The end of the Carretera Austral was celebrated in true bike-tourist style….
But back to where we left off in Coyhaique…..
After a few much needed rest days in the big town of Coyhaique we hit the Carretera again which continued to impress us with spectacular scenery and perfect weather, all the more enjoyable with over 100kms of smooth bitumen.
One day was such a perfect example of a great day riding the Carretera that I just have to describe it…
We wake up as the day starts to get bright at about 7.30am. Mick crawls out of his sleeping bag into the freezing air, gets dressed and steps outside to make breakfast and coffee – our favourite breakfast of muesli and yogurt. Meanwhile I pack up the stuff inside the tent and almost exactly when I am finished Mick brings over a cup of steaming hot coffee. While trying to ignore the lumpy bits from the permanently indissolvable powdered milk we leisurly drink the coffees and scoff the cereal before packing all the stuff onto the bikes and getting away by 9am.
On the nice smooth road we coast down by the side of the fast flowing Simpson River, getting occasional glimpses of churning whitewater along the way. We’re in a steep sided valley and the 200m+ high cliff above the road feels like its hanging way out over our heads. A headwind whips in our faces but with the nice road and slight downhill it hardly slows us down below 20km/h. We pass at least 2 big waterfalls gushing down the cliff that lightly spray us as we pass. Then we exit the steep valley into a lush area of green farmland spreading out from the sides of the river with the thickly forested mountain sides retreating from the edges of the water but becoming all the more impressive as we can now take in their full granduer with a wider perspective.
Ever on the lookout for food, Mick spots some juicy ripe red frambuesas (rasberries) in a huge patch just off the side of the road as we whizz by and calls out to me… we both come to a quick halt and run over to start raiding the bushes like we haven’t eaten in a week. Morning tea never tasted so good a half hour later when we stop at a little wooden bus stop for a cup of black tea and a feast of the rasberries that I managed to save in a zip-lock bag between mouthfulls by the side of the road.
Mmmmm…. wild rasberries!
Soon after smoko we turn off onto another smooth sealed road which followed an even more beautiful river up another valley. As we’d swung around to the northeast the constant patagonian westerly got behind us and was gently pushing us up the road. As the day progressed everything seemed to get more vivid – they were the same types of evergreen pine trees along the side of the road but they seemed bigger, bushier and a more intense green lit by the sun in the dark green valley. And more types and colours of flowers than I’d ever seen before….. the cutest hanging pink and purple bell-like ones, white daisies, little cute blue ones and bright yellow ‘pom pom’ style and they completely covered ever clear patch of ground between the trees. The scent of the trees and the flowers gave the air a constant perfume through the whole valley.
We passed rambling wooden farmhouses and roughly fenced yards filled with a few very contented looking fat cattle. We passed one little disused hut where the wooden roof had fallen in and was rotting away and the forest was retaking it – tall pink and yellow flowers pushing up through the rotten roof and green vines climbing the walls.
We stopped for lunch where the road crossed the sweet river and there was a perfect sandy beach to spread out on in the sun. Mick dived into the river for a rapid cool-off swim (beautiful warm day but still a snow-melt river!).
One, two, three….
… and swim back to the edge quickly.
Then tried his luck with the clearly visible trout but they were a bit too wily this time… meanwhile I had an hour siesta on the beach….
Back on the bikes the road continued much the same, up and down by the river with little uphill climbs where we got just a bit out of breath before the next thrilling no-breaks downhill run.
We arrived at the little town of Mañuales mid afternoon. We had been intending to stay there and had already done 70kms, a good days effort but we were still keen to keep on riding so we stopped in and grabbed some bread, fruit and a 6-pack of beers with a bush camp in mind. Finally by 6pm the bitumen ran out and we arrived at the rocky gravel road and with no desire to cycle it we looked for a spot to camp. Luckily there was also a sweet river nearby, of course. So we found a semi-sheltered flat grassy spot in the middle of some stands of native bamboo with a beautiful view to the mountains. Downed the beers, cooked some pasta, watched the sunset and crawled into the tent to be asleep in 20 seconds.
Just another day in paradise……
The end of the day beer.
Well if all that sounds too good to be true you’ll be happy to know that the weather turned shite…. as its prone to do, for the next 4 days or so. For the first time though we got really really wet, and really really cold. The waterproofs worked for a while but the rain was relentless. Our shoes totally filled with water and the toes went numb. Once it really bucketted for about 1/2 an hour, just like a tropical north queensland rainstorm…. except that it was only about 3 degrees. We climbed a steep road up to a high pass, about 700m straight up but we were actually glad for the warmth the hard work gave us. Then came the 700m downhill run, by the bottom we were almost frozen. It was the coldest either of us have ever felt.
