Day 1 – Puerto Tranquillo to Refuge Hut.
After a day spent in the small but surprisingly touristic Puerto Tranquillo, where we took a boat trip to the nearby ‘Marmol (marble) Caves’, the 4 of us set off for Villa Cerro Castillo. We were a little late and hesitant to get our journey underway as the forecast was very changeable and also we had to dry our tents from an early morning soaking.
Fortunately the pre-warned poor road surface from Puerto Tranquillo did not materialise and we made steady progress. The lakeside, moutain views with occasional waterfalls were beginning to become commonplace…so much so that we had almost forgotten our East to West ride across the barren Tierra del Fuego the month before.
During the morning we were kept guessing by the constantly changing weather. First jackets were on, next they were off, as we skipped between overcast and threatening weather and bright sunshine. Added to this was the abundance of mini-hills, none of which was more than 50m high, as we were following the lake side all morning but each requiring a shift through the gears, a modicum of energy and a change in body temperature. Luckily any steady rain held off for most of the day.
Stopping after about 3 hours for lunch we were pleased with our progress and had only around 20km (with a 5km climb to finish) to go in the afternoon.
Unfortunately our luck changed when Miguel noticed he had a flat rear tyre (the first for any of us) and had to set about replacing it.
Shortly after lunch Miguel’s day got worse when the cleat and a portion of the sole of his bike shoe managed to detach itself…remaining firmly attached to the pedal rather than the shoe. Not a good look! However, Miguel is made of sterner stuff and cycled on regardless.
At around 3.30 we reached the bottom of the 400m ascent. We had previously decided that the top of this would be our target for the day as it marked the highpoint on our route to Villa Cerro Castillo (leaving mostly down the following day as downhill), being slightly over halfway between Puerto Tranquillo and Villa Cerro Castillo and situated next to Laguna Cofre. We each put our respective heads down, changed down the gears and started to climb.
Shortly into the climb we had the usual run-in with a barking dog being a little protective towards its owner’s estancia…but unlike previous encounters where the dogs were generally loud but happy to see us cycle on by…this one was overly aggressive as it took a bite first at Miguel’s rear panniers and then at Jon’s as each tried to cycle past it. Aware of Vanessa’s anxiety towards barking dogs and that both she and Marie would soon be cycling by, Jon dismounted his bike and picked up a stone from the road before walking towards the angry hound. Clearly this dog has had its fair share of stones thrown at it, as it immediately retreated 20m but continued barking aggressively. With a whole road full of stones at his disposal, Jon immediately knew that the crisis had been averted and threw one in the dog’s general direction, which saw it move even further away, from where it continued to bark loudly whilst both Marie and Vanessa cycled happily by.
With only a few minutes to go before the end of the day’s cycle, the heavens opened.
Unfortunately there was little shelter at the lake and Vanessa set about finding some whilst Jon waited for Miguel and Marie. Within a minute or two they arrived. Vanessa spotted a cluster of losely assembled tarps set a few metres back from the road amongst the trees. Being soaked through and desperate we headed for it with bikes and panniers. To say the least, the shelter was basic. We hurriedly tried to arrange the tarps, which had many holes, with pieces of string, and a couple of well balanced planks.Clearly some poor soul had tried to shelter there before as there was a pile of wood but it was soaked through. As we huddled together to keep out the cold and rain Miguel set about trying to start a fire with the aid of his gas stove and Jon set off without panniers in hope of finding better shelter further down the road.
15 minutes later Jon returned with news of a better, although not perfect, refuge hut, next to a river approx 1.5km further down the road, with potentially room to pitch a couple of tents nearby. In the meantime Miguel’s fire had developed into an inferno and it was difficult to persuade anyone to part company with it…so we did the obvious thing, which was to take the fire with us!We disassembled the fire, save for a few burning embers which we placed in an empty ex-paint can, which miguel carried, with the aid of his pliers, the 1.5km whilst cycling his bike with paniers in the rain, accompanied by Jon, Vanessa and Marie who each carried a small pile of logs under their arm or bungeed to their bikes. The sight of us all cycling down the Carretera with a trail of smoke behind us was laughable. When we reached the new shelter Miguel quickly worked his magic with the burning embers and an equally impressive fire was underway. We agreed that the hut was far better than the tarp shelter and were abe to dry our clothing sufficiently, before pitching our tents and settling down to make a well needed warm meal. Day 2 Refuge hut to Villa Cerro Castillo
Thankfully the previous nights rain had stopped and we had a fine start to the day. With only 56km to go to Villa Cerro Castillo and pretty much mostly downhill, we felt confident we could knock out the distance by mid-afternoon provided the road was kind.
We put on our smokey but dry clothes and headed off at around 9.30am. The next 20km can only be described as cycling heaven. The roads were amazingly smooth, there was no traffic, what wind there was was behind and the route was either flat or downhill with spectacular views in all directions.
None of us spoke nor stopped for the first hour and a half for fear of spoiling the tranquillity or jinxing the conditions. Before we knew it we had less than 30km to go and, although the road surface deteriorated somewhat and the road was flat along a lakeside valley rather than downhill, we were still happy as the wind was behind and the sun was out.
We stopped briefly to take a photo of a gaucho on horseback, some condors overhead and mountain ranges but otherwise all was good.We had one climb of 200m during the day but it was gradual, to the extent that we were all surprised when we got to the top of it. Shortly after midday we had only around 4km downhill to go and decided to stop at a Mirador (lookout) for lunch before heading into Villa Cerro Castillo…as per usual, the road surface over the last few km into town was very poor but not bad enough to detract from a really enjoyable (short) day in the saddle.