I honestly hadn’t meant to so long enough that Zach would post the first chapter of the post Ted/Bernie/Carretera days but, alas, we find ourselves in this situation.
In case you missed it, here’s a link to part one of our adventures on the Carretera Austral.
When I left off, before Patches, Gampy and the Flea left me for greener (read: colder and flatter) pastures, we were camping next to an abandoned shack on the side of the dirt road known as the Carretera Austral. As romantic as that sounds, team morale was quite high at the time. We were building funeral pyres of black flies, and observing with awe while Derek calmly and deftly swiped fly after fly out of the air with remarkable ease.
If I remember correctly, this was one of the first times it got downright cold at night. Zach had it the worst because he had co-opted a platform from the shed for his sleeping bag and spent the night in the open air, sin carpa. The dew fell heavy that night and his down sleeping bag was rendered useless, leaving him layered and awake. He actually abandoned the idea of sleeping by 4 or 5 in the morning and built a fire for us to wake up to.
I was up a few times during the night and only wish I could have captured the night sky for you all to appreciate. The stars were endless, unlike any other place I’ve been in the world. There was no light pollution for thousands of miles to dull the twinkling. If you were ever up at night, you were almost always treated to a shooting star or five. The constellations were different, as well. Orion was massive and we joined the exclusive club of gringos who can say they’ve seen the southern cross in person.
The next day we pushed on, with the added bonus of starting the day with a long descent. Here’s a view from the top…
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… we couldn’t have had better weather while riding. Just about everyone who preceded us on the road bore stories of rain and wind throughout their trip. We would face rain, as you will see, but it will only taint one memory of the trip in my mind. When I look back now and for as long as my memory lets me, I’ll remember blue skies and pleasant days.
In the following picture, the casual observer would likely think the mountains are the most beautiful part of the photo. The bicycle tourist, however, thinks the sign indicating an upcoming downhill is most beautiful.
I often tried to capture the roads we traveled in the photos I took. In some cases, this made the photo.
We really felt like we were riding on a tiny path that cut rather harmlessly through raw wilderness. Unlike the highway system in the US, you can see what the landscape looked like before the road went in.
None of us had ever seen anything like this… Even Dan, who’d been in this area before, was seeing this all for the first time.
As it turns out, anytime the water looks like this it’s because it’s glacial meltwater.
Even when we were seeing it in person, it was hard to believe our eyes… looking back on it is even tougher.
Here’s a photo demonstrating the water quality. You can trace the path the water takes to get from the melting point to my water bottle. The water was so unbelievably good, and it wasn’t just the never-ending thirst from riding so much every day. Staying hydrated was wonderfully easy!
Not only were the bridges paved, which gave us a nice reprieve from the bumpy ripio we were riding, they also offered unique angles for landscape photography.
If you take a look at a map, you can see that the Carretera Austral (aka Ruta 7) in Chile spends a significant amount of time along the border of Lago General Carrera. Many cyclists choose to ride the northern shore of the lake to Puerto Ibanez, take a ferry across the lake to Chile Chico, then cross the border into Argentina and head south along the famous Ruta 40 into Southern Patagonia. We opted for the western coast of the lake and a beautiful stretch of road between Lago General Carrera and Lago Bertrand. There was still a fair amount of civilization along here, but we never saw boats on the lakes or anything like that. What I mean by “a fair amount of civilization” is that when you got close to the “dot on the map” representing a “town”, you’d find either a store or a stretch of residences about a half kilometer apart at times. For the most part, however, we’d ride 10-15km at a time between any kind of development, farm, estancia, or otherwise.
Here we are approaching the shore of Lago General Carrera, a lake with color like I’ve never seen. If you take a look at a map, we’re just right where Ruta 7 and Lago General Carrera first meet.
We ended up finding a great spot to camp, though we had to pay the landowner the equivalent of about 10 dollars (split between the four of us) to camp there for the night. Nobody had any complaints as it was breathtakingly beautiful.
We ended up camping with a couple that we’d passed earlier in the day. Julian, a Frenchman, and his Mexican wife Adriana, had been on the road for 2 years and 6 months, respectively. They are incredible folks and we ran into them repeatedly along the road the next month or so. We saw them along the road several times per day and spent some time in the “towns” with them restocking on supplies. Julian lent us the fishing lure that Zach ended up catching the biggest trout of his life on. We set up camp fairly early here and were able to fish, do some laundry, swim, and relax.
