From the 26 January to the 3 February.
After spending half a day in Cochrane (Chile), going through all my stuff again, and leaving behind some more stuff, that I decided I didn’t need and didn’t want to carry. I decided to skip my standard breakfast of oats and fruits and instead had an ice-cream and pastries. I knew that it was a horrible idea, but some lessons you need to learn over and over again. You would think that by now I would have learned how important good food is before a long day of exercise.
In the midmorning me and Alee set off together going north. On the way out of town we stopped to buy some fruits and for the first time there was a bigger selection on offer than just bananas and apples, so I bought a ripe mango and some plum’s to enjoy later.
I was excited to cycle with Alee, since I had been craving some company, and I was hoping to learn some insights from him. Alee is what I would call a bike touring professional – He has cycled all over the world and operates the website www.cyclingabout.com, which I had been using while planning my trip.
It was a bit of challenge cycling with Alee, he was setting a faster pace than I was accustomed to, but I like a challenge. It felt good to ride with someone else, and I was feeling great, until we reached the first uphill, and I almost fainted from low blood sugar after my terrible breakfast. A few cookies and an apple helped and I was able to continue. The landscape continued to be amazing, changing often, and only now, north of Cochrane, more and more buildings started to appear, letting us know we were going towards civilization.
That afternoon we reached Puerto Bertrand, and went to a small Cafe we had had recommended from some cyclist going south. It is in the house of this American woman, who had decided to start a small cafe/restaurant and had built a Cabin for Airbnb. We stopped for a bowl of soup and some great coffee. Good coffee is hard to come by in Patagonia, the land of Mate. We ended up talking to her and her mother for quite a while, sharing stories, and when we were ready to keep on cycling she gifted us with homemade empanadas and jam. It was really nice to have a talk with a “local” in English, where we understood each other completely.
We found a perfect spot to camp that evening, down a steep hill right on Lago General Carrera. It was completely quiet with a view and a possibility to end the day with a swim, what more can you ask for.
Next morning Alee made me a cup of coffee with the most brilliant coffee maker for a cyclist I have seen: It’s an espresso maker, where you use your bike pump to generate pressure to simulate a “real” espresso maker, only problem is getting good quality coffee in Patagonia, but it was still great with a cup of morning coffee.
After a hard challenge of getting back up to the road, we continued riding toward Puerto Río Tranquilo. It was a perfect day of cycling with blue sky, 20 something degrees and with a giant turquoise lake to our right. Only thing that could have made it better would have been a road surface that was approaching flat instead of corrugated gravel.
On the way to the village we meet some cyclists coming the other way, who had nothing nice to say about the place, so our expectations were not so high, when we arrived in the afternoon.
Puerto Río Tranquilo is a small village, but it’s one of the major tourist hot spots on the Carretera Austral. It is from here you can go and see the marble caves. As the name tells it’s caves on the lake of marble reflecting in the water, making it surrealistically beautiful.
We found a campground, where we met a Spanish cyclist, who was cycling South, and made dinner. I made mashed potatoes, trying to eat my way through the last of the food I bought in Puerto Natales. We had a few beers and planed to go to the caves the next day all three of us.
But for some reason the boats were not going to the caves that Sunday, so we spent the day relaxing around the campground and village. It still amazes me how quickly and easy it is to get comfortable with people you meet traveling and feel like you have known them for a long time.
Going to the marble caves was beautifully and an amazing experience, even with how many people were there. They are absolutely beautiful and I would recommend going to anyone.
Unfortunately i lost my pictures from the Caves but you can see some here: Marbel Caves
Afterwards we packed up and continued north towards Villa Cerro Castillo. We started out going along the lake and ended the day in what I would describe as rain forest. After a friendly discussion for the last couple of hours on the bike on whether it would rain or not, we found a place to set up our tents before it actually did start to rain.
There I learned to cook my dinner and breakfast from the dry comfort of my tent without having to go out in the rain, I definitely would not have done it that way without seeing someone else doing it, as I would be too afraid to burn my tent down.
We spent all next morning in our tents not getting on the bike until after midday, when it had stopped raining. We packed up and had a nice ride to villa Cerro Castillo, mostly downhill with the wind at our back. In the village we found one of the nicer hostels so far where we could camp at the back. Cooked some delicious pumpkin mash (the pumpkins in Patagonia are so delicious) and surfed some almost working internet. A good rule of thumb in Patagonia is if you need any type of bandwidth you better get up before the rest of town.
