8) Well, that didn't work [~ 400 km north] - In search of penguins. - CycleBlaze

8) Well, that didn't work [~ 400 km north]

Plan B.

After carefully reconsidering our options we have decided that the odds of seeing more penguins is vanishingly small. Therefore we have chosen a different objective. Instead, we will visit the less-travelled backroads of Patagonia. Dedicated followers of the Penguin Chronicles need not follow along. But invalids, the quarantined, and those with OCD are welcome to join us. We leave tomorrow at 10:00 am. Updates are unlikely for a few weeks. But we will update the blog whenever wifi permits.

Ciao for now.

NEW:   Talkies:

Now with moving pictures. And sounds:


(click to install Googe Photos - videos should be playable. New videos will be added - wifi permitting).

[Ed.]  We have had no cell reception since April 1. We have a brief sliver of cell reception now, so I will update the blog while our memories are fresh. (We are still a long way from civilization).

April 1   {map}

First, the good news. Bike packing is a wonderfully flexible sport / obsession. When plan A (look for penguins in Ushuaia) fails, there is always a plan B (explore Patagonia backroads). And when that fails, as it did  yesterday, we move to plan C (to be be announced, as soon as we think of it). But the story is getting ahead of itself. 

We begin on April 1, back in Cochrane. After our customary careful planning, lasting several minutes, we packed up our tent, bought a week's worth of food,  had our last shower for a long while and set off for Coyhaique, 350 km to the north.

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Just before we left, we checked with the Canadian consulate one last time, just in case they had anything useful to say for once. As usual, they didn't. It was our fault we had come here, they warned us last week, it was up to us to figure out a way to get home by commercial flights, etc. Oh well; we weren't expecting much. 

We rode north through typical (ie stunning) Patagonia landscapes. Once again we saw the herd of guanacos. It is astonishing how little they are bothered by fences. They just hop over the way we might step over a stick.

The forests are changing colour fast. The natural vegetation is almost all deciduous so entire mountainsides change colour at once. It begins with the rose bushes. The rose hips turn florescent orange then red, while the leaves turn golden. They are best viewed from a distance. The bushes conceal a mass of vicious fish-hook-shaped thorns and are inpenetrable. 

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We wild camped along hydro line with no water apart from the 1-2 liters in our bike bottles.

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April 2   {map}

Woke up to the sight of a cowboy on a horse, and his 6 - 8 dogs as they rode past our campsite. He didn't seem surprised or concerned that we had camped there. It is interesting that life hasn't changed much for some people in the last 200 years.

We began cycling down a steep slope with tight banked curves. As usual, Louise wiped out again. [LW]   Hole in riding tights but happily only wearing the already holey orange top. Also, fresh holes in arms and legs.

Embarrassingly, our fellow camper from Cochrane passed us that afternoon.  He had left earlier in the day and covered a day and a half of our efforts. We are aren't fast cyclists. LW: Nor do we break camp early-no matter what time we wake up it always seems to be ~noon before we start cycling! Return Journey today

We cycled past Puerto Bertrand again, where we had the superb craft beers and pizza about a month ago. A puzzling road sign said locales only so bypassed the town again and quickly forgot about it. - Mistake.

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Louise was pleased - she saw male and female Chilean woodpeckers, complete with curly top!

We camped that night under threatening skies. Luckily, it wasn't raining when we setup the tent, but that changed later - with a vengence. 

April 3   {Map}

Woke up on a beach beside a very stormy lake. We hid out in the tent until the storm lessened. Breakfast was cookies in the tent.

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Packed gravel with muddy surface layer quickly made a mess of bikes. 

As we approached the bus shelter at a major highway junction, the rain let up. One road led back the way we had come - the Carretara Austral. The other was a route we had not seen before. Neither was marked closed, so we chose the new one.

Bus shelter
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The new (to us) route followed the south edge of a huge lake. The scenery was fantastic, the weather threatening, and drinking water scarce. Hills were steep and abundant though.

