Bikepacking the wild side of Patagonia
In a warm afternoon of late summer, at the end of one of the usual riding sessions in the mountain behind the house, the idea of what would have been one of the most beautiful experiences of our life was born. From the pages of an old explorations book, the images of a marvelous land, went out, wild as a few, far from everything and everyone, a destination desired by the imagination of many people. Patagonia always fascinated us and for too long it had remained unattainable. In those days, however, something changed and a few months later we found ourselves flying over the Atlantic Ocean to live a dream.
After 14000km of flight, the captain of the plane announced that soon we will land, below us the scenery is majestic, perennial contrast between the ocher of the barren lands of the Patagonian steppe and the large pools of turquoise water on. In the background the Cordillera of the Andes rises majestically, where there are Cerro Torre and Mount Fitz Roy. After landing we reach our accommodation, a small family-owned hotel. The town of El Calafate is a starting point for tourists visiting the Perito Moreno glacier and for hikers from all over the world going to El Chanten. We didn’t have a specific destination to reach, perhaps because it was more inside of us than out there.
We felt a boost towards the wild environment of Patagonia, the desire to live it fully, to breathe its essence by capturing the moments. For this purpose we also added the packraft to our bikepacking set-up that would allow us to navigate the waterways we would encounter. After 2 days of preparations, the day of departure arrived and we find ourselves pedaling on a dusty road that would have led us to the Andes. The environment of Patagonia is as beautiful as harsh, and the winds that almost incessantly whittle it emphasize its hardness. After several hours spent pedaling headwind, we see the mighty mass of the Andes, perennially snow-capped on the horizon, which, from now on, will guide us like a lighthouse.
Quiet soon a group of strange animals crosses the road, stopping shortly after on our right to look at us. We do the same. They are the guanacos, which unlike the tamed Lamas, are free and wild animals, undisputed masters of the Patagonian steppe. Free and wild like those Andean condors flying over our heads, true kings of the Patagonian heavens. Patagonia was around us, we were a little freer too. It’s evening and we come close to an Estancia, the classic Argentinian farm. Here everything has remained as before, the milking of the cattle, the shearing of the sheep, the cooking of the asado. Here simple life is “cultivated”. Estancia is the last outpost where the typical gaucho culture survives. A culture now in danger of extinction, hunted by the advance of modern life and its frenetic rhythms.
Next day we go on with our trip, but almost immediately we are forced to stop because the path ends in a lake. The water level grown beyond measure, a gaucho we met shortly before on horseback, explained us that, never like this year the glaciers of the Hielo Continental Patagónico had poured so much water into the valleys. We disassemble the bikes and we firmly tie them on the packraft to continue that incredible experience, lived on the edge of the world to return to being, also us, free and wild men.
Words: Francesco D’Alessio
Photos: Giorgio Frattale and Francesco D’Alessio
Film: Giorgio Frattale