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7 and 40

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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! :).



La Cuarenta

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Taken By Argentina

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Taken By Argentina

Futaleufú, 30-Mar-2010

Paula gave me some of her favorite music to add to my MP3 playlists (Zi, Eric, check “Amy Winehouse”) and I left Massoud, Paula, Justin and the whole family early afternoon, heading back to Argentina.  It felt good to be on the road riding again but actually all I was thinking about was Argentinean ice cream :).  I planned to stop in Villa la Angostura specifically to have some at this traditional ice-cream shop I knew.  And I had company on the road: I met a rider on a BMW 1200 heading the same way and we rode together up to Villa la Angostura.  I then continued 110Km further to reach Bariloche (Kilometer 11,476, Bariloche, 19-Mar-10 @ 20:00).  The 2nd thing I was craving was a good Argentinean asado and I treated myself to a top restaurant in Bariloche.  I was sitting 4 tables inside the restaurant enjoying my bife de chorizo when this couple walking outside suddenly stopped and started jumping and waving like crazy.  The whole restaurant was looking at them and I was thinking “those Argentinean”… but wait!  It’s Flora and Ale!  What an unexpected and funny encounter!  I invited them to an ice cream to catch up J  (what? you didn’t guess?!)

Next morning I hopped in Ale & Flora’s car and we all went to El-Bolson, 120Km south of here.  It was raining the whole day but in the car, sipping matte, who cares?  We visited the local artisanal craft market, bought some homemade cheese, alfajores, jam,… you name it, I tried it.  We also went to lago Puelo and picked & ate Blackberries while walking on its shore.

Bariloche is a beautiful city, although VERY touristy which greatly diminish its charm.  For example, on Lago Nahuel Huapi’s shoreline, for 18Km, nothing but restaurants, hotel, cabañas… how nice.  After 2 days of chilling cold weather with heavy rain, the sun finally started peering out again and I took advantage to do many activities.  Hiking is top notch here and a climbed a few ceros.  I also went back on 2 wheels – this time without an engine – and bicycled the circuito chico (I sneaked in to the famous hotel Llao-Llao for a peak but soon was escorted out by black suit security guards 🙂    AnywayZ, back to our Bariloche discussion, its early German settlers left many good traditions the best being a few micro-breweries (“Blest” beer being my favorite) and many restaurants which we happily savored with Ale and Flora.

Ale & Flora left on Tuesday and I finally got around to finding a mechanic for my bike; I did an oil change  and switched to my off-road tires.  In the mean time I hanged out at the hostel with the rest of the tourists, partying and enjoying the city.  On my 6th day, Wednesday 24-Mar, I was ready to hit the road…. Not too far though, only to El-Bolson (again) but this time with gorgeous weather and great company (Kilometer 11,613, El-Bolson, 24-Mar-10 @ 14:00).  I hooked-up with Annie, an amazing girl from Portland, avid outdoors-woman, funny and always smiling.  We chilled in the village, mellowing in its hippy atmosphere, mingling with its incredibly friendly people and savoring the delicious and healthy restaurants that abound (especially veggies).  We also went kayaking on Lago Puelo under a beautiful autumn warm day.

It was sad to leave Annie but our routes now follow opposite direction.   I headed south to the Welsh settlement of Trevelin where not only I wanted to sip a Welsh tea but also visit Parque National Los Alerces and see its majestic millenary trees (Kilometer 11,862, Trevelin, 26-Mar-10 @ 19:30).  I hooked up with 2 other Argentinean riders (Alberto & Luis on a V-Strom 1000 & a Kawi 650) and we headed to the park.  The Alerces are in a protected area, intangible and can only be reached via a 1 hour catamaran ride.  There, a guide took us around for a 1 hour hike, walking between these magnificent 1000’s year old trees (longest longevity species after the US Sequoia and Bristlecone Pine).  Kilometer 11,935, Parque National Los Alerces, 28-Mar-10 @ 11:00.  The road to reach the park was a 90Km gravel road and my new tires were just perfect, they made a huge difference!  I could easily reach 80Km/h on roads I wouldn’t dare hit 40Km/h before!  Wo-hooo! 😉  My turns were smooth and my baby was stable in acceleration and straight line.  Now I am ready to hit Patagonia roads.

