Thursday, February 11, 2016

Chile and Patagonia Adventures!

Ending our stay in Mendoza with a good home tasting meal of grilled cheese and tomato soup, the next morning Doug picked up a rental car to help us make up miles. When a four door compact car rolled up to his place, I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. Five good sized guys, four bikes, and four sets of touring gear all packed in for a 15 hour ride? Not a problem with creative packing. Maybe we should've skipped the bean dip and beer beforehand though... We put Cody's bike in the trunk and expertly stuffed everything around it, pulling gear out of our panniers to be more space efficient, and had the other three on a bike rack outside. With all of us inside there wasn't a lot of room to spare, but we made the trek just fine by breaking up the drive with hacky sack breaks and food.

The drive brought us to San Martin de los Andes where something called "route of the seven lakes" begins. We figured that sounded a lot nicer than "flat area full of desert" so it became our goal. Once we arrived, we were not disappointed. Somewhere in the car, the scenery magically turned into dense pine forest and all the buildings, including the shops, suddenly resembled chalets more than stores. Pushing out of town, we began to realize just how picturesque the area truly is after seeing the first lake. Deep green pines over a twisting road climbed past a massive deep blue lake with a handful of sailboats on it. It was as if someone simply picked us up and dropped us in surreal nature.

All day we rolled with the mountains, never having to climb too high, but past various lakes, completely clear rivers, rock formations, and even a waterfall. By the time we arrived at a free campground, we were compelled to swim in the nearby lake and were refreshed by the cool water and a small campfire afterwards. As we started cooking dinner, a few comedic people ran down the people and said they were going to put on a show. Mostly out of curiosity, we went down and were entertained by jokes, a cone on a string, a juggling act, and acrobatics. Apparently a bunch of street performers found out they were camping near one another and felt like putting on a joint show. Thoroughly entertaining for us! Sleeping that night in my sleeping bag instead of sweating on top, life was very good.

The next morning our tour of insanely picturesque lakes continued. One of my favorite views was over an old wooden bridge where you could easily see at least 30 feet down in the still, pure water below. It's tough to describe being able to see every feature underwater clearly, but aside from logs and downed trees the only sense of depth perception you have is the darkness of the blue in the water. That day at lunch, we ran into another tourer named Timor from Russia heading in the same direction as us. With extremely broken English and even less Spanish, he asked to ride with us and we said sure. Not knowing how long he would stay or what his plan really was, we kept going about our day and ended up finding a sandy campsite on the shores of another lake. Timor has his own setup for everything making it very easy, and we were entertained most of the night trying to get to know him by miming things and using as basic vocabulary as possible.

Continuing on, we were suddenly a group of five. We all wondered if Timor would split off if he didn't enjoy our riding style, company, or pace but so far he seems perfectly content to stick with us wherever we go. He's the most easy going guy, cooks for and takes care of himself, and always seems to be ready. It's been especially fun learning more about him every night since communication is a slow process. For the more difficult translations, we type back and forth on his tablet which converts the English into Russian. Naturally when we first found out about this ability, we didn't use it to plan, learn about him, or ask a thought provoking question. Instead we found it necessary to educate him on the proper way to make smores.

Once our majestic tour of the seven lakes was complete, we were taking a swim in a chilly river on a hot day when we came across more people touring. We were warned about the next flat stretches of Argentina, and decided to take a loop into Chile to continue our blissful nature scenery. The first step was taking a different road than our highway 40 and passing through a national forest. Again, our scenery and campsites were pristine, but this time they came at a price: gravel. For 60 straight km we had astoundingly slow progress, bouncing our way through forests and around the lakes. Once we finally got smart enough to let some air out of the tires it was a bit more manageable, but the butt was a bit more sore that night.

Exiting the national park the next morning, we were rewarded by an amazing piece of glacial ice up in a mountain. The rich blueness of the mass is super visible, even from a distance, and steals the show, even from the other snow capped peaks around it. Perhaps the coolest part about the glacier is that when it melts, it seems to dye the rivers. I've never seen such beautiful water flowing past, almost a bluish green lagoon color constantly swirling down the hillsides. Since we had ridden so hard for over the last week, we decided we were due for a rest day. However, the town on the far side of the national park was super touristy and out of our price range, so we ended up basing ourselves out of the park all day, camping by the river, and using some of the money we would have spent on a hostal towards extra food.

Fully relaxed, we prepared to cross back into Chile. For the first time all trip, a country cared what we brought into it and wouldn't allow us to bring any plant or animal products. Not wanting to waste our food, we sat outside customs and feasted on anything we thought might not make the cut. We must have looked hungry because a stranger came up and offered us her apples to add to the feast. The guards must have seen us devouring everything as well because once we were done, they didn't even bother checking our panniers and just waved us through.

Officially in Chile, we rolled to the first town through somehow even more lush and beautiful wilderness than we had already been in. Since we were in a new country, we had to seek out an ATM for the proper currency and during our search, we learned the town was hosting a mountain film festival that night. And it was free. If that wasn't enough, we met a couple cute Chilean girls in the park who told us they were camping down by the river for free. Unable to believe our luck, they led us to an area for the night. What they didn't mention was we would be boulder hopping and log jumping with weighted bikes to get there and that it was a party down there, full of tents and people turning up a Friday night. In for a cultural experience, we set up camp and joined the fun.

That night, we went back into town to see a surprisingly impressive three man rock band and later moved to a community center to watch a documentary called Fitz Roy. It was original footage from the Patagonia and Northface founder's summit of the Fitz Roy peak with two other men, and one of the original hikers was in the center for a question and answer segment. Pretty sweet footage from the late 60s.

The next morning, our gravel continued. Progress has been super slow, but the views are unbeatable. Every corner seems to have a new mountain, lake, or stream to be mystified by. Even yesterday, mid 50s and drizzling almost all day was chilly on the bike but well worth the ride. Our campsite had mossy trees surrounding the shores of the lake and the water was so still you could see the sky perfectly reflected on its surface. Absolutely surreal.

Today we rode into the next town and rented a small cabin for a day. One of the perks of five people is you can split costs a bit further, so we even saved money by each getting a bed, a little living room, and a kitchen. It's super fun to have a cozy place to ourselves and let the unending flow of hot drinks cycle through us all. Even just having a personal kitchen is huge!

With the one month countdown officially started, we have plenty of riding left to do and lots of country to cover. Even if the scenery doesn't stay as beautiful as what we've seen, Patagonia already comes highly recommended for anyone who even remotely likes nature. I can't wait to see what other views await, and just how long we have Timor's company. As of now, it looks like he may be coming to the end with us. Thanks again for following along and until next time!

-Ben

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