The Killing Fields
Date: 16th January – 23rd January 2013
Where: La Junta – Camping Las Toninas – Villa Amegual – Villa Manihuales – Coyhaique
Distance: 7053 to 7218 miles
Sorry for the delay in blogging, but this Carretera Austral business is tiring stuff. When not riding, fighting flies, and sweating, we’re planning, fixing, and buying, and if not that we’re simply recuperating, so only now (we’re in Cochrane) we’ve got some time to do another blog. This one’ll get you all to Coyhaique, the capital of the region.
The road to Puyahuapi from La Junta was good ripio flanked by huge-leaved plants: the Pangue. Practically all the time we were accompanied by horseflies buzzing all over our faces and biting our backs. We decided at this point that we were trapped in a computer game where the aim is to kill as many flies as possible. Each day is a new level with new even more dastardly flies to kill. Long gone are the easy first levels, where flies idly buzzed round your head, or landed perfectly on your hands and waited to be killed. Now, they are more sneaky, and as the days progressed they worked in teams so that one would buzz and get your attention, whilst the other would land straight on your back and prepare for the bite. To be bitten was a lost life (like in all good computer games, you only have three). Now that our virtual life depended on it we discovered new ways to counter the flies, the ‘cap of doom’, the ‘hat of mortality’ and the ‘water bottle of water’ were just some of the weapons we invented. We’re yet to find the flame-thrower, but recently discovered the ‘grab and crush’ technique which purportedly gives you bonus points (and much satisfaction) for each kill.
Anyway, coming back to reality, Puyahuapi was a lovely little town with ace empanadas, and Sarah’s first fjord experience, for which she has been pining all her life. The only indication this was the sea and not another huge lake, was the tsuanmi warnings around town. On Jörn’s (see late Bolivia posts) suggestion we stayed at a campsite out of town and spent a lazy afternoon watching toninas (dolphins) just off shore. At one point a pine martin inquisitively came out and said hello. Geoff tried his hand at fishing again, but only ended up catching his cycling glove which made a bid for freedom and had to be dived in after.
We left early the next morning to get up our first big hill of the Carretera Austral, a 500m climb which wended its way up at a nice gradient to a stunning waterfall. Every corner seemed to reveal a new glacier or mountain to be gawped at. The descent was equally as stunning, although much faster, and we soon reached the 300km section of tarmac in the middle of the route. Things didn’t get much easier though, as small steep hills and an increase in temperature took its toll. We reached the Piedra del Gato viaduct and looked down at the roaring Rio Cisnes for a while. Suddenly, out of the corner of Geoff’s eye, he saw a thing jump. It couldn’t be a log as it was going upstream!? We soon saw another salmon jump clear of the water and try and make its way up the rapids to breed. We stayed for another half hour marvelling at the attempts of these fish to beat nature and make it up the raging torrent to breed. We were struggling by now with the heat, we were experiencing the kind of hot where you stop sweating, get a headache, drink some water and instantly sweat it out again, which makes rehydation a very tricky process. It is at times like this when time and time again we have been saved on this trip. Today was no exception as a kind Chilean family invited us down to the riverside shade and fed us BBQ’d meat and cold cans of shandy. Re-invigorated we made it to a camping just below a big hill with fresh cake, and in doing entered a secret level to our fly game. They came out of everywhere! Dozy flies all over us, we took turns hiding in the tent whilst the other racked up the points swatting in all directions at once. Cooking done, and a long day completed, we collapsed to the world of sleep.
The scenery changed the next day as the work of the early pioneers became apparent. Huge areas of countryside with cows grazing amongst huge rotting trees, felled to make way for the cattle. We reached Villa Manihuales in good time and checked into the Casa de Ciclista (very friendly, but full of ear-wigs).
We then went down the Rio Manihuales and back up the Rio Simpson and into Coyhaique, the biggest town for miles around. Here we replaced Sarah’s bottom bracket for the third time this trip (for the third time: DO NOT CYCLE TOUR WITH A SHIMANO HOLLOWTECH BOTTOM BRACKET!) with a minimum of fuss. We also took the chance to get our trousers sewn up. However, in a farcical turn of events the shop was shut the morning we wanted to leave and by the time we got our trousers back we had to wait another day. So, Geoff spent the afternoon re-doing the trousers given the original fix was so atrocious (see photo below).
We were now all ready to head further South, where, as a teaser: the weather is as good, and the scenery is even more amazing. Now…another few teasers for you (answers in the next blog post):
Firstly, what, on the 28th January, broke Geoff’s steel frame?
a) a bad section of washboard
b) a pothole
c) a car
d) Geoff’s fleece
And secondly, How??????