(82) Another year with Christmas cheer
We had had a 2 day hike around a lake as the ferry wasn’t running then we finally arrived at another port where there were 15 cyclists and walkers that had been left stranded ironically by a ferry company named Robinson Crusoe to fend for themselves.
The only solid news of anything happening was coming from the host of our campsite who had family in Villa O’Higgins and could gather information directly from the ferry company. This was becoming more urgent as the farmer’s mother was sick and 7 out of the now 17 people waiting for the boat had been waiting over a week. Add to this some of the border police had missed their flights home and with 26 other tiny communities along this remote part of the world things were not looking good.
Andres and Raphael our new Chilean friends had been communicating with the farmer and with a lot of messages sent back and forth we had finally had a confirmation that not only was there a cargo ship coming it would have room for all of us, the police staff and the sick lady, but with a dozen confirmations been and gone all we could do was hope.
Friday 20th December
Not needing to get up as the cargo boat to Villa O’Higgins wouldn’t be with us until at least the following day we lay in trying to catch up on some well needed rest. We were soon brought freshly made bread by Raphael the Chilean guy we had met a few days before. We sat in our tent and enjoyed the bread with butter and jam before getting up and joining Dan, Eva and Taylor to drink tea and coffee. Tim went off to gather a load if timber for the fire to get it up and running for the day ahead with many cups of tea planned and a bit of cooking.
We bought another kilo of beef as it was so cheap and we wanted to get a beef stew on the go. We were all soon in the shed watching a film and chatting the day away. It was a much colder day so it was perfect being tucked away in front of a fire enjoying the company of some very nice people.
We were getting worried about a German couple who had been stuck at the camp for 12 days – they had nearly run out of food so we shared some pasta and biscuits as we had more than enough. Once the stew was on we just relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the day in what was one of the most beautiful places we had been.
The only thing that made people feel on edge was the lack of a ferry and it was amazing in such a stunning location how isolated a place can feel when food is at a premium and all links to the rest of the world are cut off. We just felt that we could have been in much worse places to spend a few days waiting and with that wanted to make the most of this stunning position.
Saturday 21st December
We were woken by Raphael saying he had seen the cargo ship. We could feel the excitement from the camp and the hopes lifted to new highs from the people who had been here for so long.
We got up knowing the ship wouldn’t return until it had dropped off all its’ load and it was reported to return at around 7pm. We got up and sat around enjoying a slow a casual breakfast with Dan, Eva and Taylor and enjoyed the stunning place where we were stranded hopefully for the last day. Sharon baked a loaf of bread while Tim got a fishing line ready.
We slowly cleared the tent before taking it down and loading the bikes.
With no fish caught we relaxed for the afternoon eating newly baked bread and jam. We thought that Joe and Lizzie who were behind us might arrive but there was no sign of them. We hoped they were ok and assumed they had probably turned back. At around 6pm we all made our way down to the stunning harbour and sat next to the vivid blue lake and chatted about the time we had had. Tim went off to see if he could see the boat and came back 10 minutes later saying it would be 20 minutes. He made the most of the time by popping back to the farm to buy up the rest of the bread which had been made with the supplies the cargo boat had delivered in the morning. Just as he returned the boat pulled in.
Slowly one by one hiker and cyclist boarded the boat along with their respective bikes and equipment. It was very exciting although the few sheep that were on board didn’t look that impressed.
We waved goodbye to our hosts as the boat pulled out and started the 4 hour trip to Villa O’Higgins. We were warned that our bikes would get wet and so anything valuable was to be put inside. It seemed like at first there would be only a little spray but as we got further out into the lake the waves got higher and higher with spray going everywhere. It was just amazing how a lake this size could get so rough.
With our bikes getting pressure washed by water we huddled together trying to keep warm. One of the French guys Johan went to get something from his bag and somehow managed to get a fish hook stuck in his leg. With the sea spray pelting us Tim went out to help cut the hook away from the line. They managed to cut away most of the hook so it could be released from Johan’s trousers but he would need medical attention to have the barb removed. As time went on the spray continued to fly over the deck and the boat climbed bigger and bigger waves – then came the first sea sick casualty. We were all starting to feel a bit subdued as the ice cold water made everyone feel cold and with the waves a little fragile.
The sun set and we were still being rocked from side to side. It felt much colder now and we huddled together in an attempt to stay warm.