The next day we rode into Puerto Rio Tranquilo, where we restocked on supplies. A typical shopping run for us involved fresh bread, some kind of carb-laden dinner food like pasta or rice, some protein (meat, but by the end Dan figured out a way to rehydrate beans during the day), and various sugary things (marmelade, cookies, etc.). When touring, you need a steady intake of calories to keep yourself going. If ever you’re not hungry for some reason, you need to force yourself to eat or you won’t get very far that day. Luckily, we were able to restock every 2-3 days at this point, so we didn’t have to really load our bikes down.
Puerto Rio Tranquilo is famous for being the closest “town” to the Catedral de Mármol, a famous series of caves formed from the natural erosion of marble along the coast of the lake. We couldn’t really afford to go out on boats, so Patches, Gampy and the Flea were eager to see if there was any other way to get out. Although willing and physically able to swim to see it, we weren’t able to pin down exactly where it was and opted against blind ambition. While we know this isn’t the Catedral, it’s a beautiful picture from within a few miles of there.
The farther south we went, the more extreme the mountains got. The border between Argentina and Chile is roughly determined by the Andean cordillera, which is basically the ridge line along the Andes. This is often in conflict, so we frequently encountered maps with different lines and names, as well as the occasional gray area denoting a controversial region.
Believe it or not, we actually got excited when we saw our road heading straight for the mountains.
The wildlife in Chile was as free range as it gets. There were fences along the roads, but they
seemed fairly inconsequential; they never cordoned off land parcels or anything. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone set them up to guide the people building the road and never took them down.
On this particular day, we hit a long dry stretch that felt very remote and somewhat barren. The sides of the road were all scrub brush and short trees and we didn’t see anyone else. If it weren’t for the mountain, this would have been a tough stretch. We rode 15-20km after we were ready to call it a day because we needed to find water and wanted to camp somewhere a little more hospitable.
We eventually found our river and a cleared out, level camp spot that I, for one, thought was too good to be true. We had a nice little campfire and did some routine bike maintenance. Dan and Zach even jumped in the water, though it was frigid and oddly silty.
We didn’t have any problems, which was nice. I guess I thought it was such a perfect campsite that someone might come ask us for money to stay there, but only one car passed us the whole time we were there. The map we were following showed us a dot nearby, which usually denotes a store or a few houses together or something. In this case, the dot represented a single abandoned building and a fork in the road that would have taken us to a glacial lake some 40km out of our way. We thought about it, but upon closer inspection the road was only smooth for 5km, while the next 35km were “ATV only”.
The next day the road took us between Lago General Carrera and Lago Bertrand. Along the way we met a nice couple from London, though one half was from Canada and the other was from New Jersey. Dan and Derek were jubilant upon meeting another New Jerseyan. We shared experiences and route advice and they recommended we make the push all the way to Cochrane that day as there was a rodeo and town festival that weekend. It was a Friday, so if we didn’t get into Cochrane that day we’d get in on Saturday, effectively giving us only Sunday to enjoy the festival. We conferred, checked our supplies, and decided to make the push. It would be our longest day on the Carretera so far in both time and distance, but also our favorite.
We passed the fork in the road that could have brought us along the southern shore of Lago General Carrera to Chile Chico. As I mentioned, some riders opt for that route and then the flatter, more boring Argentine Ruta 40. We stayed on the Carretera to the end. After the fork, we climbed up a beast of a hill and stopped at the top for a snack. I had to stop partway up for a photo from a wooden lookout point. This lake was called Black Lake, or Lago Negro, and appeared have a series of lakeside condos on it. Some of the signs around here were in English and Spanish, suggesting an influx of tourist money. While it’d be a beautiful place to live, it doesn’t strike me as the place to go live if you’re not interested in some level of cultural assimilation, or at least immersion.
This was no time for a debate, however, as I still had climbing to do.
