Table of Contents    |    Chapter Nine    |  |    Chapter Eleven

The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through South America

A Book by Ranger Bob Bob Lutsky

"WISE PERSON" in Chinese literally translates to ONE WHO LISTENS!

Chapter Ten

Carreterra Austral (Southern Highway)

Shortly before arriving in Las Antigos I was reunited with the Swiss couple I met briefly in El Cheltin. The best moments are when you meet up with familiar faces along the way. Judith and Andreas looked like I felt. Judith had taken a couple of bad falls, that is knock downs, so they had to take a few days off from cycling. Feeling quite frustrated from the wind, they took a ride in a truck to the town of Perieto Moreno. It was very interesting to hear how we all had the same stories and the same difficulties dealing with the wind and the same camping tribulations. I felt very fortunate not to have had and any injuries. Both Andreas and Judith had taken several falls on the rocks and had bruises on their legs. Perhaps the difference was that they had road bikes with skinnier tires.

Having rested the past week, they were anxious to move on, whereas I most definitely needed some rest. I told them we are bound to meet up again because we all plan to cycle basically the same road all the way to Ecuador. Sadly we parted company once again.

Los Antigos is on Lago Buenos Aires which is the name of the lake on the Argentine side of the border. The rest of the lake on the Chilean side is called General Careera. As I looked to the west, it was really nice to see the Andes Mountains again. This town of Los Antigos enjoys a micro climate of sunny warm temperatures and is known for its fresh fruit. I'm amazed that two countries would have such a hard time getting along politically that they can't even share the name of a lake. In fact, Chile and Argentina are still fighting over who owns a piece of rock in the Beagle Channel in Southern Chile. The rock is no bigger than 100 square feet, absolutely barren and too small to even land a boat on. Both countries are investing money, energy and anger to try and claim it as their own.

The lake is clear Caribbean blue, about the bluest and clearest lake you can imagine. I decided this would be the perfect place to take a break and go for a short swim. I went down to the shores, laid my bike down on the beach, stripped naked and proceeded to jump into the water. A split second later I was back on the beach getting dressed for it was a lot colder than it looked. I gazed longingly back into the lake, then over at my bike. Something kept me from jumping back on. I checked my food supply and found I that my pantry was reasonably well stocked so I decided to kick back and relax and enjoy the shelter of the trees and the serenity of the beach. For the next two days, the extent of my physical activity consisted of reading books, writing in my journal, watching the wind blow and tending to bodily functions.

Finally I came to a point where I was ready to move my body again. Anxious to tap into some of the fresh fruit this town was known for, I packed up and rode into the town. Just outside the city center, I bumped into a guy who apparently had had a bit too much wine. For some reason he seemed very happy to see me and gave me a big hug. He offered me some of his wine which I politely declined and then he insisted that I come to his house. I tend to remember people through visual images rather than names, This is the old man with missing front teeth. I refer to him as an old man because he looked about 75 years old yet he was only about 45.

With great pride, he gave me a tour of his charming home. His house was very modest with concrete floors and walls and the outhouse was about 50 yards from the back door. His smile and warmth really made me feel like I was home. In the backyard were several apricot trees and two cherry trees packed with luscious ripe fruit and he told me to help myself to as much fruit as I wanted. Just outside the back door, his son was grilling a huge fresh 10 pound salmon over an open fire pit. I certainly could not resist his invitation to join them for dinner as he brought out some fresh bread and mate to complete the meal.

After dinner, he looked at me and asked me if I was tired. Even though I had just spent two days sleeping and reading on the beach, I indicated that I was still very tired. He escorted me and my bicycle into a back bedroom and said that I should sleep there. It was only about 2:00 in the afternoon, but I was completely exhausted. He told me to sleep as long as I like, but I don't think he realized exactly what that would mean!

The monster's incessant assault on my body over the past month must have finally caught up to me for I actually felt comfortable in a bed. I stayed there for three days and three nights and of the 72 hours, I slept at least 70 of them while the other two were spent eating some bread and soup or having a pee. After 3 days, when I finally came out into the kitchen, still wasn't completely awake He looked at me and said "You were right, you were very tired" All I could do was nod in agreement. The wind had taken its toll on me but I survived. v After about 4 hours of talking about my trip and eating pasta and bread I felt too tired to stay awake any longer. I did not even make a conscious decision to go to sleep. Like I was being remote controlled, I stood up, went straight back to bed and slept for 12 more hours. I think it will take a couple more weeks to rest up and regain my energy. I feel healthy, just very tired. After my African trip, I had slept a whole month so this feels relatively normal. I think it's just a deep seeded tiredness brought on from prolonged exposure to the elements. The stress of travel, physical output, the frustration of knock downs and of course being alone drains energy from your core reserves and they need to be replenished through prolonged rest.

Even though I was still very tired, by the fifth day I felt I was intruding on this man's space for he had given me his bed and was sleeping on the floor in the other room. I offered to move on to a campground but he would hear nothing of it. He said I couldn't possibly leave now for tomorrow is the town's birthday and there was going to be a huge fiesta with free food, wine and music. Because of the language barrier, for a few hours, I thought it was his oldest son's birthday and I kept asking questions about how old he was, when he was born and whether there was going to be a cake. Finally, when he realized my misunderstanding, we all had a good laugh. I wondered why he had looked so puzzled while I was asking all those questions. I said that I would be very happy to go with them to my first fiesta in South America but to be ready for it I had better get some rest. And so I went back to bed at 4:30 PM and slept through until noon the next day when I was awakened to join in with the festivities.

At first we went to the town hall where there was a parade with a marching band. The girls were all beautifully dressed in blue skirts and white stockings and the guys were all in crimson. It feels like half time at a college football game. Then the police and military marched by and finally the mayor went by giving us his version of the royal wave. Everyone was very proud of the their town. You could see it in their eyes and the enthusiastic energy they put into this event. Personally I think they were all just excited about the free food and wine coming up next. After the band played the Argentine national anthem the military fired a gun salute into the air.

