The Casa de Ciclistas in El Chalten was exactly what I needed. As the name says it’s a house for cyclists. Florencia, who’s the owner, lets touring cyclists camp for free in her garden. As El Chalten is a bottleneck for cyclists in Patagonia, there were lots of people passing through everyday, some days up to 15. The kitchen was the center of the house. Here we cooked and ate together, information and stories were shared. I just loved the atmosphere and it felt a bit like a home. Also to be surrounded with the same people for a few days was great and what I was craving for. Florencia made the place special. Even though there were always lots of new people she always tried to care for everyone. When I arrived she cooked straightaway a huge meal for me. It wasn’t hard at all to get stuck there for over a week.
I probably could have done nothing for a week, but being surrounded by mountains like Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre makes it easy to go trekking. Together with Javier, who was cycling south, I went for a couple of hikes through the national park.
hiking partner and Spanish teacher Javier
The Casa de Ciclistas in El Chalten
There’s no road connecting El Chalten directly with Chile, but over two ferries it’s possible to get to Villa O’Higgins in Chile. Though there’s just a hiking trail between those two ferries, which makes it difficult with a heavily loaded touring bike. During the time in El Chalten I heard all those crazy stories about the crossing from the people heading south and I was really excited to do it by myself.
Together with Yasko and Marco I started towards Lago del Desierto. On the ferry David joined us and after getting the Argentinian exit stamp in our passport we started, not cycling though but pushing. Till the actual border it’s just a seven km long hiking trail and damn steep as well. Even though it was already quite late we wanted get that tough part done. Indeed, the trail wasn’t made for our heavy bikes. Luckily we were a group and could support each other pushing our bikes up the steep slope. A few times I had to take off my entire luggage, as the trail was more a trench than a trail and too narrow for my panniers. If it wasn’t steep, it was muddy or rocky. Those 7 km definitely belong to the hardest km of my trip and I will never forget the moment when we finally reached the border sign. Exhausted and relieved we just crashed down there for the night. On the next day we had to follow a 15km bad gravel road down to the second ferry. We had to cross a couple of rivers though which meant again putting all the gear off the bikes and carrying it over separately. The first thing I did at the jetty was to jump into the incredibly blue water. It’s a hard piece of ‘road’ and the ferries costs a lot, but it’s definitely worth it. The alternative to ride another few km on Ruta 40 in Argentina, doesn’t sound tempting at all and I didn’t want to miss the first part of the Carretera Austral either.
Yasko, Marco, David and me
finally at the border
crazy river crossings
Villa O’Higgins is the most southern town on the Carretera Austral. The road was built by the Chilean army in the 80s to better connect this remote area to the rest of Chile. The last section was even just opened in 2000. Together with Yasko I started riding north. Quickly we had to realize that we would need much more time than we initially thought. The road, as it’s build in not an easy terrain, goes up and down and up and down, with some really steep climbs. Of course there is also no tarmac and the gravel is partly in really bad condition. It’s slow uphill as well as downhill, cause it’s just impossible to go fast on this kind of bumpy road. The landscape though was rewarding for all the effort. Mountains, glaciers, valleys, lakes, rivers and just very low traffic. What more do you want?
It’s lonely on the Carretera, but on our first day we bumped into a local fisherman. We stopped and while we were talking to him he caught a fish, which he offered us straighaway for dinner. On the same day we found an abandoned wooden shed for the night. We weren’t the first cyclists there, and we found lots of tags on the walls and some cyclists had even left some spices and other stuff behind. There was even a fireplace inside where we could cook the fish. What a great first day on this awesome road.
Yasko had to climb into a cable car next to bridge
Our home for a night
Our usual dinner
The next days were equally amazing. The weather turned to be perfect and we were getting slowly further north. I loved the camping. Usually we found a place on a river, made fire and enjoyed the great views.
I hadn’t heard much about the Carretera Austral before, but apparently it’s one of the most popular places for cycle touring. While it was always a rare event to meet another cyclist in my previous countries, here we met daily up to 20. Mainly because the majority of travelers were heading south. In comparison, in Indonesia I met in two month not a single other cyclist. After a while we even didn’t stop anymore for everyone, as we wouldn’t make any progress and just talk about the same stuff again.
The dust after every car was annoying. Luckily there wasn’t usually much traffic.
awesome confluence of two rivers with differen colours
The Chilean Government is still spending money for Carretera, the advertisement about those programs is everywhere. A few sections are full of construction sites, what meant for us lots of waiting. Sometime they even close a road for half a day to do some dynamiting.
Waiting at a construction site
Those spiky things were the most annoying plant I know
The water comes from everywhere and is perfekt for drinking
Paved road – finally!
Further north the area got a bit more populated. There were lots of farms and fences made more difficult to find place to camp. Luckily the Chileans are great hosts and after asking a couple of times we were allowed to camp on a field or next to houses. One night I definitely won’t forget. At 4am I got desperately waken up by Yasko, who had just slept outside without a tent. All his gear was spread out over the entire yard. Apparently the farmer’s dog was looking for food and found it in Yasko’s bags. After collecting his stuff in darkness he had lost six eggs and three packs of biscuits. The dog even managed to open the zip of his handlebar bag, while he opened his backpack by biting a hole through it. Luckily I had food in my tent, but he chewed my foldable plastic bowl to death.
Over Futaleufu we left Chile and the Carretera Austral behind to go to Bariloche in Argentina. We decided against the comfy tarmac road and instead went over another gravel road through the Los Alerces National Park, where heavy rain forced us to camp for one day on a beautiful lake. Over the day the weather became good again, but we were just too lazy to head on and spend the rest of the day just lying in the sun.
Reaching Bariloche was another milestone for me, till here my route was kind of clear, as there are not many alternatives. I’m psyched for the next months, but I’ll miss the Carretera Austral. It will be very hard to top the last month.
In the morning…
…in the evening.
Back on Ruta 40