Friday, February 03, 2006

Puyuguapi, along the Carretera Austral

Typical landscape (and typical road surface) along the Carretera Austral

10:00 p.m.

In my tent at a campground on the Canal Puyuguapi, a few miles south of the Termas de Puyuguapi, on the Carretera Austral.

3,000 Pesos is a bit expensive for this lumpy bit of lawn. At first I rejected it and continued down the road, but the highway turns inland just south of here, into a colder, more rainforest-like river canyon. This waterside setting was very warm, and after last night, I want warm!

Last night was cold – in the 30s, I think. Didn’t sleep well at all. At 8:00 a.m., I heard Rodrigo and Astrid. They were completely packed up and ready to hitchhike. I took a parting photo. They were wearing ski jackets. ("I don’t have anything that warm. Should I?")

Camping neighbors Astrid and Rodrigo, from Concepcion, Chile

To warm my body, and finish drying my clothes, I’d need a couple of hours of sun. In the mean time, I whittled a piece of Alerces wood (redwood-like cypress). I had broken it off from the root crown of a fallen giant.

Took a really cold shower in the nearby bathhouse. (The Pumalin brochure wasn’t kidding when it states that cold showers are available at "El Volcan".) Both mosquitoes and the big biting flies were on the attack this morning

I moved on at 11:30. The several-kilometer trail out of the campground had to be taken slowly, but once I reached the road, I had no problem. What had been freshly-graded yesterday was already somewhat compacted. A few jerks in trucks raced through the park at high speed, raising huge clouds of dust. (Not healthy for living creatures here, human or otherwise.)

At the gas station in Chaiten, I met Milena again. She was in town to shop for the Café. A long drive for groceries! Stopped by the post office to send a card to Jess, then looked for an internet café. Two were occupado – no terminals available. The third, an "Entel" site, is the best and had room for me. Quickly checked e-mail – I didn't want to spend too much time here. The day was running away.

This is a town of backpackers. Stopped at the “El Quijote Restaurant” for lunch. I ordered a hamburger and french fries. Both the owner and the boy who took my order disappeared – one in the truck and one on foot. As I finished my soda, the boy returned with the tomatoes and the man with a bag of groceries. About 10 minutes later, they delivered my burger. The best part was a really fresh bun!

South from Chaiten, there’s about 14 miles of nice paved road (enjoy it while it lasts!) Then the gravel begins.

The cables of this bridge south of Chaiten sounded like a train as they vibrated in the strong wind

The road was not bad at all. Some washboard and patches of freshly poured and graded rock had me on alert, but I was waiting for the bad sections Jose Manuel and Nina warned of.

A refueling in La Junta, a good-sized town with a "Copec" station, then on the road again. It was quite warm in these inland valleys.

Went into a left hand curve too fast and saw loose gravel ahead. Tried braking and knew I had little chance of making the turn, so I kind of tried to go straight into the shoulder, but didn’t go straight enough. Laid the bike down in the loose rock. The car I had passed minutes earlier pulled up and the driver helped me lift the bike. (I couldn’t budge it.) It was humbling, as I had grown fairly confident on these roads and was picking up the pace.

But stretches of this road appeared to be freshly-graded with a high crown and lose rock sloping off steeply to the shoulder. When you slide over that edge, chances are you’re going down.

Minutes later, an on-coming truck came around a bend taking up the middle of the road. Again I swerved too far right and down into the shoulder I went. An instant replay. Neither the truck nor the car following him stopped to help. Not wishing to unpack anything, I waited for someone to come along. A few minutes later, a family stopped and helped me right the bike, and I was on my way. "Okay, let’s take these curves a bit easier."

Unlike many dirt roads I’ve been on, this one’s narrow, winding, wooded, and heavily-traveled, so there’s often little warning of an approaching vehicle (you can’t usually see the dust cloud coming.)

The highway is constantly accompanied by water: canals, inlets, green or gray-green ice-melt rivers. Jagged, snow-covered peaks like the Alps. Amazing scenery. Pristine. And all along the way, backpackers looking for a ride, bicyclists loaded for the long haul.

Outside the Termas de Puyuguapi (hot springs), five BMWs were parked. Clearly an organized tour with (I think) Swiss flags on each bike. I didn’t stop to look into who was riding. Guess I was feeling a bit anti-social!

After four-hours of riding the dirt, I was ready to stop. I didn’t want to push it, having rested poorly last night, and already dropping the bike twice.

Sat by the water and continued my whittling. After some time, I noticed the piece of wood I was working on had a couple of hairline cracks. Basic lesson in woodworking: first choose a sound piece of wood!

I'm camped tonight a short distance from the shores of Canale Puyuguapi

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