Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Segment 54: Coyhaique, Chile to Villa O'Higgins, Chile (February 23 - March 6, 2012)

This section covers the southern half of the Carretera Austral of Chile, what may be the best consistent cycling of the whole trip.  Nearly all dirt, no traffic (especially due to the general strike going on!), unpredictable weather, great company in the form of an international group of long-distance cyclists, changing landscapes, rivers and lakes everywhere, and finally, endless snow-capped mountains and glaciers...

heading out of Coihaique in great weather, we ran into roadblocks due to the general strike going on in Aysén, the 11th region of Chile.  Luckily we were able to pass with our bikes.

this part of Chile is notable for some not-very-Chilean customs, such as wearing berets and drinking mate (see the cartoon cow above), which are generally associated with Argentinians.  This is due to immigration of Argentinian campesinos over a century ago... 

here is a typical estancia (hacienda) of the region.  Note how dry the land is compared to other parts of the Carretera Austral we have ridden through.

sheep-raising, for wool and meat, has historically been THE economy for Patagonia

here we are entering the Cerro Castillo area

red fox seen on the road

Cerro Castillo (translates as Castle Mountain), in perfect weather, towering above the landscape

near Cerro Castillo, we ran into yet another roadblock.  Here Jeff is chatting with Beatriz, a Chilean activist and tour guide who lived many years in Switzerland and has returned to Chile to tackle pressing social and environmental issues.  She is explaining the nature of the strike, which covers issues from rising gas and energy costs to lack of doctor and hospital access, to poor road maintenance and construction, to fighting a very outrageous plan to build a series of dams and powerlines to transport power to Santiago, the distant capital city.

...more images of the striking Cerro Castillo...
hanging glacier

...late afternoon saw gorgeous landscapes in this area...

... the following morning we started up the Rio Ibañez...

lovely dirt road through the forest

a shrine to San Sebastian

this country is rugged, remote, and strikingly beautiful

as well as wet, as we often rode with rain panchos 

... some local constructions...

Cat loving the riding

we saw plenty of these in the inhabited parts

not a bad place to draw your drinking water

now along Lago General Carrera, biggest lake in Chile and second-largest in South America

...Greg gets spiritual in a roadside cabin we appropriated for the night...

this guy is riding his horse to town since there is no fuel for his truck (due to the strike, of course)

some anti-dam propaganda at the entrance to Puerto Rio Tranquilo.  "Our rivers are much more than just electrical energy.  Patagonia Without Dams!!"  

more roadblocking at the entrance to Rio Tranquilo.  some folks are camped out here in frigid weather... any hitchhikers and travellers in this area have been doomed and immobilized by the strike.  Glad to be on bikes!

the shocking cordillera rising up behind Lago General Carrera

Tom giving it hard on the hills around the lake

Patagonian pygmy owl seen along this stretch

Black-Necked Swans on Lago General Carrera

marking our progress along the Carretera Austral

Lago Bertrand, another in a series of gorgeous lakes

roadside abandoned cabin.  We found an open window, and made ourselves at home for two days.

the tax statement from 4 years previous. 

Jeff in the frigid waters of Lago Bertrand

in the cabin we used the wood stove to cook and heat water, and jammed lots of music

the peaks backing Lago Bertrand

note the color of the water on Rio Baker

Tom topping out a climb backed by magnificent peaks

Patagonian wild rose, the hips of which we have been making infusions with recently

near the confluence of Rio Baker and Rio Neff.  This whole area slated to be inundated by huge stagnant reservoirs if the Aysén Hydroelectric Plan goes through.  

heading towards Cochrane now

... at the entrance to Cochrane, the last settlement of any real size (30000 people) as we head south along the Carretera Austral... they don't appear to favor the Aysén Hydro Plan...
"Cochrane Without Dams: Let's protect our communities and our cultural identity"

in Cochrane. Here we had to load up on bread, which is being meted out due to flour shortages.  Racing around town trying to buy the last bread before its gone!

the line of cars waiting at the gas station in Cochrane.  

this bridgeblock at the exit of Cochrane proved challenging to pass with the bikes

a local passes the time waiting out the roadblock

...this dog followed us out of town... Tom inadvertently puts his "Dog Whisperer" (Greg's nickname for Tom) skills to work...

