4. Where's my flag?!

One of the artistic bins in Porto Nateles.
Rather well eroded pier / jetty supports at the sea front.
Sea front flying people art.

The Argentina border crossing at Cerro Castillo was about fifty kilometres away and after passing the junction that led to the mountain hiking-trails the passing bussed became no more, let's see if I can find that pot of gold!
With a few lakes along this section, the bus-stops certainly complemented the natural beauty extremely well.

The border town of Cerro Castillo was a strange little place - often border towns makes one think what people actually do for income - although there had been reasonable greenery along the morning's route, here it seemed totally barren, amplifying that feeling of desolation.

Stamped out of Chile it was a four kilometre rippio route to the Argentine border office - maybe the night before I'd picked-up on what was to come as at the Porto Nateles hostel we'd been talking about border delays, and here, courtesy of several coach-loads that beat me there, proved the longest border entry wait I'd ever encountered anywhere...maybe excluding China!!

With another four kilometres of rough bumpy-bumpy-bounce-bump rippio (white/yellow in bottom left-hand) the sealed road turns up, where I'd head toward Tape Aike. Now mid-afternoon the wind had picked up, blowing from the as-normal north-west direction. As seen on the map, my route would head in a reasonable east position and after passing the initial 'kink' in the road the wind was on my side!!...here I was blown along the undulating road without pedalling at 35 kilometres per hour, my feet just resting on the pedals for an hour or so! Tapie Aike proved to be three buildings; a petrol station on one side, and the other a cafe (I think) and a transport police station.

Heading for El Cerrito, it's clear that the shortest distance by almost half [compared to the route-40] is the red/white route, but, this is another bumpy rippio route and from experience so far realised could actually take as long as the [sealed] route-40 via Esperanza.
Knocking on the door of the police station I ask if I could have water and possibly also camp somewhere shielded from the wind, gladly led around the side next to a grassy patch with a thick hedge snug enough for my tent. Pondering that evening over my route dilemma I decide to take the rippio, it couldn't be any worse than what I'd already rode.

This fella from the petrol station opposite absolutely loved me as (like most dogs around these parts) I paid him the attention that is otherwise not given - a shame as most of them a great dogs with their cautious head-down approach of uncertainty 95% of time turns into head-up tail-wagging contentment.  

I first thought this was a Star-Trek style rippio-bypass transporter machine whereby upon entry i'd be materialised into a gazillion subatomic particles and re-assembled 70 kilometres further down at the end of the awaiting rippio...unfortunately I was wrong. It's simply the rippio-route maintenance / accommodation vehicle for the road-maintenance crews to lodge in...that in itself spoke volumes about what awaited! In the morning I continue...I ride about one kilometre down the route before a few [unrepeatable] key words spewed from my mouth, 180 degrees turn around it's back to the tarmac!

With the wind on my side again I rode the 67 kilometres to the junction town of Esperanza by 11:30 am - about 3 hours of riding with relatively little effort.  At the town's petrol station / cafe I met a Mexican cyclist also heading my way. 
As seen on the map the road for the first ten kilometres headed back west before a north-north-west direction. Deciding to ride together we could take turns riding abreast thus taking turns to slipstream each other.  That first section was actually quite easy, at times riding at good pace, although our 'lead rider' to 'slipstream rider' ratio was not exactly even with me leading at most times! 
It wasn't until late afternoon that the wind turned nasty, at times pushing hard to ride at walking pace, to which I did exactly that - walked! In all I'd estimate I walked several one kilometre sections, counting down the remaining twenty kilometres was like counting needles in a haystack, a slow..very very slow affair!

It sure does exactly what it says on the tin!
Home for the night, an AGVP road-maintenance building.

Tents to the right, bike store and kitchen under the shelter, with guard dog Mageleto on patrol. 

Naughty opportunist "Mageleto", eats exactly what's in the tin!..my bloody tuna!!..luckily I had another tin, "bad boy!"

Unfortunately I spoke no Spanish and my cycling mate spoke no English so our conversation was more miss than hit but we both understood an early start was the best option. El calafate was the days destination, a town renowned for it's nearby glaciers, going there meant a 30 kilometre return down the same road to the route-40 junction but an unavoidable visit as I'd need to re-stock on food supplies.
Riding off the following morning within the first few hundred metres for some reason he'd stopped, something with the inevitable up-and-coming wind I didn't intend on doing - every second counted - so I just carried on cycling, expecting to catch up further along. Due to the previous afternoons attention being occupied with the headwind battle I'd not even noticed the increase in elevation until rounding a corner when this view came into sight:
Across the windswept barren terrain a river stands out, 'Rio Bote'

Along with filling my water bottles this made a nice place for a short break, but with still no sign of the Mexican cyclist and now under forty kilometres to El Calafate I press on. 

On entering the town I pass many people along it's main street and ask a person toward the end for camp-sight and tourist information directions, low and behold I'm offered a place to stay, now what's the chances of that! 
Bruno knew only too-well what travelling is like; Several years prior he'd made a few bike tours around Europe and more recently hiked in and around China whilst also incorporating teaching English in small towns and villages. His dog even comes from China and has full travel-vaccination and considered a service-dog.

