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Three months in South America

April 1st 2002: my successful winter training ends all of a sudden on a relatively easy climb in the Frankenjura. The pain in my elbow gets unbearable. The diagnosis is tendonitis. That is the end to my climbing plans for the summer. Six weeks later I post a message in the newsletter of the German Alpine Club: travelling partner wanted for a cycling trip across South America next winter with detours through the mountains. I spend the summer learning Spanish and on my road bicycle. In August I get an email from Birgit, she´d like to come along.

On December 27th we are in Punta Arenas and enjoy a stiff breeze from the Magellan Straight. We spend the next three days shopping, putting the bikes together and go on a short trip to the geographical center of Chile. Which is only 20 kms south of town, because Chile claims parts of Antarctica. From here it is 5.000 km to the South Pole and to Arica at the Peruvian border. Chile is only 24 km wide at its smallest point near Puerto Natales. It´s a country of geographical extremes, from the cold glaciers of Southern Patagonia, the temperate rainforests to the hot and arid Atacama desert in the north. With temperate climates in between that are similar to the climates in Europe.

Small shop in Porvenir (Tierra del Fuego)

We start on New Year´s Day 2003 to Puerto Natales and Paine National Park. The skies are grey, temperatures are around 15°C and a light wind is coming from the west. The road is perfectly paved with many small hills. North of the airport the traffic is light. After three hours we have a break at a ranch. The rolling hills are barren and locals make a living from breeding sheep and horses. That evening we pitch our tent in a sheltered spot next to the road. The next morning we start early. During a wild rain shower we have a hot chocolate and a tasty cake in a roadside café. In the evening a small sign leads to an old estancia that offers bed and breakfast. The founder´s daughter in her seventies guides us through the big mansion and we feel set back to the beginning of the 20th century when a fortune was made here with wool. After a long dinner we sleep well in soft and comfortable beds. The next morning we are greeted with blue skies and an English breakfast.



Three kms later the road turns left and the headwind is getting stronger. Around noon the wind has grown to a full head on storm and we have managed just 13 kms. We spend the day in a roadside shop over tea and hot chocolate reading books. Our efforts to get away from the café end an hour later three kms down the road in a bus shelter. Just when we are ready to spend the night here a bus arrives and takes us to Puerto Natales in just 45 minutes. We quickly find a nice hostal and after dinner fall tired into warm and cozy beds.

The next morning the sun is shining from a blue sky, but the wind is still strong. After breakfast we buy groceries for one week and check our emails in an internet café. We receive sad news, Birgit´s dad has died. We are shocked and she decides to fly back. No problem with LAN Chile, we book a flight online from Punta Arenas the following day to Santiago. We repack our gear and take the late bus back to Punta Arenas and have a sad goodbye on the airport the following day. Birgit has to take the long flight back to Germany and I will continue on my own. It´s a quiet bus ride back to Puerto Natales.

On the road to Paine National Park

Back in the hostel I pack my Ortlieb bags and cycle north to Torres del Paine National Park. After 10 kms the tarmac ends and the landscape gets hilly. The next three hours pass in no time. On gravel I have to concentrate more on cycling. A Chilean couple overtakes me in their rental car and asks me, where I´m going. Cusco in Peru, I reply which makes them laugh. I spend the night in a small hospedaje in Cerro Castillo. There is a strong wind coming from north-west and I don´t feel like camping out in the treeless pampa. The next morning the sun is out and the wind has calmed down. After one hour I´m catching up with Thomas, a German cyclist from Southern Bavaria. I had met him in Puerto Natales two days ago. He is surprised to see me this early. But I can use company at the moment.

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