At the top, Derek and I met a north-bound Frenchman who told us we were bicycle tourists number 11 and 12 that he’d passed that day. What’s amazing about touring in a remote place like this is you get the feeling that you’re all alone, but in reality you’re paralleling other cyclists. You could ride 25km behind someone for a week and never see them. Dan and Zach were numbers 13 and 14 for him. He was taking the southern shore route to Chile Chico and then heading farther north from there. We pushed on, aiming for a lunchtime rest in Puerto Bertrand, a small town between Lago Bertrand and Cochrane.
After lunch, we put on varying amounts of our rain gear as it started to lightly rain. Rain is often very relaxing with the proper attire, and this was no exception. The rain helped suppress the dust kicked up on the road and kept the temperature down a bit, too. Eventually, the road joined up with Rio Baker, a river famous for its vibrant blue color.
It rained off and on that afternoon, but nothing too bad. The road followed the river, but certainly did not stay in the valley. I’d say that this was the biggest day of climbing to this point.
While the roads look long and arduous in the photos, and justifiably so, they really just flew by. On climbs, you just keep your eyes on the beautiful scenery and not on the top of the hill. Keep your legs turning and soon enough you’re at the top.
At one point in the ride we came to an enormous climb that just kept going and going and going… It was so steep that it was composed of several sections of switchback turns. We had all separated at this point as each person rode at their own pace and stopped when they needed to, knowing without saying that we’d meet in the town square in Cochrane. As I slowly but steadily approached the top I realize that a car was coming up the hill at a similar rate to mine. I kept on going, knowing full well that if the car wanted to pass me it would. When I finally reached a flatter section, which at the time falsely appeared to be the summit of the climb, the car pulled up next to me. It was a smiling Chilean family of about six people. They rolled down the passenger side windows and applauded me, cheering me on for a short stretch of hill. I laughed with them and charged on, willing myself through another kilometer of climbing into a headwind.
Eventually the road mellowed out a little bit and it was just distance to cover and not mountains to summit.
It was a beautiful day of riding and I only wish I took more pictures or could somehow convey the feeling of accomplishment I felt at the end.
The day ended with a short but very steep climb into town, and I found Zach sitting in the town square with a nice warm beer in his hand. I grabbed one myself, along with some salami and cheese, and we told stories of our respective rides and awaited Patches and the Flea. Before long, we were all together again. Dan had been to Cochrane before, though during the winter, so he knew where he wanted us to camp. About 6km out of town lies Reserva Nacional Tamango, a reserve with hikes and campsites right along the Rio Cochrane. It was incredibly beautiful and cheap. We paid an entry fee and camped for 3 nights, riding into town for supplies, internet access, and the rodeo fair. As it turned out, we met a bunch of people working for Douglas Tompkins’ Conservación Patagonica land trust and conservation project, one of whom we’d met in Santiago while staying at a hostel during our brief stay there over a month prior. We swapped stories with them over the course of the time and nearly took them up the offer to go stay at the CP Estancia in Valle Chacabuco where they were normally residing.
We were able to leave our gear in our tents at the campsite and ride into town unweighted, so we took full advantage. I can’t say I took many pictures in Cochrane, but I enjoyed the city greatly. By city, of course, I mean town of about 2000. At that point, however, it was unbelievably large and populated in our eyes.
Here’s a picture from the rodeo that Zach took with my camera.
After our three days of R&R in Tamango and some time in an internet cafe when it reopened on Monday, we left town and rode a short while to get out of town and find somewhere to camp. It began to rain very hard as soon as we shoved off and we were forced to set up camp in a torrent. We didn’t have the luxury of riding for hours until we found a beautiful spot, so once we were 15 miles south of Cochrane we pulled off and camped next to the road in the first clearing we could find. If I haven’t mentioned it yet, now is a good time to state that I used Zach’s old tent for this trip. Zach wanted something more lightweight and compact for the trip, so I took his seasoned veteran of a tent. I should have re-waterproofed the rain fly before the trip but as they say… hindsight is 20/20. Given that my pack towel was hanging from a bike after preventing disaster in the great-beer-explosion-in-my-pannier along the ride that day, I had to use my mess kit and a handkerchief to do the bailing in my tent that night. Let’s just say I barely slept a wink and some scuba divers have stayed drier than I did during that rainstorm. I’ve taken showers that were less intensely wet than that night in my tent. Even though I was miserable in the morning, when the rain cleared we were treated to a beautiful mountain view.
