3. Chile.

As ever typical with the 'no-mans land' between neighbouring countries, the fifteen kilometre section between Argentina and Chile border patrols proved no exception, a rough and bumpy gravel route that we new was short lived as we headed for Chile.
As Argentina's last town (if town is the right word) is called San Sebastian, guess the name of Chile's first town??..ta da!!..also San Sebastian! I wonder who copied who?
Arriving in the early hours, unfortunately the customs-office attached snack-shop was closed, although the customs office was, so we're efficiently stamped in to country number two!

The truckers cafe had a few sandwiches but at extortionate prices  (From arriving in Ushuaia I'd been so surprised at the prices of things in general, understandably being so far south from major cities the cost of additional logistics adds up but some of the prices were crazy therefore intrigued at what people earned). With the town's offering as much as its 'neighbour' we optimistically pressed on, and as of yet to see tarmac also remained optimistic on that. 

Before departing, as a member of several Facebook bicycle touring groups I'd read a posting from a Danish couple - Rene + Mirijam - about to start their tour from Ushuaia to Ecuador. 
As we bumped along the dusty gravel route, up ahead we noticed what looked like a new road to the side, although still blocked off to vehicular traffic it was perfectly suited for our bikes, so abruptly 'changed lanes'!

After many kilometres we arrive at the concrete laying machine so had to depart, later we re-join where steamrollers were packing down recently poured aggregate, sometimes allowed to stay on whilst at other times kicked off - with trucks on the temporary side road at times looked dangerous as the dust could block us from other driver's view, some of the truckers even pointed us back on to the newer partially constructed road.
My plan at the next junction was to head north, whilst Jules and Nicky were continuing west. Descending toward said junction I could see a couple of people, even closer I could see two bikes, arriving at the junction, introducing myself the couple turn out to be Rene + Mirijam! 
Meeting other tourers is always great, "where are you from?, where did you start?, what's your destination?" .
Deciding to now change my route we all head west toward Porvenir. With enough food for dinner, breakfast was looking a bit sketchy but no doubt I'd get by. Asking that night at yet another Estancia, the farmer gladly showing us an nice grassy (+sheep pooped) area next to his house.

With 70km to Porvenir we took an earlyish start to reduce wind-riding time, although with only a tin of tuna for breakfast and the only other 'food' remaining being sugar new the day would be tough, I just kept focused on entering the town's supermarket and buying some delicious food. Riding off the farmers land onto the awaiting route, on an empty stomach with the wind already partially blowing, slowly slowly we plodded along, 10 km, a spoonful of sugar, 20 km, a spoonful of sugar, 30 km,  a spoonful of sugar 35 km, yipeee halfway...it's all downhill from here...metaphorically!

Eventually the town appeared.

....as did that supermercado!

Deciding for the easy-option I join the others at a hostel, a welcomed retreat from the gusty wind and a nice hot shower and a rare occurrence with a few clothes cleaned! 

The proprietor was very friendly and fussed over us all in a most welcoming way.

The following day we'd cross the Strait of Magellan by the ferry. Departing at 1 pm gave us a welcomed leisurely day before cycling to port at mid-day. For the fist day I even rode without my coat and , wearing just a t-shirt!

With an hours crossing or so we're soon at Punta Arenas - a relatively big town complete with a few cycle lanes from around the port area leading into the town. As we'd be riding a few days without any villages we firstly bought supplies from a big supermercado then head out to a cabana (cabin lodgings) that Rene + Mirijam had contacted / organised - here I felt I was simply 'going with the flow' as opposed to my preferable camping. Personally bicycle touring is about disconnecting from my easy (western) comfort zone and finding a place to camp each night is part of each day's unknown / adventure, so using a cabana just feels too easy, nevertheless the next few nights for sure we'll be roughing it out!

Rene, Mirjam, myself, Nicky and Jules at the cabana. 

Rene introducing me to his machete!

Beef is big business in Chile and Argentina. 

This old petrol station more-so resembled a sight from ol' U.S. Route 66!

The following day we rode many kilometres through barren wind-swept terrain, not much to see with just occasional estancias. 

Toward the end of the day we approach one and ask if we could camp next to a barn - shielded from the wind. A lady gives us a key and points to an old workers house one hundred metres away. Inside were two rooms with 2 beds and a single bed in the entry room, perfect! With even a stove an d a bundle of chopped fire-wood outside this was perfect - just the adventure I seek, none of this pre-booking malarkey!

The house was in such a barren area, really emphasising the solitude of the place. After taking a short end-of-the-day break we allocated beds then lit the stove to cook dinner, whilst also providing some heat and listening to the pop and crackle as the logs burnt, I almost felt like one of The Waltons! "Good night John-boy"

Jostling for stove-space in our appointed 'kitchen'.

The following day just seven kilometres from our farm camp was a small town so we all made use of its store, it even had a campsite!! but we all agreed that the farm camp won hands-down!..one of the experiences that money can't buy!
As we pull in a minibus packed with English travellers pulls up and on departing their bus a few of them are keen to ask us questions, the couple that spoke to me were from neighbouring Northamptonshire...a small world! 

Another day of little to photograph along with a mid-day downpour towards the end we ask start asking at a few estancias - one of the disadvantages of travelling in a bigger group can be hearing the word "nao" (no). I guess to appreciate the good days one needs some bad days and this started to look like one. We asked at a small village and was told we could camp in the play area  but with no shield from the wind it was not appealing, finding the community centre door open we tried there but a hawk-eyed local spotted us and said "nao". 
Pushing on we asked at a hotel, but [as I expected] they most definitely said nao! We try accessing a road-side field but a road-repair worker said "nao". With it now getting late I called the shot and said we should just camp at the roadside, with four tents no passing motorists would consider there luck...especially with Machete-Rene! One think I've seen is that 99.99% of people are good and will leave you alone.

The next main town ahead being Porto Natales, a key town for mountain-trail hikers due some excellent trails on offer. 

Arriving mid-afternoon, on entering the town it was clearly a tourist-drenched area, almost every-other building being a hostel, hotel or restaurant. Nevertheless a some ocular entertainment for some of the bland openness we'd been through. Soon we eventually find - or rather guided to a hostel by its proprietor, a hostel that also had camping facility...no prizes on guessing who that option was for!
The hostel / campground.

The shielded well-grassed camping area. 
Whilst rebuilding my bike at home I'd fitted the older un-sealed bottom bracket bearings - making it easy to carry replacements for when they wear out - but with recent bearing-noise decided it would prove best to actually fit the [now] standard sealed type. Fortunately a local bike shop had several different Shimano lengths in stock but said their mechanic would not be in work until Wednesday..three days away. Explaining to them (in my best Spainglish!) that if I could borrow their tool I could do it on the pavement. Sure enough on returning with my bike I soon had the new part fitted, casting away the nagging "something's not right" voice from within!

Top geeza at Porto Nateles top bike-shop!

Next task was to see if I could withdraw money from one of the banks ATM's - although carrying several hundred U.S. dollars it's always a worrying experience in far-off countries wondering if the ATM's foreigner-friendly. Having never had problems with my Visa-debit card in African countries fortunately here in Chile it was an easy process..even offering a 'Foreign Customer' option to set the language to English. Although being charged a whopping 5000 pesos for the withdraw (850 = £1!!) I now had enough local cash for the next few weeks. 

The following day Rene + Miriam, Jules + Nicky were heading out to ride around some of the Nacional Parque, whilst I would stay another day and take the more direct route back across the border into Argentina again.

Next time I'm back solo, but for now from me and my feline friend it's chao for now. 

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