A new house
While staying at a hostal in Coyhaique, we met a german ciclyst and chatted about our experiences. When he heard, that our tent was leaking, he told us, that there was a The North Face store in town. We decided, to have a look at their tents. They only had two person tents on hand, but could order a three person expedition tent from their store in Punta Arenas. We were lucky, that they had a special on that tent just then and that we could buy it for about two thirds of what it costs in US $. The North Face store sent the tent express with DHL and we should have gotten it two days later. Only, that DHL wasn’t capable of getting it from the airport into town. After two more days waiting for it, we finally managed to get our new home after calling and visiting the The North Face store and the DHL office many times.
Our new tent is bright yellow, making us believe that the sun is always shining, when we are inside! It is a bit bigger than the old one and has two instead of one vestibule. Ventilation was better with the old one, now we do have some condensation water somethimes in the morning. But it is a good windproof tent and there wasn’t any other choice in Coyhaique anyway.
After one week of resting and waiting we finally headed out of town on a half sunny, half rainy day. It happens quite often in Patagonia, that it rains out of a complete blue sky! For 100km we enjoyed pavement and we reached Cerro Castillo within two days of riding through amazing landscape. In that small town we were buying food for the next four days, where there wasn’t any place to buy provisions.
Our wheels wobbeld over stones and bad washboard and slipped sideways on soft gravel. It took us hours to ride up a pass of 6km through awesome rock formations. Finally the road was better and we made our 30km must for the day and even found a cosy spot to camp. There was a waterfall close by to get water and around us lots of calafate bushes full of ripe berries. Chan and I picked a pan full and after dinner we cooked them with sugar for a delicious desert!
The next day was very windy as we were riding along a big river until we were climbing uphill for a long time. On the uphill it started to drizzle and then rain more and more. We started to look for a place to camp. There was a shed by the roadside but it was too small for us and dirty inside. We put up the tent in the woods next to it. There was a small stream for water and we could hang up our tarp (the footprint of our old tent) into the trees. Chan was the only one staying dry. He went straight from the trailer into the tent. Flo and I cooked under the tarp and then fled into the tent as well for eating. This was the waterproof test of our new home! It was raining hard throughout the night. In the morning we were still dry inside. Phew!! Packing up wasn’t much fun, the weather stayed the same. Our clothes were still wet from the day before and we were freezing. We discoverd that we had spent the night on the pass. For a while the road was pretty flat and it was beautiful riding through the forest, if still very wet. And then we got the view into the new valley of the Myrta river, where the road led steeply down hill. How beautiful nater was around here! So many lovely camp spots along the river, but for us it was too early to stop.
This day turned into a long riding day of about 50km. Soon after we crossed the river, the land to both sides of the road was fenced in. That meant riding on. Finally, when we were exhausted and already had been looking on fenced in land for a campsite, we found a place, close to the road, but perfect for this day, right at the river.
Patagonia sin represas
Along the careterra austral and in every village on the way we saw banners and posters with the message, that the people of chilenean Patagonia don’t want dams and powerlines to destroy their unique nature. We enjoyed the view of glaciars and the deep blue lake General Carrera, we followed the unbelievable turqois Rio Baker, were breathing the clear air drinking the fresh water directly out of the streams, knowing, that in maybe a couple of years, the whole careterra austral will be paved, bringing lots of traffic. Knowing that then also, powerlines will be cutting through the beautiful sights half of which will be flooded.
Shortly before we reached Cochrane, we obsereved a helicopter, transporting goods into the gorge of Rio Baker. Later we found out, that this was dinamyte for the construction of a huge dam which will flood most of the gorge. It is Swiss, Spanish, EU and US companies which secured the rights over the water to Pinochets time. They are now destroying Patagonia, while making lots of money, leaving the people here poor and the land in disaster.
For the building of the careterra austral unter Pinochet, much land had already been destroyed, by blowing up large pieces of land. To help populate the area to make it secure from arentinian takeover, Pinochet ordered to cut all the trees to turn the land into farm land. Now vast parts of the country are eroded and turned into desert. Huge pastures are cemetaries for fallen tree trunks, left to rot.
It is all a very sad story and as so many times in history: The patagonian people have no say in what’s done to their country.
Even the rocks are weeping
In Cochrane we took a few days to rest, before riding the for us best part of the careterra austral, the part to Tortel. We enjoyed beautiful weather. Every ca. 30 km we found a good spot to camp with a small stream and had a fire till late at night.
At the intersection to Tortel the rains started and didn’t stop anymore for the next 6 days. We decided to visit Tortel, a village built on wooden platforms and boardwalks.
We needed to get broken screw of the trailer’s suspension out. The people in Tortel have already had enough tourists, it seems. They only have an access road to the careterra for the past 4 years and have since been flooded with all kinds of tourists. To us they weren’t very friendly nor very helpful and it was pretty expensive to stay there. It took us two days to find a drill to work on the trailer. But finally we could fix the suspension and got a lift back to the intersection. On the next 30km to Puerto Yungay hundreds of streams and waterfalls were running down the mountains and out of the rocks. It felt like the whole world was weeping. This was an unbelievable amount of water all around us! In Puerto Yungay the army people let us stay inside their camp, infront of a woodstove, while we were waiting for the ferry to cross over a fjord. We were really grateful for this because our new rainjackets aren’t waterproof. We were completely soaked and kept to the fireplace the whole four hours of waiting. It was already past 7 pm, when we arived at the other side. For a moment it had stopped to rain, but we asked people, if we could put up our tent inside a barn and they showed us a wooden shack, where we could spend the night.
Again it had rained all night and continued the next day. The whole forest on both sides of the road was flooded. In fact it was one huge river all around us! Aoon we were soaked again and freezing. It would have been a lovely section to ride, but at the top of the first pass, we decided to hitch a ride for the remaining 70km to Villa O’Higgins. Right there we met a swiss couple on a recombend tandem and chatted with them, as a truck came along. The swiss, Sem and Karin, helped us lifting the bikes and the trailer over the railing and off we were. This was the most freezing and the wettest ride we have ever taken! Chan was sitting on my lap to stay warm, covered with the raincoat of our backpack. Florian was standing up, chatting to a chilean ciclyst, who had a broken derailleur and therefore was on the truck as well. After what seemed an eternety, we finally stopped in Villa O’Higgins in front of a hostal. I was shivering with blue lips and didn’t have much control over my bodies movments. The hostal owner waved me and Chan inside to the fireplace. Flo wasn’t as wet as me and didn’t feel quite as cold. He got all our stuff inside with the help of the chilenan guy. After a warm shower and a nice hot meal, we enjoyed the company of a south african cyclist couple, we had already met in Tortel.
Without a road
Since it had been raining so much, the ferry across the Lago O’Higgins had not been running for the past 5 days. Many people had been stuck in Villa O’Higgins, especially many ciclysts and that’s how we met many of them again, who had passed us on the careterra: There were Sara and Beni from Switzerland, Sara and Thomas from Germany, Daniel from Germany, Claire and Simon from South Africa an argentinian guy and four chilenean guys. Until 10 pm the day before the ferry was running again, Flo and I didn’t know, if we had our seats or not, since so many people wanted to get on the boat. But in the end we could go as well. What fantastic ride this was. For the first half it was still raining. But when we approached the glaciar O’Higgins, the sun sent some rays through the gray clouds. Suddenly I saw something big and deep blue on one side of the boat: our first iceberg!
We stayed close to the glaciar for a long time, watching it brake of small pieces from time to time. Then the captian served us a glace of pisco with ice from the glaciar, which he had been catching out of the water. For Chan he had sirup with the ice.
In the late afternoon, we arrived in Candelario Mansilla, an estancia and the chilenean border post. We camped there one night and in the morning were lucky to be able to rent two horses for our luggage. This meant, that we only had to bring our three bikes and two panniers with our food across the passage to Argentina and the horses were carrying everything else, including, the trailer. For 7 km a trail was leading steeply uphill. Chan and I were walking, Flo was riding. Every kilometer he put his bike down and came back to carry Chan up to his bike. We had to cover 22km that day, which Chan wouldn’t have been able to all walk. On the top it was much flatter and we could even ride for about 5km. Chan was now sitting on Flo’s back rack. Just before we wanted to have lunch, the sun burned some clouds away and we could see a patch of blue sky! Then we had to cross a river on a small wobbely footbridge. It wasn’t far now to the border of Argentina. There the trail turned into a narrow dirt track. We couldn’t ride anymore. The track was going steeply up and down, there were fallen tree trunks and tree roots on it and many puddles. Chan loved that path and needn’t be carried anymore. Flo detached Chan’s bike from mine and was then walking back and forth to get one bike at a time further. At some point the horses passed us. They didn’t struggle to get across the rivers and swampy parts as we did. The rain had turned the path into a mud whole.
After about 5 hours walking, we finally got a glimpse of the Lago del Desierto over which we could take another boat to the southern end, to the beginning of the road. That final part was really steep down hill and really narrow. By now our brake pads were worn through and we had to slow down the bikes with our bodies.
This passage would have taken us three days with all our luggage and it would have been extremely difficult. How glad I was, that we didn’t have to lift the trailer over those rivers and down that last part of “funnel” path!
At the lake was the argentinian border post and as a welcome upon arrival I was bitten into my leg by a big dog. I was screaming then trembling with shock. Chan cried with me. The border police gave us our stamps very quickly without asking the normal questions about food etc.
Neverthless, we decided to camp there for the night, since it was quite late and take the ferry next morning. On the other side of the lake we dipped our bikes into the water first to clean off all that mud. Then we had to fix our breaks before we rolled to El Chalten, the wind in our backs, the sun smiling from the sky!