(85) For mountain climbs just add Squash
We were in the town of Chaiten that had been hit by a volcanic eruption in 2008. Most of the town was destroyed by the river channelling volcanic dust into people’s homes. We were close to the end of the epic Carreterra Austral and we would be coming to the end in a few days…
Thursday 16th January
Even with an uneven surface under Tim’s side of the tent and Sharon having a huge bubble that was getting bigger in her thermarest we managed to sleep ok. We still had a few things to do and so made breakfast, dried the tent in the sun and headed over to the park to pick up wifi. We’d had a reply from Alpkit who had been great in trying to sort out the worn zip on our tent and then headed over to the supermarket to get supplies for the next few days. We brought a really nice apple empanada (like a pasty) and got going by 1.30. We climbed out of the town in 35 degree heat and longed for a cold drink.
The Tarmac didn’t last long turning in an instant into a gravel road made from volcanic rock. Although it was an even road the stones and gravel surface was one of the hardest we had ridden so far, it was like riding on congrete that was covered in a layer of fine gravel sand and round stone making it hard for our tyres to get any grip.
We had entered Pumalin National Park – Chile’s largest private reserve created by the United States environmental foundation The Conservation Land Trust, which is endowed and led by the American businessman, mountaineer and conservationist and former co-founder of the well-known North Face clothing brand – Douglas Tompkins. There has been some controversy about his large purchases of land in Chile and had split the chilian mainland in 2 making the chilain goverment very nervous and amazined that somone ould buy such a large part of chile and go under the radar. however the Chilean people we spoke to were happy about his presence and told us he had provided many jobs for local people and boosted tourism in the area bringing in much needed revenue.
The four of us pushed on climbing and descending passing large areas of burnt forest that had been deforested from the pyroclastic flow of the volcano.
It was a real eye opener seeing how much was destroyed by a volcano that had previously only been identified as a mountain. It soon turned into stunning scenery that we had become so used to in Patagonia.
We met several cyclists heading south – many from California where we would eventually ride through probably early next year. We met a lovely Chilean family; we have yet to find a Chilean person who is not warm and friendly. We always feel so welcome in this country.
We hadn’t covered many miles so far but it was a great ride and after finally finding the designated camp spot we were looking for we pitched the tents, got the tea on the go and had a cold shower.
Friday 17th January
We took it in turns to walk up to a nearby waterfall – first the girls, then the boys. It was a really nice walk and the first waterfall was stunning – the boys couldn’t resist a swim in the pool under the main falls. It was freezing at first but after getting used to the temperature it was so nice in the heat of the day.
Once we had looked at the other falls we headed back to find Sharon had baked an amazing sweet bread on the camp oven while watching a movie with Lizzie (she can still multi-task!) We sat and had lunch but our eyes were on the bread. Cut up and spread with honey it was so delicious.
We loaded the remainder of our things and headed to the port where we needed to catch 2 ferries. It was around 8 miles and the going was ok except for the odd steep gravelly climb and the more and more annoying horse flies. They seemed to be getting bigger and bigger. They were red and black and almost indestructible. We once flicked one into a river and instead of drowning, it put itself upright and flew off!
We soon reached the lake and enquired about the ferries and with the presence of a queue of cars it looked like the first one would be soon. We sat in the sun eating oat biscuits with a very thick layer of Dulce de leche in the middle (we had acquired quite a habit for this sweet thick milk!)
After about 30 minutes the ferry arrived and we boarded. It was a short crossing that would take us to a harbour where we would have to ride 6 miles to the next ferry. The scenery was stunning with almost vertical tropical mountains rising out of the deep blue lake with weather worn snow bound granite peaks sat on top.
We arrived at the port with a 600 metre steep climb before the road levelled and gently undulated through the high peaks. The road was so quiet as all the cars had got to the next ferry much quicker than us. With 2 miles to go a vehicle arrived to tell us the next ferry was waiting for us so we pushed on and soon arrived at the port straight onto the boat with big smiles from the crew and claps from the passengers. We could relax for the next few hours and as it slowly pulled out of the harbour, we got chatting with the ships engineer who took us down to the engine room to show us around. He told us that the ferry was 35 years old and had been brought to Chile 4 years ago from Greece crossing the Atlantic Ocean to South America following the coast of Argentina and around Cape Horn, through one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the world – due to high winds and big waves – to probably the least dangerous lake in the world.
We arrived in the town of Hornopiren as the sun was setting and found a campsite which was basically the front garden of someone’s house. It was cheap though and included a warm shower although Shaz nearly got electrocuted with the creative wiring in the shower which would trip every 2 minutes so would involve leaning out of the shower to flick the switch with wet hands.
