The bridging blog, this update more or less takes me from the edge of wild Patagonia and finishes with a decidedly more civilised part of the continent.
For a while I’ve been listening to cyclists on the Carretera Austral tell me that once you’d passed Puerto Montt and were off of Ruta 7, the country became decidedly more populated and civilised. Town’s were closer together and the bike would become lighter as food staples became more accessible.
I decided to skip this stark contrast by jumping off of the Carretera at Futaleufú and heading towards the Argentine border instead. The further North I went in Chile, the air became dense and seemed I to be running away from the rain more than anything else – the border crossing felt like the right idea.
Unfortunately however, crossing the borders here have so far been a mission when it comes to road surface. Inevitably one of the countries takes a bit more pride in the road, and there’s usually only a paved road on either approach or exit. The gravel roads around the border crossings have been some of the worst so far; crossing at Futaleufú just about takes the trophy. The way alternated between corrugated dirt and large loose stones to straight out sand. Shortly after making my exit I was gifted with my second flat tyre for the trip, my fault largely with some hasty speeds down bumpy roads that really deserved more respect. I arrived in Trevellin late in the day and ran into a Basque couple on bikes and a solo Dutch woman who was riding south from Santiago. Both gave me good advice about travelling North in Chile and I decided to set off riding into the night towards Parque Nacional Los Alerces where there were some free campsites on the lake.
The campsites were beautiful, but the howling wind made for an erratic nights sleep as the tent inflated and deflated all night like a lung. I set off late the next morning to skirt the lakes that ran centrally from one side of the park to the other. The combination of ripio, wind, rain and lack of sleep meant it was a testing day. At another gratis campsite on the other end of the park I met yet another Basque couple riding South with an Argentine in tow. I was pleased to learn that I was actually only a few hours behind Tom. I decided to slow up at this point, spend a bit more time swimming in the lakes and rivers nearby and with a determination to find a lunch partner each day.
I left the national park lazily the following day and spent a few days riding through berry country en route to El Bolsón and a famed brewery campsite I’d heard about.
El Bolsón was a quiet little town that seemed to have more hippies than anything else. I killed a few days watching people play with glass orbs, trying to coax money out of shoppers near the local supermarket. I also met a great couple at the campsite. Vicki and Christian were Colombian and Argentinian who had been living in the US until recently. They’d moved down to Buenos Aires and were taking a last trip around the country before moving back to America shortly. I was treated to pizza made completely from scratch (base, sauce and all) and then cooked in a woodfire oven at the campsite. The result made for one of the most spectacular meals of this trip (saying a lot given the asado binges I’ve been on occasionally in Argentina).
I made off late the next day for a big ride towards Bariloche and an awaiting Tom, and spent most of the afternoon slaving through the midday heat and working my way up through a long ascent in the mountains. As with most climbs, the payoff was a long descent that took me down towards a number of beautiful lakes south of Bariloche. I was welcomed to sleep with the first really piercing sunset of the ride as I tucked into my well-rehearsed stodgy pasta with egg and chorizo dinner.
The following day I spent the morning riding the final 30km to Bariloche to meet Tom for the last leg of our ride together before we part ways. We planned to ride through La Ruta de los Siete Lagos and to San Martin de los Andes in time for Christmas.
In Bariloche I launched a full-scale attempt to find a competitively priced Santa suit to ride to Christmas in, the only option was well out of my price range and would cost about a week’s worth of travel on my budget. Instead I opted for gaudy tinsel and baubles to go with my hat.
The Seven Lakes Route is a section of road a little more than 100km long to link Villa Angostura to San Martin de los Andes, as the name suggests it weaves through a winding coastline between Seven beautiful and temperate lakes, offering a bounty of free campsites and swimming/fly fishing rivers. Though the total length of road from Bariloche was really only a 2 or 3 day ride, we made sure the days were short and spent mostly laying in the sun reading or swimming wherever looked most peaceful.
San Martin de los Andes is the most picturesque town I’ve found on my ride. Small enough to feel homely and large enough to have everything needed, framed by mountains and with a lakeside beach to boot. Add in the blooming roses you see with every turn of the head and it’s a winning combination. In all I spent more time there than I have anywhere since Buenos Aires. On Christmas Eve Tom whipped up a mean potato fondue and I put together the mother of fruit salads, we then proceeded to drink ourselves into more Spanish confidence than we would otherwise be capable of, and talk nonsense to anyone who would listen. The evening was one of the best Christmas’ I’ve had, working my way through a mountain of steak and cheers-ing everyone within arms reach. I have nothing bad to say about San Martin de los Andes – we were welcomed like family.
Tom and I said our normal and brief goodbyes after this, heading off the same way towards Junín de los Andes and the border crossing to Chile. We’re both heading the same way, roughly North towards Valparaiso and Santiago, but most likely at significantly different paces and routes. The last I saw him he was eating mashed potato out of a ziplock bag on the side of the road, about 60 km from the border and with a badly damaged tyre held together by hose clamps and duct tape. Coincidentally, his tyre had erupted right as we were entering volcano country. I crossed 3000km and didn’t notice this time.
The campsite I’ve made it to in Pucón has a conspicuous (very high quality) touring tyre with a sidewall blowout leaning against the rubbish which tells me Tom was here and most likely pushing North rapidly already. The tyre is still warm and I’d say I’ve missed him by a day. My route North is a little more beat, I’ve organised to stay with some kind hosts on the road and have given myself plenty of time between each stay to ensure I might lose and find and lose myself often every few days. The intention is to pinball between the mountains and the ocean on the way to Valparaiso, and if the timing works out head to Womad festival in Chile in the middle of February. We’ll see how this works out as it would mean a very relaxed pace I expect, though there’s nothing stopping me from taking my time and it all depends on just how lost I can make myself.
For the moment I’m in Pucón, Chile, after the wilds of Patagonia this town really does feel busy. As a break from the main road leading in to town I tracked towards a number of big lamb legs on a spit in a front yard. I was happy to indulge the owners request to join them for lunch and listen to them argue about which country in South America had the most beautiful women (Colombia apparently).
A few frosty beers later and full of lamb I rolled into town along a bike path that puts Sydney’s attempts at cycling infrastructure to shame. For perspective, consider that in the last 20km’s of riding I’ve seen roughly one billion sports cyclists who are unable to nod their head in salutations for fear of losing the aero advantage to their strava runs. Also (only) one million joggers all wearing those strange tiny high-vis vests that barely cover their nips and identify themselves as major dags. It’s like inner city Sydney, but with better cycleways.