Watching those power lines next to the road I could see them snaking off into the distance over the brow. Did they climb the hill or descend? It was difficult to tell. I cycled on trying to gauge whether the road went left, right or straight on. If it went straight on, I was on for a moderate climb, to the right I would be on a more steep ascent, to the left I could relax as the road would level out. And so passed many a day trying to read how the road, ripio mostly, would greet me in the next few hundred metres. It was a necessary to have chosen the right gear ratios, often the granny ring on the ascents, knuckling down to the climbs that often ensued. And so most of the days passed like this whenever the road wasn’t nice n easy.
Day 26, 25th December. Well the excitement of the day was all but over now, Christmas card opened from my father. It could possibly challenge for the Guinness world record for the smallest card, thankfully snuggly fitting into my wallet and weighing almost nothing. Practically everyone had left save a guy from Arkansaw, US. He was a pleasant guy, hitchhiking his way around the Americas. I bought my final provisions, enough to easily see me north to El Chaíten, passing La Junta. It was getting late now and another cyclist rolled in, the same Irish guy I met in Calafate. He still looked well travelled. I decided on an early night so I could make the distance tomorrow.
Day 27, 26th December. Thus after an early wake I was on the road by around 7am. I can’t recall the exact time, but I rolled out of Puyuhuapi and started the climb out of town Northwards. It was quiet, thankfully cool but hints of drizzle and rain in the air. I was promised a short section of ripio, around 8km, after which I would be blessed with paved road all the way north. And so after the ripio I hit the paved section. My legs feeling a mix of both refreshed and tight after failing to cycle the previous days, I powered on and reached La Junta by 11. I feasted on Manjar and biscuits, knowing this would help for the kilometres to come. There were quite a few hitchhikers waiting in La Junta and with little traffic they may have to wait sometime. I was disappointed when I hit ripio after 10 or so km out of La Junta. Where was the promised paved road? The sun was coming out now and the day was changing from the cool wet day, how it started, to a hot scorching dusty one.
The road, La Carratera Austral, has changed. From when I cycle this section in 2008, I could barely recognise many sections. The road widened, side vegetation cut back, and many of the quaint bridges I found back then have all but been removed. Big steel corrugated tubes, silently replacing the bridges and allowing the now incognito arroyos under the road. I met six cyclists of varying nationality heading south. My legs were struggling now, but I could reach the 100+km distance and make a camping area just south of Sta Lucia. I arrived around 4:30 and put the tent up, relaxed, took some photos and prepared dinner. Pasta again, with tuna and a sauce of cheese and some salsa. An Argentinian was camping when another rolled in, both from Bariloche. The second guy had a Mapuche flag on his bike, and from the photo it seems he was trying to get it into his tent! What some people do with their bikes is their own business, but in the midst of Patagonia on Ruta 7 there’s little need to protect the bike so much.
Day 28, 27th December. I was off again early. I knew I’d have a stiff climb in the morning. I wasn’t disappointed. The 500m ascent north of Sta Lucia was paved on the steep sections. My legs now having recovered allowed a non-stop ascent. I reached the end of the paved section and after a km or so of ripio I found the section on which they were working. Whilst all the traffic had to use the single ripio carriageway I cheated and hopped the bike onto the freshly made concrete section. Handy in many ways, not least I could ignore any passing traffic, safe on my own little section. Again the day was warming up. I met a few groups of cyclists heading south most not stopping but giving a short wave or nod of the head. Many more cyclists than I’ve ever seen here. I made El Chaíten by mid afternoon. Found a hospedaje where I could pitch the tent, showered and dreamed of what I could cook. I was surprised by how influential some of my cooking had been. Several occasions now I’ve had other tourists cooking up the same or very similar dishes based on what they could see I was cooking, or just the cooking smells. I had wondered how often this happened, when I found myself buying some potatoes, after being reminded of their value by the travelled Irish guy in Puyuhuapi. So I par-boiled some potatoes, before shallowing frying in butter, some softened onions and possibly one of the best steaks I’ve ever had the pleasure of cooking. Yum and I had some chips left over for tomorrow.
Day 29, 28th December. I’d managed to gain a few days spare, from burning rubber on the highway, now I had notice that the ferry left at 1pm from Caleta Gonzalo to Hornopíren. Another early day, 6:30am and I had to make the ferry. The road now transformed back into the Carratera Austral I remember of old. Lots of little rises, narrow sections, overhanging vegetation, little wooden quaint bridges and the deep throng of bird song. Volcán Chaíten smoking away I made the boarding post with only tens of minutes to spare. I cycled to the front and saw a large flat-bed truck, which later I realised had only arrived to dump some cement bags before returning northwards; There was no way it would have been able to travel the road I’d just come along.
Now the ferry journey involves two ferries and a land bridge between the two. The 10km section, super dusty and travelled by all the vehicles in close convoy, kicking up plumes of dust, whacky races fashion. My options were to cycle at impossible speeds in this cloud, or persuade someone to put my bike on the back of their pickup. The lorry was ideal, so after asking nicely Elso kindly let me place the bike on the back of this super-rig. On board were two other Chileans, all from Valdivia. Ow my Spanish, albeit some reckon it’s Mexican(!), is reasonably versed in coarse Chilean, so I had little trouble understanding the dialogue between the truckers. So funny to hear their chit chat as they discussed … well I’ll let you imagine. They even introduced me to a drink of toasted flour, water and sugar. I suppose it cuts out the middle man [baker].