As the name suggests Villa Cerro Castillo is located at the foot of Cerro Castillo, a mountain that has a lot in common with Torres del Paine and Fitz Roy. It’s possible to do it on a day hike and the mirador is located with a lake in front and a glacier at the top. But unlike the two others it is relatively undiscovered and doesn’t have nearly as many visitors.
It has gotten its name because the top looks like a Castle with a bunch of towers.
Cerro Castillo is located in a national park but to get into the park from the village you have to cross a few hundred meters of private property. The owner has decided to profit from this and is charging 10.000 peso to cross, about 15 €. Alee as a general rule doesn’t pay to enter national parks, and I was not keen to pay a private landowner to enter a natural park. On our maps we saw that there was a trail going to the top starting 6 km down the Road, avoiding the crossing toll.
With our bike an extra 12 km cycling would make no difference, so we went to search for the trail, and found what could be it, crossing a cow pasture behind a fence with signs clearly saying no trespassing.
Alee took a jog up the hill to make sure it was the trail, while I kept an eye on our bikes. He confirmed that it must be it, so we crossed over the fence and road with our bikes up through the pasture. I had adrenaline running, feeling like someone was going to come after us. But of course nobody did, and we got to where the trail clearly started up the mountain next to a stream. We hid our bike and locked them up before starting up the hill.
It was nice to get off the bike and do a hike again.
The weather was perfect as it had been on the whole Carretera Austral so far, and we were hiking up the beautiful valley in a forest with occasional views of the mountain tops with clouds swirling around them.
It ended up being a lot longer and steeper climb than either of us had expected. I was sure already at the halfway point that we had to be at the top, but it just kept going up.
It was a fun ascent with amazing views and technically challenging without it being too much.
After passing over the top we went down to the mirador to enjoy the view of Cerro Castillo take pictures and eat the rest of our food. We had clearly underestimated the hike and neither of us had brought as much food as we would have liked.
Going back down, Alee challenged me yet again, Alee does trail running beside cycling so we went down, walking, jogging and running, which turns out is kind of fun and also a little easier on my knees.
On the way we came across a tent someone had dropped. We decided to take it with us hoping to run into whoever had dropped it or give it to someone in the city. Luckily we did come across a group of hikers one of which was missing his tent although he hadn’t noticed it until we came carrying it.
Back at the hostel my legs were destroyed – Definitely the hardest hike I had done so far.
Looking at the road for the next day we were going to have my first climb with hairpin curves and my longest climb so far, so we went to bed early hoping to make all the way to Coyhaique the next day.
Leaving town the next morning we picked up lunch/snacks for the day on the way out of town, inspirered by Alee’s vegan diet I picked up Paltas (avocados), bananas, bread and cookies. Unlike what I have been doing up until now, Alee doesn’t eat a big lunch but snack throughout the day of cycling and eats a vast amount of cookies.
On the way to the climb we had some great views of Cerro Castillo, and great weather once again, I was beginning to think the stories of rain must be plain wrong.
And even better the Carretera Austral turned into a paved road making cycling so much easier.
The climb was actually fun. It is fun to be challenged and see how strong I have become on my bike, even with sore legs after the hike. But what is even more fun than climbing, which is fun in an accomplishment kind of way, is going back down which is fun in a roller coaster kind of way. Especially this one, as it was not so steep, almost no shape turns, perfect road surface and a strong back wind.
Going downhills all the weight I’m carrying really shines and on this part I was able to get to speeds upwards of 80 km/h. So much fun.
Unfortunately the descenst didn’t take us all the way to Coyhaique but into a valley that brought us right back to the Argentinian Pampa at least that was what it felt like, with a very dry landscape and strong headwinds.
Not having much surplus of energy I settled in behind Alee focusing all my energy on just keeping my bike going and staying positive. I don’t know how long we were cycling with the wind but as we made it to Coyhaique, the largest city on the Carretera Austral and first place with a big supermarket since Punta Arenas. I brightened up thinking of the food I would be able to enjoy here.
Coyhaique was also the place I was expecting a package from home with parts to fix my back brake and some treats.
Well in coyhaique, we settled in at a camping for a few days of break of the bike.
Alee made at video from the Carretera Austral that can be found here: