Bikepacking endless steppes with violent winds and barbed fences. First start southward with a hybrid setup and a few disillusions.
With this route, our pretentions were to explore the eastern coast of Patagonia whose documentation and inspiration were rare, and reach Fireland the straightest way. Among barren steppes squared by men and raw coasts eroded by constant winds, we discovered an unexpected rich fauna and met scattered yet warm people. Despite the sameness of these lands, the Península Valdés loop was a definitive highlight and was worth the detour. This route was also our first attempt of a bikepacking trip with a hybrid setup and by the less traveled roads before more difficult to come.
From Fri. 30 Nov. 18
To Thu. 3 Jan. 19
1 536 km riding
1 032 km hitchhiking 6 times
94 km by bus 1 time
Highest 660 m
Lowest 0 m
57 % paved
0 % singletrack
In the very beginning, the plan was to reach the eastern Argentinian coast by crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The reasons were ethic : we always have endeavoured to travel slow, explore by ourselves, leave no trace and measure our local and ecological impact. Back in 2016 in Eurasia, we hiked, hitchhiked, and sometimes took buses or trains, so our carbon footprint has remained low. This time, an ocean was on the way and as long as the plane was worst than any other way of travel, we looked for all available boats. And it was more difficult than we thought. We first subscribed online to hire on sailing ships as crew members but we lacked experience. Then we figured out that liners were now too expensive and working on board wasn't doable anymore. We even looked for the cruise ships but their frequency and duration were too long. We finally left with a plane which gathered more advantages. There was worst after all : we met a french tourist who was touring the Argentinian natural sights within a couple of weeks by taking eight planes. Anyway, we will take our chance for the way back from the northern Colombian coast. Fingers crossed.
I hate planes and I would have liked to take a boat for all the reasons I listed before. We booked one from Barcelona straight to Buenos Aires because it was less expensive and more flexible. Bringing bikes was another story : there were vague rules to respect that everyone read differently. First, we needed to pack our bikes in boxes we asked in bike shops. We couldn't have taken anything more in the little van we drove from Nantes to Barcelona as we were already four people, three bikes and their boxes. Second, we needed enough tools to take the bikes into pieces. Obviously, we forgot a key to remove the pedals and lost hours to find something around the airport a sunday night. Third, we needed to be light enough to avoid another taxe, so we weighted our packages several times until the very limit and cheated the boxes position on the balance. But one of them was louder and we had to repack over and over while the service was already closed and the plane ready to take off. At last, customs threw some of our equipments away, because they were forbidden in our backpacks. We stressed out during the entire day with the hangover of the past night. Despite everything, the bikes were intact once in Argentina and we put them together for the last time.
Well, the start was quite hard as we wanted to begin the trip at the border of Patagonia and spared us the dull Pampas. After a tight drive from Nantes to Barcelona the same day large demonstrations started for the next months, we spent four others days at friends in the Catalonian capital, refining the route, eating and drinking too much on rooftops. Oversea, in Buenos Aires, we spent four more days at Couchsurfers, spending time roaming the disappointing Argentinian capital, eating and driking local products on other rooftops. Then, we took a bus with the bikes and got ripped off for the first and the last time (those bastards negociated more money for the bikes). We crossed all the Pampas until Bahía Blanca, close to the Patagonian border. No hurt for our rigs we assembled and disassembled too much in a row. However, we handled this logistical prologue and were now riding south. One lesson learned : traveling by bike was enjoyable as long as we were pedaling.
The first four days in northern Patagonia were made of a beautiful gradient of burned fields and glaucous bushes, only crossed by scattered and straight roads, those we rode by. From Bahía Blanca, we headed southward to join Carmen de Patagones by a few villages between an old railway and a paved highway. Called the Ruta Nacional 3, starting at Buenos Aires and ending at Ushuaia like its sibling the Ruta Nacional 40 on the other side of the continent, our aim was to avoid it as much as we could. The roads we chose were slow because of sand areas, and we even hiked a bike dunes that covered abandonned tracks. The locals weren't used to see travelers because the region wasn't touristic, but they were very welcoming. Moreover, we saw a gorgeous yet dangerous wildlife such as guanacos, rheas, coyotes, maras, capybaras, cingulatas, turtles, snakes and tarantulas.
The next four days in northern Patagonia, we witnessed the fall of the blue & green perfect grid into the Atlantic Ocean. After we passed the Salada Laguna, crossed the Rio Colorado and reached Carmen de Patagones where we were hosted and eased off by Simon, a yoga teacher, we followed the Rio Negro until its delta called La Boca, the world largest perrots natural reserve. Then we turned westward to San Antonio Oeste by the Camino de la Costa, a breathtaking track along the shore bounding lonesome houses hung by the cliffs. The road was paved until La Loberia, then graveled and under construction across a dunes area where strong heawinds made us hike a bike. Less and less people on the way but a lonely hostel built above black sand beaches before we reached San Antonio Este, where there weren't boats to cross the bay but a bus to offer us a ride to San Antonio Oeste.
