[Sally] There's about 130km of the usual wind and pretty flat landscape on the way to El Chalten. We turn off Ruta 40 then the scenery gets more interesting and, low and behold I'm nearly reduced to tears again - this time with something resembling pride in my chest cavity - it expands with an emotion - I'm not quit sure what it is - awe? disbelief? excitement? But this is what we see and it is in front of us for 90kms on the road to El Chalten. This is the sort of scenery we have dreamed of and it finally hits home where we are and what we're doing. It's truly beautiful. The amazing natural wonder of the Andes...
Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid had a ranch on this road to El Chalten, fleeing far enough to hide from the detectives searching for them.
We arrive in El Chalten at lunchtime, but no rest for the wicked - I see Jeff's rear tyre looks a bit odd. "If you want a job doing properly - you've gotta do it yourself"! It seems the mechanic who fitted the tyres yesterday must have pinched the inner tube and gave it a slow puncture. Jeff did check over the job yesterday and found a few things wrong - tyre pressures on both of our bikes were too low; the wheel alignment on my bike was out a bit, and the inner tube valves weren't tightened enough. But now this problem. Jeff gets to it straight away in the yard next to our B&B - removes the wheel and the tyre from its rim and swaps the inner tube with one of our spares.
What a spot to fix a puncture - Mount Fitzroy in the background - one of the most technically challenging mountains to climb in the world.
We try to find a restaurant recommended by Jim and Lauren, but can't find it and are instead lead to another great cosy little place - a microbrewery, La Cerveceria, serving a hearty stew and a good dark ale - yum yum.
We're only here for one night unfortunately and have heard there is a 70km stretch of the Ruta 40 under construction and is still a dirt road. I'm not too happy as it's windy in the morning (again - so much for my dreamin' the west was going to be any different). We head for Gobernador Gregores - just a half way point to stay the night. Yes it is windy - but we're OK on the paved roads. We hit the dirt road and most of it is manageable and hard packed, but then we hit a stretch actively under construction by some graders and we hit deep gravel. This is just a nightmare combined with the wind, and we struggle to keep our bikes straight on car tyre tracks in the gravel. Jeff gets pushed 3 times in rapid succession by the wind towards deep gravel, and the third time takes him out - a bit of a wobble and down he goes. We pick his bike up and thankfully no damage to Jeff or his bike. We get going again. Again, he gets clobbered by the wind and goes down again. OK again. I'm not feeling overly confident by this stage. I take the lead but choose the wrong tyre track to follow, hit a deeper bit and now it's my turn to go down in the gravel. I'm OK, but my bike suffers a bit of damage. One of my panniers pops off (they're designed to do this to avoid too much damage) but the lock is a bit bent; my clutch lever has snapped; my left foot pedal is bent; and my left indicator is bent. Thankfully Jeff chose our tools and spare parts well and we have a spare clutch lever and tools to fix my poor bike. But we're just parked in the middle of this road under construction for about a hour while we (Jeff) fixed things - still battling the 60kph cross winds. But as you can see, there's not much traffic and some cars that do pass are kind enough to ask if we need help.
It's still very windy and neither of us relishes continuing on this gravel. We notice cars travelling in the other direction on another dirt road just on the other side of the ditch. We weigh up the risks and decide to push our bikes over to that road and ride up the wrong way - hoping it comes out on the same road further up! Thankfully it does and a few kms further along we finally get to paved roads again - phew. I'm totally exhausted when we get to Gobernador Gregores and the wind is forecast to be evil tomorrow - so we decide to stay for 2 nights and have a duvet day tomorrow. How luxurious - lounging around reading, relaxing, eating and catching up on the blog!
We're heading for a reportedly very scenic route along the Andes called Carretera Austral (aka Route CH-7) in Chile - so that's where we're heading over the next few days.