Finally after 4 hours going down we finally arrived in the dark and slowly unloaded the bikes bags and kit using a long human chain. With the bikes loaded and a van to pick up the hikers we headed off to Villa O’Higgins all with fresh cycling legs as we hadn’t had chance to use them in the past week.
With the 5 miles covered we reached the town and the first signs of Christmas that we hadn’t seen in over 2 years as last Christmas we were in Sudan. It felt so nice and a little sad we were so far from home. It was now midnight so we rode around looking for the right road leaving the French guys with a nurse and went in search of the hostel. After around 15 minutes we found it and were greeted by the hikers. We were soon unloaded and sat in the lounge next to a Christmas tree with new and good friends around and a beer in the hand. It had been an unreal week of hard work, bashed legs, helping each other, being eaten by bugs and meeting amazing people and crossing our 17,000 mile mark. Despite the challenge, we had had fun and now were in for a great road ahead – the Carretera Austral and the town of Tortel for Christmas.
Sunday 22nd December
With a long day and a late night behind us needless to say we slept really well. We got up and joined the others with Sharon managing to finish the blog which was great as we were so far behind. We said goodbye to James and Sarah who we had met at the camp and Tim, Dan and Taylor headed off to the shop to buy the right ingredients to have an English fry up. It was so nice to eat a decent breakfast in great company.
We paid our bill and said good bye to Taylor and the others hoping to meet up in Tortel. We rode with Dan and Eva to the shop to pick up supplies and once the food bag was full we rode out of town onto the start of Route 7 – named the Carretera Austral – a route that has become world famous and is very popular with cyclists. It’s 771 miles (1,240 kms) of mainly rough track or ripio as they call it here. We took it easy and the road was good with only the odd steep climb and corrugated section.
It was great riding with Dan and Eva especially as they were such an easy couple to ride with. We wanted to get to Rio Bravo the next day so we pushed on until we had 40 miles to go leaving us with an easier day the following day. We stopped, filled up our water bag from a river and found a good spot to camp. It started to rain and with a fire lit put a bit of a dampener on the evening. With the tents up we at least enjoy the rest of the evening with a dry place to escape to.
Monday 23rd December
As the night went on the rain got heavier. We were happy to be in the tent out of it but didn’t know at the time, the dry spot we chose to pitch our tent would become a stream. We slept deeply helped by the tapping of rain drops hitting the fly until daylight warmed the tent. It didn’t stop raining until 8.30 and by this time we realised our tent was letting water in through the bottom. Luckily our thermarests covered most of the area in the tent keeping our sleeping bags dry and as we started to pack we looked outside the tent to see our bikes were lying in 6 inches of water.
This delayed our departure having so much to dry and we were glad it wasn’t raining. We set off around 10 along the gravel road in between the mountains all shedding the rains from the night in huge torrents of waterfalls. The wind was a bit chilly and so when the sun went in we would have to wrap up.
We gradually climbed and on the gravel road meant we were doing around 5 mph. It was slow but all we could do. We started what would be the first of many steep climbs.
We were often joined by a stray dog for part of the journey and Tim coming up the hill with his Santa hat on and a dog made us smile. The scenery was great but we all seemed tired. We stopped part the way up one climb for lunch but not wanting to miss the last ferry we got going. We left Dan and Eva to try and hold the ferry as Eva wasn’t feeling too good and so we pushed on. It was tough going but we were soon rewarded with a long downhill and a long flat section passing through deep forest on a steep mountain side and a fast flowing river in the middle.
We finally reached the port with about an hour to go meeting up with the French guys who had missed the 1pm ferry by 20 minutes. Soon after we arrived Dan and Eva arrived too and we sat and cooked tea as Taylor arrived in a pickup so we enjoyed catching up with him while we waited for the ferry. Unlike the Argentinian ferry this was run by the army so arrived on time and was free.
We were soon on the other side making ourselves at home in the waiting room where we could sleep and baked some bread. It had been a good day and we were happy to have made it to the other side as tomorrow would be Christmas Eve leaving us around 30 miles to cover on gravel road to get to Tortel hopefully for a few beers in a good hostel.
Tuesday 24th December
We tried to get up and pack without disturbing the French guys but once we had made breakfast they were awake. We headed out and loaded the bikes saying goodbye to Johan and Ted.
