In my previous story, I wrote about our beautiful and harsh journey through the Carretera austral. Although the village of Villa O’Higgins is often seen as the end point of this route, its official end is actually eight kilometers ahead, in Puerto Bahamondés. This sounds like a big port, but is nothing more than a small dock. Little ferries depart here in the direction of Argentina. My father and I also had to take one of those ferries.
We’ve heard many stories of other travelers about this ferry connections. It is not uncommon that the ferry gets cancelled for several days in a row, because of weather conditions. As we didn’t have all the time in the world, this worried us a little bit. We had a reservation for a Monday morning, but this connection was postponed by at least one day.
On this Monday, we heard that the conditions for Tuesday were looking fine, but that the Chilean marine always has the final word in the postponement or cancellation of the crossing. On Monday evening, we cycled those last 8 kilometers to the dock, to make sure that we wouldn’t miss the ferry the following morning.
We took many pictures at the two signs that mark the end of the Carretera austral and we were again unpleasantly surprised by a rain shower. Right next to those signs, there was a small marine station in the form of two containers. I knocked on the door and asked if he had a place with shelter to spend the night. At first, he told me that we weren’t allowed to stay here and he asked for how long it would be. When I told him that we’d take the ferry the following morning, he invited us into his workplace.
The marine station
That’s how we got to know Enzo, the Chilean marine officer. He has recently been stationed here for the second time, meaning that he will have to stay here for at least another year. It’s actually a workplace and living place in one, as he has his own little kitchen, living room and bedroom. His little office has all the navigation and communication equipment that he needs. While we were carrying our stuff inside, he started preparing scrambled eggs for us, because he assumed that cyclists would be hungry all the time. We had only cycled eight kilometers and we’d had dinner before we left, but he was completely right and we thankfully ate everything.
Acting like I'm sleeping
He told us that his working environment is a bit too quiet to his liking, as there is not much to experience or see in this station. He has only two weeks of absence per year. The rest of the time, he is either here on in Villa O’Higgins eight kilometers north. He told us that you can be stationed all of the country, even on Antarctica. After 20-25 years of service, you can retire, meaning that Enzo can stop working when he’s about 45 years. That is twenty years earlier than when you’d have a non-government job…. I imagine that that makes it pretty tempting to work as a government official.
We didn’t have to worry about a possible cancellation of tomorrow’s ferry, as Enzo is the guy with the final word and he told us that everything was looking perfectly fine. We had a pretty good night on our inflatable mattresses inside his heated container. The following morning, my dad quickly took a picture of me with Enzo before we descended to the dock, where our boat was waiting for us already.
The little boat had reached its maximum capacity and there were eight bicycles on board. On our way to the next dock, Candelario Mancilla, we spoke with a Stan as he’d recognized our flags. Stan is a Belgium and is travelling together with his Swiss fiancé Pauline, he proposed to her like a month ago. She said yes! The passage went all quickly and smoothly and we arrived at this next dock an hour and a half later. This is still in Chile. There is a small provisional looking immigration office about one kilometer from this dock where we had to get our passports stamped to officially leave Chile again.
The gigantic ship
The only picture we could fine with Stan and Pauline
This border passage is only accessible by bicycle or foot and is open for three months per year. Annually, there are about 2000 tourists that use this border crossing, so it wasn’t particularly crowded. My father and I had the worst (and most heavy) setup for this rocky road, so we were the last ones of the group. It’s a stretch of 20 kilometers to reach the immigration office on the Argentinian side, the last five kilometers consists of a trail through a muddy forest. We struggled through this muddy road and had to go around several fallen trees and little rivers. It took us about four hours to cover these five kilometers alone…. It was fun at first, but I didn’t really enjoy it anymore after two hours. My father did a much better job than me!
Rush hour at the immigration office
It was much worse than it appears
Who needs a kickstand if you have mud?
Close to the next lake
At the end of this muddy day, we arrived at the immigration office of Argentina. We got our passports stamped again to enter Argentina and we could camp on the grassy area right next to the desert lake. We had to take another ferry to cross this lake. It runs twice a day and we had missed the last one, so we had to stay for the night. I knocked on the door of the immigration office. No response. I knocked again and saw a man approaching the office out of the corner of my eyes. He was carrying a rod under his arm, I apparently disturbed his fishing session. It was the immigration officer. He looked into our passports in a supposedly serious way, before stamping them.
The immigration office
The next morning at 11 AM, the ferry arrived that finally took us to the place where we could normally continue our bike trip. We had to pay 40 dollars per person for this very short ferry crossing, so they were definitely misusing the fact that cyclist don’t really have an alternative than taking the ferry. But ok!
This second crossing was short but spectacular, we passed a big glaciar and had a stunning view on Mount Fitzroy. This mountain is much higher than everything in its environment, so you can see it from a far distance. The village of El Chaltén derives its existence basically to this mountain, because many backpackers go to this place to hike one of the many trails. For my father and I, El Chaltén was the goal of the day. When we were on the other side of the lake, we took a nice cup of coffee to celebrate our safe arrival. By chance, Stan and Pauline had just arrived on the same place. They had walked around the lake, something that is impossible (nothing is impossible) when you’re with a bicycle.
After 500 kilometers without pavement, we finally hit the asphalt again when we entered El Chaltén. What a holy moment! We passed many beer&burger places when riding into El Chaltén and the happy hour signs were shouting at us to stop for a beer or two. We couldn’t resist to order a pizza and drink a beer. When we finally connected to the slow Wi-Fi, we received the great news that my sister has officialle graduated from university (nursing). It has been an agony for her, so we were very happy for her. A good reason to drink another beer, of course!
THIS CANNOT BE REAL!? PAVEMENT?
We didn’t grant ourselves more time in El Chaltén. We both wanted to continue cycling, so we moved on. When cycling out of El Chaltén, we had a stunning view on Mount Fitzroy by the way (when we looked back). This mountain is so exceptionally high in comparison with the rest of the environment, that we could see it from a distance of 170 kilometers! When cycling out of El Chaltén, we experienced the best tail wind that we have ever had. We did 90 kilometers in under three hours (that’s a lot for a loaded touring bike).
Mount Fitzroy. Oh and my dad of course!
Mount Fitzroy was decreasing...
While our hunger was disproportionately increasing. We took the leftovers with us, of course.
Two days and 210 kilometers later, we arrived in El Calafate. Another place that derives its touristic existence solely on one attraction, namely the Perrito Moreno glaciar. This is a gigantic glaciar that measures 50 meters in height, 5 kilometer in width and 35 kilometers in length. Everything seems to be so massive in Patagonia…. While we were waiting on the bus to visit this glaciar, we saw Stan and Pauline again! What are the chances? They chose the same day, hour and bus company to visit the glaciar. It’s as if it’s meant to be to see each other again.
The glaciar was spectcaular to see, and I think that we’re spoiled for the rest of our lives. We will not be easily impressed by a glaciar after visiting this one. Big pieces of ice fell down tens of meters, causing a loud bang. Hundreds of pictures and some hours later, it was time to go back to El Calafate. We took another day to rest and to prepare ourselves for the continuation of our trip.
This glaciar seems to continue infinitely...
I’ve mentioned before that it would be cool if my father would write a story to share his perspective on things. That is finally gonna happen. He will write about the continuation from here, where we will cycle through a rural, cold and vast steppe landscape. To be continued!!
Bloody seriously working on my next blog