25/01/2019 Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is nomadonanomad
I knew I hadn’t posted anything for a few days, but when I just looked I was amazed that it’s been 13 days since I put anything on the website. A combination of reasons, but mainly down to extreme fatigue battling the elements as, of course, as soon as I turned around and headed north the wind has shifted and is again hindering any progress I’m trying to make. Also, I’ve been in a few more places where there’s absolutely no ability to communicate with the outside world and morale has been at a low ebb. I’ve even been in places that had no ice cream shops, which is a travesty!
Things had to get better, and I could hopefully start enjoying my jolly jape again. Yeah, yeah, yeah. If only I’d known! I spent 3 nights in Trelew, one more than I’d planned as I couldn’t remember which was the only ATM machine in the city that would let me withdraw any cash and had to go all around the place, trying to find that one bank again and getting ever more fed up. That one extra night also meant I missed an opportunity to do a very long section of the planned route with a powerful tailwind and was going to be stuck in Sierra Grande for possibly 5 days after it shifted around again and was blowing hard out of the north.
Photo. I found this place in Trelew, Pulpo Rojo, the Red Octopus, by accident. Lucas the owner was a great guy, and the beer was superb.
Before that though I had one night in Puerto Madryn which was a whole lot better than my first visit there, and then one night at the Argentinian restaurant, El Empalme, the only place for 140 kms between Puerto Madryn and Sierra Grande. I realised, on this visit, why the Maltese beer that I had the first time wasn’t particularly cold. It’s because the whole place gets power from a generator which is switched off at night, and the fridges look like something from the 19thcentury with the equivalent efficiency.
Photos. 2 bars in Puerto Madryn. Franca Austral and The Wirra Club. Franca’s happy hour was from 18.00 to 20.00 and The Wirra’s was from 20.00 to 22.00. Everyone finished in Franca and rushed across the road in their droves at 20.00. Brilliant!
The ride to El Empalme is only 54 kms and with a fabulous tailwind I made it in great time. If only I’d been that one day earlier I could have ridden from Sierra Grande to Las Grutas comfortably, that day, being blown along and 120 kms would have been a piece of cake, probably taking about 6 hours. Now though, the wind would change completely and I would have to reassess everything.
Photos. The 2 fridges at El Empalme and a giant truck that called in and the crew, complete with safety vehicle, all stopped the night. There are 88 wheels on the trailer and 10 on the tractor. It was enormous and it’s top speed was about 35 kph.
The only thing for it, to get to Las Grutas, was to stand at the side of the road with my thumb out and hope that someone with a decent sized vehicle would take pity on me. It was absolutely scorching standing there hoping that it wouldn’t be long before I got a lift. There was no way I was going to attempt the ride to Las Grutas as there’s nothing at all along the way. No restaurant, cafeteria, gas station or even any shade and with the wind blowing as it was it would take something like 12 hours in the saddle. No thank you!
My first ‘session’ by the road lasted 3 hours before I sought sanctuary in the gas station and thought about trying further on up the road at the start of town as maybe it might be a better place for folks to stop? I lasted 2 hours in my new position before giving up and returning to the hotel and booking in again for the night, and hoping for better luck in the morning. Sierra Grande is also not a great place to be stuck in as the only craft beer bar was, at that time the poorest ‘cerveceria’ I’d visited in Argentina. But it wouldn’t hold the title for long though! More of that in another post…………
Next morning I took up my original place by the roadside and after a further 2 hours was lucky enough to be given a lift in a pickup truck. Great fella called Alejandro who spoke almost no English but was a cyclist and knew that to attempt the ride to Las Grutas on a heavy touring bike against the prevailing wind was not a good idea. We got on really well and I found out that my Spanish definitely is coming on. He thought it was fantastic that when he asked me about my taste in music I added, after my usual favourites, that I really like an Argentinian band called Soda Stereo. He immediately played some of their stuff and we whizzed along completing the journey in under an hour. He dropped me off at the turn off to Las Grutas and I loaded the bike up and thought about ice cream and craft beer as I pedalled the 7 kms into town. I also thought about going to see the mangy mutt that bit me 10 days or so earlier and give it a good talking to.
The ice cream was excellent and a couple of regular beers were enjoyed before going to the hostel I’d stopped in on my previous visit. That was when things started to go pear shaped. It was fully booked, as was the next place and the next place and the next. I hadn’t realised that it was now the height of the season and Las Grutas was full. Even the ‘Bomberos’, firefighters, were on full alert as the town was so busy and couldn’t offer me a place to stay. There was only one thing for it and that was to ride to the next town, San Antonio Oeste, 15 kms away and, of course, into the wind. Now I’m definitely not a happy bunny!