We started what would be the first of many steep climbs that all joined up to be one big climb up from the lake. It was very steep climbing 300 metres in 4 miles dropping and climbing again.
We stopped a couple times for a biscuit break and continued on through ever better scenery. We reached the summit of the main climb then descended down through an ever deepening gorge. We had managed to pick up a stray dog who was quite content in following us and at time at great speed.
We stopped at a bend in the road where the scenery opened up and a hiker was sat enjoying the view. He had been waiting for a lift to the lake with no luck. We said he needed a happy Christmas sign. Sharon soon got her colouring pens out to make it more interesting drawing some tinsel and a Christmas tree. Tim spotted a car coming to which we lifted him up and pretty much threw him into the road holding his sign. We’re not sure if the driver stopped because he was trying to avoid running over a man being man-handled by some crazed cycle tourists or if he was stopping to pick him up but he was more than happy to take him. We felt like we had done our Christmas good deed! At that point we were joined by the French guys who had caught us up and once again wished them a good journey and a happy Christmas.
The road west to Tortel was deep gravel to start with but soon improved. It wasn’t all downhill as we had expected which was better for us when we would return a few days later.
As we rode we saw 2 cycle tourists coming towards us – it was Raphael and his nephew who had caught the bus to Tortel and were now riding north. It was great to see them again and arranged to meet up with them in Santiago where they lived.
We stopped for lunch next to the river and arrived in the town around 4pm.
Taylor had been waiting for us to arrive which was so kind and led us up to the hostel he had found getting us a very good deal. The only problem was it was down around 200 steps. The whole town was made of wood and all the houses were built on stilts. It was incredible and very beautiful.
We arrived at a simple hostel to find a skinned sheep on the counter and were invited to the Christmas party with the family – the celebrations are focused on Christmas Eve here. We walked the few metres to the shop buying food to go with the sheep and enough food to cook a full Christmas roast and a fry up for the next day. We headed over to the Christmas party and met James and Jane another English couple who were cycling in South America and were staying at the hostel. The lamb was cooked, cut up and handed out between everyone. The music was great and all of the family from the youngest to the oldest were dancing with incredible rhythm! With too much wine, dancing and fun it had been a great night.
Wednesday 25th December
We felt tired waking up after a night on wine and dancing but knowing it was Christmas Day was exciting. Remembering we had bought the ingredients for a fry up was enough to release us from the warmth of our blankets. The rain was veering down on the tin roof and with a chill in every room but the kitchen we were all soon sat around the wood powered cooker.
With the bacon on we were started and soon had a full plate of food with the only thing missing being ketchup. It was already late so we prepared the vegetables and chicken before heading out along the miles of wooden walk ways that make up this small town.
It was fascinating seeing how much wood had been used and how people lived.
We headed back and finished the preparation while getting ready to watch a Christmas movie. We opted for Elf which was a favourite. The meal was delicious – roast chicken, with bread sauce and roasted vegetables.
The evening was brilliant with games played split with apple and peach crumble but there was no getting away from the lack of speaking to loved ones due to the lack of Internet. It had however been a great day with people who really made it feel special. We just wished we had family with us then it would have been perfect. As the day turned into Boxing Day it became Taylor’s birthday and so would be the start of another celebration which we were all very excited about.
Thursday 26th December
After our big Christmas dinner and pie we woke up still feeling full and listened to the rain hitting the roof making us happy to be having the day off. It was Taylor’s birthday and once we were all up we joined him for coffee and some birthday celebrations. Our hosts kindly made Taylor a traditional birthday cake which was a sponge cooked in the oven and then cold water poured over it until the cake was soft. It was really delicious and a technique of baking we’d never heard of before!
It was a very relaxed day with Eva and Dan heading out to do the shopping for the evening meal, Taylor getting the bread, Tim trying to work out why his USB charger on the bike wasn’t working and picking pictures for the blog and Sharon getting through a small mountain of washing. It had been a really good Christmas but we really missed speaking to home. We really hoped that we would have Internet in a of couple days so we could speak to everyone. With the rain only taking short breaks we were pleased to be off the bike and spending it with new friends- it was great fun. We ended up heading to bed after watching a couple of episodes of South Park only interrupted by the owner banning James and Jane from down stairs due their room being upstairs – it was a real shame but we had felt so fortunate to have met and spent Christmas with a really great bunch and would never forget our days off together.
Friday 27th December
Although we wanted an early start the sound of rain and being in a warm bed made it almost impossible. We finally joined the others in the kitchen and James and Jane came down to say goodbye after carting all their things up 200 steps to the road. It was our turn next and Tim started by carrying up the bikes. By the time we were ready it was 11am, far later than we hoped but it didn’t really matter. We said good bye to Taylor and headed back to the junction. It felt easier going and we soon covered the 15 miles.
As we approached the junction we saw Taylor waiting at the bus stop. We stopped to chat and although it was 1pm it felt too early to stop for lunch after our late start so we waved goodbye once again and headed off into the persistent rain. We stopped after an hour under a large rock overhang to shelter from getting too wet.
It was nice riding along taking in the scenery and chatting especially as it was fairly flat. We entered a woodland area which sheltered us a bit from the rain and was really pretty.
As we rode Tim picked up a puncture. He stopped to fix it with Dan only to find that the tyre was the cause. After the third inner tube and a bit of rubber over the inside of the tyre they rode on to meet Sharon and Eva who had found a good camp spot next to the river.
With it still raining lightly we cooked under a tree. We’d had a good day even with the rain, the late start and the punctures – it looked like it might be clearing so we hoped for good weather the following day.
Saturday 28th December
After hearing the day would be warm and dry only to be woken up by torrential rain we knew we wouldn’t have the early start we were hoping for. We soon noticed the inside of the tent was slowly getting wet and as Tim got up he noticed his sleeping bag was wet at the bottom and everything was getting damp. He went out with a couple of panniers and put the tarpaulin up so we could all sit out the rain until it stopped.
By the time we had everything packed while the tent was drying in the first rays of sunshine Tim noticed Sharon had a flat tyre. He changed it for a new one only to find it was now raining and getting the almost dry tent soaked again. We got going around 11am 3 hours later then we hoped and slowly climbed in the persistent light rain. We got to a small farm where we could fill up our water as we had been told the river was poisonous due to a volcano eruption a few years ago. We rode on and with the sun coming out we met an Ozzie father and son – the father had been riding for 2 years on and off. It was great to chat and we said goodbye heading down a nice series of hills to a lake.
We chatted to a German couple in a Landrover and started to think we were never going to get any miles done. We crossed the river at the end of the lake with mountains towering above us to have a late lunch. It was 3pm and we had only covered 10 miles with all the stopping and starting. The sun was out and with a clear sky Sharon prepared lunch while Tim got as much stuff out to dry as he could – sleeping bags, tent, jackets etc. He managed to fix 2 punctures when he noticed his head torch was missing. He checked a couple places but knew it must be back at the morning’s camp when he had fixed Sharon’s puncture. It would be a 20 mile round trip but if he took all his bags off he could do it a lot faster. Dan and Eva rode on while Sharon waited with the bags and started to edit the blog while she waited. With Tim’s bike now around 45kg lighter he managed to get back to the camp in an hour and return in 40 minutes and it even looked like he enjoyed it!
With the head torch know in our possession we rode on to try and catch up we the guys. The scenery was amazing and with a big climb coming up we turned the corner to start the assent. With time getting on we slowly climbed following the weaving tyre tracks of Dan and Eva until we passed a lake below us and stopped at a waterfall to get water for the evening.
Tim was sure they weren’t too far ahead with the distinct tyre tracks so after a quick wash we rode on only to find them camped 200 metres on the left with incredible views down over the valley with snow-capped mountains in the back ground.
Sharon cooked dinner while Tim pitched the tent, mended the last puncture, fixed his trousers and put a patch on the tent floor hoping that would be the only hole he would need to fix. We watched the last of the sun set lighting up the clouds above the mountains making them look like they were on fire and laughed at some strange cloud formations before heading to bed after a long and trying day.
Sunday 29th December
It was nice to wake on a dry day with no wind. Patagonia had really put us in our place with regards to the weather. We headed off the 20 miles into the town of Cochrane. The going was good and we stopped at a couple of waterfalls along the way.
We rode into town, past the campsite and spotted Taylor who was there for the trekking. It was great to see him again – we decided to have lunch together and found a small restaurant that sold empanadas. We ordered them with a plate of chips and sat down to devour the delicious meal. The empanadas were fried and the best we’d tasted so far.
