Coyhaique, Villa Manihuales, Puerto Puyuhuapi, La Junta, Villa Saint Lucia, Chaiten, Puerto Montt – 263km (Total 1734km cycled)
Highlights: Very cold rain, well-deserved tarmac, long rides, Casa de Ciclistas, message in the sand from the French tandem, free camping and a warm bed.
The title of this post was inspired by a lovely lady at the Lavanderia in Puerto Natales, who would welcome our bags of smelly laundry with open arms. In her limited and heavily-accented English she would anxiously ask us to separate the clothes that could be tumble dried. “Dry? No dry? … Dry? No dry?” she would ask, anxiously, while pointing to our bags. It was most endearing and had us repeating the catch phrase all day long.
As we left Coyhaique, the weather, unfortunately, was firmly placed in the “No dry” pile.
Day 89-90 : 6-7 April 2012 – Leaving Coyhaique and heading for the famous Casa de Ciclistas in Manihuales
We left Hospedaje Yolanda with handfuls of sweet apples from the garden and headed to Unimarc for last-minute shopping. I got chatting to a Chilean cyclist in my best Spanish and he waved us goodbye with the words “It ain’t going to rain today” as the sky opened up for a full day of rain.
A seven km climb later, we turned off the tarmac onto pretty good ripio at first. As the kilometres clocked up, our body heat reduced. There is only so much your rain gear can take before it gives up the ghost. Even Peli’s super-duper Showers Pass jacket left her rather wet and cold. (Do nag her to write a review about it! It worked :) ) At 30km she had had enough, and we headed into a local estancia and asked for a corner to pitch our tent.
Victor, a farm-hand on horseback, helped us find a good sheltered spot and even offered us wood for a fire. We were too saturated to sit around with marshmallows, but the thought was nice.
The rain and sun swapped places in the early morning enough to dry our tent before we set off. It was not the warmest of days, but it was very pretty at times, big birds of prey swooping above our heads, massive mountain peaks with snow and glaciers to admire.
The GPS, road signs and I had calculated wrong, so we got back to tarmac 5km early, not that we were complaining. We also started to spot the first signs of the demonstrations we have heard about, which are now over, burnt tyres and writings on the road.
We had a good downhill all the way into Villa Manihuales which would make it our longest day yet, nearly 56km. On the outskirts of the village, we were welcomed by angry farm dogs. One managed to grab hold of the helmet hanging off Peli’s panniers, so much for that Dog Dazer she got – it had no impact on the crazed mutts at all. I jumped off my bike and ran up towards the dog and Peli, but before I could do anything the dog had let go and ran back to the farm.
We knocked on the door of a building that looked like a little home-made church. After some waiting we were greeted from another door by Jorge, the friendly owner, AKA the “cazador de ciclistas”, the cyclist-hunter. And from within the house we heard a cheery “Salut!” from team French tandem.
We were soon amongst friends, old and new, and made very welcome by our hosts. After a hot shower, chocolate was passed around, we won it after all.
The surprise of the evening was delicious freshly-made pasta made by an Argentinian cycle-tourer who carried a pasta-maker on tour with him. Bernard and Priscille provided a tasty tomato sauce.
Day 91 : 8 April 2012 – Getting to the Church on time
An early start was due since the French wanted to catch a ferry in Puerto Cisnes and only had two days to get there. We just tagged along since everyone was up.
The tandem was joined by a stray dog and we took ownership, or rather, he took ownership of us, as we caught up a bit later. No matter what we did – throwing stones at it, zapping it with the dazer or shouting at it – it stayed with us. On downhills it fell back a bit, but it soon caught us on the ups. It just ran next to us for 55km, just stopping once or twice to get a drink of water or do what male dogs do. Finally, it found some young lads fishing by a lake and we took off again, while it was looking away.
We plodded on, it is easy to clock up the kilometres on smooth ground, but at 60km Peli’s cold-y flu was getting too much, even for a strong girl like her.
We found the French on the main square in Villa Amengual, they had already found some good bread at the local shop. We did some shopping and asked for a place to camp. The owner confirmed what we had heard from others, just pitch up on the lawn in front of the church.
The tandem pressed on for a few more kilometres and we were joined shortly by the pasta-making Argentinian.
Day 92 : 9 April 2012 – Leisurely start
We got up leisurely late and took our time packing up, since young Peli was still under the weather. The young Argentinian also took his time only to find a visitation on his rear wheel and while fettling he found a broken spoke. I looked on lazily at first but soon I got my spoke key out and a spare tube and wandered over, just can’t keep my fingers clean for long. Peli explained that I was a “mecanico” and he quickly told us with a grin that he’d follow us like the dog did yesterday, in case he came into difficulties.
Just after noon we rolled out of town and had 30 odd km to where we’d start to head uphill and the tarmac would stop. Peli did well on the rolling hills and we made good time. We have been told that we could camp at the refugio at the junction to Puerto Cisnes where the Carretera Austral went north. After a quick shufty, we decided to get back on the bikes, as some people had used the area as a toilet. Not a nice place to camp for the night.