When I eventually reached the town it too was fully booked and it was nearly dark. ‘Bugger’ was one of the words that came to mind not mentioning the far worse ones. Luckily someone at the last hotel I tried told me that there was a campsite that no-one knows about that would have a space for me. I got there and the reason no-one knows about it must have been because it was bloody awful, but it was a place to sleep and it was, quite rightly, cheap. I ended up staying 2 nights as it blew a gale the next day and I wasn’t in the mood to ride again after the disappointment of the previous day.
I was, however, very much looking forward to getting to the beach restaurant near San Antonio Este, across the bay, to meet up with the guys there who had made me so welcome before. It was only 50 kms and the wind had now calmed down somewhat and the ride shouldn’t be too bad. I made it comfortably enough and immediately I was told it was ok to bivvy on the restaurant deck after closing time. The only downside was I’d forgotten how expensive the place was.
No issues with that really, they are a business and can charge what’s realistic and as there’s nothing for miles around and the location is stunning they can get away with it. Fortunately, I had managed to coax an ATM into allowing me cash so was ‘monied up’. It was a good job too as the next morning the wind was incredible and I had to stay another day. With nothing to do, no wi-fi or phone service it comes down to eating and drinking and it cost me an arm and a leg. I even took Poncho the German Shepherd on a long walk down the beach to kill time without spending any money. All the time hoping that the wind would be kinder the next day.
Photos. Poncho the dog. The first night I stayed I had just settled down in my sleeping bag on the deck of the restaurant and I opened my eyes and there was Poncho’s nose about 6 inches from mine. If I didn’t know him I would probably had a fit! He was just checking I was ok. La Toscana beach restaurant with Muffin, the bike, sneaking in the picture on the right. Sunset with smoke from a fire in town arcing across the frame. The beach at low tide. Lots of space unlike Las Grutas.
Talking to Daniel, the owner’s brother, I had decided not to attempt the 170 kms to Viedma on ‘Ruta Tres’ as I’d done before when setting my personal best, as I didn’t feel up to it and wasn’t in so much of a hurry. The Camino del Costa seemed like it might be a good alternative with overnight stops at Bahia Creek, 84 kms, La Loberia, another 70 kms, and El Condor, just 30 kms more before Viedma. I was told the Camino was ‘ripio’, a gravel road surface, but more than ok on a bike. I was quite looking forward to it and had been told the beaches were magnificent. Maybe things were about to get better?
I got an early start and the wind was, for the first time in a while, helping a little. The first 57 kms were ok, albeit the surface wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped it would be, but it wasn’t a disaster. So far. Then, for no apparent reason the ripio turned into a bloody beach! Now for those of you who don’t cycle there’s only one thing worse than wind and that’s sand. Deep soft sand, and trying to push, you certainly can’t ride, a 50 kgs rig through that stuff is nigh on impossible, and I still had 27 kms to go. The sections of sand were not overly long in distance but were so frequent that my estimated arrival in Bahia Creek went from 3.00pm to 6.00pm in no time, if I even made it at all. The only possible comfort was that there were loads of places to wild camp and I had plenty of water and food.
12 kms took almost 2 hours and there was a huge amount of bad language! Then I came across a sign telling me that the road surface wasn’t very good and only 4 wheel drive vehicles should proceed. Bloody marvellous! Tell me now and not before I started on this bloody route. I decided that there was no way I could go back 69 kms and I would just have to get stuck in and get to Bahia Creek in whatever way I could. I have to add that I’d only seen 6 vehicles all day and they were all going the opposite way. Then, after rounding a bend I came across a guy in a grader, all 30 tonnes of it I would guess, working on the road. The look he gave me was priceless, very much of the ‘what sort of idiot are you’ and I was thinking some not good stuff about him. Almost immediately I hit another big patch of sand and could then see the road was completely impassable. Señor Grader had by this time turned around and caught me up and in a garbled mass of Spanish I could just about make out that he was prepared to get the bike onto the machine and me and all my bags in the cab and take me to Bahia Creek. A knight in shining armour if ever there was one. When we got there I hurriedly got my stuff off the grader as I could sense he was in a hurry. I could only get a photo with my phone and as it’s not ‘talking’ to my laptop I’m not sure how I can get it into this post. Me and technology again! I did it!!!!!!!
Photos. My knight in shining armour who rescued me from the road that had become a beach. I did ask his name but forgot it. My apologies Señor, but many thanks. On entering Bahia Creek we passed the hostel, which had all it’s guests sitting outside, and we got a standing ovation when they saw the bike strapped to the back of the grader.
Got to the campsite completely knackered and started to try to work out what to do. Some very nice people I met tried to get me to go and see the magnificent beach. I declined as politely as possible because after pushing my bike through a beach I most certainly wasn’t in the mood to go and look at another one! Surely now, things have to start getting better? Please? Please? To be continued…………..
Thanks as always for reading this far, and may your God go with you.
Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward.