April 07, 2005 GMT

Caught the overnight boat (cargo ship which takes passengers) from Puerto Montt to Chaitén, it takes 10 hours, left an hour late after much messing around, so arrived at 9 this morning.

While hanging around on the dock I fell into conversation with Arturo and his girlfriend (his surnameīs Ellis as his dadīs British). Turns out his brother used to live in Thatcham, less than a mile from where I live.

I set off immediately, hoping to reach Coyahique this evening. Fat chance.

The Carretera Austral (Ruta 7, more or less the continuation of the Via PanAmericana) is one of Pinochetīs legacies (photos will be in the next batch). It starts beautifully, with around ten miles of decent tarmac. Then the sign we all dread: Fin De Pavimiento 200m. So the next 250 miles are going to be this (on average) badly-maintained fire road, are they? Super, especially as itīs raining.

I was burbling gently past some cows, which were well in to the side of the road, when one decided to have a go. I think it came off worst, as I found some blood on the footrest and it ainīt mine. I more or less stayed the right way up - good job thereīs pretty well no traffic.

Carried on burbling, then I was flagged down by a sort of ranger type in a serious-looking 4x4. He spoke slowly and loudly so Iīd understand. About 2km ahead there was a major landslide. Iīd have to stop, but he said it would take a maximum of four hours to clear. Super. I rode to the landslide, dismounted and lit a ciggy. Another 4x4 arrived and invited me to sit inside (dry and warm). Then Arturo arrived, and we all had a brew-up. One or two other 4x4s also stopped, and eventually a digger sort of thing arrived and started attacking the large rocks and upside-down trees. It was all pretty efficient really, and the whole thing was cleared (more or less) in two hours, so we were away soon after 12. At this point Iīd covered just 45 miles of the 250 I needed to do today.

The rain increased, that penetrating sort, not torrential but managing to get up and under all the GoreTex and stuff. And you know how impossible it is to get your gloves back on once the water has wicked up inside them because you couldnīt tuck the cuffs up your sleeves properly because you canīt when you have one glove already on and the other handīs wet . . .

So, I stopped at a place called La Junta (marked as a fuel stop on the map), filled up, and of course no way could I get my gloves back on. Thought of trying my summer gloves, but by this time it was half-past two with only about three hours of daylight left, and I was starting to feel my bits with the heaving Iīd been doing. I mean, when 300kg of bike starts slithering down an adverse camber towards a precipice itīs quite hard work persuading it to change direction.

As luck would have it, thereīs a jolly nice wooden hotel here ( has been draped over radiators all over the place - in fact, the hotel owner insisted on this and a big pot of coffee and a sandwich before heīd do anything about checking me in properly. Thatīs hospitality.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at April 07, 2005 01:46 PM GMT
 


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