3) Carratera [420 km south] - In search of penguins. - CycleBlaze

3) Carratera [420 km south]

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Feb 15.   {map}

Awoke at 2:00 am to catch the ferry to Chaiten on the mainland. Arrived in a torrential rainstorm. 

Our ferry, at 3:00 am Saturday.
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Same ferry, five hours later in Chaiten.
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Chaiten is quite a bit smaller than I expected. So far, it looks like Hope - cold, wet, and surrounded by steep mountains. 

This is the main thoroughfare through Chaiten. Almost every building is a hostel or a restaurant.
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Shopping is quick and efficient. For example, there is only one pharmacy in town. It stocks a lively selection of ethanol-based remedies, but the selection of bandages is limited. Actually they didnt have any. But they did have a small plastic box with 6 - 8 boxes of selected drugs. Some may not even have been counterfeit. 

We took our laundry to real laundromat today, instead of hand washing our clothes in a sink, like we have done for the last month. Unsurprisingly, there only one laundromat here. It consists of a young guy, operating out of a rundown house. One 10 lb bag of laundry costs $25 cad and takes all day. I didnt ask if he owned a washing machine. Oh well, I guess we are supporting the local economy.

The bikes are making more and more complicated noises that sound drive-train related.  We were commanded by the bike vendor (Mighty Riders in Vancouver) to never oil our chains more than a few times per year. But, somewhat like the apple scene from Genesis, we are thinking of sneaking a bit of oil onto them to see if it reduces the racket from our back wheels. Don't tell Ed. 

PS. We converted our hotel room into another field dressing station, but I didn't need to tell regular readers that.

Feb 16

Despite its fearsome reputaion, our first day on the Carratera Austral has been quite pleasant. The roads were all paved with good shoulders, traffic was light, and best of all - no packs of ravenous canines. I didn't throw a single rock all day!

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The geography has changed completely.  We are now cycling through very steep snow capped mountains. Glaciers and waterfalls are common.The parrots have been replaced by thrushes (Louise claims), and some very loud and probably large bird that we haven't managed to see yet.

The scenery and climate are similar to BC in some ways. It rains frequently, nights are cold, and there is lots of under-brush. In other ways it is completely alien. The trees are all deciduous - right up to the snowline.  A dominant plant here is  huge "ruhbarb" thing with 1 - 2 meter wide leaves, and covered in thorns. Also, the underbrush is so thick you would need a tractor to bushwack through it.   We camped beside a 2 meter wide, roaring creek, about 100 m away from the highway. It rained all night but we stayed dry and warm.

There are very few ranches or houses, although there are cattle beside the road. There is no cell service (or wifi) so I dont know when this update will be posted. (There ws no cell service in Chaiten either, and that was one of the three large towns we will be passing through.)

Feb 17   {map}

We made very few km today; we spent more time pushing than riding. If we were stronger, or the bikes were lighter, we could have ridden. It was similar to BC highways; the road followed a major creek up to a pass.  Once over the pass we coasted down a twisting road to the town of Villa Saint Lucia.

The bikes were making more and more noise. My bike especially sounded like a clothes washing machine full of wine glasses. I was getting worried something major was about to fail. But we bought a 500 ml plastic coke bottle full of very questionable engine oil, and all the noises disapeared. That was the best $4 I ever spent.

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But before we got to V. St. Lucia, we crossed a huge slide path that had taken out at least one km of highway. We found out later it happenned about two years ago, and claimed 22 lives. It originated at the base of a glacier maybe 2 km away. The debris had flowed down a steep channel for about 1 km, then spread out across a flood plain. We marveled at the force of nature, took a few photos, and resumed biking into V.  St. Lucia. 

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To our surprise, the debris field didnt end there. It funneled into a creek bed, then continued its destructive path  for several more km, all the way into the unfortunate town of V. St. Lucia.  

There has been little effort to rebuild. Some damaged houses are still standing in the flood plain. And there are numerous Chilean flags in the debris field, presumably marking destroyed houses and/or lost lives. 

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Anyway, we are camped tonight beside a Supermercado (a tiny general store).  Louise has her hot shower and flush toilets. As uual we have no cell signal or wifi, but rumor has it that there is a bit of free wifi leaking out of the tiny hospital nearby. I will check after breakfast.

Feb 18   {map}
Today ws our hardest day yet. It rained hard all day and we had strong headwinds too. We were soaked in the first hour.  

