Happy 2017! We’re officially one week (and over 300 kilometers) into our tour de Patagonia.
El Bolsón to Cholila
We took our time getting out of our cozy campsite in El Bolsón. After a filling bowl of oatmeal with local jam (berries are plentiful down here) and fruit, we began packing up camp. Cat debated a new packing strategy for the food, while Kale valiantly decided he would carry both of our extra tires.1 Unsure of our next stop, we jumped on our bikes and onto route 40. We did know, however, that we would follow route 40 until the turn off for scenic route 71 (if we made it that far today).
Right away, we hit a slight and steady uphill — alas, pay back for the 20-something kilometers of downhill-heaven that we had enjoyed the day before while cruising into El Bolsón. On the bright side, traffic wasn’t so bad and the weather was perfect (sunny and brisk). We pedaled through Lago Puelo and enjoyed a super speedy downhill (aided by a tailwind) into the next town of El Hoyo, where we debated stopping for lunch. Since we’d only been on the road for an hour or so, we decided against it. After some water, we carried on.
From El Hoyo, it was about 30km to the next town, Epuyén. Aided by a tailwind, the first 20 kilometers were flat and scenic: easy, peasy lemon squeezy. Then, about 12 kilometers outside of Epuyén, we began a windy climb through a mountain range. Just. Keep. Pedaling.
A few water breaks later, we reached, what we believed to be, the peak of the range. The road began to descend and we lush greenery made way for dryer, harsher terrain. To our left (east) was the flatlands of the pampas. To our right (west), the towering mountains of the Andes.
The final few kilometers into Epuyén were terrible. We faced a monstrous uphill road that gradually turned right, into a strong headwind. We were knocked off our bikes a few times — and getting moving again in these sorts of winds is a tough task.
When we finally reached the top of the climb, we stopped by a turismo center and got directions to a nearby restaurant2 and a map of the upcoming national park, Parque Nacional Los Alerces. The friendly lady at the turismo center also made us smile when she said that the park was at a lower elevation than our current location — score!
Just before we reached the restaurant, we met two bike tourers from northern Argentina. Kale and one of the men began comparing packs (as men do) — he gave Kale’s steed a lift and cringed at its weight. They were headed to Cholila for the night (40km away), and that sounded like a good plan to us, too. We crushed a pizza and french fries (and believe it or not, resisted ordering a cerveza!) and got back on the road — onto Cholila!
The afternoon was brutal. It began with another, somewhat surprising, long and steady uphill. When the lady at the turismo center said the park was at a lower elevation, we kinda assumed we would cruise downhill most of the way. Nope.
Just about 10 kilometers of uphill later, we reached a fork in the road. We had made it to the 71! Woohoo!
The route plateaued and we enjoyed a mostly flat, empty route (most traffic had continued south-east on route 40) and some spectacular views. And we finally got that nice long descent we’d been dreaming about since lunch.
Downhills are great and all, but they can be a bit freaky in strong winds. Sure enough, during this downhill stretch, Cat relaxed at the wrong moment — the wind picked up and next thing she knew, she was wobbling like crazy. On and off the road she went, until SMACK. Cat tumbled, off the bike and into the loose gravel on the side of the road. Interestingly, this all took place just outside of Butch Cassidy’s ranch, on the outskirts of Cholila.3 Kale had been in front and after a few nervous minutes waiting at the bottom of the hill (around a bend), was relieved to see Cat smiling as she finally approached. Thankfully, her only wounds from the fall were some scrapes on her elbow and few bruises.
We arrived in Cholila and made our way to what appeared to be the only hostel in town — Hostel Piuke Mapu. We were greeted by a friendly Workaway volunteer who had lived in England, the US and Singapore. We unloaded our things, showered, made some pasta for dinner and were about to call it a night when the hostel owners came by. They introduced themselves and informed us that they had just seen a gaucho about a lamb for the “fiesta tomorrow.”
We had completely forgotten that New Year’s Eve was the next day. The hostel owners invited us to the party they were hosting. This seemed like a nice idea, so we decided that we would enjoy a rest day and stay in Cholila for New Year’s.
Rest Day in Cholila
Though it had only been a few days, it felt good to have a day off. We slept in, hung out and sipped mate with our new friend Yenhy (another gal staying at the hostel), stretched with our new friend Luka4 and siesta’d in the afternoon.
Before we knew it, we were late5 to the party.
Dario and Laura, the owners of the hostel have a gorgeous property on a lake on the outskirts of Cholila. After crossing a footbridge and taking a short hike up their property, we found the party! The lamb was sizzling parrilla style by the fire outside and Laura had prepared a beautiful table. We enjoyed some delicious food, guzzled some wine with the other guests, and also drank a homemade brew, courtesy of Luka, made from water, lemon, vinegar and “the wood that Harry Potter’s wand is made from.” Of course, it was as magical as it sounds.
As dinner ended, we welcomed the new year and wished one another Feliz Año Nuevo. The tables were moved out of the way and we danced, drummed, guitar’ed, and sang the night away.
Cholila to Lago Rivadavia
We woke up and began our usual pack-up routine. Today, we would be leaving asphalt behind and facing the dreaded ripio (gravel). Thus, we decided to change out our front tires for the bigger, thicker mountain bike tires we had been carrying since Bariloche.
Sure enough, about 10 kilometers into the day’s ride — bam! — the loose gravel road hit hard. It was slow progress for the next 6 kilometers or so as we adjusted to the new terrain. The road was miserable. It’s first victim: Cat. After braking at the wrong moment on a hill, she skid out. Luckily, no scrapes this time. And 20 minutes later, Kale noticed her front tire was as flat as a pancake.