Calafete is near the edge of the Southern Patagonia ice field in the province of Santa Cruz. Being one of the main gateways to the Glaciers National Park where the massive Perito Moreno Glacier is. The town has therefore flourished via the inevitable tourism, with too many tourist shops, tour operators and the feeling of running-with-the-masses I decide to give the Glacier a miss, stocking up on supplies I camp one night then head back out down the 30 kilometre road to the aforementioned junction.

Just short of the junction I cross paths with Nicky + Jules, being a few days behind me they were on their way in to the town, and through the course of the day I pass many more (predominantly French) southbound tourers. The majority of them talk about the 'Pink House'. An old abandoned house that's sits midway to my next stop of El Chalten, with a river running behind it seemed like an ideal place to aim for, I expect this would be the river 'Rio Santa Cruz.'
The obligatory cyclists photo.
Most of the farms are slightly set-back from the main road.
Just look at the blue of the lago! (lake) 

And I bet you're all thinking how nice and warm the weather is?? Big gloves, rain coat (against the cold wind) and neck fleece.

The above photo was taken by an English couple, Michael + Paula Webster who have been visiting Patagonia for several years as wild-life photographers, their facebook page can be found here and website here. Informing me of differences between some of the similar animals and hi-lighting endangered bird species. Driving their English plated camper /pick-up that had been out here for many years and were both keen to hear about my story so only gladly exchanged details.
As the pink house came into view my expectations of a solitary night changed. 

Nearing it's fence I could see two other cyclist nearing the property, they were French and gladly helped me lift my bags and bike across the barbed fence.

Firstly having a chat I then walk down to the river for a wash, returning fifteen minutes later the two French had become six! England 1 : France 6. I did say there were many French out  here! The house has three 'bedrooms' that they used whilst I lay my air-mattress and sleeping bag on an old - partially brick supported - single bed in the main room. As with the bakery back in Tolhuin, this place had been tagged from floor to (and including) ceiling.

One thing for sure, all being cyclists after dinner was done and dusted we were all to bed, with no window pains, at dusk the wind made the inside slightly fresh but tucked into my duck-down sleeping-bag, with no late night chatting or disturbances, under the total silence of the open nothingness beyond the pink walls, we all fell asleep. 
Some of the roadside wild flowers.

Aided by a few gentle downhill stretches the morning's ride was well paced and within a few hours I'd arrived at the Route 40 departure junction for the final section to El Chalten, at this rate I'd be there by late afternoon. El Chalten was only thirty years old, formed by, and to support the hikers trails the area had to offer, reassuringly I'd heard is was a laid back place, totally different from El Calafete.

If you're tired of reading about the wind, I'm twice as tired riding into it. The left-hand turn soon changed my pace and as by 2pm it was time to walk again. On and off the saddle I make about 45 kilometres when up ahead I could see some road-side buildings - hopefully a farm, which, curtailing my original plan, I could reluctantly camp at.

As ever, I'm welcomed into the farm house and sit there in the kitchen for a while the older man who welcomed me in shares a mate' drink - a traditional South American shared drink (think ten-times strength tea!) that's drank through a metal straw. Being only 3pm I was in no rush to set camp and just sit there listening to them nattering. After an hour or so a lady enters, leaves, then re-enters and asks me in English, or more-so tells me they'll give me a lift to El Chalten in their pick-up truck. With my bike and bags in the back off we drove. Wanting to cycle all my journey I was not too happy but decided to not have regrets. They turned out to be archaeologists working around the farm area for the Patagonian University. After 15km the driver says something (in Spanish) to the front passenger and he informs me the driver had noticed my bike's flag was now missing. Speeding down the road into a headwind had obviously forced the small flag-pole and flag out of it's bracket.

Asking if we could turn around to look for it they said no "can't you just get another one?" The flag had a bit of history to it so to me wan't simply just a flag. Now feeling double disappointed that (a) I was in a vehicle, and (b) my flag was gone I said, "okay, if you could stop, I'll ride ride back to the farm and in the process find my flag, then ride to El Chalten early in the morning". 

"okay", in almost disbelief they replied, no doubt thinking I was mad!
Now in the opposite direction I had the wind on my back, blown along at 20 kilometers per hour, scanning the road, gravel embankment and scrub-land after 5-6 km I could see an orange 'thing' on the gravel shoulder..getting closer...MY FLAG!!! Another 10 kilometres and I'm back at the farm! 
I think the farmer was surprised to see the gringo again, but nevertheless gave me an old workers room to sleep in, with a few old mattresses I made camp, cooked dinner and went to bed.  (Let's play 'spot the flag')

Awoke and on the road by 6am to avoid the wind but still thwarted by weather gods the nights rain was still drizzling!

I'll save my El Chalten arrival for my next posting, where you'll find where
 I walk, and why it takes me 4 hours to walk a mere 6 kilometres (3.7 miles).