... and so we have a new companion

Lago Esmeraldas

well, by this point our new friend had put in 50 solid kilometers, wasn't fatigued, and in fact was joyously happy, so we baptised him with the name Lupus, named after one of our favorite southern sky constellations.         It must be stated, that we didn't have food for Lupus, so we weren't sure how this was going to turn out.  (In the end, Tom sent Lupus the other way with two Chilean cyclists heading back to Cochrane.)

stallion seen along the road

...the huge descent at Barranquitos... one of the most impressive of the trip...
... a mythical flying dirt descent with great mountainscapes opening up every second...

dumping us at the bottom, with this gorgeous range nearby

muted sunset

local estancia

introducing the huet-huet, a common Patagonian forest bird.  Like many other Patagonian birds, exhibits very little fear of humans, approaching nearly as close as our shoes.

...what more can a cyclotourist ask for?...

Rio Baker, still

... on this gorgeous day, spotted four condors in the river valley...

... breathtaking riding, the whole way...

we camped here next to a cool stream

cooking on open fire

descending to Puerto Yungay, had this impressive glacier yawning above us

the heavily-subsidized ferry crossing of Puerto Yungay, which somehow is free.  

because of the strike, no other traffic showed up besides cyclists!!!  Here we are ten crossing on the ferry: three Americans, one English, three French, one Swiss, two Chileans.  A great confluence of people, ideas, and cultures, and of course, bicycles.

continuing on towards Villa O'Higgins, on the Rio Bravo

we found refuge from an unpitying rainstorm in this miraculous roadside cabin

following morning, everything magical as ever

Black-Necked Swan on Lago Cisnes (Swan Lake, aptly named)

Lago Cisnes, incredible.

here we have Nicholas, Chilean cyclist travelling from near-Coihaique to points south.  He is with a friend, Santiago, the two of which we will see off-and-on for the next few weeks.

...Lago Cisnes, again...

Villa O'Higgins, the end of the road.  The Carretera Austral ends here.  We arrive slightly nervous, as we have to ferry out of here to be able to cross back into Argentina.  Because of the strike, the regular service has been cancelled!  (Chile, south of here, turns into a tight labyrinth of fjords and glaciers). 

...at Posada Fabiana, we cooked some memorable meals...
here's Greg with Santiago and Nico, dining on curried pumpkin soup and homemade veggie burgers

the mountains nearby 

heading 7km to the dock where we will take off to cross Lago O'Higgins on ferry.  Yep, this is none other than Jason and Sonja, who have already been in Villa O'Higgins for a week waiting for the ferry.

we only made it halfway to the dock when the boat owner told us the trip was cancelled due to high winds on the lake and that we would have to wait 4 more days till the next chance!

Tom takes this news in stride and starts fishing

as does Jason

Glacier Rio Mosco as seen from below

with some spare days, we decide to head out on a 2-day trek up the Rio Mosco valley towards the Rio Mosco Glacier.

...cool forest in here...

looking back down on the Rio Mosco/Lago O'Higgins confluence

... temperate rainforest...

our campsite on very soft duff

... the Mosco rushing through its canyon...
joined by a feeder stream, one can see here the varying water qualities of the two streams...

spectacular scenery along the Mosco

up in this tight canyon we were forced to turn back before reaching the glacier, a great tease, because a few years ago a flood washed out some already-treacherous sections of trail.  

burl seen on the return walk

we found this message waiting for us when we returned from the Mosco walk...

... then Jason showed up late at night with some fresh-caught trout

cinnamon buns courtesy of Jason and Sonja!

No comments: