Patagonia towards winter means the start of serious wind. I am heading to a hostile place on earth, this not being part of my plan, I let my happiness guide me. For now, the wind is in my back. Blowing across the vastness as a large cloud, like a passenger in a big haste.
Haste is something I don’t have, except when I want to reach a town to resupply food to enhance my camping outings, and when I see something beautiful.
A gaucho on a horse with 2 smaller horses behind him grabs my attention. I am going to take my chance and speed ahead of him, which is easy with the wind in my back. This time I want a better picture of this beautiful authentic man on a horse. This particular gaucho has blond curls jumping from beneath a cream-colored supple hat. Even more special, a blond gaucho! Needless to mention that I need a photo!
When he comes closer he seems not to have the average reaction of an Argentinean cowboy. He’s way more enthusiastic, open and forthcoming. Must be his blond curls, I suppose.
Turns out this is a Parisian physics and politics student who is having a gap year and testing a handmade French saddle for long distances. He has two horses and one stallion, and mouth the saddle every two hours on another horse.
We talk much and I quickly come to admire Antoine a lot, as he has to put his horses on the very first place. Whereas as a cyclist I am the only one to feed, Antoine has to care for his 3 horses first: Zéphyr, Alcé and Pollux. They need alfalfa and water before he can have his dinner.
Besides that, his attachment to his companions will be quite a challenging separation after he sells the horses in South Patagonia, after all those months together from Peru on. He molds a bound with the 3 horses yet has to leave them at some point. I imagine it is much more of a treasured journey he is on, because he has 4 spirits getting entangled. Especially because a horse is a very receptive being.
The story of Antoine doesn’t end here. He is moving in the same direction as I do, winter in Patagonia. It turns out, somewhere near the lake district, two of his horses got sick. Alcé got wounded on his foot, the other, Zéphyr, ate a plant of dubious origin and got a disease. He has to leave his two horses behind, and exchanged them for another. A farmer is so generous to accept this deal, where over time the two sick horses can recover. He now moves on with a new horse called Éole, and Peruvian blue eyed Zéphyr.
Often on my way down south, I will see his signs, hoof patterns pressed in the earth next to the road. When I ask people about the man with the three horses, they confirm his whereabouts. Antoine seeks out the warmth of farm houses, where he and his horses will be fed, in the style of gaucho’s, that is yerba mate and pieces of meat for Antoine.
When he stays in bigger towns to rest his body sitting in the same posture from dawn to dusk, a body which doesn’t move much sitting on the back of a horse, his feet colder than mine, his eyes set in a meditative position.
When we both reach the small town of Rio Mayo, already well onto our way in Argentinian Patagonia, we do so at nearly the exact same time. I have by then taken a turn inland, from rainy Chile, into the heartland of Patagonia, to leave this cold, windy place; Antoine’s fate is worse. He wanted to ride all the way down south but his most treasured horse, Zéphyr, the one I thought was a foal, the stallion from Peru, is the strongest. But by then exhausted due to a bacteria. He takes the decision to stop, leave the horse at the hands of a caring farmer, who will bring the horse back to its original strength.
We have both aborted our way down south in winter, and it took us effort to get there, his horses plowing through meter deep snow. While Antoine was prepared, I was not. While my horse is from steel, his are mortal. A mental power can reach far distances, and Antoine his young power has struck me. The four photo’s below are made by Taneli Roininen.
The club of four is about as fast as me, but after two days of meeting up, they gain too much distance for me to keep up. Antoine has 3 horsepower, and I only half one on good days. Read more about Antoine here. I lose sight of him after I have camped the night with another cyclist, Sebastian.
That, and a climb and a headache and the fact that I missed out on my desired rest in the evening and morning, makes me slow.
Sebastian is an Argentinean swim-teacher who got rid of his job and started cycling. He has no savings and no bank account and makes money with his self-made guitar. He makes sure never to have less than $ 40 on him. I admire his way of daring choice. He proves you don’t need much money to travel.
When I invite him to join me for dinner, as he has run out of yummy food and the next farm with tiny puesto is 40 kilometers away, he says ‘yes’ right away.
I kind of bite my tongue, as I don’t really want to share a camp. I love being in this nature, so immensely wide open, without anyone in view. It is like the whole Argentinean country is empty but for whispering colors, fierce wind, sturdy bushes and sand.
Sebastian is a sweet guy but I feel like a mom: gathering the wood, making a fire, preparing dinner, washing his pan, kneading bread for two persons, baking them the next morning. I feel he finds it normal someone does this for him while he’s refurbishing up his bicycle. No time left for my treasured reflection, though we do have an extended selfie-shot.
Though, it is interesting to meet another person and talk about self-generated power to journey our way through the world. Often it stays on the level of non-meaningful friendliness, and in the case of Sebastian, nothing more than that happened. Therefor, being alone can be more rich, without noise from outside.
When beauty captures me, I think of nothing.
The surroundings are becoming more magnificent each day. Volcano’s dot the eyes end, snow-covered ranges separate me from Chile. The Rio Grande slides along with a road sometimes easy, sometimes not. I peddle content and happy, thankful for where I am, and feel stronger each week.
I meet with more people cycling South to North. Serge from Brazil and I talk a bit before cycling on between volcano’s.
The hard wind coming from the Chilean ocean is pushing me forward most of the time. The wind gets so frantically that when I mention it to Signorina Coco, she replies: ‘This is just the beginning, it get much stronger.’ She and her friend Signorina Luna have taken me to their home when I was searching for a grocery store in Buta Ranquil, where volcano Poton majestically hovers above. They offer me a shower but I want not delay my camping experience any longer, as I have seen a great spot. I haven’t had a shower in 2 weeks and I really would love one, but send off with a few route maps, a kilo apples, water supply, a lot of veggies and some spices, I promise to be back tomorrow for the asado.
I stay a day in camp where I make it my own with a goat skull adorning a wall of stone.
Then I am off to Signorina Coco and Signorina Luna again, both school teachers, Mapuche, who don’t speak English. Their approach is a lot less enthusiastic than the day before and was I looking forward to a hot shower, I am offered none. The food nonetheless is delicious, their dogs adorable and the company good. Neither a spot to sleep offered in their home, I pitch the tent beside it.
Going off to sleep late, the wind which suddenly stirs up has 3 of the guy lines coming loose so that the tent bulges over me. I decide to start cycling, roll up the mattress, pack the sleeping bag and ready to pack the tent I realize it is only 5.30 AM. Pitch dark I sleep 3 hours more on a cold tent sheet and then I’m off…
Fences have long gone, buttes dot the endlessness, the familiarity with this empty land seems natural to me. I can not imagine I will ever feel comfortable back in the Netherlands.
When I see a stream, I decide to set up camp. Wash all my clothes, and both legs, as they have become unpleasantly dirty. It occurs to me that it has been incredible long, if ever at all, that my natural hair growth is this long. I understand why men don’t shave their stubble anymore, it is just too time absorbing when you try to avoid staying in hotels. Besides, hair where it grows has a reason. Where traveling isn’t good for? Conclusions such as these make me think how time-consuming returning to a place where social codes are a must will be. In fact, watching my own hair growth has still a somewhat funny effect: the power of cultural behavior.
April 2017, cycling Ruta 40 from Bardas Blancas to Las Lajas via Chos Malal.