In addition, this horrible night had been Valentine’s Day and my girlfriend was nearly 6000 miles away. So yes: when it rains, it pours.
Naturally, I was the last to break camp the next morning as I had barely slept and all my gear was soaked. About ten miles down the road, however, I caught up to the rest of the guys at a section where the road was flooded out. Zach, who had arrived there first, was knee deep in water guiding cars across. He’d been there for over an hour and had already hiked his bicycle and gear across. Apparently, right after he first found the flooded section of road a pair of Chilean road inspectors arrived. When Zach asked them how long it would take for the road to clear they said “We don’t know, maybe a couple days.” Zach, being the industrious type, waded out to check the depth and determined that it was passable despite being two feet deep in sections. When people saw him crossing with a bicycle in the air they were inspired to slowly cross in their cars. Derek did the same when he arrived, losing a sandle and nearly all his gear in the process (ask him some time), and then Dan crossed by foot when he arrived. Dan, however, was able to convince a car to take his bags in exchange for walking ahead of the car so the driver could gauge depth. When I arrived, I was in no mood to unload my bike, take my shoes off and cross several hundred feet of frigid water with sharp gravel underneath. Instead, I said “Screw it, I’m waiting for a ride.” As luck would have it, not five minutes after I said it a pickup truck rolled up and offered me a lift in the back. It was full of backpackers from Viña del Mar (near Valparaiso) who were driving to Villa O’Higgins on their summer break from University. They were a friendly bunch and we would see each other in passing several more times. Upon reaching the end of the road, they turned around and flew a huge Chilean flag from the back of the truck for the return trip. Once we were all across, we ate some cookies and met a German couple heading the other direction. We traded tips and road stories and continued on our way. They were friendly and got our excitement level back up. Another fifteen miles or so and the sun came out, so I stopped to have some lunch and unpack my gear to dry it out.
In one direction I was looking at a waterfall, and in the other I was looking at…
I had left first, so eventually all three of my compatriots passed me. Derek flew by like the tortuga he is, Zach stopped for a while to enjoy the sun and view and have a snack with me, and then eventually Dan came through as I was packing up. He’d had a terrible equipment malfunction that nearly totaled his rear derailleur and wheel. Luckily, Keep-it-runnin’ Dan is a skilled mechanic and was able to get things back together just fine. We rolled out together and caught back up with Zach and Derek a little while later. When it came time to set up camp for the night, we found a great little plateau by a river. Unwilling to risk another wet night, I decided to take things into my own hands and set up camp where I knew the rain couldn’t get me…
At the time I thought the rainbow was a figment of my imagination and symbolic of how appealing having a bridge for a rain fly was, but when it showed up in my pictures I realized it was actually there. For a fleeting moment it was the second double rainbow of our trip. Here’s the view from my campsite of where the rest of our crew camped.
We set up a fire pit, had a great dinner, and enjoyed the conversation of a local farmer who was out walking his dogs for the evening. Apparently he’d seen us riding by his farm earlier in the day. He told us all about his family and invited us back to stay with him any time we wanted. Although I hate to generalize, Chileans are wonderful people.
The next day we pushed off for a detour to the town of Tortel and then on to Puerto Yungay, where we’d camp and take a ferry the next morning. On the way, we passed Rio Vagabundo its two Puentes Vagabundos. I took pictures because, well, we felt a whole bunch like Vagabundos at this point. Look like vagabundos, smell like vagabundos, feel like vagabundos… must be vagabundos.
The road to Tortel was long, flat, rainy and somewhat boring. It was about 25km of this…
I know, I know… it’s still beautiful and we shouldn’t take stuff like that for granted, but it was all worth it because when we got to Tortel the clouds parted, the sun came out, and we were treated to incredible weather in a truly unique locale.
Tortel is a tiny little town composed entirely of boardwalks and stilted houses. It is located at the intersection of two rivers and subsists on fishing and tourism. They were just starting to pave part of the road in around the time we arrived. We were told that we were lucky because it seems like it rains 364 days a year there, and we happened to arrive on the one nice day. We parked our bikes on the side of the worksite and went for a walk. A lot of bicycle tourists that come to Tortel hike their bikes through town to a paid campsite on the other side, but we weren’t planning on staying the night. Even if we were planning on staying the night, the farmer from the evening before had told us to camp for free on the grounds of the “airport” right outside town because it was only open one day a week.
