Rain is coming down hard in Coyhaique. The rustic campground shelter with its huge hearth in the corner keeps us warm and dry. Water comes in rivulets down the chimney, but the fire is safely burning on the opposite side of the cinder block structure, spanning nearly three meters. We’ve passed the time cooking, reading and playing Poker with squares of chocolate.
Our camp is situated on a river down a steep switchback path only suitable for those on foot or on two wheels. We were all happy to have small bikes while navigating the terrain in the slick mud and boulders, winding our way down to this sheltered little meadow.
Rainy day construction on the property above caused a small boulder slide this morning, blocking our track and trapping us for some time in the rain. The worker at fault eventually meandered down with a Cat, weaving his way to clear us a path. He unceremoniously shoved the big stones aside, barely noticing our proximity and the small boulders bounding our way. I had visions of smashed motorcycles and legs as a tried to extricate myself and bike from their path.
We’ve done over 300km of the legendary Carretera Austral, constructed a few decades ago by the infamous dictator Pinochet. After leaving El Bolsón we camped in Esquel before spending the rest of the next day traveling only 110km over rough Argentine gravel roads. We crossed the border into Chile at a small border station in the mountains, and were soon passing over dozens of bridges and bright blue rivers, including the well-known Futaleufu where (my) Tom spent a season working as a guide. We wild camped on the edge of a lake, the best camping experience of the journey so far, and watched low clouds roll in over the water and mountains in the morning.
Our second night back in Chile was spent in Puyuhuapi at the 90 year old Puyuhuapi hotel, also known as The Termite Mansion. Lethargic or dead little ‘mites littered the old house. The plumbing in Kath and Rob’s room leaked and made a pool at the reception desk floor, bedroom keys didn’t always work, pipes squealed, the water was usually freezing, and towels had to be examined for cleanliness. Regardless, the enormous five story house with sweeping staircase, big fireplace and wild ‘garden’ overlooking an ocean inlet was absolutely charming. I can hear Tom’s stepdad Pete asking how a place dubbed “Termite Mansion” and the word “charming” go in the same description… The brand new proprietors, just two weeks into their ownership, had vision and plans, enthusiastically describing all the changes to come while apologizing profusely for the termites, dirty towels and impromptu swimming pool.
Yesterday we rode 230km from Puyuhuapi to Coyhaique, 160km of which was unpaved. The views reached their zenith as we took steep rutted switchbacks up the mountains to peaks, glaciers and waterfalls, stopping for photographs and breaths of fresh mountain air.
We’ll spend two nights here to get our 2nd free motorcycle service, then head further south along the Carretera towards Rio Tranquilo to see the marble caves before crossing the Andes back into Argentina.