South on the Austral, kind of

There’s a world map on the wall at the place we are staying.

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I gauge the distance between here and The End to be about the length of the Baja. That’s it. A Baja length ride between us and home. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but I do know I still get to ride my bike somewhere. With repairs accomplished, we rocket out of town on a mostly flat paved road that goes directly south.

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Fish farming is big business here, as is honey.

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Fresh bread is around every corner. A few fruits and vegetables can still be found. They look a bit more like the Alaskan produce I’m used to than their counterparts just north of here.

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The road snakes along a fjord and then joins with the Carretera Austral. We only ride for a second, maybe two, before going right. A slightly quieter road winds along the coast. Wooden boats are being built in yards. Wooden churches stand tall against the elements.

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We settle down at the harbor, and then watch something catch fire down the road. An hour later the fire truck comes roaring through. Ten minutes more and the water truck arrives. The fire is out by now, whatever was burning long gone.

Fishermen come in, anchoring their boats for the day. I comb the beach, looking for treasures.

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The tide comes and goes in the night. The full moon making them higher and lower than normal. Boats are piled in a jumble on the beach. People comb the beach, collecting shell fish and seaweed. We collect blackberries.

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I ask a woman for water. She takes our bottles inside and I wait outside with her small daughter. The girl would like help removing her red rubber boots, and I oblige. Soon, she’s stomping in the mud in her bare feet. Her mother returns. She gives me the water and scolds her daughter. I thank her and leave, hoping the muddy feet don’t cause too much of a problem.

Our quiet deversion from the Austral over, we return. This is where everyone else is. We join the masses for a bit, taking the road to Hornopiren and a ferry south.

We have been told the north part of the Austral is quiet, and it is. In between ferry arrivals and departures we have the road to ourselves. It twists and turns and goes up and down through Parque Pumalin. We follow a short trail through a stand of old Alerce trees.

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We make our own camp spot on Laguna Negro, watching the sun makes its’ wide arc, going down and left across the sky.

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Where we went: Ensenada – Puelo – Contao – Rolecha – Hornopiren – Chaiten

Border Hopping

The streets of Melipeuco are quiet. We are told the national park nearby is closed because of high fire danger. It’s hot. People aren’t going anywhere fast. I look at the weather and all of Central Chile is hot. Other cycling friends are languishing throughout the country, not riding in the afternoon or looking to the Coast, for a cooler way south. We head for the mountains. A lackadaisical start ensures we are climbing at the hottest part of the day.

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Tyndall finds a small dirt track that heads up, through Reserva Nacional Villarica. For a moment, we’re deterred by a closed sign for the park, and then by a private property sign. We ask at the Nevados de Sollipulli lodge about going on. Of course he says, just close the gates behind you.

Four shallow river crossings lead us onto a small dirt two track and into the forest.

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We don’t go far before stopping to camp. It’s early but we want to linger.

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From the river we climb just a bit, through big old Monkey Puzzle trees. It’s cool and shady.

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Dropping down the other side I feel the heat move in as the trees give way to pasture. I pause at a bus stop, intending to take a break in the shade. It turns out others have the same idea.

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In the morning we intend to leave but don’t. We have found a place with a quiet back garden popping with flowers.

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I buy a kilo of grapes and a melon and sit in the shade. We have been meaning to make a few adjustments to our bikes. The four Salsa stainless water cages we have had since the Baja have been welded and repaired in every country. Two good ones remain, and the other two we abandon. Water is plentiful now and we don’t need the carrying capacity. I tell myself my bike feels lighter now.

From Curarrehue a quick ride down the paved road delivers us back to gravel, and then to a small dirt two track into the mountains. We pass six Argentine cyclists. All insist the park is closed and we cannot pass. Determined to try and to see for ourselves, we go on. We see no one and no signs. We go on, climbing up a washed out two track and descending down through a monkey puzzle forest.

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Only when we exit the park do we turn to see a closed sign.

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Reveling in our success, we arrive in Coñaripe. Cars and people confuse us. We look for lunch, only to realize the time has past for that. A sign for empanadas catches my eye and we order some, sitting down to regroup.

Satiated, we leave town, choosing to pay for camping because it’s easy. Down here in the valley fences line the roads.

In the morning we ride along, fueled by tortillas and pan. They are really the same thing around here, just different in size.

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Making a right on the main road to Neltume, we join the masses. It’s high summer and everyone is on vacation. Making the choice to forgo the Huilo Huilo route, we ride to Puerto Fuy. From here we take a ferry, and return to Argentina.