It was a beautiful rural town and I’d recommend it to anyone riding through the area.
It wouldn’t be a stop for us without tasting the local empanadas…
Then we shoved off again and rolled back out the way we came in. My legs felt great that afternoon so I took the lead. It’s also worth noting that we found a discarded piece of sheet plastic at the construction site, so I cut myself a piece to put between my tired rainfly and tent to help me stay dry the next time it rained.
The second half of the day was beautiful but featured a whole bunch of climbing. At the bottom of this next picture you can see the beginning access road out to Tortel that we rode. Between where I took this picture and that road were about fifteen switchbacks, taking us nearly vertical.
After the climb (which didn’t stop after the switchbacks mind you), we eventually came to the second Puente Vagabundo…
I loved this day of riding. My legs felt great and the combination of weather and scenery was up there with the best in the world.
There were waterfalls everywhere… I guess that’s what happens when you’re surrounded by glaciers.
I’m sort of glad there wasn’t anybody else around because I was hooting and hollering out of pure ecstasy. This place was incredible.
This is what the world looks like when people don’t develop it. I must have stopped to take too many pictures because Dan caught up to me before long. If you can find him in the next picture, it’ll give you an idea of the scale of what you’re looking at. (I don’t care if I finish a sentence with a preposition, it’s that pretty.)
If you look closely, you might be able to pick out the road…
Eventually, the climbing ended and we had an incredible descent to the port where we were to take a boat across the next day. Boats crossed three times a day and could take 8-10 cars across each time. Given that, consider just how remote this stretch of road was.
I made it to the port in time to see the boat leaving on it’s last trip for the day.
As if it were meant to be, I was able to watch the truck that carried me across the flooded road back onto the boat. They were heading across to start the last leg of their journey.
We set up camp on the beach at Puerto Yungay.
We’d heard about a shelter on the beach for travelers that are waiting for the next boat, but it turned out to be a dirty and dilapidated shack full of broken glass. The nice, new one was on the other side of the boat ride. We met a nice woman who worked in the only open business for fifty miles and she gave us some clean water from her sink with which we cooked our dinner. Here’s where we ended up camping for the night… tough life, ain’t it?
The next day we loaded up and hopped on the first ferry across.
Dan made friends with the captain and crew and got us some tips for the next leg of our trip. It was here that we heard about a potentially free ferry ride across Lago O’Higgins, which indirectly led to Derek’s wonderful story about “What Happens When You Take Directions From a One-eyed Cowboy”. If we didn’t think there was another option, Dan and Derek might have ponied up and paid their way across like Zach and I did. You’ll here about our adventure in a few paragraphs.
After the boat ride we brushed our teeth and changed into our riding gear. We met some more bicycle tourists on the other side who just missed the chance to get onto the boat from which we debarked. Some bicycle tourists are fine with a wave and a smile, others like to talk. I like to think it all depends on which way the wind is blowing… We started the day with a lonnnnnnnng climb through a beautiful region.
Try to find the road in this next picture… it’s there, I promise.
I stopped at a nice mirador for a snack break and took in the view.
We were riding in search of a hut that we’d been told about by the two cyclists we’d met after our ferry ride. We were told that it was an abandoned shack with a wood stove and some bike stickers on the windows from other cyclists who’d stayed there. We decided we’d ride until we found it, stopping only for snacks, water and fishing. Eventually, we came across a shack that we kind of doubted was the one we were looking for. It was past where we were told we would find it, but we definitely hadn’t passed the one we were seeking yet.
It had a great mountain view, a wood stove, a table and a couple platforms to sleep on.
Zach and Dan each took a platform, Derek laid out his groundcloth on the dirt floor, and I took one for the team and set up my tent outside.
