March 25, 2013 by cleanwatt
We topped off our tanks and reserves in Chile Chico and aimed West chasing Lago General Carrera (Lago Buenos Aires on the Argentine side) towards our start of the Carretara Austral. The second largest lake in South America, it is fed by glacial runoff from the surrounding mountains. The sediments, called ‘rock flour’ suspended in the water reflect certain wavelengths giving it that iridescent appearance impossible to fully capture with a camera.
As we were making our way, I noticed a Toyota truck with US plates pass me going the opposite direction with a few more trucks following. I recognized one of the trucks as belonging to James and Lauren from California who I’d met while staying in Lima. They’re nearly a year and a half into their journey South in their Toyota 4Runner. I pulled over to the side of the rode and waited as they recognized me (or the pretty bike), and slowed down to greet us. They were going just a little up the rode to camp on the river for the night, and kindly offered for us to join them. On board, Bryce and I scooted into the next town for some food and supplies, then whipped around and met them at the campsite. We stoked a large bonfire, spending the night fireside with drinks regaling travels and general shooting of the shit with fellow travelers. Stellar night.
The following morning the ripio evolved into well poured concrete and we enthusiastically chased a beautiful canyon road into Coyhaique.
Afforded with time, we spent two nights in Coyhaique. We’d gotten word from our friends the night before that there was a currency exchange in town that was selling USD at a decent rate. I pulled a large amount of Chilean pesos out and bought some crisp American dollars. I’d long ago run out, and you can find a 50% better exchange rate in Argentina on the black market with them. I just like hinting at the fact I indeed deal with the black market in some fashion, I’ll even italicize the mentioning of such a notorious enterprise. In reality, it’s just privateers seeking the USD since the Argentinian Peso is considered to be a risky currency for savings. The call them ‘blue dollars’.
After the day off Bryce and I rode together for a bit, but he soon peeled off East to scoot for Buenos Aires, and organizing his bike’s method home. It was good fun riding with him since Ushuaia.
I kept motoring along without an agenda or destination. One was soon developed though as I passed a massive hanging glacier. I rode past to the next town for my standard provisions, then returned to camp for the night.
Packed up camp and continued bouncing over the ripio Northward in hopes that the ferry network was still operational this time of year.
Rolling into Chaiten, which seemed surprisingly lively after having suffered a nearby volcanic eruption May 2008, followed by a flooding in July the same year. Once the capital seat of the region, Chile moved it to a neighboring town and practically abandoned the city. Only recently they’ve decided to move the hole town 10km to the North. Pictures would be great here, but I completely neglected to take any.
While at the office for the ferries, I met Alex from Sau Paulo, Bazil who was taking the same route. We were able to communicate via my botched Spanish, and his basic English. We’d signed up to complete the Carretara Austral properly riding as far North as we could, then hopping ferries twice for a portage of sorts, before the final ferry back to the developed North.
We rode to Caleta Gonzalo at the end of the contiguous Carretara and set up camp in preparation for our first boat the following morning. It has come to my attention that I have a unnatural propensity to attract dolphins while I’m aboard any boat. California, Sea of Cortez, Caribbean, Straits of Magellan, and now throughout the fjords of Chilean Patagonia. Give me a water-polo ball and a pod of willing porpoises, and I’ll have a go at Aquaman.
This journey lasted for a few hours as we plowed North towards Hualaihue. We passed a dozen salmon farms neatly placed in the placid fjords among the surrounding tree laden mountains.
Not wanting to contain the adventure to just one day, we found a place to camp outside of Hualaihue. A fire friendly lot gave me an opportunity to enlighten Alex on the subtle art of campfire hot dogs.
The third and final ferry took us from Caleta Puelche a short ways to Caleta La Arena. Soon after disembarking, the road construction began as the asphalt crept its way South along the ripio of the Carretera Austral. Altogether much too fast we were plunged into Puerto Montt, the largest town I’ve been in since Mendoza. I struggled to keep calm amid all the chaotic, crass cars. Pulling over to find an escape route with the GPS, we shot out of town North towards Osorno.
That morning we were battling plum sized rocks strewn menacingly across the road, and that afternoon we were doing 70mph on a three lane expressway.
Osorno didn’t hold much interest for me besides the opportunity to find some oil in preparation of my rapidly approaching service interval. While I needed to wash the coating of dirt so I could perform a sterile oil change, Alex ran off for something around town. We must have had a Spanglish misinterpretation of sorts, because we ended up loosing each other. Our paths were parallel for only one more day then we’d be splitting anyway, but I would have liked to say a proper farewell and trade information.
I barely managed to find a reasonably priced bed in town, since I doubt Osorno attracts many tourists, but I severely needed a scrubbing after our sailings. I decided to hop over the Andes into Bariloche, Argentina to find better accommodation and weather to change the oil the next morning.
It was a balmy 71 degrees F when I dropped into Bariloche for the second time on this trip, plus I already had a couple way-points for hostels in my GPS, sorted. I found an auto shop that agreed to take my used oil the following day when I dropped it, and spent the afternoon walking the town.
Time is absolutely flying by at this point. March is nearly wrapped up, and I’m still none the wiser about el futuro. It felt like an unceremonious departure from Chile after all it has given me, so I may scoot North a touch, do another pass into Chile, scoot North again, then somehow with a sense of closure ride over the Andes for the last time back into Argentina. At which point I’ll probably start rolling forlornly, East towards the Atlantic and the black-hole of regression to pre-vagrancy ventures.
There is great appeal in returning to family and friends. Great appeal in a well deserved day of slothfulness on that couch in ones parent’s house that forever has a comforting pull. Great appeal in a proper burger & beer since I left. Great appeal in pumping my own gas. Great appeal in cruising Lake Shore Drive, Chicago with my helmet held high. Hell, I may be able to relish in all that the day I return. The utterly unappealing, is all that previously mentioned, knowing that I already miss terribly what I did yesterday, the day before that, then the six months before that.
Melodrama aside, I’m still playing around in the Andes. Shit could be worse you know?
Trip Mileage: 21,782 (35,055 km)
“Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness.” – Ray Bradbury