Route: Puerto Monto – Puerto Varas – Ensenada – Entre Lagos – Puerto Novo – Los Lagos – Huellahue – Villarica – Los Laureles – Melipeuco – Paso Icalma
There are two roads to leave Puerto Montt to Puerto Varas. Road nbr 5, the “Panamericana”, and one via the airport. The last one seemed to be the smallest one.
When I asked about traffic conditions at the tourist information, the lady told me I can not take that last road. I will 100% sure end up without a bike and without luggage.
And also most of the locals take that road to avoid the fee one has to pay for the Panamericana.
This Panamerica is busy as well, according to her. It also has no shoulder. “We don’t do that in Chile”, she said.
“You’ll have to pay a small fee, but take that road, it’s much safer”, according to her.
I thought it over for a bit. Mostly car drivers are not very well placed to judge what’s ‘safer’ for a cyclist.
As my guesthouse was closer to the Panamerica as the other road, I decided to follow her advise (my guesthouse was in a ‘very dangerous area’ as well, according to her).
Cyclists (which are allowed on the Panamericana highway) don’t have to pay a fee and there is a shoulder all the way. I hope her perceptions about safety and dangerous are as wrong as her other advise.
So, a busy highway it is to Puerto Varas, but it’s only twenty kilometer and this way I get to experience for a little, little bit what the Panamerican is like. Incredible some people choose to cycle this highway all the way across the Americas.
Puerto Varas is a little bit the Brasschaat of this area. A nice upmarket little place, expensive hotels, outdoor stores and a beautiful setting at the Lago Llanquihue. I checked whether they didn’t have a decent camera shop here, but they told me Puerto Montt had it all …
The paved road around the lake has a bicycle lane !
It goes all around the lake, said the lady in the tourist information.
Things really get good here 🙂
Outside Puerto Varas, there’s a Jumbo supermarket. It’s not huge as it’s name might indicate, a bit like the Delhaize in Brasschaat and perhaps even more beautiful. They even sell Camembert cheese, have a nice selection of fruit and vegetables, excellent -)
Didn’t know a good supermarket could make me so happy.
Cycling lanes, a tailwind, a good supermarket…. something must spoil the fun a bit, no ?
Indeed, these black / orange terrorist bugs. They are around me in the dozens. I need to take tree branch and sway it around myself while cycling to keep them of me. Half a second after I stop, they’re all over me, diving right at me. They are terrible and so numerous here.
Cycling along the lake, I have Volcano Calbuco on my right side, which had a major eruption on 26th May 2015, in front of me the beautiful Osorno Volcana and behind that, Volcano Puntiagudo.
The bicycle lane stopped in the village Cascadas…
More tailwind blew me quickly to the next lake, Lago Rupanco and then to yet another one, Lago Puyehue. This is where some really bad ripio road started. Big stones and enough low flying traffic to cover me with a big layer of dust.
It sticks in the suncream.
Temperatures always go into the mid or high thirties in the sun during the day.
No complaints 🙂
Lago Ranco is one of the bigger lakes in the Chilean lake region. It being Saturday and the proximity of some bigger coastal towns as Valdivia means it’s packed with tourists. Beaches filled with unhealthy looking tourists, frying more sausages, eating more potato chips, more ice-cream, more soft drinks, more beer.…
Lot’s of garbage along the jammed road.
Bushes full of toilet paper and its smells coming at you.
Jet ski’s, car stereo’s….
Some people seem to love it though.
I can’t be away from it soon enough, but the cycling ain’t fun here, sharing the narrow road with speeding, stressed pick-up trucks racing from one lake to the next.
I pitch the tent in a field, a few meters from that busy road. High grass in between, so nobody will see me.
It’s not your quiet, natural wild camping spot but it beats the camping ground for sure.
After a short day, I end up at Camping ‘Los Suizos’, run by a Swiss man. The camping lays at the top of a 35 meter high cliff with below the Rio Calle Calle.
I have some overdue bike maintenance to do, like switching the front and back tyre, changing back to the first chain and give the bike a good scrub. And most importantly, look for some good alternative, little used back roads going north.
In hindsight, the route I drew out, was fantastic. Still a few kilometer on the busy main road from Los Lagos towards Panguipulli, but then I take a left turn and cross the Rio San Pedro with a little cable ferry. From here it’s all ripio for a while with literally less then a handful of cars the rest of the day. Inclines are steep sometimes and require pushing, but they are never long.
In Huellahue I join the paved road again for a while. Not as busy as further west, but still requires a constant eye in the rear view mirror.
I do have some views of the Lago Calafquen from higher up, but instead of riding down towards the village of Lican Ray and ending up on the busy road to Villarica, I again choose some little used ripio option.
All is good. Again I find a nice place to pitch the tent.
Well, the place is nice, but unfortunately the chain saws from different directions go on till sunset, barking and howling dogs from the north-west, north-east and south-west. The dogs are soon joined by a guy who is shouting really, really loud “whooohaaaa – whoooohaaa” in the distance. The dogs going more crazy. Then he cranks up his ‘music’.
When he finally decides it’s been enough for the day, one of his neighbors a bit to the east opens his sound system. More ‘boonk-e-boonke’ till midnight.
The chain saw gang resumed at 07:00. Mowing the trees from 07:00 till 21:00 hrs. No time to waste.
It’ll be good for the economy. For someones economy.
My chosen path towards Villarica sure isn’t the easiest. Washboard and lot’s of loose stones. But when I hit the main road, a few kilometer outside of Villarica, I’m super-glad I was on these bad tracks. Suddenly it’s like I’m in the Monday morning traffic jams to enter Antwerp. Terrible. Are all seventeen million Chileans here ?
Upon entering Villarica, I pedal my seven thousandth kilometer in South-America away.
The famous Volcano Villarica, one off the most active in South-America lies at the other side of the lake. It’s last major eruption was on 3rd March 2015. It became super-popular to climb it.
Over 20.000 people a year, I read.
Queuing to the top, not my thing.
I tried again to find a lens for my camera, but in vain. There was a shop selling the same Sony camera I have, but they don’t sell ‘accessories’ and were not prepare to sell it’s lens alone.
Allas, I leave the town asap. Soon on ripio again; of the worst kind.
Slowly I’m getting nearer and nearer to the cordillera, it’s peaks clearly visible now to my east.
As the ripio gets rougher, and the traffic seems oddly enough to increase as well, I decide to take the asphalt road to Los Laureles instead of continuing on ripio towards Lago Corico.
Not special to see in Los Laureles, but I found it a need little village.
The road between Cunco and Melipeuco is the best cycling Chili had on offer. A nice wide shoulder and hills both side of the road. Throw sunshine, temperatures above 30 degrees and a tail wind in, and your day is perfect.
After Melipeuco, the last 40 kilometer or so to Paso de Icalma, which is the border with Argentina, is again on a sometimes rough ripio road, climbing steep at times (i.e; in the 10 to 14% range). Once I’m above 1.000 meter, I’m cyclingbetween the spectacular and odly shaped araucaria trees.
I haven’t met any other cyclist in the Lake Region.
Perhaps because I was too often on the little, steep gravel roads.
Few other things that stand out: The dogs here, as well as in the Argentinean part of Patagonia are brilliant. They do somtimes make faint attempts ‘attacking’ you, but you only have to lift as much as your little pinky and the crawl away, their tail between their legs.
Also remarkable is the high number of Chinese cars on the Chilean roads. “Great Wall” seems to be the most popular mark (and they actually look pretty good), but there were other brands as well. Also many trucks are Chinese made.
I think the Western, Japanese and Korean brands are up to a hard future if the Chinese are going to dump cheaper cars on our markets.
More cars for more people …..
El Chaltén – Passo Icalma
Distance: 2.161 km
Average km per cycling day: 58,41 km
Nights slept inside: 4 (3 in hostel, 1 in the “ferry terminal” at Rio Bravo)
Nights slept outside: 44 (of which 30 wild camping)
Flat tires: 0
Route: Coyhaique – Puyuhuapi – Puerto Raul Marin Balmaceda – Chaiten – Puerto Montt
Leaving the town of Coyhaiqe, I have to climb another 10 kilometer or so out of the town on the paved road with a constant stream of traffic before I can turn off to the old section of the Carretere Austral on gravel. It’s a steep climb up a 750 meter high hill. Same complaints as the previous days: all land is fenced off and it’s hard to find a place to pitch the tent.
At night, it rains continuously, just like it has the past week or so, but the days are dry, warm and sunny. I can surely live with that.
