Back on the bikes

Puerto Montt (Chile) – Villa La Angostura (Region 7 lagos – Argentina)

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 14.07.20 Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 14.06.39

We are back on the bikes! Finally! It is fantastic! On a sunny day we leave Puerto Montt and ride the road back to the region of the seven lakes north of Bariloche in Argentina.

Christy is doing fine, but every time we stop we get funny looks from people. It is quite an unusual sight when Christy is taking her crutches off the bike and wobbling around on them in her biker dress.

We take it easy and stop for the night in a small roadside hotel. I will remember that place very well for the low door on which I bumped my head almost every time I passed it. Even though I got reminded of the low door with a quite painful event every time I just didn’t seem to learn it. It was great fun to put on the helmet the next day.

The boarder crossing to Argentina was quite busy but at least here Christy’s misfortune was good for something: we could pass the long line to get upfront so the crossing was done in no time.

We have seen it a couple of times on border crossings, that in between the Chilean and Argentinian customs there is quite some distance. But nothing like here. It is more than 30km from leaving Chile to entering Argentina.

Till here it was a pretty cold and cloudy day. But the Argentinian side welcomed us with nice and warm weather. We went 40km into the area of 7 lagos on the road to San Martin. The area reminded me a lot of the Black Forest, my home in Germany. There are many huge lakes and the road winds through them beautifully and making it a great day on the motorbike. A short gravel part stopped us (we didn’t want to risk too much gravel since for Christy’s foot it was still painful to get vibrations on the bike). So we turned back to Villa la Angostura. We found a nice campsite and had a relaxing evening with other local bikers.

Walls of ice and rock

Perito Moreno – Torres del Paine – Puerto Natales

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 14.10.09

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 14.08.15

Perito Moreno is one of the main attractions in Patagonia and so there are loads of people visiting it. We had Christys foot re-checked with a doctor in the morning and so we arrived at the glacier in the late afternoon. That turned out to be great because most visitors and all the organized bus tours had already left. So it was a very nice afternoon.

You get very close to the glacier on solid ground here, since it does calve into a lake, but its tip hits a little peninsula where a walkway brings you as close as 100m to the glacier.

We continued to follow the Ruta 40 down to the National Park Torres del Paine. The road is nice but very repetitive and we has lots of wind. We were truly happy not to be on a motorbike. You really have to say, that even though we see more motorbikes than ever on this trip, this area is not a great place for motor biking. Too boring, too windy and therefore too dangerous.

It got dark and so we started looking for accommodation for the night, still outside the national park Torres del Paine. We saw a sign of a hotel and followed a gravel road to get to it.

The road looked real nice and the hotel was nicely integrated into the natural contours of the area. It looked pricy. But we didn’t care. We were tired, we knew the Torres del Paine is expensive so we didn’t care for the costs, it is only one night!

Well, I changed my mind when they actually told me the price: 487US$. That really is out of our budget. They were very friendly though and called different other places and finally found something just a little bit outside our budget: 175$, but that would be in a dorm with shared bathroom. WHAT???? That is CRAZY!

We thanked, continued and finally found a simple room for 50$ just before the entrance to the park.

That’s where we met John. He is a retired UK soldier and travels already since 6 years on his motorbike. He is a great guy. We had a beer in the evening, had a great and fun talk and went off to bed quite late.

The next day we drove through the national park. There are tons of people at every bus stop and you just need to have a look at the amount of backpacks here to know the trails are packed. No need to do this….

Instead we stayed on the road that offers great views on the mountains.

Again I am experiencing the feeling that “supersights” like the Torres del Paine almost always disappoint me a little bit.

Too many people and high expectations just lower the effect that the impression could have if it was a little bit less known and visited.

That means for me simply that the most beautiful places usually are not the most known ones.

Still, Perito Moreno and Torres del Paine are quite neat places and we did enjoy the views on these wonders of Mother Nature.

 

Towers

El Chalten, Argentina

These mountains are truly majestic. Huge granite towers.

And we are so incredible lucky to see them in all their beauty.The sky is blue, only very few clouds and we see the whole range standing right in front of us.

When we arrived here in El Chalten it was cloudy. We didn’t see any of the mountains. But we saw a lot of other travellers. The amounts of huge backpacks that are carried through the streets of the little town almost shocked us.

We haven’t seen that many foreign travellers anywhere on our 5 months of South America.

We checked into a nice hotel where Christy could at least enjoy a great view while I would go hiking for a day.

The next day I started my little hiking tour up to a nice lake. There where many people on the trail and even though the views were fantastic there were just too many people for me to fully enjoy the walk.

So I decided to take a less frequented walk that connects two valleys and turned off the main track.

