As is now the norm we left Futaleufu well after 11, some last minute jobs and miserable weather meant we were less than motivated to get going. We did eventually get moving and 8km later we were at the border control, a little confusion with us parking our bikes in the wrong place; you’re not allowed to lean them on the fence it turns out…
Yet more confusion arose when they stamped us as leaving Argentina rather than entering, a quick cross-out and an assurance of we will be fine when we actually come to leaving Argentina and we were in. The rest of the day was spent running away from the ominous rain clouds that threatened to soak us. This game of chase that we are now become seasoned pro’s at led to us pushing further than we expected and making it to Trevelin. This is a crazy town that has a strong affiliation with the Welsh and for the first time since leaving Uni I found myself seeing all the signs in two languages, only this time I couldn’t read either as one was Spanish and the other was Welsh.
I had wanted to make it to Trevelin since hearing about the Welsh influence and I found it funny how just seeing Welsh flags everywhere gave me the sensation of home when I am so far away, with every person I expected to hear ‘Bore Da’ and a thick welsh accent, it was not to be unfortunately, the tourist information woman didn’t have a clue what I was on about when I tried my best Welsh on her!!!
Being back in Argentina brought about the excitement of La Anonima; Argentina’s version of Tesco if you will, and as luck will have it, the Brazilians shared our love of supermarkets; maybe it’s a cycle tourist thing?? With great excitement we entered to stock up on food for cheap prices. From here we went in search of cheap/free accommodation, I think this is the longest cheap hotel game we have ever played, the Brazilians are even more frugal than ourselves and were happy to wait an hour in a cold wet, windy park for the off chance of a man meeting us with news of a friends place we could stay at. After an hour Jess and I had given up and explained that we were off to find a campsite. The irony of this being the campsite was abandoned so we ended up staying for free after all. To top it off we opted to sleep inside the old bathrooms rather than trying to pitch our tent. I found myself for the first time since Uni sleeping on the floor of a bathroom; at least at Uni I had the excuse of being very drunk rather than just being a tight arse who didn’t want to pay for anything.
The next day saw us venture in to Los Alerces National park, again being ahead of the season meant we got in for free, it also meant that everything was closed, including the information office. Luckily there is only one road and very little traffic through the national park so getting lost wasn’t too much of a problem, the hardest part was deciding which free camp we wanted to stay at there are about 6 within 5km of each other. Rain clouds over the lake had the Brazilians running scared meant we retired early with the rain hitting us late into the night, still it made for an atmospheric back drop watching the storm edge closer.
We spent two days in the park enjoying the quiet roads and the views, not to mention the climbs, they seemed to be longer than what we had become accustomed to on the Carretera Austral and with me now suffering from a worn out middle chain ring they proved to be somewhat of a challenge. We also met the craziest cyclist to date, a Spanish man who didn’t seem to grasp the idea that we didn’t speak much of his language, the Brazilians did their best at translating but after 30minutes of him talking at us we were all pretty worn out. Our last camp was at he entrance/exit, depending which way you’re coming, of the park.
Upon leaving the national park our old friend Mr Wind rejoined us, for 40km we battled hard, the only bonus being that we were now back on tarmac. It seems that the ripio has trained our legs well, even with the headwind we were able to maintain a good pace; turns out the bad roads are good for something!
Onwards to El Bolson, which was another big city with the promise of more supermarkets and hopefully somewhere to fix my middle chain ring. I find myself in two minds about the problems with my bike, when on the horrific roads I wonder how we haven’t had more problems, the bike constantly being shaken an rattled as they carry ourselves and our lives for the next year or so, then with almost full reversal I am in disbelief that I splashed out on an expensive bike for the sole purpose of being able to handle touring over tough terrain yet I find myself visiting a bike shop after less than 4000km…I suppose the silver lining is that nothing major has gone wrong and that I am still able to ride and keep the adventure alive!
