Alarm rang at 5:30AM. It was still pitch dark outside. Brian could not sleep well last night because close to our tent a tow truck sat idling for more than
an hour and several men were walking around causing a commotion.
We ate, packed in the dark, and were on the road by the first ray of sunlight. It was really COLD. Even riding with gloves and hat didn't offer much comfort.
5KM down the road, Brian tried to pump some air into my back tire and BOOM -- the pump head blew up in million of pieces. That was our only pump. We can't have a flat
before Natales, 150K away.
Just before the tiny town of Morro Chico, we met a couple of French Canadian cyclists coming from Puerto Montt. They had just finished climbing Acongagua while staying in Santiago.
Now they were riding south to Punta Arenas. Unlike the Dutch couple, who made their whole trip sound like a breeze, the Canadians painted us a grim picture.
They insisted the border crossing was very strenuous and
it would be tougher for us going uphill in narrow, deep and muddy track. They said the road conditions were terrible and their bikes and equipment had battle scares to prove it.
This was the first time we understood the word "ripio" which means unpaved road. Well, having a shiny mountain bike on pavement was not quite what we pictured our adventure
in South America would be anyway, so we were actually looking forward to experiencing some "ripio."
Upon arriving at a cafeteria in Morro Chico, we were greeted by a crazy black dog that would not stop jumping on me. The temperature must have risen more than
20 degrees because finally it was nice and warm. We had a quick sandwich for lunch. 100KM more to Natales.
When cycling, nothing we eat seems to last very long. 40 KM more and 2 hours later, we were back at a bar inside Hotel Rio Rubens for another food stop. Although this
time it got more serious as we devoured chocolate, a 1/2 chicken and french fries. Add to my Spanish vocabulary: papa = potato, fritas = fried. 67KM to go. Shortly after leaving,
Brian has to pull-over to a guardrail to take a break and digest what he believed was a water buffalo in his belly.
I was getting tired. Even though the terrain was not difficult, we were pushing pretty hard at an average of 18KM per hour with a slight head wind.
20KM more, we took another break chatting with a Walsh and French couple on a tandem bike. Yes, a tandem with a trailer that reminded us of a road train in Australia.
The whole rig had to be 20-feet long. They had been cycling all over South America for several months. We got more information about the border crossing.
For the most difficult section from Candelario Mansilla to Lago del Desierto, they hired a horse to carry their luggage. That would be an interesting picture:
my bike on a horse.
It is all straight and flat for other 20 or so kilometers. There was not a bend in the road going through pampas land. After going up a small hill,
we began our 10KM descent into Puerto Natales. Yee Haw! We flew so fast into town that I forgot I was using
new STD pedals - trying to step out while still attached, I made a crash landing on the street.
Brian had had a cold since Punta Arenas, and it got worse from the last couple of cold nights. I was not in the best of my condition either. So we checked
in to Hotel Natalino. The elderly owner - jefe (chief in English) as we referred to him - is very friendly and welcoming. After Brian found out the dead sheep carcass in the garage,
where jefe offerred to store our bikes, was merely a disfigured piece of concrete, we were quite happy to have the whole hotel to ourselves.
After checking-in, it was time for a little bit of indulgment. Natales is quite a lovely little town. We walked across the grassy city square to El Living - a vegetarian restaurant
recommended by the tandem couple. It was marvelous. We polished-off the daily special, veggie Shepard’s Pie, and drank enough beer,
lemonade, carrot juice, Sprite and tea to fill a small pond. Unfortunately, two girls came in after us and raided the last piece of
cheesecake we had been eying. So we opted for the equally rewarding carrot cake.
When we were almost done, the couple sitting next to us asked if they could join us. They drove by us in the morning and were very curious about our cycling trip.
The woman, Caroline from Germany, won a lottery from her company for a 3-week holiday in Chile. Her boyfriend, Greg from England, came along to accompany her.
We chatted until midnight before leaving - just before the clocks were rolled back one hour ending daylight saving time. You could tell
Summer was gone and perhaps Fall was beginning to fade into Winter.