06 – 11/01/2018
About twelve kilometer before (south) Manihuales I rejoin the paved section of the Carretera Austral. which continues to be paved for a while now. But, there’s a possibility to take a gravel road about nine kilometer north of Manihuales, which I prefer over the asphalted road. I find a cosy place to pitch the tent, right next to the river. It’s close to the road but I don’t have to climb fences today. For the first time in months, I make a nice camp fire.
This gravel option lasts for 21 kilometer and provides more nice wild camping spots further on. A small part of the road even has no fences either side of the track. This must be like the Carretera of the old days. The rest of the day I follow the smooth pavement and have an early stop a few kilometer before Villa Amengual, so I can do my shopping in the morning.
From Villa Amengual, the road climbs over a small saddle before going steep down into the valley of the Rio Cisnes. After the junction to Puerto Cisnes, the Carretera becomes gravel again and climbs towards the ‘Portezuelo Quelat’ before going down to the next river valley and eventually some kind of sea arm. After a few days with rain, today was a nice and sunny day again.
The nights continue to be wet and it takes some time for the tent to dry. By the time I arrive at the entrance of Parque Naional Queulat, the sun is out again.
The main attraction here is the ‘Ventisquero Colgante’, a ‘hanging’ glacier. A 3.3 km trail leads up to a viewpoint. It’s a spectacular thing, but seeing where the glacier is now, compared to where it used to be in 1940 and 1970 as you can see in the N.P. building… I don’t think there ‘ll be much glacier left to hang here in a couple of years.
Puyuhapi is a nice little town, but not nice enough to convince me to stay for the night.
A bad stretch of ripio, with stones as big as fists follows for the first 15 kilometer or so. It’s late evening when I pitch the tent at a camping twenty kilometer south of La Junta. I’m the only camper (yesss, it’s gonna be quiet 🙂 ) and the owner has to fire up the wood stove for his only guest in order to have some hot water for the shower.
La Junta is another little town with a few small village stores. Normally I’d be continuing on the asphalt going north, but the landslide in Villa Santa Lucia still hasn’t been cleared (and apparently won’t be before April), so I take a left turn, cycling west towards Puerto Raul Marin Balmaceda. A few very nice camping options at the beginning of the road, but it’s still too early in the day for me. The gravel goes from good to bad, to very bad, to a bit better again.
I’m riding in the valley of the Rio Palena and the scenery is excellent.
Big shame is the amount of traffic traveling this route, in their usual style, speeding at centimeters beside your legs, leaving huge clouds of dust behind.
In October last year, I rode further upstream along this river in colder and wetter conditions. About ten kilometer before the end of the road, there’s a ferry to cross the river, but that’s only running until 6 pm. I won’t make that and have again difficulties finding a place for the night. Not because of fences, but due to the jungle here. Eventually I pitch the tent near a waterfall in front of which some heave bulldozers destroyed the vegetation recently.
Next day, after crossing the river, I notice there are several nice options to camp between that side of the river and Puerto R.M. Balmaceda.
The compulsory registration process for the ferry was some of the most inefficient things I have ever seen in my life. There was one lady sitting inside the office when I arrived. It took the lady and the man with the tattoo of a skull on his hand 35 minutes to make the booking (no idea why they “work” as a duo, instead of each taking a customer ??). Then there was a group of six kayakers ahead of me. It took just under an hour to arrange the registration and booking for them. The lady had to enter their passport numbers four times before she succeeded. Then it was me. They reached succes in my booking in 24 minutes. Lucky I arrived in town three hours before the ferry left.
The ferry ride through the Gulf of Corcovado is scenic, with good views of the snow capped volcano Nevada.
North of Chaiten, the road is paved again. Here I enter the Parque Nacional Pumalin which, just like Parque Nacional Patagonia further south, is a park established by Douglas Tompkins and his wife, he the owner of ‘The North Face’, she of the clothing line ‘Patagonia’ and ‘Esprit’. They donated it to the Chilean state in March 2017.
The temperatures are tropical and so is the environment. All dense jungle with big ferns and other rain forest plants. Wild camping would be very hard here. I climb the volcano Chaiten, which erupted in 2008 and made a devastation in the town further down. It’s a hard hike up the steep hill, but the views are spectacular. I can see the Pacific Ocean, the ‘Lago Blanco’ where I would camp later that day and the crater two lakes, a brownish one and a green one and also a new mountain arose after the eruption.
Next day make another hike in the park to some waterfalls of which the higher one is very spectacular. I also make a hike into a part of the park where there are still some Alerce trees, these big and old guys which were also in the ‘P.N. Los alerces’ in Argentina which I visited a few months ago.
After the five hour ferry ride from Caleta Gonzalo to Hornopiren (with the snowy cone of the Hornopiren volcano just behind the turquoise sea) there isn’t all too much time left for biking. I’m leaving Hornopiren nevertheless. It’s a small village where all traffic seems to stuck up, waiting for one of the two daily ferry’s. Pretty soon, the Carretera Austral turns into ripio again, the version with the big loose stones, and a climb between 10 & 14%. Quite a bit of traffic, so I’m riding in a constant cloud of dust.
On my map, I’ve seen an alternative smaller route along the coast of this little peninsula. It’s longer, but I hope it has less traffic. It appeared even to be paved for a while. It’s been a while, but today I find a nice place to camp at the tip of a bay.
Soon, the alternative road turns to gravel as well. Gravel with washboard, but no big climbs. I’m having a full day of riding along the Pacific Coast. Major problem here, just like the previous days, are these big black and orange insects, almost as big as the tip of your thumb. I don’t know if they are horse flies as well. They look much meaner. They always come in pairs, or in two pairs, circle at high speed around you for a couple of times and then come to hang right in front of your face (so they must be able to fly backwards, as I’m cycling at that moment). It’s intimidating.
The tricks is not to try and hit them while they fly around you. They’re too fast. You must wait until they’re staring you in the face. But while you hit one, there are still three left.
It must be quite a sight, riding a heavily loaded touring bike on gravel, with stones as big as eggs, trying to stay upright while you’re swaying arms and legs to get rit of these flies, face covered with bandanas to protect yourself against dust and flies. A few of them land on your sweaty back and sting you there.
A lot of nice, old wooden churches along this route. Near the tip of the peninsula, I find a side road of this side road. I have to cross a shallow river, but get rewarded with more spectacular views. The sea water is surprisingly warm so far south.
It was not my idea to ride into the town of Puerto Montt, but my camera fell down from a pole a couple of days ago, and the lens broke. I still have a small point-and-shoot camera for back up, but don’t want to rely on that one the whole trip.
About 30 kilometer before Puerto Montt, I pitch the tent in a field above the road, whit good views of the Pacific below me. No wind protection, so hope the weather will be quiet tonight.
It’s been a very hot day and it’s impossible to go inside the tent while the sun is at it. After the flies lunched of my back during the day, it’s now the mosquito’s eating diner at my back.
Lot’s of scratching tonight…
In the whole of Puerto Montt, there’s no wide angle lens.
I check every shop and asked every shop whether they knew a place…, I checked tourist information. They all said I might be lucky in Santiago. But checking the Chilean Sony store online… they even don’t have it in stock. Seems like I’ll have to continue shooting pics with my old Nikon point-and shoot cam for the remainder of the trip 😦 .
Riding the Carretera Austral is maybe not the easiest thing, but it can be done by anybody who is in reasonable shape and has a bit of stamina and a decent bike and gear.
It’s not the distance what makes the route hard. There are other factors:
The (often bad) ripio, the head-winds, the rain, the steep climbs, the horse flies, the traffic at times, the longer stretches without any service,…
What about the Carretera Austral as a biking route ?
Is the scenery nice ?
Yup, it definitely is and I enjoyed it.
BUT, I think it is seriously over-hyped.
Often, the Carretera is described as one of the world’s best cycling routes.
This depends on perception of course, and while I find the route to have way too much (unkind & speeding) traffic, again, somebody else could think differently.
Often the route is described as wild camping heaven as well.
That’s a flagrant lie.
After a couple off days on the route, I started asking cyclist coming from the opposite direction about their opinion of this so-called wild camping heaven. All, without exception, said they “couldn’t see that”.
No question of perception here.
For the most part along the Carretera it was hard, if not impossible to find a wild camping spot for the night. Often I kept riding for another 20 kilometer after I started searching for a spot and still ended up in a bad place or at a camp site.
Mostly because all land is fenced off, or unsuitable for camping (steep hills or dense jungle).
