13th till 23rd of October 2019.
Do you know the difference between a lagoon, a lake and a fjord? A lago and a laguna. After this blog you will be enlightened or more confused than before.
Meeting people, getting inspired, listing to their view of the world is sometimes putting seeds into your heart/head. During the past weeks we have not met so many people, were mainly on our own but this week is totally different.
First of all we are biking together with Roel, Dutch, 73 years old, who has biked all over the world. Has participated 3 times in the famous natural ice skating event Elfstedentocht in the Netherlands and is still as fit as many young guys.
Lap of luxury.
We stayed from Saturday to Sunday on the Pared Sur campground which has an inspiring story. Pablo, the owner and designer of the placed decided to invest the money he had saved for climbing Himalaya into this place. Now 56 he made this change of a normal job to developing this place 6 years ago. Knew this area already since a long time as he was facilitating tours around the Carretera Austral. Could purchase this stunning piece of land from the next door farmer. Developed a posh campsite which offers a solution for every budget. You can choose between cabanas, domes (with shared facilities), a pre-setup tent (in high season, we could now use one of the platforms to set-up our tent) or just pitch your tent in a forest. We chose for the platforms as it was further away from a group of teenagers at the campsite.
You notice Pablo has traveled around the world and is now implementing what he liked and picked up in this place. Yoga lessons are included in the -get close to nature- package which also offers healthy food. A lovely restaurant on top of the hill with open kitchen ensures people leave with a full stomach on their horse riding, hiking or kayak adventure. There is a separate building with a full kitchen which can be used by people who camp and the restaurant is for everybody else. Worked 5 years to develop this remote place and still everyday looking at new opportunities. It is so remote that there is no connectivity by GSM, only a very weak satellite connection and of course the Carretera Austral.
Should we have invested the money we now have spend, during these two years travelling, in a project like his? I should stop the “should have” as we will never know.
Rio Baker is bright blue with slow moving stretches but also one of the wild water rivers in Patagonia. What a turquoise color, caused by glacial sediments and looking very cold we even don’t investigate in Puerto Bertrand if we could do some wild water rafting. Too wild and too cold for our taste. It is the largest river of Chile in terms of volume of water. We enjoy biking and pushing the bikes along the river. Remarkable detail, Frank is able to bike everything. Roel and I need to push 2 or 3 small hills where the incline is more than 15%.
In the park.
As we are well on schedule we aim reaching the campground of Park Patagonia and spend at least a day hiking in this new conservation area. It means a detour but what the heck, we have enough time.
Doug Tompkins, co-founder of North Face together with his wife have donated 10 million acres to the national parks of Chile. What a vision! He died in 2015, but his wife Kristine which was owner of the brand Patagonia continued working to create their vision and donated the land to Chilean government in 2017 . Great read in National Geographic.
The park is located at the CH 265 which is also one of the connection roads to Argentina.
When taking the exit and entering this road a car stops and I take the opportunity to ask if we can buy some water as it seems there will be no stock-up possibilities before we reach the campground in the park. Filling-up our bottles for free they inform us that the entrance of the park is located 12 km further uphill and everything also the campground/museum etc is still closed till 1st of November.
As it is steep we decide to camp along the road and continue tomorrow. Frank wants to camp bit further away from the road but Roel does not want to expose his tires to any puncture possibilities. We settle for a spot a bit away from the road but not completely hidden. Unbelievably nice raw nature without fences, a guanaco strolls by and takes a dust bath while we are setting-up camp.
Call the police.
While we see a full moon peaking above the hill a car stops and an already angry guy asks what we are doing here. Seems to be the ranger of the park and seems that we are already camping on park property. Summons us to leave, does not understand that this is not possible as it is pitch dark, there is still traffic and it is way too dangerous and how would we be able to find another leveled camp spot? We say there is no indication we have already entered national park property and we did not know it was illegal, that we will leave first thing in the morning but we cannot reason with him. Everything escalates and he leaves very angry saying he will send the police. One of our less pleasant encounters. Going to bed as we don’t know if the police will or will not come. But at 23:30 we wake up when the tent is lighted by the flashlights of a police car. Yes, they found us. We get out and Frank explains our situation in Spanish to the friendly but strict policemen. They are more understanding and say we can stay as long as we leave as early as possible and don’t make any fire, even not with our gas cooker as wild fires are a big concern in this area. Then they leave. Al the time we talked to the policemen Roel stayed in his tent, not because he is hiding, but he just did not hear anything.
