Heavy and slow. Part 3
Puyuhuapi to Coyhaique
We spend a day mooching around Puyuhuapi, enjoying a well earned rest. We try and hitch to the local over-priced hot springs, but are denied because of a road closure. The road works block our recovery dip, so we buy some supplies and head back to the camp site to chill. Caroline heads into the fjord for a swim, while the rest of us hide from the sun in the campsite’s wooden eating hut. We dine on pizza in the evening from a little caravan shack in the village, which looks like it’s seen better days. The old caravan is surrounded by benches and fairy lights, and has a cool relaxed vibe. Bob Marley sings to us as I eat my tasty spicy pizza. It’s a fine way to finish the day drinking a couple of local beers with local street food.
We get on the road early the following day to avoid the first road closure which we do. All the work men stare at us as we ride past, like we are some sort of freak show, but they also wave and cheer us on, yelling and clapping as Karen cranks past them with her arms. It must look strange, Karen pedalling with her arms, and then I ride by with her wheel chair on the trailer, but pedalling with my legs. I often wonder if they put two and two together, as I smile and wave back, wobbling as I do with the weight of the trailer. We have been warned that there are two closures on this stunning road, which follows the deep blue fiord, but we are unable to make the second in time. We stop in the grounds of a friend of a friend’s house after only covering 35kms. It’s a short day but we have no choice - the road is closed until 5pm. After the closure, we know we will have a 12km, 500m gravel climb over the pass to Cisnes Junction. We camp on the bank of the fiord, and are told to watch the high tide and not camp too close to the water. After much debate we decide to risk it. This ends with all of us out of the tents at 2:30am, watching the tide rise to only 3 feet from the girl’s tent! The dark water reaches out like a pointy witch’s finger trying to lure the tent into the depths. It’s not long until we head back to bed as the tide luckily drains away, like someone removed the plug at just the right time.
After an eventful night we tackle the pass early, and the sun is already high and hot, making our job of helping Karen climb switchback after switchback a tough one. The corners are steep and rough with loose gravel, but we get small breaks inbetween them as the gradient backs off to about 5 degrees. It’s tough work, but after and hour and a half we past the summit sign. Not long after that, we stop for lunch with amazing views, making the hardship worth while. We are running low on food and end up with a bizarre lunch, which includes wraps of peanut butter, chorizo and mayo! Not recommended - let’s leave it at that. Patagonia is starting to open up to us now - in the early days, the mountains were off in the distance, hiding from us like a nervous child behind a parent’s leg. Now they show off, they are big and bold, and no longer afraid of us tiny wee cyclists passing through their remarkable landscape.
The tight wooded valleys have now opened into wide open spaces with green lush farmlands, back-dropped with snow-capped mountains. The last 15km of the day is hard, a steep, long, snaking concrete road carved out of the mountain side making us work to the bitter end. We arrive into the village of Villa Amengual where we camp on the village green.
The following morning we are met at the campsite by Steve and Andrea, the British couple we have been leap-frogging since Villa Santa Lucia. Karen had bought a part for their camera from home as Andrea is an old friend. We are then also joined by Jessie and Corrine, who are also travelling by bike. We sit in the square eating breakfast, trading stories of climbs in the sunshine, before riding out of town like a gang of tattoo-clad motorbikers. The day is a good one, and we cover 57kms before we stop for lunch. It’s tarmac all the way with lovely rolling roads, and the team eat up the miles. We stop for lunch and are joined by three youngsters who try and ride our bikes and eat our lunch…they are cheeky little monkeys, but provide some great entertainment. We collect custard buns from a roadside cafe for a treat later, and get back on the road heading to a secret wild campsite next to a river. The miles are easy and the campsite is not a disappointment. The large flowing river invites me in to freshen up, and I feel almost human again after our longest day on the bike. We dine on pasta again, before tucking into the custard buns, which taste as good as they look.
The only real problem we have had so far is that Karen has a filling that has fallen out of a tooth, so we need to find a dentist in Coyhaique. This sets the goal for today, and we are rolling by 9:20am on a mission to get to the the hospital before it closes. After a tough day of long drags on the concrete roads, we hit a 400m climb, and strike lucky. A third of the way up, a man stops in a pick up, and produces a rope. Before we know it, Karen is sailing off in the distance, tied behind the large red pick up, as we push on together up the climb. My knees feel the weight as I rotate my 180mm cranks, with cars whizzing by tooting and waving out of the windows cheering us on. We are met at the top by Karen with two bottles of Coke for our troubles, which we down and hit the road for the final 10kms of the day. It’s far from uneventful as we are stopped by two policemen for a reason unknown to us, and after a few questions are sent on our way, but not before a quick photo opportunity with one of the officials. Only 30 metres after leaving them, Karen’s bump bar on which she is carrying her dry bag, falls off into the road leaving bag, bar, water bottle, and bits all over the road. Rattled loose from the rough roads, the police are not impressed, and want us moved on quickly, to find a better spot to make the repairs.
Coyhaique has grown in size over the past few years, and it’s a bit overwhelming to be in what seems like a small city. Busy with cars, we navigate the one-way streets tired and in the rain, trying to find somewhere to stay, and a hospital for Karen. We split up, arranging to met back at a hostel we have previously passed. I go with Karen, following a local’s directions, and before I know it, I’m helping Karen into the back of a police car outside A and E. They are kindly taking her across town to a dentist. I wave good bye, before strapping her 2 metre-long handbike onto the back of my trailer, and attempting to find my way back to Jaco and Caroline at the hostel. I negotiate the one way streets, which turns peoples heads with such a strange-looking contraption, and after a bit of fallowing my nose, find the hostel. I have a proper shower for the first time since leaving Puerto Montt, instead of a bowl of hot water. I want to stand there for hours. Karen returns, tooth filled and impressed with the dental care she’s received. We all head into the town square, where there’s a live band and a party atmosphere - it seems so far away from the lonely dusty gravel roads we have travelled. It quickly slips my mind as we roll through the doors of a local steak house, and tuck into a piece of steak the size of a mini cooper!