As I hooked a left onto the Carretera Austral, the "Chile Mejor" sign loomed in the near distance indicating that at least for the northern section of the famed route its ripio days are coming to a close as the pavement of "progress" steam rolls south as fast as it can. I wonder if 340.340 was recognized for its symmetry as it was staked to mark the coming road.
It may have been the late November rainy overcast nature of the low-slung clouds keeping the peaks under wraps, but the northern section of the Carretera Austral felt a lot like New Zealand with lush vegetation and crystal clean water in every stream.
After a long day Thanksgiving Day, I settled into Lago Risopatron and shared a beer with Daniel and Sofia from Bristol who were nearing the end of their multi-month/country tour. Great conversations about the importance of taking advantage of life while you can rolled late into the evening.
I also enjoyed the company of Uwe and Katrin from Germnay and caught up to them again down the road. They have been noodling around South America for a while with an ultimate compass setting pointed in the general direction of Alaska and spots in-between for some primo kite surfing.
And of course, my new best friend Ramon who welcomed me to his tiny little dot on the map- Villa Amengual. We played a never ending game of "Que es eso" as he made the rounds around the Colonel inquiring about every piece and even taking a moment to jump into my tent and make sure everything was good to go. By car, no one is likely to stop in Villa Amengual. The kindness and pride this tiny little village showed was heart warming and the hot chocolate one of the locals brought out was the best I've ever had, simply because it was made with no other reason than to be nice. Moments like this make me grateful for being able to travel by bike.
Honing in on Coyhaique, I searched out some ripio instead of taking the most direct route and rolled up a quiet farming valley towards Villa Ortega.
In Coyhaique I joined forces with Swedish Long Haul Trucker, Henrik. After an afternoon and following morning stocking up on Nutella, bike parts and some “blue market” dollars for Argentina, we rolled out of town with a screamer of a tail wind pushing us towards Villa Cerro Castillo.
For every grinder of a day out there on the road there is always a morning long downhill descent somewhere out there that makes the grinders all disappear.
With a little less steel on the brake pads, we dropped our bikes in Villa Cerro Castillo, found a pack for Henrik and climbed up to Laguna Verde at the base of Cerro Castillo to enjoy a blue bird day and camp under the stars.
Direct line of sight out through the tent made it easy to keep an eye on changing light levels across the face throughout the day.
Even though the Great Divide MBR runs along the length of the Continental Divide through the US, riding through the valleys stitching together the seemingly continuous chain of the Patagonian Andes is surreal.
And if you're into water...
Thank you, Chile!
While a long way from Lake Canadaigua, the water lapping against the rocky shore line where Henrik and I scored another great camping site made for a nice moment of connectivity with the double handed waver.
Henrik and I swapped a hearty handshake at the three way intersection Cruces El Maiten with hopes for rejoining further south. I peeled off the Carretera Austral to head up to Chile Chico to access Reserva Nacional Lago Jeinemeni and continued noodling along the spectacular Lago General Carrera.
Inching along through a relentless series of step ups and downs that clung to the side of the lake, I felt like I was in Greece with Agean blue waters below and scorching sun above. The distant radio tower fulfilled my weary legged pleas as a service road and gateless gate meant home for the night.
What my not look like much from one perspective was just a few strides away from the perfect place for an avocado and cheese wrap dinner.
The following day served up more epic twists and turns before finally relenting with a downhill run into Chile Chico.
I don’t know everything there is to know about the Tompkins’ involvement in Chile, but I suspect the Pinochet years have left an indelible mark on the locals such that a highly suspicious eye is turned towards anyone, especially gringos, who allocate a large portion of their wealth to preserving and improving the integrity of the Chilean wild simply from a philanthropic position. For a nominal entrance few, I’d much rather look at and enjoy the Reserva Nacional Lago Jeinemeni and Parque Pumalin to the north than the Cerro Mandalay open-pit silver mine outside of Chile Chico any day. There's a larger conversation about our consumptive nature wrapped up in all of this. And as I road past the open pit silver mine of Cerro Mandalay with Monkey Wrench thoughts in my head, I remembered a quote the Tompkins' often cite from Wendell Berry: “We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us.”