Sunday, 12 December 2010

WELCOME TO PATAGONIA







The city of Puerto Montt is regarded as the gateway to Patagonia (on the Western Chilean side of the South American continent). The Carretera Austral (Route 7) runs South from there for more than a thousand k´s, mostly a gravel road which is linked in places by necessary ferry crossings. Most of the ferries only operate in the short summer season, and as the ferries on the Northern section of Route 7 were not yet running I carried on South to Chiloe Island via an extention of the Pan Americana (Route 5) on which I had been cycling since Santiago. From Quellon in the South of the island I was then able to take a ferry back to the mainland at Chaiten, from where I could cycle South on Route 7. Earlier I´d been informed that there was a daily ferry, but upon arrival in Quellon I discovered that the ferry made the crossing once a week, so I had 2 days to kill (luckily I could stay with local people Mauricio and Sylvia - see previous post). In the early morning the ferry docked at what´s left of Chaiten town in atroceous weather, and I wasn´t at all impressed by this "cold" welcome to mainland Pategonia. A couple of years ago Chaiten Volcano erupted, just about burying the whole town under ash - also making it difficult for the ferry to dock as the new "beach" is closely adjacent to the docking area. Fortunately all residents were evacuated in time, and people seem to be returning to dig their houses out of the ash. Before long I was on a gravel road, sometimes quite good surface but sometimes not so good. As I had expected there is not much flat land around here, so it´s up and down all the time with the occasional bigger mountain pass. After meeting only 1 other cyclist in Chile so far (Jean-Marc from France), I met 4 cyclists moving North on the day of the ferry crossing (Joachim and Sabine from Germany, and Jeff & Rosemary from Australia). The weather hasn´t been wonderful, and I´ve only cycled on one rainless day in the past 2 weeks. On that day I met Marc from Switzerland cycling in the same direction as me, and we camped together for 2 nights (on the 3rd morning he left before me, and has been missing ever since). After suffering the cold on a number of occasions I am now convinced that I´m not properly prepared for the weather, and today I bought a pair of leather boots, as well as waterproofing spray for the boots, my gloves, and rain gear (which have been rather ineffective in the constant freezing rain - and the snow which I´ve run into twice on high ground). Please don´t misunderstand me, I´m not complaining - due to the weather and the topography, this area is absolutely spectacular (I´ve nearly crashed a few times just staring in awe at the magnificent scenery). Now I´ve rested in Coyhaique for 2 days, a fairly big town and capital of this region. Perhaps I´ll stay another day, as every now and then I still suffer the after-effects of the illness I had in Borneo 6 months ago (I´m still losing hair, but a more awkward problem is the joint pains which recur every now and then). Besides that, there´s a New York cyclist staying in the same hospedaje as me - I don´t even know his name yet, so we still need some time to swap war stories. Daily distances cycled since my last report from Temuco have been:- Mafil 136 km; Osorno 126 km; Puerto Varas 94 km; Puerto Montt 26 km; Ancud 98 km; Chonchi 110 km; Quellon 75 km; To Ferry 6 km (plus 4 hr ferry to Chaiten); Villa Santa Lucia 88 km; La Junta 68 km; Puerto Puyuguapi 46 km; Villa Amengual 92 km; El Balseo 106 km; and Coyhaique 49 km. Distance cycled in South America since leaving Santiago is 1 848 km. Total distance cycled since leaving Cape Town at the start of this journey is 68 317 km.

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