Overall, I’m still happy I cycled it, but I think there are routes in various parts of the world that are very spectacular as well, with better camping options, less traffic and more considerate drivers (Sweden, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Iceland, Canada, Usa, ….)
It’s close to noon time before I leave the hostal in Villa O’Higgins. My departure was delayed due to bad weather on Sunday. A bit further north on the Carretera, there was a landslide which killed unfortunately a bunch of people, and more still more missing. Forces of nature are a thing to be reckoned with in this part of the world with it’s frequent earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and mud slides, all having caused huge amounts of deaths in the past.
The road didn’t arrive in Villa O’Higgins until 1999. It’s construction was ordered by Pinochet. Still, it’s all a washboarded dirt road for the next hundreds of kilometer. Cyclists I’ve met in Villa O’Higgins and on the road all told me horror stories about the local horse flies, a bit further north, attacking them in swarms.
At first, the cycling goes rather smoothly, until I arrive at the border of Lago Cisnes. The wind is in a rage, knocking me almost of my bike again. Several parts, I have to push the bike as riding it is impossible.
A bit over 30 kilometer into my ride, there’s a guy sitting along the road. I recognize him immediately from pictures I saw in Villa O’Higgins. It’s Jorge, a local farmer who built a nice wooden shelter next to the road, especially for cyclists. While I have a chat with him, the fortieth vehicle of the day passes me. This being the quietest part of the whole Carretera, as it’s a death-end, it still has it’s traffic. Don’t believe the stories like “Ooh, you’ll see maybe a hand full of cars”.
As the weather was sunny, I decided not to stay in Jorge’s cabin and ride on a bit longer. I prefer my tent anyways.
Next day I rode down to Rio Bravo. It was a day full of rain. Waterfalls are coming down the mountains both sides of the road, some of them really spectacular.
I cross twelve other cyclists on their way south: a French man, a Swedish guy, a Chilean couple, two Brazilian men and two guys who didn’t bother stopping for a chat.
I spend the night in the waiting room for the ferry, together with an Australian and an English cycling couple. All these cyclists were riding in the opposite direction.
At 11 o’clock, I hop on the ferry to cross this deep sea inlet towards Puerto Yungay at the other side. I shared the ferry with a group of construction workers who are building the new pier in Villa O’Higgins and are on their way home much further north in Chile. After the bus ride from O’Higgins to the ferry, they have to take a bus to Coyhaique, another bus to Puerto Montt from where they catch a plane and another bus to arrive home for a ten day visit before returning to the pier on this southern end of the road.
Apart from a small shed selling hot drinks (but not the empanadas everybody says it’s famous for), there’s nothing Puerto Yungay.
The climb away from the river is steep. So steep they even paved it for a bit. My odo-meter shows 20%. My already sore pulses, arms and shoulders hurt pushing the bike up. It’s a day of continuous rain, mostly pretty heavy. I don’t feeling like turning left, taking the dead-end road towards Tortel, a village famous for it’s wooden walkways i.o. roads. It’s cold, wet and the wind is blowing right out of that valley. I continue another 20 kilometer and pitch the tent on a small, soggy piece of grass along the Rio Baker. It continues raining all through the night.
Met no other cyclists today.
The official start of summer in the southern hemisphere.
It rains all day and it’s cold.
I stay in the tent, finishing Michael Jacobs book ‘Andes’ and Tilman Waldthalers’s book ‘Querdurch Australia’. I like to read two books at the same time.
I start in a new book: Sapiens from Yuval Noah Harari.
It’s a four day ride from Villa O’Higgins to the next town with Provisions Cochrane. Lucky me I take at least seven days worth of food on rides like this 🙂
Still some rain in the morning, but around 09:00 hrs the sun comes out for a bit.
After breakfast, I can pack a more or less dry tent.
The weather stays dodgy all day. When I end up riding in hail, I see a blue sky behind me and wait a bit. At other times I have to hurry to stay in front of the next rain shower.
Riding like this, I manage not to get too wet today. A shame most of the views are taken away from me by the clouds. The mountain range to the west, ‘Cordon Los Nadis’ seems to create it’s own (bad) weather.
I find a nice spot for the tent in the hills about 30 kilometer south of Cochrane, overlooking Lago Chacabuco below me and with the snowy peaks of the ‘Campo De Hielo Norte’, the Northern Ice field behind it. A much, much better end of the day then the two previous days.
I met eight other cyclists today, all riding the opposite direction, two Dutch, three English, two French and one Italian.
I wake up to a blue sky and have fantastic views to the snowy peaks of the Ice Field.
It’s a short ride into Cochrane today. The Carretera Austral is very rough and bumpy with washboard on this stretch. The landscape again is impressive. I cross fast flowing rivers, ride along Lago Esmeralda and beautiful rock formations. At the outskirts of Cochrane there’s a two day long rodeo going on. I pitch my tent at ‘Camping Cochrane’. Campings here often are not like what we think of in Europe. It’s just in the backyard of someone’s home. But the friendly lady here has built a nice shed where one can cook and sit and a clean sanitary building. Also a laundry service is on order, which I gladly use.
No other cyclists today.
Another nice and sunny day, which I use to relax and clean my bicycle.
Christmas diner at the campground. The friendly owner has arranged a lamb which is roasted next to a fire by a 84 year old man.
Time to move on. I’m getting into the more spectacular parts of the Carretera Austral, all along the Rio Baker, Chile’s largest volume river. The road meanders up and down in it’s valley. From above, I can see the the confluence of the blue waters of the Rio Baker with the brown waters of the Rio Chacabuco. I meet a skunk along the road today. A living one this time (before I only saw them regularly as flat as a pancake).
The road eventually drops down steeply towards the Rio Chacabuco, and climbs equally steep back out of it. Next remarkable stop is the ‘Confluencia Rio Baker & Rio Neff). Just like with the Rio Chacabuko, the brown waters of the Neff river join the glacier blue waters of the mighty Baker river. There’s a track going down to this point, only a few minutes walk from the road. Do it !
Today I meet nine other cyclists, a Californian couple, two Australian guys, a Dutch couple, an Israeli guy and two Italians.
I camp just before Puerto Bertrand right next to the Rio Baker, together with a Dutch couple traveling in a van for 10 weeks in the region.
I rode all the way from Puerto Bertrand to Puerto Rio Tranquillo.
That’s not what I intended, but the last 20 kilometers there were no camping spots. Fences everywhere. Very frustrating. I think I’ll buy some pliers here and start cutting these fences. Then I become ‘The De-Fencer’.
The ride itself was brilliant again. A steep climb out of Puerto Bertrand, 13 – 14%.
Then down to Lago Bertrand, up again and down to Lago Negro and finally Lago General Carrera. As so many lakes in the region, this lake lies both in Chili and Argentina, where they call it Lago Buenos Aires. It’s the second biggest lake in South-America, after Titicaca Lake, which lies in two countries as well, Peru and Bolivia.
Anyway, spectacular scenery, blue sky with white and sometimes grey clouds, strong head wind as well as a strong tail wind. At the top of the hill before Puerto Rio Tranquillo is a field where you could wild camp, but the wind was blowing from all directions and I opted to cycle down to the village and pitch the tent at a camp ground.
Met eight other cyclists today, two German couples, an English girl, a Japanese man (cycling from Alaska to Ushuaia, and after that taking on Europe) and two American girls.
29 + 30/12/2017
As I missed Perito Moreno and O’Higgins Glaciers, the first voluntarily, the second by an act of God, I did not want to miss out on the chance to visit another glacier. This one at the northern edge of the northern icefield. To visit the ‘Exploradores Glacier’, I had to ride into the ‘Valley de los Exploradores’, a death-end road going west from Puerto Rio Tranquilo, down towards the Pacific Ocean.
The day started well. I hadn’t even ridden ten kilometer and I was already sitting in an abandoned shed of which half the floor was rotten away and the other half full of animal shit. I was not sitting there because I like to sit on rotten floors in animal shit.
No, it was raining. And raining hard.
When I have to chose between riding my bicycle in the rain, against the wind, or sitting on a little, fragile wooden bench on a rotten floor full of shit in a building of which the windows are gone, surrounded by old rubber boots, rotten clothes, a rotten mattress and a bunch of mosquitos … I seem to choose the latter.
Luckily, after half an hour it cleared out a bit (strong winds do have their advantages) and I was happily riding again. Well, not so happy, because the road climbed immediately by 13 / 14% again. But as so often, the views make it all worth-while. A stunning blue lake, Lago Tranquilo, to my right hand side.