At the food fest there were five rows of grills about 50 feet long and 6 feet wide. Chunks of wood and logs and branches under all of them and meat piled up to the sky. I stacked my plate as high as I could balance, got a loaf of bread and a litre of wine and sat down on the grass to listen to the band and eat and eat and eat. All that sleep this past week has made me very hungry. After about 2 hours of dining pleasure, I met Cara from Vermont, who was also enjoying the feast. This is the first American tourist I've seen in 2 months of traveling. Wow - an American citizen who actually dared to leave home, call the news team. Actually she had been teaching English in LaPaz Bolivia and was just on vacation in southern Chile. We talked for several hours about cultural differences and she said it is difficult to fit in over an extended period of time, although the people are very friendly and generous. She also said that after a year in Bolivia she still felt like a stranger.

The drinking and dancing continued all night long. There was even a beauty contest and like ours here in the states its all politics. I think it's ridiculous to say one person is more beautiful than another. We are all very special gifts to this world. By 11 PM it was starting to get cold, about 40-45 degrees and I was once again very tired. I made arrangements to meet Cara the next day about noon and to go raspberry picking.

After about an hour of eating and picking the sweetest and most perfect berries, we had about 5 pounds in a small box and 2 pounds in our stomachs. Believe it or not the owners of the field wouldn't take any money, so we bought a liter of cream off them for 50 cents and thanked them for their kindness. We decided to head down to the lake for a picnic lunch and bought some fresh bread and homemade butte along the way. We settled down by the shore and ate fresh raspberries with real cream until we had the worst tummy ache in history. Boy was that fun.

I think one of the best things about cycle touring is you can eat all you want of just about anything you want and not gain weight. Later that day as we wandered over to the next farm to pick some cherries. There we met Choncho, a farmer and horse trader. Cara had almost perfect Spanish so while they talked and I picked a bushel of cherries, eating about half of what I picked, saving the rest for later. I had to stuff myself with cherries because my stomach ache was almost better and we can't have that can we. It's amazing to find fruit trees all over the place in this town because all the fields here are irrigated from the lake. It's hard to believe just outside of town lies the vast desert pampas of Patagonia.

Choncho asked if we liked to ride horses and without a moments hesitation, he gave us two of his best horses to take for a ride. We hopped on and rode bareback down the beach of Lago Buenos Aires. My horse was a strong brown gelding and Cara's was a black mare. We rode down the beach, over hills, rocks, down along a creek and then headed into the town. Just like in the old west, we tied our horses up out in front of a store and went in to buy some homemade jam, bread and a few other supplies. I loaded the groceries in my pack and we hopped back on the horses. Along the way, we stopped to visit my friend, the old man with missing front teeth. He too was surprised that a couple of gringos could ride horses so well. I told him the United States was a lot more than what they show in the movies.

On the way back we crossed a river that was about three feet deep with a very swift current. I was a little nervous that any minute the horse and I would be washed away however our horses were strong and sure-footed and managed to carry us across safely.

We returned the horses to Choncho, and to thank him for such a great adventure I offered him one of the jars of homemade jam I bought. Like all the people down here they always have to give you more and he insisted that I accept another 5 pounds of cherries and a beautiful mate cup made of cherry wood. It is the one souvenir that I have cherished from the trip. With a big smile, he got on one of the horses and rode out into his field.

The kindness and generosity of the people here never ceases to amaze me. I can no longer allow that kind old man to sleep on the floor, and besides I need a change of atmosphere, so I decide to move to the campground on the outskirts of town, just before the Chilean boarder station. It's calm, quiet and out of the wind, no facilities, no water, no toilets, and no fire pits. This was my kind of campground! I spent 3 days here resting from my horse back riding experience. I met many great people there, mostly families on holiday. We did barbecues, drank mate, and talked of travels. I spent several hours each day practicing my Spanish, listening to cassettes in Spanish, studying my vocabulary, poco y poco. I took a bath in the icy river, did laundry which is always one of my favorite things.

On the fourth day I was walking back into town to get more supplies when I bumped into a group of college students from Buenos Aires. They were spending the summer here in a house that they'd rented and they invited me to join them. I hung out with them for a while but by 1:00 AM, it occurred to me that they were just getting started and they would be staying up all night partying and playing music. I must be getting old because my idea of a good time is early to bed with a good book. I also still need to catch up on some rest because I am anxious to get back on the bike soon.

After a couple of more days of just lying about I feel somewhat rested and ready to move on. I packed up everything, and cycled to the Argentine customs post to get my exit stamp. The scenery along the road to the Chilean border was so absolutely beautiful that it more than compensated for the extremely poor road condition.

At the Chilean border, there was a huge sign painted in the colors of the Chilean flag - red, white and blue. A bus full of teachers from Argentina had stopped here to take pictures and they video taped me crossing the border. This is the official start of the Chilean cycling experience. From here it is 3000 miles to Arica on the Peruvian border.

The road from here to the customs office is about 3 miles and is covered with golf ball size stones so I had to walk the bike most of the way. I'm happy to report the monster is nowhere to be found!! The customs were routine, took only about 2 minutes with a couple basic questions. Why do they want to know where I'm going to stay? A very bazaar question that I never have an answer for.

The customs office was outside the town of Chile Chico which is on the shore of Lago General Careera, the largest lake in Chile. The lake happens to be on the continental divide and therefore drains in both directions. To the east there is a river that flows to the Atlantic and to the west the Baker river flows through a deep canyon in the Andes mountains to the pacific. The Rio Baker has the highest volume of water in all of Chile. The lake gets all of its water from snow melt in the spring. All the snow in the mountains has already melted so apparently the lake is at its annual highest at this time. Even though the lake is part of the continental divide, it is situated at only 600 feet above sea level while the Andes mountain range with 10,000 foot peaks lie well to the west of the lake. The lake is 100 miles from east to west and only about 10-20 miles across. It was truly awesome to experience such an intriguing geological anomaly.

CHILE CHICO has a population of about 2200 and is the biggest town along the southern third of the Carraterra austral in southern mainland Chile. I cycled to the first little Hospedaje ( guest house ) equivalent to a hostel, where I hope to meet a friend who will be flying in from Austria. We plan to cycle to Santiago together and because this is Ewa's first time traveling by bicycle we have allotted 2 months to cover the 1400 miles. She is not due to arrive for several days yet and she wishes to spend the first week here in Chile Chico studying Spanish.

Because the road south of here is very difficult, I will set out on my own to the end of the road, and when I return we'll head north together. Its still early and I certainly don't need a hotel after a week of sleeping, so I leave a brief note and head into the center of town. The main street in town is paved with concrete, but the side streets are dirt and very dusty. First I fill the water bottles, change money, and then stock up on groceries. I cycle to the edge of town only to come face to face with a very steep hill of large loose stones. Looks like I traded the monster for big hills, swell!

