Monday, January 31, 2011

Thursday, Friday : setting off on the carretera austral


(Emma writes) We had a lazy morning in Villa o Higgins, eating a leisurely breakfast and doing some more shopping. We made an attempt to drill out the sheared bolt (supporting a front pannier rack), but only succeeded in breaking drill bits. We'll have to make do with cable ties holding it until we find some decent workshop facilities. It's not quite as bad as the front rack on one of the bikes we travelled with on the crossing, which had broken three fixing points on one side! The owner was not recommending the use of aluminum racks on ripio, not surprisingly.

At 1:30 we rolled out of town, keen to get a few miles in before our lunch of cheese sandwiches and biscuits. We seem to have settled into a routine of eating approximately 1packet of biscuits a day. There is generally quite a wide range of biscuits available, and after sampling many packets, we are getting to know which ones we prefer.

Shortly afterwards we passed the couple of Germans we'd done the crossing with, who seemed to be taking an extended lunch break. The views along the road were beautiful, with the road winding around lakes, beside rivers and through ancient beech woods. After about 30km we started seeing cyclists coming the other way, and gathered more info on the road ahead. Shortly after turning west into the head wind, we met the French cyclists we'd done the crossing with coming the other way. They were not confident of finding anywhere to camp along this stretch of road and so had decided to head back to a cabin a few kms back down the road and ask to camp there. We decided to eat a few more biscuits and talk about what to do next. Until now, when we've been going into a head wind, it's been the wrong decision to try and press on. We decided to carry on nonetheless! We found a great spot to camp about 12km further on, unfortunately it was also inhabited by thousands of mosquitoes. The combination of rain and biting insects made the decision to cook inside the tent a fairly easy one. It wouldn't be possible if we were running the stove on petrol, but as we've still got gas at this point, it wasn't a problem.

We set off around 9:30 on Friday, and started climbing almost immediately. It was the first, and smallest of the 3 climbs we knew about before Rio Bravo. The road surface wasn't great, with lots of loose gravel and shale. Descending was an interesting experience, and we actually came off the bike at one point. We gained a couple of bruises, but nothing serious. Less of an issue than the current set of mossie bites! The problem is that the corners have worn away to become heavily cambered, and have collected some deep gravel. Add large stones into the mix and it's easy to end up going sideways.

We made it to the ferry at Rio Bravo in time for a late lunch. Unfortunately we'd missed the 1pm ferry by about 40 minutes and had to wait until 5pm for the next one. There is a new Refugio at Rio Bravo with toilets. Good if you miss the last ferry, or merely need somewhere to sit out of the cold and rain. One of the people waiting was a chilian cabanero with a small fuel tanker. When our ferry finally arrived, another small tanker, along with a bigger tanker got off, and started filling the tanker which had been waiting.  Ourselves and a waiting car loaded onto the ferry, then had to wait whilst the tanker was filled before rejoining the ferry.  I guess the larger tankers can't manage the road south of Rio Bravo. Having cycled some of it now, I would say the roads are actually worse north of the lake though -  certainly steeper!

On the north side of the crossing is a great shack selling food and snacks. As we thought there was an outside chance of us reaching Caleta Tortel by nightfall we thought we'd better have a snack to keep us going. There was a young girl at the shack who after asking which country we were from, brought out her collection of foreign currency, and a piece of paper with translations between England and Spanish for numbers and parts of the body. We sat with her while we ate and added some more words to her list. I managed to find a 20p piece for her collection too.

The road from the ferry went straight up, which combined with the extra time spent at the cafe made it unlikely that we would make Caleta Tortel before dark. On the long descent through a gorge that meets Rio Baker we found a somewhat exposed spot to camp just off the road on a hair pin corner. It has great views across the next valley, with a glacier above, and is hidden from the road so should be a good spot to bed down so long as the wind doesn't rise too much.

 map (Thursday) 

 map (Friday)