We just about got back on the bikes when I spotted a written note in the sand: “Coucou woollypigs”. It was from the French tandem! We now knew that they’d changed their plans and were taking the same route as us. Yippee! So, we had yet another lot of cycle tourers to hunt down,
Three kilometres later we found a not-so-great place to pitch up, a area that was dug out by the road workers. But, it was somewhere to sleep, and we had a stunning glacier and some great mountains to look as we pitched up.
Day 93 : 10 April 2012 – A damp start
Since we were camping in a rainforest our tent was rather wet when we packed up in the morning. It would take hours before the sun would hit us where we were, though the sun was shining on the mountains above us.
We got ready for a hard climb, especially for Peli since she didn’t have a good night’s sleep with her flu. We missed the writing in the sand from the French tandem telling to get more chocolate ready, since they won this climb.
We rolled down the rather steep hill and spotted a lady, Francoise, pushing her bike up. She headed towards Peli with a grin on her face, saying, “You need to buy chocolate!” She’d chatted to the French the day before and had been told “the chocolate rules”. Francoise is the one of the very few cycle tourers we’ve seen coming south at the moment. It is really the end of the season.
We found a little campsite and were offered a night for free, plus a warm shower. Not bad. Peli also managed to track down some fresh bread rolls which we scoffed with butter and nutella, delicious. We set the tent up to dry over looking the fjord and got some warm food into sick Peli, and some much needed rest.
Day 94 : 11 April 2012 – Duracell
We only had around 15km into Puerto Puyuhuapi but on some rough ripio, they were making it better according to the signs we saw. In Puyuguapi we found, can you guess? Yes, the French tandem, who had spent the night luxuriating in a spa over looking the fjord, lucky people.
Puyuhuapi is probably the most well-stocked village we’ve seen and we got plenty of lovely fresh food for lunch and the next few days.
We set off around 2pm with the plan only to do 10-20km more and rest poorly Peli. As the kilometres clocked up, the places for wild camping disappeared and we pushed on. There is no stopping Peli, she is very fit when she get into her head that we can make the distance and there would be shops and a hot shower waiting for us at the end of the day. So we had yet another 60km day and this one was on ripio and with one sick puppy in the riding party. We must either be getting used to this, or fitter. Or, of course, mad.
Just as darkness was falling fast we found a hosteleria. We needed a bed and a shower to get Peli better. Just as we tucked into bed we heard the rain starting to come down and we hoped that the French tandem had found a good place to stay for the night. They are still in their not-so-waterproof tent.
Day 95-98: 12-15 April 2012 – Sick days
We woke up to even heavier rain and quickly booked two more nights in the hosteleria. We didn’t fancy heading out into that when we had a good warm bed. It had been five days since we had a rest day so it fitted well with getting Peli back on her legs and having some resting time.
It’s good timing too, since the worst of the rain is due right now.
We looked at the map, the weather forecasts (seven days of rain due) and knew that the season was not in our favour. Options were stay, bus, hitch or ride through the rain. The last option not the best with a sick Peli. The bus, which would fit with a ferry further north, was a small one and therefore would not take our bikes. Hitching a ride would be very hard out of La Junta. So, riding in the rain was the best option, since Peli was nearly over her bug by the end of our five days rest there.
Day 99 – 16 April – Riding in the rain
We got up early to packed and dress for a wet day’s riding. It wasn’t too bad at the start but that soon changed and we were wet, very wet, but at least ready for it.
After 40 soggy kilometres we had a rest at the bus stop on the road next to Villa Vanguardia, a tiny row of ramshackle houses in the middle of nowhere. After a little time spent hopping over the tiny streams which cris-crossed the village, we were welcomed into the dry at the shabby, tiny supermercado-come-hosteleria-come-Avon-lady-house. The rather strict landlady warned us not to get her floor wet, and that the shower was for ‘uso personal’. Peli pleaded with her (employing Puss in Boots eyes) and was allowed a wonderfully hot shower. In the meantime, I got a fire going in the living room to dry all our gear out.
The room had just a single bed so I slept on a mat on the floor.
Day 100 : 17 April – Last leg
We got up to rain and a really grey, damp-looking day. We had to press on as we had 110km to do in two days for a Wednesday ferry or get stuck in Chaiten for two more rainy days while waiting for the Friday ferry.
Eight or so kilometres later, while pushing up a hill, we tried our luck in flagging down a small van. It was the only vehicle we’d seen since we started that morning.
The van pulled over and the friendly lady driver, Rosa, opened the doors to reveal three frenetically waving Israeli backpackers who were already loaded up in the back.
