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Switzerland, English

The Hell of the South

25. February 2011

Hi, Hell of the South here!
I knew about the Hell of the North, but now I also know about the Super Hell of the Great South.
Given my advanced age for a long-distance cyclist, and the difficulties I encountered during my previous adventures, I thought that I knew everything about the reality of cycling, but now I realize that I didn’t in fact know everything. I’m still learning, every day. Here, I’ve found something that nearly put me off cycling…EOLE.

Patagonia, a region in the south of Argentina, is a huge, gently undulating steppe, covered with sparse, yellowish vegetation, where here and there you can make out sheep or guanacos. It’s the same scene every day, with endless stretches of road and potholed sections of dirt roads under repair for dozens of kilometers at a time. It’s a real miracle if you can keep your bike moving on these roads, with gusty crosswinds of between 80 and 100 km/h. I fell several times a day. Even cars, minibuses and motorcyclists found themselves on the side of the road. What’s more, here the danger comes from huge trucks that push you off the road, narrowly missing you and dozens of other Fangios who have no regard whatsoever for cyclists. 
Now I understand why Argentineans play soccer rather than cycling…there’s no wind in the stadiums and they are protected by a certain S. Blatter.
It’s crazy! Loco, as they say in Spanish. Every day I learn a new word. Despite everything, I’ve retained some wisdom in my head, so that I don’t exceed my limits. And, like in all the big bike races, I’ve made several transfers.

These barren and sparsely populated regions have allowed me to meet some extraordinary people. Among them was Oswaldo, the restaurateur (like Moser), whose family greeted me like I was a close relative. I had an unforgettable weekend with them; for Oswaldo, I became his...CHE. Then there was Luigi, an Italian welding specialist, who picked me up from the edge of the road, almost dead, and drove me to his office. During that brief moment we spoke about cycling, as he is a cycling enthusiast, but here there’s no information about it. He told me about his father, who had fought for Il Duce in Ethiopia, and whose country then ditched him. I teared up when I left. Then there was Gabriel, who gave me a transfer in his minibus and explained to me that nearly all the cyclists take the Carretera Australe in Chile (superb landscapes and a run which is easier, more beautiful and, above all, without wind) and I told myself that, as usual, I hadn’t chosen the easy option. Marcelo, a vet in Buenos Aires, and his wife, regularly passed me in their vehicle for several days. They would stop each time to encourage me, while fretting about me. And many others encouraged me with a simple gesture, a thumbs up. For me, all these encounters were great moments of sharing and they proved to me that despite different languages, origins and religions, mankind is good and united, especially where it’s nature that is in command.

But, thanks to my head, my partners and all the messages received from you, my friends, I eventually arrived in Bariloche, 2430 km from the start of my adventure. The stage that had led me here was the most beautiful in a long time, despite the difficulties of the mountainous route; first of all, there was no wind, and then there was a magnificent setting. The lakes surrounded by snow-covered mountains actually gave me the impression of being back home in Switzerland.

It was after leaving Tecka that the topography gradually changed. The hills that got higher and higher and the Andes Cordillera on the horizon, with its snow-capped peaks, served as a magnificent backdrop. The colors of the landscape also changed, and green gained the upper hand. Trees lined the road as it snaked through narrow valleys, protecting me a bit from the wind. No more long, endless stretches. After more than 1200 km, Esquel was the first town worthy of the name. It’s a small town situated at the bottom of a valley and surrounded by mountains, well known to the Swiss ski team from their summer training camps. There, I was fortunate enough to obtain a ticket for the famous steam train (La Trochita), which runs on a reduced section of 20 km, with the same equipment that was used in the 1900s. At that time its route would be over 400 km. Buffs from all over the world come here to make this journey, and it’s because of this that I said I was lucky to get a ticket.

My equipment gives me great satisfaction, I’m lucky to be able to count on my partners, so I want to say a big thank-you to the three of them.
Those who know me know that I worry about my gear more than myself.
Despite the hazards of my adventure, like every day in life, I have a blast being able to experience amazing moments, where I learn so much from being right there in the thick of things. The solitude and the effort make it happen. You could say it’s like a drug, in the positive sense of the word.

My next news won’t be before Mendoza, as once again I’m going to traverse a sparsely populated desert region, yet again with the wind for company.

Hasta luego

Vuestro amigo Georges