Saturday 18th January
We soon realised we wouldn’t be getting the good night’s sleep we needed. The street light outside lit both ours and Joe and Lizzie’s tent and the boats in the harbour were moving around with a variety of load engines. Add to this the odd car stopping outside and leaving their engine running before driving off with dogs chasing barking loudly.
So with a bleary eyed Tim needing a shower it would be his turn to lean out of the bath tub to flick the fuse that was badly screwed to the wall. We did finally leave still alive all be it with slightly curlier hair. We stopped in town to pick up a couple bits and started the climb out of the town. It was now around 35 degrees on a steep gravel climb with cars and trucks all leaving a thick plume of grey dust ready to stick to us.
We reached 130 metres and gradually descended and climbed, stopping 5 miles before the turn off which would take us the longer way around the peninsular taking us away from the heavy traffic and down to the coast. It was 20 miles further but we thought worth the extra pedalling.
We stopped next to a river to have dinner before riding on along a nice flat all be it rough road which was stunning. We passed village after village and small beach after small beach.
With the temperature hovering around the mid 30’s we stopped at a small shop to get ice cream. The lady was lovely and after our second ice cream we rode on to have a dip in the sea. It was so nice with a cold undercurrent and a warm top layer. We could have stayed in for ages but we wanted to get a little further on before stopping. We went on around the bay and found a spot on the headland. With 18 miles to the port where we would catch another ferry to Porta Montt it would be the last gravel road for a while and the end of the Carretera Austral.
Sunday 19th January
We woke after a good night’s sleep and continued along the rough road. There was only 9 miles to go to the ferry and the sunshine was shining on us. The road was the usual ripio and we took it steady.We passed many boat builders that were all building an aray of fishing boats. They were huge and looked very heavy making us think how they would get them to the sea. We stopped at one when Lizzie fround that her suntan lotion had opened up in her handle bar bag. It reminded us of when the same thing happened to Tim in northern Kenya with about 10 eggs… Understandbly they wanted to clean everything so we rode on towards the ferry without them.
When we arrived at the junction for the ferry we were thrilled to see Tarmac! As we were arriving at the ferry port we picked up empanadas and the ferry arrived but no Joe and Lizzie! Just as the ferry was leaving they arrived. Fortunately the next one was only in 45 minutes. We ate lunch and enjoyed the sunshine before the ferry arrived.
It was a short crossing to the other side where we were welcomed to more Tarmac. We pottered along in the hot sunshine hoping to get the 30 miles done to Puerto Montt.
It felt so different as the road was built up on either side and the traffic was busy. We immediately missed the quietness of the Austral. Shaz and Lizzie both picked up a long sleeve shirt to protect their arms from the sun from a market we passed and we eventually arrived in Puerto Montt and found the hostel that had been recommended to us.
It was the only one in town with camping and it had some kittens so we would be very happy there for a couple of nights. We pitched the tent cooked dinner, played with the kittens and drank beer happy to have survived yet enjoy the Carretera Austral which we had started just before Christmas – it felt a long time ago.
Monday 20th January
We spent the day doing the blog, washing (we treated ourselves to a machine wash) and pottering around town in the pouring rain. We picked up a roll mat for Shaz to aid more comfy sleeping until we got to Santiago to get a replacement thermarest. Joe and Tim cooked fish and chips for dinner -yum! We found out after from the packaging that the fish had been imported from Vietnam – crazy when you think about the immense coastline Chile has – Tim suggested the fish had swum from Vietnam into Chilean waters where it was caught…
Tuesday 21st January
We decided to have another day off to relax. Shaz had a long siesta while Tim washed the bikes after their long time on the Austral.
We had salmon (bought by Joe and Lizzie in the local fish market) and chips for dinner cooked by Joe and Shaz. A great feed.
Wednesday 22nd January
We woke up to a wet morning remembering that we were heading off later. We ate breakfast carefully selecting our favourite jams – the camping included breakfast. After posting the latest blog we headed off late morning and called in at the bike shop to pick up an exchange for Tim’s rim.
Heading out of town proved time consuming as we spotted a sign for empanadas. After about 6 miles of rain and heavy traffic Lizzie noticed a noise which was getting worse. It turned out to be her bottom bracket was making a noise which was hidden by the noise fronm the ripio. We stopped for an ice cream and asked about a bike shop. The owner directed us to a man’s house which had lots of bike parts but it looked dubious as to whether he sold the part or not – he didn’t. We soon arrived in Porta Varas and found another bike shop. They didn’t have the part either so the choice was for Lizzie and Joe to ride back to Puerto Montt or have the part cleaned in the hope it would stop the noise and get it fixed properly at the next town 250 miles away. They choose the latter and the friendly bike owner set about cleaning the part.
