Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Coyhaique to Bariloche

By Mark

We hung around Coyhaique longer than expected due to the poor weather once again. We thought from our first day there that there might finally be a change in the weather for the warmer but we were wrong!
It did give us a chance to get up to date with the blog and also catch up with Tim who we had not seen since Ushuaia. We headed to his hostel with a couple of bottles of red to get shelter from the weather.
After finishing the first bottle the owners of the fine establishment told us that they didn’t like guests drinking in the main foyer area, because it was “ugly”! So we downed the second and made tracks back to our campground.

We had really enjoyed the ride on the Careterra Austral up to this point and we were looking forward to getting back on the road to see more of it. Luckily we got a break in the weather and hit the road for Puerto Puyuhuapi. The ride was great with a mix of asphalt and dirt winding its way through a valley until you come across the small town of Puyuhuapi. Again we ran into Tim and again chatted over a few red wines, a few too many for Sanne who awoke the next day feeling a little rough. We decided to hit the road and try and make our way for Chaiten, this town marks the southern entry into Parque Pumalin.

Well, we did not make it to Chaiten that day. On top of a late start, the road north was a mix of deep loose gravel and constant road works that made the going very slow. At one of these checkpoints I stopped and took off my camelbak so I could put on my wet weather gear, leaving my camelbak hanging on the back of my bike. Well, it was not there 20 kilometres down the road when we stopped for lunch. I back tracked all the way to where I took it off but somebody else must have found it and thought it was too good to leave on the side of the road. Annoyed at myself I high tailed it back to the river where Sanne was waiting for me. We continued on slowly realising it would be late by the time we would arrive in Chaiten so we started looking for places to camp in the wild with no success but then I noticed a large hanging glacier so we returned to the parking area where we could walk to the glacier. Lucky for us we could camp there the night and also take the opportunity to walk to the glacier.
Well the walk was nice enough but I was quite disappointed that the trail did not take you all the way to the glacier and instead left you about 1km short of the glacier itself. It actually looked more impressive from the road!

We decided to give Chaiten a miss all together once we arrived in town and found it to be a place of little interest to stay. Besides the weather was on our side for a change so we stocked up with supplies after being ripped off by an old lady running the store who seemed to me that she didn’t like tourists at all, may have been just foreign tourists? Next stop Parque Pumalin. Some of you may know this Park, it is the one from the documentary 180 Degrees South. The Park is owned by American Doug Tompkins, the founder of overpriced outdoor clothing brand North Face. The park itself is 2889 square kilometres that encompasses vast extensions of temperate rain forest, crystal clear rivers, seascapes and farmland. The best thing of all is that it is also free entry into the park, something I was very surprised by after the high costs of everything in Chile. Parque Pumalin is one of the largest privately owned parks in the entire world. It was bought on the idea that they would help with giving back something to the people of Chile. The park itself is everything that I had hoped it would be, shame about the wet weather but in this part of the world you have no real choice but to put up with it. There are numerous campgrounds throughout the park all well set up and most with some sort of shelter that you can cook or even set your tent up in. There are also numerous walks within the park, one of the most popular is to the volcano. The volcano now has an opening over 3km in diameter since its eruption in 2008. As you ride past you can see the devastation to the park even though it happened almost 6 years ago.

If you have time and money you can continue on up through the park catching ferries to each part as you ride beside lakes and the coastline. I would have loved to do this, but due to problems with getting money out of the ATM’s in Chile and a chance of doing some woofing at a farm in El Bolson we did not go. At this rate I could go on exploring Chile but with the high costs it might be something to come back to in the future.
Well the weather did not stay on our side for too long once again. Our plan was to stick out the weather so we could climb to the top of Volcan Chaiten which erupted back in 2008. Funny thing was no one knew it was a volcano until it erupted! In 2008 it began a month long eruption sending rhyolitic ash up to 20 kilometres into the sky, after just one week successive explosions emitted more than a cubic kilometre of ash causing severe damage to homes, roads and bridges and also decimating thousands of livestock. The ash made it as far as Buenos Aires. The past few years have seen the rangers work hard to get the park reopened after it was closed for three years.