The last four days in northern Patagonia were splited into half linear paved roads and half twisted dirt tracks. From Las Grutas, we wanted to explore a coastal path we saw on a map but nobody around have ever heard of. With more relying satellite maps, we found out the path was sometimes merging with the beaches. We decided not to loose more time and hitchhiked two trucks on the highway. We secured our bikes and enjoy the lift with the drivers on the monotonous Ruta Nacional 3. Once they dropped us down at Sierra Grande, we joined back remote double tracks before Playas Doradas, that crossed several dry seasonal rivers and numerous barbed fences from private lands, those vast properties of nothingness. We didn't see anyone during two days : that was the way I yearn to ride, but still I didn't get the point to owe and lock such desertic wilderness. Anyway, we were now done with the Rio Negro province when we reached Puerto Madryn in the Chubut province, an easygoing city where we met unexpected hosts.
We stayed a few days days in Puerto Madryn because the town was chilly and our place dope as hell. Gaston and his friends were running The Andino Club, a bouldering place they built by themselves where a lot of people were coming everyday. They offered us to stay in what they called la Casa del Pueblo as long as we would. As I was used to climb, sleeping on these huge mattress was like realize a childish dream. We spent this downtime upgrading our setups after this first stretch, climbing everyday to exercice the upper part of our bodies and drinking craft beers in the whales capital. Unfortunately, we didn't see any of them as they were already gone more south but Puerto Madryn was definitely the place to be to watch them. We met Christophe too, a french paleolitic researcher who was living here for two years. Thanks to them, we rested enough to now ride the Chubut gem : the Peninsula Valdés natural reserve.
Riding the Peninsula Valdés, a piece of land held onto the continent by a thin isthmus between two vast bays, wasn't that peaceful. From Puerto Madryn, we rode beautiful gravel roads along wild coasts, blinding salinas and huge dunes with a blessed wind on our backs. After we tried to negociate the entrance because there was no backdoor, we got chased four days by the rangers because wildcamps were prohibited. However, we played dumb, hid from them in bushes and managed to stay autonomous all the way. Moreover, we saw a rich fauna of penguins, seals, sea lions and sea elephants but missed the orcas by a week. We went back to Puerto Madryn by the same and only road and headed straight to Trelew and Rawson where someone was waiting for us.
Our second stopover was for Christmas we spent on the Rawson beaches, swimming until dusk the cold southern Atlantic Ocean, next to colonies of Antartic animals. Maricel, a very inspiring girl we met by asking our hosts if they know someone further as we use to, welcomed us in her place. She was a surfer, a filmmaker, a beer brewer and knew how to chill, more than the Argentinian average. We felt like home for a moment and rested as much as we could with her family cooking a cordero, the slowest yet the most appreciated recipe. Of course, we ate too much but in summertime, the indigestion was worst. Thanks to that time well spent together, we were now stoked to ride the southern Patagonia.
The first four days in southern Patagonia were made of golden hills flattened by strong winds until a boisterous ocean of white froth. From Rawson, we headed south towards Camarones by a provincial gravel road, an alternative to the highway, following the shapes of the shore and only disturbed by a few remote farms. We spent Christmas at the quiet Isla Escondida, cooking fancy food in old stoves (are gnocchies fancy ?) and drinking wine on wild beaches. After we passed another unexpected hostel lost at the edge of the world, we crossed a storm that stuck our bikes with mud and forced us to settled the camp earlier. The winds often changed their direction and were strong enough to fell us off our bikes. They even tore the pegs off the ground and bended the poles of our tents in the middle of the night. It seemed that we couldn't escape those gusts and had to plan everything from them.
Our last days in the Chubut province were led by the weather and the San Jorge Gulf detour before the so called town of the wind : Comodoro Rivadavia. From Camarones, we chose to join back the highway by climbing a plateau and hitchhiking from gas stations because the weather was about to worsen bad on the remote gravel road we planned to ride. It was such a long time since I saw other hitchhikers but the Argentinian roads and the long haul trucks made the thumb quite easy. Lucky us. We caught one that dropped us off in town, from where we followed a dangerous paved road along the coast. The wind gusts were on our sides then and blinding sands brought in the air from the desert were destabilising us all the time. We eventually reached Caleta Olivia where we met the best hosts we could ever find though.
We celebrated the new year in Cañadon Seco, a village built by the oil industry for the workers. We hiked a few days among rounded hills and slow oil wells with Emir we met thanks to Warmshower, a Couchsurfing like app for bikers. When we weren't talking about food, we were cooking him french recipes with products we found hereabouts such as Croques Monsieurs, Pain Perdu and a desesperate attempt of Tartiflette. Argentinians love generous food, so ours were truly appreciated. With proper clothes lent by our host, we celebrated the new year the way with use to in Europe : with alcohols and friends. I couldn't tell we rested but we were motivated enough to cross the Santa Cruz province, with less flora, less fauna but still more winds.
The four last days in southern Patagonia were a slow death of the vegetation left for isolated lands, only crossed by nothing else than an thin line of asphalt. From Caleta Olivia, we took the highway to Fitz Roy where we were supposed to keep on until the far coastal town of Puerto Deseados. There, we met the only cyclist since we started, and he was very frustrated about the conditions as well, even more without hitchhiking at all. When joy has left, there is no need to be that stubborn I guess. As winds were stronger and unpaved roads scarcer, we chose to use our thumbs straight to Puerto San Julian, Comandante Luis Piedrabuena and Rio Gallegos. From the pickup window, I watched all the struggle we were sparing us. Thus, we soon reached the southernmost town of Santa Cruz and saved about eight days to enjoy Fireland by the Chilean Paso Austral. I wish one day I will have the chance to explore further the region though. With longer and colder days to come, we felt more than ever enough prepared to ride this wild and remote island I have desired for such a long time.