I keep riding into the valley, with the mountains of the ‘Cordon Los Parvas’ to the north and the 4.058 meter high ‘Monte San Clemente o San Valentin’ to the south. This is the highest mountain of the southern Andes. Behind the Cordon Los Parvas’ lies the Volcano Hudson, which erupted in 1991 and devastated thousands of square kilometers.
These high mountains tend to make their own weather, and when they do that, this means bad weather. I got to see neither of the two famous peaks and eventually got a lot of rain.
It was already 6 pm when I arrived at the ‘mirador’ (viewpoint) of the glacier. A viewpoint with an entrance fee…
I guess glaciers are like humans or cars or animals, you’ve got pretty ones and ugly ones.
I’ve seen glaciers before in my life, in Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Canada, the Usa, New-Zealand. This must be the ugliest of them all. Nobody is to blame.
The end of the glacier looks like a dump of building debris. All the stones it carries down the mountain, after the ice has melted. The rain doesn’t cheer up things either of course.
I ride back twelve kilometer to a place I spotted before to pitch the tent and ride back towards Puerto Rio Tranquilo the next day. I didn’t meet any other cyclist in the Valle Exploradores. It’s a quieter route as the Carretera Austral, but in much worse condition (washboard). The route itself is definitely worth it if you’ve got time, with beautiful scenery and many impressive waterfalls, but the glacier is not.
To celebrate a wonderful year, I treated myself today with a trip on the Lago General Carrera to the ‘marble caves’. The pictures say enough.
Do it when you’re here.
Then there was only one thing left to do this year. Leave town and make sure I had a quiet night. I didn’t feel like listening to drunk people, driving cars like idiots around the few streets of the village, bad fireworks mixed in all this. So I left the place early afternoon and rode a bit over 30 kilometer to pitch my tent at a sheltered place and made the usual pasta dish.
Despite the short ride, I crossed about twenty other cyclists. Two French couples, a Japanese guy who cycled Australia and North- and South America, a Scottish couple, a Brazilian guy and a bunch of others. I’m gonna stop counting them and talk to everyone, because I lose too much time. But it’s nice to talk to like-minded people a bit for now.
So, another year has come to an end. A year where I cycled 13.652 kilometer and climbed 154.602 meter. I must improve on that a bit in 2018.
I take it very easy on this first day of the new year and am leaving my spot early in the afternoon only, after the tent finally dried from the rainy night.
Many people claim the part between Puerto Rio Tranquilo and Cerro Castillo might be the most beautiful part of the Carretera Austral. I don’t see too much of it because of the clouds. It does give it a special atmosphere but the regular rain showers I get all day are not pleasant.
It’s difficult to find a place to camp in the evening as again, all land is fenced off.
I do find a place between trees. Well sheltered, but it’s not a beautiful spot.
It rained hard all night, but I do manage to pack a more or less dry tent by late morning. Sometimes I even get sunny spells and from a distance I see already the impressive Cerro Castillo mountain. I have regular chats with other cyclists today again. Most started from Balmaceda, a little airport a days’ ride north from here.
I stay the night at a camp site in the village Cerro Castillo, as there were no options for wild camping before the village, and I want to hike up the mountain tomorrow.
Another night and also morning where it didn’t stop raining. It was too late to start the hike up Cerro Castillo. I didn’t feel like waiting at the campground all day and maybe have rain again tomorrow morning, so I packed my stuff and left.
Normally, I would be in a bad mood, because Cerro Castillo is where the gravel road stops and the Carretera turns for the first time in an asphalted section. The Chileans were clever though, and they made the last 8 kilometer of ripio in such a bad state, that even I am happy it turns to asphalt for a while.
North of Cerro Castillo, lies the first + 1.000 meter hill of the Carretera Austral. In a few beautiful switch backs, I work my way up. Near the top are two other cyclists admiring the view. Turned out to be a Belgian couple who started from Cuzco, Peru. In the descent I stop for a chat with a German couple who are on a long trip, starting from La Paz, Bolivia and who will go to cycle Australia later this year. A bit further on the descent I meet an English couple who are on a four month bicycle trip in South-America.
On top of the second hill of today, again around 1.000 m asl, is a campground of Conaf, the Chilean National Park organization. It’s 5 pm, but I want to continue a bit further now it’s finally dry.
The tail wind I had out of Cerro Castillo turns into a fierce headwind now.
All land is still fenced of. Every time I’m almost out of sight and barking distance of one little farm, the next one shows up already. Again, it seems very hard to find a wild camping spot along the Carretera Austral.
There’s a possibility to get off the asphalted road into the first bigger town so far south, Coyhaiqye, but the wind was so fierce and it didn’t stop raining, so I chose to stay in the pavement.
This road connects Coyhaique, the regional hub, with the airport at Balmaceda and it’s a real highway with constant & fast traffic.
I stay at a bad campground in town, but more importantly I finally get a haircut, find white gas for my stove which burns so much cleaner then the normal car fuel and can do some shopping.
** Part 2, Coyhaique – Puerto Montt to follow soon. **
After a night in a hotel in Puerto Natales, I took the bus onward to El Calafate, back in Argentina and from there straight onto another bus to El Chaltén. In hindsight, I’m happy with my decisions not to cycle this stretch through the pampa, against the relentless winds again. Only the stretch between El Calafate and El Chaltén on the routa 40 is much nicer as I anticipated, and there I regretted it not to be on my bike.
Approaching El Chaltén, I had my first views of the magnificent and iconic Mount Fitz Roy, named after the Beagle’s Captain Robert Fitzroy.
While I was completely battered from the bus ride and wanted to take a rest day the day, the weather was brilliant again. That’s an opportunity one can not let by here, so at 07:30 hrs I was walking out of town already into the norther section of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares towards the ‘Lago de los 3’ trail. This is a trail of about 10 kilometer (one way) leading you up to a lake at the foot of Mount Fitz Roy. To my surprise, I was almost alone on the trail. The last kilometer is steep and a bit harder, but the rewards is awesome and the pictures speak for themselves.
I do get it on my nerves of all this people who nowadays have to pose with outstretched armes in front of every natural attraction, as if they discovered or created them.
On my way down, I crossed busloads of people climbing, struggling up. It was a good decision to leave that early. I’m surprised to see so many people, twenty years my junior who are sitting along the trail, panting, totally exhausted. People are even more out of shape as I thought.
Luckily, about two kilometers on the way back, I can take a right turn to a trail which connects the hiking trail to Mount Fitz Roy to another trail, the day hike towards Cerro Torre.
It was still pretty early, so I decided to do both trails in a day. On the connecting trail of 8 kilometer, I only met one couple and one single hiker. It’s an easy trail along few lakes. Very beautiful and inside the forest, so you’re pretty sheltered from the high winds.
On the trail towards Cerro Torre, there’s no protection for the wind anymore, which blows with enormous forces right in your face. I headed on but really quickly the white clouds which covered the famous peak became darker and darker, the already storm like wind fiercer and fiercer.
I decided to turn back, as this would lead to nothing. I couldn’t see anything of the peak, and wasn’t eager to continue in the rain or snow.
Amazingly, I still saw people totally unprepared going on towards the Cerro Torre, carrying no rain gear, without decent shoes. And then they are surprised they have to be rescued.
Around 4 pm, I was back in El Chaltén, having hiked 30 km and 1.800 altimeter.
Saturday was a rainy and windy day which I used to do an oil change in the Rohloff hub and book my ferries on the Lago del Desierto and Lago O’Higgins. I skipped the famous and touristy Perito Moreno Glacier, but only because I had a boat trip to the O’Higgins Glacier in mind.
Sunday was a real warm and sunny day again, so I retraced my steps towards the look-out point of Cerro Torre. How lucky I am. Some people sit in El Chaltén for a week and never get to see a thing, and here I am sitting in a t-shirt looking at these spiky Andean peaks against a blue sky, drinking pure water from the streams floating down of them.
Late Sunday, I got the message I urgently had to go to the people from ‘Exploradores’, where I booked my ferries. It seemed the ferry on Lago O’Higgins had a serious problem and would surely not run again until Christmas. A big bummer. There’s a second, smaller boat doing the trip, but their website still shows sailing schedules of last year, and it’s not clear whether and when they would go to the O’Higgins Glacier. I booked my transfer online. The people of ‘Exploradores’ office did a really great job in tracking me down, calling all the hotels, hostels and guesthouses in town until they found me, in order to advise me the ferry broke down and give me my money back.