At the Argentine border we learn Interpol is looking for another Robert Ellis. This one comes from Georgia, has a different middle name is about 30 years older. We are allowed to go, but first must have our belongings inspected. It turns out fruit and vegetables aren’t allowed through here. It seems Argentina is taking lessons from Chile. I tell the inspector we won’t have lunch if he takes our food and it is 40+ kilometers to town. He relents and we skeedaddle.

For a minute the road improves. A water truck keeps the dust down, but then he turns around and we’re on our own again. I find myself wishing they would just pave these dusty, washboard, busy gravel roads. There’s no escape and nothing to do but pedal, so we do.

A small dirt foot path leads down to the lake. We take it, cleaning ourselves and our clothes in the afternoon sun. The road south will still be there tomorrow, the dust perhaps less pervasive in the morning.

San Martin overwhelms. Another biker told us it was similar to Banff. She is not wrong. Tyndall’s shorts are falling apart as I write this. He needs new ones, and goes looking. Everything on offer has too many pockets and too many zippers. Instead we eat empanadas. The contents dribbles out, making my clean shirt dirty dirty shirt dirtier. I don’t care.

We wander aimlessly for a bit before focusing on gathering supplies. The grocery store is crowded. A boy bounces a ball in the produce aisle, hitting me as he goes. Another grabs some nectarines and starts juggling. It’s time to get out of here, whether I have what we need or not.

A paved road takes us up and out of town. Argentinean hitch hikers dot the roadside, laden with heavy packs and clutching mate thermos and cup. The trees are smaller here, the ground drier. The national park is fenced in, with do not enter signs posted along it. We go to the free, designated camping spot with low expectations. It’s nice, pleasant even, aside from the lack of a toilet or two for the masses. There are rabbits running about everywhere. Tyndall wonders if they live on human feces.

Late in the evening a truck with Colorado plates pulls in. We say hello, craving conversation in English. They tell us that Constitucion has burned and show us photos of places we just were, now just piles of ash and burned snags.

Early in the morning, rain comes. It’s just a quiet pitter patter on the tent, but it’s enough to deter us from an early start. For our laziness, our new friends reward us with second breakfast. It surpasses our porridge by far. Buoyed by good conversation we head on. The drizzle can’t damper my spirits, nor the paved road. Today we’re going somewhere.

After only two nights, we stamp out of Argentina. With Chilean Customs 40km away, we know we won’t make it today. Rain falls down. Mist swirls around. I dig in and climb. Near the top we make camp beside a small stream. Tyndall looks for fish but finds none. When the border closes the traffic stops and I sleep the sleep of the dead.

The weather hasn’t cleared and all the volcanoes are still hidden behind fog. We descend back into Chile. These busier passes seem to have even more paperwork. It’s like going on a scavenger hunt, finding all our stamps and then getting the prize at the end: entry to Chile.

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Here everything is a bit more lush and green.

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There’s a German influence, and a dairy industry.

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Pollo asado and papas mayo temporarily fill a hole in my leg.

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Tyndall cuts a piece off the tent groundsheet and takes it and his shorts to the seamstress. I’m skeptical about sitting on tent groundsheet while riding, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

We leave the paved road and go up, gambling on the clouds clearing around Volcan Osorno.

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They do, and we’re rewarded with a view late in the evening. I go to sleep, hoping she’s still out in the morning.

A few more kilometers on a dirt road delivers us onto the trail for Paso Desolación. The volcano is still out and I pedal hard, wanting to reach the top before the clouds roll in again.

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I mostly win, eating a cheese sandwich at the top before chasing Tyndall down the other side.

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We coast along, stopping to talk with a hiker from Montreal. He tells us the trail ahead is steep and covered in deep volcanic ash from an April 15 eruption. At the bottom he suggests we ride down the arroyo and then take the beach back to the road, as opposed to the trail. Always eager to try beach riding, we fall for it. The arroyo is fine, and the beach is even solid at first.

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Then it’s not, and there are big rocks and trees and I walk.

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But it’s ok. We’ll still get where we need to go. 

Where we rode: Melipeuco – Reigolil – Curarrehue – Coñaripe – Neltume – Puerto Fuy – San Martin de los Andes – Entre Lagos – Volcan Osorno – Ensenada

Route information for our ride around Volcan Osorno can be found from Fat Cycling.