I stand here looking at this hill and think to myself, I'm starting an entirely new phase of the trip. New climate, new geography, new country and soon new dynamics that is a traveling companion.

The road out of Chile Chico goes southwest around the southern shores of the lake General Carrerra and is by far the most beautiful of the trip so far but at the same time some of the most difficult. The road is unpaved with loose stones and many steep climbs and descents. There are places where the road is built on the edge of a cliff. One spot there was a bridge about 5 feet long, no railing, and underneath a drop of over 500 feet. I stopped and looked down into a very narrow canyon at the bottom of which was a truck that was not so lucky in crossing. It took me 5 days to do the 130 miles, largely due to the condition of the road. In some places there were jagged rocks the size of basketballs, this combined with the steepness of the road made it necessary to get off the bike and walk. Also sections of the road hugged the cliff, making it impossible to tell if a car was coming in the other direction, fortunately only about 10 vehicles a day passed me. For the most part its just endless hour after hour of grinding out the miles. I'm happy for the terrain change, the mountains add a new dimension to the experience. However the lack of wind and the steep climbs cancel each other out, for the pace and difficulty are same. I don't miss the monster one bit, because fighting the wind is far more draining than fighting gravity.

This track has only recently been upgraded to road status, although I'm not sure what the difference is, still looks like a track to me. The road seems to follow a pattern of long climbs with great vistas of 13,000 foot jagged snowcapped peaks at the top, And long very slow descents to a small wooden bridge spanning a deep narrow gorge at the bottom of each hill. This 130 mile stretch of road is one of many I would highly recommend to anyone interested in some of the worlds finest "off road" cycling.

This southern third of Chile has only 3 percent of its people, while at the same time is the most attractive and has a healthy climate. Hopefully it will stay undeveloped and in its natural state. I think that's what I find so attractive about this place, no guard rails, no signs, no commercialism no telephone poles or wires, no lights at night. There aren't too many places like this left in the world.

Cochrane, the southern most town of any notable size, lies in a splendid setting, with evergreen trees, mountains and several supply stores. Here its possible to buy just about anything albeit not of the highest quality. I replaced the head phones for my Walkman and bought a couple new batteries. Also its possible to buy a liter of fresh juice for a dollar. They had a great selection consisting of Apple, Peach, Appricot, Orange, Grapefruit, and Pineapple.

So far the weather has been perfect, sunshine, temperatures 70 degrees, 50 at night and NO WIND! Camping has been easy, never once have I set up the tent as a matter of fact its only been used a dozen times in two an a half months. After my shopping, I went to check out the church, which was an octagon, one level and perched about 4 feet off the ground. Inside I met two nuns both were just finishing up mopping the floor. One of the nuns was from Africa on a one year work/study program. They told me I have come at just the right time for its been raining almost daily for the past 7 months. They couldn't believe it when I told them that just on the other side of these hills its been dry as a bone. That night they invited me to sleep in the church. In the back room there was a bed, and a full modern bathroom with running water. Boy those Catholics know how to live.

In the morning I set off the final push to the end of the road. Chochrane is a difficult place to leave. There is only one road out of town and about 4 streets within the town itself, but all the streets seem to circle back into the center. That's the trouble with this bloody place there is no signs or infrastructure. My trouble in life is I want to have my cake, eat it, AND still have two pieces left.

After 7 weeks of traveling north it felt a little strange to be cycling south almost as if I'm going the wrong way. I always find the end of the road to be among the most interesting places to visit. I have cycled to the end of the road in Alaska, Canada's Northwest Territories, and British Columbia, Newfoundland, Hawaii, Northern Norway, Mexico's Baja, Africas Mauritana on the edge of the Sahara desert, the Southern tip of South America, the end of the road in southern Chile and now the end of the road in mainland Chile, which is the end of the Carraterra Austral. I find the most interesting characters are attracted to the end of the road. Unfortunately when I got to the end of the road here, All I found was a bunch of blasted rock as they were working on extending the road southward.

It's interesting to note that the carreterra austral (southern Highway) was only constructed in the late 1970s, and they are just now starting to develop the area. Naturally the first things to go are the trees. Large sections of clear cutting have already occurred a few hundred miles north of here. Most of the trees have been ground up into chips and sent to Japan to be manufactured into paper.

From Chochrane its 60 miles to Puerto Yungay over bad road, with many ups and downs. South of Cochrane there is nothing in the way of facilities or even people. In two days only 3 cars passed me. Personally I don't care for roads that are busier than that. The road parallels the Rio Baker to the east and passes a couple of very impressive waterfalls. I must say that I don't think I've ever enjoyed cycling as much as I have on this stretch from Chile Chico down to the end of the road. Eventually there will be a road to Villa O'Higgins which is a community on the Argentine border northwest of the Fitz Roy- El Cheltin area. In about 10 years it will be possible to bypass the northern half of Patagonia.

The most interesting community in all of Chile in my opinion is the small island/peninsula (only accessible by boat or plane) called Tortel. It has no roads, no city planning, only a narrow boardwalk around the peninsula. It's probably about 2 miles long. There are footpaths between the houses, similar to the communities in Newfoundland. They even built a new modern school which is great because they let the tourist sleep in the old school for free.

To get to Tortel, I took a boat from Puerto Vagabundo, located just north of Puerto Yungay or 2 cycling days south of Cochrane. On the right side of the road if your coming from the north is an A-frame building. Inside the building are two beds and a wood stove, but no wood. Behind the one room house was a dock, about 10 foot square right on the Rio Baker. This is Puerto Vagabundo - that was it. Twice a week, Tuesday and Sunday at 1:00pm, a small boat that looks like an oversized canoe with a motor arrives, and if you are standing there, and have 1000 pesos (about $2.00) they will take you on a 3 hour boat ride down the clearest blue river you've ever seen. The river passes through an absolutely spectacular canyon with some of the canyon walls over 3000 feet tall. I describe it as a huge roofless tunnel through the Andean mountain range. The trip back, because of going against the current, took us 6.5 hours for the same $2.00. Back in the states, they'd charge you $100.00 for this trip and it would probably be worth it. If you happen to have the $2.00 to spare, this is one of the must-do things in your life and well worth the detour southward.

