7 and 40
El Calafate, 6-Apr-2010
Routa 7 – Chile’s Carretera Austral
Rain was coming down hard and I woke up several times at night wondering how bad will the roads be tomorrow and hoping the rain will end by the morning. But the morning came and it was still pouring outside. I occupied myself with packing, went to have my breakfast then waited by the porch. The señora asked me what was I looking for? “The rain to stop”… a response which was answered by a loud laughter. “It rains 3,000mm per year here, when it starts, it won’t stop for 1 week”. Ouch! Can’t be true, 3 meters of rain?!? Damn! Well, I guess I have to face it; the Llama show will go on. I waited until noontime for a “rain-brake” so I could load my bike (it’s a ½ hour job). Then I hit the road and the rain hit me: Kilometer 12,078, Futaleufu, 31-Mar-10 @ 12:25. It wasn’t fun riding on slippery gravel, in the cold with my visor fogging up forcing me to keep it partially open. I guess I was tasting the rain in every possible way?! 😦 3 hours into my ride I discovered something: NOTHING is waterproof. Don’t talk to me about Gortex, Skins, Waterproof Nylons,… all BS. Nothing can withstand this rain. And I was the guinea pig proving this point; I was literally sitting in a puddle of water forming in my rainsuit under my ass. My boots? Hehe! My feet thought I took them scuba diving. My waterproof gloves? Yeah right, plastic bags might have done a better job.
But I have to tell you, riding through Chile’s Aisén Region in the heart of la Selva Valdiviana is a dream trip for any nature buff. Your riding in valleys surrounded by steep mountains hiding behind them the Pacific to the west and the Andes to the east. In this cold climate with snowy mountains, glaciers and waterfalls, lies an evergreen forest resembling an Amazonian forest. Tall trees, huge leafed shrubs and dense vegetation. And I forget about the rain, the frozen fingers and the gravel road to admire this beauty, stopping – way too many times – to grasp the moment and snap a pic.
I reached the charming little port village of Puyuhuapi (Kilometer 12,276, Puerto Puyuhuapi, 31-Mar-10 @ 17:40) checked in, bathed 15 minutes under a hot shower, hanged all my cloth to dry around the fire stove and put my boots in front of the fire and went out for a stroll to check the waterfront (no dolphins) and have a good hearty dinner. Most villages in southern Chile are “poor” with houses built of tin and/or thin wood, absolutely no insulation and heated mostly by firewood because gas or petrol cost too much here (2x the price of Argentina). Which means only the main room is warmed by a chimney and in the remaining rooms, it is freezing and humid. I took the covers of the surrounding beds, made a 7 layers thick cover and huddled under them to warm up, not able to move under their weight and leaving just a small opening around my face to breath. This “bed cover strategy” will be used from now on in my entire Chilean Patagonia trip.
Next morning more of the same: cold, rain and fog. I knew I will be soaked in a matter of hours which actually made it easier for me: I just saddled up and went. I stopped by a few parks to admire the scenery, most especially Glaciar Colgante. Then I entered Parque National Queulat which protects a gorgeous Valdivian forests surrounded by majestic snowy mountains. The ride was really breathtaking. The roads also put me out of breath, for different reason though: they were just awful, pure stones, rocks and gravel. Finally, by 15:00 a rainbow appeared in front of me and the rain subsided. But the cold wind coming down the snow capped mountains was unmerciful and I was literally in hyperthermia. I had to stop in Cohaique vs. my original plan to reach Cerro Castillo as I couldn’t ride any longer: I could barely move my fingers to shift or break; Kilometer 12,537, Cohaique, 1-Apr-10 @ 19:30.
My voyage toll increased the past week: 1) I felt like “le petit poucet”, leaving or “loosing” (i.e. getting stolen?) some of my cloth (T-shirts, raincoat, hiking cloth, underwear,…) behind; and 2) my bike lost a few screws caused by the unmerciful vibrations while riding these roads. I had to carry some of the bike parts in my luggage while others were held by straps or tape.
My road continued southward reaching Lago General Carrera. Instead of crossing straight into Argentina, I opted to do the ~300Km tour around the lake. I went through Cerro Castillo visiting a Theuelche hands cave before I stopped midway in the little village of Puerto Tranquilo (with 1 resto open at night); Kilometer 12,767, Puerto Tranquilo , 2 -Apr-10 @ 17:50. I found out that a dirt road was newly carved all the way to Campo de Hielo Norte and that there’s a refugio which organize glacier trek tours. Perfect! Next morning, with the sun finally shining (I rode south enough to get away from the Selva Valdiviana region), I took this road, sharing it with the many wild rabbits who were just to curious about this big blue noisy thing going through their hood and trying to outrun it; you should have seen them running in front of my bike, up to 40Km/h, for hundreds of meters on this dirt road, not veering off to hide in the bushes… locos :). Kilometer 12,818, Campo de Hielo Norte, 3-Apr-10 @ 11:10. The ice trek was just amazing and we were just 3 of us on the whole glacier. That was a lot better (and way cheaper) then in El Calafate with its hyper commercial & busy glacier treks the many companies organize. We stayed on the glacier for 7 hours, admiring the myriad of blue colors the ice field was taking and drinking its millinery waters. I was also shocked to witness firsthand the effect of global warming and see its impact on these giants (see pics).
Next morning I continued my route south on the Carretera Austral. A couple of hours thereafter, I veered east to head back to Argentina via the southern shore of Lago General Carrera (if I stayed on the Carretera Austral it will reach a dead end at Lago O’Higgins). Here the sinuous road was at part awful, loose gravel on steep uphill / downhill (I literally had no traction on my tires) with many landslides forcing me to slalom between rocks fallen from the cliffs on my right while staying clear of the precipice plunging to the lake on my left. Momentum is the key word here: never stop or I’ll fall, just have to maintain a steady slow speed. But whenever there was a flat road, I stopped to admire the views of the lake and the distant glaciers including a glimpse of Campo Hielo Sur. Late afternoon, I again crossed into Argentina to reach Ciudad Perito Moreno, my stop for the night: Kilometer 13,126, Perito Moreno, 4-Apr-10 @ 18:10. Side note: In Argentina the same lake is known as Lago Argentina… gota love the rivalry between these 2 countries and I always play this card at the border to make my crossing easier. Hey, it works, it saved me un-packing my luggage and getting searched. Beside, you have a good laugh with the border guards! :).
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