We passed through a valley and after a few short climbs found ourselves at the entrance to Parque Nacional Los Alerces where we met a park ranger. We paid her our entrance fee ($150 ARG pp) and received a map and some helpful info on where to eat and sleep.
We decided to set up camp at closest campsite to the entrance — a beautiful location directly on Lago Rivadavia. Plus, it was free6… and there were plenty of birds in the area too 🙂
Lago Rivadavia to Rio Arrayanes
Perhaps our slowest start to a bike day, yet. The lake was beautiful. Kale was distracted with his guitar, Cat with her Game of Thrones. At around noon, we decided to get moving. Rain had lightly trickled on and off throughout the morning, and during an “off” patch, we quickly packed the tent and our bikes. Alas, by the time we were ready to get on the road, the rain had returned and turned into a steady pour. Ouch. Our first ride in the rain! (Quite unbelievable, right? We’ve been absolutely spoiled with gorgeous and hot weather until now.)
Though Cat was pretty nervous about rain + dirt and gravel roads,7 our front tires provided sufficiently solid traction. We explored the park, stopping frequently to take photos…
After a few hours of riding, we were chilly. We hadn’t really dressed for a downpour (other than our rain jackets). Kale was rocking a cotton shirt under his rain jacket and a pair of non-waterproof tights (stylish, yes, but not practical for these conditions).
At some point during a brutal and muddy uphill, we unknowingly passed our destination — a restaurant about 15 kilometers from the day’s starting point.8 Soaked and close to frozen, we ended up taking the next “exit”9 near Rio Arrayanes. Here, we were thrilled to find a cozy resto and a place to camp.
We tried to warm up with “the best pizza we’ve had in South America” (claims Kale) and a handful of empanadas (our appetites are pretty ridiculous). After the meal, we (reluctantly) went back outside to find a spot to pitch our tent. The campsite looked, and felt, like it had been raining for a week, not a day. We found what seemed like a nice spot — protected from the wind and under a tree — so we snagged it. After pitching the tent, dragging our wet gear inside the vestibule, and tarp’ing the bikes, we took a hot shower and went to bed.
It rained all night. And then it rained some more. Neither of us are tent experts. And we’re certainly not rain experts. So you can understand our surprise when we awoke to a wet tent. Our sleeping quarters had somewhat escaped becoming drenched, but everything in the vestibule portion was soaked.
Along with our morale, the outside temperature was frostily low. Slowly but surely (and Cat, somewhat blubbery), we dressed and emerged from the tent to face the cold, wet day.
The road conditions were worse than the day before — puddly, muddy and soft — but overall, not
terrible impossible. At least this time we were dressed appropriately for the weather (woolen thermals and socks: check). Once moving and pedaling (and with a bit of coffee in our systems), we felt great again.
17 muddy kilometers later, made it to our next destination: Bahia Rosales. We debated getting a cabaña (cabin) so that our wet clothes from the last two days could dry, but decided against it. The rain had let up considerably since we left the Rio Arrayanes area10 and the sun was occasionally peeking through the clouds — camping it is!
We found a nice little spot to camp: atop a small hill on the shores of Lago Futulaufquen and sheltered under a canopy of trees. We unloaded our still-soaking-wet tent and set it up to dry. Even with the occasional sprinkle of rain, the strong winds dried it out in about 30 minutes. Things were looking up. We hung up our wet clothes, jackets, hats, gloves, bags, towels, shoes, guitar case, solar panel, etc. Feeling handy (and determined to avoid another miserably wet morning), we even decided to fashion a canopy for our tent out of our tarp (using a combination of zip ties, rope, and bungee cords to secure it to nearby tree branches).
There was a little restaurant on site where we ate dinner. After dinner we hung out inside the restaurant with the friendly lady running the joint (much enjoying being indoors). At the bar we met two Argentinians who were working as lifeguards at the park for the summer. We shared some mate, learned more about the park, and were peer-pressured into trying Fernet — another Argentinian tradition (tastes like medicine).
That night, to our delight, the rain let up considerably. The wind, on the other hand, was howling. In addition to the flapping of our tent, the sounds of our shanty-canopy whipping back and forth in the gusts of wind were extremely loud. Not the easiest thing to fall asleep to.
At around 1:30am, we both awoke to a terribly loud RIPPING sound.
We Kale went outside to investigate — sure enough, one of the corners of our tarp had ripped. Kale took it down and brought it inside the vestibule and we tried to go back to sleep, chuckling to ourselves… n00bs.
Good morning! Only a light sprinkle of rain; the occasional dose of sunshine? A beautiful Patagonian day! Onward! Our goal: make it out of the park and to the next city on our route, Trevelin.
We woke up at 8am and got on the road around 10:30am. With a little rain and a strong (mostly) tailwind, we continued on the slightly less muddy, yet still quite gravely route 71 through the park.
A few hours in, we encountered (and passed) a tractor, seemingly preparing a section of the gravel road for asphalt to be laid. Immediately thereafter, we rounded a corner and saw this:
It was the definition of a clusterfuck: One tractor, two autos, eight gauchos on horses, at least thirty cows, six dogs and two tour bikers!
A short while later, we rolled onto asphalt for the first time since Cholila — joy! Our girthy tires felt a little strange back on the smooth-stuff, but with a tailwind we were able to cover the remaining 40 or so kilometers to Trevelin in decent time. Trevelin was important in the Welsh settlement of southern Argentina — its name comes from the Welsh word Trefelin, meaning “mill town”.
Tomorrow we say goodbye to Argentina (for now) and cross the border into Chile. Within a few days, we should be on the famous Carretera Austral, which promises to bring more rain, wind and certainly more adventure. We are excited (and a tad nervous) — but feeling a little more confident after our first taste of rugged Patagonian terrain and weather.
Our progress (Bariloche to Trevelin):