Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Villa O'Higgins-Cochrane

After the unexpected days off in Candilario Mancilla we only had an overnight stop in Villa O'Higgins, keen to finally get underway with the 1300km of the Carretera Austral. The Carretera was one of Pinochet's undertakings, to connect the rural villages and Estancia's of the Aysen region of Chile. The Southern most sections we are starting on were only finished in 2000 and prior to this the majority of the region was only accessible by boat or air, consequently it remains still largely independent from the rest of Chile and retains a feeling of extreme remoteness. Outside of the towns most people seem to be either self sufficient from small holdings or working for the larger Estancias. Water is drawn from rivers running off the glaciers and from what we have seen on smaller dwellings electric lighting is either gone without or drawn from car batteries. The average rainfall in the region is massive and as a result the terrain couldn't be more different from the drought ridden, wind swept pampas we have cycled through in Southern Patagonia.

We had a fairly slow start to the carretera, splitting the 100km to the boat across Rio Bravo at Pt Yungay into 2 days, enjoying the incredibly beautiful scenery and stopping to fish at regular intervals. First impressions are of cycling through a cold rainforest; surrounded by lush green vegetation filled with wildlife.
The huemul is one of the national animals of Chile; a timid deer-like creature, on the verge of extinction – we were told there are only 50 pairs left in the whole of Chile (although I think this may have been an exaggeration), and there are many commercial treks offering the opportunity to go wildlife spotting to try and get a glimpse of them (from what we have heard these are rarely successful!) We were therefore extremely surprised to nearly run down an anything but timid family of three of them, grazing on the side of the road, who happily posed for photos!

At Pt Yungay we were very sad to wave goodbye to Carl as he made the difficult decision to take a break from cycling and hitch-bike up to Bariloche after developing a reoccurrence of a knee injury.

We decided to make a short (22km) detour to Caleta Tortel, a town built entirely of the wood it was developed to exploit and connected by 7km of wooden boardwalks. It is a bizarre little port, perched on the steep slopes of the banks of the Rio Baker, with no roads or vehicle access (we had to leave the bikes in a parking area at the entrance to the town), and very little contact with the outside world; the road connecting it to the carretera was only built in 2003 and there seemed to be only limited public phone or internet access.

We took a day off here, as in spite of the enforced rest days we have been feeling pretty tired and achy recently, but the town had a strange claustrophobic feel to it and Ja was keen to get moving again as soon as possible (to be fair this is as likely to have been a result of the lack of wifi as the strange atmosphere). Although it wasn't helped by staying in Chile's equivalent of Faulty Towers, where the patroness was so astonished at our lack of Spanish that she thought we were trying to trick her, and kept slipping in insults to the constant stream of (largely uncomprehended) Spanish that she bombarded us with, to see if we would react and she could catch us out!

Quite relieved to leave Caleta and be reunited with the bikes again, we split the 130km to Cochrane in to 2 days, having an enforced stop 86km in; completely drenched after 6 hours of continuous downpour. The refugio we had found was full (only taking 2), but the family whose land it was on invited us in, and we were again transported back in time, as we dried off around their woodburning stove, and were made a bed of handwoven blankets in their candle lit spare room.

Cochrane, the largest town we have been to in weeks (actually having a bank, albeit one that won't service international cards), is a pleasant little place where we have been mostly eating complejos (hotdogs with copious guacamole) and chilling out. We will move on again tomorrow, as the town is without public internet connection and we are keen to make it to Chile Chico, which we have heard has it's own micro-climate and promises sunbathing on the banks of the lago in 30degree sunshine; a welcome change from wind and rain!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment