After being sad that my trip with Jelle had come to an end, it became clear that I wasn’t going to leave El Chalten on my own.
Valmir from the extreme South of Brasil, who had been on the road for five months already, and Bertille from France, were heading the same way.
For her, it was a total gamechanger though: although traveling by bike before in France for two years, she had now been backpacking South America and living in Chile for the last 18 months. Flor, the lovely owner of the ‘casa de ciclistas’ in El Chaltén, wanted to give her an old bicycle and so it happened that Valmir and I helped her to sort out the bike. Bertille then made paniers out of plastic containers, strapped her tent to the handlebar and off we went!!!
It was a stunning day to leave. Tailwind was blowing us at high speed 90 km back to the ruta 40. And so it began! The lovely days camping together with my new friends, making fires with the little wood we could find and gazing at the stars.
We now had 550 km up North with just one town (read: shops) in the middle. We were carrying food for five days and I loaded 13l of water on ‘mi negrita’.
The scenery brought us little entertainment. Luckily there were some Guanacos to race with and an absolute silence to be enjoyed. There even were hardly any rivers! That way, we were forced to stop cars and ask water, which was never a problem.
After four days Valmir took a left to try to cross one of the most unused and adventurous border crossings between these two giant countries (‘paso rio mayer’, he made it!). Therefore Bertille and I continued towards Gobernador Gregores, the only place in this stretch to refuel. It was actually a 70 km detour, just to pass the shops, but well necessary as reaching the small town of Perito Moreno (not the glaciar!) would take six days more. We also passed three hitchhikers, who had been stuck in one place in the middle of nowhere for 18 hours already!!!
Cycling in this kind of place has one big advantage: not many do it. This means that locals still care about you and are more willing to step out of their way to help you out.
That way, by asking people if we could camp in the garden, we ended up with a lovely family who absolutely adored Lauty, their son. As it goes here, we were invited in, fed, connected to the world wide web to talk to our family and left to continue our way North with fully recharged batteries.
So far, so good. The wind (generally coming from the North-West (read: headwind)) makes the rules here. It will tell you to do 100 km no problem or kick you down to 40 averaging some depressingly low speed. Leaving Gobernador Gregores, we soon understood that it wasn’t going to go that smooth anymore.
So in the end it took six days to reach the village of Perito Moreno, some 300 km away. We had three tough days averaging 9km/h. Bertille sometimes walked here bike, the wind being so strong, it kept pushing her off the road. The only place I ever faced such wind, was on the Mont Ventoux, Southern France, where the Mistral wind likes to give cyclists a hard time.
Perito Moreno was nothing more than just a big village, but here that meant a huge stopover for anyone passing by. I wasn’t very sure about my route now. All I knew is that I had to get to Chiloé, a big island off the coast of Chile, where I was going to do a workaway.
I had been planning to keep following the ruta 40 for another 600 km up North, but the strong headwind from the last days, put me off that idea. What’s more, Bertille knew about a ferry going from Puerto Chacabuco (close to Coyhaique) all the way to Chiloé. Sounds like a nice plan!
So we drove 60 km to the West, entering Chile at ‘Chile Chico’, where Bertille wanted to visit family of her friends in Valdivia.
She just wanted to meet them and drink some ‘maté’ (local tea which is served in one cup and shared around). Instead, both of us were invited in and we ended up staying five days….
Days were spend hiking around with Joaquin, one of the grandsons, as well as cutting wood, helping out their daughter finishing off her house,…
We finally managed to leave, took the ferry to the other side of the General Carrera lake and tried to make it back to the Carretera Austral.
Then, we were close to Valle Simpson, where Jelle and I spent almost two weeks earlier with Delphine, Gabriel and Rafael. Therefore, we obviously brought them a visit, before continueing to Coyhaique.
In Coyhaique we looked for the office to buy the tickets for the 30 hour ferry from Puerto Chacabuco to Quellon on Chiloé island. Turned out some fishermen had just started a strike in Quellon, which meant that the ferry wasn’t going!
Luckily, on the ferry across the General Carrera lake a couple of days earlier, we had met Nacho. He runs a camping between Coyhaique and Puerto Chacabuco, so we headed there to wait and see what happens.
It seemed unsure whether or not we would still make it to Chiloé, but after two days of waiting, it looked like the ferry was going! Finally, we sailed till Castro, the biggest town on the island, some 80 km’s North of Quellon.
From there, Bertille headed South, to spent time with here friends and to improve her bicycle. I stayed one night in Castro with David, a Zimbabwean living and teaching there, whom I met along the Carretera Austral a couple of months before.
Then, I cycled 70 km North to arrive at Jeroen’s place where I was going to do a workaway. A friend in common had introduced us, and I was very happy to read that he had just carpentry work to be done! (I did a carpentry course before leaving on this travel)
So I got cracking! First I finished off a little playhouse for their three-year old son, Gabriel, by putting on some shingles.
Then, I started the bigger project to make a kitchen out of some roughly cut pine wood for the cabin where the volunteers stay. I was in good company too! Freek and Els, from Belgium as well, had been traveling around the world for the last seven months by backpack and also wanted to divide their trip a bit by doing a workaway.
I was really happy to be back in a workshop! Sometimes it’s just good to feel you are creating something.
The area Jeroen and his wife Grecia live is amazing too. First of all, he has about 50 hectares of land to loose yourself in. Most of the land were fields before he came, but by now he has created beautiful forests with his many reforestation projects.
Because I had such a good time working and because of all the rain (winter means rain here), I didn’t get to explore much of the island. But when I did, it was always pretty special!
In the end, after working on the kitchen for two weeks, it was done and we were all pretty pleased with the result. I had never made furniture before and had never had just handtools to create something, so I obviously learned a lot too by doing.
“So what’s next”, you may wonder. Well, I also had the time to plan the next few months of my trip. First of all, my mother and I made the final plan that she will come over to Bolivia in September to visit me and to travel together for one month. Whoopwhoop!!! Three months ain’t much to get there, but I’ve got a pretty good motivation now!
Winter is limiting my options though. Up north, there are only two passes who seem to be open all year round. There’s Paso Jama between San Pedro de Atacama and Northern Argentina, but I won’t have enough time with my Chilean visa to get there. So I’ll probably cross the Cristo Redentor pass between Santiago and Mendoza (Argentina) to then continue the ruta 40 to the north, and into Bolivia.
So that’s the plan. Let’s do it!