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We passed through Puerto Guadal - a tiny micro town. However it was siesta, so everything was closed except one mini-mercado which had almost no food. After buying a couple of popsicles, we had to complete a form explaining who we are, where we were from and going to, etc. In hindsight, the town was probably closed and under quarantine but there weren't any signs.

[LW] Nice looking town. Might be fun to visit in better times. Right now dogs sleep in the middle of main streets...

Tried to do a fossil walk about 5 km outside of town, but cerrado (closed). Apparently the authorities are worried that the fossilized remains of extinct beasts that died 72 million years ago might be contagious.

Made it to a scenic campsite beside a boulder filled river. Judging by the steep canyon walls and the large rocks, this might not be an ideal location during a flood. 

April 4   {map}

Packed gravel with muddy surface layer quickly made a mess of bikes (again).

We passed through Malin Grande, another micro town. However it was siesta, so everything was closed except one mini-mercado which had almost no food. (Sound familiar?) Several locals tried to tell us about something. As usual though, they spoke so fast we couldn't understand them. It couldn't be very important or they would have spoken more clearly, we thought. Wrong.

The road to Chile Chico passes through a landscape that is fantastic, even by Patagonian standards. Much of it is blasted out of the side of a steep volcanic mountain. There was fresh snow about 1000 feet above us, and a surreal blue lake below. It was mostly too steep for us to ride, so we spent most of the day pushing up to the high-point.

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Where we met this fellow. Who explained the the road was closed, except to locals. The next town we were headed to (Chile Chico) was locked down under quarantine, and the ferry we needed was not running. 

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Our options, he said, were to stay put for 1-2 weeks until the quarantine ended. Or go back the way we came, and resume our journey up the Carretara instead.

He didn't seem like he wanted to argue, so we turned the bikes around and started back. That was a bit depressing. But the ride down was easy. We camped in the bush and drank whisky until our spirits improved. A fierce storm blew in that night, but we stayed dry and warm in our tent.

April 5   {map}
Continued to cycle back along the road to Chile Chico. 

The snowline was about 500 meters above us.
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At lunch we stopped at Malin Grande again. This time the stores were open, but window-service only. We continued back to the micro-town of  pto. Guadal. It was Sunday so everything was closed. 

Puerto Guadal
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We were low on water but we camped anyway, on a gravel pullout about 3 km away from the bus shelter. It was a brutally cold night and there were traces of ice in the morning. We wore all our clothes (including fleece and goretex jackets) to bed. We were barely warm enough to sleep.

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April 6   {map}
Cycled past damn bus shelter again (third time). The scenery is changing fast. Autumn has arrived and winter is not far behind.  

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We tried but failed to make Pto. Rio Tranquilo. We had stayed there before in a great campsite (Riochifiro) with hot showers and flush toilets. Instead, we had to wild camp again. 

As usual, we spoke to nobody all day. 
We camped that night beside Rio Trapail.

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April 7   {map}
We finally reached Puerto Rio Tranquilo. However, it looked a lot different this time. The entire town was shut down, apart from a few grocery stores. Alarmingly, all the hostels and campgrounds were shut down too. However while we were debating our very limited options, we met Omar - the owner of the campground that we had stayed at a month ago.  He offered to open his huge campground for us, for a single night. The shower that night was exquisite. 

Villa Rio Tranquilo - A typical town in Patagonia.
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An OCD dog decided to adopt us on the way in. We couldn't outpace him, and we didn't know where he lived so we just kept cycling. A local Chilean eventually offered to hold the dog so we could get away. I worry about stupid dogs like that - how do they find their way home? 

We saw lots of new (to us) new scenery. We missed it on the way down because the weather was so awful.

April 8   {map}
We had hoped to stay at the Puerto Rio Tranquilo campsite for a few days. We had a backlog of first aid, laundry, bike repairs, etc. However one of Omar's campground employees caught a bad case of CV hysteria so we had to leave.  

