Chile, Km 157.000
After 15 years of traveling around the world, I arrived in Chile, the last country in my agenda to visit, before finishing the trip in Buenos Aires in the spring of 2017.
I knew a little from Chile, since I had never been in this country. The image that the Argentine has of the Chileans is not always disinterested, and vice versa. Historically, Argentina and Chile have had territorial conflicts, the last one was Beagles which almost leads us to a delirious war; although boundaries are a matter of politicians, diplomats and cartographers. At that time, Argentina got into war with England for the Falklands, and the Chilean President, Pinochet offered the United Kingdom the use of Chilean ports. But beyond the political leadership at that time, the main rivalry between both countries has been football, because both Argentines and Chileans, as well as Brazilians, Uruguayans, or Colombians, have that passion that identifies us and faces us sporadically. But nothing has to do with all that, but the way they receives a visitor when he mixes with its people. I spent almost two months in Chile and I never felt offended, even though in football, Argentina had lost the last two Copa America finals for penalties, something that many Argentinians have problem with. Congratulations to this brother country that won its first two cups in the continent.
The Chileans received me as if I were one of them, or rather, as an old friend. I chose to cross the mountain range in different points, from Argentina I entered Chile 5 times and I traveled more than 2,500 km by Chilean ground; And in every city I visited I had a fellow who received me at his house. Some lived alone and some with their families, I never lacked a place to stay.
I also felt affection in the street when I stopped with my bicycle to sell my documentary; people always approached me and thanks of that I sold enough to continue my journey.
In Santiago I contacted the media. The CVN channel in Chile and the newspaper La Cuarta interviewed me. Appear in the media gives you recognition, so I had dozens of invitations in every corner of the country.
But beyond the capital and the beautiful touristic cities I visited like Reñaca and Viña del Mar, what really brought me to Chile was pedaling the mythical Austral Road, a big challenge in the cycle-tourism world.
The Austral Road
After crossing the metropolitan area and regions 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 I arrived in Pucon, where I spent new years eve and crossed the passage of Hua Hum to Argentina. Let me tell you that the route that begins in San Martín de los Andes to the national park Los Alerces, crossing the national park Nahuel Huapi, is one of the most beautiful of the continent. So similar to Jasper National Park in Canada or Denali Highway in Alaska. Many of the travelers that cross the austral road do not cross to Argentina, possibly because the challenge is to cross the austral road from the start to end. A shame if you are looking to pedal between lakes and mountains with good scenery, for camping and better weather. This part of Argentina should not be overlooked, just for the fact of traveling all the Austral Road.
The Austral Road has very beautiful stretches, but it was not spectacular, it is impossible for a route of 1200 km to be beautiful in its entirety. It was so much what I heard from the Austral road that I thought it would reach one of the most beautiful routes in the world, as it is promoted. The vegetation is very thick, for long stretches the landscape is not appreciated. Only when it disappears or when it reaches the top of a mountain is when you contemplate how nature manifests itself in all its splendor; but it does not happen often, the austral road does not have many mountains to climb. And the weather is rainy, from 4 days in my travel it rained 3. It is not heavy rain, but, constant drizzlethat besides the excitement you may feel, it still bothers.
Due to the complicated geographical features of the place where lakes, rivers, virgin jungles, cliffs, ice fields and the Patagonian Andes predominate, the austral road has become one of the most impressive engineering works in Chile. Much of the route is gravel, dusty and narrow, and therefore dangerous. There is a lot of traffic and people driving like if they are on a race track, regardless to who pedals. Every day I was crossing with at least 10 cycle-travelers.
The quality of the road varies between areas in very good condition and others that are a martyrdom for anyone who travels with a bicycle which weighs 85 kilos. In the stretches of land, my average speed has never exceeded 8, 10 or 12 km / h. The saw path is always present and that constant vibration finished breaking my video camera, also broke the roof rack of my bike and made me lose the mirror and the front foot. Every day I had a different problem, I think if I would have been able, more than once I would have crossed to Argentina.
At bedtime I preferred to camp in the middle of nature than to stop at a campsite, because sometimes these usually do not have the structure for all the people that they had up. For example in the camping where I settled in Cohiayque, there were no less than 100 people and only two bathrooms.
No matter how much you do not want it, from time to time you have to stop; even to take a bath of hot water and charge all the batteries of the cameras. But you have to be very patient, the lines are long for the bathroom or a plug. And you have to be careful because among so many people things can disappear. There are people on duty to charge their phones. Something boring for me.
According I was informed, in this region of Chile and also in Argentina, it is not good to sleep in abandoned houses that serve as shelters, due to the presence of the field mice that are carriers of hantavirus, a respiratory disease that has a high mortality rate because there is still no good treatment. It is transmitted through the inhalation of the smell of the feces or urine of the infected rodent. Therefore, it is always best to camp in open, lighted areas and where the air circulates.
The day I entered the Austral road from Futaleufu it rained all afternoon, and I could not find a good place to camp. I had seen an abandoned house that looked like a shelter, but as a precaution I preferred to look for an open place where to set the tent. With the last light, I spoke with some residents who enabled me to enter one of their lands on the shore of Lake Yelcho, after paying a fee. There was no bathroom, no light, or anything, just a roof where the tent was built, with a good view of the lake. It was a refuge for fishermen, a ventilated place.
