Day 1 Coyhaique to La Junta
If you’ve ever seen the movie Groundhog Day you will know how we feel about Coyhaique. The 6 of us; Jon, Vanessa, Miguel, Marie Brenda and Gina, arrived there on a Sunday around midday. It was by far the most developed town we had seen for around a month so we intended to spend at least a day there before continuing north (It wven had traffic lights!).
Having searched hard and found a sweet hostel (Villa Tico…cant recommend this place highly enough) to accommodate the 6 of us, we decided to explore bus options North as we had established that the section between Coyhaique and Futaleufu was tough going due to the poor roads and steep climbs. Tourist info was closed on Sunday so we decided to do our searching on Monday.
On Monday the 4 of us (minus Brendan and Gina) walked the town searching for buses heading towards Futaleufu. We were advised that the only bus company that did the route and which would take bikes left on Saturday (5 days away!). We exploŕed numerous hire car firms, hoping to rent a pick-up/ute to carry us and 4 bicycles north but none offered one way hire to Futaleufu for less than the cost of an arm and a leg. We tried the lonely planet which mentioned an obscure bus company operating from a hostel, which we managed to find. They confirmed that we could travel to La Junta (half way to Futaleufu) at 3pm on Tuesday with bikes, so we agreed to turn up the following day. At 3pm Tuesday we returned, only to be informed that the bus was not running, as the front axle had broken. Not happy bunnies!
We rebooked into our hostel for another night, found another bus company that would take us and bikes that went to La Junta and that left at 3pm on Wednesday. We returned at 3pm the following day and found the bus driver incredibly helpful in assisting us load 4 bikes and panniers (including 1 bike on the ) on to the bus. We set off at last…only to be brought back down to earth La Junta (half way to Futaleufu) hour into the journey, when a front tyre burst. Thankfully we were on a good straight road when it did, as there were some treacherous descents on dirt road further along the route. We all poured out of the bus and watched for an hour or so as some of the more eager passengers assisted the driver in replacing the burst bus tyre (not an easy job without pneumatic tools).We were then on our way again, but 90 minutes late, which meant that our 7.30pm arrival in La Junta was at 9pm and in the dark.
At 9pm, after some scenic but treacherous roads, we arrived in the small village of La Junta…as the dismantled bikes and panniers were off loaded we set about looking on Mapme for a spot to pitch a tent and, once the bikes were assembled, decided to head to the local sports ground. When we arrived there a quick skirt of the ground reveal that the changing rooms were open and, complete with toilets, table, chairs and water, provided us with the perfect spot to cook and sleep.
Day 2 La Junta to Villa Santa Lucia
Sleeping in the sports changing rooms in La Junta’s sports ground, we had set our alarms for an early (6am) start (sunrise wasn’t until 7.45am), as the bus driver who dropped us off there the previous night had advised that there was a bus north but that it left at 7am. We skipped breakfast assuming we would eat on the bus and waited at the bus stop in the cold and misty dark for an hour and a half. We were joined for a while by 2 hitchhiking Chileans who had also been told there was a 7am bus but shortly after they gave up waiting, so did we.
We made and ate breakfast on the pavement next to the bus stop and set off north towards Villa Santa Lucia (69km). We weren’t too bothered about having to cycle, as that was our original plan prior to the bus driver telling us that there was a 7am bus; but we all could have done without the early wake up!
Cycling out of La Junta we were treated to some magical views as the morning mist rose and evaporated in the sunshine. Added to this, the road was paved, the traffic was light and there was no wind. All was fine.This state of tranquillity continued pretty much uninterrupted for a couple of hours. The sun shone, the climbs were relatively easy and the temperature rose to 25 degrees by midday. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and the sealed road changed to dirt around 25km into our day, which slowed us a little but the lack of serious climbs and abundance of river and mountain views more than compensated. A cyclist heading in the oposite direction advised that the dirt road lasted only 28km and as we had covered most of that already, we enjoyed lunch overlooking the rivers Frio and Palena, with thoughts of a relatively early finish to the day in mind. Back on the sealed road, the temperature continued to climb. We decided to stop for a quick swim to cool ourselves down a little. We pulled the bikes off the road next to the appropriately named Rio Frio and took the plunge. Needless to say, none of us stayed in too long nor complained about being too hot for the rest of the day. We arrived in Villa Santa Lucia shortly before 5pm. After a quick ice cream stop at a local mercado, we set about looking for a spot to camp and hit it lucky again, finding a secluded area behind the local sports ground, overlooking the river. Miguel worked his magic and produced a fire from a few twigs. We ate (a lot) and enjoyed the ultra clear night sky before bed with not a breath of wind to be heard. Day 3 Villa Santa Lucia to Futaleufu
As we awoke in Villa Santa Lucia, the early morning mist indicated that we had another sunny day ahead of us. We had 66km to cover to Futaleufu, with mainly small inclines but a generally uphill profile.
At this stage we said goodbye to the Carreterra Austral as we headed west towards Futaleufu and on to Ruta 40 in Argentina. However we had little idea of the state of the road between here and Futaleufu.
Unfortunately for us the road between these 2 villages is all dirt and not much of it is in good condition from a cyclist’s perspective. Shortly after we started, Jon’s rear pannier almost detached from his bike as the corrigated road surface at the bottom of a descent accounted for one the nuts/bolts. Fortunately we carry spares and managed to get the show back on the road without too much delay but we all took the opportunity to check none of us had any loose screws.
This was a long day for us all. The views remained serene but the quality of the road meant that that the going was slow and we weren’t able to enjoy them. The climbs and descents were tough and needed concentration to stay upright. This meant tired shoulders as well as legs. Added to this was the rising temperature, resulting in us all being pleased to stop in the shade of a large tree for lunch at around the 35km mark.The afternoon’s ride towards Futaleufu involved more dirt road and a few more climbs. Towards the end of the day we crossed and rode beside the fast flowing Rio Espolon, famed for its rafting, and stopped at an old suspension bridge for a closer look. We were all tired but happy when we rolled into Futaleufu late in the day.