy-work, I kept on towards the Los Alceres National Park.
A beautiful park with more crystal clear water and alluring backdrops. They had free camping along one of the lakes, so I set up my rig and settled down on the shore with my book for the night.
I was fortunate to have had the opportunity a ways back to spend 6 months working on the Isle of Anglesey in Northwest Wales, and thoroughly relish my time there. In reading about Patagonia, I had remembered about satellite Welsh colonies from the past and was eager to visit them someday.
Trevelin has an interesting history as one of the more well known Welsh settlements in Patagonia. Settled in the late 19th century by Welsh emigrants who traveled West from the coastal region of Chubut, Argentina in an attempt to preserve their traditions, language, and religion. I’ve read that many of the residents today still claim strong Welsh lineage and that the Welsh language can still be heard rarely. The town didn’t shout at me with the influence of the Motherland, but it was a pleasant little place nevertheless.
From Trevelin, I detoured East to the larger town of Esquel in hopes of filling up my tank, but was greeted at all three stations with massive lines of cars as the nature of gasoline availability in Patagonia made itself known.
I figured I could scoot in and fill up at night or early in the morning, and rode around town searching for a hostel for the night. Successful, I laid down for a siesta, then was woken by the sound of two bikes idling in the garden. Franki & Tony had stumbled into the same hostel! It was the Chinese New Year’s Eve, and we went about celebrating properly by buying three of the largest steaks I’ve ever seen. Tony prepared a feast, and we waited out the fuel shortage in a food induced stupor.
The three of us rode out around 11pm to fill up, and still had to wait in line for about twenty minutes making sure to top off reserve tanks as well.
From Esquel we naturally carried South on the 40 and managed a full (324 miles) day all the way to Perito Moreno, where we found the Municipal camping lot. Leaving the next morning, we again made sure to fill up to the brim with gasoline, as we’d be needing it for a couple stretches where fuel gets scarce.
We left the comfort of the Andean front range in exchange for the desolate Patagonian Pampas. The road condition began to slowly deteriorate into primarily ripio with the occasional new asphalt section we could sneak onto. For such long chunks of ripio, I’d stop and drop the pressure in my tires to soften the tiresome tumultuous turmoil the big lass & I were enduring. Then, at the next pavement run, another break to bring the tire pressure back up to save tire wear and improve fuel economy at the higher speeds.
Still more wonderful & weird sights greeted us en-route to Gobernador Gregores for our next fuel stop.
We arrived to a dry Gobernador Gregores as far as gasoline goes. Mildly frustrating, but succumbing to the raw nature of the land I was traveling through, I just had to roll with such punches. After a brief inquiry with the station manager, I was told they’d have a re-fueling truck the next morning around 11am. Cruised around the little town in search of some accommodation, one locale seemed a little pricey and the other only had two beds available. I opted to try and find some free camping, so Franki & Tony took the two beds for the night. I stopped at the local mercado for a few food items and chased the river out of town a bit until I found a nice secluded spot in the bush for the night.
Tired of me documenting every campsite yet?
We reconvened at the petrol station the next morning only to hear of the promise that the next tomorrow held for gasoline. I know I didn’t have nearly enough to gamble a run to the next supposed fuel stop, so I’d be spending another day in this rustic paradise. Franky & Tony being in the same boat as well, we took to town again in a more earnest search of a refuge for the day.
Found a nice hotel to wait out the shortage, and in the meantime I made myself a cup of Mate tea, cleaned my air filter, and joined in the Argentinian tradition of the siesta.
Our third day in GG again promised gasoline in the afternoon, so we burned some time up and eventually pulled into the station with a line of cars already waiting. But not in vain as we were able fill up again and carry on.
The next stint proved to be the roughest section yet, bouncing and weaving through nearly 120 miles of ripio. Patagonian winds made an appearance, and I can firmly say that leaning the bike, fighting malicious cross-winds while being blown into soft tracks of gravel is downright frightening. We made it through (physically) unscathed, and I nearly dismounted to embrace the new-found pavement.
At the cutoff of El Chaten, I left F & T for the night and headed to El Calafate. I fully intend on spending some quality time in El Chaten to do some hiking around Mt. Fitzroy, but will do so on the trip North.
El Calafate is most famously known as the base-camp for the Los Glaciares National Park, particularly the Perito Moreno glacier. One of the few glaciers still growing today, and fed by ice fields in the shared Andes w/ Chile, these ice systems compose the world’s third largest fresh water reserve! At the terminus in Lago Argentino the glacier famously sprawls for 3 miles at an average height of 240 ft.
It was mostly overcast and sprinkling when I first arrived, not exactly ideal viewing conditions. Walking around like an idiot with my helmet on to stay warm and dry I scampered around all the viewing decks in awe. Because it’s still advancing so regularly, leading chunks are continuously under strain from the power behind and break off into the water magnificently. It sounded like a thunderstorm was occurring right in front of me. The sun popped out for a little bit when I took a small boat tour, and the visible crevices were illuminated beyond belief. My camera can’t capture the justice it deserves. It was/is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever beheld.
The drive back to town was pleasant with the sunlight, showing off the iridescent blue lakes.
The next morning I left the Ruta 40 properly for the first time in two weeks in a South-Eastern direction towards Rio Gallegos setting me up for the border with Chile, and Tierra del Fuego.
Riding around Rio Gallegos searching for a cheap place to stay, having spent the last 3 nights in a tent, I ran across some folks rigging a trailer full of BMW motorcycles. I asked them if they knew of a cheap hostel or a campground near town, and after much debate the owners of the house offered their garden as a viable campsite. I graciously accepted, then went for a walk around town. Upon returning they had invited me to dinner, poured me a glass of wine, and hosted one of the best evenings I’ve had on this trip. A gem of an evening.
I can almost smell the Straits of Magellan from here, stay tuned.
Trip Mileage: 18,988 (30,588 km)
“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy
Enjoying seeing someone else’s travels mostly along the route my wife and I took in 2010. Keep on riding!
An edge though not the end of the earth, still you have to feel the stress.