Day 5: the Bariloche Bike Caper

Day 5 – Tuesday March 1: the Bariloche Bike Caper

So the plan was to get a big 12-person van, driven by the experienced and clever Marcello, and to drive across the Chilean/Argentine border about a hundred miles north. We would get the bikes, assemble them and ride them back across the border. No transportation papers necessary! And so we did, with all of us gaping out at the glorious mountain scenery. It took all day and part of the evening as we passed by pointy mountains and volcanoes, forested rivers, town and settlements. In the end we had a late lunch in Chile, secured our bikes and rode them back across the border. Now we’ll ride them south and back across the border, con gusto.

So the late late dinner was filled with good humor and hope and we collapsed in our beds well after midnight.

One more day tweaking our machines and scoping out the countryside. Then the ride begins. Bring it!

Of Waiting and Darker Moments in Bariloche

Day 6 – Wednesday March 2: Of waiting and a moment of darkness in Bariloche

Today was a day of shopping in Bariloche, tweaking the bicycles, setting up maps and routes and gathering supplies. The generally celebratory air continues, with one or two dark moments. Dario spent time putting new tires on the new bicycles while the rest of us installed gear we had brought down – saddles, bar ends, underseat bags, water bottle holders, and so on. A couple of people rode up the hill and down the lakeside road to help keep blood flowing, and we’re all impatient to get on the road.

It is a slow day here, but in any case it would be wrong of me to pass over the following. Near the center of Bariloche lies the town square with the lodgelike tourist information building taking up the whole uphill side and the log cabin police station on its left.  From the wide porch of the tourist information center one looks out over the town square to the pristine lake, with mountains framing the dark blue sky. The town square itself is completely paved, a statue of a hero on horseback rising above the central space.

But here’s the thing. All around on the pavement are painted innumerable simple, white, stylized hooded scarves, iconic, a foot or two wide. Underneath each is also painted a name and a date:  the date when the person named was “disappeared.” These are people still unaccounted for, a legacy of the time of the Generals that ended in 1994. And now, today, by sheer happenstance, four of us met there at sunset. Before us on that square were gathered perhaps a hundred and fifty women, mothers of the disappeared, dressed in black, holding hand lettered signs asking for justice. The women stood silently – though we saw a few weeping and some consoling – until just past sunset. Then they dispersed quietly. For me this was one of the most astonishingly touching display of grief and plea for closure that I have ever experienced, and it revealed a darker, a more sorrowful and a stronger face of Argentina than we had seen before.

Perhaps another list of people might bring us back to our Pategonia trip. It’s the list of all of us. We remember you all and are determined not to disappear. The names of the compadres:

Steve Jahn

Greg Sivertsen

Ray Studebaker

John Coldewey

Joe Dahlem

Bram Dally

Tom Brown

Steve Jones

The New York Times visits Patagonia

Bahia Bustamante: Argentina’s Secret (and Private) Answer to the Galapagos

Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

Bahia Bustamante combines Atlantic coastline, pastures, fields, desert and canyons. One way to see it all, and the stunning variety of wildlife there, is on horseback.

This Sunday's New York Times has a feature on Patagonia. The isolated Bahia Bustamante might be a bit of a detour from the Andes, but it looks pretty fantastic. Maybe next time?

Day 7: On the Road!

Day 7 – Thursday March 4: On the Road!

Our first day on the road, at last. A relatively short ride, as these things go: 40km from Bariloche to Lago Mascardi, a large beautiful lake where we expected to camp out. We didn’t get away until almost 11:30; then we threaded our way off the main road to a spectacular side road that ran across private boating and skiing clubs. We ran out of pavement after about 8km and headed up a steep gravel road that went on for 5km, then back to pavement for the remainder of the trip. Glorious weather; David and Dario – our “keepers” along with the driver Anibal from Dirty Bikes in Bariloche (who was accompanying us with the Dirty Bike trailer for the first few days) stopped and made us lunch, so we felt greatly pampered. The ride, in short, was splendid. And it was over by mid-afternoon.

We arrived at the “camping” site at Lago Mascardi to discover that we actually were sleeping in little connected cabin rooms with four bunks in each, rather than tents. There was a rudimentary restaurant serving food and drink in a lush setting. A short distance down a nearby trail lay another lake, which attracted the fly fishermen in our group (Steve, Tom, Ray, Bram). They gathered up their gear and hiked off excitedly, while the rest of us considered the afternoon or napped. No fish were caught or injured in either exercise.  

