Walking down the beach at dusk in Peninsula de Valdez, a bundle lay motionless in the sand. Curious, I walked up to it and found a little penguin with eyes closed. I thought it was dead, but it opened its eyes and gazed at me calmly. It didn’t look injured or afraid. I got the strong impression it was waiting for something. This little creature that lived its whole life in a colony amongst its own kind, lay all alone, waiting for death. In the next couple of days, we saw two more penguins like this one, tired, alone, chest raised to the setting sun, waiting. For your last moments of this life, at least it’s a beautiful place to go.
A few happy pictures of penguins in Tierra del Fuego and mainland Patagonia.
My brain felt like it was going to implode on the long haul from Ushuaia to Peninsula de Valdéz. The monotonous, desolate and curveless nearly two thousand kilometers of empty tundra on Ruta 3 caused near hallucinations and frequent attacks of fatigue cured only by naps along the highway and blaring ‘high quality’ pop through tinny sounding headphones. I couldn’t hear the music through the noise of the wind, so I made up words for songs, singing like a crazed maniac into the amphitheater of my helmet.“This is ground control to major Tom! Nuh nuh nuh nuuuuh nuuh nuh. This is ground control to major Tom! Dah duh deeh nuh nuh take your pills and nuh nuuuuh, tin can above the wooorld” (Thanks for keeping me awake, David Bowie).
Other times, I’d look down a long stretch of road seeking signs of life, and would see a section of the road just in front start stretching itself out in front of my eyes like I was in some kind of trippy vortex, getting further and further away while the land directly next to me rushed by, expanding infinitely into the distance. A strange trick of the landscape, or was this road actually expanding, gaining speed, like the expansion of the Universe itself? Sometimes I’d see glimmering mirages in the distance, dancing waves of fog, or clouds at the horizon that looked to be bending with the curve of the Earth.
The mind numbing ride was broken every now and then by totally unexpected wildlife in this desert like landscape. Detours took us down sandy tracks to “Loberías” and the coast, where blubbery beach bodies lay strewn along the pebbles by the hundreds.
When animals weren’t around to gawk at (or to gawk at you), we frolicked in pebble dunes, played in the sand, and generally tried to keep our bikes upright.
Finally arriving at a national reserve on the Peninsula de Valdez near Puerto Madryn, it was time to take a few days off to relax and do some bike maintenance.
In the cold, biting night air at the southernmost tip of South America, I ran through the damp dark in flip flops and a t-shirt, shivering, afraid, and worst of all, pantsless. “So this is why people insist on wearing proper pajamas”, I thought as I lamented my choice of bedtime attire, or lack thereof. I edged nearer the bushes, hearing the sounds of something tearing…
Walking down the trail to the world’s most famous glacier, I thought I knew what to expect. I’d seen glaciers in Iceland, as well as in the Cascade mountains around Seattle, and on countless postcards and photos. I knew it would be massive, beautiful and snowy white with shades of blue, and I knew I’d think it was stunning. So, I was surprised when turning a bend I found myself absolutely blown away- mesmerized- by what lay before me: Perito Moreno, a megalith of compressed ice, loomed in the distance until it disappeared into the clouds. It creaked and cracked, a living organism of blue and white shards. My high expectations were exceeded infinitely by the real thing. Even from a distance, I could barely believe what I was seeing. It was the single most beautiful thing I have ever encountered, and no picture does it justice. I was immediately transported to the majestic and impregnable “Wall” in the Game of Thrones book, except this was the real deal.
I could tear my eyes away only for milliseconds at a time, just long enough to glance at the path I was hurrying down to get nearer. A few minutes later I heard a thunderous crack and witnessed a jagged sheet of ice dislodge itself in slow motion, slowly, slowly breaking away until it crashed into the murky blue water below, accompanied by a most unexpected sound, like a canon firing off a round. I was still far away, and didn’t realize the magnitude of the ice fall until I closed the distance between myself and the glacier. It stood out of the water at an unbelievable 50 meters (150 feet), with supposedly an even greater distance plunging deep into the lake.
After a couple of hours Rob and Kath left, and although I had stared in wonderment the whole afternoon, I still couldn’t tear myself away. I stayed until dinnertime, and would ride the cold and windy 80km back to El Calafate on my own, hoping to never forget what it was like to stand there, frozen in time. There wasn’t one moment I wasn’t awe-struck by the sight and sounds of the imperceptibly encroaching glacier, waiting for car and building sized chunks of ice to plummet into the watery depths with a deafening crack and deep explosion.
Had I ridden my motorcycle 5,000 km from Santiago just to see this glacier, it would have been worth it.
A photo update of recent adventures around the mountain town of El Chalten, home of the famous Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre peaks.
For my birthday we hiked 23km (14 miles) from the town of El Chalten to Lago de los Tres at the foot of the stunning Fitz Roy mountain. It was exactly one month and 4,500km (nearly 3,000 miles) after we started our journey from Santiago, Chile on January 7th. By February 7th we were in dire need of a serious leg stretching, and the undulating ridges and valleys on the way to the mountain were beckoning. But take it from me: hiking boots are notbroken in just because you’ve warn themon your motorcycle for a month! My feet are still suffering the blistering consequences.
El Chalten itself was a nice town full of good cafes, restaurants, stunning views and rock climbing. I regretted my decision to leave climbing shoes and harness at home, but a minimalist can only fit so much on a motorcycle. It also had free National Park access, excellent and cheap campsites and hostels,making the $30/day budget a breeze.