We never got that clear day to climb the volcano so we decided we had enough of the rain and would head back to Argentina to the wind instead. Back tracking is something we seldom like to do, but when you are riding in such beautiful scenery it’s not such a bad thing especially when the weather changes for the better.
We ended up in a little town by the name of Futaleufu, known for its frosty mint waters which attract kayakers and paddlers from afar. It is a good looking little town but again with such high costs to do anything it was out of our budget. Well we had no more Chilean pesos anyway as I previously mentioned with the problem with ATM’s.

Back in Argentina we had left the rain behind and of course picked up the wind again. We had read about a small Welsh settlement by the name of Trevelin which we wanted to check out. Once we got there however we did not know what the fuss was about so we stopped only for a cold drink before moving onto Esquel which was also meant to be a nice place to check out. For us, well we didn’t think much of it and just stopped in for supplies and headed for the Parque Nacional Los Alerces. Here we were to find many free campsites after paying an entrance fee to the park of course. Once we had handed over our money was when they kindly let us know that NO camping what so ever was allowed in the park due to an outbreak of Hanta Virus which comes from rodents. Also there was a good chance that we would not be able to ride all the way through the park due to road works. So kind of them to let us know this after we had paid!

Well, us being us, we had paid and we were going to get our monies worth all the same! So we headed into the park, a little disappointed with the change in scenery. We have by this point been completely spoilt by what we have seen in the past few months, the highlight being Carretera Austral. Here there were no more snow peaked mountain tops or lush green forest. All the same it was a quiet road with little traffic, the road snaking its way along another large lake where we came across the camp sites which are for day use only. Well we opted to take our chance with the Hanta Virus and found our way into a little campground which is no longer accessible with fallen trees blocking the entrances; this should maybe have told us something… We set up camp and chilled out thinking it would be a quiet night. There had been no traces of mice around so we thought it was an overreaction to close the campsites. It wasn’t until dark that we understood why. Yes the little mice came out to play but we had planned ahead and put all food and rubbish to where they could not get to it. Sanne didn’t think to move her camelbak and had left it in a place for them to have a drink, but instead of drinking they just chewed away on the mouth piece, one good way for us to get the virus for sure. They also took a liking to my rubber wristbands which I leave over the handlebars of by bike. So the “free” camp ended up being a little costly after all. Sanne also drank water from one of the nearby streams the next day which we later found was also not advised. All we can do now is wait 6 to 45 days for the possible onset of the Hanta Virus... Great!

With this in mind we hit the road for El Bolson, a hippy community that sits in a long valley which is known for its art and also soft fruits. We had been in contact with a local raspberry farmer and were trying to organise a place to stay and volunteer on his farm in exchange for food and board. We have been wanting to find a place to stop and chill a while, maybe try to improve my pathetic Spanish! Well it all fell through and the farmer had more than enough volunteers to see him through, bugger, we were both looking forward to stuffing our faces with raspberries. However we did not like the town of El Bolson anyway and saw it as a blessing in disguise.

So, again we stayed just one night and took off for Bariloche. This is the place to go in the height of winter for skiing and to hang out by the lake in the summer. As we drove into town by the large waste site we had troubles believing that this place was to be one of beauty. The outskirts of town is very grim and you can see how the other half live, this being the very poor other half and it was not a pretty sight. The homes no more than timber shacks. A very cold place to be in the winter, damn even being here in summer was cold and with rain following us all the way from El Bolson we were soaking wet and needed to find a place to camp.

Bariloche is a place where rich people like to holiday so in turn all the prices are marked that way accordingly, including camping! We found ourselves an overly expensive place to camp and in no time the heavens opened on us once again. It feels like we are struggling to get away from the bad weather no matter which way we turn and with each day like this it makes it a little harder to keep motivation to keep moving on. All we ask is for a little sunshine and no rain or wind, is that too much to ask??? Apparently so!

Some lake north of Coyhaique

We found these Tsunami signs all over the village of Puyuhuapi

Tim, me and a German girl I don't remember the name of enjoyed a few bottles of wines together

The hanging glacier

Beautiful Parque Pumalin...

View from our campspot

The destruction caused by the eruption of Volcano Chaiten is evident in places like this

The town of Chaiten


A bee having a snack on a flower

 Back on the Argentinian side of the Andes and we've gone from lush and green to dry and barren

In Parque Los Alerces

The Hanta Virus ridden place provided nevertheless a beautiful, free campspot

And that's what your camelbak looks like after a hungry mouse has had its way with it

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