12.25.2003-01.24.2004 San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina to El Calafate, Argentina|
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|I celebrated Christmas with a Christmas Eve dinner in the company of my Swiss friends and several other assorted backpackers. Christmas is fairly low-key in Argentina so the day itself passed without much fanfare. Bariloche didn’t hold much appeal with me so I departed the day after Christmas. The weather was still having difficulty accepting the fact that it was summer so after spending a frigid night in Villa Mascaradi I emerged from my tent the next morning to find fresh snow on the hillsides. En route to El Bolson I passed a sign advertising “Beer & Camping.” There would be no search for lodging tonight I thought and that afternoon I set up camp behind the microbrewery El Bolson. The following day, with clear skies prevailing, I embarked on my favorite type of day trip--a bike and hike. A stiff climb on the bike and moderate climb on foot eventually brought me to Mount Piltiquitron, providing some nice views of the El Bolson valley and even nicer views to the East. With childish excitement I put on my rain pants and slid down the slopes through fast snow. After returning I sat on the deck of the microbrewery, beer in hand, and with the satisfaction of a well-spent day behind me looked up into the mountains at the exact spot I had reached. After a day in El Bolson I hadn’t sampled all the flavors at the microbrewery so another day, a proper rest day, was taken.
South of El Bolson I left the main highway to visit the National Park Alerces. An ulterior motive for this detour was to take in a bit of American folklore. Just before Cholila I encountered the ranch where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid(along with Etta Place) made their home from 1901 to 1905. The gate to the actual house was locked and unattended but I was content with the feeling a passage down this lonely road provided. At the end of the day I was warmly welcomed at yet another pleasant campground. I passed into the park, another collection of alpine lakes and rivers, on another summer day. With the warmer weather the horseflies were coming out in numbers. All day they practiced their maneuvers on me and sometimes I felt like I was expending more energy swatting them away than on cycling. I had planned a solitary New Year’s Eve in the woods but when I encountered a private campground offering a New Year’s Eve buffet dinner I changed my plans. The thought of a hearty meal was just too overwhelming. I spent the first day of the New Year in Trevelin, a former Welsh colony beautifully situated at the foot of the mountains. Soon after I veered westward, crossing the Chile-Argentina frontier for the fourth time. The crossing to Futaleufu was easy, both in terms of cycling effort and in terms of dealing with officialdom. The terrain was rugged yet beautiful. Raging rivers abounded, including the legendary(in the paddling world anyway) Rio Futaleufu. After a night camped with some paddlers I finished this pretty little stretch of road and joined the Camino Austral, a highway originating in Puerto Montt and terminating roughly 1000 km further south in Villa O’Higgins.
The Camino passes through some of Chiles most frontier-like locales and is a popular destination for cycle tourists. I was excited to be embarking on this leg of the journey but at the same time a bit saddened for the Camino was one of the final legs. I could deny it no longer: the trip was winding down. After a sunny start the road treated me to some very wet riding. I passed through Queulat National Park with its glaciers and its waterfalls. But I did not see any glaciers or from what heights the countless waterfalls fell. I had to content myself with the jungle-like forests lining the highway as well as the emerald rivers charging through the valleys. I took a much-needed rest day in Coiyahique, the only sizable town on the road, before tackling the southern half of the road. I arrived in Villa Cerro Castillo on a frigid afternoon, the clouds parting just long enough for me to catch a glimpse of the town’s namesake mountain. From Villa the riding was up and down, mentally as well as physically. For there were numerous times when the road reduced my progress to a walking pace, either with super steep hills, rough riding surfaces or exposure to the fierce westerly winds. But before despair would set in the road would relent and often reward with a section of easy riding.
As I approached the continent’s second largest lake, Lake General Carrera, the weather began to clear. This was not unexpected as the area around the lake enjoys a sunny microclimate. I stopped off in Rio Tranquilo for a short boat excursion on the lake to visit some interesting rock formations/caves, whose splendor was highlighted by the shining sun and turquoise waters. With the afternoon came more visual stimuli as the Northern Icefields came into view for the first time. The scenery brought back memories of the Icefields Parkway in Canada. The road surely did not--little traffic and certainly no RVs. That night I happened upon the perfect campsite, perched on the top of a hill overlooking the lake. It seemed designed just for me, with one little flat rectangular space just begin enough for my tent and another little space just begin enough for my kitchen/dining room. The next day I left the lake and followed the Rio Baker, the most voluminous river in Chile and perhaps its most azul. After some particularly nasty hills I arrived in Cochrane. Upon departing the next day I received some unwelcomed information--the weekly boat I hoped to catch at the end of the road left a day earlier than I expected. I feared waiting another week would put too much pressure on my schedule for arriving in Ushuaia so I decided to forego a planned and much anticipated detour to the coastal village of Caleta Tortel.
The route became a bit more wild after Cochrane and then quite wild after Puerto Yungay, this last section just opening in 1999. This section most closely resembled my expectations for the road so I was somewhat disappointed there was so little of it. The highway ends in the friendly little town of Villa O’Higgins but for the intrepid cyclist the southerly route continues into Argentina, with a combination of lake crossings, roads and trails. At the dock on Lake O’Higgins I encountered several other cyclists. I spoke with one couple and after the usual questions(Where are you from? France. Where did you start? Ecuador) something clicked and we realized we’d met virtually(via e-mail) several months earlier in Peru. The lake crossing brought us to the outpost of Candelario Mancilla, where we checked out of Chile and began to cycle/push our bikes up the hill towards Argentina. Upon reaching the top of the first ridge we were treated with a most unexpected view--that of the massive granite peak of Mount Fitz-Roy off in the distance. The next day, with pedals removed, we walked/pushed our bikes through a narrow horse/foot path to arrive at Argentinean customs on Lake of the Desert. Another crossing by boat brought us to the other end and the beginning of the road to El Chalten.
After the tranquil towns of the Camino Austral and the even more tranquil border crossing the frenzy of backpackers in El Chalten was a bit overwhelming. Nonetheless, I spent three days there and was fortunate enough to have a day and a half of good weather. I made the best of this time, completing hikes to the bases of Mounts Torre and Fitz-Roy. From El Chalten a fairly miserable road leads to Route 40. The transition to steppe is quick but with glaciers not far away there are plenty of turquoise rivers and lakes to keep the vistas interesting. And then there is the sky. The first night I just stood and looked upwards in amazement. As the sun began to set the haze cleared and the sky, with colors and clouds at its disposal, went through a complete make-over every few minutes. The next day I re-joined Route 40 for the first time since Mendoza. Crosswinds challenged us along the eastern shores of Lake Viedma but afterwards we found the riding easier than expected. This state continued into the next day as we moved on to Lake Argentino, a massive turquoise marvel. We rounded the southeast corner of the lake and continued west to the tourist mecca of El Calafate, base for visiting the Perito Moreno glacier. After El Calafate there’s not much left of the The Road South. Just a skip and a hop really. Then I’ll be dipping my wheels in the Beagle Channel and probably wondering how it all came to end so quickly.
|Distance||Elevation Gain||Flat Tires|
|Leg||1050 mi/1689 km||79730 ft/26158 m|
|Trip||19374 mi/31179 km||216 mi/348 km||23||