We headed next to the supermarket to pick up supplies and said goodbye to Taylor who was heading off into the mountains. Loaded with goodies we headed to the campsite and met lots of cycle tourists doing the Carretara Austal – we were the only ones going north. We had a final cup of tea and biscuits with Dan and Eva who were going to a nearby national park to do some trekking. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and sharing experiences with fellow cyclists.
Monday 30th December
We decided to head on that morning and the sun soon appeared after a little light rain. We chatted to a few of the cyclists before packing up and heading to the supermarket. Tim was happy to discover they sold insulation tape and a pot of glue for punctures.
We left with the food bag full as it would be 6 days ride to the next town of Coihaique. The next priority was posting the blog so we headed to a café and drank hot chocolate whilst doing the finishing touches. We were getting ready to leave when Dan and Eva arrived from the park – they had really enjoyed the trekking and were planning another one the following day.
We headed out of town picking up fuel and with it now being lunchtime also bought some empanadas. We climbed out of town and were soon rewarded with a stunning view of a river called Rio Chacabuco nestled in a steep green valley. The GPS showed a 7 mile short cut over the mountain – looking at the gradient it probably wouldn’t be a short cut with regards to time but it looked like it had some amazing scenery.
We dropped down to the river to find a tiny 2 car pontoon on the other side. At first we thought it wouldn’t run again until 6pm but realised the sign meant it ran until 6pm. We were spotted by the operator the other side and the pontoon trundled over the very fast flowing river. It was brilliant to watch – as we waited 2 cars arrived and so we all loaded on before it set off back across the river.
The river must have been flowing at 15-20 mph so it made for quite an exciting crossing. We reached the other side safely and started the steep climb out of the valley. It was tough going climbing a deep corrugated gravel track with large stones and a gradient that reached 25 per cent. We climbed and climbed, slipping and weaving with ever impressive views being revealed. It was hard going but after 4 miles the track levelled off to give us a break before the next few hills.
It wasn’t long before we went around a corner and could see route 7 again below. We decided to camp high with such amazing scenery – Tim rode back to collect some water from a spring he had spotted and we settled down for the evening. We couldn’t believe it would be New Year’s Eve the following day.
Tuesday 31st December
It was a cloudy damp day and we decided to descend down to the river to have breakfast while we waited for the ferry to take us back to the other side. We descended the rest of the mountain which included the odd steep climb for good measure and found there was a bridge where we thought there would be a ferry.
The river was flowing at full speed making it look amazing but also very dangerous. We climbed up the other side to the road and found a bus shelter to make breakfast. As we were just packing up Dan and Eva arrived – they had decided not to trek due to the rain. It was great to see them again and after sheltering from a rain shower we rode on together. We stopped at the small village of Puerto Bertrand where Dan and Eva where going to spend the night in a hostel.
It was a nice tiny place but we decided to keep going wanting a nice camp spot for New Year’s. The one in the village was £3 each with no amenities except for the river to wash in – we could get that for free! We said goodbye and headed out up a steep climb in the light rain.
It was a tough climb and with a band of rain coming thorough we stopped near the top to shelter under a tree feeling cold and damp wondering if we’d made the right choice. We rode on and as we did the weather started to clear leaving us with amazing views once again.
Feeling tired and being New Year’s Eve we wanted to find a place to camp but as we arrived at the next lake there also came lots of expensive looking fishing lodges. We collected water in case we couldn’t find a camp by the water.
We continued feeling more and more tired as we went, climbing and descending past a huge dark blue lake. We finally spotted a glacier fed river to our right – it was perfect, out of sight of the road and with plenty of wood to build a fire. It was just what we were looking for and we still had a few hours left of the sun’s warmth.
We sat next to the fire with a glass of wine and toasted our family, friends and all the people our charity ShelterBox had helped over the year. We missed everyone and as the world saw in another new year, we thought about what an amazing trip we’d had so far, all the kind and amazing people we had met through so many countries and the long way we still had to go, what will the next year bring?
Thanks to all of you that have followed us, commented on our blog, helped us and waved at us along the way helping us to keep going. Also to all of you who have very kindly donated to ShelterBox .It can be hard to imagine what it would be like to have everything and everyone you know taken away in an instant and to have a charity like ShelterBox give you just what you need to start to rebuild a life is very special.
Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!