We had a waterfall out back for drinking water and even a spot (downstream of our drinking source of course) for some cursory bathing. We knew we had a short day of riding left before we arrived in Villa O’Higgins (the end of the Carratera Austral) so we took our time leaving the next day. We were so comfortable at the shack that there was a considerable amount of deliberation over staying for another day as Zach’s ankle had started to hurt him and Dan loves sleeping in abandoned shacks (not to say the rest of us don’t also love it, but he just loves it that little bit more…). The idea was to hitch into Villa O’Higgins to resupply and stay for a couple days to rest. At the time, none of us really considered that only 3-4 cars passed by each day, if that. Eventually, common sense got the best of us and we pushed off the next day. My goodness it was nice.
Did I mention we looked like vagabonds at this point?
We were low on food at this point so we did a fair amount of rationing to have enough calories to burn to get into town. We also stopped and enjoyed the views a little more often. Or at least I did.
After about ten miles we passed the shack we’d been looking for, but nobody was too upset that we hadn’t kept going. One of the great lessons of this trip is that immediate hindsight is worthless and while you want to learn from your mistakes you should just make the best decision you can and roll with it through thick and thin.
That’s easy to say when the views distract you so easily…
Can you spot the road?
I’m going to go out there and say that this might be the most beautiful road to bicycle in the world. As I’ve said before, even if it’s not the best, it belongs in the conversation.
Eventually, we arrived at Villa O’Higgins. It was nothing like we expected, but then again nothing on this trip was quite like we expected.
What’s incredible is that the town is in the most remote depths of Chilean Patagonia, yet it had free wi-fi (at times, in a few limited spots, but it was municipal wi-fi).
We stayed in town for a few days and camped alongside a river.
It was by this river that we met Adolfo, the now infamous one-eyed cowboy who was as nice as it gets. After a couple days of reading and relaxing, we came up with a plan. Dan and Derek were hell-bent on avoiding the wildly overpriced ferry ride across Lago O’Higgins and Laguna del Desierto, while Zach and I were fine with it. Zach’s ankle was still hurting him and my back was declining rapidly. We decided to part ways and meet up in El Calafate, Argentina in five days.
Here was the route Zach and I took.
The boat ride across Lago O’Higgins was absolutely beautiful.
It was after that boat ride that things got tough. We had heard, from everyone we’d spoken to, that the 22km stretch between checking out of Chile at customs in Candelario Mancilla and checking into Argentina at the customs building on the shore of Laguna del Desierto was a terrible, muddy fiasco. We figured it had to be, because they said it’d take 6 hours to bike 22km. We figured a lot of things, and none of them mattered. We left Chile with no problems (and got our passports stamped, unlike Dan and Derek), and started up a long sandy and loose climb.
It was about 3km of climbing, then 12km of wonderful rolling hills along a logging road. This was incredibly fun and we rode it fast because we knew we had a rainstorm coming behind us. When we hit the border we said “this hasn’t been so bad…” Boy, were we wrong.
The Chilean side was a nice road with a tiny sign. The Argentine side had a huge sign followed by, well, the dumbest 7km of my life.
I was so angry, tired, sore and appalled that I only took one picture. This was the best the terrain got for the whole 7km.
It was up and down and over and under and everything else. We waded through rivers and mud fields, we climbed trees and jumped logs and boulders. In another setting, without a 75+ pound bike at the very least, it may have been a whole lot of fun… but I guess in this case I lost the forest for the trees. When I finished the day I had worn through both front and rear brake pads, broken a water bottle cage, and ripped a fender off. Even still, I was amazed that nothing else went wrong.
We got to the Laguna del Desierto and customs right as the rain hit, which certainly could have gone worse.
We checked into Argentina without any hitches (once again, this differed from Dan and Derek’s experience) and set up camp. More than a couple times we thought to ourselves “I wonder how Dan and Derek are doing…” and just assumed that despite how difficult things were for us, they were probably harder for Dan and Derek because otherwise this would be the road less traveled. As it turned out, we were right. You can read about that in Derek’s entry I referred to before. That night we shared a campfire with several other backpackers and another pair of bicycle tourists. Among us, we spoke English, French, Spanish, German, Dutch, and probably a couple other languages. It was an incredible experience and worth every ounce of effort. We even had a chance to wash and dry our gear.
We also had quite a lake view. It was right here that Zach caught a huge trout (that he didn’t share with anybody).
