Bariloche, Argentina to Villa O´Higgins, Chile (12-26-08 to 1-20-09)January 27, 2009
The 26th of December we enjoyed left- over Christmas dinner of chicken and stuffing and apple pie (a very nice break from the usual oatmeal we have while camping!) for breakfast and gave good-bye hugs to our Christmas family, David and Mo (traveling by motorcycles), and headed onward on the final leg of our journey.
Again, we traveled through more beautiful forest and past large, long, clearer-than-you-can-imagine lakes. We left the pavement after 1 ½ days near Epuyen and headed toward Los Alercas National Park. We hit a horrible headwind along with a gravel road under construction, which slowed our pace to 30 miles in 6 hours! Let us tell you about South American road construction. The continent has many narrow dirt and gravel roads that are in dire need of improvement. Paving one of these roads is done in an amazingly illogical manner. Instead of working on a 10 mile stretch for several months from start to completion, they usually tackle a 20, 50 or even 100 mile section and seemingly work on it for years. Layer upon layer of road base ranging in size from sand to 10” boulders is laid down (dredged from the river!) and haphazardly compacted, then left for an eternity before final re-grading and paving. We think this is to allow plenty of time for settling as thousands of trucks, buses and cars shake, rattle and roll over it for several years doing the compaction for free. Where does that leave the lowly biker? We are left bouncing, spinning, cussing and of course, sucking up tons of pulverized South American real estate that billows up as the endless vehicles pass.
Back to our story – we got to the park, got a beach-front campsite with stunning views of snow-capped peaks across the super-clear blue water. The next day we rode past 2 more large lakes, each of them crystal clear and surrounded by fantastic peaks. After a day off in the small town of Trevelin we crossed the border into our 14th country on this epic trip – Chile. We spent New Year’s Eve in the border town of Futaleufu (no, we did not make that name up!) with 5 bikers from New Zealand. While we were having lunch that afternoon, Pat told the group that she thinks we will be able to be entered into the “Guinness book of World Records” for being the oldest couple to have ridden bikes together from Alaska to the tip of South America – and still stayed married! No sooner than the words tumbled past her lips did a British couple come strolling up to our table and say, “great to see more bikers!” As it turns out, they are on a 3 month trip now, but had done the Alaska – South America trip 7 years ago – at age 57!!! Poor Pat was shattered! We had a great time sharing biking stories and rang in the New Year toasting cocktails on the plaza under the Christmas lights.
New Years Day found us biking a little later than usual along the River Fu, famous world over for kayaking and rafting. Now at 48 degrees south of the equator, we have daylight until 10 PM again, so long days are not a problem! We could see the volcano Chaiten puffing out a couple small plumes of smoke from its earlier eruption near the end of last year ! We camped on the beach of Lago Yeicho at the end of the day. The water is so clean in this part of Chile that you can drink it right from the lake. We still filter it, but we do drink straight out of the small creeks coming off the mountainsides. (We guess that Montezuma never made it this far south!)
Part way through the second day of the new year (WOW – it is hard to believe – we have gone through 2 calendars on this trip and are into the 3rd!) we hit the famous Carratera Austral, the narrow road built in the 1980’s to boost tourism and commerce into remote, wild and spectacularly pristine southern Chile. It runs south to Villa O’Higgins and slices through some of the most spectacular country on the planet. We spent the next few days pedaling south through thick forests, valleys of remote cattle ranches and small villages, next to more crystal clear streams and lakes and the occasional towering peak.
Since we entered the lake district of Argentina, and now all along the Carratera, we have met loads of bikers touring. We usually meet 2,4,6,8 bikers per day. They are from Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Philippines, the USA, but mostly from Europe. In fact, we have joked that we doubt there is anyone left in Holland and Germany, they are all in South America biking! What is even more interesting is staying at a hostel where we all share the same kitchen and try to communicate in 4 or 5 different languages and come up with something to eat! But we exchange much information about the road ahead and behind and share our adventures with each other, which is great because in the past we would not see another biker sometimes for weeks.
One whole day was unpleasantly spent pedaling through a steady rain, ending in a bone chilling descent into a river canyon. At the bottom, we ducked under a bridge to get out of the rain, change into warm clothes and make hot drinks. We spent the evening there and set up camp nearby. The next morning we woke up to fresh snow on the spectacular rugged mountains! Burr!!!! We took a 12 mile detour off the main road and visited the unique village of Tortel – unique because all the buildings are elevated, built on pilings, there are no streets, no cars and the only way to get around town is by foot up and down endless steps all along boardwalks! The only road into the remote village was completed only 4 years ago. Up until then, the only access was by airplane or boat.
We are now in the tiny town of Villa O’Higgins, on the very narrow part of the South American continent and can almost see both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. From here we have many more rivers to cross, ferryboats to take, bikes to push up steep hills and then on through the strong winds of Patagonia to our final destination of Ushuaia! We are now praying for strong tailwinds (wind in Patagonia can get up to 150 miles per hour, so we may make the last 800 miles very quickly!) to blow us the rest of the way south and onward to see the penguins.
Ralph & Pat