Leo the birder

As we cycle along we often hear a cry of 'oooohhh' and if I turn I can see a finger pointing skywards at some bird that Leo has noticed.

Before he sleeps he also watches 'Sarah & Duck' on our little tablet and he is obsessed with quacking when he thinks it is bed time, but until the other day he had never seen a real duck!

Yesterday he spotted a beautiful bird of prey by the road so we stopped and let him watch and feed it. (It's called a Caracara and is a type of falcon)
Then we stopped for the night at a hosteria on a lake and there were loads of ducks. He was a happy boy!

Finally we meet Dan, Alice, Koby and Ava Fei

About 6 weeks ago at a Conaf campsite above Cerro Castillo in Chile, we met an English couple who told us about a Canadian family travelling in the opposite direction who we would meet the following day. We didn't! We never saw them and we were left wondering what had happened to them? Had they found another route? We assumed we would never see them as we were going South and them North.

Amazingly, yesterday we pulled up at a supermarket in Villa la Angostura and were approached by Dan and Alice with Koby (6) and Ava Fei (4) in tow. They had crossed into Argentina at the end of the Careterra and we had flown North to almost exactly catch up with them. The bad weather had made them stop in the town and we just happened to cycle through as they went shopping. Coincidences are great!
We sat and had lunch with them for a few hours before leaving. It was nice to hear how they were doing it, with a tag-along bike for Ava Fei and an attachment that allowed them to pull a small bike with Koby on it that could be removed at the end of the day! Behind Koby they also had a Chariot trailer to carry luggage.
It would have been nice to have ridden with them for a while but we need to get to Santiago and time is gradually running out.

Bike problems

All I did was buy a new chain!

This led to a 'chain' of events that lost us several days.

Firstly 35km after leaving Bariloche I noticed that the chain kept slipping under pressure and with mountains ahead we had to return to get it fixed. We found a cabaña 16km from Bariloche and I replaced cables, jockey wheels, took two links from the chain and gave everything a really good clean. No joy!

So I cycled back to Bariloche and begged Ricardo Zuber (ex Argentinian national team mountain biker) at his wonderful bicycle shop to help. With his help I replaced the rear cassette and the two smallest rings at the front which also involved some angle grinding to get the smaller one to fit over the bottom bracket and amazingly everything worked. I even got  a 34 tooth gear to replace my 32 for the hills! Using rings and a cassette for 20,000km isn't really recommended!

I then rode back to Isabelle, really relieved and looking forward to the ride ahead.

The next day I had two punctures on the rear wheel, which the following day, (after the third puncture) we traced to some rough rim tape. Probably the use of the compressor at the bike shop had rubbed the inner too hard on the already slightly crumpled rim tape.
This was then covered with duct tape and finally the bike was fine. This had been really hassly because we kept having to take off the trailer and all the bags to mend the inner tube, losing an hour each time.

Then it started to rain, then sleet, then snow! Overnight at least the snow on the road started to melt but after a really cold 55km and a tired hunt for the owners, we reached a gorgeous 'eco-cabaña' where we have dried and warmed up!
Now Leo's teething has got really bad so welcome back to the land of 'no-sleep'! Oh well, as we keep saying...'It is what it is!'


Trying to get to Santiago via Bariloche

After being blasted by the pampas winds and running out of time to cycle all the way back to Santiago, we managed to get a flight from El Calafate up to San Carlos de Bariloche for a reasonable last minute price, which would deposit us about 1200km North and a manageable distance from Santiago. From Bariloche we can cycle North and cross the Andes in a multitude of places depending on our rate of progress and the weather.
The flight entails getting bike boxes and packing tape and fitting the bikes and all our stuff in to our bags and boxes. It is hard work and always a little stressful. Our biggest problem turned out to be a delayed flight and we arrived in Bariloche about 2 hours before it got dark with 2 bikes and a trailer to be assembled as well as a (now)16 month old Leo to be entertained.
This proved to be impossible to do quickly, so we rolled the 14km into Bariloche in the dark with no lights apart from our head torches, hungry and a little bit stressed. Leo just slept and then we did find a hosteria, kindly woke up for an hour to be sociable and then went back to sleep.