We were soon on our way to Cafe Barasa which Sara had recommended after visiting on her way back to Santiago. We headed out of town after clearing out another bakery and wished we’d camped there as it seemed a much nicer town. We rode for another hour or so and spotted the Volcan Osorno on the horizon once again. It provided a stunning backdrop to the lake. As we were riding Joe noticed a cake stall on the side of the road – every cyclists dream….
We found a spot in some woods to camp, collected water and cooked tuna pasta for dinner.
Thursday 23rd January
We woke up in our woodland camp, had breakfast and wheeled our bikes through the field under the observation of the road workers who had started their shift and looked rather bemused at us. We soon had a magnificent view of the volcano and as we rode along the lake and we stopped briefly for a slice of cake before riding into the town of Ensenada.
We rode through passing the entrance of a national park and followed the beautifully new tarmacked road for an hour or so before stopping for lunch by the side of a lake. A cheese and salad sandwich later we followed the meandering road for the afternoon. We turned right on a short cut to Entra Lagos and rode a bit on the now familiar ripio before it turned once again into Tarmac. We started to look for somewhere to camp around 6pm and decided to camp next to Lake Rupanco. There were many fishermen there and Tim had a go but with the fast flow of the water and not having a rod it was a fruitless exercise and he soon lost his line and almost himself – the rest of the team awarded him 10/10 for effort though!
We ate mash and veg stew before making a cornflake cake with chocolate and manjar in it. Delicious. We were just heading to bed when a local guy gave us a fresh fish he had caught – he had obviously seen Tim’s efforts earlier. It would have to wait until morning to be eaten.
Friday 24th January
We woke to a clear day with mist lifting off a beautiful lake with the morning sun giving off amazing light with the volcano in the background. We left our camp spot about 9.30 after Tim gutted the fish ready for our dinner – he put it in cold water and we hoped it would survive the journey.
The road was good going to Entree Lagos and we stopped to stock up on food. The sun was shining as we left and the road was gently undulating. The green hills rolled away reminding us of our home county Devon in the south-west of England.
We stopped for petrol for our stove but the owner wouldn’t let us have any first saying he couldn’t fill the container and secondly there was a limit on the amount we could have. He eventually said if we borrowed a suitable container we could get fuel so we gave up and rode on. We would have to limit our fuel use until we got to the next town some 180 miles away. We stopped for lunch in the shelter of a bus stop grateful for some shade.
The sun stayed shining and we rose and dropped towards the Chilean border where we would be heading back into Argentina. We arrived around 5pm and stamped out ready to ride a pass of 1,300 metres. After an hour or so we found a suitable camp spot. Tim and jo went off to a deep gorge where Tim had spotted a river to collect water and return to cook the fish. It was delicious.
Interestingly there was a couple with a car parked in the corner where we were camped and it looked like they were putting something in the panels of the car. They were very secretive about what they were doing and we assumed they were smuggling something into Chile, probably only cigarettes but we tried not to look just in case! They eventually drove off so we could have a wash and settle down for a good night’s sleep.
Saturday 25th January
We woke up in no-man’s land 700 metres above sea level – it took a while for the tents to dry but once they were we headed on up the climb surrounded by the high peaks we had started the day before.
After about an hour after the road had reached 1,305 metres we reached the physical border between Argentina and Chile.
While we were waiting we got chatting to a group of people who had arrived in a 4×4 truck. It turned out they were making a British documentary in South America about extreme athletes. An English lady called Squash Falconer was presenting the show and the director was keen for us to meet her. She arrived after a short while and before we knew it they were asking if we’d like to be interviewed for the series.
We of-course said yes and we felt excited and a little nervous as they fitted us with microphones and started filming with Squash asking questions about our trip. It was totally surreal but a great experience and we hoped we’d make the cut!
She was lovely and we chatted a lot off camera, When we meet people like Squash the list of things we want to do in our life time doubles. We looked on enviously at her bike and the things she was off to do. Squash clearly had a real sense of adventure and a positive outlook on life. She has had many incredible achievements like being the first British woman to paraglide off the summit of Mount Blanc, she summited Mount Everest in 2011 and rode on Dolly (Tim’s bike) in 2014. The programme will be shown in the UK early next year so we’re pretty excited about it all. If you want to read about her the website address is http://www.squashfalconer.com There is even a photo of her riding Dolly!
We rode down to the border, stamped into Argentina and had lunch still buzzing about our experience. We were heading to the ‘route of 7 lakes’ which had been highly recommended to us. We rode on for a couple of hours before arriving at the first lake – it was truly stunning.
We had read that there was a free camp site at the second lake so we continued and were soon pulling in and found a great spot next to a fire pit. Tim asked our neighbour if they could sell us some petrol from their vehicle and they kindly said they could get us some when they popped into town. We added bread and wine to the list and made a fire, dinner and a crispy cake while we waited. A little while later we were chatting around the fire, drinking wine and looking at the incredible sky full of stars.
Thanks for reading!