Leaving Coyhaique it had already been decided that we weren’t going to continue to the end of the Carretera Austral. We were going as far as Chaiten, where we would get a ferry west to the Isla de Chiloe and the port of Quellon. This would actually lengthen the distance and delay our arrival into Puerto Montt, which was the point.
I say we, as I have been cycling the Carretera with Jan Petter, a Norwegian teacher with an overloaded bicycle.
So far it has been unusual to find someone that stops as frequently, does as few kilometres in a day or has as many rest days as me. However, Jan is older than me and has historical injuries that require an elaborate stretching regime each day. Therefore it has worked well in so far as neither one of us has wanted to continue when the other has had enough.
It helps not to be in a rush to get anywhere.
The section from Coyhaique to Chaiten was much further than previous sections with no sizeable towns in between for a rest. I had reckoned on it taking 8 days cycling so a rest in the middle somewhere would be ideal.
Leaving Coyhaique was literally an uphill slog, thankfully on tarmac (asphalt), until we took the gravel road short cut…..I knew that it wouldn’t be quicker but it was shorter and would definitely have less traffic than the alternative.
I was grateful to get back on the tarmac, at least for a short while as the map indicated it wouldn’t last. It makes me smile how I was looking forward to the 1000km of gravel road of the Carretera Austral but was now excited by the return of the tarmac. Little by little the Chilean government is turning the whole thing into tarmac, we found brand new stretches of tarmac, without even the lines painted. However, the bits they are working on, especially the climbs, are somewhat of a challenging road surface. Some of which was like cycling uphill on marbles. Throw in the odd vehicle coming down the hill towards you forcing you off line, made for some frustrating climbs.
I had been told that in the middle of the Queulat National Park was a sight not to miss. Normally a phrase to guarantee that I give it a swerve. However I was intrigued by the description of a glacial waterfall. It also came about half way in the trip to Chaiten so everything lined up nicely for a day off and some non-cycling exploring.
It’s name is Ventisquero Colgante and it is as impressive as it’s name. Getting there in the morning we managed to get one of the few camp spots adjacent to the glacier. The Chileans do their official national park camp spots well, providing you with your own large area, a water tap, a shelter, fireplace and a bench. The weather held for the two days, providing clear blue skies which had been lacking of late.
The only sounds apart from the birds we could hear was the glacier calving at regularly intervals during the day and night. It was moments like this I tried to remind myself of the privilege I have, of the life I am leading and not to complain so much.
A hard, long day’s cycling followed, mainly due to lack of camping options which ended in someone’s back garden and little sleep.
The last few days to Chaiten gradually got easier but my knees started to complain about overuse. Thankfully it was tarmac again and we could break it up into short ride days, still leaving plenty of time to catch the, once a week, ferry we were aiming for.
Getting into Chaiten at a decent time, we spent too long searching around town for somewhere to stay, eventually ending up at the first place we had seen. I managed to negotiate (in Spanish!) a 20% discount for staying three nights which was promptly spent on beer and wine. The places we have stayed at are somewhat varied. Upon arriving in a town for a few days rest I want a bed. This place actually included the second B of B&B which is a red rag to a cyclist. Being always hungry, we sat at a table for four and promptly ate everything on it. We managed to do this for three days without comment from the owner. On the Sunday, there was even cake. For breakfast.
Chile, for South America, is generally semi organised and things operate pretty much as a European mind thinks is logical. Occasionally things occur where you have to remind yourself not to apply European logic to a situation as it just annoys you. Loading a ferry in Chaiten falls into this category, two hours it took to get maybe 50 people, 30 odd cars, a couple of lorries and 3 bicycles on to it and you just know who was last on don’t you! Don’t think that last on is first off either!
Upon arriving in Quellon more rest was called for, judging by the amount of sleep I’m now getting it was needed. In the last week I’ve managed to get a ferry further south than I was and cycle only to the end of the road here which is the Pan American Highway, the other end being in Alaska.
A further reminder, should I need it, that I’ve got a very long way to go and I should get a wriggle on!