Galloping down the edge of a highlighter blue lake, I wondered how I went from brushing my teeth and preparing for bed to this most unexpected and joyous ride. One minute I was heading to bed and admiring a black horse in the campground, and the next I was holding the reins to Noche Negra. Throwing my leg over the saddle, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I rode a horse. Pushing hesitation aside, I sank into the sheepskin saddle and nudged Noche Negra forward. Manuel’s 9 year old grandson followed me down the dirt path and along the sandy beach, chatting happily while giving me riding advice. Within minutes I was galloping wildly down the shore of the lake, feeling like I had just stepped into a dream. Or maybe the Wild West.
In early February we spent a night camping in Rio Tranquilo to see the Marble Caves along the Carretera Austral. Manuel, the proprietor of the lowest budget tour boat company and campground was in his mid 70’s and still full of energy; the life of the party in his tiny little cabin. He had very little, but offered it up anyway, charging only half the normal price to camp in his expansive yard. He shared his home and kept his large wood stove piping hot for the cold and wet campers to warm up around. Being set loose at twilight on Noche Negra was one of the highlights of the trip so far. The experience marked the end of our Carretera Austral adventures. Although we all missed the sunshine and warmth of the more northern latitudes, it was time to head deeper into Patagonia via the Argentina Ruta 40. We loved the Carretera and our little bikes did much better than expected, save for one hiccup: Along the Carretera just outside of Rio Tranquilo, Kath took a corner into deep gravel, sending motorcycle and rider careening down the road until control was lost. Wheels slipped out, and the motorcycle Rob dubbed “Crash Bandicoot” lived up to its name. With her right foot caught between Crash and the gravel, Kath was pulled down the road a couple meters before coming to a rest battered and bruised.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, I had no chocolate to offer Kath and we were resigned to drink instant Nescafe while Rob patched Crash up as best he could, straightened a foot peg, fixed a brake, and took note of what needed to be repaired that evening. Kath being the trooper that she is, within an hour we were back on the road heading for Chile Chico, and then into Argentina.
(I did suggestion we rename the bikes something like “Serenity”, “Tranquility” and “Joy”, instead of Crash Bandicoot, Tumbles and Sally Sideways…)
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.
A photo update of the last few days through the Lakes Region of Chile, between Pucon and the Termas Geometricas (thermal pools) near Lican Ray. We’re now in Puerto Montt after a long stint on the Panamerican Ruta 5 highway. The scenery changed from arid land and pines to rolling yellow and green fields and forest covered hills, with views of the Andes peaks to the east. We’re here for two nights preparing for the next leg of the adventure: Patagonia via the legendary Carretera Austral! 1000km of dirt roads!