(84) Lots of rain, lots of sun and having lots of fun
After a good rest in Coihaique and still on the tough yet stunning Carretera Austral we were ready to get going again with Joe and Lizzie, excited to what the next part would be like…
Wednesday 8th January
We finally got going at 10.30 and headed out of Coihaique. The road had a gradual climb to start with before a gentle descent.
The wind blew strongly but intermittently depending on our direction as the road meandered. At one point it was reminiscent of the winds further south where we could hardly keep peddling and had a shower of grit stinging our faces. Fortunately as we got further along we were more sheltered and in the sunshine it was really lovely going.
We took it in turns to ride at the front – it was great being in a group of 4 as it meant less work and by 1.30pm it was time for lunch. We stopped in a lovely sheltered spot and enjoyed chatting to 2 lady cycle tourists both cycling independently – one from Germany and the other from the States who had stopped to say hi. Soon after the rain started but the road changed direction so we had a slight tail wind for the remainder 25 miles. The road was stunning with high mountain sides and lush pastures and the rain came and went so it didn’t really bother us.
Finally we arrived in the small town of Manihuales and smelt out the bakery. Once our hunger had subsided we rode out of town and asked to camp on a farm. They kindly agreed but were quite specific to where we could put the tent, presumably to keep an eye on us! It wasn’t a great spot as we were still exposed to the wind but it died down leaving us with heavy rain. We sat under the tarp and made dinner and raspberry crumble with the raspberries we’d picked earlier in the sunshine.
We discovered the tent was leaking a bit so we draped the tarp over it and attached it to a fence the opposite side hoping we would have a dry night.
Thursday 9th January
After finding our tent leaked in one of the first heavy rainstorms we’d had for a long time it didn’t help us sleep. We felt cold and damp but with the tarp wrapped over the fly sheet we knew we wouldn’t get much wetter. Without having the time and light we would have to look to see where the water was coming in later but from what we could make out it seemed to be coming in at the ridge making it drip in a number of places.
The weather had cleared a little before we got up only broken by the odd light shower giving us time to dry the worst of our things before loading our bikes. With the clouds much higher it revealed a stunning town nestled in between high steep mountains on each side. We joined the road at 10am which had almost become the norm as wet nights or waking up in a river had forced us to wait until the tent was dry. It was great to still be on a Tarmac road especially as we thought the road would end and become ripio (dirt track) in the last town. We climbed a few hills meeting another cyclist heading south from Australia. He seemed to be a bit fed up with being on the road but took advice for the road ahead and vice versa and we headed on. It was a nice day and with great scenery and we found a good spot next to the river.
It was nice to stop and have lunch taking in the rays before riding on to the small town of Villa Amengual. With the clouds coming in and a short sharp climb into the town we arrived at an old bus that had been turned into a cafe. Complete with a hot wood burner and cold beers it was perfect.
We sat watching a heavy rain storm blow through before riding a few miles out of town to find a camp spot. With a few climbs we passed a waterfall where Joe heroically climbed down between massive leaves to fill the water bags. The road came to a hairpin bend leaving a view of a deep valley along with the road below.
We descended and after a couple of miles we found a good spot to camp on a gravel area at the side of the road with plenty of room for 2 tents. Tim put the tent up and rubbed some seam grip into the ridge seam before it rained while Sharon got the tea on. It had been a really nice day but with the temperature dropping it was time for bed.
Friday 10th January
After an application of seam grip and the rain getting heavy we noticed that the ridge was now dry but another seam was slowly letting water in. It wasn’t half as much as before and so we fell into a deep sleep with the rain bouncing off the tent. We woke to light rain hitting the tent and a puddle in the corner. With the sun coming up we cleared what we could, mopped up the worst of it and let the tent dry in the air as the sun was just behind a rock. With it still feeling chilly we wrapped up and got on the road.
We slowly followed the river for about 15 miles before the Tarmac ended and the gravel road started. This was at the bottom of a mountain pass so we stopped for a biscuit break with a bit of dulce deleche in between. The gravel road was one of the best we had been on but as we climbed we had to weave between the pot holes. The scenery was stunning with the road sides more like a rain forest with steep mountains on each side split by hundreds of metres of thin waterfalls like white ribbons draped over the rock.
We met a few other cyclists on the way up and after a while arrived at the summit to have lunch in a stunning setting. With the rain falling as a light mist and in a breeze we soon started to feel cold. By the time we had finished lunch we were freezing.
Wrapping up we started the long and stunning descent that dropped through the forest with glimpses of a blue glacier wedged between a steep sided valley.
We passed a few more cyclists before reaching the bottom and following a slightly undulating valley that led to an inlet of the sea.
As we moved slightly inland another large blue glacier revealed itself high up in the mountain. It was amazing with the white and blue against the rock with the varying greens of the forest.
