Chris does not easily remember words in a foreign language. Ripio, however, is a Spanish word that will stick forever in his brain; it literally means “gravel”, and is used here in South America to describe unpaved roads. Three of four travel days described here were on unpaved roads. Ripio can be good, bad, or ugly, depending on how loose or compact the surface is. Some (rare) sections are nearly as smooth as pavement, and others are deep loose gravel where there has been construction, or washboard and potholes where trucks have churned uphill. Our continued progress southward critically depends on the quality and quantity of ripio, and how much of it we can take.

2011/03/02: In La Junta
We were happy to sit out a day of lluvia fuerte, watching drops run down the window panes as several fronts moved through. Chris gingerly did his back exercises on the floor in the B & B. Later, Ernst and Barbara, a retired German couple arrived. We had dinner together at a local tea room, and later Barbara showed Chris a travel presentation she had prepared using software new to us and with more capabilities than what we’ve previously used. New projects await!

2011/03/03: 65 km to Parque National Queulat Camp
P1010334The carretera winds through cool rainforest with dense undergrowth and roadside thickets. There are tall banks of native fuchsia, still in flower, along with huge fronds of something that looks like prickly rhubarb on steroids. Waterfalls drop from sheer granite walls.

We met two northbound Swiss cyclists as we left La Junta, and lunch beside a lake allowed the braver of us to have a quick dip. We saw a nonchalant river otter trotting down the road near the lake. Traffic is pretty infrequent. Later, a short ferry ride took us around a construction zone, and we found great sticky buns in Puylhuiapi. In the evening we found ourselves at a National Park with a well-appointed campground that included hot showers, and where an evening walk took us to an impressive view of a hanging glacier.

2011/03/04: 68 km to Villa Amergual
A morning hike took us higher than the evening before across a suspension bridge to a lake just below the glacier. A morning mist hung over the water, and several waterfalls cascaded down a granite face from the glacier’s tongue. (Video below is from dock on lake, the sound is from running water)

Back at our bikes, we packed to leave and found I had our first flat of this trip: the gradual evolution of a slow leak. We installed a new inner tube; a familar routine. This day took us over a significant pass (500 m) on ripio. It’s hard to fight uphill, so we did a fair bit of pushing. It’s also hair-raisingly easy to skid on corners as we descend.

Arriving in Villa Amergual, we found a small hospedaje and tucked gratefully into salmon and mashed potatoes before collapsing into bed.


View from hospedaje

2011/03/05: 86 km to Sandy Beach Camp by Rio Mañihuales


Morning mist over lake just south of Villa Amergual

The landscape became more open and the vegetation changed a little. Banks of lupins with dry black seedpods lined the roadsides, and the valleys became broader, with granite walls a bit further apart. We hunted down supper ingredients in Mañihuales, not as easy as it used to be as towns become smaller and further apart. After the braver of us swam again near a bridge, we moved further upriver and found a track that led to a sandy beach and a good riverside campsite.

2011/03/06: 76 km to Coyhaique
A heavy dew meant a soggy tent and damp sleeping bags. We stuffed these and moved on, knowing we’d reach Coyhaique –the capital of Aysen– to find a hostel for errands, rest, and to hide from the forecasted rain. We’d met a pair of Chilean cyclists the day before, but this day we fell into conversation with a pair of motorcyclist from Punta Arenas as we took their photos at a waterfall. We’ve been trying not to set our hearts on any particular final destination, but you never know just hor far we’ll get. Tierra del Fuego is starting to seem rather close.

Later, we met Shoham and Amit, a pair of Israeli cyclists. Israeli mochileros (backpackers) are a dime a dozen in South America, because they all beat a path here after finishing their military service. Bike touring has not yet become part of their travel culture, and these are the first Israeli cyclists we’ve met. Maybe they are leading a new trend?  They certainly were heavily loaded. with complete trekking gear and several weeks of food supplies.

We had a sparse lunch of travel-weary pannier dregs before arriving in Coyhaique, where we dove into pollo y papas fritas before finding a quiet hostel just outside town.


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