On the way out of town there was the usual army / carabinero checkpoint. Unexpectedly one of them offered us a cabin to rent. We declined as we were trying to get to Coyhaique as quickly as possible. So far, all the roadblocks and checkpoints have been friendly.  

On the way out of town we noticed the Cervezeria (craft beer outlet) was considered an essential service - it was open for window service. As was the Panderia (bakery). We loaded up with eight days food and hit the road again. 

Fortunately, it was sunny and hot for a change. The road was in terrible shape - fist sized rocks cemented into dried mud, with piles of loose sand and gravel here and there. I doubt we exceeded 10 km/hr that day, even downhill.

Beautiful ranches everywhere. Almost every one of them belonged on the cover of a National Geographic magazine. As usual, there were huge hills which we had to push our heavily loaded bikes up. The bush changed from grassland to jungle at the top.

Camped beside Rio Muerte - a huge alpine river in an even larger floodplane. Unbekown to us until we had put the tent up, the floodplane was used as a truck route into nearby towns. 

Rio Muerta floodplane. River is barely visible, top right.
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It was OK though - there was lots of room for tents and vehicles. 

April 9   {map}
We are now travelling on rough ripio roads through thick jungle. Louise fell off her bike again, twice. Both times she was trying to traverse steeply banked gravel curves. Luckily, there were no serious injuries to bike or rider. 

We passed the deserted farmhouse again. It is something of a landmark among the biking crowd. 

The road passes over countless unnamed small streams. I stopped by one to wait for Louise, and happened to see a huge fish as long as my forearm. It was probably a 2.5 to 3 kg  trout or salmon. Louise missed it, but we crossed to other side of the road and saw another slightly smaller one. Both fish were within five meters of the road. The creek was only about 2 - 3 meters wide, and about 30 m deep. We didn't bring fishing gear, and I never catch anything anyway, so both fish were safe from us.  

The day began sunny, but weather changes fast down here. Heavy clouds moved in from the north. 

We barely made it to a refugio, just as the rain began. It was a welcome shelter to cook and hang out in. However we elected to setup our tent and sleep outside. It rained hard all night. Our sleeping bags got wet but we slept ok.

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Mike doing the morning ritual of pumping up his front tire while we harness what sun power there was to dry out things.
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Mike's birthday - 65 (feels like 165 sometimes). We had bought some children's birthday candles in Cochrane for fire-starters. We lit a few that night and had cookies for desert.

April 10   {map}
Rain stopped as we woke up. 

Blue sky in places but still heavy clouds and rain intermittent.

We procrastinated as long as possible to wait for better weather. Coffee and Milo (like ovaltine) brought out the sun ( in patches). Managed to dry out thermarests and most of the tent. The wind direction was unpredictable, and during one of its changes the rain started again. But we got away relatively dry and feeling very clever - until later.

Louise, looking clever.
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Most of the day was on ripio. Hard core ripio but some nice hard packed stuff.
Lots of changes to road in last month. Ths is the area they were blasting in on our trip south.

Good Friday and CoVid kept the roads car-free. We only saw 3 cars all day. 

We finally reached the beginning of pavement that afternoon! It was the first time in six weeks, and it lasts all the way north to Santiago. 

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Weather deteriorated rapidly. Pushed on for a few more hours with increasing trepidation. Eventually we reached a pass, beyond which we knew camping would be difficult.

Found spot in trees off the side of road that was flat and big enough for our tent, just as it started to rain.  We setup the tarp too, as we were expecting heavy rain. Once again, Patagonia fooled us - there wasn't much wind or rain in the end, but dinner under the tarp was more pleasant. 

April 11   {map}
We awoke about 10 km outside of Villa Cerro Castillo. Managed to break camp early as needed to buy more food.

As we were packing up, another gaucho on a horse, accompanied by the usual 6 - 8 dogs rode past our campsite. We didn't converse much; we couldn't. Our Spanish has deteriorated since we no longer talk to anyone but ourselves...

The road to Villa Cerro Castillo was blocked from the north, but not the south. Don't know why.  There were a few people walking around and a bit of car traffic. 

