samedi 24 janvier 2009

The Chilean Tierra del Fuego (30/11/2008 - 06/12/2008)

We left the Rio Cullen plant the 30th November and we went back to the border at San Sebastian. It was quite late and we had to spend the night at the border station. The people of customs indicated us a waiting room allocated to travelers, with bathrooms and kitchen corner. We spent the night with two wild Germans and a couple of young married married British who decided to cycle from Ushuaia to Lima for their honey moon.
The following day was a nightmare. The real wind of Tierra del Fuego finally showed up and stroke us. With a strong head and side winds, our velocity dramatically dropped . The wind was about 100 km/h, and we thought it was one of the strongest we could have, but when we asked the custom officers, their response was depressing : “Some wind today, but not that strong …”.
We struggled a lot against the wind, the dust from the gravel road, the trucks and the buses this day. One our later, we finally reached the Chilean custom office, and the bad surprise was that no fresh food (i.e. fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, etc …) was allowed to cross the border. In order to avoid a heavy fine (100 US $), we ate all our fresh food 100 m away from the customs. Consequently, we did not have much food left. The second bad surprised was that there was no shop before Porvenir, 170 km ahead, except a small restaurant. We wondered how we could reach Porvenir without dying of hunger. We then bought a few sandwiches and deeply hoped that the wind would drop.
At 2 pm, the wind blew stronger. We gave up at the estancia Flores, because it became ridiculous to go on (5 km/h on average). There, we had been very welcomed by Juan, the heir of Croatian immigrants in Chile. He proposed us a place to camp in his garden full of flowers, and invited us for an asado the evening. We then had a wonderful evening with him and his sister Krasma.

The following morning, we decided to start earlier than the wind and we got up at 3 am. We left at 4:30 am in the quiet morning, enjoying the very fresh but wonderful sunrise and its colours. At 7:30, we discovered a lonely tent next to a lost road crossing. A head showed up from the tent. “Hola que tal?” we asked. He looked a bit lost and replied slowly : “Alleman”. He was German, and did not speak a word of Spanish. He thus smilled when we started speaking English with him. We then left Tomas and continued our trail along the Bahia Inutil (Useless Bay), a bay connected to the Magellan Straight. Miraculously, the wind did not show up this day, and we enjoyed the fantastic sceneries of the white snowy peaks of the Cordillera Darwin reflecting on the surface of the bay.

The following day, we started running out of food and water and we had to reach Porvenir quickly. Fortunately, the wind was still relatively quiet (50 km/h), and we asked for a bit of food and water at the estancia Fortuna along the road. We finally reached Porvenir in mid-afternoon, and we spent the night there, next to the harbor, in the backyard of the school. Early the next morning, we embarked into the boat to cross the Magellan Straight, and we met Jess and Jules, a couple of Australian cyclists, and we also enjoyed the company of Tomas, our lost German cyclist. We left Tierra del Fuego with this sympathetic people, and disembarked at the continental Patagonia, at Punta Arenas, the 4th December 2008.

This day was a special day in Punta Arenas. In front of an administrative building, a red carpet was installed and police officers were controlling the main place of the city. We asked one of them what was going on : “Punta Arenas will host today an international meeting gathering the two presidents of Chile and Argentina to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Pope’s mediation between the two countries regarding the sharing of Tierra del Fuego”. Great ! We will see two presidents, and furthermore, two female presidents: Michelle Bachelet for Chile and Cristina Kirchner for Argentina. We did not want to miss this opportunity and we came back 30 minutes before the scheduled ceremony at a strategic place just behind the photographers. The show was short but exciting. When the presidents arrived, the two national songs were played by the military orchestra, while the people sang all together. Then, quickly, the presidents walked into the building, and it was already over. For history, it was the pope Juan-Pablo II who drew the border between Chile and Argentina 30 years ago. He drew a straight line that followed a meridian.

The police of Kon Aiken 6th december
To schedule something in Patagonia is challenging due to the capricious winds. This day we left Punta Arenas to go along the road to Puerto Natales. The first 30 km were great, but then the wind started blowing like crazy from the left side. We did not manage to stay on the road, whereas we were aspirated to the wheels of the trucks that passed us. We managed the last 5 km in 1 hour and with great pain, and we reached a police station where we asked to spend lunch time. Five minutes later, we were invited to share the policemen’s lunch: salmon freshly fished by one of them with rice and home-made bread. We gratefully accepted the invitation and enjoyed this unexpected lunch. Outside, the wind was still the same, and even strengthened during the afternoon. It was then impossible to go on or to set up the tent anywhere. We asked again if it was possible to wait for the wind to drop among the policemen, and they all fully agreed. They looked very happy and proud to take care of us. After a small nap, we chatted with them about this and that, waiting the coming back of the chief to ask his agreement. We enjoyed a football game on TV and a crap movie in the control office. But at midnight, the wind was as strong as before and the chief was not back. At 2 am, our new friend decided that we had to rest, and he opened an office to set up our sleeping gears. Although it was short sleep, it was good and repairing, and we thought that we were lucky to have found them to help us.

The next morning, the wind did not drop at all. We had then several opportunities: 1) stay with the policemen until the wind dropped, 2) struggle against the wind with the risk to be shot by a truck, or 3) take a lift. After long discussions and a good breakfast offered by our new friends, we chose the third one. It was Sunday and a few cars only were on the road. In addition, it is not that simple to take two people and 2 bikes and the panniers in a single car. Next to us, the policemen did their job and controlled some of the cars. But after some time, we figured out that they were only controlling 4x4 pick ups. 30 minutes later, one of them called us: he found a lift for us !! We greatefully thanked them all for their kindness and we jumped into the back of the car. The passengers were a 3 person family who was going to Puerto Natales for the week end. Along the road, they had pity for us and stopped to propose us to get into the car. We were a bit squeezed, but it was much more comfortable than the very cold outside. Later, they offered us a coffee and a piece of cake. Cristian, Carolina and their son Nicolas were very friendly and also proposed us to help us in Puerto Natales. We gratefully declined the invitation, but we invited us for diner to thank them. We spent all together a great evening.

At Puerto Natales, we met all the cyclists we met earlier: they all took a lift to reach Puerto Natales. Great, our honor was safe !