Another Austral Detour

Conversation lags. After all these months of traveling together through empty places it seems we have finally run out of things to say. We move together in companionable silence down the road. There’s still plenty to look at.

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Years ago, giant trees were cut down for pasture. They now lie, wasted and decomposing, only a shadow of their former selves.

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Here on the Austral, other cyclists are a dime a dozen. I find I don’t have much to say to them either, never having been keen on talking just for the sake of making noise.

But then in Coyhaique we’re given a tip, an idea, and it sparks hours of debate.

While I navigated the aisles of Unimarc grocery, Tyndall chatted up two Belgian cyclists. There is a boat from Caleta Tortel to Puerto Natales they say. It runs once a week and costs 40,000 CLP they say. It takes 40 hours and sails through narrow fjords they say. Tyndall clutches a website and a phone number in his hand.

We leave town with renewed vigor for our route south. The only problem is that all the information we have is hersey. Until we can find an Internet connection it’s just an idea, possibly even a pipe dream. Through kilometers of paved, busy road we nurse this pipe dream, debating the merits of pushing ourselves to make this alleged sailing in a week’s time.

There’s still plenty else to amuse us though. On the descent towards Lago General Carrera it seems dark.

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It’s 11:00 in the morning and a blue sky day, but somehow, it seems to be getting colder rather than warmer. The sun is dim. We look at each other in confusion, and then have a light bulb moment. A few days ago a cyclist from London told us that there would be a solar eclipse Sunday. Today is Sunday we realize. Everything now makes sense.

At the library in Puerto Ibañez we connect up. The boat does run Saturdays. It does exist. The government subsidizes the sailings, and as such, charges extranjeros like us three times what they charge Chileans. That’s a deal killer.

We return to our original plan of riding to Villa O’Higgins and the end of the Austral. But first, we make one more detour off, back into Argentina. A ferry takes us across Lago General Carrera to Chile Chico. From there it’s an easy ride out of Chile. Laden with tasty Argentine pastries, we go out into the barren and windswept pampas.

At first Ruta 41 is a wide gravel washboard monstrosity. Motivation lags. We follow a sign for a fishing spot and camp early, not ready to commit to an afternoon climb. Rain comes in the night, as it does every time we come to Argentina. The sandy river wash becomes a bit muddy. We move up the road. It’s empty and it improves.

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Past the last estancia the road gets smaller, turning into a twisting two track burrowing into the mountains.

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Rain squalls come and go. The road gets sticky. We debate the merits of continuing on. A weather update from the Delorme makes the decision for us. More rain, colder temps and possible snow. We decide to make tracks while we can, riding through Paso Roballos in the late afternoon light.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

A lull in the wind tricks us into a camp spot. Mother Nature is fickle, and soon she’s blowing from the other direction. Tyndall scopes out other options. There are no good ones. Instead, we build a wall, Tyndall staying up way past his normal bedtime to perfect it. He says it is the best birthday ever. I accept a windy night in the tent. These pampas are relentless.

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The wind blows all night. The wall works. Morning comes and we emerge. There is fresh snow on the surrounding peaks. We descend past guanacos and sheep, to the Argentine border.

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From here we turn west, going back to Chile. A greeting committee awaits us at the border.

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Tyndall asks the Carabineros if the wind is always so strong. Always always it is this strong here he says, but not down below. I insist on knowing how many kilometers until the wind abates. He says 30. I don’t care if he’s telling the truth or not, it’s something to hope for.

X-83 snakes through Parque Patagonia. It’s wild. In 2020 the park will be given to Chile, but for now it’s still a work in progress. Unfinished campgrounds provide shelter for the night. We watch the clouds whip by and a couple of guanacos mill about. The Carabinero was right. The wind does lessen after 30 kilometers.

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The road ends back at the Austral. From here we accept it and it accepts us, having become a narrow dirt road snaking through the mountains. The first person we see is a cyclist, many minutes later, a car. I can handle this.

Where we rode: Manihueles – Coyhaique – Puerto Ibañez – Chile Chico – Los Antigues – Paso Roballos – Parque Patagonia – Cochrane

Although quick drying with a bit of wind and sun, Ruta 41 through Paso Roballas has the potential for sticky, stop you in your tracks mud.

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