Very very wet. Yeah yeah… its what the Carretera Austral is really famous for, I shouldn’t complain.
Fortunately that night we happened upon a welcoming CONAF parks campsite near a beautiful glaciar called Ventisquero Colgante.
The view of the glaciar as we approached the campsite.
The next day was still a bit wet but we decided to hike up for a better view of the glacier…
And what a view…
Just in case you missed it….. the big waterfall is over 300m high to give an idea of the scale!
Just a little down the road we found the cutest little fishing villiage called Puyhuapi (sp?) which we couldn’t leave it was so gorgeous and with such friendly people. At the camping place we stayed at by the lake, ‘La Sirena’ the nice lady owner came asking us if she could help dry out all of our clothes by hanging them over her wood fired stove. It was such a lovely place and they even have these cut little cabins with a dirt floor to put the tent in with a little stove in an alcove to the side (although ours hadn’t been installed yet…). Weird but cute. The husband came over and stoked a big fire for us to get warm by while his son chopped us some more firewood. Very hard to leave….
Bayside (hard toi believe its actually the pacific ocean) at Puyhuapi
Typical village scene.
We spent our very tranquilo day wandering about the cute town and eating lemon pie. There was a sign at the place where we were camping for a boat cruise on the bay so we decided to take them up on it. The mum and dad weren’t around so the son took us out which was great, except that he was only about 12…. well maybe 14 at the most! We figured that was the way things were done here then and were only slightly worried when he couldn’t start the boat, then didn’t seem too sure about where he was going, even though he was supposed to be taking us to the ‘secret fishing spot’. Needless to say we didn’t catch too much but it was fun and then the puzzle was slightly resolved at the end of the day when we arrived back to find the mum and dad of our ‘guide’ standing about with their hands on their hips with expressions varying from angry to bemused…. obviously our enterprising little fellow hadn’t bothered to check with his parents first! No wonder he was keen to pocket our money while we were still on the boat!
Mick and our little guide.
The view from our camping area and the little boat we went out on.
It was hard to leave the little place but we finally managed it, even though we only got about 15kms down the road before a perfectly placed restaurant turned up at exactly lunchtime. We couldn’t pass it up and after some great tucker and a bottle of wine were off on our way all the more merrier. It doesn’t take us much to get pretty tipsy these days so the next 40kms or so passed in a bit of a haze but it was fun!
Riding out of Puyhuapi
We found another sweet spot off the road to camp that night while Mick did a spot of fishing and landed us a perfect pan-sized brown trout which we put in foil and cooked over the fire in the usual way, what a life.
This is what I do while mick fishes in the arvo.
He he gotcha! ….a little afternoon nudy swim in the river.
Brown trout about to be in my belly.
We finally turned off the lovely Carretera Austral a few days later, up onto the road that would take us over a pass through the Andes once again and back into Argentina. We followed a spectacular river up the valley, called the Rio Futaleufú, or as its popularly known with the hard core kayakers and rafters, ’The Fu’. It appears that it is one of the top four white water rivers in the world, with lots of class 5+ rapids, but it must surely be the most beautiful of them. The water was the most spectacular deep blue with foaming white where it charged its way down huge drops that were not quite waterfalls but the churning water definitely inspired a lot of respect.
After a tough day of climbing up the valley we finally arrived at the town of Futaleufú. At a top camping spot we met up with another bicycling couple – Andreas and James. They were an odd couple.
James (left), Mick and Andreas (Andrew really ok) cooking up a storm.
These guys were such hard core touring bikers that this is what their cutlery looked like.
We were a bit too scared to try the ‘solid class 5 + rapids’ so we took a kayaking course instead with James and Andrew on the more gentle Rio Epsolon which was fun. Tackled some ‘solid class 2′ rapids and got very waterlogged in every orifice as we tried out some eskimo roll techniques, not to mention dizzy and freezing cold (no wetsuits) but a good time was had by all.
Somehow we got stuck in ‘the Fu’ for about 4 days (there was a rainstorm for a day in there which gave us some excuse) but we can’t remember too much about it….. something about lots and lots of beer, wine, card games and drawing a comic series about a guy named ‘The Wedge’ (based on a real Canadian guide who was so top-heavy he actually looked like a wedge), The Ditch and various other characters…
And this is how the night ended up.
Somehow we pulled ourselves away from ‘The Fu’ before we all settled down and bought houses there, it was that sort of place…
After an easy ride back over what must be the lowest Andes pass, we were back in Argentina and looking forward to our first big juicy steak in a while. Viva Argentina!
Tags: Argentina, Bike touring, Carretera Austral, Chile, fishing, South America, The Big Bike Trip, Travel Destinations