It turned out to be a great decision: a great path and a lot less people. In fact I didn’t meet anybody for almost an hour. The narrow path led through thick bushes and grotesque trees. Some parts of the forest could be part of a Harry Potter movie plot.

It was quite, just some birds sang their song and the wind stirred up the leaves in the trees and bushes.

Just when I was taking some nice pictures of a beautiful red headed wood pecker two hikers came around the corner. I could tell by their accent they were from Nuremberg where I studied for a long time.

As it turned out we have friends in common and so they updated me on the news of an old friends of mine. What a coincidence and pleasant surprise.

Unfortunately there were still clouds so that I did not have a full view on the main attractions here: the Fitz Roy and the Cerro Torre. But the walk was still very beautiful.

The next day the sky was clear. We had a great view on the mountains surrounding us. The two massive granite towers said farewell to us presenting themselves in a picture book panorama.

Hands

Cueva de los manos; Bajo Caracoles; Argentina

I was here!

Maybe that is what the basic message of these hands is. And if so, the message has been delivered. Some 10.000 years later.

Nobody really knows the real reason for these paintings, but it is quite impressing to see those old drawings, knowing their age.

Getting here was quite a hazzle. The wind is incredibly strong and so Christy is fighting here way down some steep stairs and along a narrow path to get to the caves. I stayed behind her, holding her on her jacket in case the wind would blew her over. The drawings are not really in a cave it is more underneath huge overhangs. They are at the side of a canyon with a river, which enables trees and bushes to grow at the bottom of the canyon. The place is located in the middle of the desert.

Most drawings here are hands, but there are also Guanocos, abstract geometrical figures and other animals.

At one point there is a hunting scene, using the 3 dimensions of the rock to create a description of how they were hunting animals.

Knowing that somebody drew these things so long ago is stunning and magic.

The beauty of the canyon is making it even more enjoyable. We were glad we fought our way through the wind to this place…

 

Guanacos

Guanacos

Cochrane (Carretera Austral, Chile) – Bajo Caracoles (Argentina)

We left the wonderful colored lake and continued on the Carretera Austral down south. A mighty river has carved a deep valley into the mountains. Again we are stroke by the colors. This time I was reminded of cooling liquid for my motorbike engine.

Cochrane is the most southern part of the Carretera Austral we reach. From here we go straight east, through the “future National Park Patagonia”as the Tompkins advertise it. Douglas Tompkins (founder of The North Face) built up a couple of National Parks here in Patagonia, not without resistance from locals. The resistance seems to be pretty odd at first, but imagine a Russian oligarch would buy large areas in the US. That certainly would not go unnoticed and strange rumors would spread.

The Tompkins had the conservation of a great landscape and wilderness in mind (see their own vision here http://www.tompkinsconservation.org/about_kris_and_doug_tompkins.htm) but of course there are other people affected as well. People have real issues with them, such as the fishing industry and everybody who wants to use the Carretera Austral since the unfinished (and from the locals wanted-to-be-build) part in the north would go through private property and a national park founded by the Tompkins.

So here, east of Cochrane the Tompkins bought large areas of land again and they are eager to turn this into a National Park as well. They build up a nice building as the entrance of the park. A little plane is standing upfront. Seems they are at home here. In fact James who is passing thorugh here a day after us is meeting both Tompkins and has a great talk to them (see more about that here: http://advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1020523).

We soon understand why this area has caught the attention of the Tompkins. It is beautiful. We see hundreds of Guanacos in large herds.

The scenery contains steep snowy mountains, lakes, swamps, rivers with crystal clear water and lots of grasslands which glows golden in the intense sun.

The sky is in dark blue and the bright white clouds create a hard contrast.

We pass through the road with our truck and are happy to have such a rugged vehicle. The road is quite bumpy and rocky at times.There are large herds of guanacos to be found here. These large llamas are adorable animals, sometimes almost elegant, mostly looking a little bit dazzled into the world. Or with other words: they are cute and pretty stupid animals. You just have to love them. And so we stopped the car many times to take pictures and enjoyed their view.

The bordercrossing is a small building. The 3 officers are very casual. It seems their bosses don’t show up very often. The papers are done very quickly and so we are back on the road.

As soon as we get to Argentina the landscape changes again. The hills get smoother and the landscape is more vast. We make it safely to a small town. It is the only town on the Ruta 40 for 200km. And so it is no wonder the few houses here are worth an entry even on the large scale map of ours.

 

Falling ice

San Rafael Bay

I watch the glacier through my camera lenses, fascinated by the different shapes and shades of blue of the ice. It is quite, water is calmly splashing against our small boat. Nobody speaks. Everybody is fascinated by the view.

