We finished our last post in Argentina. By a little stream of water that had been explained to us as a huge river by a worried farmer in a pickup a couple of kilometers before the border. When we arrived it turned out to be nothing more then a small stretch of 15 cm deep water. Nothing remarkable.
One quickly learns to always take everything people say with a grain of salt. When you turn up with a bike and huge amounts of luggage and are aiming to do the same things the locals do in their 4×4 pickups you can expect to get some raised eyebrows or shaking heads. But there is one thing that you actually can be 100% sure about no matter how sceptical the locals look at you. You will always get more help than you ask for.
Our first week in Chile was filled by as much wind and misfortune as our days in Argentina but all of this was weighed up by the constant, daily and unexpected encounters with people. Our first meeting contained a couple of funny border policemen who after a quick bureaucratic process took the chance to try our bikes. After having exchanged a couple of confused sentences in Spanish we were offered to sleep in a barack that seemed to double purpose as a party cabin and kitchen for the border police judging by the fast cleanup they made of beer cans and dirty dished before we could move in our stuff.
We were bone tired when we crawled into our sleeping bags but already then we had a feeling our days in Chile would be nice.
[ewp_column style=one_second responsive=1] [/ewp_column] [ewp_column style=one_second responsive=1] [/ewp_column]
The road from the border westwards was gravelled and sometimes in very bad shape. We had since a couple of days started to make use of the calmer winds in the morning and therefore started to set the alarm at 5 am. With the help of this technique we managed to cover a couple of kilometers before the winds became to strong.
We passed abandoned farms and trees that had been mistreated by the wind and stood bent and pointing in the direction we came from. We had to pedal in our lowest gears even when the road was flat and we soon started to feel that our knees were getting sore by the tough cycling. After a long hill we took a break and Johanna optimistically said that “for every uphill there is also a downhill on the other side”. Indeed we would soon be given a downhill. Maybe not the physical sloping one but no less appreciated.
It started with us seeing a huge white square take form in the distant and flat landscape. In a beginning it looked like a rubbish-dump. Like someone, of reasons unknown, had chosen to fence in hundreds of thousands of kilos of white garbage bags. When the fuzzy mass of whiteness came closer we heard it screaming. The white square turned out to be 2000 sheep standing packed tightly inside a fence under the watchful gazes of a couple of farmers. We stopped and curiously walked towards one of the farmers to ask what was going on. Martín, a young guy in a blue beret and leather chaps, jumped over the fence and lit a cigarette. “We are sorting the sheep for cutting” he explained as we fascinated looked out over a sea of screaming sheep. They kept a safe distance from the shepherd dogs that were running around inside the pen.[ewp_column style=one_second responsive=1] [/ewp_column] [ewp_column style=one_second responsive=1] [/ewp_column]
We watched him as he together with his colleagues sorted out the wounded and sick sheep. “This one has been attacked by wild dogs” Martín explained and pointed towards a small lamb that had a big rip in the fur. An open and bloody wound was to be seen on the side of the lamb. “It has become worse since the Argentinian farmers started to change their farming towards cows instead of sheep, all wild stray dogs have moved over to our side”. Martín explained that it unfortunately was illegal to shoot wild dogs.
The working day was soon over and Martín took us to a little farm that was situated behind some hills nearby. As Martín and his men left their work horses at the farm we were introduced to the family that lived on the farm. A curious but shy girl watched out behind her mother. Her big brother stood with a plastic ball under his arm and looked with interest on us as we parked our heavy bikes agains their house.
“I have spoken with the family, they work with the sheep here, you can sleep here tonight and they would love to invite you for dinner”. Martín waved us goodbye and jumped inside a pickup with his work mates and disappeared over the crest of the hill we just came from. The small farm was old but the surroundings were phenomenal. The horses walked around freely and were grazing from the green grass that surrounded the farm that was built on a peninsula in a small lake.
We spent the evening chasing a plastic ball and running until we were soaked in sweat. All of course to the great amusement of the children. The boy, named Ismael, was proud to end the soccer-game as a winner and his little sister Carina eventually lost her shyness and laughed loudly as we played around with the dogs until the dinner was ready. We soon realised that the family had already eaten dinner and the situation became a little bit stiff as we had to eat chicken and freshly baked bread in front of 8 staring eyes. When we had eaten so much that we couldn’t force down a single spoon more we thanked the family for the dinner and followed the kids on a guided tour of the farm. We watched their horses and Ismael told us he had seen a beaver in the lake earlier that day. We pitched our tent on their land and fell asleep as soon as our heads touched the ground.
The next day we ate breakfast in their little kitchen and were soon pulled out by the kids as they were screaming something about murdering. We looked at each other a little bit worried and where met by a farmer and his pickup as he lifted of a sheep from his vehicle. When we saw him starting to sharpen a knife we understood what was going on. He carried a raincoat with visible traces of death on it and with ease he wrestled the sheep to the ground and tied its legs. It felt brutal but still natural. We had biked alongside thousands of sheep during our days in Tierra del Fuego and often figured that the life of a sheep on the island must be quite calm and enjoyable. Fences so long that you won’t see the end of the meadows they surround. Compared to the life other animals have to endure, encapsulated in tight boxes, from the day they are born until they are slaughtered it felt like a life here is quite nice among the oceans of green grass and rolling hills.
