(January 5– written by Dave)
High winds were forecast again for today but it looked like they might come around more from the north, thus becoming friendlier. Still, you never know, so we were up early to try getting a jump on whatever came our way. We left our cosy apart-hotel just before 7AM. It was such a nice place to stay and Rio Grande worked out to be an ok town. Nancy would have surely been calling for another day had it not been for the inexorable pull of Ushuaia.
We had to ride directly into the wind for the first 2k, and then we turned 90 degrees to the left and had 10k of side wind. We were thrilled by all of this – honest – because at the 12k mark, we had to make one more 90 degree turn to the left. For the next 60k we had glorious tailwinds. The last 30k or so we headed more southerly and had tail/crosswinds. But really, for a day with high wind warnings, it worked out to be a fantastic day of riding. In fact, we rode 108k by noon in what may actually be a trip record for us – woohoo.
Rio Grande is billed as the trout fishing capital of the world – I’m betting that this is a self declared title as many other places probably have good fishing as well. Rio Grande is pretty self-confident however, having erected a monument on the edge of town staking their claim. Who are we to argue – besides the monument has a pretty big fish which I’m sure they are proud of.
Other than the big fish, the first 50k were punctuated by, well, almost nothing. There was one lone windmill, that’s it. Just as we were starting to wonder if any trees have survived on Tierra del Fuego, we started seeing small bunches of short scrubby dead trees. Dead trees eventually gave way to lives trees and finally to trees taller than a one story building. The trees look like juniper and are covered with a thick coats of witch’s beard. But they are trees all the same. It seems like we’ve been riding open steppe for so long now so it’s great to see trees again.
We stopped at about 75k for morning tea. We kept waiting for something to hide behind, out of the wind, but nothing came. The trees are all cut along the road and there was nothing much else out there to shelter next to. We eventually pulled up at what looked like a bus stop. It turned out to be locked so we had to settle for standing in the lee of it for our break.
In the last 30k we had some hills but they were never overly steep. We were riding well ahead of 20kph (total time, not just on the bike time) for the entire day. The hills slowed us but not enough to prevent us from reaching town just past noon. At the top of one little rise a car that had passed us was pulled over and there was a person out waiting for us. We had flashbacks to the crazy woman in Canada but needn’t have worried. The person beside the car was from Brazil, a fellow cyclist and just thrilled for us to stop and share photos. He did a little short video interview of us which I’m sure will be on YouTube at some point down the road. He was so positive about our trip (though we weren’t getting everything he said in his heavily Brazilian-accented Spanish) – it really was nice of him to stop and connect.
Once in Tolhuin, we rode straight to the La Union Panaderia where we had nice warm empanadas for lunch. The place is nothing fancy but it is the only bakery within 100k in any direction so everyone stops here. You can imagine that it was mobbed at noon on Saturday. They are rumoured to offer a back room where cyclists can sleep so we asked about that. They said they had a room but that they couldn’t show us until the crowd died down. So we waited, and waited, and waited. While waiting, Nancy went up the street and found a decent hostel where we could stay as well.
Around 2:30, just as Sarah, Andy and a new rider, Marcus rolled in, the bakery staff offered to show us the room. It is out back, in the warehouse where they store bags of flower for the bakery and almost exactly as it is billed on iOverlander. The room is small, not overly clean and it only had three single beds. We looked at it with the others and opted to let them have it. We were more than happy to move two blocks down the road to the Kau Karskam hostel. We haven’t seen the others in a few days and today will probably be the last chance we get to – so tonight we’ll have celebratory amber beverages of some kind to mark the occasion.
Two more days to Ushuaia – we are excited. The forecast for tomorrow is not great, more strong winds and some afternoon rains, but we are planning on a short day. There is an abandoned resort where a couple cabanas have been cleaned up by other cyclists. If we can get there, we should at least be able to stay dry overnight before making the final assault on Ushuaia the following morning.
Oh and before I forget, today we saw some beaver ponds so we looked up “beavers in Tierra del Fuego”. Back in the 1940s, they introduced beavers here to jump start a fur trade. Soon after the pelt market collapsed. The beavers had no natural predators so they spread far and wide, raising havoc with the native trees. To control the beavers, they introduced weasels but that didn’t work. To control the weasels and beavers they introduced foxes. And you guessed, that didn’t work either. So now they have fewer trees and three new manuals in a food chain that contains flightless birds like the penguin and rhea. You see, it does make sense to plan ahead and think things through, rather than just tweeting out whatever is on your mind and expecting it to work out because you are, well, the king. I’m not saying, I’m just saying….