After twenty very bumpy and cold kilometres, sitting in a layer of cow muck (it’s glamorous, this cycle touring lark) we arrived in Villa Santa Lucia where we parted ways with the van and stocked up on biscuits. We had been told that there was a long climb out of town on bad roads before the downhill and flat road to Chaiten. We needed fuel.
The last few hills over the last two days, I had to walk up because my granny ring had worn out and kept hooking the chain which caused it to jam into the front derailleur.
So I put some music on and prepared for a 10km walk to the top. The first song had barely started when we spotted a 4×4 and put our thumbs out. It stopped, to our great surprise. The driver told us he wasn’t going far, but he felt sorry for us given the terrible state of the surface (roadworks) and the steepness of the hill. As he deposited us about 15km later, at the top of the muddy hill, he bid us farewell, saying “Todavia queda mucho, pero van a volar” (there’s still a long way to go, but you’ll be flying!
And he was not wrong. We had 68km downhill/flat road ahead of us, with the last 45km on tarmac. We had heard from twoblindtoride.org that we might get a nasty headwind, but apart from some localised rain showers we had next to no wind.
Again Peli got wind of a warm bed and food and encouraged us into achieving our longest day riding at 76km. I was knackered, wet and my leg had being playing up for a while, so I demanded a dry bed to sleep in before the ferry.
As we rolled into Chaiten we spotted the big piles of volcanic ash next to the road and the abandoned houses with 2-3 feet of ash around and inside. Chaiten is half ghost town, they had even planned to rebuild it up the coast. But the locals wanted to stay put after the eruption in 2009, so half of the houses are in ruins and others are rebuilt. We even saw some houses still laying in the river.
We ran into Emily and Alex from the UK who recommended Hospedaje Don Carlos to us. There weren’t really places to camp there because of the volcano. It was a bit swankier than we’re used to, and more expensive (10000 per person), but there’s not much choice in Chaiten!
Day 101 – 18 April : Fawlty Towers
After breakfast Peli asked if it was OK for us and the other couple to hang around in their big lounge while we waited for the ferry. Yes, yes, no problem at all, we were told. But, come lunch time when we asked to use the kitchen, the owner turned Basil Fawlty on us. You have to pay 2000 pesos per person to stay the day, he insisted. It’s the law! The law of his back pocket, more likely. Since there wasn’t much you could do in Chaiten on a rainy day, we reluctantly coughed up.
At 1900 we boarded the ferry and enjoyed a night sailing with a beat combo of exceedingly drunk young Chileans playing some horrid Brazilian music on their laptops, and old truck drivers snoring away. On the upside, Peli’s seasickness stayed at bay.
Day 102-105 – 19-22 April : The end of the road
We have now cycled around 3/4 of the Carretera Austral and have enjoyed every bit of it. One of the reasons we came out here to southern Chile was to cycle this fantastic, isolated road in this stunning country. And we have now done it, even if it was hard work at times with us both being sick, broken spokes, wind and rain.
In Puerto Montt we managed to get extra spokes, new chainring and mended my Brooks B17. It had not been straight since Torres del Paine and we are pretty sure it was the cause of my numb bum and hurting leg. We went into a bikeshop in Puerto Montt, next to our hospdaje, and he pointed us to another up the hill. We got simply great service from Luis Vidal, who charged us just 4000 pesos for the whole thing, thanks: Vidal Bicicletas, Constitucion Alto #10, Puerto Montt, mobile: 81442054, email: email@example.com.
We will also try to reproof our failing waterproofs along with getting some fleece sleeping bag liners, along with other bits and bobs.
We were lucky to meet up with Yves and Katerina whom we haven’t seen since Puerto Natales. We had a good old natter over lunch. And we also found a great source of delicious baked goods, including doughnuts in all the colours of the rainbow. We also hope that with staying put a few more days our care package from home will finally arrive, containing essentials such as Green & Blacks chocolate, Marmite, Lush solid shampoo, and Yorkshire tea.
Oh, and I nearly forgot, we picked up our new Exped Downmats! Big thanks to Andy and the five years warranty from Exped, and FedEx who really knows how to do customer service (even though we still had to pay ££LOTS tax on the parcel, ouch).
While doing our bit and bobs we ended up spontaneously taking a bus out to the pretty little town of Puerto Varas. We had a little wander around and a delicious pizza (the best we’ve had in South America) in this lovely place which at high season would be packed. We had impressive views of the lake and the rather impressive Volcan Osorno, at 2652 metres, in the background.
Now the question is: where to next?
We are rather tired of the rain and the cold. We are somewhat behind the weather and need to move a bit faster north to get some warmth and dryer weather.
So after much talking and looking on the map we will take a bus to Bariloche in Argentina, it is dry over there: the rain gets dumped in Chile because of the Andes mountain. We’ll ride the Ruta de los Siete Lagos for a week or two. Then, maybe we will take a bus further north to, say, Mendoza to ride north from there. Or even get a flight to the States to do our crossing of the US as summer is soon to come up there.