Sometimes a hammer, but usually we are the nail.
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There were countless places to stop and camp. But we pushed through to La Junta, in hope of a hotel and a shower. Also, the bikes were running so much smoother with their newly bathed chains, it was almost a pleasure to ride them again. 

By the way, oil is not easy to find down here, either. Stores don't sell it. Presumably gas stations do, but we didn't want a litre of engine oil in our bags for next few months. We finally found a mechanic that let us take a bit from the bottom of a smashed up old 45 gallon drum (for which we will be eternally grateful).

La Junta is a quiet little town, measurng about 4 blocks by 5 blocks. There are lots of cabanas to rent and a few hotels. There are also about a dozen restaurants, of which only two were open. Chileans avoid restaurants; they are mostly used by foreign tourists. A very modest dinner costs more than a hotel room, and most travellers can cook a better meal on their campstove. 

LW: The hostel we stayed at is great. It is also a bi t of a museum. Hostel Copihue. Warm, warm showers and lots to look at.

I think I finally convinced Mike that we should try to cook dinner at the hostels. Dinner out last night was expensive (as we are in Chile) and did not fill him up. Mine was good.

Today when we were leaving La Junta we saw  sign advertisings all kinds of lubications! 

Kathy - you wanted pictures of typical small towns along the Carratera - here is one.
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Feb 19  {map}

We cycled to Puyuhuapi along easy rolling hills and cattle ranches. There are snow capped peaks on both sides of the road, and not far off. And occasionally we crossed huge rivers, or travelled along lakes, and sometimes the seashore. The scenery reminds me of the Cariboo when I hitchhiked through it as a teenager - about 50 years ago.

The cycling was easy on well-paved roads, with not much traffic, and only a few zombie hell-dogs that my rocks repelled. 

Until the pavement ended. Oh Well, it is Patagonia and some gravel is expected. It was much easier to navigate than the stairway to Hades that we encountered up north. 

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We rolled into Pwhatever early in the evening and setup our tent in a crowded frontyard near the lake. The campsite offers several amenities not available in wild sites:  WiFi, a Comidor for dining (not as elegant as it sounds), and lots of interesting company. 

Feb 20   {map soon}

Puyuhuiap campsite was the most crowded we have seen yet. There were about two dozen tents in a small yard. At least six were packed in like sardines into a shed. Some people hae no concept about how to camp. LW: But the family running the place kept it clean and the one section of yard for  outdoor tenting was sheltered by weeping willows, roses, hydrangeas  and day lilies.  Concept of putting your tent up in a shed begins to make sense after spending a night in a storm here.. however it makes a slightly sad campsite

We cycled about  km, mostly on gravel. As usual, at about six o'clock we began looking for a wild campsite. We found a few good ones almost immediately. One site was superb. It lies about 100 m away from the road, at the edge of a swift flowing river, and at the foot of snow covered peaks.

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LW: Again it was nice rolling hills following  fjord. Extremely beautiful scenery-for the most part it was packed gravel--my bike feels great on this stuff.  Horseflies are out and love to settle on your face as you ride along-sunglasses help! 

The gravel roads are a lot slower than pavement. We can't go fast downhill, or we risk eating gravel. We have to dodge pot holes and ruts. I suspect our daily mileage will shrink to 30 km once we leave the last of the pavement (probably soon).

We met a dutch couple at the last campround. Of course they spoke perfect english, and probably five other languages too. Like other dutch people we have met, they are partway into a two year cycling odessy, that makes our trip look like a weekend fling. It seems to be a thing that all dutch people do.

Feb 21  Rest day at the wild campsite.

Feb 22   {map}    No cell or wifi lately.
 We began our cycle today with a refreshing 10 km climb on rough gravel roads up out of the valley. It was too steep to ride, so we pushed our bikes up the many, many switchbacks.

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[LW] The traffic on this road was amazing. Tracker trailers with full loads rumble down this road, making corners very interesting. All kinds of recreational and tourism vehicals. One was an amoured car converted to a camper. Big campers, little vans, trucks and cars stuffed to the gills with stuff and or hitchhikers.

It was HOT on top of being steep. Not sure which kicked my butt harder--I'm a Westcoast gal and don't do well when the tempertures gets much above 20!

As usual the scenery was worth it. I love the vegetation down here. I'm just so grateful we do not have to bushwack through it! Fuscias are everywhere, the trees diverse, the bamboo, shurbs, etc, etc I'll look up proper names and add when get internet.

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Not too much wild life seen. Saw a few hummingbirds that I will try to identify but may not have enough info.

