Entering Patagonia

Monday, Sept. 27, 2010.

Patagonia, somewhere near Villa Santa Lucia on Lago Yelcho

Jeff and I are flying into Patagonia by the seat of our pants. What does that mean, exactly? Well quite literally we’re riding our bicycles into the deeper parts of southern Chile, covering a great distance (3-500 miles in about 3 weeks; Google Puerto Montt to Chacabuco), butt most importantly if weren’t for the thick padding in our cycling shorts we’d be hurting bad. Fueled exclusively by campfire cooking, alcohol de quemar (burning booze) to light our tiny stove, a half a pack of Kuky chococolate chip cookies per day (we considered getting a trailer to bring enough for these two weeks!), and a burning desire to go deep into some the most beautiful and remote country in South America, we are on a self-sustained mission bigger than any I’ve encountered yet.

To get here we took an overnight bus from Santiago to Puerto Montt (last stop in the south), where we biked 200km (taking a longer, twice-as-long but incredibly scenic coastal route) to Hornopirén, the launching point for an 8-hour overnight ferry to traverse 100 miles of fjords to reach isolated Patagonia. The port of entry is a ghost town called Chaitén, which was buried two years ago by the ash of a nearby volcano eruption (and is still smoking), which no car can reach over land from the north without crossing the Andes mountains to Argentina and back again. We reached Chaitén this morning before sunrise, found much of it still covered under at least two feet of grey matter, and only one person: a patrolling military officer in a pickup truck. We enjoyed 65km of pedaling further south into the mountains, where we camp now.

Jeff’s already asleep, as I should be too, but being a slack journalist is catching up with me and I have so much to share! But I need to keep it short – rise in shine in six hours, before the sun actually rises :)

As usual I’m terrible at recounting the past, so let’s talk about the present. It’s overcast and raining tonight, but it was due after 5 days of terrific weather for down here. We just cooked-up some yummy lentils and rice beneath a fancy new makeshift rain canopy, then I went down to the rushing stream lit only by head-torch under a dark sky. Under the bridge I was rinsing dishes and filling up on water when I felt a bump, and another, then in my face, fuzzy like tennis balls… bats! So fun.

I can’t remember such a dark night. Only two nights ago we chartered a boat with a fisherman so we could visit some thermal springs on an island (population: 9) among the flords near Hornopirén, and as we camped beside a tiny hillside church the sky was twinkling so brightly you couldn’t not stargaze. I finally got to use Starwalk, the coolest iPhone app ever, to identify some of the heavenly bodies, among them Venus, the brightest in the southern sky by far, and the constellation Scorpio, with her tall curly stinger stretching high into the universe.

I found a cool toy turtle who looks a lot like Axl in a neat little general store who now rides atop my handlebar bag… a constant reminder of my estranged teenie in New York. Sometimes he makes it into my pictures… you’ll see!

There are thousands of glaciers all around here, hence thousands of streams of waterfalls gushing with pure, bright blue water. Mmmm, so nice to drink fresh clean water!

I need to wrap it up so I have to say that my first impression of Patagonia is awe-ful (is that right?!) I’m take by it’s enormous features, huge lakes, snow-capped mountains surrounding me, dozens of crystal-clear rushing rivers in a single day, humming along with red-headed hummingbirds, drinking from blood-orange spring blossoms… I’m excited to keep going, and hopefully keep going and going…

We can either take a 12-hour ferry back up to our starting point in Puerto Montt, where we can catch two more long distance buses to our tentative Argentinian border cross in the north, OR we can keep going and pop into Argentinian Patagonia. Love not knowing or caring. It’s ALL good, learned it and love it.

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2 thoughts on “Entering Patagonia”

  1. Sounds INCREDIBLE!! I wish the bats up this way weren’t dying off alarmingly fast of mysterious disease. They’re much needed for mosquito control.

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