But my good mood was soon squashed.  On my way back to Trevelin after having parted with Luis and Alberto, my bike headlights died.  Burned bulb or fuse I thought and kept riding.  But once at my hostel, the bike did not want to start again.  I pushed the start button but nothing, not a sound.  I was facing an electrical short or a cut line… but where?  I searched for a couple of hour with no luck.  It was sundown and I was faced with the daunting task of disassembling the bike to find the root of the issue.  Worst, I was in a small village and there are no mechanics for my bike.  I jumped on the net and logged in to the HUBB and asked for help, hints and debugging ideas.  I went to sleep facing a stressful next day.

Next morning I got a few replies from other travelers and started following their hints…. No luck.   However they led me to focus on my starter system and I started debugging.  On the bright side, my bike at least can start in 2nd (push start) so I had the option to head north to Bariloche (400K away) for a mechanic.  But I kept digging and soon I was onto something.  In the right handle bar electric case, inside the start mechanism box, inside the spring/cable push button, there’s another spring which pushes and closes the final contact to start the bike. Well, that spring was “soft” (i.e. not a spring anymore).   It took me another hour or so, some electric tape, pieces of rubber, crazy glue and a metal wire to work around the issue and finally, at 22:00, the bike started again.   Lucky to find the problem? Damn right.  But after a full day of work I am back in the game, ready to head south again.  The question was:  how long will my fix hold especially now I am facing 1000+ Km of bumpy gravel roads?

I crossed yet again into Chile to the village of Futaleufú, Kilometer 12,088, Futaleufú, 29-Mar-10 @ 20:00.  Futaleufú River is world renowned for its rapids.  It’s equivalent to Colorado or Zambezi Rivers (check Raft Top 10) and Olympic teams from around the world actually come here to train.  I came off season and only Josh, a 50+ US guy who runs “Futaleufú Explorer” outdoor services, was offering to go.  This guy is hip, a little “different” 😉 and all he wants to do is hit the river regardless of the money (well, he still charged me U$D20 more than normal rate but I was alone).  And he’s so good, he’s the only one ready to navigate a raft by himself down these rapids and he gladly accepted to take me for a ride.  But we needed a kayak for safety reason in case someone (i.e. me) falls and needs to be rescued.  So we jumped in his van and went knocking on a few of his kayaker buddy’s doors until we found Jaime, a Spanish kayaker who was also relishing the challenge.  So we were set and we went to the river.  Just to look at Futaleufú river will give you a rush: non-stop, back to back (little time to relax), class IV and class V rapids.  Riviere Rouge (Red River) in Ottawa will be ashamed to even show up to the party if Futaleufú is present :).  After a few pointers from Josh and training through the first runs we started hitting the rapids sweet spots.  “Terminator”, “Toboggan”, “Puma”, “Tiburon”, “Cazuela”,… we tackled them head on.  These are fierce white water rapids and I was bouncing left, right and center and even Josh fell on me a couple of times; an exelerating experience.  We were shouting in victory every time we successfully crossed one.  And then came the icing on the cake:  Class V rapids.  Just approaching them gave me chills.  We first hit “Mas o Menos” and then by far the best run: “Casa de Piedras”.  What a rush! We needed to follow a curved path, zigzagging between huge boulders, bouncing off high waves while rowing hard to stay away from the rocky shores.  I loved it and by that time, Josh and I were so in tune we just hit the rapids perfectly, in line and in sync with the wave movements, navigating skillfully left then right then head on through the run.  Sweet!

Back to Futaleufú, my hostal señora (owner) cooked me (I was the loco who went on the river with Josh) a delicious lamb meal and I went to sleep exhausted.  Tomorrow my llama show continues through the Carretera Austral (Ruta 7).  It’s going to be beautiful scenery yet very tough off-road riding.

Ride up!



Photo Album

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