One of the few mornings we don’t start with coffee and oatmeal but just some cookies, pack and go.
No coffee together with a bumpy road make a grumpy Frank and his shoulders are killing him. On our next adventure he will need suspension.
As we had such an early start and it will not be a very long ride we have a lazy roadside brunch overlooking the mighty Baker River.
In Cochrane we find a camping which also offers rooms or refugio (dorm) against a reasonable price. Not only the price made us decide to stay here but mainly Patti and her garden. Such a warm welcome!
Cochrane is not a mega tourist town just yet, but first signs are visible and mainly noticeable in your pocket. Next day we bike without luggage to an other part of the Patagonia Park. A friendly ranger gives some info and the 3 of us head into the wild. Some birds and horses, the old traces of civilization, the remains of the huge wildfire of years ago. We don’t see any other hikers today.
Our plan was to bike to Villa O’Higgens, cross the lake, hike-a-bike to El Calafate but it seems that the boat and border crossing only sails/opens on the 1st of November. We could spend more time here but if we cross the border on 1st opportunity we will run out of time to still visit Torres Del Paine. We decide to do what @twowheelfreedom will be doing: take the ferry from Tortel to Puerto Natales and hike Torres Del Paine, than decide what we will do next.
We arrange our reservation for the ferry while preparing dinner together with Roel.
We have a small shelter at the back of the garden where we can eat while a fire is roaring in the stove, listening to all the bike adventures Roel did in the past.
Even if Roel only will be flying home on the 28th of December he decides he would like to bike with us to Tortel and take the boat to Natales. I arrange a reservation for him and we wait until he has packed his bike in a mix of touring and bike packing set up. We do prefer our setup of 6 bags which carry more or less the same amount.
Laguna Esmeralda is not as esmerald green as expected, due to clouds. Spotting huge fish, would be nice to have those for dinner. Seems that a laguna gets filled by ground water (and a bit of rain). Next water reservoir is lago Chacabuco, yes a lago/lake which seems to be fed by streams. Next one Laguna Largo. Lots of water for sure. Some I would not filter, others look like we should filter before use.
Patti mentioned a camping called La Araucaria, located at a side road of the Carretera Austral, a spot to behold. We agree we will take the detour of a few kilometers and not wild camp, although there is sufficient space to wild camp. Strange to veer off the CA, even if there is almost no traffic and it is still gravel, being on a side road feels even more remote. Super cute road through a forest together with a slight shortcut for bikes lead to the farm.
Again such a warm welcome by Marisol. Living with her husband alone in this quiet corner of the universe. Daughter studying in town. Having exchange students a few times per year for a week per time. They were helping her this evening.
One piece of land offers some shelters, a refugio with a toilet and if wanted a cold shower. Sheep and 1-2 day old lambs. All this for 6 Euro pp.
We decide to camp as the weather is improving (and there are only 2 beds inside the refugio). Roel oppts for the sheltered bed. We ask for the optional breakfast as this also gives us the opportunity to get to know a bit about the way of living. Seems that the refugio is the house Marisol was born in. She lived her whole life here. Sheep, cows and strawberries ensure enough supplies and income. The exchange students give an other perspective on life. Only way of connectivity is a “radio”, police checking every morning and late afternoon if all is well at the farm. Radio is fed by solar energy which charges car batteries. No there is no electricity and water is warmed by the stove in a reservoir above the stove. So good these USA girls stay her for some time!
We enjoy our breakfast of eggs with fresh baked bread. Happy we ordered some more bread to take with us. If the girls would not have been here and we would not have had the time pressure of reaching Tortel in time, I would have loved to spend a few days here, helping on the farm, really feeling how it is to live such a remote life.