On Monday I cycled the 40 km from El Chaltén towards Lago del Desierto. A beautiful gravel road, many times in bad condition. But the scenery makes up for it. I stop at a beautiful waterfall, cycle between snowy mountains, cross rivers, along lakes, ….
On the way down, I got interviewed by a friendly Italian lawyer who writes in his spare time for a cycling magazine. Again I posed for a few pictures 🙂
On all my previous trips before South-America, I only got interviewed once for the local tv of Nong Kai in Thailand but now it’s one after the other.
At 16:30 my ferry leaves for the one hour crossing towards the Northern edges of Lago del Desierto.
My original plan was to camp near the Argentinian border post, where I’d have spectacular views of the back side of Mount Fitz Roy. It was too cloudy to see anything now, and as I understood the little ferry I booked to cross Lago O’Higgins would go on Tuesday ‘somewhere in the morning’. There wouldn’t be any more crossings later this week, due to the upcoming bad weather. I could not do otherwise than start the famous and hard crossing towards the Chilean side in the evening. The Argentinian border guards were surprised I was still taking that stretch on so late in the day.
This must be one of the most peculiar border crossings in the world. The Argentinian immigration sitting down at the Lago Del Desierto, the Chileans at the Lago O’Higgins. From the Argentinian side, there’s only a mule trail going steep up towards the pass, separating both posts. The path is often a gully, one meter deep and just as wide only. The first part I have to unload most of my backs, go up and down a few hundred meter to carry the first load, come back down to pick up the second load, bring that up, come back down to collect the bike and push that up again, so doing the stretch five times. Luckily, it’s mostly dry, but at some parts I got some drizzle.
I push and push, carrying my stuff over rocks, through another gully, through several larger and smaller streams, through a muddy swamp, until at 22:00 hrs, half an hour after sunset I pitch my tent on a flat part in the middle the trail. I guess there’s no chance at all anybody will come through here at night.
I wake up at 6 am. I’m about one kilometer from the pass and the official border. Just before this border, there would be better camping opportunities on a nice grassy field.
Crossing this border also means my seventh Argentinian / Chilean border crossing this trip, and also my third crossing of the Andes range.
The Chileans luckily made a ripio track up to the border, which makes the going a lot easier. It’s again a glorious day today and looking back, I still have some sights of the back side of Mount Fitz Roy in the distance.
Despite the many photo stops I take, I still arrive with the Chilean border guys down at the lake around 9:30. It seems I’m just in time, as a small boat approaches the jetty at Candelario Mancilla, as this place is called.
I’m the only person present, but soon seven other cyclists and a bunch of hikers descent from the campground which lays a bit above the jetty.
The Captain told me today he doesn’t do any glacier trips, as he has to bring some solar panels to a farm further down the lake.
He’ll be back around 2 pm to bring us to the other side of the lake.
Apparently, the boat is allowed to take 16 passengers only. We are eighteen people. Everybody seems to have their own reason to justify why they could board the ship instead of others. Even those (most of them) who had a booking for the other company which doesn’t run. They were stuck here since five days already. The weather was too bad on this side of the Andes to run the boat.
A group of five French cyclists seems to be really arrogant about their ‘right’ to take this boat. The female part of an Austrian cycling couple starts crying a bit, and suddenly they earned their right to be on board as well. Emancipation, equality and feminism only go that far apparently…
As the boat doesn’t make a trip towards the glacier today, and the captain promised to do another run tonight around 7 pm, I decided I did not want to be part of this unsympathetic bunch for a few hours on a small ship and instead enjoy the local scenery a bit longer on this side. A French hiker kindly gave up his place on board as well, to make space for the crying Austrian girl. The male part of this Austrian couple asked me ‘What currency do you pay in Belgium ? ….’
I thought I heard it all in my life, but apparently ….
Needing a few ‘real’ rest days, I pitched my tent a few kilometer outside Villa O’Higgins. Luckily, the weather was bad, So all the more reasons to stay in the tent to read and rest, without having the feeling I should be on my bike 🙂
O’Higgins Lake is called San Martin Lake on the Argentinian side of the border (Both O’Higgins in Chili and San Martin in Argentina were important independence heroes for their country, living and fighting at the same time as the famous Bolivar ).
The lake has a very irregular shape, with eight arms, four in each country. With a maximum depth of 836 meter, it’s the deepest lake in the Americas. The lake’s surface is at an elevation of abt. 250 meters, which means the bottom at some parts is at almost 600 meter below sea level !
The lake is fed by multiple glaciers of the huge ‘Campo `de Hielo Sur’, the Southern ice Field.
Route: Ushuaia – Tolhuin – Rio Grande – Radman – Cameron – Porvenir
Being at ‘The End of the World’, I now turn my wheels 180 degrees and cycle back towards the equator and turn my back to Antartctica. A good feeling.
I slowly made my way out of Parque National Tierra del Fuego back towards Tolhuin, stopping briefly in Ushuaia to buy provisions. A couple had a chat with me in front of the super market and I was asked for an autograph for the first time in my life. I camped a night before the Passo Garibaldo at an ‘designated free camping area’. As was to be expected at a place like this, it’s littered with empty plastic and glass bottles , plastic bags, toilet paper, tins, food residues and the corps of a dead dog.
Before reaching Tolhuin, one can take a small ripio road that leads through a forest along the banks of Lago Fagnano, Tierra del Fuego’s biggest lake. There are several nice spots to pitch a tent. Better to avoid the weekend, as it’s also a place where local people come to bbq, which must come along with drinking, throwing empty bottles around and car stereo’s at maximum level, arriving and leaving cars with removed sound reducers.
Today, I got sunshine, two snow storms and lots of wind.
I stayed a second night at the Casa de Ciclistas in Tolhuin. On my way down to Ushuaia, this was the place where I met the first other cyclist since Trevelin. Bad night of sleep this time. I shared the room with an Argentinian young cyclist who was one of these guys who prided himself on “spending no money at all” (which basically means living on everybody else’s back). He stayed everywhere as long as he could ‘for free’. He was already three nights in the Casa de Ciclistas. I think he stays everywhere until they kick him out. He doesn’t buy anything in the bakery, but goes asking old stuff for free. His main diet is eating the leaves of the Dandelium. Even cows don’t eat these leaves.
He also rings at farm houses along the road and asks if he can ‘buy’ some food, counting on the fact they’ ll give it for free, etc, etc, etc…
Then Gerard arrived. A 70 year old French guy on a recumbent bike. He looked very fit and has a great tour coming up. But …… Gerard snored louder as all the Mirages jets from the French army combined.
After a sleepless night, I retraced my steps into the interior of Tierra del Fuego. First I had to do 20 more horrible km on the busy RN 3 with it’s speeding madmen, brainless drivers.
Once I was on the ripio road RP 18, it was quiet. Except for the wind. Again, I was into riding single digit speeds all day. I was freezing to death when I was speaking to a friendly German couple in their Mercedes Unimog who travelled the length of the American continent the last four years, I was sweating, battling in my rain gear against the wind, I am producing two liter of snot a day in these conditions, which is damn annoying to get rid of, wearing thick gloves, but …. I was having a hell of a great time, as I was where I wanted to be and I could look around to these small trees with there special forms, overgrown by liches, listening to the wind, or to some music sometimes.
All that in stark contrast to riding the national roads in this country, where one has to watch his little rear view mirror 75% of the time in order to avoid being killed.
The sun came out yesterday evening and the wind got down completely all night.
The days are getting long this far south as summer is approaching. Sunrise is around 5 am and it sets a bit before 22:00 hrs.
By the time I got on the bike again this morning , the wind was out in full force again. I stopped at Estancia Los Cerros to replenish some water. After the estancia, the road makes a 90 degrees bend, and so does the wind. It’s again a very, very hard day in the saddle. The short cut I was hoping to make near estancia Ruby, north to the road that leads to the Radman / Bella Vista border was fenced of, which was a disappointment because now I had to make the whole detour via RN 3 again. I pitched the tent about 10 km before RN 3 near the edge of the forest.
Can you believe it !?
After battling the last 100 km against the wind from Tolhuin to come down here, I’m starting today with a tailwind. This is terrible news, because after only 9 km, I’m turning on RN 3 to do some shopping on the outskirts of Rio Grande, before make a more or less u-turn on the ripio road west towards Porvenir. Turning west, so again against the wind.
There will be no possibilities to buy any provisions for the next 350 kilometer.
