Days 38 to 42: The Carretera Austral from Cochrane to Rio Tranquilo
Despite enjoying my week travelling with 3 other cyclists, after Cochrane I set off on my own again as the others were more focussed on continuing northwards by bike, whereas I'd identified a couple of hiking areas in the roads ahead I wanted to stay at to stretch the legs and get amongst nature in a different way.
I made my way 27km to Parque Patagonia - a private initiative by a previous owner of The North Face & Esprit clothing labels, Doug Tompkins, and his wife Kris who is the former CEO of the Patagonia clothing company. Doug sadly died in a kayak accident in one of his own parks at the start of the 2016. Their intention was for the Parque to be gifted to the Chilean government on the condition that it gets National Park status, and that work continues. I went on a beautiful 23km walk through the Parque which was pretty stunning.
Day 40 began with my first puncture of the trip, not bad given that I was at about the 1600km mark at that point. Back heading north, the road became the most difficult of the trip so far - it just kept going up, with a surface that consisted of larger loose stones on an almost sandy base. I had no hope of covering the 110km to Rio Tranquilo in one day, so decided to finish up a little earlier.
I stayed at a cool little campsite in the middle of nowhere on this old Chilean couples farm, I was the only one there so the woman told me to sleep in the camp refugio building if I wanted - gas cooker, running water, big wood oven which doubled as heater, and 2 complete bathrooms with hot water....not bad for £5. Then I noticed a tatty A4 menu sellotaped to a wall so I asked her if she did food - next thing for another £6 I had a rack of farm-fresh lamb, chips, bread and a salad from the garden! I piled wood into the stove until the refugio hit furnace level, and then made up my bed for a pretty comfy nights sleep.
She sold farm-fresh eggs at 15 pence a pop so hard-boiled a few of those too, ate them the next day as my ride took me around the shores of Chile's 2nd largest lake, thankfully the road improved a little and the views were astounding. I also met an Italian couple cycling on modified tandems with their 6 & 8 year old kids! Jeeze, and I thought getting myself around was tough enough......
The main highlight of Rio Tranquilo is a short boat trip on the lake to where the water has eroded all sorts of caves through the marble cliffs, which made for a pleasant morning. This afternoon I'm just resting the legs since they've done nothing but bike or hike for over a week.
An incredible contortion of nature, the chaotic network of water-filled marble caverns presents a genuine curiosity of our planet’s geology. Over time, marble is soluble in water and dissolves faster at the water’s surface where the gentle lapping can more easily seep through cracks, widening fractures and washing away any dissolved material. Over thousands of years, the gentle ebb of the lake water has formed a twisted beauty dug into a marble cliffside on Lake General Carrera, with countless caves, mazes, columns and tunnels. Our small dinghy with its outboard motor could cruise right inside some of the larger ones, and at one point we could even hop off and explore further on foot.