Bike Touring

Fool me once

I was going to write about the last few days, riding from El Calafate to Puerto Natales. I would have written about the scenery, from mountains to open altiplano, back to valleys, and down to sea level again for the first time in weeks. I would have mentioned the cold – some snow at 500m even – and of course the wind. I would have told you that I enjoyed the open spaces, although admittedly not so much when I was tacking into the wind.

I would have mentioned the dead horses at my campsite – no, beating them didn’t help. Plenty of live wildlife though, guanacos, Darwin’s rheas, foxes, and oddly enough, sheep and cattle. I would have even posted pictures of some of them.

Long distances, isolated places, these would be mentioned. And then reaching Puerto Natales, where I found Baguales, a micro brewery that has now opened a bar that would not be out of place in Kingsland (or perhaps Leith, for my Scottish readers). They served me excellent beer, and the best hamburger I’ve seen so far in South America. And then holy of holies, I found peanut butter! One last jar at the supermarket, right at the top at the back of the shelf, where shorter customers couldn’t see it. It was from the United States, so luckily it had bold writing on the side, proclaiming: Warning: Contains peanuts. Well I should hope it does.

But…after returning to my campsite from dinner, I saw the front zip partly open. This was unusual, because I generally close the zips fully, as you don’t know what the weather will do. As I opened that zip, I saw the inner zip was not closed fully either. I pretty much knew what had happened as I opened the zip. Sure enough, my bag was open, looking rather empty. Empty camera case tossed aside, GPS missing, inner pocket opened, and one of my cash supplies gone, along with memory cards missing.

Sigh. We’ve been here before.

Could have been better, could have been worse. This time, the passport was stored somewhere else, and not touched. Technical issues in Calafate stopped me copying my photos to another drive. But I have been uploading photos along the way, general in full size, so they’re not all lost. There was quite a bit of cash, as I had been carrying extra amounts because I’ve got a few different currencies. The mobile phone wasn’t taken. The GPS hd track logs, waypoints, and full maps, which were very useful…but no more. I still have a copy of those maps, but nowhere to view them. Luckily it’s not too much further to go now, and the roads aren’t too complicated here, so I should be able to work it all out. The travel journal was left too, and no credit cards were lost (they’re distributed with my other money supplies. Strangely, my water and fuel bottles had also been taken.

Well I suppose everyone gets stuff stolen in South America. Just that it’s usually in the poorer, rougher countries, not the relatively developed Chile and Argentina.

Just after seeing what had happened, I met Max, an Australian riding down from Alaska to Ushaia. He’s staying at the same campsite, but I hadn’t seen him earlier in the day when I arrived. A pity I hadn’t, because he’d seen someone at my tent around 8:30, when I was out. They were sitting at the door of my tent, wearing a headlamp, and looking like they belonged. Not knowing whose tent it was, Max didn’t think it was out of the ordinary.

Interesting sidenote: On a hunch, we checked the rubbish bin out on the street – and there was my fuel and water bottles. Lucky, because getting a replacement fuel bottle isn’t easy, and would have rendered my stove useless. So the thief was probably trying to look like he went to the tent, grabbed the bottles (which were sitting in the vestibule), and strolled out, looking like he belonged. Which is part of what makes me think it was a tourist, not a local. The locals tell me that a local thief would have just taken the whole bag, and I would have lost a travel journal too. But then why did the stupid **** take a crappy 3yr old camera, and my memory cards, which would have been worth bugger all.

Anyway, Max speaks fluent Spanish, and was a tremendous help. We spoke to the staff of the campsite/hostel, and they got the manager in. We went over what happened, and went around the corner to the police station, to file a report. The carabineros are a solid, respected force, but there’s not much they can do. I’ve got a report for insurance purposes, but there’s not much else that will happen. They were hassling the campsite owner, saying he should have better security. But there’s not much more he could do – the site is fenced, there’s one way in and out, but if you look like you belong, you probably won’t be challenged, given the numbers of people passing through this town.

Oddly enough, after all that, I slept as soundly in my tent last night as I ever have. You just have to deal with these things. But maybe I should not have balked at the $31USD I was quoted for a dormitory room at a hostel in town…

I’ll head to Punta Arenas from here, which is one of the biggest towns in the region, at around 120,000 people. It has a duty free area, so I’ll try and pick up a new camera there. Will probably give the GPS a miss, since the prices won’t be cheap.