After a really nice stop in Coyhaique, a couple nights in an upscale hostel (by our standards), and celebrating Eli's birthday with a great group of friends, we hit the road again. We were all a little weary after a later birthday night, and possibly some stomach-upsetting street empanadas, but we finally shoved off by mid-day on the 23rd. Just a kilometer or so into our ride, we met a dog (that we aptly named Coyhaique) that would follow us for the next 30 kilometers, first on pavement up a long climb, and then onto the old route of the Carretera Austral on dirt. We did our best to get rid of Coyhaique, knowing that the most 'humane' thing to do would be to try to get the dog to return to its home, presumably back in town. After our best efforts, we realized the dog (photo 1) wouldn't turn back until she was ready. Fortunately, Coyhaique couldn't quite keep up after about 30 km and we were all relieved that she'd decided to call it quits... even if we did find ourselves wondering if she'd be our mascot for the rest of the trip.
Though the start of the day was marked by some dreariness, the dilemma of the following dog, and clouds in the sky, Eli's birthday ended with clear skies, downhill, and a nice tale wind (photo 2). We'd agreed that we'd do our best to meet Peter (our new companion from Scotland) in Villa Maniguales. Sure enough, we found him at a campsite just off the main street in town and retired for the night.
The next day, we hit the road north and found ourselves gleefully pedaling on paved roads with unbelievable views (photos 3 and 4). Before finishing the day off, we stopped at a small lake called Laguna de Los Torres, and decided it was time for our first real swim - the water (at least the 12 inches closest to the surface) was warmer than anything we'd felt, and was perfectly refreshing. Cameron decided to get out his sleeping pad, knowing they made great floats (photo 5). After the swim, we pushed on to a wild camp alongside Rio Cisnes, with the plan to make it to Puyuhuapi the next day. After arriving at the wild camp, Eli and Noah decided it was time to have a bow drill fire contest. Most of those reading know what a bow drill fire is, but google it if you don't! Eli and Noah grew up learning primitive wilderness skills, and that night on the river was time to put their skill to the test with a 'first to flame' contest. Unfortunately, after an hour of attempting the friction fire, the two conceded defeat, agreeing that the wood was much more difficult to work with than they'd anticipated (photo 6).
The next morning woke us with what later became commonly referred to as a 'blow-over,' or a rain storm that we hoped would quickly pass. Unfortunately, this 'blow-over' would last through until the afternoon, not giving in to our denial, and accompanying us up a very steep dirt climb towards Puyuhuapi. Before the long decent, we wrung out our now soaked clothes, put them back on and enjoyed a skidding through the corners, switchback filled, blast of a descent. After regrouping towards the bottom of the descent, we continued to the bay and even spotted some seals and dolphins playing. Soon after our return to the bay, we were stopped with a road block. We soon learned that there had been an avalanche blocking the road 7 kilometers ahead and that they weren't letting anyone through until the next morning at the earliest (photo 7) . Before returning to a small store about a kilometer back, we purchased a couple fresh avocados from a truck that had also been held up. After regrouping and having a snack, we decided we weren't done with trying to continue farther down the road, even if it meant only to see the avalanche with our own eyes. Joining with another Argentinian cyclist, 'Nacho,' we pleaded with the road crews to let us pass - we assured them we'd cause no trouble. Eventually, we learned that, while we definitely wouldn't be able to pass where the avalanche had taken place, there was a small boat that was shuttling people from the shore to Puyuhuapi. Excited that the day's adventure wasn't yet over, we continued on, eventually arriving to the boat landing. We got in line with a number of others who'd heard that there was a boat, but were quickly told that the boat 'captain' wouldn't take us with our bicycles. We decided that we would wait out the long line of people (photo 8) hoping to catch a ride and would let everyone without bicycles go ahead of us. As the sun set (photo 9) and the boat owner came to pick up what could have been his last load, we asked whether we could pay him a small amount to come back one last time. He obliged and we all chipped in $5,000 Chilean pesos (~$7.50) for the the 10-15 kilometer ride in the dark to Puyuhuapi (photo 10). Tired, but relieved to have made it to town, we found a small camping spot and got to sleep as quickly as we could.
Eli joked about how he could post a status that read something like: "Patagonia: where you can wake up alongside a raging river, cycle on beautiful pavement, climb a pass in the rain on washboarded dirt road, drink from a glacial stream, spot seals and dolphins playing in the bay, be stopped by an avalanche that's blocked the road, and where you hop a 15 foot long boat in the dark to make it to town." - it was quite a day.
The next day we were off again, headed north for our final push of the Carretera Austral. We had planned to push through towards Futaleufu, Chile as quickly as possible, but it was a hot day and we'd all been kept up later than anticipated with the previous day's adventures. About 15 kilometers north of the town of La Junta, Eli and our new friend, Nacho, found a small patch of grass on a farmer's property just off the road. The farmer showed where we could tent for free and we decided we would call it a day, clean some clothes in the river, and get to sleep before too late (photos 11 and 12).
