Daisy started a new ‘tradition’ for writing blog posts recently – eating chocolate while typing! Since there are no bears here in South America, we can eat in the tent. The chocolate sure helps make typing a little easier, hehe.
The past week we’ve cycled another 213 miles, from Cochrane to Coyhaique. We found an alternate road, enjoyed exploring the Marble Caves by canoe, saw more incredible mountain vistas and river valleys, and found some pavement. It has been an exciting week!
Many of the southbound cyclists we pass express doom and gloom about the upcoming gravel road and how terrible it is. Sometimes, they are right – it is like riding your bicycle over an old-style washboard. Often we find the road not nearly as terrible as they claim. For the road north of Cochrane we heard particularly bad reports. However, we also found out there was an alternate route for about 20 km.
If you’re thinking: “An alternate route to the gravel road at the end of the world? That can’t be good, Jason!” Then think again! The road was great. We crossed a river on a tiny two car raft-ferry, climbed a mountain, and saw plenty of horses and cows but absolutely no cars. After all the dust we’d been breathing, it was a welcome break. And, of course, the scenery was stunning.
The next day we ended our ride near Puerto Rio Tranquilo, which is known for boat tours of the Marble Caves. We stopped along the road next to a dirt driveway that went down to the lake where you can rent kayaks and there is free camping. As we started down the steep grade, we quickly learned that we had to walk our bikes and began questioning whether the trip down the super-steep grade would be worth the trip back up the next morning.
The answer to that question was yes, the “caves” were awesome! It also helped that we found a nice couple from Colorado that agreed to take our bags up the driveway in their truck the next morning. Although we arrived at the boat dock around dinner time – which you don’t want to delay after a long day of cycling – we rented a canoe, threw in a bunch of cheese and crackers, the waterproof camera, and set out on the 15 minute paddle to the attraction.
From the advertising campaign, we were expecting a huge swath of marble caves. In reality, it was the base of about 3 and a half small islands. Although smaller than expected, they still provided plenty of entertainment as we maneuvered the canoe through rock tunnels and examined the unique golf-ball-like texture of the marble. It was fun to explore with the autonomy of our canoe. The boatloads of tourists also provided plenty of entertainment: like the girls who jumped in the freezing water to get their picture taken between two rock arches, or the guy who climbed the 25 foot cliff to jump from the top!
For several nights we were lucky to find wild campsites along different rivers. Water is plentiful, and the combination of the sound of the river running and the beautiful setting made for great campsites.
Yesterday, after winding along up and then down another mountain, we finally hit our first stretch of pavement! That is right, part of the Carretera Austral is paved. Actually, we’ll be hitting more paved sections going north, and a lot of roadwork. We’ve heard that in 5 years the whole route will be paved, which will certainly change the experience for future travelers.
In any case, we definitely enjoyed the break from the bumpy road surface. We completed the longest climb of the Carretera Austral – about 2500 feet. During the climb, the road winds up the side of a mountain to enter a high river valley. The climb was pleasant, and felt just as easy as going downhill on gravel. When we got to the downhill paved section, we thought we must have entered heaven.
Now we’re in a campground that is actually just someone’s yard that lives in the town of Coyhaique. A few hours ago we were excited to do our shopping at the huge Unimarc grocery store – where just the aisle of cookies was larger than any single supermarket we’ve been in for over two weeks. We’re looking forward to rest day tomorrow before we continue our ride northward.