The people in charge of the camping site made us a delicious pasta dinner as the light faded. Candles appeared and we finished off the evening with an early bedtime, resting up for the second day’s ride.  

Day 8: De-lights on the Highway

Day 8 – Friday March 5: De-lights on the highway

We leave Lago Mascardi behind in the morning to start another day of just over 40km, this time to an actual campsite alongside the highway at El Foyel, a sweet little town on a hilltop. We cover the distance at a good pace and spend time unpacking tents, selecting tent sites, taking showers in a cramped and (some would say) déclassé cement shower. There’s ritual washing of jerseys and hanging them out to dry in the afternoon sun. David and Dario and Anibal make us lunch under the canopy of trees. No worries mate. And beers all around. Despite the relatively easy day, napping happens.

More beers at seven, basking in the declining sun around a table in front of our little restaurant/bar with a view that goes forever. Dinner at eight inside; during dessert we’re interrupted by a friendly local, a lean graying handsome man with overbright eyes, well in his cups. He claims to be a helicopter pilot and the owners help him fly off. For the rest of us it’s time to return to our sleeping pads in the tents. A little rocky, but we need rest for tomorrow, a big day.

During the pitch dark night the Southern Cross shines like a string of diamonds and the Milky Way swirls off into infinity. Who wouldn’t be happy to be here?

Day 9: It's a long way to Lago Epuyen

Day 9 – Saturday March 6: It’s a long way to Lago Epuyen, a long way I know

Today we cover a nominal 87km, but as it turned out, over 53 miles -- though still on pavement, making our way from El Foyel to the Hostel Lemuria near Lago Epuyen.  After breakfast and breaking camp we still get a relatively early start onto the road. At about 40km we arrive in El Bolson, the largest town in the region, where we had planned to stop for lunch. No one’s hungry enough to eat, but it’s market day in Bolson, and we spot a huge market place set up with booths selling all kinds of crafts and other goods, so we wander around marveling at stuff. The town apparently has a reputation as a kind of “hippie” town, whatever that might mean these days. Counterculture perhaps, with the occasional wafting scent of dope? In any case we all agree it’s a dandy place, but have to move on after shopping.

The road stretches on and on as the afternoon heats up, and some of the hills are miles and miles long. After a final uphill wringer through what has become ovenlike heat, we come to a 5km stretch of unpaved road, a shortcut leading down to Lago Epuyen and the pleasures of Hostel Lemuria, with sweeping grounds and clean comfortable rooms. Behind the main house is a boat about 35 feet long which has been converted into a bedroom, and the guides stay there. It is Anibal’s last day and in the morning we’ll be joined by his replacement from Dirty Bikes, Tristram – yes, a German who grew up in Argentina.

All of us are tired and we relax into the comforts of the hostel. Some try to reach the lake but it seems to recede before them, so another fishing trip is caught and released. Beerish re-hydration does occur however, and rest before another amazing meal at nine. Then another night with a clear sky. For our ride tomorrow there’s some dark talk about the beginning of gravel, the main surface of the Carretera Austral.  

Day 10: The taste of gravel

Day 10 – Sunday March 7: Plowing gravel towards Cholila

Today we got our first taste of the whip of gravel. We left Lago Epuyen mid morning and travelled for about 20-24k before we hit the unpaved section of the road. The road itself was in fact being paved, so the gravel was new and loose stretching for another 26k to our destination town Cholila. We let some air out of our tires and pressed forward, plowing through the stuff. We made it to town, exhausted and hoping that the gravel further ahead will be better packed, less treacherous.

Cholilo turns out to be a small community in the middle of a flattish plain with hills all around – but it is large enough to support a school and a tourist information center.  Hot. Dusty. Quiet. Happily, after riding around through deserted streets we discovered a parillo – a grill – that was open down at the end of one of the streets. Since we were only 2 miles from our hostel we decided to chow down right away. We were welcomed by a smiling old white-haired proprietor, Manuel Hernandez, who brought us cold beer (and cokes, yes), and put some steaks on his grill. Excellent.

