Cycling the Carretera Austral didn’t start off as planned. First we had to make a hasty exit form Villa O’Higgins as we had no Chilean Pesos and they didn’t except US dollars nor did they have any ATMs, luckily we were able to pay for our hostel and one supermarket in the town accepted card so we were able to buy supplies for the next 4 days on the road.
It was with visible excitement that we hit the road, ready to take on the challenge that I had read about probably over a year ago. True to form the weather was at it’s Patagonian best, that being rain, we couldn’t complain though, this is renowned for being the wettest part of the Carretera Austral and very few people make it through without some form of down pour, this is also the first real bit of rain we have had. It just so happened that once the weather turned wet we also had our first mechanical, Jess’ front rack decided that it had had enough of ripio roads and spat its dummy out. Bent, snapped and broken beyond roadside repair we were left to re-adjust the weight and strap the contents that my self and Oli could not carry to the back of Jess’ bike, hoping the one front pannier wouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience to her steering.
By the time we had sorted this problem we were soaked and very cold. A quick lunch was taken in what I would call a glorified shed and that was about the highlight of the day. We rode with heads down as the water encroached over every inch of us, it found ways into our waterproofs, up our sleeves, down our necks, we just couldn’t get warm. Luckily for us we found a refugio, something the Carretera Austral is famous for. These are wooden shacks, if you will, that offer shelter from whatever weather you maybe experiencing; we dived in and battled to get a fire going.
Without this luxury of a roof and fire I hate to think how miserable our first night on this iconic road would have been, especially for myself as I was now feeling less than ideal health wise. With the fire roaring I retreated to my sleeping bag hoping I could sleep off whatever it was that was wrong with me. I couldn’t sleep it off. I awoke with no motivation or energy, to call me useless would have been a compliment. By the time we should have been setting off and Jess and Oli were packed I was still sat with four open panniers not really knowing what to do with myself. I did eventually get my kit sorted and got on the road, luckily the weather was far kinder to us today and the sun was out to play. The next 4 days were a struggle, I had no appetite and was beginning to feel the rumblings of a dodgy stomach, and to make it worse Oli began with the same symptoms only 24 hours behind me. As stunning as the road was it was brutally tough. Jess held the camp together doing more than her fair share of cooking, tent erecting and washing up. Myself and Oli did more than our fair share of lying down. Every lunch stop ended with us both horizontal while Jess handed us food; that we either picked at or point blank refused. On the 4th day Oli had had enough, he decided, with his imminent departure only a few days away, a hitch to the next town in order to sort and pack his bike and be in better condition to travel. All that was left was for Jess to put me in the hurt locker and make sure we did the necessary distance before I led back down in order to wave Oli off.
We rolled into Cochrane in the nick of time and met up with Oli before his departure. I was also starting to feel human again, the hills no longer had me cascading through my gears and I also managed to climb out of the smallest chain ring. We had a somewhat baptism of fire in the first four days of the Carretera Austral, the road I had tried so hard to get to, the hills are steep but the scenery is unbelievable, I am nowhere near good enough with the camera to do it justice, especially when lacking in motivation to do even the most mundane tasks never mind get my camera out. Although we all suffered, Jess was kind enough to let us know the hills were tough even when not sick, I am so happy we have managed to ride from Villa O’Higgins. It was a shame that Oli’s last few days on the bike with us were tarnished by illness but I’m sure he will be looking back remembering how good this stretch was. It’s been great having Oli on the road with us and I’m sure we’re going to miss his general disorganised approach to cycle touring life.
Jess and I have now opted to take 2 rest days Cochrane to do absolutely nothing but eat and watch films, hopefully this will let me fully recover so that I can really enjoy what is next on the Carretera Austral.
Danny and Jessica living the nomadic dream.