The Caratera Austral Part 2 – With a little help from our friends.

Patagonia continues to challenge and reward in equal measure with stunning landscapes, coastal climate weather, companionship with other cycle tourists and welcoming patagonians.

We have covered approximately 325 kms from Chaiten to Villa Mañihueles including some ‘awesome’ gravel (Ed’s opinion) and ‘f***ing gravel again, f**k off with this sh*t already! I want a divorce’ (Charly’s opinion).

In my last blog post I mentioned a French family we met who were cycling as well. We shared an meal with them and enjoyed and chatting about our experiances of South America. The next day we met Alejandro and Yazmin, an Argentinian dad and 10 year old daughter on a home built e-cargo bike resplendent in blue hammeright paint and complete with 3 solar panels….

We loved overlapping with them for several days and it was beautiful to watch the children play together around the campsites.

From Chaiten we rode south and the flat terrain created by the volcanic erruption in 2008 and new tarmac gave us type 1 fun all the way to Lago Yelcho.

Chile has some very rustic campsites which charge a small amount for a pitch and some times even hot water and a dry place to cook. At Lago Yelcho we paid for our most expensive campsite yet, $30000 CLP. What does one get for such a price (I have paid less on Europe)? The answer – scalding hot water for both showers and washing up and soft toilet paper! We took full advantage by taking a 10 minute shower before dinner and feeling properly clean for the first time since Ancud.

The next morning was dry so we made an early start. We planned a short day as we had to climb over a pass and into Villa Santa Lucia. I was so glad that my plan worked (for a change) and Charly had been appropriately briefed so when the climb came we were able to make our way up without time pressure. Izzy and Will peddled hard and Will delighted in pointing out every water fall, bird and, most usefully, the huge horseflies that landed on me intent on their next meal. With a hundred or so metres of climbing left it began to rain. Izzy and Will were already dressed in head to foot in their Spotty Otter water proofs but Charly and I had to press on to the top – we were working so hard that had we stopped we would have been soaked inside due to the sweat anyway. At the first chance after summiting we donned our jackets and gloves and descended through the bleak aftermath of a 2016 land slide that had destroyed the road and cut off Villa Santa Lucia for weeks. The road was gravel here and had been quickly built but was a lifeline for the town and those beyond.

Villa Santa Lucia still suffers from the effects of the land slide and there was little to keep us their but we did stop at a ‘Casa de comida’ for coffee, cake and a rest from the rain. The owners were friendly and took the kids into the kitchen to warm their hands while Charly and I sat and watched the rain fall. The moment there was the hint of a break in the weather we gathered our kit and continued to our camp site. In contrast from last night this was to be our cheapest at $2000 per person. There was a water tap and a toilet flushed with a bucket but we were happy enough. We put up a tarp as a cooking shelter and Izzy, Will and Yazmin (who had just arrived with her Dad) played a game only they were able to understand.

We explored a delapidated chapel in the same field that had an atmosphere more suited to October 31st than January but decided that we were safe from the ghosts and retired.

The next day to La Junta gave us no problems and the rain passed us by with a few showers. La Junta was definately a town to stop for a very short time but again we met some great characters including Sprout the dog from Lincoln, touring Chile and Argentina with her owners Lou and Robin.

The next day gave us one of the most fortuitous meetings of our trip so far.

On the road between La Junta and Puyuhuapi we were passed by a white pick up truck with its occupant waving and honking the horn with gusto. We thought no more of it until we rolled into our camping and were given a pitch next to the pick up. We had just decided to sit for a few minutes and gather our thoughts while Will and Izzy explored when we were interupted by the guy who had been driving the truck.

‘Did we want some food?’ and before we could say anything we were given a sausage on a fork and an ice cold beer.

Several more beers and an invite to share there campfire followed.

Miguel (an agricultural elecrical engineer), Nati (a dress designer) and their son Matias were so kind to us it was hard to believe; sharing their food and drinks and chatting late into the evening. The next day we all rode in the truck (much to Will’s excitement) to the Quelat National Park. They decided not to join us hiking up to the view point for the glacier so we bid a temporary good bye as we set off on the 3.3 km walk. The view of the glacier and the melt water run off driven waterfall was wonderful and gave a talking point for us to discuss climate change with the kids – helped by pictures of the glacier and its changing position through the years.

Returning to the camping (after being picked up by Miguel) we ate together and they offered to take us south to Coyhaique. Explaining, over a scotch, that we wanted to ride brought puzzled looks but complete acceptance of our choice. Instead they carried our bags the 60 km to the next campsite. This was such a kind jesture as it meant a change of plan for them but an easier day for us as the road through the national park was notoriously steep and poor quality. The day was memorable for its difficulty and the joy we found at spotting a dolphin in the inlet as we rode towards the mountains. Our new friends passed us early in the day with cold water and a can of Red Bull and again later in the day with same. We arrived at the campsite not far apart and set up camp together.

The warning sign at the start of the climb through the Quelat Park.

Camping Rio Grande was nestled in the mountains and the lack of hot water was made up for by the views, the star gazing around the campfire and the breakfast we had the next morning. Coffee, fresh eggs, homemade rasberry jam, honey from the farm, fresh bread rolls on which to spread them and all rounded off with rasberry cake. We bought more eggs and bread to take with us and bid our farewell to Miguel, Nati and Matias and headed for Villa Amengual 15 km away.

Camping Rio Grande in the Rio Cisnes valley.

Refugio para cicliste gave us a roof over our heads as the rain started and we enjoyed lounging on a mattress on the floor in a room with a hot stove as we (i.e. the kids) caught up on some school work and Izzy completed some of her Beaver scout badges. I inflicted my bad Spanish on the north bound cyclists to glean any information I could about the south bound road as the refugio filled to bursting in the inclement weather. Counting the names in the guest book the next morning gave a total of 13 cyclists of 4 nationalities sheltering from the rain.

A weather forcast sent from home (thanks Rachel) due to a lack of wifi or reliable info gave us a window of just a few hours to make it south to Villa Mañihueles. We made it with not much time to spare and I am writing this from the fogon of our camp site as the rain falls outside. Today We have ridden down a huge U shaped valley and despite it seeming mostly down hill we still managed to gain 650 m of height through the day.

I love a U shaped valley! This one was huge….

The riding is slowly feeling easier; hopefully a good omen as we ride towards Coyhaique tomorrow and the half way point of the Ruta 7.

Nearly half way!

If you like what I have written about our trip then consider clicking the following link to ‘buy me a coffee’ – essentially this means more cake for the kids……

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Ed

Biologist who teaches. In 2018 I took time away from work to travel and world school my children. We travel by bike and try to treat life as the adventure that it is.

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