I filled up my water bottles at the police post at the corner of RN 3 & RP B. The dirt track goes up and down all the time between 20 & 95 m asl. Nothing too bad but there’s this one constant, that brutal, violent head wind. Just like the two previous days, I manage to cycle the 60 km I planned to do but I am completely, and I mean completely exhausted by the end of the day.
The dirt tracks RP 9 & RP 18, just south of where I’m now are going through forests, but now I’m in completely barren land again. Not one single tree. Grasland with not a single bush growing higher than 30 cm. No shelter, not to take a break for lunch, nor for camping.
I first tried to pitch my tent today after 57 km in a gravel pit. The first spot I saw today that could give the tiniest bit of wind break.
After inserting the second pole in the fly sheet, I just couldn’t hold it anymore. The tent was like a parachute. No way it would hold out a full night. I stuffed it back in it’s stuff sack and continued cycling again.
It was passed 7 pm already.
On my gps, I saw there was a river a bit further on, but I had zero hopes there would be some trees along it over here. But again, I was so lucky this time. I saw it from the hill top already. Just before the river a small shed. I could only hope that one way or another, I could enter it.
It appeared to be a solid corrugated iron structure, three walls, open on the lee side. I think it’s used to shave the sheep. Perfect flat concrete floor, and 100% sheltered from the wind. It felt like the Hilton to me.
Outside were some wooden beams I used to pitch the tunnel tent on the concrete floor. The storm was banging the walls of the structure violently. Made a nice vegetable curry with a heap of rice. Fell asleep by 9:30 pm. I’m back to nights of 11 hrs of sleep.
It required all my courage to leave my perfect shelter this morning. It was a great day though, blue sky and reasonably warm. From the first meter, I battle against the storm again. It’s like constantly climbing a high col. For the last 200 km, and the col will go on for another 300 km.
At km 44 and 52, there are small ‘forest’ where it would be good to camp.
At km 56, there’s an abandoned house where you could probably sleep. I spend the night in a small chapel, about 5 kilometer before the border. I still had a lot of vegetables and sausages the Chilean customs would take from me, so decided to spend the night before the border.
A nice German couple traveling in a Jeep decided likewise and showed up in front of my chapel just as I was reading a bit in the sun.
I covered 37,73 km today. That took me 4 hours and 24 minutes of riding time, which is at an average speed of 8,57 km/h. Says enough, I’m afraid
But ! It gives me a lot of time to look at the landscape. Only two cars passed me today.
Oh, I saw my first two condors today. Biiiiiiig !!!!!
The formalities at both the Argentinian and Chilean side went without problems. I wasn’t even searched this time by the Chilean customs. They wouldn’t have found anything. I carry no fruit, vegetables, honey, meat, dairy products, nada. All that’s left to eat the coming days is in powder form or in tins.
If needed, it would be possible to sleep inside at the Argentinian border post. They’ve got some sort of ‘recreation center’ there. You can take water as well.
There’s something strange going on at the Argentinian side of Tierra del Fuego.
All the cattle in the field are bulls. Everywhere bulls. no cows.
Normally it’s the other way around and you only rarely see a bull.
Outside the Chilean border control, I opened my passport to check what stamp they gave me. I forget the Chileans always put a little paper inside which you’ve got to present at the next border post. A wind gust blew the paper away, to the other side of the road. By the time my bike was on it’s kick stand, the paper was behind the fence I had to climb now in front of the immigration. I ran through the field behind my paper until I was almost back in Argentina.
The winds are crazy.
When you want to eat a cookie, by the time your hand reaches your mouth, the cookie is blown away and you end up with just a few crumbs between your fingers. The coffee you’re trying to drink is blown out of your mug.
My clothes are literally being blown apart.
Today was a tough day again. I didn’t make the 60 km I should have done.
Made 56,20 km far today, and I rode a little way back when I was on top of a hill and saw the trees stopped for a while. It took me some time to clear a space in the forest, which was full of fallen trees, branches and thorny bushes I had to remove. The little saw on my Swiss Army knife comes in very handy here. I’m pretty good sheltered from the hard wind, which makes a lot of noise in the trees just above me but doesn’t really impact the tent.
I always liked forests a lot, but since Patagonia, I love them.
I fail to understand why so many people find it boring to ride for days on in the forest, like f.e. in Scandinavia or Canada. I really like doing that. The trees give you shelter from the wind if it blows hard, from the sun if it burns, the forest smells good after it rained, but it smells good as well when it’s really hot, it makes it easy to hide away for wild camping, there are a lot of animals you can spot. It’s also much cooler in the forest on really warm days.
Anyway, I think there’s not enough forest in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.
A hard days work, and I managed an average speed of exactly 10 km/h today. Better then yesterday, but I’m here in my tent, totally wasted.
What a super day I had today.
Normally, the wind quiets down for a while overnight, but last night it just continued on and on. But the tent was perfectly sheltered. I woke up again to a blue sky, took my time in the morning, as usually and hit the road by 11 am.
Near Russfin, I washed my clothes in the river. The weather was good enough to have them dry by the evening. The stretch between Russfin and Cameron is the most beautiful part so far, coming from RN 3 (from RN 3 to Tolhuin is equally beautiful). I ride through long valleys, going up and down. Good camping opportunities between km 81 and 79.
I entered the village of Cameron to replenish water. Although it’s a village of moren then 200 people, there ‘s no kiosko, no panaderia, nothing. The village is at a beautiful bay, sheltered between some hills, but they managed to make it an ugly place, and are continuing to make it uglier with the new houses they’re building. I don’t understand, if they’re building something new, why they can’t make it a bit nicer.
I reached the ‘Bahia Inutil’, the huge bay in the Strait of Magellan. The English wanted to make a port here, but because the water is so shallow, they called it ‘Useless Bay’. Nowadays, they would send in some dredgers and make it useful.
From Cameron …. I had a tailwind !!!
The gravel road meanders along the bay, up and down over the hills. So beautiful. the sun shines, temperatures of 16 degrees. The only thing missing to make the day really perfect, is some good, spicy Thai food and a beer.
About 20 kilometer before I reach the penguin station, I start to look for a place to camp, but it seems I missed my chance. Nothing there that would give sufficient shelter in case the weather turns bad overnight. The wind blows straight from the Cordillera Darwin and picks up over the bay here, so can get pretty violent.
Just before the penguin station, there’s a sheltered place in the downhill on the right side near Estancia 3 Hermanos. There’s also an emergency shelter on the left side, in which I retreated.
Should’ve pitched the tent instead. The bed in the shelter is terrible.
Went to the penguins first thing in the morning. The penguins here at the tip of Baja Inutil are the King Penguins. With their average height of 90 centimeter, they are the second largest penguins after the ‘Emerald Penguins’, which are only found on Antarctica. The King Penguin lives here, in the Sub-Antarctic. With 126 units and a few new borns, this is one of the smallest colonies on earth. There are about 1,5 million King Penguins on earth. Much larger groups live on the Falkland Islands, Sandwich Islands, some Islands south of Tasmania and New-Zealand and the biggest group, about a million, lives on South Georgia, a bit to the east of the Falklands.
It are very funny creatures to observe.
Morning and first half of the afternoon, the weather was brilliant again, even really warm. I had a head wind again, but it wasn’t hard. Just outside the ‘Pinguïneria’ I had a nice long talk with three Germans traveling in a mini-van. I also had a talk with an Italian motor traveler, a group of an American & three Italians and a Dutch-Italian couple. A very social day today 🙂
Traffic really picked up from the Pinguïneria, which resulted in a much more destroyed ripio road with a lot of washboard and loose gravel.
Man, man, man, how did I suffer today.
Where I had yesterday an easy day with only a very light headwind, and the day before even half of the ride a tail wind, today it was full head on again. Many times I couldn’t go faster then 5 km/h on the flat and I had to push many an uphill. I averaged 9,14 km/h on a 41 kilometer day.
The wind blows strait from the Andes, over the Strait of Magellan into my face.
The views were good, but nothing too spectacular. Much less traffic, probably because the ferry between Porvenir and Punta Arena doesn’t run on Mondays.
Pitched the tent in a field. I’m not very happy with the shelter I have, so fingers crossed for a quiet night…
Once I left the little canyon where I pitched the tent, I realized it was much better sheltered as I anticipated. The wind was torturing me all the final twenty kilometer into Porvenir. The road seemed to go up and down endlessly.
Arriving in Porvenir, 450 out of the last 470 km have been on ripio.
Here, I take the ferry to Punta Arenas, leaving Tierra del Fuego island after 25 days.
