Calafate to Cerro Castillo; out on the pampa.

El Calafate-El Cerrito-Tapi Aike-Cerro Castillo

On the bolt-straight roads of the Argentinian pampa, my handlebars stay true, but my thoughts wander… For this a pensive place, and one that stirs memories and emotion; like a calling to fill this void, perhaps. There’s a meditative mood to it too, though at times my mind becomes stuck on certain thoughts, clanging round like a 2p coin in a washing machine.

I hum along to the noisy buzz of fat tyres on pavement. I listen to the snap of my open shirt, which flaps behind me like a cape. I look up, then around. A soft orb of sun, diffused. A thousand shades of ochre. The dot of a pickup truck making its way across the pampas to a distant estancia – the large rural estates in these parts. In this light, it’s hard to even tell what time of day it is. It could be just before sunset, but in fact it’s early afternoon. Scale plays games, and distance takes on a different quality; perhaps a more mysterious form of measurement is appropriate here, like leagues.

Then, a guanuco, the camelids native to Patagonia, breaks rank and jumps daintily over the endless fenceline. It makes a funny chuckling sound as I pass. Before long, a group of ostrich-like rhea waddle into the camouflage of the pampa. I smile.

Cars drive too fast. The sound of their metal cutting bluntly through the air, sometimes just a couple of feet beside me, is an ugly one. It feels aggressive and puts me on edge, reminding me of why I seek dirt roads. I can’t help but liken their drivers to squabbling kids, as they jostle to overtake each other. They drive nose to nose, and pass so close, despite so much space.

I see a couple take a photo of me from their minivan as it blurs by. What must be going through their minds? What would be going through my mind? I guess I must look a little crazy, out here in the Empty… Later, a man pulls over to take a photo. But as I draw close, he leaps back into his vehicle and accelerates off, door still open. He doesn’t even acknowledge me – it’s that metal-walled box of disconnection again. A more friendly couple flag me down to talk about the Pugsley. The husband works in a bike shop, 1500km away, and has never even imagined, let alone seen, a fat bike before.

That wind:

I can’t really complain. For the most part, cyclists heading south are blessed with a sidewind or a tailwind. But not always, so it’s prudent to leave early, and cover a generous handful of miles in case the road swivels round in direction, and the wind grows in might. For when it does, the transformation is startling. One moment, calmness prevails. Then, an entity appears as if from nowhere. It swells and swells, rushing through the grasses, whistling through telephone lines; and within just a couple of minutes, literally, the ensuing hours are transformed into an almighty battle with the elements.

If you would like to keep up with where I am between blog entries, I try and keep my While Out Riding facebook page regularly updated – along with posting extra photos. You can find it here


So this is Ruta 40…


Not too many places to lean up a bike…


And not much to mark the passing of time except roadside shrines…


… and drainage channels.


A rare climb affords some views. When the wind drops, it’s so quiet my ears ring.


This track heads off to a distant estancia, far beyond sight.


I fill the void…


… with thoughts.


Ah… ripio again!


I pull over at a remote police post. Fabien invites me, as he has done to many cyclists before me, feeds me a hearty dinner and gives me a place to sleep for the night.


An early start, to avoid the full brunt of the ongoing headwind I’m expecting today.


More of those…


… wonderful clouds.


Tapi Aike. Now more than just an unusual name on the map: a police post, some road crew and a gas station.


A first glimpse of the Torres.


More distant mountains.


Laying down some pavement miles before the wind catches me…


At midday, almost to the dot, it does. Slowed to a zigzag crawl, I dive into a roadside sanctuary.


Inside, calm prevails.


Outside, it’s 80kph winds, gusting to a 100… Unfortunately, not in my favour, on this occasion.


The final push to the border. By early afternoon, the wind  feels almost like a wall, though locals tell me it’s nothing special.


The mellow border post leaving Argentina.


Thankfully, Cerro Castillo provides peaceful campspot behind a welcome windbreak.


And fantastic views too…


While above, a gale swirls around me…

11 thoughts on “Calafate to Cerro Castillo; out on the pampa.

  1. Mike Howarth

    Welcome to (proper) Patagonia!

    Here was me thinking that you lot heading south were having an easy ride with cruisy tailwinds 😉

    Seems me missed each other, by my reckoning I thought I would have crossed paths on this section but the side trip probably answers that.

    Keep Trucking!

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Sorry to have missed you after all this time!

      I keep my facebook While Out Riding page more updated than the blog…

      The side trip was fantastic. Super remote. Sounds like you had mixed feelings about Torres? I’m just about to head in – with bike, to see if there’s a little bikepacking to be had too.

      If you’re in Calafate, Dos Pinos makes a nice place to camp. And the bakery Don Louis a fine place to breakfast! Perrito Moreno is tourist packed, but spectacular nonetheless. I stayed under 7.30pm, and it was a lot quieter then.

  2. Mike Howarth

    I’d say the Torres was a tale of two halves. All told a good experience but I’m looking forward to exploring El Chalten more.

    I look forward to seeing what you make of the bikepacking opportunities.

  3. Oliver

    Excellent impressions again Cass! I instantly was captured by “There’s a meditative mood to it too, though at times my mind becomes stuck on certain thoughts, clanging round like a 2p coin in a washing machine.”, marvellous! 🙂
    I also like the strange encounters you mentioned. Really awkward to see that you seem to be some sort of “exotic animal” in the zoo called world.

    Quick nerdy mention Cass… Not sure if it’s a local issue for me and teh computer I’m working on, but there might be something wrong with your your social icons. At least I get only the shortcode “[iire_social_icons]” displayed at the bottom of the post as well as at the end of the excerpt of the homepage. Tried to different browsers already, so not sure…

    Cheers and speak soon,

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Thanks for letting me know, Oliver. Seems ok on my computer on the actual pst, though I get that at the end of the excerpt on the homepage. I’ll try and find another computer, and compare browsers.

  4. Myles & Miles

    Wind?! The Pisco Sours seem to have given me a spot of wind too. Or was it eating your portion of chocolate cake that did it? Intersted in your 2p clangers…..

  5. Nick

    Wind is picking up here in northern NM too with the arrival of spring. you’d be feeling it (although not as much I guess) on Glorieta Mesa.

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Actually, I was reminded of spring in NM while on the pampa – in particular, an especially blustery section as we passed the Very Large Array.

  6. Isaac

    I love that I now recognize done of the spots you’ve captured. I remember taking midday refugee in that exact metal shack gorging on bread and dulce de leche. Makes me road sick. Thanks again for sharing your travels with us!


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