A lot has happened since the last time I wrote, and I’ll try to squeeze it all in here!
I left Chile Chico relieved of not having to battle through relentless winds anymore, and the landscape quickly changed from arid pampas to colourful forests, grand mountains and crystal clear lakes. Amazing landscapes and views, but the difficult cycling wasn’t over. The Carretera Austral, which is the name of the road in Chile which stretches from Villa O’Higgins in the south to Chaitén in the north, is not only known for its beauty, but also its lousy gravel roads and heavy rain. Besides, with mountains comes uphills (and downhills, but they were hard to appreciate when busy trying not to crash because of big stones, sandy patches and crazy drivers).
Even though the conditions were harsh I really enjoyed the Carretera Austral, and its indescribably beautiful nature. I stopped so many times and just stared, simply because I was stunned by the location. If it hadn’t rained that much I could easily imagine myself living there.
After almost a week I reached Coyhaique, which is the largest city on the Carretera Austral. I stayed with Marcelo (via couchsurfing), a forest engineer with a big heart. At the time there were two other couchsurfers staying there, and we had a really nice time, cooking food, telling stories and listening to music. After having spent a long time out in the wilderness you really appreciate to be around people!
After a couple of days I was ready to move on. Even though I had a great time in Coyhaique, the whole idea of bicycle touring for me is to be able to constantly change the environment around you, but still have the time to enjoy everything on the way.
I’ve heard from Facundo, one of the other couchsurfers who had cycled from Bariloche, Argentina to Coyhaique, that the road I had ahead of me was going to be very rainy. This was not an exagerration; I have never experienced as much rain on a single day as I did on the second day. When it was as its worst it really hurted when the rain drops hit me. That night I stayed in a hostel trying to get my things dry, but even inside the air was so humid that everything was as wet the next morning. Nothing to do but to move on, but it really didn’t matter that I was soaked, nor that the weather didn’t get any better. The surroundings outweighed all the hard things that I had to deal with, and it was here somewhere that I started to truly enjoy what I was doing. The focus I get trying to overcome something difficult combined with the physical challenge creates a feeling of true satisfaction, and makes me feel alive. Not to forget the fact that I’m outside all day, I think that does a lot to the well-being.
I decided to take a different route than Facundo had done and try to pass through to Argentina earlier. I did this mainly to go through a small border control, because I’ve heard that they are more chill there. Altough I had payed the fine (or tax or whatever it was, see previous post), I wasn’t sure that it was the right one I’ve payed. Even Facundo, who is an Argentinian citizen, had a hard time understanding what I was supposed to pay! It turned out I did the right choice of route; on both the Chilean and the Argentinian side of the border the controls were tiny. Two persons (on both places) had to help each other to fill in the form, which I had to do myself in the other controls. There was a reason why they weren’t used to receive people on this border crossing; the road, if you are allowed to call it that, was the worst I’ve ever could have imagined. I had to cross four rivers where no bridges existed, and I had to push my bike through sand and roads made of huge stones that were impossible to cycle on. I had been warned before by the border police in Lago Verde, Chile, but one alternative was to cycle all the way back to the other crossing which was a couple of hundred kilometers away. The other was to continue through Chile, but that meant a couple of boat rides (which only has one departure per week), and I didn’t want to make that mistake again!
After a long and exhausting day I finally made it to Las Pampas, which was the first village on the Argentinian side, but there wasn’t any place for me to stay so I decided to move on. I asked a man in a camioneta (pickup truck) if I was on the right road. “Yes”, he said, “but it’s a bad road for bicycles, if you want I can take you to the next town?”. I was to exhausted to really care were this town was situated, so I just threw my bike and myself upon the back of his truck. I asked him if there was a camping in the town we were going to, and he told me there was but he didn’t think I would be safe there. Instead he took me to his parents house and I got to camp in their backyard, use their shower and join them in their dinner. Again I was startled by the hospitality, and even though this family was very poor, they gave me so much not asking for anything in return. The only thing they wanted was the picture I took with them, and I promised to send it to them (via “normal” mail, they didn’t have any email).
I left the next day, heading back towards ruta 40. This time I knew it was only going to be paved roads all the way to Bariloche, which was heaven for me at the time! I even had some luck with the winds, and made really good progress towards Esquel. After that I had sidewind, but the wind speeds were tolerable now. Approaching Bariloche the pampas turned into mountains, forests and lakes again, and the temperatures started to rise. Luckily, with mountains comes not only uphills but also rivers, which were really needed because I ran out of water quite quickly in the heat.
After a week and two days on the road from Coyhaique I finally made it to Bariloche. Here I met up with my couchsurfing host Pablo and right now I am at his place and doing as little as possible 🙂 No, actually I need to do some maintenance on my bike, and send some stuff back home that I’m not using. Low weight is the key in bicycle touring, but I’m very bad at that…
Thanks again for the beautiful comments, I miss you all very much! Take care!