Blog 12: Aymara New Year
Blog 12: Aymara New Year
Blog 11: Agroforestry and Bolivian madness
Blog 10: Climbs and colorful encounters on the Puna High Plateau (May 21st to June 1st)
Blog 9: First vacation and Northern Argentina (March 31st to May 20th)
Blog 8: Northern Patagonia (11 March to 30 March 2022)
Blog 7: The Carretera Austral – 26 jun 2022
The first views on lake Buenos Aires were hinting to me about what was to come. The second biggest lake of South America is surrounded by long mountain ranges on both sides while suppressing clouds were hiding the view of the Chilean shores. I crossed the border in Paso Jeinimeni and immediately recognized the familiar accent. Somehow, I was feeling home. I just had to make sure to quickly forget all the Argentinian slang I had picked up!
There are two ways to cross the remaining section of the lake that changes its name to General Carrera on the Chilean side of the border. The first is to take a convenient ferry, the second follows the steep mountain slopes on a single lane gravel road. You can easily guess where I ended up complaining about my life choices. At least the heat, dust, horrific climbs and terrible conditions of the road surface were compensated for by the wild beauty of the landscape.
The Ruta 7, better known as Carretera Austral, is another one of those legendary names that are intertwined with Patagonia. The complex construction of the road began in 1976 as the military regime wished to reinforce Chilean sovereignty on the remote region during territorial disputes with Argentina. The result is a 1240 km long twisty connection between Puerto Montt and Villa O’Higgins, the perfect playground for adventures!
I reached Villa Cerro Castillo under a rare clear sky. I was even able to shave down the last kilometres by getting offered a ride by two brothers who I had already seen on previous occasions on the road. Their kind offer was stronger than my ego to ride out the last bit of road to the very end. The town’s campground welcomed me with a beautiful dome where I could wait out the terrible weather conditions before starting for the hike to the top of Cerro Castillo. I can confidently state that I met more people under that sheet of plastic than in the previous three weeks!
I had promised myself to rest a bit and was finally able to do so upon my arrival in Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region. I have to thank Claudia, whom I had previously met on the lake’s shores, for her amazing hospitality. I spent my first night in a bed in months. I had almost forgotten how comfortable that actually is!
My legs felt strong and my spirits were high as I followed the Simpson River downstream, well-knowing that the forecast was calling for a ten-day shower. This time, unfortunately, it didn’t lie: long days of humidity and pouring rain followed. The downfall complicates everything, from cycling itself to finding adequate break or camp spots. Even the persistent, low-hanging clouds didn’t bother me: an old lady told me that was the real Patagonia and I had all the intention to fully experience it.
I found a peculiar shelter in Puyuhuapi where a lady was offering a house under construction for protection. I wasn’t the only smelly humid traveller and found a lot of interesting company while I waited out a particularly intense stormy day. Everyone had his own reason to end up in such remote regions, most are attracted by the mystery and genuine sense of adventure. I recall an intense conversation with a young man from Israel. It was ten in the morning and he offered me some of his second bottle of red wine, his way to deal with the pouring clouds. He was just two years older than me but had spent all his adult life fighting in the Israeli army. I couldn’t help but think about my own path, so different from the violence and discipline I was hearing about. I later hoped that the rain could extinguish some of the fire in his memories.
I crossed the border in Futaleufu with a heavy heart. Returning to Chile had been my dream for the last five years. I sadly realized that I had no idea when my next visit would be, painfully conscious that the next big trip will probably be outside of Latin America. Nonetheless, I crossed with a smile, breaking the silence on the notes of some improvised song.
Blog 6: Patagonian’s adventures! – 4 apr 2022
Blog 5, 11 jan 2022
Blog 4, 20 nov 2021
Blog 3, 11 nov 2021
Heading to the mountains
Apparently some centuries ago, the French decided it was a good idea to let a few thousand people dig for years until sea and ocean were connected: they call the resulting channel Canal du Midi. I followed it for a few days as it was easy riding with some beautiful views on old towns and vineyards. It was once a strategic commercial route, which allowed for transport of heavy goods through the countryside; nowadays it’s mainly used by waving sweet-water yachters which really seem to enjoy themselves.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t sharing my optimistic worldview and continued pouring water on me. I remembered some old advice and decided to give Warmshowers a go: an app that links smelly cycle tourers to generous people willing to share their roof. It’s really amazing how this community can open their houses to complete strangers. I got to meet some amazing people and gratefully reloaded with warm food and comfy nights. Both were quite necessary as I was definitely leaving behind Mediterranean temperatures.
The conditions appeared to be favorable for my first real climb as I approached the Pyrénées National Park. I stubbornly pushed on the cranks until my 50 kg companion and I had conquered the Col du Tourmalet (2115m). It took some time. After a quick rest I locked my bike and switched to hiking boots. In two more hours I reached the top of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre (2877m). I was definitely feeling my legs by that time but the view made it worth it. Fortunately, on the way down, I met a French bikepacker: chatting helped me maintain focus during the spectacular descent and we shared camp during the night. The following day, he gave me a call explaining the conditions of the road I was supposed to follow. They were bad: an entire section was blocked and too dangerous to pass through. I spent a whole afternoon at the Cirque de Gavarnie dwelling on the idea of attempting to cross, there was no other way around on the valley’s steep slopes. I just really didn’t want to ascend the Col again. My mood only got better when I remembered it was Sunday, all shops were closed and I had no food left. I probably looked as I felt, generating enough pity for a generous couple to pick me from the street and host me for the night. We had dinner together, communicating the best we could with a little help by Google Translate. I fell asleep feeling amazed by this kind of hospitality that I didn’t expect to find so close to home. I wonder how many people would be ready to open their houses back in Italy, I like to think they would. I left in the morning, as early as the cold would allow, and rode all the way up the Col du Tourmalet again.
I finally felt that gravity was being nice to me as I quickly left the mountains behind. I had a stop in the city of Lourdes, a famous pilgrimage site after some Marian apparitions. I enjoyed the busy sanctuary and later found some peace in the beautiful forests behind the site, where I spent the night. The remaining days in France were spent following the river Gaves. I took a day off in Biarritz to enjoy the Atlantic and took my time to plan the crossing into Spain.