Perito Moreno glacier

80km from El Calafate is this amazing glacier which ends just in front of a peninsula of land on which a series of boardwalks have been built to give really good views of huge chunks of ice falling off the end of the glacier, something that happens quite regularly in the early morning sun.

We just happened to be looking when a massive piece fell off. (see the flickr photos below)

Leo became a second tourist attraction as he lay on the boardwalk dropping bread through the holes for the birds below him to eat. Lots of people gathered around this strange blonde-haired, wrapped-up creature and took photos of him. He also kept spotting pic-pics below him and constantly tried to reach them despite their inaccessible distance.

At the end Isabelle got in a real strop (blaming me!) because she was convinced we had missed our bus back, only to realise half an hour later that her watch was set wrong. Oh how we laughed!

Perito Moreno glacier, a set on Flickr.


Leo in el Calafate

While waiting for our flight up to Bariloche we found some good graffiti, and Leo got very excited by a wooden bird in the park.

New shoes for Leo

We're so proud, Leo has worn out his shoes before he could grow out of them which is some achievement because he's only had them 8 weeks.
He has walked so much in that time, every day just revolves around Leo-walking periods, up and down slopes, up and down stairs, along walls, along planks.His favourite is following paths which he seems to be able to do for ever. 

The other day we had the GPS on him going up a hill and he walked over 2km in one go, negotiating tree roots, rocks and steep inclines, and clapping himself whenever he felt he had accomplished something challenging.
We were just amazed at his determination to keep going, we just kept looking at each other and laughing. Is this normal? Should he be able to walk this far? He's only15 months old! He then demanded to walk again later on our way back down. We think he must have walked close to 5km that day. He slept for ever that night and ate more than me for his evening meal. What kind of a monster are we creating?

He particularly loves the fast feet he gets when he runs downhill and if he finds a good slope he can play on it for ever backwards and forwards until we manage to distract him and move on a bit further. All uphill slopes are just a challenge of balance to him and he gets so stroppy if we try and carry him to speed up our progress, or show him an easier route.
Isabelle being left behind by Leo!


Pampas wildlife - rheas and guanaco

There might be fences either side of the road but these do nothing to stop the free movement of the wildlife around here. The flamingoes had left the dried-up soda lakes so we'll need to visit the 'zoo' in El Calafate to see them.

Forced to stop by the wind

We turned a corner and nearly got blown off our bikes. We went back to a more sheltered area and waited a while. Then we had another go and failed again, on our return to shelter we were being blown uphill without pedalling at 25km/hr.

We tried to hitch, but no cars came past. For 2 hours Leo amused himself on the road, trying to walk down the yellow lines, or doing 'walk like a dog'. We were getting bored.

From our sheltered area we could hardly believe that the wind was so strong, so we set off again, careering from side to side across the road, angled sideways on our bikes with the trailer sides pressing onto Leo's face and billowing upwards if the wind got inside. He seemed to be enjoying it, we were most definitely not! It was scary.

Finally a pickup went past, slowed down, drove on by, then finally stopped and reversed.
'Are you going to El Calafate?'
We were out of the wind and finally safe, our faces were still burning 8 hours later from the wind. We will not be cycling in the pampas any more.

The Pampas

This is meant to be fairly representative of the next thousand km of Argentina. It's beautiful but harsh and on a normal day, crazy windy. We were lucky on the first day to El Calafate, almost no wind at all and managed to camp on the southern shore of the 70km long Lago Viedma in a convenient hole in the ground. An evening fire on the beach made our last night of wild camping for a while almost perfect!


Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy

El Chaltén is dominated by these two unmistakably iconic 'peaks'. Fitzroy is the biggest, Torre, the pointiest set of three.