After leaving Barrancas we followed the Ruta 40 through seemingly endless rocky wilderness. We climbed the switchbacks up the mountains bordering each valley, to descend rapidly into the next 10 mile expanse before repeating again and again.
Eagles soared overhead, as did the vultures. Armadillos and tarantulas broke up the silent stillness.
Rocks everywhere. Volcanic. Igneous. Massive. Rocks like honeycomb. Rocks like chocolate mousse. Rocks like pistachios. Food must have been on my mind. Sophie and I kept repeating the same conversations about what we wanted to eat.
But it was the water that caught us out. Studying the maps, we saw rivers running under the road every few miles. We’d topped up five two litre bottles for a three day stretch, figuring it would be plenty for washing, cooking and eating, what with the river water everywhere. But being the end of the summer, the rivers had of course all dried up. By the end of the first day we’d realised our mistake and subsequently rationed carefully. But by the second day our mouths were sandpaper dry and our morale had dipped.
We never want to be in that position again!
On arrival in Zapala, we quenched our desert thirsts and vowed to err on the side of caution in the future. We topped up over 24 litres for the next three day stretch of wild camping, weighing our bikes down heavily, but keeping us happy that water would no longer be an issue for us.
On the journey southwards to Junin de los Andes we experienced the strongest winds we’d come across – the famous Patagonian winds that can cripple entire days for bikepackers. It was a fight to keep pedalling.
It had been a debate of ours for a couple of weeks whether to follow the Ruta 40 all the way to its start in the south, or whether to avoid the winds that would surely hit us on the 40 and cut instead to Chile, to take the apparently stunning Carretera Austral. The 40 would be paved nearly the whole way and would take us through endless wild grassy steppe and past the Cueva de las Manos. The Carretera Austral would have a tougher riding surface as nearly the entire road is rough gravel, but the scenery is said to be more interesting and we wouldn’t get battered by so much wind.
After experiencing a touch of how tough the winds can be, the conclusion was a no-brainer. We’ll cut into Chile and head to Villa O’Higgins – the southerly point on the Carretera Austral. The plan is to then take a couple of small ferries to land near El Chaltén in Argentina, where we’ll push the bikes for 12 miles along a footpath before re-joining the road for the final push south.
We’re in Bariloche now after cycling through the stunning ‘Road of the Seven Lakes’ and super excited to be heading down the Carretera Austral. We’ve heard it’s one of the most incredible roads in the world, with dramatic wild scenery – mountains, glaciers, lakes, fjords, forests, the Pacific – at every turn. Heading south into the autumn may be ‘un poco loco’ (most bikepackers tend to start in the south in the summer and work their way northwards – far more pleasant weather), but we’re prepared for biting cold and like the idea of doing things a little differently.
We’re unsure how much WiFi we’ll be able to get for the next couple of months as we wind our way down the empty road, but soon as we do, we’ll be sure to post updates.
Vida! Saúde! Felicidade!
As ever, if you’ve enjoyed reading these posts, or if you see value and a challenge in this trip, or if you’d simply like to support a wonderful cause, it would be great if you drop a little sum towards my fundraising goal for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Head over to https://www.justgiving.com/Mike-Edmondstone/ to get involved. Thanks