February 07, 2006 GMT
25th January 2006 - Villa Cerro Castillo - Coyhaique

94 kms

Another day, a quick wander around the village after a simple breakfast and it's another gorgeous start. The skies are stunningly clear and blue as can be, the smell of wood smoke in the air and a hint of fresh horse scent to remind us we're in a small very traditional village.


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Cerro Castillo (Castle Mountain)



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Cerro Castillo (Castle Mountain)



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Villa of same name, all housing around here is wood, tin, or asbestos


The views of Cerro Castillo are truly amazing, hard to pull yourself away from such beauty, but we know not what lies ahead !


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Lago Argentina / Gen Carrera (spans border)



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Same lake further down



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Cerro Castillo this am - hard to leave!


The coming weekend brings a fiesta / traditional folklore event, and had we arrived on say Thursday we would have stayed. as it is, it's a bit long to wait as it could just be a small disappointing affair, but then we could be missing something magnificent....but there might be another waiting up the road !


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End of the road for this chap


So the surfacing starts here (but doesn't last), and from town was a perfect concrete carriageway heading over the hills. all very new and once we'd wound round the curves up to the mirador (view) at the top we had a fantastic view back down the sweeping curves and across the valley and too the far distant peaks, to say nothing of the ones surrounding us. The view could almost have been Swiss or similar, quite a contrast.

The land here is only about 100 miles or so as the condor flies to the open sea, and in fact much of what lies on the other side of the mountains is groups of small islands so it is a constant surprise to me that the peaks are so snow capped and there are so many glaciers. I can understand it on 7000m peaks or in a central area of a huge land mass, but so close to the sea seems wrong, especially as although we're so called 'far south' we are not much lower here than we are higher than the equator at home in the UK, if you see what I mean.

Another reason it was a shame to leave was the standard of the home cooking last night. for all of 7 for the pair of us we had great food. a hearty broth with home made bread followed by Asada and salad and then a 'flan', or blancmange to us, that had added coconut as a surprise. we were stuffed after that and it was so good to get a real taste of local cooking.

The village was kind, with most folk even children saying hello or waving as they drove past. The folk here have given us a little more opportunity to sample Chilean hospitality as at face value the Chileans are far less friendly than the Argentineans who are far more Latino I guess in outlook.

Back on the road the other startling thing was the armco barrier at the side of the carriageway. It was more buckled and twisted than any 100m strech I've ever seen in the UK. I'm putting this down to two reasons. One the better road leads to higher speeds, and two, the concrete will freeze like a disaster zone in winter and hence people skate off the road all over the place. I think it's the ice, as it must be hazardous compared to repio in winter....I can well imagine the locals saying "it was never like that with the old road". Well, these travellers are quite happy with the improvement I can assure you, and I could almost hear the bike sighing relief.


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A real road, for a while


Some of the scenery was grand as we passed over the mountains, but hard to match that previous to it. What came next was as much a surprise....a green and pleasant land the likes of which we had not expected.

Rolling hills, pasture, and was that a trick of my mind ? No, those really were bales. What a change.

There were still the large snow capped peaks framing the view, but the foreground was much more rounded volcanic mounds and some fine cliffs that looked o offer excellent sport for the climber.

The verges were abundant with lupins and wild flowers of generous hue and it looked like a different country all together.

Whilst on the country, the vehicles here are altogether far more modern and affluent than those across the border and the standard of driving is mixed. You can never be too sure not to find a 4x4 partly on your side of the road on corners the same as Argentina these people plainly cannot drive on twisty roads ! In town it is better though with people stopping promptly at lights and for pedestrians which was not the case over the border. The one improvement I herald the most is the fact in Chile they don't speed up in town like they do in Argentina. that was the only thing that really got me there. People driving like Stirling Moss to get from street to street, very dangerous, and we had one or two altercations to reinforce our dissatisfaction with the dangerous maneuvers carried out around us.


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Still a real road, for a while. Nr Coyhaique


And so to our destination Coyhaique, the fabled tourist honey pot of this area. My, what a shock after the village life, and we've had that for quite some time now. The population is 43,000 odd and it's considered expensive as hell.

What a nice surprise then that we have accommodation not 5 minutes from the centre for 5000 Chilian pesos (say 5.50 p/p p/n with breakfast). It comes as quite a surprise that petrol and beer and the likes are almost on European price base, but accommodation is so reasonable.

