(83) Coihaique it’s another two cyclists from Blighty
In 2014 we had ridden 9,220 miles and climbed over 172,000 metres and wondered how many we would ride in 2015 and what a place to start the new year in. We were still amongst the dramatic and ever changing scenery of the Carretera Austral, its high snow clad mountains, its blue glacial fed rivers and now we were continuing north towards the town of Coihaique….
Wednesday 1st January
We woke to a new year and a new sunny day and a lay in. It was 10 am before we got up. We had 23 miles to cover to Puerto Tranquilo and a back wheel that needed a new spoke and adjusting. We were in a great quiet spot with no-one around and with sun the warming the tent to a nice temperature. Although after a litre and a half of wine we were a little dehydrated we did have a pale blue glacial stream flowing 5 metres away all ready to refill our water bottles with fresh clean cold water.
Tim unwound all the spokes on his back wheel and re-tensioned them up hoping this would stop the rest of the spokes snapping. By the time we were packed it was 1pm so we made our way up to the road and into a fierce head wind. We knew it wouldn’t last long as the road turned back on itself heading east along the side of a mountain.
The scenery continued as it had done for the last few days with snow caped mountains and almost metallic blue lakes broken by green road sides covered in yellow and blue lupines.
The road was pretty good ripio and even with the hills it made for a great day’s riding. We stopped for lunch at 3pm looking out over a lake before continuing the climb up and around the bend towards the town. We had been told by several people we shouldn’t miss the marble caves and so called in to find out about the cost. We spoke to a lady who was waiting for a couple more people to join a group and so within 5 minutes we had our bikes locked and sat on a small boat heading out to the caves.
Being on the boat made the water even more vivid and the mountains even bigger. The grey marbled caves soon appeared and were pretty impressive.
After about 30 minutes looking at the various formations we headed back and with it being late in the day the temperature was dropping rapidly making the return journey feel long and cold. We were soon heading to the campsite back on dry land and as we walked in the gate who should we find but Joe and Lizzie! It was so good to see them and we finally caught up with their adventures. They had turned back at Lago Desierto having completed the gruelling 2 day hike around the lake, ridden back to El Chalten and then headed into Argentina on the ruta carenta to try and join the Carretera Austral at Chile Chico. They had had a tough week but they were pleased to finally be on this stretch of road. Tim went to put the tent up and as he did Dan and Eva arrived. This called for a trip to the shop for some wine! It had been a great day and to have good friends around us made it even better and before we knew it the night had gone.
Thursday 2nd January
After another dry but cold night we got up and joined the others for breakfast. They were all off to see the caves while we would set off on the road to try and reach a disused house where other cyclists had stayed about 40 miles away. Dan and Eva planned a day off but Joe and Lizzie would join us later. We left town on the concrete road and as soon as we past the last house the road turned into deep corrugations. It was so rough it made the going tough and slow. We finally reached the end of the lake after a few very steep short climbs where the road started to improve with fewer hills.
Instead of the lake we now had a green river next to us that wound its way down through a tree lined steep valley covered in blue lupines. It was truly stunning with amazing contrasts of colours.
We stopped a few times to top up our bottles from the waterfalls that dropped down from the snow caps and were making good progress.
We soon reached the deserted house with names of other cyclists that had stayed there written on the back of the front door. We set about getting water, wood for the fire and the kettle on for a cupper. Joe and Lizzie arrived a few hours later and we spent the rest of the evening chatting about our trip and baking bread using the hot coals.
It had been a really good day and we hoped the road stayed good until we reached the Tarmac which was due the following day. With the temperature dropping we headed to bed lying on our thermarests pleased to have a night off putting up the tent.
Friday 3rd January
With glassless windows and a cold wind blowing we both snuggled down in our bags and put on our hats. We woke up to an overcast damp day and it felt cold especially as the wind hadn’t dropped. It had been a good spot and we left a vase of flowers for Dan and Eva who would be arriving later in the day. We rode on following the river until it started to climb very steeply. It was hard going and slow and our back wheels would spin as if complaining of the gradient. We climbed through the forest and met a Japanese cyclist who told us the top was about 2 miles away – we soon reached the summit at around 630 metres. We enjoyed a nice gradual descent on a pretty good gravel road and stopped for a cupper next to the river but with the wind bitterly blowing it was hard to keep warm so we soon rode on.
We followed the valley down and stopped at 2.30 to have lunch. It was a nice spot next to a small steam between large fusia bushes and high snow-capped mountains as a back drop. As we were packing up a couple from New Zealand stopped with a fellow cyclist called Katherine from Australia and we got chatting. They had met Sara in Puerto Montt when she had been heading up to Santiago. They were really nice and interesting to chat to.