When we finish breakfast Roel is also ready and is surprised he is not able to buy bread. We have enough for the 3 of us, so no worries. Enjoying the ride on the quiet Carretera Austral. Me as the slow one today (check out the blog of Chills and Mills explaining the Slow, Grumpy, Motivator one https://chillsandmills.com/2019/11/07/the-slow-one-the-grumpy-one-and-the-motivator/)
Being slow also means noticing what is around you better. As I see a small house which says to have bread, I stop and buy some more bread.
I’m working on the building.
We pass a construction site where Jose Miguel is constructing a new hotel and rest place. Mid 50 with a shop in O’Higgins he decided to do this as a last project. Own design, own vision. Link to the first inhabitants: the Tehuelche people. Huge investment and we wonder if it will ever make any profit. Built on peat fields he offers us ground water as we are running low and need water for camping. It is a bit brown, but he assures us it is perfectly potable.
After 51 beautiful kilometers we decide to call it a day, even if it is still early, but here we can camp away from the road. We prefer to be out of sight! And what an amazing place it is. It is one of the most spiritual places we have been camping.
The confluence of the mighty emerald blue Rio Baker and the relatively tiny brown river El Paso. The blue created by the sediment of a glacier, the brown by the sediment of Turba (peat).
A boardwalk 10 meters above the river makes an impressive sight, but we do not understand why it is so high until Frank finds info a few days later on internet that could be an explanation. Chile planned to build 5 dams along the mighty Baker river which would generate 30% of the electricity needs of whole Chile! Here we see that protests by local and international organisations do pay off as Chile has changed it’s plans to build the dams but instead will reduce the consumption of electricity by 30%. Way to go!!! Only we think the boardwalk was constructed by investors to dock boats on the lake created by the dam. The boardwalk was built in 2011, the same year the initial plans for the dams were approved by Chilean government. Not a coincidence don’t you think?
Camping next to an area where not so long ago people had been living and now only some meager remains remind us off the time passed. Why did they leave? Left because of the remote living? Or because of the planned dam?
So happy we wild camped here as we only have to cover a meager 35 km to reach Tortel. Slow Friday morning, long breakfast, last peek at the confluence of blue and black and we hit the road again. We pass a few sites where moss is collected to be exported to Japan, used as a natural dehumidifying substance in food and other things. When removing this top layer nature is disturbed, resulting in diminishing of native species. Trees dying or simply not rooting due to too much water and invasion of non native nature. Then you only see new lakes, just water which will evaporate too soon or create floods. Here again you see that we in the western world want to use natural resources without considering where it comes from and what impact it has on nature that it was taken from.
To reach Tortel we take the X904, a side road which was been constructed in 2003. Before Tortel could ONLY be reached by the fjords, inlets from the sea. Tortel only being erected in 1955 to facilitate the export of wood. The roads ends 100 m above sea level while the whole village is tucked beneath on the steep hill sloping to the sea. Walkways and stairs connecting all houses. Cars being left at the square. From top to bottom Frank counted 200 steps to carry all our luggage and bikes down. Bike packing if super light would be easier but now we just removed the bags and I carry the luggage while Frank does the bikes. Video on Instagram.
Again a different living as everything needs to be carried to where you live. Transported over sea and carried up or transported from the road and carried up and down the stairs. No wonder everything is more expensive here.
After a lot of searching with the 3 of us, as we are still travelling with Roel, checking possibilities which are suitable for each of us and adding that several hostals being full, campgrounds not yet being open, it takes a long time before we finally find a place to rest our weary heads. As the boat only leaves tomorrow at 23:00 we can arrange we can keep one room against ½ price until we want to leave, good deal.
Saturday starts with a surprise as Roel decided to not take the ferry and continue to Villa O’Higgins. He has enough time and we already wondered why he would take the ferry so he now changed his plan. Ferry to be cancelled and all his stuff to be carried back up to the square where he can bike again. He will probably bike to O’Higgins and wait for the others to cross the lake. Thanks Roel for the company and the extra challenge!
