We had made it to El Chalten! We were happy and eager to reach the Carretera Austral we had heard so much about. The Paradise on the other side of the mountains where everything was lush and green, where the sun was always shining and chocolate came running down the mountains in huge rivers… or…maybe it was water… we don’t really remember. The stories were so many.
Anyway… we were readier than ever. Prepared to make the passing over the mountains and take an expensive boat across a huge glacier lake to reach Villa O’Higgins, the most southern village of the Carretera Austral. But when we woke up on the day of departure the wind was howling and rain came down from above. We had heard about the boat not leaving on windy days and decided to check out the forecast with the tourist agency. When asking them if the ferry to Villa O’Higgins would leave or not the answer we got was simply: “We don’t know”
Bare in mind that we would have to bike for 30 km, take a 40 dollar ferry over a small lake and then push our bikes over a hill for about 20 km before we would be able to know if the ferry over the big lake would leave or not. The idea of turning up at the dock without the ferry leaving was not very tempting and all in all the ferries would cost us 200 dollar. After some quick thinking we decided together with Valentin and Gary, two guys we had met earlier on the road, that we would forget the ferry all together and just go back out on the Pampa and take a detour to another border that also crossed into Villa O’Higgins. This boarder did not cost anything or include a ferry. You might ask yourself: “Oh there is a second boarder that costs nothing and where you don’t need to take a ferry? Why doesn’t everyone take that one?” To answer that question please read the whole blog post.
Within minutes we were back on our bikes and heading out on the Pampa again but this time with strong winds in our backs. The road we had spent tremendous effort cycling a couple of days earlier was now passing under our tires in a constant speed of 30 km/h. We were cheering, laughing and screaming out our joy as we with our bodies and panniers as sails swooshed past all the kilometer signs that we earlier on our way into El Chalten had looked at and sighed. “This my friends is life at it’s best” Emil said. We were ignorant. Hours later the road made a turn and just like that we were back to reality. It was like getting hit by truck, although we have not experienced that in reality. Knock on wood! The wind forced us off the road and we had to surrender for the day. We were all thinking about the same thing: “Was it really a good idea to leave El Chalten?” and tried to convince ourselves that the wind would be much more bearable early in the morning.
3 AM: Gary’s tent is flapping so loud in the heavy wind that we are all awake.
4 AM: Will the wind stop soon?
5 AM: Alarm goes off. Pitch dark. Cold. Heavy wind.
6 AM: Still windy! We shout to each other from within the tents. Should we go up?
6.30 AM: The sound of porridge being prepared and the flapping sound of tents.
7.30 AM: Sunrise. We are all ready to start but the wind has not stopped blowing for a second.
We fought the winds and took turns in battling it. 1 km each. That day when the road changed direction Emil reached 70 km/h without pedalling. And one time as the wind came from the side Johanna literally flew of the bike.
The day after late in the evening we reached the town Gobernador Gregores and realised that we had all counted our chickens before they hatched. The proverb in itself became something we repeated constantly the following days as soon as anyone spoke out positively about the change of weather, the road conditions improving or anything positive at all really. Our cocky laughter and cheering died somewhere out in the Pampa. We thought about all the cyclists that stayed in El Chalten and waited for the boat. Somewhere deep inside we all hoped that the boat wouldn’t leave so that we could triumphantly cruise into Villa O’Higgins before everyone else bragging about having done the right thing in taking our huge detour. It turned out the boat departed two days after we left El Chalten…so there’s that..
We decided to hitchhike to the boarder instead of enduring the painful wind for another two or three days. Luckily we found a truck driver heading for the boarder with some trailers that he was dropping of for road workers in the area. For once we had a little bit of luck. Miguel, our driver, loved company and always carried a rifle with him in case a fox or nandu would cross the road and he felt like killing it. We spent a whole day riding that truck, stopping for snacks and maté. He dropped us off 5 km before the Argentinian Gendarmerie and after thanking him a thousand times he returned home and we pitched our tents for the night. When we fell asleep that night we still in our ignorant and foolish minds thought the crossing of the border the next day would be a piece of cake! We were so wrong.
The rain hit us just after we started biking that morning. Gary’s and our wheels got clogged by mud and we had to take off our mudguards. If anyone reading this is interested in getting some, they are probably still stuffed under some junk in one of the sheds at the boarder station. After a cup of tea and a rapid stamping process we were in No Man’s Land. The road went from being muddy tire tracks into being nothing more than some bent over blades of grass. The only thing we basically knew was that we had to follow the valley and when we got to a huge river we should try to find a bridge. Easier said than done. We spent hours pushing our bikes, taking of our bags at several occasions and throwing them over creeks. We picked up logs and tried to build bridges, we pulled our bikes over a river using a clothes line and Emil got water up to his belly three times. One time as he slipped into a river, once in a swamp and the other as he by mistake threw his helmet into a river and jumped in to save it. It was all misery and as the rain came at us horizontally and we were so wet that it was impossible to get any wetter we cracked up and laughed. It was all we could do. There was nothing else. There was no point in complaining. There was no point in wishing we would have stayed in El Chalten. All we could do was laugh about the absurdity of our situation and push through.
After two days and 16 slooow kilometers we arrived at the Chilean border post. We made it! We had managed to pass Paso Río Mayer!
We found a shelter with a huge fireplace less than 2 km after the boarder. There we dried every piece of clothes we owned and thought about the previous days. What are we doing to ourselves? What is the point of punishing yourself by crossing swamps in pouring rain? Testing your limits? Masochism? Maybe… it’s about getting back to that simple feeling. That feeling of nothing more than your body, your legs and your arms. All else smothered down into nothingness. Every modern convenience you have grown up to get used to. Television, Internet, a bed and a roof over your head. The feeling of safety and warmth. Everything that we know reduced to a simple task. Pushing forward. Maybe this is what we are looking for. A way back to that primal feeling of being in the present. Being in control of you body and mind and living in a symbiotic balance with the nature around you.