Although we have a rough idea of an itinerary, we are not on a schedule. We don’t have to be anywhere by a given date. Even if we did have a schedule, we would have to abandon it. The road and weather are as unpredictable as the experiences we are having. We never know what awaits us at a given destination, nor on a given day do we always know what that destination will be.
After crossing the border from Argentina to Chile, we stayed two nights in Futaleufu, the whitewater capitol of the world. Here we had the good fortune of running into a biking couple from New Zealand who were able to give us a good idea of what lay ahead. Charlie and Veronica were wonderful company and we hope to see them some day in their new home of Vancouver, Canada. It was clear that the road from Futaleufu was NOT something we were going to try to ride. Charlie helped me pack up the bikes and load them into the back of the local bus, the night before our departure. The next morning at 5 am we broke camp in a total downpour and boarded the bus toward Chaiten, about four hours away. The bus dropped us off in the rain and in a small bus shelter (see slide show below) we reassembled the bikes and departed in the rain. 2 kilometers away was Parque Pumalin, Douglas Thompkins’ empire of American-do-good conservation in Chile. Here we had a campsite with an actual shelter! Three days of continuous rain kept us off the bikes, but 6 kilometers away were the Amarillo hot springs. Each day that we awoke to unending rain simply meant hitch-hiking to the hot springs! Not a bad way to wait out the rain.
From Amarillo we biked 25 kilometers to Chaiten, the town largely destroyed 4 years ago by the eruption of its namesake volcano. Here we had hoped to get badly needed cash at the single ATM in town. No deal. Banco Estado does take Visa ATM cards. Time to strategize. We would have to ask to camp for free in Parque Pumalin as we made our way to Caleta Gonzalo and the four-hour ferry to Hornopiren. After a glorious day of sun camping beneath the glacier and volcano of Michimahuida, as well as the smoking crater of the Chaiten volcano, we were given a ride to the other end of the park to catch the ferry. (A park guard told us that no one knew when and if Chaiten would erupt again. This made the girls quite nervous as we slept that night beneath the crater.)
While waiting for the ferry, the rain returned with a vengeance. We were invited into the motor home of two families from Santiago. We spent two hours accompanied by hot chocolate and coffee and wonderful conversation, until the ferry finally arrived. In pouring rain, we had to decide whether or not to board. This was not an easy decision because the ferry trip is broken up by a 10-kilometer stretch of road. How would we cover the 10 kilometers? Either we ride it or we find a truck to transport us between one ferry and the other. In this moment of indecision a man approached me and said he would help me with the bikes. Clinched, let’s go. The ferry deck filled with several inches of water. In a complete downpour Sergio and I lifted the loaded bikes onto an already full pick up truck. He had excellent straps and hooks around the truck bed that allowed us to fully secure the bikes so that they would survive the 10 kilometers of nasty “ripio”. There I was in full rain gear with Sergio totally soaked down to his underwear. I thanked him for his kindness and he leaned in and said, “I am only doing what you would have done for me. That’s what is important in the world, Jon. We need to reach out and help others.” His family later confirmed that this is how their dad is; always picking up hitch hikers, helping others. The four-hour ferry ride was spent talking with Sergio, his wife, daughter and friends. It was such a joy, and I was very touched by the entire day, which began with a ride from the park guard, then the time spent with the families in the motor home, and finally, the generous help and company of Sergio and family on the ferry. The day left quite an impact on me and company of these families made this one of the most pleasurable days of the trip.
We reached Hornopiren near midnight in the pouring rain, found lodging and a cash machine. The next day, however, a power outage knocked out the ATM. We need more cash and could not leave town until the machine was restored, which took three days. Each day I would stop by the tourist office to inquire about the machine. On day two a woman happened to be standing at the desk and she knew the wife of the bank manager. A phone call by her confirmed that I would have to wait until Monday. I commented about how much I enjoyed listening to her slang while she spoke on the phone. “Well, you must come by our business. We have a ‘cafe literario’ and I have a book I know you will enjoy.” I visited their cafe and met her husband. I brought Jenny and the girls there and it turned out that the couple ran sea kayak trips. The next day, we booked a two-day outing. A broken ATM and my annoying curiosity resulted in one of the highlights of our trip thus far. (More on the kayak outing with photos when we get back to Mendoza).
Leaving Hornopiren, we began the climb on “ripio” leading out of town. We knew there was a climb but we really had no idea what lay ahead on the road. In that moment, a truck pulled over and offered us a ride. We accepted. What we saw from the seat of the truck left me thanking the two men profusely. The road was narrow and busy and the climbs were numerous and some would have required pushing the bikes. After 30 kilometers, we were dropped at a turn- off that would take us 60 kilometers along a peaceful, coastal road of mostly flat “ripio”. After an hour of riding we found a place to camp on the beach. The girls took off and wandered the bay for over an hour. The sun was still out. The snow-capped mountains lay to the east and the setting sun to the west. I turned to Jenny, “were it not for those 2 men, we would have likely been miserably camped beside the road, still struggling with those climbs. But instead we are here!”