I find it hard to comprehend that just 50 miles west of here is the desert Pampas of Patagonia, and here in Tortel it's perpetually wet. If you get off of the boardwalk, you either step into the sea or into the bog,( permanent, waterlogged, knee-deep grass). This is a polar extreme to the desert Pampas. I feel like I'm in Canada's, B.C. or on the Alaskan coast. As I walked down the dock, I couldn't believe what I saw. Two guys from the States who just spent 5 weeks sea kayaking some of the fjords of southern Chile. I had done some sea kayaking in Alaska a few years ago and I always wanted to sea kayak down here. We spent the next 3 days talking about similarities and differences between Alaska and here. They even let me take the kayak out for a couple days. I went around the peninsula and up and down one of the neighboring fjords. The channels seem more narrow and the hillsides much steeper than in Alaska. I found it much more difficult to find my way around here and there were very few facilities for camping, long distances to get anywhere and very few private or commercial boats. The entire time I was in Tortel it rained off and on, which was a welcome event after 7 weeks of sun and wind.

My new found friends were telling me about some of the adversities of their trip - Huge swells up to 20 feet high over the open water and incessant wind and rain similar to Patagonia, creating terrifying seas at times. They also said that there were long stretches between camping possibilities. The shore was either a rock wall or thick trees, briars and shrubs. But we all seemed to agree that the best way to see the fjords of Chile is with a small sailboat and using sea kayaks to set of for a couple of weeks at a time with the recourse of returning to the supply ship to dry things out. At the end of each fjord were some very impressive glaciers offering many ideal anchorage possibilities. This fjord region stretches from Puerto Montt, to just south of Ushuaia, about 1200 air miles.

Also while in Tortel I met 4 cyclists, three from Europe, one from Canada, all who had cycled down from Alaska. One guy named Vernon from Germany had been wandering around Peru, Bolivia and Argentina for 4 years, and I thought I was the traveler. They wanted to take a flight to Villa O'Higgins to try to cycle from there to El Cheltin, but it would involve a lot of ferries and boats into Argentina where the fjords meet the desert Pampas. Also they were unable to find someone to fly them at a reasonable price. They actually brought their bikes into Tortel, a community with no roads. I had left mine back in Puerto Vagabundo off the trail in the woods, unlocked and unattended and I had no fear of losing anything. WE all shared experiences of our travels but surprisingly I enjoyed the stories kayakers more than the cyclists.

I really enjoyed my stay in Tortel sleeping on the floor of the old school which was open to all the budget travelers. All you had to do was ask for the keeper of the school and he assigned you to your own room. There was no electricity, but they had toilets and cold showers. Imagine what it would be like to live in such a community where logging and fishing were the only occupations. People help each other build their own houses and additions to their houses. This is one place I was in no hurry to leave. I walked around the boardwalk several times and I even did the hike across the peninsula on a brand new trail, that the local residents had just completed. Actually, it wasn't a trail at all - just a series of signs every few 100 yards with an orange arrow pointing to the next sign. Several times I got lost and was unable to find signs. I found myself very nervous because I was barefoot, it's cold, I'm knee high in the grassy bog and I have no idea where the next sign is. I would strike out in various directions till I eventually spotted the next ever so elusive orange arrow. When I finally arrived back, I found myself at the top of the hill next to a radio tower, and I could look down on the community. I followed the boardwalk from the radio tower as it got progressively steeper until it literally turned into a ladder that dropped into the rain forest. After about 50 feet, the ladder started to level out again until it was a the flat boardwalk again.

After 3 delightful days in Tortel we all returned together to Puerto Vagabundo. It was a rather humorous sight to see an oversize canoe with 4 bikes, 2 kayaks, all the gear of 7 travelers, plus 11 people packed on to it. In South America anything is possible. At the end of the ride, there was an amusing dispute over the extra charges for the extra gear. Its always important to confirm these things before the boat leaves. The driver charged $2.00 extra for each bike and kayak. My fellow travelers were furious but with much disdain paid the money.

The 4 cyclists and I rode back to cochrane together where I unsuccessfully tried to convince them to cycle with me to Chile Chico. First they tried to fly to Villa O' Higgens, but it turned out to be too costly. Consequently they took the deplorable, lonely, almost never used with absolutely no facilities, track( I refuse to use the term road) that goes east to Bajo Calacoles in Argentina. I told them that the road to Chile Chico was far more spectacular also they may even have difficulties at the border for it might not be an official crossing. This is usually not a problem because if you can't find a customs post, just go to the nearest police station and explain what happened, The police are quite understanding towards cyclists. They were not interested in backtracking and were trying to get to Ushuaia as soon as possible> I warned them that they would have quite the struggle ahead of them when they met the monster! I wished the luck and off they went.

From Cochrane, I decided to hitchhike, to avoid riding the same road again. The first truck that came along stopped, picked me up and took me all the way up to the beginning of the Rio Baker at Lago General Carrarrea. I cycled north along the north shore of the lake for two days. This was a continuation of the southern third of the Carretarra Austral. While I was setting up camp overlooking the lake I suddenly realized that 11 days has passed since I left Chile Chico where I am long overdue. Its amazing how fast the time goes. Well as much as I would like to circumnavigate the lake I need to return to Chile Chico so first thing in the morning I start hitchhiking.

Its amazing how often people say they will come to met you, or how much they would love to do something like cycle for a month in Chile, and how few actually follow through. I'm happy to say Ewa is one of those few. She is currently studying film and communication at the university of Vienna, Austria. We met in Trindad a year ago and traveled together in Venezuela last February. She has never done a cycling trip before so I'm anxious to see how things will work out. It will sure bring a change to the dynamics of my trip for the next couple of months.

Just after sunrise I'm up and packed and start cycling figure I might as well cover some ground while I wait. Soon after I start I hear the loud roar of a slow moving logging truck. So I flag him down and ask his destination, imagine my surprise when he says Chile Chico. But he has to go to Cochrane first to pick up some things but I'm welcome to go along. The truck itself was so noisy that we could not hear to talk to each other, it was quite awkward for a while but I realized we were both content to just sit and admire the scenery, which I felt so fortunate to be able to see a second time and from a different perspective. This part of the world is a paradise to cycle, very very little traffic, clean air, unmatchable geography, safe water, safe camping, no police, no camping fees, no rules, just pure freedom. I must admit how little I saw and appreciated of the area from the truck as compared to the bicycle. I even found myself falling asleep, something I rarely do while in route, traveling. You miss too much when you travel by any means other than your own power.

