I’m back in Chile, and have just completed my first week on the Carretera Austral, riding to Coyhaique. It’s been an interesting week, covering all the main bases of riding here – rain, shocking roads, spectacular scenery, plenty of cyclists, and the odd mechanical failure.
From Trevelin I went back across the border to Chile, via Futaleufu. Right at the border it began to rain. I kid you not. I went into the border control building, went through processing, came out and I had to put the jacket on. It’s stayed on for most of the next week.
I could have stayed in Futaleufu, but it was full of stereotypical loud Americans, and it was a crappy place if you weren’t rafting or kayaking. The road from Futaleufu to the main road is not good, especially when it has been raining, and it becomes soft and sticky. Little traffic, but the roads soon took their toll – a bolt on my rack has sheared off, and I can’t get it out. So I stuck a bunch of cable ties on there, and hoped for the best. It lasted a week, and the bike is now at the shop getting fixed. I’ll go there soon, hopefully it will be sorted.
Joining the main road at Villa Santa Lucia, I ran into Marko, a German who has just started his trip, also headed south. We’ve stuck together for the last week. It’s been quite different having some company, especially when you are so used to riding by yourself.
We had a couple of good days heading to Puyuhuapi. Not much rain, just overcast. Long clear sunny spells is too much to hope for in this part. We met a young Englishman who had left Ushuaia 3 weeks ago, and was riding long distances every day. We thought he was mad, and you could see the toll it was taking – he was confused, forgetful, and clearly in need of a rest. What’s the point in trying to go so far every day? If you don’t have a lot of time, then just aim to do a shorter trip. There’s no prize for going fast.
From Puyuhuapi we had a tough time of it. We knew we had a pass to cover, and around 90km to the next town. We were happy to camp, but then it started raining, and there wasn’t really much in the way of camping opportunities. The road was shocking, narrow, loose surfaces, with something like 15 switchbacks heading up the pass. At this stage it was pouring down, and we just wanted to get over the pass, and down. There would have been fabulous views, and great photos, but it was too wet, with the clouds too low to see much.
Our timing was not so good, and it was about 6pm we were coming down the pass. We met a Canadian pushing his narrow-tyred bike up the pass. There’s a certain schadenfreude when you meet someone having an even worse day than you. He still had to get over the pass, it was a long way to the next town, and he had a only a couple of camping places – oh and his tent was leaking.
Reaching the bottom of the pass, we still had 24km to go, and it was getting late. Two things though: Sunset is late at this time of year (about 9:30pm), and they had extended the pavement to the intersection with the Puerto Cisnes road! So we had smooth smooth tarmac, and we thought we could make it. Still tough though, and we didn’t reach Villa Amengual until about 9pm. Everything was wet – my panniers have too many holes in them, so they tend to get water in them, which then can’t drain out. The Goretex shoes were full of water – but the Sealskinz socks worked perfectly, keeping my feet dry. The jacket/overtrousers had a bit of dampness inside them, but that is at least in part from sweat. We were so grateful to be warm and dry, and not camping, as we listened to the rain pour down overnight. A French couple arrived after us – they were having a tough day. Disturbingly, he reminded me strongly of Mr Bean with a French accent.
We started again in the rain the next day, but along the way the rain stopped, and later there was even a little sun. Things started to try out, we had downhill and tailwinds through gorgeous valleys…things started looking up. Pity the woman running Residencial Manihuales was such a cow. Luckily we weren’t cold, and didn’t need a hot shower anyway.
The fine weather continued for the leg to Coyhaique. Longer than previous legs, but smooth roads and favourable winds. It was a shock to reach a large city, to wander around in amazement at the shelves and shelves of goods at the supermarket, to see such an array of places to eat. Such a change. So strange too, a large city with seemingly nothing around it for miles.
Two final thoughts: If this is such an isolated area, with so few people, why is it that everywhere is fenced off? Wild camping is not as easy here as I thought it would have been. And secondly, why is it that Chilenos have such a lack of attention to detail? Nothing is finished off properly, doors don’t quite line up, windows don’t work right. It’s not like they’re too busy doing other stuff, and lack of money is only an excuse for poor materials, not poor workmanship.