As soon as the legs were tied the man grasped the knife and quickly measured with his fingers to the goats neck before he thrusted the knife through its throat and the rapidly beating artery. It was unpleasant. The sheep whined and red liquid started to flow out from where the blade pierced the skin. In vain the sheep tried to fight for its life but it was too late. A gurgling sound erupted from the open mouth of the animal and its heavy breathing became slower and slower. After less than half a minute the sheep stopped resisting and life was gone in the wide open eyes of the now dead animal.[ewp_column style=one_second responsive=1]
[/ewp_column] [ewp_column style=one_second responsive=1] [/ewp_column]
The children didn’t bother much and weren’t very fascinated about the process and soon started to play as we continued to follow the slaughter with big interest. It was clear that it wasn’t the first sheep the man had killed as he worked efficiently and with ease. After half an hour the intestines and fur was gone. The sheep would be cooked to feed the workforce that was going to do the cutting.
We soon packed our things and said goodbye. We thanked them for the food and we were soon rolling downhill towards Bahía Inútil which was the name of the bay we would bike around to get to Porvenir. From there we wanted to take a boat to the mainland.[ewp_column style=one_second responsive=1]
The same day as we left the sheep slaughter and the little farm we reached the end of the bay. Much thanks to the fact that we for 30 km had tailwind as we were biking eastwards. We glimpsed some busses and realised that we had arrived to the penguin reserve that other tourists had been talking about. By the entrance we were told that the tickets to enter the reserve cost around 20 dollars. To look at penguins living in the wild…
We hesitated for a moment and watched tourists come and go. All with their cameras over their shoulders and like cattle being herded on or off one of the busses. A man and a woman came running out from a bus that was just about to leave the reserve and gave us 50 dollars in cash. They said we should go to the reserve. We looked at them puzzled. They told us we were so tough to even think of the idea of biking in this extreme climate that they wanted to sponsor us with the entrance fee. We bowed and thanked them very much. Johannas optimistic theory about every uphill being followed by a downhill seemed to be true. This downhill had given us dinner, sheep slaughter, tailwind and free entrance to the penguin reserve. On top of that we were offered to sleep in an old ticket vending hut as we bought the tickets to the reserve.
To watch the penguins was nice but, to be honest, we enjoyed the roof over our heads even more. The wind in the bay was strong enough to surely blow us and the tent away if we would have tried to pitch it.
[ewp_column style=one_second responsive=1] [/ewp_column] [ewp_column style=one_second responsive=1] [/ewp_column]
[ewp_column style=one_second responsive=1]
[/ewp_column] [ewp_column style=one_second responsive=1]
Following morning we got up at 4 o’ clock but soon realised that the wind was stronger that usual. We sighed deeply but packed our stuff and started to bike slowly against the unforgiving wind.
That day it was so windy that we sometimes didn’t travel faster than 6 km/h. Our knees were in a lot of pain and we couldn’t rest for a second. Not even the downhills where nice as we had to pedal all we could to even get down.
After a long day that seemed like an eternity we got our reward. The wind stopped and after a long downhill we saw a man in white rubber boots and a couple of dirty jeans gazing out over the ocean from his small cabin. We stopped and shook hands with Carlos who invited us for coffee before we had even managed to say “Hello”. Carlos turned out to be a lonely fisherman with a very big heart. In his white rubber boots he walked around in his messy cabin taking out plates, coffee and milk powder. We were asked to sit on small stools in his bedroom where he had warm fire going in an oven he had built from an oil-drum. He poured fresh clams onto our plates and in his warm cabin we spent the evening eating luxurious food directly from the ocean.[ewp_column style=one_second responsive=1]
Carlos showed us how he fished next to his cabin. By using the tide and laying out his net when the water was low and wait for it to raise he could fish without a boat or any equipment. He got everything from salmon to smaller fish. The wind calmed down to unusual levels and beautiful cloud formations were thinned out over the soon blood red firmament. When even the ocean that had been stormy all day was laid to rest we all stood silent and looked out at the sea. Carlos was used to look out over the same water that nourished him. The man and the sea. Suddenly without warning he pointed out towards the ocean and said “Ballenas” (Whales). He was not mistaken as we shortly after him spotted huge sprays of water erupting from the surface as Orcas surfaced to breathe. A seal came swimming closer to the shore and it was like the whole ocean came to life as the day was about to end. The clouds went to die by the horizon and when all light slowly vanished the whales waved goodbye with their gigantic tail fins. What a day!
We left Carlos the following morning after having enjoyed a breakfast containing king crab and coffee. We thanked Carlos for everything and took a picture of him with our Polaroid camera that he kept as memory. Hopefully the first one of many memorable people on our journey waved us good bye as we left his farm. A couple of hours later we reached Porvenir which was a bigger village with the first supermarket since Tolhuin. We splurged on chips, cola and beer and biked out to the harbour where we pitched our tent. Our plan was to take the boat the following day.
That night before we fell asleep we talked about tourism and what one really wants to experience when travelling. How it’s possible to travel in so many different ways in the same area. From our saddles fighting against the wind we had seen tourist buses race past us and leaving clouds of dust behind. What did they think of us? Do they, like us about them, think: “What the hell are they doing?”. Why would anyone decide to suffer through a week of headwind, 30 kg of luggage on bad gravel roads? The answer is probably exactly what we are trying to show you. Here on our blog. The fact that there are no arranged bus tours that will give you a sweaty soccer game against two Chilean kids and some excited shepherd dogs. There is no tour that will show you a sheep slaughter where you will watch life leave the eyes of an animal. No ticket in the world will give you the same feeling of happiness and freedom as standing with a poor fisherman by the shore of an ocean watching whales break the surface in the sunset.
To bike is hard. It will be painful for your mind and body. But sometimes the only way of really seizing the moment is by traveling really really slow and being able to stop, just like that, by pulling your brakes.