Had a Mote con huesillo helado from a road side stand--kind of a sweet drink with barley and a peach in it. I liked it.]

The view at the top, when we finally reached it several hours later, was breathtaking. The mountains in Patagonia are much steeper than we are used to. I think they are shaped by volcanic eruptions, rather than glaciation like our coast mountains, or tectonic  uplifting like in the Rockies.

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Of course, after working so hard to gain all that altitude, the road immediately dove down the other side of the mountain. Because we decided to avoid eating gravel , our speed going down was quite modest. 

We finally found some pavement for the second half of the day and managed to make some km. 

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We left campsite selection a bit too long, and the only place within our rapidly disapearing energy reserves was a pricey hostel. We are currently relaxing with a very expensive salmon dinner. It seems that everything is increasing in price as we move further south.


 Feb 23     {map}
The Carratera showed its good side today - pavement, easy rolling hills, and sunshine. We even had a tailwind part of the way. 

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We had a luxurious stay at the casona yeterday, and left after a shower and a great breakfast. There was real coffee for  change, with milk and sugar, and self-serve. I had at least a dozen cups.

It was an interesting ride, as usual. There were huge granite faces, the size of the Squamish Chief, waiting to be conquered by braver souls than us. And countless interesting peaks, unfortunately defended by thick vegetation. The brush does seem to be improving though. I still wouldnt bushwack through it.

Lunch was consumed by a clear fast running river with not a soul in sight. 

We reached the town of Villa Maniguales at about 6:00 pm, did a bit of food shopping, and setup camp at a private campground with wifi and hot showers.

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Feb 24   {map}
Today the Carratera showed its teeth. We spent mst of the day on loose gravel roads. The sky was threatenning to open up on us all day, but didn't. And we had insane winds that actually stopped me in my tracks on level ground,  despite 150 kg of mass and 30 km/hr of speed.  Luckily for us the winds were usually at our backs though. 

Arguably our problems were there result of our own questionable choices (again).There was a junction; both routes ended in Coyhique. One was a paved road through Puerto Aysen, about 75 km away. That is the one that all the traffic chose. The other was a gravel road that no one with half brain would consider. The reader can likely guess which one we chose.

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We found a private campground at about 5:30 pm, and decided not to push our luck. Slept despite dogs barking, horses yelling, and a rooster that wouldn't shut up. 

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Tomorrow we may not be so lucky. The forecast is rain, and we still need 40 - 50 km of progress to reach Coyhaique. Oh well, we are dry and warm for now.

Feb 25.   {map}
Began on gravel, with a strong tailwind that lasted all the way to the town of Ortega. It was more like sailing than cycling. Despite the forecast, the weather stayed sunny and warm. The geography changed from steep volcanic mountains to long rolling hills.

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We had lunch in  recently mowed hay-field. Afterwards we fought ourway up a huge long hill, with a headwind, on gravel. It took hours to reach the top, and of course the road immediately plunged down the other side of the mountain. And the headwinds became even stronger. I had to wear sunglasses to keep the grit out of my eyes.

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At about 6:00 pm we reached a campsite at the foot of another long hill, about 1 km outside Coyhaique.

Feb 26   {map}    (rest day in Coyihque)
We pushed our bikes around Coyhaique and visited the local hiking shops to upgrade our cold weaher gear. We also moved our campsite to another private one on the far side of town. It is rediculuosly crowded with at least two dozen tents in about one acre.

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Is there anything duct tape can't fix?
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Ring StonechildI disagree with ed. Oil your chain every day especially if your in the rain. Wipe your chain off first with a rag, oil then wipe off excess oil.
...unless youve got magic self cleaning & lubricating chains ? ??
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9 months ago
Rachael AndersonWe had cause to go to two bike stores a week apart on the last tour. The first one advised us to never oil our chain. The next one told us we needed to oil it more often.
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9 months ago
Kathryn HamiltonSounds like things are looking up. John oils his chain every ride, so at least three times a week. Light but expensive oil.
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9 months ago
Bill ShaneyfeltI have seen 2 schools of thought on oiling chains. One says oil often to keep from rusting. The other says oiling carries grit into the workings, which causes chains to wear (stretch) more quickly.

My thoughts are oiling frequently is good if it is rainy. Avoiding oil and infrequently using some kind of dry lube is good in dusty/sandy areas.
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9 months ago
Kathryn HamiltonSeems like a fairly sociable trip at the end of the day in the campgrounds. Scenery definitely brilliant.
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8 months ago