2007-11-27 Coyhaique

It has only been a week and a half since we last posted but it has been quite an interesting time. When you are on the road doing kilometres everyday you see so many new things and meet so many friendly people and even though the contact is brief it makes a lasting impression.

Punta Ninfas

From Puerto Madryn, after about 65 km of gravel road through Estancias and barren shrub land, we arrived at Punta Ninfas, a promontory which looks out across to peninsula Delgado on Valdez. This was going to be our lunch stop and our chance to see sea lions up close without the barriers and fences which usually protect them from the busloads of tourists. The first thing we saw when we got there were however not sea lions but leaping whales. There were about 8 of them hanging around at the next point about 3 km along the coast. I could make out at least 2 mothers with calves and two were doing the jumping…the males?  We watched them for about thirty minutes before they all solemnly proceeded in a straight line out into the open ocean. Were the nursery days in the bays of Valdez over and what we were seeing the start of their months spent in the deeper waters?

Ruta 25

The Route 25 follows the Chubut river valley which traverses the interior of the Chubut province of Argentina and has its source in the Andes. The Chubut has carved out some impressive cliffs and canyons along the way and it was a beautiful ride. Our first stopover was in Gaiman, a town founded by Welsh settlers where welsh traditions are still maintained in small ways: tea houses, cakes and place names. There were two highlights to our stay, a visit to El desafio and at the carwash with Pablo Phillips. Pablo, of Welsh and Portuguese heritage, was a look-alike for Tom Cruise so Axel was a bit suspicious of our lengthy conversations while he polished the bikes. But honestly I was just finding out a bit of the history of the town and its residents and practicing my Spanish ;)
El Desafio was a crazy, surreal garden of junk art which was the life work of Don Joaquín Alonso and has been the subject of quite a few documentaries as well as making it into the Guinness book of world records. The pictures speak for themselves.

The next two days were spent on the Ruta 25. What we thought would be another boring ride through desolate country turned out to be surprisingly varied. The scenery changed from wide valleys to stratified cliffs and ochre canyons. We spent one night in Las Plumas hiding out from the wind and drinking Quilmes in the one and only bar of the town. The next night would be wind still and spent next to a dirt road that cuts across to Gobernador Costa through the foothills of the Andes. We were slowly making our way higher and closer until finally we got a glimpse of them.

Rio Mayo and the evening’s entertainment

From Gobernador Costa it was a quick drive down to Rio Mayo on potholed, but nevertheless tarred roads. After setting up camp in the local municipal camping grounds I was lured away by the sound of drumming from the adjacent Cultural Centre. It was evening training for the Gruppo Folklorique “Almecen Sureno” and kids of all ages were practicing traditional Argentinean folk dances. During their breaks they would come over to check out our bikes and ask us a load of questions then rush back as soon as the Maestro returned. Diana and Ariana from the older age group invited us over to watch and we were astounded and impressed by their footwork and agility.

Paso Coyhaique and arrival in Chile

At Rio Mayo we left the tarred roads behind and it would be gravel until we got to Coyhaique on the other side of the border in Chile. The vegetation was slowly changing with the kilometers and the shrub land was giving way to bleached grassy valleys dotted with salty lakes where flamingoes waded. In the distance we could see the snow-covered peaks of Chile. After crossing the border and only a few kilometers into Chile the difference was incredible as now the grassy valleys had given way to lush forests and green pastures. We had gotten used to the bleakness of Argentina so arriving in Chile felt like arriving at an oasis in the desert.

River Crossings

Bad weather was forecasted for later in the week so we decided to leave the 5000 km bike service for the rainy days and do a two day hike. A route was recommended to us by the owner of the hostel which wasn’t too far from Coyhaique. You had to cross a river to get there but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem as you could hike the last bit to the park if the water was too high. So off we set and when we got to the river Axel took a look and decided it would be OK. We made it about half way before losing our balance and dropping poor Perla Negra into the freezing waters of the Rio Claro.
About forty minutes later Axel managed to get her started again after stripping her down and drying everything. We returned to the hostel a tad sheepish and spent the rest of the afternoon warming up next to the woodfire. The important lesson was: walk the crossing before you ride it!

So, three days later after a service for both bikes and ongoing repairs (shock absorber on the Russian) we are still in Coyhaique. We plan to leave tomorrow for a four day hike around the Cerro Castillo…Inshallah!