Days 6 to 10: Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales
[3 days cycling with a day off in the cities at either end]
The 5 days crossing Tierra del Fuego against the epic winds left me pretty much spanked, so Day 6 was very much about RnR in Punta Arenas, the most southerly city on the South American mainland. That said, I almost felt too dazed and confused to even really relax properly... it was almost as if I needed a day off to prepare for a day of RnR! No rest of the wicked though and I decided one rest day was enough.
The next three days saw me getting more into the swing of sleeping in sheds, since there was little in the way of small towns and the distances between them can be quite far apart in southern Patagonia; at least they saved me putting up the tent in high winds anyway. Despite spending another cold night in a shed, I found myself becoming quickly accustomed to it. “Sheds of Patagonia” could make a quirky and unusual coffee-table photography book I initially thought, but on second consideration I wondered if its appeal would perhaps be limited.
I conceded I was probably more emotionally attached to these sheds than warranted. The sheds had shown up just at the right time as I apporached twilight, perhaps imbuing me with an overstated sense of their awesomeness which would probably be lost on any christmas shopper at Waterstones.
I also found a quirky yet cheap offbeat rural hotel which has been there since the 1920s, and which had a small selection of local craft beers which made for a nice contrast to shed-squatting of recent days
With the exception of my first day out of Ushuaia, I’d been a tad underwhelmed with the scenery around me. Flat, featureless and blowing a howling gale; not quite the rugged mountainous beauty I’d dreamed of. The ride from Ushuaia to Puerto Natales had been a challenging experience and a stern test of character for the first week of my first ever long-haul cycle-tour. In terms of visual rewards, I was often left wondering if I was even getting anything out of it. As the road made its approach towards Puerto Natales, it ascended 200 metres in elevation and as I rolled over the summit I was greeted by something I’d been waiting a week to see: a long line of snow-capped mountain peaks trailing off into the distance.
The Andes Mountains run through most of South America but they trail off towards the very south, so instead it had been the flat plains, or “pampas” as they’re referred to locally, that had dominated my first week. The last 15 kilometres into Puerto Natales steadily dropped about 250 metres, and as I bombed through the descent I felt like my journey had turned a decisive corner as the snowy mountains drew nearer and nearer.
Puerto Natales exudes a positive first impression. The road into town hugs the waterfront of Golfo (or Gulf) Almirante Montt and the mountains I’d spotted from afar sit along the fjords which envelope Puerto Natales and the southern reaches of Chile. The snow-covered peaks reflected hazily in the sea, adding to the allure and finally fulfilling my mental image of what Patagonia is “supposed” to look like. The seafront street was dotted with cafes, restaurants and hotels, well-positioned to enjoy the striking vista.
Puerto Natales is also the main nearby town to the legendary Torres del Paine National Park, so I made arrangements to ditch my bike at a backpackers there as I spent a day making plans to head off on an 8-day hike through the mountains.
Bacon-flavoured processed cheese! Seriously! They became a regular companion.
The view of the old bridge from the new bridge :-)