We awoke the next morning with a determination to make it as close to Futaleufu, Chile as possible. We knew that it might be slightly out of reach for a one day ride, but we quickly covered the first ~50 kilometers, before turning off the Carretera for the last time and heading east. After very dusty rippio roads that we aptly named 'dust forests,' we met up with two Argentinian brothers on motorcycles who were taking a break beside Lago Yelcho (photo 13). Little did we know, they'd offer us donuts and mate, a great snack for our final kilometers of the day. After sharing stories and telling them a bit about our trip, we pushed on and made it as far as Puerto Ramirez before deciding that we'd better call it a day.
The next morning woke us all with a pelting rain... again. We all had a hard time not feeling a bit defeated, but after some procrastination, we all made a break for a nearby bridge for cover. We broke down our tents, put on warmer layers, and had breakfast under the shelter of the bridge (photo 14) before setting of towards Futaleufu, one after another. Eli being Eli set off first, determined to get to town as quickly as he could. The rest of us followed, eventually meeting up in the town park early that afternoon, happy to know that we'd be in Futaleufu for at least one day off. After asking around town about a hostel, we found ourselves very lucky, finding a really nice, reasonable place with a room perfect just for the four of us.
The next day, we headed to Expediciones Chile, a rafting company recommended by a friend of Cameron's. We had heard from many others that if we wanted to raft, the Futaleufu river was one of the premier rafting destinations in the world. Despite it not being in the plans, we decided that it wasn't something we should pass up. Unfortunately, we were a bit too late to get a reservation that day, but we booked a 'Bridge to Bridge' trip for the next day. Though we hadn't anticipated staying in Futaleufu for two days, we realized that maybe it was a blessing in disguise, allowing us the time to have a full rest day and to hand wash and dry our clothes before the next segment of riding.
The next day, we got ourselves ready, thinking we'd head out of town that night after rafting, and headed to the rafting company. We made our way to river only to be held up on the dirt road by two bulls in the middle of the road squaring off against each other. We watched as one of the bulls pushed the other into the trailer ahead of us, carrying our raft - quite a sight. We caught it on video, but too big a file to upload during the trip! Rafting itself was pretty ridiculous - absolutely the biggest water we'd ever seen. Our guide was an American who'd done his time on many other rivers before getting to the Futaleufu. Just when we thought we'd more or less seen it all, we hit one of the last rapids and the boat pirouetted to the right, nearly capsizing. Everyone in the boat except Eli (including the guide) fell out, leaving Eli pretty surprised not to find anyone else in the raft. After pulling the guide in, the guide pulled Cameron in, and Eli pulled Noah back in. The rest of the four boaters had had to swim to shore, leaving the three of us feeling at least somewhat victorious that team Mundo Pequeño had all made it back into the boat quickly. Eli, on the other hand, was ecstatic, exclaiming "Guys! Guys! I was the only one in the boat! I was like, holy shit, where did everybody go?!" After gathering the others in our boat we finished off the day without incident and all agreed that it'd been worth it to raft the Futaleufu. After a 40 minute ride back to town (forgot to mention it rained all day while we were on the river), we agreed that we were all wet and cold and really didn't want to go grocery shopping and head out that night. Fortunately, our four person suite was still available, so we happily enjoyed one more night in a bed before hitting the road the next morning.
From Futaleufú, we headed back into Argentina towards Trevelin, and Parque Los Alerces. The start of the day greeted us with smooth pavement all the way to the border of Argentina, where the road quickly changed to rippio (but it was better than some we'd seen!). We'd pushed on towards Trevelin, hoping to make it a ways into the Parque Nacional Los Alerces that evening. After a longer than anticipated grocery stop in Trevelin, and losing our Scottish compadre, Peter, to an emergency #2 break, we soldiered on towards the park. By 7:30 or so that evening, we'd made it to the first campsite in the park - a beautiful spot on the southern end of Lago Futalaufquen (photo 15).
After waking to colder temperatures than we'd felt in a while (the Argentinian side of the mountains was much drier, but the nights much colder), we hit the rippio road in the park at a leisurely pace, enjoying the beauty around us and savoring the solitude and quiet of the park. Around kilometer 55, we realized we were about to pass the last campsite in the park back into much drier and less desirable camping options. Instead of pushing on out of the park, we called it a day in the middle of the afternoon, agreeing that an afternoon washing clothes, swimming, and hanging on the beach by the northernmost lake in the park (Lago Rivadavia) was worth our having a couple longer days ahead of us (photos 16 and 17).
Until next time,
-Cameron, Eli, and Noah