From Punta Arenas, I’ll find a way to get to El Chaltén or directly to the Carreterra Austral at Puerto Yungay.
I’ve been riding over 5.000 km in South-America now, of which a couple of thousand against relentless head winds over the pampa, without shelter for me or my tent.
While places like Torres del Paine, Perito Moreno Glacier and Mount Fitz Roy should be highlights, in the course of the last weeks, I was dreading more and more the prospect of going there.
The roads between these place are busy with trucks heading to and from Punta Arenas and with the brain death car- and especially minibus drivers for the tourists between these places.
Driving into Torres Del Paine would undoubtedly be a magical thing, if I wouldn’t have to be concentrated 150% all the time on the road, watching my rear view mirror every other second to check on upcoming traffic. Concentrated on the road, i.o. on the landscape. I spoke with several people in Ushuaia and also the last days near the Pinguinerïa. Tourists who told me they were in Torres del Paine last week. They tried to make reservations for the campsites four weeks in advance. All but one were full already.
So that was over 5 weeks ago. I don’t stand a chance of finding something, and when I heard there stories of congested ‘hiking trails’ with actual traffic jams …. no, that’s not my thing.
I would hate every single second of it. I don’t make reservations months in advance to pitch my tent somewhere and I definitely not going to stand in line to see a mountain like I’m in Disneyland. And it seems that what’s this region has become: the Disneyland of the Andes.
That may be highlights for people who are transported down here by plane or in buses, but I’ll find my own highlights on quieter, more genuine places.
14:00 hrs. The ferry leaves Porvenir with only a few minutes delay.
Once we leave the sheltered harbour and enter the Strait of Magellan, you feel the forces of the wind and the waves on the ship’s hull. We can’t be more then a kilometer or so on the Strait when the Captain announces the port of Punta Arenas is closed due to the strong winds and we have to return to Porvenir.
I felt that gale all morning and find it strange the ship left at all. I guess they contacted Punta Arenas only after we departed.
I saw another freighter taking our place at the only ramp in the little harbour, so I’m curious whether we’ll go on anchorage, or that ship will have to leave again.
Swinging the vessel in the Strait of Magellan felt like a dangerous operation. We had to turn 180 degrees and took full wind now, and getting in the current. The ship was rolling heavily left to right. Fantastic !
I was keeping an eye on where to swim to in case we would capsize and wondered whether I would be able to swim back to the shore in this ice cold water. I doubt it. I’m already freezing in an outdoor swimming pool in summer in Europe.
But I needn’t swim; we entered the port again all right.
The little freighter was send back to anchorage and we could come alongside.
Most passengers left the ferry and drove the long detour to Punta Delgada, where I crossed last month on Tierra Del Fuego. Hopefully for them, this much shorter crossing will be operational.
An hour after we were back in the port, the Captain announced a new departure was scheduled for 19:00 hrs. Many passengers were gone already. Two rather fat and older ladies in their late forties came to sit next to me. Like many of these people that are gifted with the talent to sleep anywhere at anytime, they soon dozed off. One of them snored like a pig, with her mouth wide open. I stared at my Swiss knife…
At 18:00 hrs, it was announced the weather was still to rough, and earliest departure was foreseen for 07:00 hrs the next day. We were send ashore, not allowed to spend the night on board. The little harbour is five kilometer outside Porvenir, and I didn’t feel anything to cycle back there, get up the next morning at 4:30 am in order to leave the hotel by 05:15, to arrive back in the port by 06:00 hrs (when you apparently needed to get your ticket stamped with a new date). The little terminal ashore remained open, which I shared with a fat Chilean guy who missed a couple of front teeth. He snored like a mammoth.
Around 22:00 hrs I saw how our ferry went adrift. The ropes couldn’t hold it anymore. They tried to lower the anchor, but to no avail. The vessel took full wind from the side and was blown to the opposite shore rapidly. They managed to get control just in time and bring the ship back to the quay.
The departure next morning was again delayed from 07:00 to 08:30 hrs, but then finally, off we went. This is an old Greek ferry, built for the Mediterranean. I wonder whether it is suitable for crossings on the rough Strait of Magellan, more than 35 kilometer wide between Porvenir and Punta Arenas. Crossing the Strait took about two hours.
I spent only a couple of hours in Punta Arenas, which actually seemed to be a rather nice town. The bus company didn’t make any objections on me carrying my bike on the bus. Riding that road between Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, I was glad I wasn’t cycling it. Too much traffic.
Route: Punta Delgada – Cerro Sombrero – San Sebastian – Rio Grande – Lago Yehuin – Tolhuin – Ushuaia
I’m on Tierra del Fuego. Dreamed about that a long time.
Before the finalization of the Panama Canal, the Strait of Magellan was the place were the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean met and through which most of the marine traffic came.
Apparently, the Strait itself belongs to the Pacific Ocean and the whole strait belongs to Chile.
The island Tierra del Fuego is half Chilean, half Argentinean, so I have to cross borders a couple of times.
The name Tierra del Fuego is used for a whole archipelago of islands, of which Isla Grande is the biggest, with an area of 48.000 km2 it’s 1,5 times bigger as Belgium.
At the end of the afternoon of my first day on the island, I entered the little ‘town’ of Cerro Sombrero. The camp ground is closed, because they’re messing around building some kind of ugly dike. But I was lucky a friendly citizen spontaneously offered me to pitch my tent in his garden. There’s a brand new tourist info, with a very qualified guy working there and spotlessly clean toilets and showers.
A bit out of Cerro Sombrero, the island becomes a bit hilly. A welcome change for the flat steppes I travelled through the last weeks. It’s a wet and windy day and I was told there’s nothing until the border post at San Sebastian.
But look, in the afternoon, just as I’m leaving the hilly terrain and enter the flatlands again, I see a building along a road, the ‘Hotel Tierra del `Fuego’.
Excited I put my bike against it and enter the building, but there’s nobody to welcome the guests. It’s a one room hotel only, so I thought “maybe they come along in the morning”.
The room clearly wasn’t rented out yet, and I don’t think it’s the kind of place you can make reservations for on booking.com. First come will get it, so I prepared myself for the night.
Laying down there, I saw all the holes in the walls. Would locals shoot at the walls, like they sometimes do with traffic signs ? It wouldn’t be nice to get a bullet in my ass overnight. Hearing the wind picking up outside, I didn’t have much of a choice then spending the night in this hotel, so I hoped for the best.
Next day, I had to battle hard again against the storm, but there were good prospects. 25 km down the road, I ‘m gonna turn left, towards the east, and have it in my back. The wind blew me quickly towards the border post at San Sebastian. It’s still a dirt road here, but they’re building a macadam road, so you should be fine in the near future. There’s a hostel and a very small kiosko at the Chilean site of the border.
To my surprise, there was a long line of people waiting. A bus with backpackers and they have to take all their luggage out of the bus and it has to go one by one through a scanner.
I got a special treatment, was stamped out and waved through without any checking or problems.
Thanks Chilean officials ! 🙂
It’s about 10 km to the Argentinean immigration. That bus only caught up with me just before I arrived, and I made a lot of photo stops, so that must be a hell of a bus ride, coming from Punta Arenas, crossing border 3 times. That’s why that bus rides takes 12 hours I guess.
I was stamped back into Argentina without a problem and had the Atlantic ocean in sight again.
I read many stories of cyclist who end up sleeping in a room at the Chilean border. The room is their, I saw it, but it’s not gonna be quiet.
Better ride on, because after the Argentinean border, once you’re along the coast, there are some nice camping spots between the hills.
Coming this way, I had no choice but to enter Rio Grande, quite a big town on the Atlantic side of the island. It’s hell. It looks like hell, it sounds like hell, the traffic is hell.
I limit my stay to a visit of the local Carrefour and try to get out of this place a.s.a.p.
Simpler said then done, with the road works going on.
About 15 km south of Rio Grande, I turn inland, on dirt road nbr 9 (road ‘F’ on older maps).
Instantly life is good again. After a few kilometers, the trees re-appear.
Brilliantly beautiful trees with lichen.
Somewhere aong the first kilometes on this dirt road, I pass the 25.000 kilometer mark of this trip.
I jump a fence and find a nice camping spot.
Camping on a grassy spot, between trees, but open enough for some sunshine; that’s perfect.
I ride another two days on these roads, going from one hill to the next, taking a small road down to the ‘Lago Yehuin’, often described as ‘the center of Tierra del Fuego’.
There’s an abandoned small holiday resort (completely in ruins) and some grassy fields where you could camp if you like.