When I arrived back in Chile Chico it was very late, around midnight. The little hospedeje that I'm supposed to meet Ewa at was all dark and I don't want to disturb anyone, especially not being completely sure she is even there. So I went to the biggest hotel in town, with the happy assumption that the restaurant might still be open. When I walked in the front door with my bicycle, the hotel manager walked up to me with a surprised look on his face. I was expecting and fully prepared for the words to come out of his mouth, " you can't bring that in here". I stood there in astonishment as he said " you look really hungry", we have much food left over from the Engineers convention. If you don't mind eating in the kitchen, it will be on the house"! OH BOY!

Turned out to be a great feast with meat, rice, soup and bread. Just after dinner, I went to thank the manager, when He said someone wants to meet you, one of the people working in the nearby mine, went to school in Pittsburgh, not too far from where I lived. His English was quite good and we chatted for hours after which he offered me one of the beds in his room. He was living at the hotel for the summer. I can't believe this day, a ride straight to my destination, a complimentary dinner, English speaking host, a real shower my first in a while, and to top it all off a good nights sleep in a real bed. What a country! Everyone I met in Chile seem to have the utmost respect for someone traveling their country by bicycle, and by far the friendliest most hospitable country I visited in South America.

In the morning everyone was gone except the cleaning people, so I left a note at the front desk to thank everyone for their kindness then cycled down to the hostel where I was to meet Ewa. She has been here over a week and everyday asking if I have arrived or if anyone has seen me in town yet. She had left a note and had gone to the beach. I left my loaded bike in front of the hotel. Then I anxiously waited for her return to see her reaction to the unfamiliar bicycle. About an hour later she arrived, she got off her bike which she decided to name Isabella after the former President Allendes cousin, and she just stared for the longest time. I was hiding behind the wall, and all the people at the hostel were also watching. I thought she was in a trance. Finally I said you can get closer it won't bite. She suddenly broke from her trance, looked up and became red with embarrassment, for about 8 people were all watching her. We had the longest embrace, It was so great to finally see a familiar face and such a pretty one at that. She said she didn't recognize me with long hair and a beard, turned out it took her a week to get used to my new appearance so she says, I don't think she ever got used to it. Tough cookies this is my traveling appearance. Besides I find it difficult to shave while on the road, the past two months its been difficult to even get water.

Ewa had one more day of Spanish lessons, so I set out on foot on to explore the area. I actually made it out to the airport where a military Lear jet just brought a police officer in, I guess special delivery, and was to return empty. The pilot offered me a ride, but it was only one way out to the next big town to the north. The hassles of trying to get back are not worth a 20 minute airplane ride so regrettably I took a pass. I spent the rest of the day writing letters, and performing bicycle maintenance.

That night at the hostel there must of been some kind of marital dispute between the owner and her husband, they were throwing dishes and yelling at each other. He even broke my homemade pear jam from Los Antigoes. For some reason he thought we weren't going to pay for the room because of the ruckus, so he locked our bikes in the shed of which created quite an argument. I told them both just before we left that they won't have a hostel for very long if this kind of behavior becomes routine. Actually I think it must of been done on purpose because the name of the hostel is the "Forget Me Not" and surely this is one place I shall not forget.

Ewa was not too keen on cycling the arduous route around the lake so we agreed to take the ferry across. On route to the ferry a pickup truck passed us where someone wrote' Fitz Roy' on the back dirty window. While waiting for the ferry, I thought to ask them if they had been there. Turns out that Raul his wife Alexandria and their friend Susanna all from San Luis Argentina were doing the same route that I just took 2 months to do by bicycle, in just 8 days by pick up truck. They did complain that all they do is drive, but they want to see all these things and that's all the time they can get. Piety.

After talking for about an hour I asked If we could put the bikes on the top of the truck and ride with them, for its one fee for the truck, and they charge an extra 11 dollars for bikes if you ride on, which seems unfair for they don't take up any extra room. They said no problem. It was a beautiful ride two and a half hours across, we talked, drank mate, and kept moving around the boat, as it turned, to stay in the sun to keep warm. We arrived in Puerto Ibaniz about 7 PM. By this time they asked in an almost insisting kind of way if we would join them for a couple of days. We were both anxious to start cycling but, at least for me I was even more anxious for company, so we happily agreed. At this point Raul said we will drive to the next town for dinner, and should make sure the bikes are tied down really well. We actually managed to secure the bikes in an upright position without a bike rack.

Finally we are ready to set out, just a little differently than I expected. We crawled into the tiny crevice of space that was left after we stuffed all our gear and bags in and headed off. We were able to lay down which was good, but not able to see anything which was bad, We were able to breathe which was good, but only dirt and dust which was bad. We could talk to each other because we had a walkie talkie and they in the cab of the truck had the other walkie talkie which was good, but we couldn't understand much of what they said because of the static which was bad. For the next couple of days we were among great friends and arrived at the first national park very quickly which was good, but missing some of the scenery and not getting enough exercise was bad. I think this is true for just about every choice we make in our life. Everything is a trade off.

The southern third of Chile offers perhaps some of the most beautiful scenery in the whole country, with impenetrable mountains, rich forests, clean clear rivers full of trout and salmon, waterfalls and absolutely no pollution. The government has only recently made a commitment to develop this area by building the Carreterra Austral, a one lane gravel road that stretches 750 miles from Puerto Yungay to Puerto Montt. The land in this area is being sold very cheaply and with few zoning restrictions. There is electricity, fresh water and now with this road, public access, I predict will one day this aera will be a major outdoor tourist center. As I watch the miles go by I don't see any houses, or signs or even any indication that someone has been here before me, except of course for this narrow gravel road. Its hard to believe that up until just recently no one has ever settled in this area yet just over these mountains less than 100 miles away in the pampas of Patagonia, people have been living for over 12,000 years!

The largest town in this part of Chile is Coyhaique (cozhikee) with a population of about 20,000. Because of geography, the climate changes very quickly over a short distance traveled. For example, the average rainfall in Chile Chico is 10 inches per year, while just 120 miles north in Cayhaique, it jumps to 56 inches per year. And just another 50 miles further north in Puerto Chacabuco, which lies on the coast 172 inches of rain falls per year. This part of the carreterra austral contains a lot of new growth, because the land had extensive clearcutting in past years. For this reason I'm not overly disappointed to miss this 100 mile stretch while hitching a ride in the truck with our new found friends.

