Follow us in:

February 8th, 2011: From Punta Arenas to Chabunco via the Penguin colonies

We left Punta Arenas pedaling along the Avenida España with tail wind. The ride on the pavement is comfortable and fast, but once we take the secondary road towards the Otway penguin colony, everything changes: face wind and dirt road. No surprise. We know that probably we will have to return this same road so we are marking possible GPS points with some shielding from the wind to camp . There is a remote chance of returning to the paved road going to Puerto Natales through another dirt road (Kon Aike) but all locals we have asked, tell us it´s in private land.

RheaDuring much of the first half of the dirt road, we experience a very light drizzle carried by the wind at high speed. It´s like if you run through a cloud at full speed. When the rain intensifies, we stop at a estancia that has a Museum of Old Cars… in the middle of nowhere! Short after that, we arrive at the junction that leads to the penguin colony. When we get to the access booth, the guys there are nice enough to waive the toll. In addition, we leave the panniers to reduce weight. On the road we see lots of hares and sheared sheep, but the most interesting fauna are the 4 rheas (flightless birds slightly smaller than the ostriches) just next to the road.

Magallanic penguinAfter a bad and expensive coffee in the bar of the penguin colony, we start walking towards the habitat of this colony of Magellanic penguins. These penguins nest in burrows dug on the ground. The parents take turns caring for the chicks. One goes fishing while the other takes care of them. Within 8 or 9 hours they switch. Now all chicks are losing their original down and the final adult feathers are growing. Hidden in one of the cache viewpoints we observe a group of young and chicks resting and preening their feathers. With that mix of down and feathers, they look like lepers. The funniest part is watching them walk from the beach to their nests. Swinging from side to side and lined up. When they need to overcome a little drop, they jump with very little style, but very comically.

Currently, most of the colony has already left for their winter residences. Only the ones that are still in the process of renovating the feathers and some couples are still here. Supposedly, at 6:30pm the ones that went fishing should return. The gulls are already lurking, expecting them to put pressure on them until they regurgitate their capture so they can feed for free. Unfortunately, the show is not happening yet and we have to go back before they close the toll gate.

All the wind that this morning was so annoying is now our ally. We sit with our backs straight like in sail-mode and ride at 20, even 30 km/h on dirt road without too much effort. The sky has cleared up and the sun heats our backs pleasantly. In these conditions, cycling is a pleasure. We keep going until we reach the pavement where we know there is a camping area. In total, we have covered 95 km and have had lots of laughs watching the penguins doing their acrobatics to avoid falling face first.


February 9th, 2011: From Chabunco to Río Rubens

Even if we had woken up earlier, it wouldn´t have helped. Not to repeat myself with the same story of the strength of the wind, just to add here a new factor that we had not experienced so far: traffic. Road R-9 from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales is frequented by trucks and buses. The shoulder surface is gravel and rocks and it sucks pedaling on it when a few inches to the left you have good pavement. But vehicles do not respect the minimum safety distance. After only 15 km and a couple of scary moments we decide that the risk of being sucked by a truck is not negligible and stop riding. In a few minutes, Edgardo, A.K.A. "Penguin 666" (in his own words, the nickname comes from the fact that he deals very well with icy roads and he is a “beast” – he arches his eyebrows while emphasizing the word), stops with his 18 wheeler and give us a ride. He has not ridden his bike for years but Edgardo remains a cycling lover and knows why we are not pedaling. We go with him until the junction that will take him to the Primera Angostura ferry crossing, separating from the R-9. From this point, the road to Puerto Natales has less traffic but our moral is already down and we are not in the mood to pedal. Fortunately, one of our aggressor – coincidentally, buses Fernández – becomes our transport. We load the bikes in the middle of the dust cloud created by the unexpected stop and we jump in to sit on the last available seats.

Panorama at Río Rubens

We pass the junction to Río Verde, the one we wanted to take, but we are still not up for it. As the kilometers pass, the landscape improves. We move away from the dusty pampa and we approach the mountain range, where the pastures are green and forests abound. When we cross Río Rubens the scenery is beautiful and we begin to regret being in the bus. In a few minutes (or so it seemed), the driver slows down and stops to drop off a couple that stays at a nice estancia-hotel. We run to the door in no time and jump out announcing we are also dropping off. We are cycling back to Río Rubens!

PuesterosEither time flies faster than I thought or we were driving at 200 km/h. Río Rubens is 30 Km away. Nevertheless, it is worthy. We camp on the bank of the river and while Judit sets the camp I unsuccessfully try some fishing. Supposedly, this is a good spot, but the dammed trouts laugh at me jumping out of the water. The caiquenes and even a kingfisher also mock me flying low in front of my nose. In my despair, I throw a stone to a pair of ducks in flight. Luckily I don´t hit them. I don't know what I would have done with a dying duck in my hands. I couldn't help my Paleolithic instinct from deep down the cerebellum. After a couple of hours, Judit makes me notice that the sun is setting and that today we will have to accept we are having just soup for dinner. From my sleeping bag I keep hearing the splash of some happy trouts...

February 10th, 2011: From Río Rubens to Puerto Natales

Caiquén chickWhen we leave the camp, some caiquenes pass by to say goodbye, ignorant of my killer intentions from yesterday. Maybe they do know and come to taunt me for the last time. While we have coffee at the estancia-restaurant, Gregoire, a French guy who has been cycling for months, comes in. After the normal exchange of information we leave. He's also going north and we will find each other a couple of times on the road to Puerto Natales.

This time waking up early helped. There is no wind, the day is sunny, the traffic is low, it´s even hot. Our average is 18 km/h! It looks like the hares are abundant in the area. And it seems they are very slow crossing the road… The road kill attracts many more caranchos than normal. This is a scavenger bird very common in the area. A while after, we have the opportunity to see a “puestero” riding his horse and trying to drive a heifer through the gate of the fence. The charm of observing this rural task vanishes when another “puestero” shows up in a quad to help…

Cèsar at Río RúbensAs the day heats up, the wind increases and when we arrive at the border post of Casas Viejas it´s already as unbearable as yesterday. However, we have a new technique, devised by Judit. While no vehicles come from the opposite direction, we ride on the pavement. If we see one coming, we look behind to check if there is another one also coming. If that happens, we drop to the shoulder. The system works perfectly for us and we are slowly approaching our destination for today. In the front yard of the border post we devour a mackerel fillet wrapped in Mexican tortillas. Oil trickles down the fingers but we avidly slurp it before it drops to the ground.

Shortly before Puerto Natales wind dies out and the road descends to sea level making the arrival smooth and easy. We go directly to the campground, a couple of blocks from the Plaza de Armas and prepare for a dinner at a restaurant someone recommended. Judit goes for a grilled eel; I order “filete a lo pobre” (a good beef steak with two fried eggs on top, french fries and caramelized onions).