El Calafate, Argentina
Three days ago I left behind El Calafate, reliable WiFi, and a decent mobile signal. Images became harder, if not impossible, to edit, let alone publish in posts, when all you have on your phone are the space-saving low-res versions with the hi-res images locked in the Cloud thanks to limited Internet connection.
Yesterday I caught a wonderful weather window that allowed me to hike up to a tall hill above El Chalten – the climbing capital of Patagonia. Today the window was shut firmly with gale force winds dragging torrential rain across the Andes and over El Chalten. This was a good day for reading, writing, drafting a post and learning to be inventive without the visuals.
So I’ve decided to try something different today and publish a blog. Not something I’ve done often or through the Insta > FB channels. Inspired by a good friend and recent travelling buddy Trin, I’ve bitten the bullet.
Wednesday 17th December: After 3 1/2 weeks on the road with a changing cast of wonderful characters, a catalogue of Patagonian towns, and the variety soundtracks from drive time chatter, Spotify and Jane’s Jukebox, it’s back to solo travel again. And I will miss the lot of them.
It’s hard to believe this trip started after a conversation about Lucy Gossage (British Triathlete) at a party over a year ago. Club mate Pete was thinking about doing an extreme triathlon called the Patagonman (which Lucy won in 2018 btw). But to compete, you need a support person. I said to Pete, “I think I might know someone.” I’d never been to South America, so the thought of Patagonia with its high peaks, volcanoes, glaciers, crystal waters, penguins and pumas, was tempting.
The conversation widened. The group grew, plans were hatched, a road trip created and bookings made. Meanwhile I decided to build an extended trip around the race and the road trip that would follow. But it required quite a long few months of intense house renovations so I could rent and run (away). It also involved some soul searching. How many times had I quit my working life and turned my ordered world upside down just to travel. My mother’s words from long ago still ring in my ears: “When will you grow up, and settle down?” Sorry mum, not this year!
It all slowly came together but not without some stress, advice from good friends and accepting changes of plans. All to be expected, and a lesson I needed reminding of. The trip itself would throw up challenges along the way: gear left behind in UK, wrong kit brought, car permit fails, bad weather, and inconvenient bus, plane and ferry timetables. And we also had a race to negotiate.
I’m in awe of my club mates who raced (Trin, Jane & Pete) – and finished – all of them (along with Jon, Andrea & Barney) despite an incredibly tough course, with private battles and hiccups to overcome throughout a very long day. And homage also goes to our support crew who all played their part. This was for us, also, a test of logistics, patience and endurance, with our reward being the sheer relief of helping to get our athlete across the line. Job done, we could now relax and enjoy the holiday, food & drink, and more of our Ruta 7 road trip.
The shifting cast of road trip buddies made this adventure interesting, more fun and created wonderful moments that are only possible when they’re shared. Solo travel wins for pure independence, flipping a coin decisions and encountering new experiences along the road. But journeys shared with old friends can both test and deepen the bonds. While some departed, we kept bumping into others along the way. Then, finally, there were just three, Jane and Pete. We missed the penguins but we got condors, armadillos and hiking in the breath taking Torres del Paine National Park.
Tuesday, Pete and I left behind Jane in Puerto Natales, as she tried to figure out how to smuggle wine 🍷 onto a 4-day no-booze “cruise” through the Patagonian fjords on the Navimag. Alcohol was banned when some local truckers almost set the ship alight after a cabin BBQ went wrong.
Wednesday morning and Pete departed El Calafate for a two bus, two-stop border crossing to Punto Arenas and then a flight journey to Santiago before he headed home. We’d shared around 2000km of Patagonian roads together, possibly half of it gravel, in our red Toyota Hilux rental. And neither of us lost any fillings.
And so the Fellowship of the Race is undone.
I’ll miss their laughter, the banter and the companionship. Wednesday for me was a glacier hike on the Perito Merino glacier, yesterday was a 5 hour hike west of El Chalten for views of the famous Fitzroy range. Xmas next week will be in the shadows of Fitzroy, and who knows where after that. Most likely I’ll now head north, through Argentina for Mendoza. But, nothing isn’t guaranteed. Was is certain is that I’ll carry with me some wonderful moments of friends racing ( and supporting), a road trip and “winning” the W Circuit.
Gracias mis amigos. Mucho mucho gracias.