For our last night together we camped by a raging river with a beautiful 100 foot waterfall coming down through the trees. We all took a turn bathing in this river of recent snow melt. Needless to say our bath was very brief. We all pitched in and gathered firewood, cooked pasta over an open flame, drank a couple of bottles of Argentine wine, and sang songs in Spanish and English. Everyone went to bed about midnight, but I stayed up most of the night to watch the crescent moon rise, tossed a few more logs on the fire and absolutely relished the serenity of a CALM windless moonlit night. Even though I only had 3 hours of sleep, in the morning I felt completely rested. Our friends drove us to the turn off where they went back off into Argentina. Although it was a sad goodbye, we vowed to make a trip to San Louis Argentina for a visit. As we watched them drive off into the distance I turned to Ewa and said that was good fun but I'm really happy to be cycling again.

We had just started cycling up the hill when we realized that the tire on Ewa's bike was rubbing against the fork - ironically most damage to bikes occurs when you're transporting them. My spoke wrench did not fit the wheel and there was too much resistance to go on - but with luck on our side, just at that moment, another cyclist came cycling down the hill who was also from Argentina. We flagged him down and showed him our predicament. Without hesitation he pulled out his spoke wrench which naturally fit perfectly and with a few turns of the wrench, the wheel was nearly perfect. Anyone who has tried to True a wheel knows how remarkable this feat really was.

Both of us now quite ready to start cycling and traveling at a much more slower comfortable pace. Fortunately we have been blessed with nothing but perfect weather. This area is known for its frequent rainfall. The two Japanese cyclists who I met just outside of Ushuaia in December were saying how when they were here at the end of October and it never stopped raining. The roads were muddy and they never saw the stunning mountainous scenery. It's all in the timing. I don't ever remember a trip going so perfectly, perhaps a combination of El Nino and the horseshoe up my butt. Throughout this entire stretch of the Carreterra Austral, over a 5 week period there was a grand total of exactly one day of rain.

The road is climbing up to a 3000 ft pass and it's there that we find the entrance into Park National Quelat. Unlike our national parks in the states, there was no entrance gate, no facilities, no signs. If it wasn't for the marking on the map and the sudden increase in trees, we would have never known we had entered a park. Upon the first clearing we came to, we saw a flock of no less than 100 green parrots flying together in unison, all changing directions at exactly the same time. What amazing communication they must have to not bump into each other. Here we decided to stop for lunch and admire the very unusual Nalca plant. This is a huge rhubarb-like plant with very tough leaves that stretch 6 feet across. One leaf could easily be used as a blanket or shelter from the rain. A couple of friends of mine who I met later on this trip, in reference to this plant, said it tasted like bitter, stringy wood. Personally, I passed on the taste-test experience, although the Chilean people say it's very good for the stomach. How come everything good for you tastes bad? Another reason for this specific stop for lunch was the beautiful Colgante hanging glacier. A massive piece of ice, wedged into the V of two mountain peaks. It almost defies gravity as it literally does hang out over the valley below. Also flowing out of the glacier was a fountain-like stream of blue water, perhaps because the background behind the waterfall was solid blue ice. The waterfall fell 1000 feet into the valley below. Just another humdrum lunch spot along the way.

I'm happy to say that the average pace of cycling has picked up a bit due to the lack of wind and warmer weather. We're up to a whole 40 miles a day - wow... But the days are long so starting a 7:00 in the morning we go through until about 10:00 pm. The road condition is still poor with lose stones, but no winds makes a hell of a difference.

Shortly after a most pleasant lunch, cycling down out of the park (For some reason, the park seemed to be at a higher elevation, up off the main route) we came down to a river where we met two Chilian Educators in a Mercedes. We talked briefly about politics and the Pinochet regime. It appears that about 50% of the Chilian people supported Pinochet despite the fact that he murdered and tortured thousands during his presidency. The Pinochet era is long past, and today Chile is one of South America's leading countries, economically. This leads people to believe that in the long run, he was beneficial to the country, signifying that the end, ultimately justifies the means. A touchy subject that I would prefer not to get into any further. I ended the conversation by saying that Chile may have had a dark past, but with the quality of the people I've met so far, I think it has a very bright future.

We then turned our attention to the 2600 year old Alerce, a type of larch tree. This National Park was established many years ago to preserve the few old growth that are left in this part of the world. We all shared a mate together and agreed that the important things in life are friends, loved ones and the beauty of nature.

Ewa and I wished our friends a good trip as they got into their white Mercedes and drove off. As we got on our bikes and cycled on, I turned to her and said, why is politics always such an uncomfortable topic of discussion? Before she could answer I changed the subject and said I think I know why this area has been so slow to develop. Very few people in Chile own a car and over the past 200 miles we haven't seen anything in the way of public transportation. Car traffic has been very light, less than one car per hour. When I finally stopped talking she looked at me slightly frustrated and answered the question I didn't want an answer to. " Talking politics is uncomfortable because people feel very passionate about the subject while at the same time not fully understanding the complex issues involved". I looked at her and smiled and thought to myself, this is a very wise person.

This part of the Carreterra Austral has been absolutely delightful for cycling. It's about two days between facilities for food or water, but here there were plenty of rivers to drink from and many very pleasant camping opportunities. It's nice to be able to pitch a tent just about anywhere and just relax in the serenity of the land - such a relief after the experience of the incessant battle with the monster.

While on previous cycling trips, I would make a habit of jumping off every bridge, that had water underneath it, providing it was deep enough. Always remember when traveling 2nd only to fashion, is safety! So we came the first bridge on the trip where the water was deep enough and the weather was warm enough, to reengage upon this greatly missed devilish activity. It was about 80 degrees, sunny as we passed over the river, I suggested we stop and have lunch under the bridge and possibly have a swim afterwards. After lunch I just stood up and said think Ill jump off the bridge. Ewa just looked at me with the attitude of you fool, no way. That was all the encouragement I needed. So I climbed up the steep hill, walked out to the center and jumped off. It was only about 45 feet, there was a fast current below, and it felt so good to fly through the air, to swept along by the current, to be able to see my feet, 6 feet below me even more clearly than out of the water. I don' think people jump off bridges into icy water often enough in life.