We keep wondering how folk in places like last nights can make money with rooms when they have to pay such high prices for goods they need everyday - they may get preferable prices in local shops etc, but not in supermarkets were the price is the same for us or them. It's hard to understand how the economy works here on that basis.

The price of food is much higher here, and though good, I would swap for the home cooking any day!

I'm sure this place has many redeeming qualities, but for us, we prefer the little places. We may however be able to do something about getting a replacement front tyre here, or not !

Thursday 26th January 2006

Coyhaique - Puyuguan

224 kms

Yet again our accommodation was good. The only quirk being the army barracks where just a few streets away and late night was singing en mass, and this morning Bev heard revalie (sp).

The breakfast was help yourself, but with ham and cheese and a welcome return to milk with coffee (or tea) which has been absent for a while, all powdered recently. All the coffee is powder too unfortunately, not like across the way real coffee, even though that wasn't always particularly great. The best coffee in SA is all exported apparently.

One of the fellow boarders last night was an American who has bought an Island up to create a resort - apart from Thunderbirds, how often can you say you met someone with an island to their name ? Sadly he was rather strange and from an economic or city trading background and somewhat odd. You realise from your travels the difference in nationalities, there is a huge difference between Europeans and American's (I'll not include Canadians in that as they are different to Yanks refreshingly). Strange what you pick up in travels. Anyway the guy was telling us rather than listening to us so it was a one way conversation in macro and micro economics which then naturally lead to politics which is a no-no as he was obviously on the Bush side of things and we didn't want to go there. His lot seemed an unhappy one in Chile, but I have no idea why he chose it other than to make a fast buck. Shame.

Our host was a lovely lady and made us most welcome, these strangers who understood little but smiled a lot and it was almost like staying with your gran or something.

I can't figure out how people charge so little for accommodation when the everyday essentials are so costly, our friend couldn't balance that one either, but then he was off on his thread again anyway !

The day was yet again glorious and we had two bits of business before leaving town.

We had to post home some more photo CDs that we'd burnt yesterday to free up card space - do not underestimate the requirements of a country as beautiful as this, you need lots of space. Of course it's important to look through your eyes as well as a camera lens which is something we all forget from time to time.

The other issue was the front tyre. Two very small splits that show canvas. Im not too alarmed, but it we could get a decent replacement we would as the tyre has done us proud and is well worn. In the UK it would get replaced, here another few thousand miles, prefer the tubeless to tubes, especially on the front - tubeless is not available here without imp-t - costly

We found a shop who couldn't help, did motocross bikes and quads (repairs) but pointed us to another tyre place (Ruedamas ltd, Simpson 341), called there and they did have some decent m/c tyres, but naturally not the size we needed, would take several days to get anything. They did have a Czech made motocross tyre almost the right size, and at 33 I decided to buy it as insurance, hoping not to need it, and hoping I could offset it against the right tyre further down the road if unused. I'd picked up an inner tube for 6 earlier at a car hire place (Traeger, Avda Baquedano) that had some bikes (small) in and some motorcross bits. Amazing what you can turn up in a little place.

So with tyre strapped to back and parcel posted we were underway.

The concrete road continued through lovely but not spectacular scenery before all too soon turning back to repio. This was the 'fireworks' repio. When you watch fireworks it's all ohhs and ahhhs, but replace those with urghs and arghs and that's the score. New type, the stone made of peddles the size of hens eggs and larger with some dust and gravel thrown in. Where do they get the cunning variety ? Well of course it's whatever comes out of the ground locally of course.


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Alpine scenery


The scenery was pastoral in an alpine sort of way. The pastures are full of large felled tree trunks that are odd. assume the trees outgrow themselves, fall, the trunks are all that's left and nothing regenerates due to grazing, think it's that rather than de-forestation by man.

One bridge we crossed was a right laugh, parapets half missing and a sheer gorge underneath...nice !


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Nice bridge


Very, very surprisingly we came upon perfect tarmac again for a decent stretch and I was quite staggered, obviously it didn't last, say 100-150 kms, but it was a nice surprise to get a few kms on tarmac as a respite.

We came across a small settlement advertising telephone facilities so stopped so we could contact home and wish my Mum a happy birthday, great that you can even out here. Must have been a satelite phone as significant delay on line, but the cost for a few minutes wasn't prohibitive and worth it anyway.

We had lunch next door at Youssefs, yep your downtown Egyptian restaurant. Excellent too, fancy the Chile dish of Conger Eel ? Salmon perhaps, or maybe Swordfish ? All were available and more besides, and not only was it great value, it was great food.