We heard of the Laguna San Rafael a couple of times. A huge protected lagoon in which a glacier calves into.

The glacier is one of the few exits where the ice of the northern patagonian icefield escapes. The northern and southern patagonian icefields are gigantic icefields, the largest outside the polar areas. And so they feed a couple of glaciers of impressive size.

We organized a boat trip and found a tour organizer who would bring us and James, the motorbiker we met the day before, to the glacier.

It is a long trip. We had to drive down a valley for 1,5 hours ourselves before we had a transfer over a river on a small boat. Then another 30minutes in a small bus and finally 2,5 hours on a boat to the glacier.

We were lucky: we were the only ones on the trip, together with a guide, the skipper and his pilot.

We made a little break for lunch before we approached the glacier. It was beautiful but I had expected to see a large wall of ice, so I was a little bit disappointed, since the glacier seemed to end pretty flat in the water. But this place is playing tricks on you. As we approached the glacier more and more the dimensions became visible. The snout of glacier is between 50m and 80 meters high. It is impressive. You can feel the cold air from the glacier, even though we stay more than 500m away from it.

“The reason is not the waves from falling ice parts” Russel, the guide explains “more dangerous are ice parts from underneath the water. The Glacier continues under water and when parts of that break off, they come with no warning from underneath, creating massive waves”.

It was a very active day for the glacier, a lot of parts fall off from him. They seem to fall in slow motion which gives you a feeling for the size and dimensions. Even though they only create small splashes they are as big as a car.

As I keep looking through my lenses suddenly everything in there seems to move. I zoom out and understand whats happening: a huge part of the front wall, as big as a small skyscraper clashes down into the water. In slow motion the massive ice block is seperating fro the main wall and slowly moving downward. A massive wall of splashing water appears, huge waves are formed.

What an impressive sight.

We see more ice falls. Actually it rumbles all the time, but this one fall was bigger and mightier than I would have ever imagined. We are deeply impressed.

 

On the road again…

Puerto Aysen – Cerro Castillo

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 16.03.09

We had a late start in the morning and got back on the Carretera Austral pretty late therefore. We took it real easy. I still had to get used to the huge car. But driving was very relaxed. This mighty car is not a sports car, the weight and the calm gurgling of the huge engine makes you accelerate very slowly. RPM rarely over 2500, usually at 1500. Cruising is the word!

I am glad we are going so slow: Christy spotted some wildlife next to the road: Huemules (the local deer) stood there calmly and crossed the road right next to us…

The landscape was incredible. Rich vegetation changed with dry and colorful mountains, red cliffs and crystal clear rivers. The road was all paved till the village of Cerro Castillo. The village gets its name from a fantastic mountain that is standing on the side of the road. It really looks like a castillo, a fortress. Dozens of thin rock needles stick up in the air in different sizes. Dark and threatening it is overlooking the broad valley where clouds create a dramatic play with the sun rays. The dark clouds opened up eventually and had the sun shining into the valley which gave everything a more friendly look.

We found a nice little hut where we stayed for the night, outside the little village of Cerro Castillo.

The missing link

Coyhaique – Puyhuapi – Puerto Aysen

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 15.47.25

We decided to take the truck north to Puyhuapi, since this part of the Carretera Austral is supposed to be very beautiful and we bypassed it on the Argentinian side. It would also allow us to test whether the bikes are stable on the bike. Since we would go back to Coyhaique we could contact Traeger, the car rental company in case something wouldn’t work.

The road was just incredible beautiful. A broad valley with high mountains left and right. Lots of cows stand on large meadows chewing on wild flowers and the rich green grass. The clouds are pretty low but we can still get fantastic views on the mountains and the glaciers that cover their tops. And the low clowds contribute to a nice atmosphere.

The closer we came to Puyhuapi the steeper mountains became and eventually we hit the fjord that cuts deep into the mountains. We crawl its way along the coast with a steep slope on one side and the sea to the other, with just enough space for a one laned gravel road.

The last bit to Puyhuapi is under construction and it is pretty bad. Rockfall happens here all the time. We are happy to have this massive truck and the good wheels. We take it very easy, make a lot of stops and enjoy the incredible scenery this road has to offer. It winds along a deep fjord with very steep walls to our right and the ocean to our right.

After a night in Puyhuapi we went the same road back. The construction site was closed though for a couple of hours, so we stood there and waited for the road to be re-opened. It poured down and it was quite cold as well. The first time since Christys accident we were really happy not to be on a bike. That would have been really terrible. Instead we chewed some potato chips and watched a TV show on the I-Pad. Overlanding on a 4×4 really has its good sides…

Into the rain

Chaiten – Futaleufu- La Junta – Palena

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 00.14.51 Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 00.14.21

We started out of Chaiten in sunny weather. The paved road followed a valley with spectacular mountains. After 30km the road turned into a very well maintained gravel road and we enjoyed riding quite a lot.

