10 February 2011

Rio Chico

I was slow to leave Puerto San Julian. I awoke late and made two cups of coffee at the campground before I packed up. Then I washed some clothes and my coffee cup and refilled my water bladders. I had forgotten the day before to purchase and another canister of butane for my cooking stove and went into town looking for it. I begin to carry a fresh backup canister of gas when I know the one I have been using is running low.

The supermarkets did not carry them and nor did the hardware store, but at the end of town there was a sporting goods shop that had camping equipment. They carried the wide model of canister that was specifically designed for my stove but for nearly the same amount of gas it was twice the price of the thin canister. The stove could only connect to the thin canisters with the special adaptor piece I had purchased extra when I bought the stove in Bahia Blanca. I rarely saw anything other than the thin canisters and the adaptor had been a good purchase.

It was 11 o’clock when I left town. It was a hot day, the hottest day since much further north at Punta Tombo, and I rode in a tshirt. There was a light breeze and the road climbed southwest through the rugged mountain area around the town, rising and falling, but always climbing. I was riding inland, back up to the Patagonian plain.

After 30 kilometers I made the last climb and at the top the flat of the plain, all dirt and scrub, stretched out to the horizon. A headwind was blowing but it was not too strong and felt refreshing in the heat. I was drinking more water because of the heat but I knew I would make Piedra Buena either tonight or tomorrow and I would refill my supplies there. After Piedra Buena there was said to be nothing over the 240 kilometer stretch to Rio Gallegos.

Gran Bajo de San Julian

All along the road the guanaco were feeding. They had become accustomed to the presence of vehicles but when I approached their little heads would pick up on their long necks and the group of them would turn and watch me riding slowly towards them. Then one would begin to make a screeching horse-like whinny to alert the others, and he would turn and bound off towards the fence line, the others turning to follow, and each elegantly leaping the fence and bounding across the plain until the leader stopped and they turned to watch me from the new, safer distance.

The rhea too fed near the road but they were harder to see. Often you heard the fluttering of their feathers before you saw them. They looked like minature ostriches and were funny to watch run, the way they scampered off, their legs turning very quickly and their long necks and bodies motionless. The rhea was such a skittish careful bird and, unlike the guanaco, I did not see any rhea dead alongside the road from being struck by motorists.

I took a short nap in the early afternoon in the shade cast by road sign and then got back onto the bike. The wind strengthened later and when I saw a wall of cliffs, blue in the distance, I knew I was getting close to Rio Chico. I dropped into a wide river bed and fought the wind across it. The river was nearer to the far cliffs and my plan was to camp along it.

The Rio Chico was gray and milky and running low and I crossed the bridge over it and turned onto a dirt road that ran along the water. There were fisherman working the river from the banks and I rode until the dirt road ended and pushed the bike through the scrub to a secluded spot at a bend in the river. I pitched the tent and lay down inside and listened to the water rippling against the bank.

The wind was really blowing now and I was glad to have finished my day on the bike and staked the tent down. I climbed down the steep river bank and washed my cycling shorts and tshirt but I would have to wait until the sun went down, and the wind hopefully stopped, before I would do any cooking.

It was after 10pm when the wind stopped. I was ready with my cooking setup and had the water boiling for a bowl of pasta soon after. It was quiet now, the night sky clear and I had not put up the rain fly so that I could look up at the stars. I finished eating and lay back and studied the sky. It still amazed me to see constellations I had not seen before and though I could identify the Southern Cross, I planned one day to know more of them. I closed my eyes and listened to the river, and then I was asleep.


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