Further South on the Carretera

2011/03/10: 57 km to Beech Wood Camp

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Las Salamandas Hostel

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Margo's Hostel Friend

We awoke to the sound of rain, and moved slowly. I got a ride to town with a group of French fly fishermen to buy the wherewithal for a good dinner, the premise being that we weren’t ready to set out in more heavy rain. The other need to visit town was that there won’t be a bank machine for quite some time, and we probably have logistical moves ahead that require cash payments.

Back at the hostel, we looked out the window at a clearer sky than we’d seen in several days, and decided to make our move. We rolled south on the Carretera, and slid into a forest of southern beeches to camp beside a stream. The temperature was just above freezing and it was getting dark. Dinner was challenging to cook on a camp stove, the ingredients having been purchased with a hostel kitchen in mind. We managed lamp chops and a fricassee of fresh vegetables, and washed these down with wine from a water bottle.

2011/03/11: 55 km to Two Canadian Couples Camp

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Young volunteers with Margo at pass

We headed higher over several gentle passes, and were surprised to meet the four young volunteer teaching assistants who had been staying at Hostal Las Salamandras before moving in with their host families. They’d recently arrived in Coyhaique to support local teachers of English in primary schools. Three were post A-level Brits doing a gap year, and one was an American who’d finished a degree in psychology. They were being taken on a local outing by a locally resident Brit who was involved with the programme.

We descended sweeping switchbacks to Villa Cerro Castillo …the last pavement we would see for some time. We took a side trip to see a cliff upon which ancient Tehuilches had made imprints of their hands as they migrated to hunt guanaco.

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As we returned to the Carretera, we met cyclists Torrey and Lucie from Montreal, heading our way. We rode more or less with them for a while. Our styles differ somewhat: they are significantly faster cyclists, but stop to take many more photos. They began their journey in Anchorage, and received some sponsorship from Mountain Equipment Co-op.

We camped together in a clearing in the woods, the first time on this trip we’ve “wild camped” with others.

2011/03/12: 92 km To Bahia Murta Pueblo Antiguo
Torrey was making a tempting-looking breakfast of something resembling Egg McMuffins, while Lucie blogged in their spacious tent. Meanwhile, we made meagre porridge with raisins, deciding to skip hot drinks on the assumption (later found to be incorrect – we were just disorganized) that we were short of water. This is why we got an earlier start than they did. I think it is easier for us to travel a bit lighter and cook a bit more simply than the younger set, because we treat ourselves to better accommodation and more restaurant meals when we’re in towns.

We’d recently changed our route plan and didn’t yet have all details of the logistics ahead. We learned from Torrey that the ferry from Villa O’Higgins which allows us to cross (pushing bikes etc.) into Argentina only leaves once per week now that summer is over, and the last two sailings are March 19th and 28th. This meant a bit of a mileage push was needed, especially if we want a rest day before the challenging crossing.

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We pedalled steadily south, keeping moving till quite late in the knowledge there were accommodation possibilities. There was a residenciel at the turn-off for Bahia Murta, which looked ready for business, but was manned only by a friendly sheep dog and a kitten. We could not find any humans, there was no cell phone coverage, and it was quickly getting dark. We began to ride the 4 km towards the village of Bahia Murta, which sits at the end of a long arm of Lago General Carrera (Lago Buenos Aires on the Argentinian side), the largest lake in South America.

We were looking for someone local who might know of the whereabouts of the residenciel owners. Asking the occupants of a yellow van led to a friendly invitation by Segundo and Sara to join them for supper and to stay at their small farmhouse at the original site of Bahia Murta, the town having moved to it’s new location several decades ago after the Rio Murta changed it’s course. The pueblo antiguo is now nearly a ghost town, occupied by only five families. It boasts several original pioneer buildings including picturesque cypress-shingled church, Capilla Santa Rosa, listed as part of Chile’s Patrimonia Nacional.

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Sara and Segundo scooped us and our bikes into their van, and drove us up the tiny lane to their village. We were invited to warm ourselves by their wood stove, and handed mugs of tea. So began a comfortable evening of learning of local politics and lives, and of shelling peas from the garden while watching coverage of the earthquake in Japan. As we finished supper, I found my head spinning from a long day on ripio combined with the effort of hours of translation. As I excused myself to bed, I saw it was after 11:30 p.m..

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2011/03/13: 1 km and 25 km in van to Rio Tranquilo
Segundo and Sara decided to go to Rio Tranquilo to buy propane, and to sell vegetables from their plot. I think this was an excuse to take us there; they are close to our age, and are somewhat isolated as relative newcomers in a tiny village. We´d planned to ride on southward, but our schedule had become tighter as we were trying to get to O´Higgins by Friday the 18th, so we accepted the offer to join them. While they dug up beets and turnips and prepared for the excursion, Chris and I had time to visit the old chapel. However, as Chris opened an awkward gate, he seriously pulled a muscle in his arm ….throwing a spanner into the works of our plans.

Eric, who we rode with from Portillo to Mendoza, ended his journey suddenly in Córdoba, and in much worse shape than Chris.

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Segundo and I put the bikes in the back of their wood-transport van again, with Chris now having little ability to lift anything heavier than a spoon. We drove along the shores of Lago General Carrera, with Secundo regaling us with tales of eccentric foreigners coming to Patagonia to buy their private slices of peace and quiet. He and Sara, however, were delighted that a new cell phone tower was being built. The contrast between the local and the external view of Patagonia seemed sharp.

From Rio Tranquilo, we took a boat ride to see some marble caves and sculpted turrets which stand along the rugged lake-shore.
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We returned to the town to find food, and accommodation that would allow Chris some way of applying heat to his incapacitated arm. We now find ourselves in a simple cabaña which has a small bath tub, and I have added kettles full of boiling water to the tub while Chris soaks. We´re not sure what our next move will be, but suspect it will involve a bus as Chris can no longer ride safely and cannot push a bike or lift a pannier.

M

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