We hike an amazing route around the island, in bright sunshine and enjoy being together.
At 21:00, in the dark, we follow the walkways to where the ferry will arrive and meet for the first time @twowheelfreedom.nl Wondering what a ferry that will do a 40 hour crossing looks like. It arrives on time and is much smaller than we expected, open loading deck. Space for two trucks and 10 cars. One container from which stuff gets unloaded for Tortel. At the right side a two story shelter with upstairs around 150 seats to rest and downstairs a smaller room where food will be served. Top deck to enjoy the view.
But this time we take you a bit further. A bit of week 105. So we can combine everything of Torres Del Paine in one story. (Torres Del Paine being part of week 105 and 106).
Being on a ferry for 40 hours is strange. Your mind gets into nowhere land. You accept the space and go with the flow. As we leave at 23:00 we find our seats and are happy the ferry is just half full giving everybody enough space and a possibility to claim two seats. Kind of good airplane seats with enough reclining space.
Waking up with rain beating against the windows. Felt some rocking during the night but it was pitch dark outside. Now the fjord water is not a black mirror but an active sea. Seems there have been dolphins swimming around the boot. After breakfast of white bread with ham and cheese and coffee it stops raining and we can take a breath of fresh air. We are navigating between high mountains, wondering what the dept is below the surface. Sea is calm, clouds are hovering above us, adding to the desolate atmosphere. How remote, no settlement in-sight. But this is the only way going South if you don’t want to cross to Argentina.
Seems that it is not everywhere very deep. Stranded, rusty, intact Captain Leonidas. German build in 1937, was transporting till 1965 under Norwegian flag, later 3 years under Greek ownership but the mischievous plan of the captain for claiming a disaster and getting money from the insurance company ended in a lawsuit. It was too obvious that the boot did not sink. When you talk about sinking I still love this one: German coastguard.
In the middle of nowhere.
After 13 hours the boat stops for 2 hours at Puerto Eden. A tiny settlement of 145 people. Only be reached by ferry twice a week. 1 time when the ferry goes North, one time when the ferry goes South. No roads, no airstrip. In case of emergency they can rescue you with a heli but that’s it. No cars, same as in Tortel, everything is carried to the houses. When we arrive it is raining and it appears that this is the place with most rain in the world! At least they will have enough fresh water.
As the ferry now stops twice a week they are trying to create some interesting stops for tourists. Not only walk around the village but also try making something with the local grass. Fishing on crab and fish, harvesting shell fish, is their main income but this has been declining and some months their is no income due to blue algae.
Remainder of the trip we wonder how it would be to live in such a remote but also enclosed village. Everybody knows everything from everybody. Talking with one of the young guys who is helping to develop tourism as an extra income shows that things need to move forward slowly and that there is a lot of envy between people for their share of tourist business.
Tail wind is great but when the waves are too high our ferry has to shelter for more than an hour before we can dock in Puerto Natales.
Kim and Arian from @twowheelfreedom.nl are going to camp.
We have found a cabana for a reasonable price where we can also store our bags and bikes when we will be hiking Torres Del Paine.
While Chile is in turmoil you don’t notice much of it here. A few small protests, a stone through a window but still edible flowers in the supermarket.
Where is the world going when people need to eat them here just after winter. Did you know that the apples which are available here come from 3000 km away, not to mention the bananas. Vegetables or fruits which don’t look so nice anymore and would definitely not be sold in Europe are here still for sale and we are happy to find “fresh” produce.
Next day we arrange everything for Torres Del Paine, reservation for the campgrounds, backpack, walking poles etc. Have lovely dinners with Kim and Arian and are ready for our next adventure: hiking the W-trek in Torres Del Paine. Stay tuned for Week 105 being totally dedicated to this mountain range.
Oh yes and we met Christian, merchant of home made jewelry, travelling around Tortel area already for 20 years. Staying at Patti’s place. Selling products at the market or in schools. Fun, positive person!