Afterward we shared mate with a local fisherman and were entertained by a large group of 20 or so from the states, who were on a white water rafting trip down Furtalaflu River. I was amazed to find out that they were paying twice as much for the 9 day rafting trip as I was paying for my whole 9 month South America cycling trip. They were all wealthy professionals with very little time to enjoy this magical place. They stopped for 15 minutes, ate a quick lunch and they were off again. I felt so lucky to be doing what 'm doing and would never even consider trading places with them. The one guy actually told us WE were nuts and he didn't envy our trip one bit but reassured us we will have a light tail wind all the way to Santiago. After this cosmopolitan interaction with westerners we continued cycling northward. The cycling was peaceful and easy, many ups and downs but nothing too challenging.

After several blissful hours of cycling without passing a single car or even seeing another soul we came to a nice field with tall grass on the banks of the same river. I built a fire and set up the tent for the night. Then just after sunset I noticed something I haven't seen since Paraguay and Northern Argentina, Mosquitoes! These delightful creatures became a lovely part of the evening atmosphere. At one point I was dancing around like a stoned, new age punk rocker in a frantic attempt to swat them away from my face and body. Finally on the verge of madness, I put on my yachting jacket with the Dracula collar up, long pants and a mosquito net over my head.

As I was getting ready to prepare dinner I turned to Ewa and said sure would be nice to have some fresh fish, when much to the surprise of both of us, a man appeared from the woods. He had a 10 pound salmon with several other smaller salmon and trout. He asked if we had eaten, with the obvious attitude that even if we hadn't he was going to give us 3 small trout and a medium sized salmon. After he laid them down, he walked over to the side of the road and found a twisted, rusted piece of metal with a lot of holes in it from some sort of machinery. He brought it over to us to use as a grill. He asked if he could clean the fish for us but I told him it was actually something I enjoyed doing. He then continued on his way. I wondered to myself if he lived nearby because we didn't hear any vehicle start and there hadn't been any houses that we had noticed. Perhaps he had a cabin in the woods and was out for the weekend . All I know is that we are miles from the nearest village. a man just walked out of the woods, handed us a salmon and three trout, set us up with a grill and then disappeared back into the woods again. It sounds like fairy tale the only difference being, this really happened. Out of all the countries I've traveled to, no country stands out in my mind more for the kindness and hospitality of its people, than Chile.

I cleaned the fish with my Swiss army knife, and grilled them up over the open flame. WOW after 3 months of meat and rice, it sure was great to eat . fish again It never ceases to amaze me how good fresh fish tastes without any seasoning or spices.

I in my eagerness to be one with the outdoors endeavored to sleep outside the tent down by the river. Of course we all know how much mosquitoes hate water, therefore in their attempt to stay away from the stagnant river decided to nestle around my face and ears. This worked out really well because I like mosquitoes!

With the dawn, we headed northward again to the town of Chaiten. Soon after we started out we met another cyclists coming from the other direction. Christobol was 18 years old, about 5 foot tall, blond very curly hair and had an incredible zest for life. He took a bus to Puerto Montt and from there planned to cycle the entire Carreterra Austral. Christobol was riding a small mountain bike heavily loaded down with gear, and had fat knobby tires with only about 30 pounds of air pressure in them. I took his bike for a spin, and found it to be more comfortable than mine. I told him his set up was perfect, then proceeded to let about 40 pounds of air out of my tires. Knobbies and low air pressure is the way to go. The added resistance is worth the smoother ride.

For some unknown reason up until now I have been unwilling to make that trade. After about 20 minutes of chatter, we were all anxious to get on the road again, but before we could get away, Christobol insisted he give us his address and that we come stay with him at his parents house in Santiago when we get there. With parting handshakes and hugs we cycled off in opposite directions.

About 2 hours later under gray skies, we came to the dusty, somewhat drab port town of Chaiten. We cycled up and down the rocky streets to get our bearings and to locate the market which proved rather difficult for there was not a sign to be found any where. I had to ask someone for just about everything. Where is the bakery, where is the market, where is the post office - for there were no signs on any of these buildings. After stocking up on groceries, we went to a local restaurant for dinner where for $4.00 they served a piece of salmon that with even my cyclist appetite lasted 3 meals. Chaiten is also the place where the ferry leaves for the island of Chiloe. I was determined to cover all 750 miles of the carreterra austral and at the same time too cheap to take the ferry.

This last 150 miles is by far the most densely forested with steep mountains on both sides and shrouded in mist most of the time. Also by far the worst stretch of road so far on my trip. There were many places where the road was just wide enough for one car and even then the branches of trees and bushes would caress the passing vehicles. There was also a lot of lose sand and mud and some places where the bike had to be pushed. There were even some places where you had to walk your bike downhill because of the condition of the road. It took 2 days to cover the 40 miles, largely because of the deep ruts, soft sand and short but very steep climbs and descents.

Also along this stretch of road they were continually working on widening it and adding drainage ditches and culverts, completely by manual labor! There were no machines or heavy equipment of any kind, only picks and shovels. On the morning of the second day, it was raining and I made the comment to Ewa that we should wait until afternoon to start out for chances are that the rain would stop. Ewa decided that she was determined to get to this " alleged" Cafe at the ferry dock. The road went out to the end of the fjord and from there the ferry takes you up through the fjord to the continuation of the road. I figured there was only one road with no turnoffs and the road dead ended at the end of the fjord. The ferry wasn't leaving for two days and there was no way she could get lost. So Ewa set off on her own and I stayed behind in the tent.

The most important thing to understand if you cycle with someone is that you WILL separate at some point, often inadvertently because people all have a different pace to cycle at. The obvious rule is that whoever is ahead should stop at all uncertain forks in the road even if it is obvious which way to go because no matter how obvious it appears to you, you can be sure that the other person will take the other road. It happens all the time. Certainly, if you stop for a break, make sure you leave your bicycle by the edge of the road, clearly visible to the other cyclist so that they don't pass you thinking that you're still ahead. In fact, when cycling into the wind, their head will be down and they won't necessarily be looking off to the sides. You want the bike to practically be in a spot where they would have to cycle OVER it to get past.

