Welcome to the Camino Austral!
"But wait!" You say, "What happened to bike legs 4 & 5?" Click here to find out.
3/9/2002; 46º33' south- Los Antiguos, Argentina. Rode nowhere; got off the bus & went to sleep!
3/10/2002; 46º12' south- Camp on Camino Austral, Chile. Rode 28km in 3hrs:
After packing our bags and hitting up the local panadaria and supermercado we said goodbye to our Israeli friends and headed out of town. Just after crossing the Argentine border the road became really nasty ripio, some of the worst yet. We bounced along for another 7 painful kilometers and finally reached the Chilean border. I suppose that neither country cares to maintain the road between the borders.
There was a big sign at the Chilean border saying that you must declare all fruit and vegetable products. Having just finished buying food for 4 days in Los Antiguos, Mandy and I were loaded with fruits and vegetables, but we decided not to declare them anyway. After the obligatory paperwork and stamping of passports the border guard came out to inspect our bikes and Mandy and I held our breath. "Got any fruit or vegetable products?" he asks. "Nope" we reply, but as Mandy is putting away her passport he spies a package of pasta. "Anything to go with that pasta?" he asks. "Nope" we reply. He smiles and waves us through. I guess that makes us fugitives- don't tell anyone.
After arriving in Chile Chico we hit up the local tourist information center, but it is closed on Sundays. So we ask the owner of a local grocery store what the ferry schedule is to Puerto Ibañez , and he replies "4pm daily, except on Sunday, when it's at 2; by the way, if you want to buy anything hop to it, because we are about to close for our 1:30 siesta." So Mandy and I buy some lunch and head down to the lake. The plan of the past few days had been to ride 68km down to Lake Jeinemeni, hike for a day, and then ride back. But after the ripio this morning and talking it over during lunch, Mandy and I agreed to forego the extra 134km in favor of more fun later. Now that we have changed plans, we rush over to the dock to see if we can catch today's ferry. Sure enough, it hadn't left yet (at 2:45), and we rolled our bikes aboard just before they lifted the gate. Lago General Carrera (or Buenos Aires on the Argentine side) is one big lake; well over 200km long from west to east. The wind blows west to east, and as our ferry pulled out of Chile Chico near the east end of the lake the ferry started to rock gently, then there was a small splash or two, then a bigger splash, and soon we were running for cover and moving the bikes behind a big truck as ocean size waves crashed into the ferry.
The ferry ride across Lago General Carrera- before we got soaked!
It took several hours to cross over to Puerto Ibañez, and when we arrived at 5:30pm not much was open, including the tourist information, so we found the road out of town and started riding. Immediately there was a big hill, and once again wind in our face, but the road was in good condition because they are preparing to pave it. We made 18km by 8pm and pulled over at a construction turn out and camped on a rock pile overlooking a lake and the mountains.
3/11/2002; 45º49' south- Camp on Camino Austral, Chile. Rode 68km in 8hrs:
We woke the next morning to moderate winds, and after a breakfast of cheerios and yogurt we were off again. We are not actually on the Camino Austral yet, but on a side spur, and as we ride along there are beautiful pastoral views reminiscent of southwest Colorado. I got to reminiscing so much that later on, as I was typing up this web page, I started up attunes (a Mac music playing program) and listened to John Denver.
Pastoral tranquility north of Puerto Ibañez
Good news and bad news awaits us at the Camino Austral junction; the good news is that the road is paved from here to Coihaique- the bad news is that the next 10km are up a steep hill. As a matter of fact its the only hill which merits note in the guidebook I have, and it even has a name: Cuesta del Diablo (hill of the Devil). It was quite the grunt, but it would have been impossible if it were ripio.
The nice folks of the Chile highway department provided us with an overlook half way up the Cuesta del Diablo.
After we make it up to the top of the pass, life is good. It is warm and sunny with a slight breeze at our backs, the scenery is beautiful, and the road is smooth and down hill. At one point I reach a top speed of 68km/hr- sweet! After a brief stop at the ranger station for Cerro Castillo reserve for a bit of information about hiking and the road ahead we continue down hill, and now I am thinking that we could make it all of the way to Coihaique. Alas, as we come down out of the mountains and turn into the valley leading to Coihaique we are once again blasted by wind and battle another 18km to El Blanco where we call it quits 33km short of Coihaique. Yet it was a good day riding, and as we set up camp and have dinner we are tired, but it feels good.
Cerro Castillo overlooks much of the ride between Puerto Ibañez and Coihaique.
3/12/2002; 45º34' south- Coihaique, Chile. Rode 33km in 2.5hrs:
Although it was clear and cold most of the night, the dawn is grey and overcast. By now the process of getting going in the morning has become routine. Getting out of the sleeping bag is the hardest part- it helps to let the air out of the thermarest as an incentive. If we are having a hot breakfast, start the stove and put water on. Then put on deoderant, bike cloths and a warm layer while in the sleeping bag, crawl out of the bag and pack the thermarest and sleeping bag into a dry bag. Hot water should be done by now, so fix oatmeal and turn off the stove. After a quick breakfast pack all of the miscellaneous items that ended up in the tent into the panniers and bob, then take down and pack the tent. Next comes the always comical task of loading the bikes; Mandy has it easy with the BOB trailer, but I have to re-create the leaning tower of Piza each morning. First the rear panniers, then the tent and sleeping bag sideways on top fastened with bungee cords, then my backpack with miscellaneous items for the day on top of that. Usually the whole process of getting going takes about an hour and a half.
We hit the road, with little wind and a lot of down hill, but I am rather tired from our ride yesterday. It seems that each time I have a long day of riding after a hiking break my legs take a while to remember how to haul 40kg around on a bike. But the riding is nice and I mentally get into the usual stream of consciousness mode of thinking- first reviewing the trip so far, thinking about what to write, humming songs, thinking about home, and when things really get bad I actually think about work for a bit- but not long!! After several hours of riding we arrive in Coihaique, where we hit up the local tourist information center, find a place to stay, and get settled in.