We stopped a little further on to make a cupper and have a bit of cake. As we were all feeling tired we decided to ride on a little to find a good waterfall for fresh water and look for a camp spot. After miles of great spots that were fenced off we spotted a fence that was down and pitched our tents in a small field that was free of livestock. With no farmer to ask we hoped it would be ok. While Tim pitched the tent he sealed the other sections that were leaking hoping that he had got them all. We were soon sat eating dinner and relaxing but were shortly interupted by a farmer who was clearly not impressed we were there. We think she thought we’d knocked the fence down ourselves – we apologised and packed up and moved straight away feeling terrible to have made her so annoyed. We found a small space further up the road on a bank and made camp once again. With 11 miles to cover to the next village that we were informed had a bakery we planned to get up early and enjoy a fresh cake – we just hoped it didn’t rain which inevitably slows us up.
Saturday 11th January
We all drifted off to the sound of the mountain stream rushing past and the sound of frogs and birds chatting away. We woke with the tent covered in dew and a clear blue sky lighting up the pastures. We cleared the tent and carried it out into the open to dry. It was still early so it took ages for the sun to dry it. It was 15 miles to Puyuhuapi where we would stop for a break. The road was good with stunning scenery with high mountains, a nice lake and snow-capped mountains in the distance.
We soon covered the miles only having to stop briefly to fix a puncture caused by a pot hole. We rode into a pretty village at the end of a lake.
We brought a few things from the supermarket and sat in the square to have a pastry and chocolate. Wanting to get to La Junta by the end of the day we got going on what was still good dirt road.
We had been warned about the poor condition of the road ahead but we just enjoyed it while it lasted. We rode along a long lake and as we reached the end saw an entrance that dropped down to the water. It was a perfect spot for lunch and with the temperature now in the 30’s we sat by the lake taking in the sun and enjoying a bit of time out. We got going and with 20 miles to cover, we soon got to a brand new section of Tarmac. It felt so good riding almost effortlessly but it wasn’t going to last. We had about 4 miles before it turned back to very good gravel and then a short distance of Tarmac before it returned to the gravel roads we were used to.
Feeling tired we arrived in the edge of town boiling from the heat but still managing to appreciate the views.
It had been the hottest day yet reaching around 35 degrees. We saw a stream and went down to cool ourselves. It was so nice but wanting an ice cream we rode into town to find a shop. The town of La Junta was so quiet as it was siesta but we fortunately found a shop open. Tim walked in and announced in his best Spainish ‘I’m hot.’ The lady stood next to him looked immediately embarrassed and we heard a snigger from Joe. We learned that afternoon that there is a difference between being hot from the sun and ‘feeling’ hot!
We were soon sat outside eating ice-cream and planning our evening meal. We left the town at around 6 picking up fuel and soon arrived at the start of the bad road. With it under construction we had to cross over rounded pebbles which wasn’t the easiest. We covered another 5 miles and finally saw a good camp spot off the highway to the left. We would be well out of sight grassy meadow next to the river.
Sunday 12th January
We woke after a good night’s sleep in such a nice place that was so quiet. It wasn’t long though before the trucks started to thunder up and down the road slowly cutting it wider for a nice wide strip of Tarmac. We got up and with the tent soaked in dew we left it to drip while we had breakfast. Deciding to pack a wet tent something we never normally did but with the sun a long way off lighting our camp we would dry in the sun when we stopped.
The road was good going but with large rounded stones it was slow. The scenery continued to be amazing and we enjoyed the now much less undulating road due to the heavy machines taking out many of the short sharp climbs and descents.
Part of us was happy to have seen the old road before it was widened for what would be more traffic and more people. It was a natural progression but as with any improvement something will be lost and lost forever.
We stopped in a shaded spot with the sun now trying to turn us into baked cyclists and cooled in the shade for a break. It was a perfect spot with a wet road surface it meant we weren’t covered in plooms of fine dust. We continued on for another couple of hours making the most of the workers lunch break leaving us a quiet road.
We stopped around 2pm for lunch in the shade of a tree. The trucks were now starting again leaving their dust clouds luckily away from us. We managed to get all our things dried on the bank and with the sun getting ever hotter it didn’t take long. We headed on with the temperature still not waning and continued along the rough stony road. We rode along a stunning river with a deep blue colour it made us want to dive in.
With 10 miles to the next town we thought about looking for a good camp spot and have a break from riding a bike. We must have rode for about 40 minutes when we crossed the river again. It was so inviting and within another one or two miles we spotted a place off the road. We headed down to the river and found a spot to camp. It was perfect.
We washed our clothes and the hedgerow soon resembled a Chinese laundry. We took it in turns to wash ourselves in the river and even had a bit of time to relax which was heaven in such a stunning place.
Monday 13th January
We were woken by a cow mooing at our tent. It was quite nice but after continuing on Tim popped his head out to have a word. We got up and sat next to the river eating breakfast while the sun slowly rose higher and slowly lit the valley floor before finally reaching us which helped to dry our tents.
