From the 15 january to the 26 January.
In total I ended up spending 3 weeks in Él Chaltén (Argentina) before I set off going north. In that time I meet a lot of cyclist coming south. They all had nice things to say about the Carretera Austral, talking about the amazing views and beautiful landscape. But all of them were also talking about the rain. It had rained most of the days and almost every night. So when I finally set of I was getting mentally ready to be wet for a while. But for now I’m convinced that rain is better than head winds any day.
To get to the Carretera Austral I had to do the border crossing between Él Chaltén and Villa O’higgins, a small crossing where I would need to take 2 ferrys and go up a
6 km hiking trail not very suitable for bikes loaded with panniers.
Setting out from Él Chaltén I was carrying a lot of food, again, partly because I was still carrying some of the food I bought in Puerto Natales, and partly because I had gone overboard buying all kinds of food. For future reference I will have to buy my food for how much I actually eat and not for how much I think, I should be eating.
It was a nice and easy start out going out of town. I no longer had any pain in my achilles tendon, and I was just doing a few hours to get to the first lake, where I would take a ferry across. When the ferry got across, there was a bunch of cyclist waiting to take it back the other way. They were at least 20, and as I found a spot to camp for the night, more kept showing up.
I met a couple from the Humule trek, who were trekking across the border and would try to hitchhike up the Carretera Austral. Nice to see some familiar faces.
That evening I walked up a bit of the trail for the next day, and came to conclusion that it would be too difficult to bring everything on my bike all at once. So the next morning I got up early and packed as much as I could in to my backpack, and strapped a couple of the panniers on the outside. My plan was to walk the 6 km trail first with my backpack, then go back and get my bike and the rest of my stuff.
It was a hard hike carrying approximately 40 kg of backpack up a muddy trail, in the rain, but luckily it stopped as the day went on. After walking the 18 km and getting all my stuff to the top, I could get on my bike and drive the last 15 km to the Chilean border and the campsite where I would be waiting for the ferry crossing the next lake.
It was a nice drive but along the way I really learned that my brakes were not working well enough, as I was unable stop going down some of the steep gravel
In the end I made to the campsite without any major problems.
Crossing the next lake was going to be a bit more tricky. Usually there is a ferry going every day, but it was not working, so there was just a small ferry going across. Unfortunately it’s quite small and was unable to sail the lake when there are strong winds, so there was nothing to do but wait and hope it would show up soon. The family who owned the campsites told us that they didn’t have any way to contact villa O’higgins but when the ferry came across, it would radio ahead about an hour before arriving. So we settled in to wait and hop it would show up soon.
It ended up taking 3 days before the ferry came. In that time so many people had come to wait that we were more than 30 people waiting to cross, on a ferry that only had space for 16.
I spent all 3 days being sick as I again had eaten something bad. At least I had nothing better to do than sleep in the sun and enjoy the views.
As soon as the word came that the ferry was on its way, everyone hurried to pack up and get down to the docks. It was an intense experience as you could feel the anxiety for everyone trying to get on the boat. Before the ferry showed up, the border guards came down to the harbor and blocked the pier, and controlling who would get to go on the boat. Even though they came with a list of the passengers arranged after who crossed the border first, everyone was crowding in trying to get on, you really got a feeling of order breaking down .
The crossing took a few hours and it was rough sailing. The waves that formed on the lake were impressive and several times going over a big wave I hit the ceiling. We made it across only a little wet. They told us that it was right on the limit of how much wind the boat could handle but they had gone because of the backlog of people on both sides waiting to get across.
This had been going on all season and several people going south had actually hired a small airplane in Villa O’higgins to fly them across the lake, in order not to miss their return flight further south. But the airplane was only an option going to south as the pilot could not take off with passengers from the south side of the lake because of the winds.
I spent a day in Villa O’higgins to make sure I had my strength back from my stomach problems, before setting out again. I spent the time cleaning and servicing my bike making sure it was ready for a long stretch of ripio (gravel road) on the Carretera Austral.