On board the final boat towards Hornopíren the bike was dismounted and I relaxed on the top deck, knowing I’d stolen another free day. I found a hospedaje in the nearby town, but not after eating a fine meal of potatoes and meat at the local comedor. Hospedaje Central: Never again, weird people.
Day 30, 29th December. I was so far ahead of schedule now that I had enough time to take a detour along V-69 counter clockwise around volcán Calbuco. The fjord was majestic albeit quite tough going as I’d now joined some loose, very undulating ripio. I found a spot to wild camp, little spot for the tent, nearby stream, little beach area. I washed, drank some wine, enjoyed my pasta dish once more and watched the sun set.
Sometime during the night I heard a moped sound and then decided it probably was a chainsaw. Odd time of day, but it was really windy and I wondered if a tree had fallen over the road, with an enterprising individual keen to travel happening to have his chainsaw to hand. Next thing I could hear crashing noises and it sounded like the part cut tree was now falling down the hillside. At first it didn’t worry me but after a few seconds I realised it was not stopping. It was coming straight for my tent. Hell! I couldn’t do very much, the crashing growing by the second. I was trapped, pitch black outside, stuck in the enclosed tent and a tree tumbling straight towards me. I tried to lay flat but knowing that was of little use. I really thought I was going to die. The ground shuck as the object thundered past, and I mean it really shuck. I had evaded death and somehow the tree, or was it a very large boulder, had thundered past and now probably in the sea not far away. I heard the vehicle move off.
Daytime, I scanned the area. No fallen trees, no obvious or evidential signs of a rock fall. Maybe it was another earthquake. I will never really know, but I do know that after asking around the following day someone said they had heard or felt a small quake in the night and the internet had recorded something around the time. Maybe it was that, or maybe it had triggered a rock fall? It sort of shuck me up and I’d had trouble sleeping afterwards. Talk about bumps in the night, I was quite shaken.
Day 31, 30th December. I made Cochamó for an early lunch, feasting on Empanadas de Camarón con Queso and Salmón con Queso. Yum. I loaded up at the nearby mini-supermarket ready for new year. I reached Ralún where I camped for the night. Not a nice place and I’d give it a big miss in the future. Camping was expensive and no hot shower. Es tibia, said the owner. Yer, but a warm shower is nicer than a tepid one! The sky changing now, looking very angry. It lashed it down all night.
Day 32-33, 31st December and 1st Jan. I had just started to use iOverlander. A nice little program which lets you log useful info such as wild camping spots. They’re centrally shared, so it’s good to find somewhere to rest up. I’d not used it ‘til now, and I wanted somewhere to hole up for New Year. I made the spot, alongside Lago Llanquihue. I was later joined by Marcel, a Swiss hand gliding fanatic, who’d been travelling Chile and Argentina looking for some thermals. I think I drank a lot of wine, but then it was new year’s eve. I was up at 8, a late start, but then I went back to bed. I rested up knowing I’d got myself checked in to the Holiday Inn [Express] in Puerto Montt for the 2nd!
Day 34, 2nd Jan. Until now I’ve been blessed with no punctures. Well, except for a slow leak on the sleeping mat, but that can be fixed at home. I’d loaded the bike and I was just pulling out the rig from its parking bay when I realised the front was, like a pancake. I decided to shove some air in & hope it was a slow. Sure enough it held and I picked up a lovely tail wind all the way to Puerto Varas. I took some photos, to claim my visitation there, before heading off to Puerto Montt, my final destination. The tail wind helped me make record time, but not before the front tyre let go of its air. I pumped it up again but made only a few minutes so I decided to strip it down & fix the leak. There was no leak I could find, it was holding fine when I had the tube in my hands. So covered in brake dust, aluminium rim dust, ripio dust and other grime I reassembled the bike and sped in to Puerto Montt, helped by the tail wind. All just in time to miss the heavy afternoon downpours. I had reached the end of the Carratera Austral: Well for this trip anyway 🙂
I’d hoped for some empanadas but they’d sold out. I had Salmón Cerviche, two lots and it was yummy. I waited until the allotted check-in time and made it towards the sanctuary of the Holiday Inn Express in Puerto Montt. I collected some tokens for a washing machine in the gym. Multiple trips to lift the bike paraphernalia from the ground floor to my room on the 9th. I had secured a balcony with king size bed. Thanks IHG Rewards Programme. Bike secured on the balcony I went to the nearby mall to buy some provisions. Stella was available & cheaper than the local stuff. I bought two six packs, I needed to wash the dust from my throat. Phoned home and relaxed. Here was my little place I could call my own for a day or so, soaking in a hot tub, sipping a beer, watching telly and enjoying home comforts that I’d missed over the last month.
Bar a bike dismantle, discardation of unnecessary weight, download of some gps logs and a final stretch of my legs, I’m all but ready to fly home. Some pics attached.