10,000 kilometers and six months biking South America without seeing a single cyclist. Now we’re surrounded by seven of them hanging out in the same campground In Calafate, Argentina.
Patagonia is swarming with cyclists. If there’s a bicycle touring mecca, Patagonia must be the place. We’ve crossed paths with a German businessman on tour, French retirees cycling the Andes for six months, a young Swiss guy taking a year off to bike South America, Argentines cycling the length of their country, New Zealanders on a two-wheeled honeymoon, even a guy from the Czech Republic out pedaling around Patagonia. We’ve yet to run into any Canadians and Americans who’ve pedaled south from North America, but we know they’re out there.
Patagonia’s nice, but...well, I must admit its extreme popularity baffles me. Cold fronts sweep up from Antarctica. The wind blows unrelentlessly from the west. Distances are long and water is scarce. But still cyclists show up in droves.
To be honest, I don’t mind having a little company on the road. Turning up at some remote ranch, hanging out with the local farmhands and fumbling around for the right words in Spanish gets old after awhile. And while I love counchsurfing--being a part of an Argentine family for a few days and living like a local-- I don’t mind the role of simple tourist from time to time.
There’s just something completely relaxing about being one of the crowd. Just another tourist on a bike. Nobody special to gawk at or fawn over. Not an object of curiosity to crowd around. Completley inconspicuous.
Hanging out with other bicycle tourists has another important advantage. You’re guaranteed instant sympathy once you start moaning about the winds. The story usually goes something like this, “It was impossible to cycle, I tell you, the winds were blowing 120 kilometers per hours. Really! No exaggeration. I had to hop on the truck, there was no choice.”
And, having been buffeted about by similar winds, I believe these tales.
So far, we’ve not met a single cyclist who’s been able to ride the entire way through Patagonia. Everybody admits to having hopped on the bus here or there.
And yes, we are no exception. Our very first bus ever in 4+ years on the road. Here’s the sad tale...
We were stuck on a long stretch of empty road between Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas. The day before Christmas battling headwinds and we’d had enough. An entire afternoon was spent hunkered down by the side of the road waiting out the gale. Finally a bus approached and in a flash we sprinted to middle of the road and were flagging it down as if it were the last helicopter out of Saigon.
The stone-faced conductor hopped down and shook his head grimly. Sorry. No room for the bicycles.
This rejection almost sent me into heart failure. What? Would I end up splitting a can of tuna and some instant mashed potatoes by the side of the road for Christmas dinner?
Pleasssse. Please sir. Can’t you squeeze them in somehow? Look, look, the bags come off and if we turn the wheel just so…
Positive karma was with us. The bus spirited us away and in a couple of hours we were settled around the dinner table with the Seguel family in Puerto Natales. The carnivores devoured an entire grilled lamb. I dined on mashed potatoes. But at least they weren’t of the instant variety.