So we arrived at our hotel, the Hosteria El Trebol, tired but cheerful, and we were delighted to discover that the spacious rooms had showers en-suite and faced either a central yard or looked out towards the mountains and lake. The fishermen in our midst, still undiscouraged, walked down to the lake and returned with the usual number of fish, uncaught and unreleased. Dinner at 9:00 was fabulous spaetzle goulash, one of the last dishes we expected in Patagonia; we stayed up until nearly midnight, in part because tomorrow is a rest day.

 

PS For those of you hoping for quicker postings, please remember that we’re out of wi-fi range for days at a time down here, and that the postings have to be joined to some chosen photos, which are in turn downloaded from different cameras and resized. With any luck we’ll catch up on the rest day, but we head for the countryside again on Tuesday (day 12), so have patience. Meantime, let us know if you’d like to hear about anything else we’re up to.

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Wonderful photos and narrative. Thanks, Johnny and all. The gravel sounded rough and tough. Not tougher than the bikers, of course. Glad that Dr. Steve has found his people--vets without borders. Love from Seattle! p.s. Why, Janice, are you giving the mens a ration? Ja ja ja. 

Day 11: Relaxing in Cholila

Day 11 – Monday March 8: Relaxing in Cholila

So today was planned as a day of rest, but the fishermen among us and a couple of hopeful hikers decided to head to the nearby (20k) huge and beautiful Los Alerces National Park. Some of us stayed back at our splendid Hosteria El Trebol (The Shamrock). As things turned out , those who stayed were ahead. No fish were caught or released, and the taxi dropped the hikers at the wrong site. Everyone, though, seems to have had a good time.

A surprise lay in store for those who stayed. Outside on the dusty gravel road (El Trebol is about 2 miles from the town of Cholila) came the sound of hooves, and first it was a runaway horse, chased by a woman on a bicycle; then it was an entire herd of cattle, helped along by Gauchos, moving slowly along on horseback with their chaps and ropes and rebenques, or leather whips. Throughout the day the road remained a major source of interest and amusement.

Those of us who hung around the house got some work done, washing the heavy dust and grime from the bikes, taking care of laundry, or just hanging out. Late in the day the fishermen and hikers returned, and we gathered for another stunning meal cooked up for us by our 82-year old hostess.

Tomorrow is a big ride, 80km (50mi.) through the Alerces Park and all the way to Trevelen on mostly unpaved roads.

Day 12: March 8: The Park, the unpaved road, beauty, and sickness stalks the crew

Day 12 – Tuesday March 8: The Park, the unpaved road, beauty, and sickness stalks the crew

Up early, around 6:00am(!), for coffee, breakfast and packing. Taxis at 8:00 take us the 20k to the park (the same beautiful Los Alerces National Park that the fishermen visited yesterday), and our guides met us with the bikes on the trailer. Our ride extended another 80k to Trevelin, and we set off from the park entrance around 9:30, making our way on the dusty and rocky gravel road. Unbelievable views of Lago Rivadavia, then Lago Verde, then Lago Menendez, and finally Lago Futalaufquen as we passed alongside them, one by one. The sequence of the lakes was broken by an hour and a half hike down to a suspension footbridge and a trail along the shores of Lago Verde. We looked down from a viewing platform and saw our first trout being caught. Not by us.

Then the riding continued in earnest. We had let air out of our tires and softened our suspension to deal with the roads, and that was a wise decision, since the going was rocky and slow, but gorgeous. After some 60k we exited the park, stopped for a mid-afternoon lunch, and arrived at a stretch of pavement where we picked up the pace. Then, at last, after 11k of rocky and gravelly downhill we arrived at our hostel, La Estancia, in Trevelin.  Joe and Greg and Dario had scooted ahead and already colonized the hostel for us, though it cost them the hike and the lunch. Reunited, we began the party again.

During the night Ray came down with chills and fever and there was great concern. Steve ministered to him like he would any sick animal and that seemed to help. All would be clear come morning.

As usual, words are inadequate to describe the scenery we are passing through, or the effort it takes to make our way through it. But both are sources of some fantastic high. Indeed, I’m adding some extra photos and a second posting with a video to help convey some of that. Note, btw, that if you use the slide show option to view the photos they will be displayed in a larger format.

Tomorrow we leave Argentina to arrive in Chile. On to Futaleufu!