On the Carretera Austral

2011/02/27: 3 km Ferry to El Chaiten
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We rose early to get to the pier by 07:30 for a 09:00 ferry sailing. Our boat was named “Pincoya” — a word I learned means mermaid or siren —  important in Chilote mythology. We boarded along with some ten vehicles, plus a motorbike, and two dogs in crates, for a crossing that took about eight hours in a calm sea. We doubt  it’s always calm, however,  because all vehicles were firmly lashed with tie-downs. Our bikes went into a tarpaulin shelter and were also secured with straps.

Once on the mainland, we might have started pedalling south right away, but we decided to stay in a hotel recommended by the solo French female cyclist who was waiting to board Pincoya for the return journey. She had said it served good breakfasts, and she was right. Hot water and electricity were not a given though, since El Chaiten was damaged by an erupting volcano in 2008 and they are still struggling to restore infrastructure.

2011/02/28: 69 km to Glaciar Yelcho Camp
We headed south on pavement, riding a 5 km spur to Termas Amarillo — a low key hot springs. After a wallow and lunch we continued south on gravel which began with 15 km of loose-surfaced construction zone. Thankfully, the surface improved after that.
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The scenery was spectacular as we rode through a densely forested broad valley, with views of snow-capped peaks and hanging glaciers.
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The vegetation is so dense  that it’s hard to find a place to wild camp, so we camped at a campground that was unattended. The busy season has just ended, with nearly all the Chileans returning to school and jobs in Santiago this past weekend. The site appeared to be patrolled by a small and timid hound — a most unlikely guard dog. We cooked in the picnic area and set up our tent under a rough wooden shelter to avoid heavy dew, but no human ever appeared to collect a fee — strange because a fellow had handed us information about the place from a car as he passed.

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Passing traffic creates dust (until it rains)

2011/03/01: 88 km to La Junta
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After hiking to the hanging glacier viewpoint, we set out over a pass of only 600 odd metres. The scenery was spectacular, and the road relatively level after the pass. We met a German cyclist heading north from Ushuaia, with whom we heartily concurred on the joys of cycling in Spain.

What had started as a  sprinkle soon turned to rain. The rain increased to a steady pelting. Not relishing setting up camp in what was becoming a downpour, we  pushed on to arrive at 20:00 in La Junta, arriving with grit-caked bodies and gear. We ensconced ourselves as the only guests in a comfortable B and B with WiFi. Based on the forecast of “lluvia fuerte” (heavy rain) the next day with improvement therafter, plus Chris’s back spasms and our damp gear, we decided to pander to our grey hair by allowing ourselves a day of rest.  Time to dry out before continuing south.

M

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