We heared of the town of Futaleufu which was supposed to be real nice. So we turned off the Carretera Austral to ride the 100km up the mountains. A fantastic scenery was the reward for this little detour. The town is known mainly for its class 5 whitewater rafting and so you see a lot of wild rivers along the way.

The town itself was not as enjoyable as we thought, but we were compensated with an incredible sky that was illuminated in the wildest and most intense colors at sunset.

The following day was cloudy and soon after we started on the motorbikes it started raining. And it wouldn’t end that day. We rode down the road we already knew back to the Carretera Austral in pouring rain, it got cold and so we were happy to find a cafe where we could warm up a little bit.

Soon after our break we where stopped by a motorbiker who came the other direction. He told us that the road was blocked and that the only options would be to wait until the landslide was removed or to go around it via Argentina. We stood there in the pouring rain, checking the options and finally decided that waiting wouldn’t be what we wanted to do. So we turned around and rode the road back again.

We found a nice little Bed&Breakfast where we stopped for the night. With a warm oven and a great meal in our stomachs we slowly warmed up.

The following day we would cross the border to Argentina, and again we started in the rain and it would rain until we hit the border. It was miserably cold…

Fjords, ferries and dead trees

Puerto Varas – Hornopiren -Chaiten

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 11.50.44

The southern part of Chile consists of high mountains that arise directly from the sea. Many little islands and deep fjords form the outline of the coast. So years ago, the few little villages that exist here were only reachable by boat or little planes that had to curve between the mountains to land on gravel runways.

It had been like this until the 70’s. The dictator Pinochet wanted to strengthen the presence in these areas for strategic reasons and he therefore ordered to build a road here. And so a road, the Carretera Austral now leads to one of the most beautiful places in Chile and therefore we clearly didn’t want to miss it.

The road is mostly a gravel road with lots of pot holes, but it is getting improved constantly and so many parts are paved nicely in the meantime.

It is not really connected to the rest of Chiles road system. You need to take in total 3 ferries to get to the real start of the Carretera Austral.

We took the first ferry, a short crossing of 30 minutes and went south on a good dirt road that brought us to Hornopiren.

The town of Hornopiren is a nice little place. There is a little fish farm, some grocery stores and the little harbor. It is located beautifully at the end of a large fjord. An island separates the fjord into two arms. It was cloudy, we would only get little partial views on the surrounding mountains.

The town has a real pioneer flair. I feel very reminded of the small towns in northern Canada. Simply constructed little houses and a very slow pace. Nobody is in a hurry here. When you stand on the side of one of the few roads cars would stop to see whether you would maybe like to cross the street. Drivers friendly smile and slowly continue when you signal them that you are just standing there to take a picture of the bay.

We found a nice little cabin. It was cozy even though the bathtub was about to crash through the floor and the carpet was full of dirty spots. We stayed there for two nights and just relaxed during the day.

The ferry would leave at noon and so we boarded the bikes and enjoyed the boatrip through fantastic fjords. We were lucky enough to meet the captain who invited us on the bridge and so we had a very special view and a great chat to the captain and his pilot.

The time flew by and after three hours on the ferry we and a whole lot of other local travellers got on a dusty gravel road just to reach another ferry not 20km down the road. The second ferry took only 30 minutes though and so we finally reached the northern part of the Carretera Austral.

This part of the road leads through the Pumalin National Park. This park not only has a fantastic landscape but also an interesting history. Douglas Tompkins, the founder of The North Face has bought large areas here and after some difficulties and skepticism of the locals eventually created this national park.

It is a fantastic area. The road cuts through thick vegetation. Leaves as big as me are next to the road. Gorgeous lakes, rivers and mountains left and right. The road is in good condition and there are many fantastic campsites. We are early in the day though and so we keep on going.

Suddenly an almost shocking change. Riding down a slope we get to what appears a river valley. But the green is gone. All the trees are dead. The riverbed is full of trunks that lay on each other chaotically. This is ground zero of a disaster.

Indeed: 2008 the Chaiten volcano suddenly erupted with little warning. Large areas were destroyed and the town of Chaiten completely vanished.

It is quite impressive to ride the bike through this landscape. But when I said there is no green that is not entirely correct. Mother nature is already coming back and small bushes and plants are starting to heal this scar.

Early in the day we arrive in the new build town of Chaiten. We find a nice restaurant for an early dinner and since the owner also rents rooms we have found our place to stay as well.

Other travellers join us on a beer in the evening and so it is a nice chatty evening with interesting people.