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Waiting, Waiting, Waiting

I am now in the depths of Chilean Patagonia, holed up in Coyhaique waiting for the weather, waiting for the ferries, waiting for the buses. This section of the world is series of contrasts: wifi in the restaurants but unknown ferry schedules to the border. Estancias accessible only by 4x4 vehicles and pdas. Low-end hostels and beautiful houses.

The last week has been a series of drastic ups and downs. David visited Santiago and Valparaiso and upon his departure and the separation from my other traveling companions of the past few weeks, Art and Judee, I was left in this beautiful, but lonely country sort of floundering. Each day my travel plans change due to mood, weather and schedules, but after a series of fortunate events I am back on track, albeit with not much riding left. I have only one month of travel time to get to Ushuaia and so much, so much to see: Perito Moreno Glacier, Torres del Paines, the Beagle Channel, maybe even Antarctica!

Upon leaving Santiago last Wednesday October 29th (it seems so long ago) I headed to Puerto Montt on an overnight bus with the intention of getting to the island of Chiloe and riding there for a few days. After arriving in Puerto Montt and realizing that buses to Ancud (on Chiloe) left often, I bought a ticket and headed directly to the island. In Ancud I spent a day trying to see the penguin colonies at the Otway Foundation, but this was not to be owing to “malito mer” – “bad seas” or something of the sorts. We couldn’t take the boat out because the seas were rough but I was fortunate enough to be able to see some Magellanic penguins, Steamboat ducks, and sea lions with the aid of binoculars. Mission accomplished – my first wild penguin sighting and I bought a postcard to prove it.

Have I mentioned the rains yet? No, well it rains a lot here and it is the beginning, just barely, of the tourist season. This means that one gets to endure the joys of the maybe yes, maybe no seasonal ferry schedules. According to the tourist information booth in Ancud there was a ferry from Quellon, at the bottom of the island which departed on Wednsdays and Saturdays. Given that it was already Wednesday I decided to make my plans to get to Quellon one way or the other by Friday. I set off riding from Ancud south on November 1st (All Souls Day – with everyone visiting cemeteries and saying “hi” to dead people), in the rain, with a heavy heart. However, the ride was beautiful despite the rain. The island is covered with the beautiful (but malito) flower called Chaquay (maybe) that was “imported” from Ireland. The winds were from the West but the road south is sheltered by high embankments or tree cover on both sides so it wasn’t really a hindrance. The road itself is paved and had many rolling hills. I just pushed on and on, past my initial goal of a campsite (still raining), past Castro (it looked kind of dismal) and onto Chonchi where I had heard of a hostel with internet, a great breakfast, and a quirky owner. This combination drove me to ride about 110km – my best day yet and I arrived soaked through (the raingear only keeps you warm – not dry), tired and happy to have a warm stove to sit by and a kitchen to cook in.

The hostel, Esmeralda by the Sea, is run by Carlos (a Canadian) and is quite the lap of luxury in a tiny town on a relatively remote Chilean island. Luxury is relative here mind you, there are rooms with and without bathrooms and dorms, a kitchen to use, WiFi internet connection, a great view, good company, heat, a killer breakfast, all the information on the island one could use and great walk recommendations. Carlos, while a font of knowledge, does not like to tell you his information sources so a few days later when he informed us that the ferry was leaving Sunday not Saturday he would not really tell us where he got this information. But, it was of no consequence to me, I would get there, Quellon, one way or another so I stayed at the Esmeralda for a few days waiting for the ferry, happy to be someplace nice to question the rest of my travel plans and at this point my entire life. Sounds heavy? It was (and still is). The next day (Thursday) the weather cleared and I went for a nice, little 10 mile walk over to a neighboring island. It was good to go walking, talk to the birds and the cows about life, and breathe some more fresh island air. I hitched a ride from the ferry back to Chonchi and had a fantastic mussel dinner (all by myself Mom – I can eat alone in a restaurant now too!). Carlos made fun of my eating mussels with two fingers and a fork, but this is coming from someone who lives in a country where they eat sandwiches with knives and forks so I don’t know why he was making fun of me!

I spent the next two days rebuilding the Photos part of my website (so you lovely people could view all of my lovely photos) and enjoying the company of the various people who had traveled to Chonchi. We had a marvelous group dinner with salmon, merluza and a fish that one of the other travelers caught, yummy breakfasts of pancakes, and lots and lots of online computer maintenance time. Sunday morning I caught the bus to Quellon and tracked down the truck that was supposed to take my bike over the ferry for me (in order to save some money).

As it turns out this was the beginning of things looking brighter for me. The truck that was to help me turned out to be no ordinary truck, it was “The Beast” and is driven by a superbien British couple Greg and Alexis. (Please visit their website www.beastlyadventure.com to see what they are up to with their journey.) Greg stashed my bike and gear in the back and then invited me in. As we waited and waited to board the ferry (yes it left on Sunday but just a little behind schedule due to who knows what) we got to talking and the plan of the day was to breeze through Chaiten and head to some hot springs for the night – Termas del Amarillo. Since I love hot springs, I asked to come along and was surprised by the level of welcome that Greg and Alexis gave me. I don’t think that they realized how much I didn’t want to be alone, but they didn’t question anything and over the next day listened to my changing plans – they even offered to let me ride with them to Ushuaia. Anyway, we enjoyed a great evening of hot springs in one of my top ten settings and then a crappy dinner (the food of the day is another story altogether) and then three bottles of wine and an evening of playing Shithead – a card game that I actually enjoy. Finally, a card game I enjoy and cannot wait to teach everyone at home to play (if they don’t already know).

The next morning (I had decided not to ride anymore and was going to Ushuaia to see if I could get on a boat to Antarctica) we set out along the Carreterra Austral. Despite the off and on rain it was a beautiful drive and we saw one of the last great wildernesses and a few glaciers along the way. The road conditions ranged from crappy to okay (with the most crappy to come then next day!) but the Beast, while being an sturdy ex-Army Landrover with a long history, does not have the best shocks and cannot barrel over rough ground like the slick pick-ups and 4x4s that passed us constantly on the road. Finally after about 250km of driving we pulled into an idyllic campsite on the side of a lake. Standing there in the falling darkness was a guy listening to a minidisk player and drinking a cup of cocoa. As it turns out, this guy, Nicholas, was riding a bike – well you can imagine how the wheels (in my head that is) started spinning again.

We all spent a great night eating curry courtesy of The Beastlies and playing more Shithead and talking. It turns out that both Greg and Nick speak fluent French – Greg got packed off to an expensive boarding school that “changed his life” and Nick went to the Alliance Francaise in Chile – lucky guys – and I’m not kidding here. The next morning dawned (after two bottles of wine) bright and blue and with an abrupt change in heart that I am becoming used to, I asked Nick if I could join him riding. He agreed, happily and after a breakfast of yes, oatmeal; I packed allll of my crap back up and started riding. It was a glorious two days of riding – bright, beautiful – all the best one could wish for on the Carreterra Austral. We met the Beastlies about 17km down the really bad gravel road for some snacks and mate and Nick had the chance to put on his new Marathon XR tire (courtesy of me – someone should use it!) after discovering that his tire was flat.

The next two days were great. Later that first day we hit pavement (much of this area is being paved bit by bit) which was actually a good thing. Just 30km of the worst road Nick had seen was enough for my very sore nether regions (but it was worth every saddle sore!). The first day was a huge adventure: wire basket rides over the river we were following, drinking water from the river (which was later to give us both acute gastrointestinal sickness), the most beautiful camping site ever, a great dinner and good companionship. The following day – all on pavement – was more the same great scenery and a goal to get to Coyhaique. Nick had contacts here and I was jonesing for the internet (sometimes you just need to be in contact with the rest of the world). We made it in good time – over a beautiful mini pass – and one of the best moments of the trip: a TAILWIND, birds playing above my head, a beautiful vista, huge wind turbines (which I think are beautiful), and Radiohead on the ipod.

So now I have been here in Coyhaique for four days, two of which were spent quite ill due to that delicious river water that we drank without filtering and the next two (today included) were spent killing time. Now after reviewing the weather forecast for the next two days, I will disappoint Nick and all of you at home with my decision to take a bus to Puerto Ibanez. It was to be a great two day ride, but given the weather forecast of a high of 47, winds between 13 – 26 mph, and some snow and rain, why torture myself? Also, if I can get to Ushuaia before December 1st it looks like I can get a walk-on rate on a cruise to Antarctica (if there is space)!!!

Over and out from Chilean Patagonia.

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