Route 40

Trip Start Mar 11, 2005
Trip End Jul 15, 2005

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Thursday, April 7, 2005

Route 40 is infamous around these parts (and farther afield too it has to be said) for its emptiness: rightly so. This was not a stretch that we were looking forward to as we knew that it would be virtually all 'ripio' (gravel-type roads), there would be little traffic, fewer people, and shops would be as common as dodos in Atlantis. The landscape would go on and on ad infinitum and the wind would blow in our faces. You'll be glad to know that we were correct in every respect.

El Calafate to Perito Moreno (not to be confused with the glacier - this is actually a town) is 387 miles. During one long stretch of 190 miles there was no shop from which to buy supplies and no hot cup of coffee from which to sup. But many people were very kind: we stopped at one former police depot where a guy took us in, offered us hot showers and beds, gave us dinner of the most delicious Patagonian lamb, and wanted no payment in return; an estancia offered us camping, then said we could sleep by the Aga on the floor of the restaurant that they were renovating, whilst they watched TV (neither of us saw them turn it off); yet another gave us camping and a hot meal followed by a delicious home-made loaf of bread to take with us; and others, such as an Austrian couple who gave us water and yoghurts, have helped us whilst on the road. One place we stayed at wasn't quite so helpful: it was called 'Parador de Luz Divina' which roughly translated means 'Resting Place of Divine Light', but there was no use of a shower and no light in the room (2 candles and 2 bowls of water were usefully provided), yet they charged far more than most (they did however have a very friendly guanaco!!). We also stayed the night in Tres Lagos: cycling into town was like cycling into a ghost town in the Westerns with the bar doors swinging on their hinges and everyone hiding behind bolted doors. The only accommodation available was in a police barracks where we were offered beds and charged an exhorbitant amount for the privilege: a little business on the side we think!

The roads, OH, THE ROADS, and the wind, OH, THAT WIND. There were a few miles of 'asfalto', but the vast majority was ripio. Some was OK, but much of it was bad, oceans of loose gravel chucked onto roads that are rarely used and hence the gravel doesn't get the chance to consolidate. The few vehicles that do pass create 'lanes' in the road, but on either side there are walls of loose gravel that may be 10 inches deep and impossible to cross without dismounting and hauling the bike across. In other places the gravel is mixed with sand or dust (such is the geology) and hence is very soft, sucking the bike to a standstill. For days the roads were flat, so flat that we stopped to eat out of shear boredom (or so Starky maintains - boy, can that fella eat!). On other days, like the last day, the roads went up and down and round and about as if there were no tomorrow: but that day we had the better of them as we took on a 'road' for about 10 miles that was under construction, only to be greeted by incredulous stares from construction workers who, once they had recovered from their shock at seeing these two cyclists appear over the horizon from the middle of nowhere, were delighted to stop and chat. As for the wind, well that has been against us for most of the way, at various strengths: on one day we considered turning back after 6 miles and trying again the next day, but we struggled on covering just 19 miles in 5 hours. But perhaps worse than this, for much of the time there has been a crosswind, which at best pushes us to the mounds of gravel to the side of the road so that we have to haul our bikes back to the middle of the road, and at worst throws us off our bikes. Since last we greeted you, Starky has fallen off twice (again rather bizarrely within half an hour of the other) and Philsy just the once: Starky's ahead on points.

The view this way . . .

And it's barren: sometimes flat, sometimes hilly, but always barren. And when it's flat, it's so flat that the horizon is a mirage; and when it's hilly it's so soul-destroying, because not only do we have to crawl up steep, gravel-covered tracks, but on the way down we have to brake to avoid losing control on the ripio. We may see 10 vehicles in a day (even less when using roads that are under construction!): one of our estancia hosts was telling us how much traffic there is nowadays and when we told him that we were seeing about 10 vehicles per day, he rather proudly told us that at the height of the tourist season there might be 30 or even 40. And this is the main road . . .

. . . and that way.

We were very relieved to arrive at Perito Moreno, not much of a town, but a town nonetheless where we can take a break after 9 consistently hard days' cycling. We think it should get a bit easier fairly soon as after a couple of days' cycling we should hit asfalto pretty consistently. But it never pays to count your chickens . . .
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