We waved goodbye and as we were making good progress we rode on hoping to reach the small town of Cerro Castillo. With a strong tail wind we rode on only having to watch for the pot holes and corrugations.
Then came a set of hills – they were steep but not too long and we soon started to descend down to the town after stopping briefly at the top to enjoy the view.
Tim got a flat tyre on the way down which turned out to be a failed patch and so once a new inner tune was put in we rode down to see Joe and Lizzie waiting for us.
We soon found a Pandaneria (bakery) which had four pizzas and a large cake on display. With the pizzas consumed along with the very large cake and a large bag each of bread rolls in the bag we thanked the owner and headed to the supermarket for a few supplies.
We decided to wild camp further on and the road seemed to climb for ages past settlement after settlement. After a while with the light fading, we finally found a good enough spot just off the road. We had 50 miles planned for the next day which included a mountain pass but we were now on a concrete road so we hoped it would be an easy climb.
Saturday 4th January
With a warm night and a quiet road we all slept really well and as the sun warmed up the tent our alarm went off – our new alarm was called Lizzie who was much pleasanter that our phone alarm! We felt not as tired as we had on previous days and sat and enjoyed breakfast before loading the bikes and continuing on the climb we had started the night before.
With a few sharp bends, lots of chatting as we rode and a much better gradient than the gravel road we soon reached the summit at 1,120 metres.
As we gradually descended we came across a Swiss couple with a child’s trailer in tow with their 2 children aged 2 and 4 inside. They had ridden down from Ecuador over the past 6 months. It was so great to meet not only a couple carrying more stuff then us but also 2 children.The older girl had a bike attached for her to ride which she did for about an hour a day.
They were truly inspirational. We waved goodbye and continued on through the valley finding a good spot to have a cuppa.
We’d had a good tail wind but soon would be faced with another strong headwind. Our coffee stop turned into lunch and we rode on to Rio Blanco where we picked up a couple snacks. With the wind getting stronger we rode on in a four climbing out of the small town and on towards the town of Coihaique which would provide our next rest day. It was hard going but with the combination of having four of us, we made good progress.
Not wanting to get to the town that night we looked for a clean river when we spotted a stream. We went to have a look only to find it dirty. We spotted a farm on our left and went over to see if we could get water and possibly camp in their garden. The family were lovely and gave us the use of an out-building to cook and sleep in. It was perfect and with a fire lit in the corner and a freshly made lamb stew brought out to us by Mama Gaby we were so happy. Tim set about trying to fix his tyre while everyone else set about making dhal and japaties.
We finished the evening watching a short film on the laptop. It had been a good day and it felt amazing to have ended up in a nice comfy and warm room. All we could do now is hope the wind would drop.
Sunday 5th January
The wind battered the shed making the walls flex but as the night went on the wind eased leaving a gentle breeze. We cleared our things as Gaby took her grandchildren to pick berries and by the time we were loaded and ready to go we went indoors to say goodbye to find a large vat of jam from the berries and bread dough being pushed and pulled into what would be several loaves for the family.
After a big hug from everyone we rode out on to the highway preferring to have stayed in the nice warm kitchen which smelt of fresh bread. We had been warned about a hill climb with lots of bends before the town but as we progressed we dropped ever closer to sea level and only the odd short climb would appear. Being on Tarmac was almost effortless after the steep climbs of the gravel roads.
We rolled into Coihaique (we realised the climb must be after the town) and soon found the campsite and quickly made ourselves at home.
With a supermarket just down the road we wondered down and picked up what we needed and headed back knowing we would have a rest day the following day.
Monday 6th January
We spent the day doing the usual tasks of washing and bike maintenance. Tim and Joe found a great bike shop up the road from the campsite and set about putting new mirrors on the bikes. Towards the end of the day we all decided another rest day was in order so we relaxed more easily.
Tuesday 7th January
After a good night’s sleep and knowing we had another day off to finish the important things like resting we enjoyed a lay in. We worked on the blog, on the bike and just pottered eating as we went. Joe and Lizzie went off to explore the town and we headed in later to pick up supplies which took much longer then we had hoped due to the ridiculously long queues in the supermarket. We got hold of Eva and Dan who were staying at a hostel and arranged to meet up for dinner and we were soon all together enjoying good food and amazing company.
We felt so lucky to have met 2 such great couples that were so easy to get on with and looked forward to many more great adventures together.
Thanks for reading!