By the time we'd eaten it was 4pm and we still had a long way to go - well, as we knew the repio would return, any distance over 100kms is a long way !

Sure enough the repio returned and we were once again to do battle. The bike at times sliding sideways - it felt - as we crossed paths in gravel, as oncoming vehicles appeared. There isn't much traffic (that'll change) and as we're in peak season it amazes us that it is so comparatively quiet...we're quite pleased of course.


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Stones used for repio repair get ridiculous


If it was just for the paths through the gravel and the changes you have to make that would be hard enough (are you all as sick of hearing about repio as we are with riding it yet ? Well, I can assure you our relationship isn't over yet as the benefits still outway the negatives) What makes it more difficult is the potholes. It's like every junior school in Chile has been out playing marbles. remember marbles ? A dished hole was all you needed excepting the marbles themselves. Well the roads are full of large, and quite deep, but luckily round edged potholes as if some huge marble convention has taken place. Try as hard as you like, you'll guarantee hitting several an hour however hard you try not too.

The next..well come on you've seen the pattern so many times previous....change in the landscape was soon to appear, in this case the Parque national Queulat.

Some things you're half prepared for, some things not. This was one such. The park is mountains of a fairly generous proportion leading to steep sided valleys and little light penetration, combine that with high rainfall and what have you got ? Temperate jungle or primeval forest, or both !

The woods are dense to the roadside, and there are Gunerra (sp) like people grow at home with leaves large enough to hide child (and not a small one either) everywhere. It's almost a spooky place. And yet you have huge hanging glaciers just a short distance higher up the densely wooded mountainsides, not seen anything like it. From pictures I've seen I can only imagine New Zealand is something like this on South island. Extraordinary, and stunning. how often have we used that word ? (answers on a postcard).

This whole road is being upgraded, and there were some impressive examples of civil engineering taking place (if you chose to ignore the small details like health and safety and tolerances in construction anyway) There was cutting and blasting (rope access at one point which I was marvelling at til I realised the shrubbery falling by the bike was coming from workers above...hmmmm....time to move). An independently standing viaduct section above a huge racing river, and miles and miles of widening that showed the construction methods in use, See, this sabbatical has brought me further knowledge in my field.....honest !


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Impressive engineering improvements


The danger of oncoming vehicles was ever present and one or two were really quite dangerous. As mentioned previously on roads like the Ruta 40 there is an acknowledged respect for oncoming vehicles with slowing of speed and a wave as moving over, whereas in Chile it's often a friendly wave as they blast past without slowing or moving over which is bloody annoying and very dangerous and arrogant in my book, Rant over.

Anyway, the road wound up mountain, and plummeted down the other side with all the time the vegetation leaning ever inwards to the road and yet above those enticing views of hanging glaciers and huge snow capped peaks, the contrast just mind-blowing.

We eventually reached near our destination and the sea was once more to our side in the form of fjords.

At long last we saw the welcoming sign for the village and stopped to check out the options in the guide book. As we set off I thought, hello, this repio is either suddenly changed, or we have a flat. Bugger, we had a front flat! The 'Sod's law' bit of carrying a tyre hadn't worked, but at least we had a spare of sorts I suppose. I would say it was a case of amphibian ovulation....ie spawn...to have that happen right at the end of the day. We were that close that Bev went ahead on foot as it was now nearly 8. I got out the MTB pump in hope of getting enough air in to get to the hostelry. I managed it and met Bev indicating we had a room and to pull round the back

I decided to set about the repair as quick as possible as why not while still in road mode. The tyre plugger didn't quite work, but there are options here before we have to go as far as the other tyre. It was at least nice to work with a cold beer in my hand !

Bev had sorted a room, and the people had even offered to come and get me when the mixture of Spanish and hand gestures had been understood, very hospitable

So we have a room in a very small place of which more later, but even though in a minor difficulty, we'll see it through one way or another.

The owner of the hostel says it is planned to have the bulk of the Careterra Austral fully surface buy 2010 - that will certainly improve tourist access, and change things for sure, I think it will spoil things in some ways, and be a fantastic improvement in other ways. Those that have rode it like this will of course bemoan it's demise....we look forward to being in that position...at present I'd like them to speed up the works to complete by tomorrow please !


Posted by Simon McCarthy at February 07, 2006 01:20 PM GMT
 


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