We saw two more Patagonia foxes, but they ran away before we could take photos. Louise thinks the absence of cars brings more wildlife onto the roads.

The Mercados (grocery stores) were open, although window service only. 

Got eggs, pan, cookies, onions and yogurt and wine...

[ed.] Louise uses Kotex Lightdays for general purpose bandaging. They are cheap, ubiquitous, and clean.

[LW] Should have gotten more Kotex Lightdays as just before reaching the townsite Louise's bike had to prove it:'s dominance again. A blast of headwind knocked me off my my bike and I landed hard. Mike says I should have put on my brakes.  My experience in Chiloe predisposes me not to. After gathering up my stuff and myself we continue on--until I notice trickles of blood running down the outside of my cycling tights (no holes in tights or gortex!).

Ever wonder what is inside a leg? Louise can show you!
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More time spent cleaning and bandaging.

Met the Carabineros well outside town at the junction to Puerto Ibanez. They took our passport information and tried to measure our skin temperature, using optical pyrometers. That didn't work, since we had been cycling so our skin was the same temperature as the air temperature and let us go on. 
[LW]  I think the road-block worked. It made the VillaCC resident more relaxed - Somebody was Doing Something.

We continued pushing our bikes up the never-ending and infamous VCC switchbacks. The scenery changed rapidly to full-on autumn. 

[LW] There was a mirador (lookout) near the top, so we stopped for a second lunch.  Mike broke out the wine. A Chilean car pulled in with an engine that sounded even worse than our bikes. I looked at my leg and realized it was in as bad of shape as his car. Blood had leaked through all the bandages and was threatening to glue them to me. 

Spent over and hour to unwrap, clean, and re-bandage. Sadly, a great day to make up time  has dwindled to a just a great day.

Higher altitude has put us in late autumn / early winter. Beautiful colours.

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At about 5:15 we reached the same campsite we stayed on the way south, back in March.  We knew there was a serious hill ahead, so we camped here again. 

April 12   {map}
Yesterday was all uphill, and much of it was spent pushing our bikes. Today, we rode downhill all day and made lots of mileage.

As we left the high plateau, the scenery changed to Kamloops-style ranchland. 

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There was a bit more traffic as we approached Coyhaique. There was another roadblock at the micro-town of el Blanco. We could have wild camped there, but it was still early and we wanted to make more mileage that day. 
 We eventually stopped several hours later, just as it was getting dark. We found a tiny flat(ish) spot next to a gate to a field, just barely off the highway. 

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There was a bunch of highway building materials and equipment nearby, but we didn't think anything of it. The CV hysteria had seen almost all road construction halted.  Except this time - we awoke to find legions of construction workers peering at us as we broke camp. Oh well. 
Saw two cyclists late at night heading to Coyhaique. They were braver and tougher than us. It was still 20+ km away.

April 13   {map}
Finally, we rolled into Coyhaique. We located a hostel recommended by (or maybe owned by?) Omar, back at Puerto Rio Tranquilo. It was a bit expensive by our standards, but the apartments are clean, have kitchens and living rooms, and free wifi.

Now, we just have to figure out airline schedules, quarantine restrictions, bike transport, ...

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Comment on this entry Comment 4
Fay GinNo plan is the best plan... May Louise and You always have a tailwind, and have a whirlwind of a time, while the cities go mad....
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8 months ago
Rachael AndersonIt’s great hearing that you made it to Cochrane! You two are incredibly tough! The climb to Cochrane looked very tough.
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7 months ago
Fran TraceyLouisy! And Mike ! I’m hooked to your blog, just got it from Tina and burned through all of it. Giggling all the way. So funny how long it took cv to enter your lives while we all sit at home glued to the television completely stressed out. Hope you find some comfortable places to sleep and some food to keep you going. Stay safe ! And blog often ! Cheers and love, Franny.
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7 months ago
Rachael AndersonGreat to get more news from you. Sorry about your injury. You both are utterly amazing! You’ve had every adversity imaginable and just kept going.
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7 months ago