29th of September till 5th of October 2019.
One thing is for sure, you can’t get lost on the Carretera Austral. You go North or South. Your choice.
We now entered the evergreen Patagonia, covered in evergreen trees, the native Coihue or Coigue, which can stay so green because….…yes….it rains a lot in these parts.
In this area it rains around 600 – 4,000 mm per year! We always think it rains a lot in The Netherlands, but an average of 800 mm per year is modest compared to this area. When leaving La Junta we bought sealed working gloves. Wearing them up-side down/left on right and the other way around. Hoping to keep the rain out and keeping our hands warm.
It is difficult to describe the amazing ride following the river and lago Risopatrón. Snow capped mountains, fast flowing rivers, tranquile lake, rain clouds, sun burning away the mist. Patagonia.
We spot a Ringed Kingfisher. They are common in whole South America but we never have seen one so up-close. Almost 20 cm long and 400 gr heavy, they are one of the largest kingfishers scooping their prey out of the water.
No one wished to settle here.
We enter Puyuhuapi and see the influence of the first settlers. Strange to imaging that this small town only started in 1935, by two Germans who escaped the struggles in Europe and tried to make a living. Until the Carretera was constructed the only way to bring goods here was by boat. You really needed to be self-supporting as you could not ask the neighbour to borrow some salt. Now it is a small town which wants to become a water sport center and the stop-over for visiting Queulat National park.
As we want to hike the park tomorrow and it is still raining we choose a shared cabana, you rent a room in the cabana but kitchen and bathroom are shared. Lucky us as nobody else arrives during the next two nights.
As there is no public transport to the park our host is so sweet to arrange a pick-up by one of the people working in the park. We do need to pay even if he is driving to his work.
Rain dripping on us and the soaked moss, small openings in the dense forest allowing us to see a bit further than the trail. Wet snow and rain ensure that the temperate rain forest is exactly that. So many different species of moss and ferns. Never ending green.
This is why we did the 1,000 km by bus. At least we have time to do some hikes and discover Patagonia not only by bike. The liberating feeling of being even closer to nature.
Especially in the mountains where you discover areas which you could not have reached by bike. And definitively no other traffic passing by, for the whole 5 hours of the hike we only see 6 other people.
Good hike from 50 meters above sea level to 450 MASL where the glacier peeps through the clouds and the fresh green lake reflects a few sun-rays only once in a while. Clouds are rolling in and out shedding their snow load. What a magical view.
Seems that the glacier reached the sea less than a 100 years ago, now it has retrieved to more than a 3 kilometers away from the shore. Also here you see the impact of climate change.
Isn’t life strange.
Hitch hiking back to town we are pick-up by Daniel (Santiago), Xavier (Coyhaique) and Choi (Korea). Travelling in a van, going camping together after they met hiking in the Himalaya. Emotional talk with Choi as he revealed that before his Himalaya hike he did not know what to do with his life, even wanted to kill himself. After the mountain experience; digging deep into his soul, meeting great people, he decided he needed to continue living and discovering the world. Travel and share his travel experience with people back home. Meeting Daniel again with whom he hiked the Himalaya and live his life to the fullest. Again confirming how meeting people can change your world.
During the ride he filmed the whole time and was surprised by our journey. Just could not believe what we are doing. Continued filming when we shared coffee and cake and when they passed us the day after when we were biking. Choi edited a great YouTube video out of all his material, called I met crazy people.
Going down slow.
After a great dinner in our cozy cabana and a quiet night we are ready again. My legs scream that they have been used in a different way yesterday. By biking today the same 22 km that we drove to the park by car yesterday we are in mutual agreement that, for now, biking (or hiking) is the best way of discovering mother earth. What a difference. Now we can stop, enjoy, absorb, take photos, feel the cold, the difference between asphalt and gravel.
Yesterday the 22 km were covered in less than 30 minutes. Today it takes us 3 hours. The paved CA changes to dirt road, slowing us down. Again enjoying snow when taking several 180 degree switch backs, sweating from 0 MASL to + 600 MASL.
Hand in glove.