As always Joe and Lizzie had almost finished their breakfast as we were starting ours but we were soon ready to re-join the highway north. It was only about 15 miles to Villa Santa Lucia where we had been told the road improved and where we could get snacks. With the temperature rising it was nice to get to the village for some refreshments. We had a choice to turn right into Argentina but with this route being so stunning it was an easy choice to continue.
We started the hill which didn’t look much at first but as we climbed in the heat it soon became apparent that we would be climbing for a while. The road was steep and combined with river stone spread over the road it made for really tough climbing. We picked up water from one of the many waterfalls that lined the road and after several miles of climbing we reached the top at 610 metres. With it well past lunch we stopped at a bend near the top after being passed by a couple of trucks struggling up the hill and put the kettle on.
As we sat we were joined by a German cyclist on his way up. It was nice in the sun next to the stream knowing we had a good downhill to come. We soon met a couple more cyclists coming up which we chatted to before starting the nice descent down. With the steep road down we soon dropped losing height faster than we hoped and soon reached the dusty undulating road to the town of Chaiten.
As we neared the bottom we passed a huge hanging blue glacier which was one of the best we had seen. It looked amazing as it slowly weaved its way out from mountains.
We had been told to expect an amazing Tarmac road but it felt like forever with tired legs to reach the bridge where it started. We crossed the bridge and being surrounded by a stunning view and on a Tarmac road it was bliss. We rolled out onto the new pristine black highway and although tired we cruised on through the ever stunning valley. We reached the nice small town of Amarillo to buy an ice-cream and stopped for a break before riding on. We wanted to get within 10 miles of Chaiten before stopping to give us an easy day the following day. Once within this distance with a deep ditch on each side it was proving harder to find a spot then we thought.
After a few more miles we spotted a small holding and called in to see if we could camp. We met the owner Lucinda who was lovely and showed us to a stunning place next to the river. While Sharon and Lizzie cooked, Tim and Joe put the tents up and went to help Lucinda’s partner Victor stack logs. It was great to help and once finished we sat next to the tents eating tea. As we finished and were getting ready to wash and go to sleep Victor came down to invite us in for mate. We all made our way up to the house to find they had cooked a meal for us of rice and fried salmon. It was so kind and with a tiny kitten in the kitchen Sharon was in her element.
This Popular South Amerian caffeine infused drink is prepared from steeping dried leaves of a plant called Yerba mate in hot water. It is drunk from a special cup and metal ‘straw’ and passed around at social gatherings. It tastes like strong tea with a musty aftertaste – clearly an aquired taste for some of us!
It was so good having a second meal not realising how hungry we were. Needless to say we slept very well and were ready for an easy couple days for some time out.
Tuesday 14th January
With the sun lighting up the valley we sat having breakfast and joined Lucinda and Victor for mate. It was so great to meet these lovely people and we felt sad to say goodbye. We waved as we joined the road and cruised the 9 miles into town of Chaiten.
Chaiten had been hit by a volcano in May 2008. We had been told that for a tourist there wasn’t much to see there but that wasn’t the reason why we wanted to visit. We needed a break and with a town trying to get back on its feet, any income from passing tourists is always going to help. As we rode into town we noticed how one side was slowly being rebuilt with many new buildings and the other had the odd scattering of buildings with huge areas of ash piled up.
It was a real eye opener into what we all take for granted, the small things we complain about and here we are in a town that had been flattened by a volcano that had been inactive for nearly 10,000 years. Incredibly no-one was hurt as evacuation was started immediately. People are now slowly returning to the town to rebuild their lives but many have settled elsewhere. We got a real sense of determination and positivity from the local community.
As many of you know we support a charity called ShelterBox who respond by providing emergency shelter in situations such as this. Although they were not needed on this particular occasion, ShelterBox has helped thousands of people in desperate need of shelter in South America after volcanic eruptions and other natural disaters which unfortunately are not uncommon in this partof the world. If you want to read more about their work – please look at our ‘sponsor us’ page.
After finding a supermarket we asked around for camping and soon found a nice hostel where we could camp in the garden. The owners were lovely and very hospitable and we soon had our tents pitched while the girls made their way to the supermarket for supplies. We spent the afternoon relaxing – Tim and Joe made an effort to inject more money into the local economy whilst satisfying their chocolate and biscuit habit.
As we were relaxing we could hear live music in the town so headed out to the square. It was brilliant and with music in our legs we walked down to the water front and played on the exercise machines working new muscles we didn’t know we had!
We found a bar and Joe and Lizzie treated us to our first pisco sour followed by a beer. It was just what we all needed.
Wednesday 15th January
We woke up to a day off 🙂 We treated ourselves to having our clothes washed in a machine at the small cost of £3 – it would save time which meant more time for eating chocolate. We wandered around the town and made the most of the free wifi in the town square.
We were heading north once again the following day towards the town of Puerto Montt which would be the end of the Carretera Austral.
Thanks for reading!