I had a leisurely morning, a fantastic morning actually, lounging in a nice dry tent drinking coffee, eating my leftover salmon and catching up on reading and just listening to the rain fall. Although I don't know, I'm sure Ewa had her share of gripes and complaints at the cold rain and fog-impaired scenic views. That afternoon, naturally the rain stopped and I set off to the small community of Caleta Gonazalo which contains only a small hut and restaurant. The road itself just runs right into the water and the ferry backs into the road. When I arrived there was no sign of Ewa. I know I didn't pass her, there was nowhere to stop, there were no side roads, just really bad road and dense forest. Where could she possibly be? I asked everybody in the restaurant and everybody in the small campground and nobody had seen her. As a matter of fact, there was not another female in town.

So now I started to enter panic mode. The only possibility was that she could be dead along the side of the road. Who knows what kind of animal or crazy person could have come out of the woods. The owner of the restaurant offered to drive me back the whole way to where we had camped. We went all the way out and back without seeing any sign of her and by the time we got back to the restaurant, it had become completely dark. Now I have entered into EXTREME panic mode, not sure whether to go back to Chaiten to see if she'd been taken back there to a hospital or just to wait in town. Needless to say I was very stressed. I even started to think about what I would tell her mother.

Finally I organized a search party of about 6 people with flashlights. We headed out looking in the deep brush and under every bridge that we came to. Finally about 5 miles down the road and several hours later, it was well after midnight. Shortly after having shifted into panic overdrive, we happened to miraculously notice, through the trees, a small hut, with no lights on, not even visible from the road. Against the hut, we noticed a tarp which turned out to be covering her bicycle making it completely invisible from the road. We called out her name rather loudly and she responded rather surprised to see such a worried entourage of faces. She was actually angry at me for being angry at her! It took us several days to get over the bad feeling we felt toward each other. She actually thought that I would notice the hut. She also, for some mysterious reason thought I might just spend the whole day in the tent and not catch up to her till the following day. Oh well, so goes different trains of thought!

After a few days we got over it and the rest of the trip went well however I never let her get very far ahead or behind me the rest of the time. We camped in the storage shed behind the restaurant that night and the next day we decided to do a hike to the waterfall. The path to the falls goes through some of the most densely forested jungle I had ever seen. It's also very very wet and a lot of the trail goes right through water. I naturally did the hike barefoot as I do most hikes. I find it quite an asset to be able to hike all day barefoot. I find I have better traction, more connection with the earth and at the end of the day I have dry shoes to put on. Further along this trail, it was necessary to cross a river with a very strong current and waist-deep water. The water was about 4 feet deep, and flowed rapidly over big boulders. We tried to cross in several different places but it didn't matter as it's equally difficult everywhere. Just brave the cold water, brace yourself and do it. When you cross the river, don't bother looking for the trail entrance, for you won't find it. Just cross into the woods, turn left and walk upstream about 100 feet and eventually you'll see a trail going off to the right. Keep going and trust that it's there, but don't turn back.

Even though the sign says 3 hours to the falls, allow at least 4.5 hours to complete the hike and always be sure to bring a flashlight. At the end of the trail, there is a very steep ladder. As you climb up, it curves to the left and goes along a cliff with water gushing below. At the top of this it's necessary to climb over a moss-covered very slippery rock about the size of a one car garage. You will get wet, but it's well worth the effort. This was not just another waterfall. This was a magical piece of heaven on earth. I believe this is where the expression came from. On the hike, we met an American, John, who was also cycle touring and all three of us decided to leave our handy dandy flashlights back at the camp because of course we wouldn't want them to get wet. It started getting darker a lot faster than we thought. And before we knew it with about a half-mile to go to get back to the camp, it was completely black.

Literally unable to see your hand in front of your face. We held hands continuously so that we could constantly know where the other person was. It was so easy to get off the trail without ever knowing that you had stepped off the trail. I have no idea what it was but it was a complete fluke that I happened to have a small miniature BIC lighter in my pocket without which I am certain we would have not made it back to camp that night. When I realized we had it, I took it out and lit it but it was too dim to help us see anything. I held it down to the ground to see that we weren't on a trail. We would take two steps, light the lighter, take two more steps, leaving a person in the first spot as a marker and repeating this in various directions until on the third try, we found ourselves back on the trail. We continued with our two-step-light dance for 2.5 hours until we finally conquered that last half mile back to camp. It was perfect hypothermia weather therefore I'm very happy that we didn't have to spend the night there.

The next day we got up early, packed up the bikes and went out to where the ferry comes ashore. There were about 12 cars all waiting for the boat and they must have come during the night because there were none the day before. I went up to one of the pickup trucks to ask if it was possible to put the bikes on the back to avoid having to pay for them on the boat. Turned out to be two couples, apparently very wealthy, retired from government positions. They even let us hide in the back so we didn't have to pay for ourselves on the boat. The ferry ride was about two hours through the fjords. The scenery was very similar to that of the coast of British Columbia and Alaska. Because of its remoteness and its inaccessibility, most of this area has probably never been explored.

The ferry went out and around the peninsula to the town of Hornopiren and from there, there is about 36 miles of very scenic road with just one mountain pass to climb over. We covered the 36 miles in one day and came to the next ferry, a short 10 minute ride and we decided to set up camp in the Park National Alerce Andino. I find it fascinating that they distinguish these park regions because for me, with the lack of development, there isn't much difference between the park and non-park areas. The following day, we cycled as far as Lenca, a small community only about 30 miles from Puerto Montt. We met the nicest man on a horse who guided us up to a huge field up the hill and told us we should camp there because it looks out over the whole bay. He even brought us tea in the morning.

That night, the sky was crystal clear and for some reason, I was unable to sleep. I spent almost the whole night watching the southern cross, following its arc across the southern sky. It seems to be taking a much different track here than further south. Through the night it rotated 180 degrees, from where it rose to where it set. I managed to catch a few hours of sleep from 4:00-6:00 am and got up to watch the sunrise. I really enjoy watching the surrounding countryside come to life as the night gradually turns into day. This field I'm standing in over looks the Seno De Reloncav, the gulf just south of Puerto Montt. As the sun comes up behind me it heats the air just enough to create a breeze, blurring the once near perfect reflection of the surrounding hills.

Puerto Montt is the first big city since Punto Arenas with over 100,000 people. We started out about 8:00 am anxious to get into town. Cycling the 30 miles went by very quickly as we are now about to approach a huge milestone in the trip. As we cross the river Chamra, a strange phenomena occurred - the pavement began. The euphoria was extreme. With the exception of a very short stretch round El Calafate and Punto Arenas, it's all been really bad gravel road (ripio). The entire 750 miles of the Carreterra Austral was behind us.

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