Sounds like a trek through Fiji or Tonga, but I think the place names derive from the local first peoples language rather than the usual Spanish names. This stretch involved extended periods on gravel roads which was tough going at times (more of that later). However, by far the most powerful abiding memory will be of yet more breath-taking scenery. Snow-capped mountains, deep blue lakes, and turquoise thundering rivers, truly amazing stuff.
Not being shy to take a dip when I get chance, I took Bumble to the river and I waded in . I say waded, it was more like a cat on a hot tin roof as I nervously found my footing on the hot, then slimy green pebbles. It was not elegant, but I thundered into the freezing cold glacial waters and was glad of the shock to the system.
The location for the dip became something of a foregone conclusion when I explored the steep access path a bit too far before realising that there was no way I could turn around even if I wanted to. I tried not to think about the exit while I was chilling my bones, but when the time came, the way out looked far steeper and more collapsed than it did on the way in. I made a rough plan of how to tackle it but right before the biggest divot on the steepest section I figured the only way to have a go was the Guy Martin approach – “give it some beans!” with a twist of the throttle I shot forward and exploded off the top lip of the hole careering uncontrollably up the rest of the slope. I made it. Just. Not for the first time Bumble proved far more capable than her pilot.
The primary reason for heading here was to take on what is regarded as some of the best white water rafting in South America. Having had some experience of this activity in Spain and France (oh and a crazy stag do event outside Prague) I was looking froward to something pretty full on, it did not disappoint. The good people at Patagonia Elements run a tight ship and everything was professionally organised, including two safety catamarans on the river to help with any necessary rescues. I can’t really put into words the experience of being in the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen and thundering down massive rapids with waves of up to 10 feet. I just can’t do it justice.
Here’s a promo video of the trip I can assure you it’s exactly the same as my experience, the river was the highest they’ve seen it for a while.
I traveled further down the Carretera Austral and was expecting a quiet stopover in this sleepy Hamlet. However, in another piece of luck, it turns out I landed on the weekend that the village is celebrating its anniversary. My super welcoming hosts at my little B&B presented me with a plate and explained that there is a massive village meal going on with loads and loads of meat and everyone is welcome! Vegetarians look away now… the meat was whole sides of lamb salted and pinned to a rack and left to cook in the heat from coals and the smoke within the cooking shed.
A disorderly queue formed as the workers in the shed roughly chopped up the meat and dished it up to the hungry locals. I felt a bit like the odd one out but people made me feel welcome and ensured I had chunks of the meat too. Sorry…. but it was bloody delicious! Cooked just right, very tender and juicy with a lovely smoky/salty flavour. To help proceedings along a traditional band was blasting out the music and people got up to dance and generally lark about enjoying the afternoon and each others’ company.
The first part of the road to this bustling town is smooth tarmac, not a car on the road, pure biking bliss. I’d planned to stop at Ventisquero Colgante (hanging glacier) in one of the many national parks and hike the two and a half hour round trip to see the glacier. The queue to get in was moving really slowly, I couldn’t figure out what was taking so long until I got to the front and faced the 20 questions… Where do you live? Where did you travel from today? Where are you going after this visit? What’s your passport number? What’s your vehicle registration? Now call me paranoid but I’m not overly happy with providing this kind of detailed information for no apparent reason to a state official in a country that has a totalitarian regime in its recent past. Why use forestry officials to data gather on the population?
Anyway the hike was as long as advertised, and the glacier was of course stunningly beautiful, but I was beginning to detect a case of “beauty fatigue” in me. There’s only so much “Wow!!” you take take in before reaching saturation point. I’ve seen so much that’s amazing, it’s hard to imagine what else I could see to top it.
With a 4 hour ride ahead I could feel myself getting a little weary. It was probably too much to squeeze the hike into a relatively long biking day. The first bit was as gorgeous as ever but then without any warning – bang – back on the bloody gravel. My skills are definitely improving but mile after mile started to grate a bit. Throw into that a mountain pass with hairpins on the way up and down with the surface going from bad to worse… it made for a testing day. So much so that I’ve decided to jump over into Argentina a couple of days earlier than planned. Time for a change. I’d rather leave with the overwhelmingly positive memories I have, without hours of gravel spoiling it for me.