In the morning while I was packing up, I was talking to the manager of the hostel, and he convinced me I could not leave Villa O’higgins without doing the best trek around O´higgins, so he convinced me to join two other from the hostel, whom he had already explained how to get on the track.
I went with them, but after we had walked around on roads and in the forrest looking for the place for an hour I decided to let it go and went back to get cycling. He was surprised we didn’t find it as he said it is very easy to find it, but that is how it goes I guess.
Being back on the bike felt great, and best of all, there was almost no wind, and I was cycling into beautiful mountains, with lakes, fjords and rivers at every tu
A week after leaving Él Chaltén I had still not had any rain, but that changed on my second day on the Carretera Austral. I had only a few hours of cycling to get to the first ferry, and when I got there it started to rain heavily. It was a nice spot with an indoor waiting area where I could cook some lunch and wait for the next ferry.
On the way there I really felt that I had started traveling on one of the most popular cycle touring roads in the world, as I met a hand full of cyclist going the other way, including 3 70-year-old ladies who had cycled all the way from Puerto Montt (1200 km).
While waiting for the ferry another cyclist showed up. He was on a trip around the world and had made his way from his home in Amsterdam down to Congo through west Africa, before crossing over to South America.
On the other side of the fjord, the rain was still pouring and after waiting a bit in the shelter there, we decided to camp there for the night and hope the weather would be better in the morning. He cooked dinner for the both of us, and it was nice to be inside, out of the rain.
Next morning we set off together, without rain, but still it was a very cold morning. Before long we came to my first real climb, and the first pass on the Carretera. Joris (the Dutch Cyclist) suggested we push the bikes as he would usually do this on long climbs, and so we did. What I learned from this is that my bike is too heavy to push up hill, and that is been a long time since I was last in a gym. My arms and shoulders were dead when we reached the top. Thank God my gears are low enough to go up any hill.
We had a nice descent on the other side before we split up. Joris was continuing north, while I was taking a detour to the village of Caleta Tortel.
Caleta Tortel is a small village built around a natural harbor. It’s special because it has no road and all the houses are built on the hills side and connect with wooden walkways. I stopped for a few hours to see the place but I didn’t want to stay the night, so I left again and found myself a wild camp spot some kilometers outside of town.
It was fun seeing the village, but I hope I don’t have to cycle on any more roads that are in as bad condition as the road to Caleta Tortel. It was all bumps and loose gravel, absolutely horrible to ride on.
I had a little rain blowing in that evening but when I got up the next day it was to a cloudless sky, and I cycled all day in 25°+ weather, and it was just one big joy, with the changing landscape and a good back wind pushing me over the ripio (gravel road).
There wasn’t a lot of traffic on this part, and almost no farms along the way either, just cycling along wild untouched nature.
I ended the day with another long climb up. I’ve already got a mantra for the climbings, I keep telling myself, “what goes up must come down”, and driving down hill is a lot of fun.
I found another great camp for the evening, along a small stream in the wood hidden from the road.
Next day the weather got even better, so much for rain. I had just a half days drive to the next city of Cochrane, so I set off at a nice slow pace enjoying the sun. About halfway cycling along one of the many lakes there was a place to stop and take a swim. I can’t tell how refreshing it is with a cold dip in the middle of a hot dusty day. It made my day and if I had not been running low on some foods I would have stayed the rest of the day and night there, enjoying the sun and water.
Instead I made to Cochrane, found a campsite and treated myself to an ice cream in the sun. I spent the rest of the day going through my stuff one again, and throwing away things that I don’t need. I also finally decided that I will lose the aluminum bottles that came with the bike for some larger plastic bottles.
At the campsites I meet a familiar face, Alee, an Australian cyclist I had meet in Él Chaltén, had caught up with me.
It’s always nice to run into someone you know a little bit. It doesn’t take a lot for someone to be a familiar face, when you are constantly traveling.
We decided to continue north together, and I was really looking forward to some company.