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The Beginning (And End) Of Carretera Austral

After having spent more than 1 week off the bike in El Calafate to give my knee some rest, I felt very excited about starting again! I took the bus back to El Chaltén and slowly began pedalling on a sunny day with the birds singing in the valley. I had agreed to meet with the British couple Jenny & Jason half-way towards Lago del Desierto. They found my blog a few days after I left Ushuaia, and since then we’ve been averaging the same pace until now, so it was great fun to eventually meet!

The rain was pouring down the second day and I got completely wet. Luckily, I met a friendly immigration police at the border and we drank some mate while my clothes were drying in front of the fire. I crossed Lago del Desierto by boat in the afternoon and camped at the other side of the lake to wait for Jenny & Jason, who decided to do one day of trekking before leaving.

Starting pushing at Lago del Desierto

From Lago del Desierto, there is a path/road through the forrest to cross the border to Chile and down to Lago O’Higgins, where another boat takes people to Villa O’Higgins three times per week. We had heard many things about this route from other cyclists before getting here. The other guys arrived the following morning and we started to push the bikes. This turned out to be tough! On the first part, the path was sometimes almost a meter deep and only half a meter wide, so the bags did not fit and had to be carried separately. Moreover, the path was steep and muddy and we had to cross some streams – quite hard but still fun!

Puh...

Jason crossing the river

We camped at a small lake called Laguna Larga after 7 km. This lake turned out to offer excellent fishing for rainbow trout! The water was transparent, and to give you an hint of how much fish there was, I was able to spot 3 big trouts 5-10 m from the shore at the same time – amazing! We also practised some “fry-fishing”, catching fish while cooking fish :-)

Rainbow trout

Rainbow trout

Rainbow trout

It was raining when we woke up the following day so the path became very slippery, but we finally reached the border and entered Chile after two hours of pushing, lifting, swearing, falling and helping each other.

Chilean border

From the border, we had about 15 km on a “gravel”/stone road down to Lago O’Higgins and a placed called Candelario Mancilla, where we had planned to take the boat the same day. The sandy mud literally ate my brake pads and I had to change them during the descent! When we got down to the lake and the Chilean border post, the guy told us that the boat was cancelled due to strong winds. The only family living here offered a campground, basic rooms and even meals. I had extra food with me, but other cyclists and trekkers were very grateful of this service because the boat did not arrive in two days! I got to know some interesting people during this time, and one of them were Thomas Laussermair. He is biking on a recumbent from Alaska to Ushuaia and climbing all the highest peaks of each country on the way. He is doing all this in ONE YEAR – strong guy!

Crossing Lago O'Higgins

The damn expensive boat ($80 – 2.5 hours) took us to Villa O’Higgins, the start of a 1240 km mostly unpaved road known as Carretera Austral. It is famous among cyclists due to very few cars and spectacular nature. We spent the night at a nice hostel in Villa O’Higgins and started cycling the following afternoon. The road was beautiful and surrounded by snow-capped mountains, transparent rivers, waterfalls and dense forests!

Carretera Austral

We were also very lucky to encounter the endangered Andean deer species Huemul, which currently only has about 2,000 animals in Argentina and Chile. We got very close and got some nice shots!

Huemul

Huemul

So far, I had barely felt anything in my knee but by the end of the second day the problem was back again! Truly sad about this, I realized that I had to stop cycling and head to a nice place for recovery and to see a competent doctor. I made a pro/con analysis of the situation and decided to head to Bariloche in Argentina.

I managed to hitch-hike to Coyhaique the following morning. That was a crazy 8 hour pickup drive, but also a nice spanish lesson thanks to the extremely talkative driver. In Coyhaique, I had to stay for 3 days to await another 8 hour ride that would take me to the Argentinian border. Both of these two rides went the same way I originally had planned. Apart from it’s beauty, Carretera Austral is also famous for rain, humidity and really bad gravel. It was raining 24 hours per day, each day I was there, and I’ve heard that the conditions have been extreme this summer. I also met a German cyclist when I got to Bariloche who had rain for the one whole month he spent there. These things lightens the sadness of not doing it by bike, but what I’m most sad about is that I didn’t catch that monster salmon waiting for me somewhere on the route…

I’m now in Bariloche, Argentinas popular ski- and tourist destination! There’s plenty to do here, but unfortunately almost the same prices as in Sweden, with wine being the only exception! The first thing I did when I got here was to see a good doctor. He found out that I don’t have a problem with the ligaments, as the doctors in El Chaltén and El Calafate said! Instead, it’s the ITB tendon as I suspected. Fortunately, it is just an inflammation but it can take time to heal. My dad and his wife Kickan will come and visit me here in the beginning of March, so this will hopefully give me enough time to recover. From now on, my vacation in the vacation will be a mix of: local anti-inflammatory plasters, ice, tiger balm, stretching, some gym, plenty of food, plenty of wine, a great hostel, party and nice company! Not that bad after all :-)

Chickens