Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas. 16,335 miles 28th January 2002
When we attempted to pay our ferry fare with our Barclaycard, it was refused as invalid. This seemed strange and so we e-mailed Barclaycard. Their usual response is that due to security reasons they cannot reply by e-mail, but a suitable worded note pointing out that there is no security risk in telling us why our card does not work seemed to have an effect. Their first response was that there was nothing wrong and that our card must be worn out. A stern reply by us finally elicited the response that they had cancelled our card because they had updated us to a gold card and sent the new card to our home. We don't believe it! Before we came away, we changed from a gold card to an ordinary one because they kept asking us for charges and the gold card gave no advantages. We left specific instructions with the bank not to mess about with our card and told them we would not be home until March 2002. It seems that, as usual, the bank has ignored all our communications and changed our card without our consent.
We predicted this sort of problem and allowed for it by having cards from two different banks. But, the other card was stolen along with our passports. We have one more valid card, but will still press the bank to send us another urgently as we do not like having only one chance left. The bank has been asked to get a new card to us at a bank of their choice in Puerto Natales at the end of our circuit. They have a week.
On the first day of the circuit we covered a creditable 37 miles considering the terrible road surface, and camped wild by the side of a lake. The second day the road was even worse with fist-sized stones and many short, but impossible to ride, climbs. Even the descents were tricky and we fell off several times albeit while riding slowly. After 17 miles, a third of that was probable walking, we arrived at a bridge across a river, which we had to cross to complete the circuit. The bridge was an old wooden structure, originally for motor traffic, but now in such a poor state that in places only a rotting plank six inches wide was left to walk on , at the best it was 3 planks wide.
It was in two sections of about 50 yards each with an island in between. We camped on the island after ferrying all our gear across the first bridge. The river was very fast and deep. Some local men had caught a 30lb salmon and several large rainbow trout, but David had no success.
The scenery now is spectacular with large lakes and rivers surrounded by snow capped mountains. Joan found several types of orchid in the meadows. Condors are to be seen again and surprisingly to us there are still parrots around this far south.
Crossed the next section of bridge and camped the other side as the scenery was so good and the promise of good fishing tempted David to spend another day here. Still no luck.
The wind is very strong and cold when the sun is in, but it warms up rapidly when the sun shines.
We continued to cycle through the national park in almost hurricane force winds which were mostly thankfully behind us, and which blew us up the hills. Took many photos and finally headed out of the park towards the small border town of Cerro Castillo.
We stopped by a small river for lunch and David tried spinning for fish. To his surprise he caught a pan-sized trout which we shared for dinner that evening.
Eventually, back in Puerto Natales, we found a lovely little campsite in the centre of town and went to look at the Internet to find out which bank Barclays had delivered our new card to. Guess what? They had not even replied to our e-mail of a week ago let alone delivered our new card. Another e-mail to the bank - this is getting ridiculous. Barclays do not care about their customers in trouble even if it is their own fault.
Had to stay another night due to the Bank problem. The temperature had plunged to near freezing with bitter cold gale force gusty winds and as we are in no hurry and in a comfortable place we have decided to wait for an improvement. This is summer here! Patagonia is known for its rapid weather changes from warm sunshine to arctic conditions several times a day. You could say its a bit like an English summer.
Even worse in the morning. Barclays reply from yet another person was that they could not send a card unless we gave them an address. As we had not yet been to where we wanted the card delivered how could we give them an address? We told them that a large international bank like Barclays should have access to the addresses of banks in Chile. We await their response again.
Another session on the Internet. A reply from yet another person at the bank who now says that they can re-activate our card but require many personal details first, but not by e-mail. We left the phone number of our campsite and awaited their further response. This is now full circle as the first reply said that it was impossible to re-activate the card and this is customer services! How can they cancel our card and issue a new one without contacting us or getting personal details directly, but due to "security reasons" cannot re-activate the old one the same way?
Eventually Barclays have re-activated our card. Why couldn't they do this earlier and save all these messages?
When we get back home David will persue this further with Barclays.
When you are away from home in South America for so long, the availability of English reading material becomes difficult. A recent statement from Joan "I am going to the bus station with a woman who is seeing off a friend who knows somebody who has a book in English to swap"
Gale force winds behind us for a while, but the wind soon became a crosswind, which blew us off the road every now and then. One compensation was that we were now on concrete roads and could lean into the wind. If we tried this on gravel roads, the wheels just slipped sideways and tipped us over.
This area of Patagonia is somewhat reminiscent of parts of Alaska, both in scenery and in facilities. A town marked on a map turns out to be a small collection of houses with no shops or facilities. It is difficult to find anywhere to camp out of the wind as only short scrub grows here and we always find the best camping spots in the morning when we are not ready to stop.
Joan lost one of our saucepans today. She was washing up at the edge of a lake when the wind blew it into the water. The wind started to carry it towards a small bay when a wave sunk it too far out to retrieve. Never mind, we will be in Punta Arenas and will buy another.
The wildlife around here includes guanacos, a kind of small llama, wild rhea (ostrich like birds) arctic foxes, black necked swans and many other birds.
Our plan at the moment is to leave ourselves about 10 days to get back from Ushuaia to Quito by bus, giving us enough time to stop off at various places on the way, and a day or so in Quito. This puts us in Ushuaia around the 20-23 February.
At present we are about a week up on this schedule so have plenty of time - we hope.
The currency crisis in Argentina is not a major problem for tourists. The official rate is 1.4 pesos per dollar, the street rate about two. This means that it is an advantage to take cash dollars into Argentina as they are like gold dust there. We are told that some prices have gone up, but at two pesos/dollar this should not be a problem to us.
We must make sure that we have enough money left to treat ourselves to a celebration posh hotel and bottle of champagne in Ushuaia.
We catch the 9 o'clock boat to Tierra del Fuego in the morning.
Dave and Joan