But how unlucky, I bet that was where a flea got into my tent, because two days later I started to have olive-sized hives on my body. As I had experienced this misfortune 14 years ago in Ethiopia, I did not delay in reacting. As soon as I could get a poisonous fleakiller and sprayed the tent, the sleeping bag and the clothes; Then I locked myself in the tent to hunt it. The cursed, flattened, elongated parasite is not easy to catch, when I thought I had crushed it with the tips of my fingers, the damn thing would jump and disappear again. It was a meticulous job, the hunt lasted an hour, but the misfortune almost two weeks, because every day had more hives. The flea itch is maddening, you wake up in the middle of the night to scratch yourself, and you never know if you have more fleas or if it is the allergy caused by flea saliva. So you have to take an antihistamine, but not for respiratory allergies like they gave me at the pharmacy, but for skin allergies. It took me a week to find out that I was having the wrong antihistamine. And also a week in discover more fleas in my sleeping bag. Surely that damn flea had left larvae.
In this way, after walking the fleas for 500 km, with more than 50 hives along my body, being so desperate and furious I crossed to Argentina by Chile Chico. There, in los Antiguos” I settled in a hotel, which are cheaper than in Chile, and I washed all my clothes and sleeping bag, at a laundry which because of the feathers, I needed to give a double drying with two balls of Tennis that I had to buy. A good tactic so that the feathers does not stick.
The biggest challenge of the Austral Road
I returned to Chile through the Roballos Pass, where I took one of the worst gravel roads I have ever remember in all my journey; It was a totally flat road but the speed was never higher than 8 km / h. Due to the wind, the big rocks and the horrifying saw that exists on this road, I fell several times. It was a constant struggle to keep my balance, but I could not move more than 50 meters without falling or stopping.
The vibration broke once again the rear luggage rack, which had been unbeaten since 2005. I was surprised to hear from the man that fix the rack I could not read or write. “When I was a kid this region was practically isolated and the few roads, ship and air transport that existed were not a solution for isolation, so at that time the priorities of one family were other”, said the man, almost defending himself.
On my way south I arrived to Tortel, a surprising place, which has no streets, no traffic lights, no vehicles. Anyone who arrives leaves his transport at the entrance of the town and enters walking You can not enter with the bicycle either, because Tortel is a fishing village full of walkways and stairs in which you get lost exploring the place. Clearly it is one of the top destinations visited on the austral road and it is totally well worth it.
The road to Yungay I pedaled under rain and mud, the bike dragged dirt in all its components, so I broke the chain, which was drier than ever. Fortunately I changed it fast and arrived in Yungay a minute before the ferry sail away to continue on to Villa O’Higgins. In this trail, it rained like few times on the Austral road, there was no place to shelter, it is a totally unspoiled place and there are no residents in the area, so I continued pedaling, soaked with rain and sweat I had lunch under a pine tree and camped with rain. I had the shoes soaked, I blessed my neoprene stockings! Because I only wear a pair of shoes. The road was a steady rise and fall of great mountains, but with waterfalls, jungles and rivers everywhere. An unexplored place of a unique beauty.
And finally I arrived at Villa O’Higgins where the Austral Road ends and where I met Laurent, a French friend who travels the world since 2012. Due to my conflict with the fleas Laurent that was pedaling with me decided to continue trip. The guy is a lot more organized than me, he starts early, pedals fair distances, camps early and dinner in the last light of day; All the opposite of me. So pedaling with him was a pleasure, because his travel dynamics were much better than mine. I am slow to start in the morning, I take between 2 and 3 hours, and then pedal until the end of the afternoon. But the main advantage of reaching my friend was that I would cross to Argentina in his company, because I needed him.
From Villa O’Higgins there are no more roads to the south of Chile, nor is there a road for vehicles that crosses you to Argentina, just a path that extends between both borders that can only be crossed by walkers, and anyone else who wishes to drag his bicycle. There is no chance of going on a motorcycle.
The odyssey began at 8.30 in the morning with a boat trip to Candelario Mancilla that lasts more than 3 hours, where the Chilean stamps the exit of the country. The road from there to the Argentine customs is an adventure. The first 6 km are pure climb, very steep but you can pedal, although sometimes you have to push. Then there is a 9 km stretch which is more uniform and has no difficulty. But the last 6 km downhill is a challenge to the body. Of course everything depends on how loaded you are. The Frenchman, who already knew the way and who was 20 kilos less than I, puts part of his luggage in a backpack and loaded it on his back, the rest left it on the right side of his bike, so he could maneuver better. I could’nt do anything, and I had to push my bike like a mule the whole way, but if I hadn’t had the help of my friend, it would have taken me two days.
The path that runs through the middle of a thick forest full of branches is very narrow, and its constant rises and falls ended with all our energy The rain and the cold that follows us during most of the journey made things more difficult. Laurent pushes his bicycle and in the hardest stretches he came back to help me with mine. By going after the bike, my poor friend was almost always pushing hard than I was. We crossed boggy, muddy areas where bicycles were buried halfway through the wheel; And a dozen streams, some juggling their respective trunks that serve as bridges, others directly by the water. Suddenly the weight of my bicycle overcame me and It fell. Damn it, just in the third attempt I was able to lift it with the help of the Frenchman. Blessed my waterproof saddlebags. There is nothing to look after more than my computer, which stores all my memories. With the last light we were very cold, for hours we had our wet feet, clothes soaked and we had no where to camp, so we had to continue, there was no other choice. My body no longer responded when I fell down a canyon if Laurent wouldnt be there the bike would have fallen on me. It is not agility, but pure logics. The road is not suitable for those who carry a heavy bike.
We knew that. That stretch was going to be a challenge, the biggest on the Austral Road. I wondered if so much effort had been worth it, when suddenly the road began to go down, we left the forest and the clouds began to cleared. And there I was, between an orange sky and the imposing Fitz Roy that appeared like welcoming us to Argentina. It was at that moment when I realized that all that suffering had been worth it, the delight hardly lasted a few minutes, enough to understand that we are not crazy, and that everything had been more than an adventure. We hugged, we had done it goal Fulfilled!!!