After another short boat ride the next day, we rode out and found a place to camp. I tried to take a picture of every camp site, but failed in this case. It was rainy when we set up camp, followed by mosquitoes, but we found a nice tree covered shelter to set up our tents. The next morning we rolled out toward El Chalten, where we’d see pavement for the first time in a month. Along the way, we rode through Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.
This achievement was greatly overshadowed by the sight of pavement…
For those of you keeping score at home: Yes, I kissed it.
We got some Argentine pesos in town and loaded up on supplies. We found a place that served waffles and had a nice intercultural lunch. El Chalten is predominantly focused on tourism dollars, so it wasn’t exactly the kind of place you see honest Argentine culture. It was a melting pot of cultures influenced by the influx of backpackers and outdoorspeople from all over the globe. El Chalten also marked our first official miles in Southern Patagonia.
We blew town after filling our panniers as we were on a tight schedule to meet Dan and Derek in El Calafate. On the way out we were treated to a great view of the famous Monte Fitz Roy.
The clouds never moved, but it was still beautiful.
At this point we were heading into the Argentine pampas or plains, a flat-ish stretch of land that is basically a desert. The riding was easy compared to what we’d been on, so Zach and I shifted into our big rings for the first time in a month and picked up the pace. We realized that the wind switched around mid-day, so we did most of our riding in the morning.
Along with the changing landscape came changing wildlife.
There wasn’t really anywhere to camp that was out of the wind or out of view of the road, so we took what we could get. There was a great sunset that night… our two man team morale was sky-high at this point.
The next day we had great weather, a little bit of a tailwind in the morning, and a great view of the kind of mountains we had just left.
We also saw a wild guanaco, though as Zach will tell you he could care less if he ever sees one again. At this point, however, it was still cool.
We found a river to camp at the next night. After coming from an incredibly lush region, this stretch was remarkably barren. It wasn’t easy to find potable water here. In fact, even though we were coming back into civilization, the stretches between towns were as remote as we’d seen yet. As such, when we found the river we took what we could get. The wind was relentless and we were camped on sand so we had very little to stake into. Note the rocks holding Zach’s tent down and all my gear holding my own down. I also bungie corded my tent to my bicycle.
The next day we left early for El Calafate, the biggest civilization we’d seen since Coyhaique.
Sadly, this marked the end of my bicycle tour. About 2000 miles from the start over two months prior, I was done. My bike was beaten up, my tent could barely keep me dry, and mentally I was cooked. Dan and Derek managed to make it to town that night (thanks to a long bus ride to catch up to us) and we spent a couple days telling stories to each other before Dan, Derek and Zach left for Perito Moreno and Torres del Paine. I found a flight to Buenos Aires where I was due to meet up with a family friend. I boxed my bike at the campground we were staying in (with a bike box from a local bike shop) and caught a bus to the small airport outside town. Before I left, Dan, Derek and Zach came back through town to restock after seeing Perito Moreno and being unable to pass through a shortcut they’d heard about.
It was great to see them again, though it was short-lived.
I made it safely and smoothly to Buenos Aires where I stayed with Graciela and Roberto Moyano. Gracie had done an intercultural exchange when she was a girl and stayed with my mother and her family in Newington, Connecticut. Gracie and my mother have stayed in touch ever since, and while I had yet to meet her I’d always felt like I had an Argentine tía. I had my first bed in a month and my first non-river laundry and indoor shower in the same time.
Needless to say, I was exhausted. The Moyano family welcomed me like I was one of their own and showed me the beautiful city of Buenos Aires. I enjoyed my time there and will remember it as one of the highlights of my trip. I was able to eat, drink and sleep to my heart’s content and even got out to play soccer with Gracie and Roberto’s son Ignacio (aka Nacho). I experienced a true asado courtesy of the Moyano’s, and even got to attend their daughter Maria Cecilia’s family birthday party. I saw a friend from the USA while I was there and can confidently say it was a perfect finish to my trip.
Here I am with Gracie and Roberto on the day of my departure.
It was incredibly easy and incredibly hard to leave, all at the same time. I had a truly unforgettable, life-changing experience that I will never stop talking about. I hope you all enjoyed the ride as much as I did.