The rain patters on my tent. More specifically, on my plastic tarp which I luckily could set up above it. Now the rain has finally caught me, the notorious rain of Patagonia. The last three weeks on the Carretera were pleasant, and contrary to the predictions of other cyclists, largely free of rain. Only at night had the sky opened its doors a few times.
I pitched my camp by a river. On the other shore is Hornopiren, just two or three days cycling from Puerto Montt, the city where the Carretera Austral begins or, in my case, will end. Four days ago, the rain started in Chaiten, about 150 km south of here. A prediction of 70 mm in 24 hours had led me to spend a day in the tent and cycle the remaining 70 km to the ferry to Hornopiren the next, less rainy, day.
After another wet night hiding in the thick undergrowth of the Parque Pumalin, I take a ferry to Hornopiren. The place where the rain drops its drops for a few days and makes me a prisoner in my tent.
Most of my clothes are by now wet or at least damp. My down sleeping bag is soaked at the foot end and the down has begun to lump, which greatly reduces the insulating ability. At night my tent is attacked by hordes of slugs, which seem to like the smell or the warmth or me and crawl over the mesh of the inner tent, just centimeters past my face. Like stars in the sky they pull their tracks and each time I wake up at night, their constellation has changed until they disappear in daylight, leaving behind only a sticky and glistening mucus crust.
Without result I wait for a rain break to cycle into the town and buy a few supplies. The weather forecast sees more rain coming and I often think about packing up my camp and taking a room in the village in a hospedaje. Dry my stuff. A hot shower. A little more comfort, warmth and dryness.
But it is still bearable and I decide to invest the saved money in chocolate to keep my in a better mood. Anyway, some rain is part of it and the weeks before had been fantastic.
I had met Jacob again and we cycled together for a week. We had the same pace, starting the days relaxed and taking breaks, it worked well between us and had many positive sides. Sharing the experiences and encounters and talk about them is something I miss when traveling alone.
And also to be able to talk effortlessly. It’s different in native language, no matter how good my English is. Without hesitation the words flow out of my mouth, long unused words arise on my tongue and are pronounced with pleasure. Nuances of meaning and play of words that in english I wouldn´t be able to raise our conversations to another level where exact differentiations and descriptions are possible. While I avoided talking too much German a few years ago, today I like to take the opportunity to have a conversation in German.
The northern part of the Carretera is also impressive. In parts more populated, in parts wild and lonely. The road is mostly asphalted, which makes progress a little easier, yet the many climbs cost strength and let the stomach regularly demand replenishment. We bake bread in the fire, smear it with butter and jam and stuff our mouths full with these and other delicacies to then crawl into the tents tired and satisfied.
After a week our ways separate.Jakob takes a turn to Argentina in Villa Santa Lucia. This place made headlines in December as a mudslide wreaked havoc and ripped several people to deaths. The road was closed here for the past few months and a ferry was set up, just a few days ago it was opened again for traffic. Even four months after the accident, the cleanup is still in full swing. The remains of houses rise from the ground, new power pylons are set up and excavators are tirelessly busy removing and distributing the mud masses. Only when I cycle out of town the real dimension gets apparent and as well where the avalanche has come from. Afew kilometer further north, a whole mountain slope had slipped and had buried a whole valley below. The mud masses had then made their way through a river and had only come to a halt in the middle of the village.
Three fish for the cyclist
One evening I find myself setting camp under a bridge at a river. Due to misplanning on my part I only have rice and lentils left in my food bag, I even have run out of spices and I couldn´t reach the next settlement with a shop. I’ve arranged myself with my simple meal when three anglers come out of the bushes and walk to their car. They see me and wave at me. “Should they have a problem with me camping here?” says the doubting voice in my head, “Or do they want to give me a fish?” asks the hopeful one. My hopes are exceeded when the nice men give me three fish, two salmon and a trout, plus some bread. Overjoyed with this unexpected enrichment of my dinner, I start collecting wood for a fire to prepare the fish with style. Wild Patagonian salmon, freshly caught and grilled over the fire, what could be better?
No comparison to the farmed salmon from the aquacultures which characterize the image of the fjords in this area. Here fish are breeded in cages and fed with fishflour and antibiotics, the remnants of which pollute the once pristine water. Not for the domestic market, but mostly for export these farmed fish are grown.
The next morning I continue, but the first clouds already hint at the coming rain, which will eventually lead to my isolation in the tent in Hornopiren. I spend four days and nights there until a better weather forecast and better condition of my muscles allow me continue for the last two days of the Carretera Austral. I had decided against a hostel, but took the possibility of a hot shower at the tourist information Hornopiren. And I had written some requests for a couchsurfing host near Puerto Montt where I want to spend a few days.
With this in mind it is easier to cycle, to reach the next geographical destination, finishing this section. The road often runs along the sea, dolphins jump out of the water and big birds of prey are circling, the climbs are getting smaller and traffic is getting bigger.
Despite the beauty of Patagonia, I am happy to end this challenging section. The loneliness and seclusion of Patagonia not only has great sides, I also recognize the first signs of travel fatigue and the longing for social contacts. And so I´m glad that Claudia takes me into her cozy apartment and let me spend a few nights on her couch.
As in the beginning so at the end – The air is gone
Upon my arrival, the story of the flat tire, with which the Carretera had begun is about to close. Only a few kilometres before my destination, it’s already evening, my rear tire is flat. I can´t find the hole, but I have a replacement tube. That one that I found surprisingly in a hut, new and unused, left behind by another cyclist. The tube is installed quickly and the rear wheel is reinstalled. Only the air is still missing and somehow the pump doesn´t seem to work, the tube doesn´t fill but the air just disappears. When I take a closer look, I notice that the interior of the valve of the tube is missing. The valve is just an empty metal tube and no valve which holds the air inside the tube. Annoyed and frustrated and also a little disbelieving I stand there. Has another cyclist left behind these defective or incorrectly produced tubes knowingly? Why didn´t I look better? Or has this inside piece fallen out and is somewhere in my bike bag? There is nothing I can do, there is only one solution. I have to push my bike inwardly cursing the last few kilometers to Claudia’s house. Since I don´t want to damage my rim, I stuff my backpack full, put it on, and load the rest of the luggage on the front wheel. Lifting the flat rear wheel and pushing the front wheel with the other hand on the handlebar, I make my way meter by meter, pausing again and again. Finally, tired but with joy, I arrive at Claudia. The last challenge of the Carretera Austral is accomplished.
Since Claudia works during the day, I have my own little kingdom. Can spend all day lazy in front of the computer, boil coffee at the touch of a button and can recover unimpressed by the rain and wind out there. I can wash my clothes, take a shower every day and use all the advantages of a kitchen in the evening and fulfill my food dreams not only for myself, but also spend social and satisfying evenings with Claudia and her friends.
Farewell to Patagonia
And before I leave Patagonia for good, I meet another friend, Gabriel, a Chilean whom I met in Australia more than two years ago. We had kept loose contact and it turns out that right now he is here with his car to look for a piece of land to buy. So I swap my saddle for the passenger seat and see a few other corners of Patagonia rush past me through the windshield.
It’s a different kind of nomadic life and instead of spending hours on the bike, there’s more time for other activities. But the autumnal weather with rain and cold nights starts to take over and after two weeks I´m back on my bike, to the north.