19 February 2011


It was late morning when I left the Club Nautico at Rio Grande. There was sun coming through the clouds and it was windy but not so cold. It was 110km to Tolhuin and I would have the wind with me for much of it. Outside the city I crossed the Rio Grande and its tributary streams. There looked to be very good trout fishing in them but I did not see anyone working the waters.

The country was flat with grassy fields and some rolling hills until Ruta 3 went to the sea and then I was riding along green cliffs and the water. The tide was out and the shore was very exposed. It became more mountainous and I began to see strange trees, twisted and dead looking, and then there were thick forests of them and pine forests too covering the mountains, though the valleys remained cleared as pastureland. I had not seen any trees since I had entered Patagonia weeks ago.

Two cyclists were having lunch on the roadside and I pulled over and joined them. They were a young Canadian couple and had begun cycling two weeks ago at El Calafate. Today to Tolhuin was to be their first 100km day. The girl offered me a sandwich and while I ate it I looked and on the horizon I could just see the high mountains. They were blue gray against the sky and you almost did not think you were really seeing them. They were the big mountains at Ushuaia and they excited me. I ate quickly and told the Canadians we would meet later at the campground in Tolhuin or at the famous panaderia and got back on the road.

I rode hard through the forested mountains and at the top of each ascent the distant high mountains, jagged and some snowy, became closer. Then it was down, down on fast descents through the valleys and pasture and across streams in the lower lying areas. There were horses and cattle in the valleys and because of the forested mountains the winds were lessened. The riding was fast and it was late afternoon when I made Tolhuin.

Tolhuin is a small town located on Lake Fagnano with the high mountains above it and I rode down the one paved street towards the Panaderia La Union. The owner of the bakery is known widely as a friend of touring cyclists and will provide a free place to stay inside the bakery, with a bathroom and hot showers, and cyclists are often given as many empanadas and pastries as they can eat. Some cyclists have stayed a month or more here and were given jobs.

For such a small town the bakery was much larger than I imagined, and there were many people inside waiting to purchase pastries at the long counter and you had to take a number. The owner was not in and I talked with one of the bakers and followed him back through the ovens and across the street to a smaller building where they stored baking ingredients. Inside there was a small room with four mattresses for touring cyclists.

Also staying there were two Italians from Bologna who had ridden the Carretera Austral and were flying back to Italy in a few days from Ushuaia. I made some coffee for us and we talked about the places we had ridden and we talked of terrible winds and ripio. The Italians had met Ian from Vancouver a day after I had seen him in Chile and they had taken his advice and seen Mauricio and stayed at the gas facility in Cullen.

After the Canadians appeared I walked down the dirt road behind the bakery and at a mercado bought a bottle of vermouth to share between us. I figured the Italians would be very keen on drinking Cinzano. But when I returned the Italians and the Canadian girl had gone to bed and it was only the young Canadian who would have a drink with me. His name was Caleb and he was from a town near Toronto and we sat on bags of flour and talked of cycling and Canada and things we had seen and done, and he discovered that he quite liked vermouth. He was very young but like most who decide to ride bicycles long distances he had a fine outlook on things and I liked him. Later, after we said goodnight, I put my ground pad and sleeping bag down beside the stacked bags of flour. I did not want to sleep in the small room with the others and maybe be kept up during the night if one of them snored.


Post a Comment

Copyright © S O U T H