Difficult to decide what to wear as it is cold, cold, cold but I am soaked in sweat. The working gloves don’t work and it is even worse when speeding down. I put on my hand knitted gloves as an extra layer and it is a bit warmer but what we have bought is no solution. At the turnoff with X-24 the bus shelter gives us some relief and as we have descended to around 100 m above sea level it feels already warmer. This wet cold is worse than the cold we experienced at 4,500 meter. If we ever go winter biking we need even better equipment, but is this not already winter biking?
We have left the evergreen forest and bike through a valley stripped from all trees. Cows and sheep keep the grass short. The first “camping” which is open is a farm offering a shelter where you can set-up your tent and cook covered from the rain. A cow has just been killed as she broke a leg. I ask why they throw away all the intestines and don’t eat the liver. Seems that there is a disease which can be transmitted through eating liver etc to humans but meat should not be a problem. If you know what this is can you share?
Down on the farm.
Marta and her husband live here alone and we get a slight insight in their life as we have ordered breakfast with Marta. Only phone reception just outside the house and then still very weak. Warm water by a boiler connected to the stove which is also used to cook on. A stove of course heated by wood. Solar electricity. What she cannot produce on the farm she gets from 77 km away. She does have a few neighbors. Loves the contact with travelers, enjoys cooking for them. We get the best eggs in ages together with home baked buns and home made marmalade. Of course we could have cooked our own oatmeal, faster and cheaper but have missed out on this experience.
As we are following the river upstream we know we will be climbing again but who cares when you get this view as a reward. Landscape is again changing. We notice we bike through an area where more tourists are present. Do you?
We pass several stretches with tree skeletons and discover much later that a big part of Patagonie has been tortured around 1996 by an immense forest fire, lasting several years.
Again a day of more than 70 km. What a difference asphalt makes, even if it is still hilly we cover some nice stretches!
Only annoyance is the cost of traveling in Chile. Parks are as expensive or more expensive than in Canada or USA. A very basic room with old mattresses, heavy blankets and shared facilities costs easily 25 euro, even in a small town as Manihuales where there are no tourist attractions, camping 8 euro per person and as it is still raining we only camp when there is no other option. Wild camping is a challenge as everything is fenced off.
Just outside town we have to choose to continue to follow asphalt (X50) or continue on Ruta 7 but which will be gravel and probably has roadworks. Tempted to follow an easier road with less vertical incline but still decide on the gravel. Happy we do follow the more remote Carretera Austral. Tranquil gravel road, even if we have a stretch with road works.
This is why we came to Patagonia. I did not imagine there would be so much farm land but minimal traffic gives a great feeling. Halfway road construction has been finished but it is not a benefit for us. Big round stones make biking very hard. We follow the car tracks but need to pull aside when cars approach and 80% does not slow down. Don’t they know how dangerous stones can be? They do have enough cracked windows so they should know slowing down would be safer for us.
Strenuous biking as you bump up and down and need to correct all the time, 35 km on this type of road is enough for Frank.
Coyhaique is the last big town going south and one of the things we need to solve is our cold, wet hands. We buy in the first outdoor store neoprene gloves for me, they are used for fly fishing and they say it could be the solution for me (no size for Frank available), I do wonder how warm my hands will stay if it is really cold but it will at least prevent them getting wet.
Take a bath.
Hiding in a cabana where Dutch soccer player, now coach Frank de Boer has stayed. Needing to wipe the floor as the bath leaks and water comes through the ceiling in the kitchen. Not our fault as it is the overflow which is not connected and as the ceiling was already damaged is must have happened before, but was not fixed.
In Coyhaique we find waterproof gloves (Doite) for Frank. Craft beer and crunchy pizza make it a perfect Friday.
The vastness a few kilometers outside of Coyhaique embraces us. Luxury of pizza and beer is great but we are happy to climb again, this time to Cerro Castillo.
Again snow, wondering if we will ever get better weather.
Arriving at the national park Cerro Castillo it seems that the camping is still closed. Mauricio, a very young guy says he is the caretaker and charges 6,000 pp to camp…What a closure of this week.
In the news.
This week was also the week Birger Vandael wrote a great article about us in one of the Belgium National newspapers, Het Laatste Nieuws.
Even more emotional is follow-up article. About Travels with Sam.