In El Bolson we were chased down by a man in a high-vis jacket with a bunch of kids. In a hasty conversation we were offered a place to pitch our tents in his garden, we had to meet him in the square at 5.30 after he had finished work, with that he was back to the kids and they all rode off. Not fully sure what had just happened we decided to play the waiting game again, this didn’t turn out great for us in Trevelin but we decided to give the man the benefit of the doubt. Our trust paid off and at 5.30 he turned up in a van, loaded our bikes in the back and drove us 6km back the way we had cycled in from to his house. The evening was spent chatting and cooking with him. Turns out he was a PE teacher and the kids we saw him with where his class, I tried to imagine what would happen if I was out with a class and I suddenly tore away to chat to four strangers on the side of a busy road…
With the sun shining and the hot shower we were ready to go, we had been warned of the big climb ahead so with determination we set off. The climb was long but the gradient was relaxed and after 15km we were at the top with smiles on our face, Bariloche was within touching distance, some nice descents and some more climbs and we were there, we had contacted a guy on warm showers and we were in luck, he was happy to take the four of us in. So here we are, sat in a separate little studio flat that is attached to his bicycle workshop, he fixed my middle ring for me for a fraction of the price I was going to have to pay, the Brazilains have also done some bike maintenance with Daniel changing his handle bars and José changing his forks. All in all a perfect place to spend a few days.
With heavy hearts we bid farewell to our Brazilian brethren, being from Brazil they were more comfortable with seeing snow from the comfort of the road rather than joining us in trekking up to the white fluffy stuff. It has been a great few weeks riding with the boys and we will miss their antics and translator skills, mostly though, I will miss having someone to drink wine with!!!
Jess and I shouldered our packs and waved goodbye as the boys rolled out, first challenge for us, catching a bus! Now this is a skill we haven’t had to master in South America, turns out it is a skill we are not very good at and not for the first time I found myself glad I am navigating this continent by bicycle rather than these 4 wheel monstrosities. We waited and after feeling confident we had missed the bus moved to the second stop where we commenced our wait, an hour passed and once gain we gave up hope thinking we had been mis-informed on what time the bus gets where, with nothing else to do we set about having lunch, cue Murphy’s law, just as we had got everything out the bus we needed turned up. After a frantic pack and grab we were finally on our way to the start of the trek.
The bus took us up to the local ski resort, instantly I was having flash backs to my seasons in Canada and New Zealand and was getting pangs of desperation to find some skis and any patch of snow I could to race down. The only open establishment we could find rented bikes however and as I felt I had had my fix of cycling we began the trek.
An easy-ish 10km and we were at the refugio, I say easy-ish, 5 days worth of food with a cycle tourists appetite meant the packs were crippling us all the way up and had us wondering once again why we had opted to do this as a break from cycling.
Refucgio Frey was meant to be a one night stop that turned into 3 nights. This place was amazing, couple that with the great bunch of climbers we met there and we decided rather than lug our heavy packs on to another hut we would stick around and explore some of the surrounding peaks. 3 days was nowhere near enough, I could have spent a month in this place and still not climbed everything there was on offer, I only wish I had my climbing gear with me so that I could have dabbled on some of the steeper faces!
After 3 days of lightweight day sacks and eating as much food as possible we begrudgingly shoulder our ungainly packs once more and made our leave over what was we knew was going to be a steep snowy ridge. What we didn’t know was that we would have a just as steep decent followed by another steep snowy ridge climb. The hike to Refugio Jakob was stunning, entertaining but equally tough, even with our now light-ish packs!
Jakob was another beautiful spot but the melting snow had turned the surrounding area into somewhat of a mud pit and left finding a decent camping spot difficult, we did find a nice view spot though!
Our final day was a gruelling 18km decent that turned into 21km when we couldn’t find a hitch at the end of the trail to take us back to town. Still we stumbled into Miguels house, our warm shower host, with giant smiles and great tans to boot.
This last 5 days has been unbelievable for myself, I miss the high altitude climbing and Refugio Frey gave me the fix I needed even if I didn’t manage to scale any major peaks. Jess isn’t the biggest fan of this activity and I don’t think she fully realises how much I appreciate her spending the last 5 days in this environment pushing her comfort zone to the limits just so I can go just one ridge more or one false summit higher…
Danny and Jessica living the nomadic dream.