All the graffiti on the walls suggested the place is frequented by stupid idiots from time to time, and the wind was blowing in from the lake, so I went on a bit further to find a good spot where I sure would be on my own for the night.
I have been incredibly lucky the past weeks with the weather.
Sure, I’ve had my fare share of head winds, but the temperatures have been above 20 degrees with lots of sunshine. Now, however, it’s changing and I end up taking shelter under a barn for an hour.
Soaking wet, I arrive in Tolhuin, a place famous among cyclists in South-America.
The bakery ‘Panadería Unión’ is also a Casa de Ciclistas, and virtually every cyclist riding down to Ushuaia stops here.
And so am I 🙂
All afternoon, evening and the next morning I stuff myself with the delicious things they’re baking here.
The Paso Garibaldi is the last main obstacle between Tolhuin and Ushuaia.
The weather at the other side of the pass is so awful I quickly dive into a field and pitch my tent on soggy ground.
Then, on 17/11/17 I arrive in Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world.
I started this trip on 16/4/16. I have to keep in mind to make it to important points on easy to remember dates.
After crossing the Strait Of Magellan, I ‘m now cycling along the Beagle Channel, this other famous maritime route, unbelievable.
What’s also quiet unbelievable, is the harsh conditions in this place.
Ushuaia is located at 55 degrees in the southern hemisphere. In the northern hemisphere, you ‘d be at Copenhagen, which has a much milder climate.
Last year, I was standing with my bike at the North Cape, only 2.102 kilometer from the North Pole and well within the Arctic Circle, while I haven’t passed the Antarctic Circle here and I’m almost double as far from the South Pole (3.926 kilometer).
BUT, Ushuaia is only 1.000 kilometer from Antarctica, which I guess will be one of the reasons for the extreme weather here.
That weather really turned for the worst during my first day. Instead of 20+ degrees days, I now have temperatures just above freezing, lots of snow, rain, storm. Local paved roads are being washed out. A submarine disappears. I hear the trails in the National Park are closed because many trees toppled over.
So, lucky to be warm inside the hostel for four days.
Not being a ‘hostel-guy’, I do have to say I enjoyed my stay in ‘La Posta’ Hostel. It’s a bit outside of the center, but it’s spotlessly clean, modern and with a descent breakfast and slow wifi.
But wifi is slow everywhere in Argentina.
Buenos Aires – Ushuaia
Distance: 4.511 km
Average km per cycling day: 64,44 km
Altimeter: 32.868 m
Route: Gobernador Gregores – Comandante Luis Piedra Buena – Rio Gallegos – Monte Aymond – Punta Delgada
I decided to leave the Ruta 40 and take road nbr 27 towards the Atlantic coast to visit another national park. The first 60 km are really beautiful in the valley of the Rio Chico with some spectacular shaped hills. On my left side is the ‘Gran Altiplancie Central’ which I’m descending now. That Altiplancie isn’t that ‘alti’ by the way. On my right (southern) side is again a steppe like landscape. I can imagine the winds going like hell here, but today it’s quiet and sunny. About 6 km before the junction of ruta 27 and 71 the road goes a bit down into a valley. I unload the bike to lift everything over the fences and push the bike a whole way into the valley to find a fantastic spot for the night. Heaven after yesterdays hell at the campground in Gobernador Gregores. The full moon is out, I’ve got a few birds singing, some geese and a few horses in the distance. Don’t know if I’ve got puma’s as well. People keep warning me about them. But people are afraid of everything nowadays.
Two days later, after another night camping in a gravel pit, the entrance into the little town ‘Comandante Luis Piedra Buena’ must be the dirtiest entrance to a town ever. They’ve got an open garbage dump in the valley just outside of town. With the Patagonian winds, everything blows around kilometers wide, all the way onto the hills, garbage everywhere.
I only stop in town to buy provisions and head down south on highway 3.
After 27 kilometer, I arrive at the park headquarters of Monte Leon. The park rangers were gone already but there’s a notice at the door. It claims the park is closed because part of the road into the park is washed out.
Excellent news !
It being a Saturday, I was afraid there might be groups of people, bbq-ing late into the night, screaming and shouting as they like to do here.
Now I would have the park all for myself and very quiet.
They’ve printed two pictures under the notice. Yes, it’s clear, you can’t pass by car.
But I saw no problems for a bike.
The actual road into the park was a few kilometers further down RN 3.
As they closed the fence, I again had to unload the bike and lift everything over it, like I have to do almost every night in order to pitch the tent somewhere.
From the main road, it’s a 20 kilometer ride down to the coast.
The little wash outs could be repaired in a day I think, but apparently they don’t do it.
After a very, very windy night, I first go and have a look at Monte Leon Island, with thousands of seagulls and cormorants. Then I cycle to the point where you can see the sea lions.
I just mounted the bike again when a motorbike approaches me and stops aggressively. A guy in a green uniform, obviously a ‘guardaparque’ shows his dissatisfaction of me being here. I play dumb a bit, but nothing to do about it, I have to leave the park. A whole explanation of ‘seguridad’ and that blablabla that’s always used nowadays to restrict people of doing anything.
He literally follows me on his motorbike, but I calmed him down a bit, explaing I came from the other side of the world, especially to see this beautiful park.
It’s a slow ride, as I have to climb onto the plateau again. After a few kilometers, we arrive at the track that’s going down to the penguins, the reason why I’m here, so I give it a shot and ask the guardaparque whether he doesn’t feel like visiting the penguins ?
A big ‘NO !’ haha.
Back on RN 3, There’s a strong north wind which blows me quickly down the road. Unfortunately, it becomes a side wind later, but pitching my tent that evening along the borders of the Rio Coig, I had 142 kilometers in the legs. Not much protection from the wind here. I found some bushes that were a bit higher then the average 30 cm scrub growing here, but it sure was a beautiful place to spend the night.
In order to avoid a night in Rio Gallegos, the capital of Santa Cruz province, I stopped at the campground 25 kilometer west of town at the bridge over the river, in Guer Aike. It’s a reasonably quiet place, so good for a rest day. Last days, I had excellent weather, temperatures mid twenties and mostly a tail wind.
Shrine for ‘San Expedito’, my protector 🙂
Rio Gallegos is bigger, louder and uglier as expected. After buying provisions and a few near death experiences because of the total idiots driving around, I leave town. Luckily, a few kilometer south of town, the road becomes quiet again. I pushed on towards Laguna Azul, a crater lake about 9 kilometer north of the border with Chile. I pitched the tent down in the crater, next to the lake. That’s a descent of 55 meter into that crater. It’s so steep I have to unload the bike and go three times down and back up again to gather all my stuff. And get up a fourth time after pitching the tent to make pictures of course.
A brilliant spot to spend the night, but I estimated I’d need at least two hours to get my bike and stuf back to the rim the next morning. Again I had to travel four times up and down, but every time you make a step 30 centimeters up, your feed sinks down 20 centimeter in the loose gravel, so in fact you climb it each time three times.
Allas, after an hour I was up. In the nine kilometer to the border, I ate an apple and three carrots, as you’re not allowed to bring those into Chile. This border region is pretty beautiful, with extinct volcanos on both side of the road.
For one or the other bizar reason, I didn’t get an exit stamp from Argentina, but the Chileans made no problem stamping me in.
After the border control, I soon see the Strait Of Magellan. There’s a tiny grey line on my map, right next to the Strait, and I decide to leave the main road for this one. Now, I’m riding a few meters away from the Strait of Magellan, what I find a magical experience. This strait with all it’s history, but also the knowledge that I’m riding my bike right on the southern edge of ‘The America’s”. Sure, there’s still Tierra del Fuego further south, but that’s an island. This is the far end of the American mainland.
After sleeping in a crater yesterday, I’m pitching my tent tonight pretty close to the shores of the Strait.
It was a Belgian, Roeland van Brugge, who was the first person of the Magellan expedition to see the Pacific Ocean. Together with a few other guys, Roeland van Brugge was send ahead in a dinghy to check whether the Strait was a dead end or not. They checked several bays and in the end, Roeland climbed a mountain and could see with his own eyes that the Strait ended in the Pacific. That mountain is known to this day as ’Monte Campana de Roldán’.
The weather Gods punished my early stop yesterday with a strong head wind today. But never mind, that early stop was needed, because my desire to sleep one night next to the Strait of Magellan was too big. And I needed to make bread.
I took the ferry across the Strait at Punta Delgada and left the American mainland behind, towards Tierra del Fuego.
Fire Land ! Magic ! 🙂