Patagonia

Dated: 13 DEC 18

Patagonia…I’m here in the northern reaches at last. To reach the start or what I am deciding is the start of my Patagonian experience I have taken a ferry from the town of Hornopiren. It is a delightful day slowly making the way south the skimming along the length of the Leptepu and Largo Fjords. My passage or I should say our passage is graced with calm winds and smooth seas. Plural because the hordes have arrived, four other cyclists are making the trip with me and a number of overlanders as well. We pass through the fjords with their towering slopes with valleys giving glances into the interior where snow caped mountains loom with glaciers nestled in their upper reaches. Waterfalls are the only break in the thick blanket of forest which covers every surface until the snow line. I’m eager to get going after months of excitedly saying “I’m en route to Patagonia.” There is time to put my feet up and have a good few celebratory cups of tea before the start whilst taking in the passing vistas.

Over the next few days I will realise just how popular a cycle route the Carretera Austral is, the road that winds its way south through Patagonia and eventually the “end of the world” at the most southern tip of land before Antarctica. Three days in and I have passed no fewer that fifteen fellow riders, some on long haul tours others on three or four week vacations. I’ve always wondered if I would ever make Patagonia, it wasn’t on my original plan but I thought I couldn’t miss it out if I’m on the continent, so southward I turned; but two or three weeks is enough to do a fantastic tour of the Chilean Part of Patagonia, don’t let the apparent isolation put you off a visit. So consider it for a future holiday, put on you hiking boots and trek through the mountains, along glacial streams and stand at the foot of vast glaciers; be sure to pack your anorak though the weather can take a turn at any minute even in summer.

A German couple Sven and Mia may not be on a global tour but over the twenty years of their marriage they have cycled everywhere imaginable and more. Not everyone can take a casual year off and I cant help but envy all the spots they have been that I haven’t and they tell me that they still aren’t finished; they are always imagining new places to add to the ever growing bucket list. Responsibilities of children and mortgages don‘t have to hold us back if we want.

So ramp down and I’m off. The northern reaches of Patagonia in the Aysén region or the “last frontier,” its all a dense mass vegitation in the Valdivian temperate rain forest; seemingly impenetrable unless you have an elephant and they aren’t to common in these here parts. Wild camping may prove tricky. It is a lush region thick with veggies, well trees, bracken, bamboo, plants with vast leaves bigger than any golfing umbrella and vines; none of which look to edible to me.

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We stop, the Germans and I, to walk a trail through the forest where a glade of ancient Alerce trees survive. These giants of the botanical world are over three thousand years old and are similar to the North American sequoia with reddish bark spiralling up their lofts trunks with just a small cusp of branches at their tops, they are strange looking trees. But barely an inch of the bark is visible for almost on every surface; be it tree trunk or vine, a blanket of moss, lichen and greenery grows as thick as any lawn. It is like a vertical garden, perhaps the inspiration for Singapore’s Garden’s of the Bay. This little gem is an amazing environment like no woods I have ever seen. But its sad at the same time for I assume it once covered vast areas and we humans got a touch to liberal with the use of saws, these trees would make a lovely chair or two hundred.

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That evening we camp on a well groomed lawn complete with showers…such luxury was unexpected. I am once again reminded of how the other half live. Zee Germans start putting on a spread, frying up onions and chorizo with aromas far better than the finest perfumes and into the pan it goes with their lavishly parmesan sprinkled pasta and to accompany, a smooth fruity Malbec. I look down upon yet another dinner of noodles with a sigh but of course they let me have a sip or to of vino. In the morning after being on the road for a few hours I can imagines them sat having a leisurely breakfast complete with a hot coffee to hold off the morning chill, I’m doing this all wrong.

The shower queue at the camp site was quite comical. I am at the back of the line. The three in front are somewhat despondent, eyes on the ground and not really chatting to one another or even looking each in the eyes. Its like being in the waiting room of the local STI clinic (I should imagine). We all shift our weight from foot to foot with the occasional outbreak of nervous laughter. We know what we are in for; from within the small enclosure of the shower block comes the sound of running water, fitful breaths and high pitched gasping profanities. I’ve had my share of cold showers this year but this one is Patagonian cold, water fed straight from the glacial stream running along the camp boundary. Fresh and yelp inducing.

Over the next few days as I meander south I have to pinch myself each morning to make sure I am really here. It is truly breath taking. The rainforest gives way to dense pine forests, not in organised parades like forestry’s but wild and unkempt. Countless waterfalls tumble down steep granite cliffs and form tributaries which flow into the valleys rivers. The water fresh from the glaciers is crystal clear, the clarity of which can only be found in such untouched mountain regions. You can drink straight from the streams, or even the rivers. And nestled up on the mountain sides and some not even far away are vast tongues of ice reaching towards the valley floors.

Glaciers galore and I’m not even in the thick of it yet. No picture can give justice to the majesty of a glacier or the indescribable blue which comes deep from within, photos are just a weak imitation, a shadow of the real thing. For me they have an aura which I will never tire of. Unlike glaciers I’ve seen in Europe of Asia which are high above the tree line some of these plunge into the forests creating a contrasting environment of ice and trees.

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As I near the town of Villa Santa Lucia I come across a vast stretch of forest which has been decimated. I am shocked that they would allow the logging industry to get their dirty mits on these beautiful forests. Almost as far as the eye can see is mud and debris but it doesn’t look quite right, there are no tree stumps nor tyre tracks. I don’t pause to take a snap shot for I’m on a down hill stretch and I have discovered that my brakes are on the fritz, I resort of the manual brakes, feet to the floor trailing my heels like a child trying to stem the speed. As I approach what is left of Villa Santa Lucia I realise that a rather large flood has obliterated the village not loggers. It turns out that just over a year ago a flood swept through the valley obliterating 70% of the village but some how only taking 20 lives. Beauty has its costs.

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