After less than ten days back in Argentina, we’re already in Chile again.
Why, you may ask, are we hopping back and forth between Chile and Argentina every few days? First, for practical reasons: Chile has no continuous north-south road, so we need to dip into Argentina to make it over the gaps. Skipping Chile altogether and riding to Tierra del Fuego on the Argentine side, on the other hand, would mean a (losing) battle against the legendary winds that blow east of the Andes. Second, it lets us do a “best of” tour of the southern half of the continent, including discovering Santiago, savouring Argentina’s Seven Lakes route and tackling Chile’s ruggedly beautiful Carretera Austral. Third, we get to fill up the few remaining pages of our passports with pretty stamps.
In case you haven’t heard, Patagonia is absolutely stunning. The natural beauty of the area, with its luxurious evergreen-carpeted mountains and limpid glacial lakes, is only heightened by its charming villages, where even police stations are housed in cute log cabins. We rode through a number of national parks from Puccon in Chile to Bariloche in southern Argentina. During this stretch we bathed daily in crystal clear lakes just off the winding road. We camped on the shores of rivers and streams and often woke to views of snow-covered peaks. In the last year and a half we’ve slept in jungles, in seven kinds of desert, on high plains, on craggy mountains, in tropical fruit orchards, vineyards and pastures, on three sailboats and one helipad; this was the first time in a long time that it actually felt like we were camping. Patagonian nature feels and looks like nature back home: forests, lakes, mountains and silence. All that’s missing is some grizzly bears. (If the Patagonian Tourism Authority is reading this, please do not send in the grizzly bears.)
Autumn is almost upon us. March in the southern hemisphere is like our September. Kids have just started a new school year after being off since Christmas. There are virtually no family vacationers left on the road. Beneath summer’s final splendor there’s a chill in the air and a sense of urgency to which not even mate-sipping, siesta-relishing Argentina seems completely immune. The feeling is as sure as a gear changing, and we feel it too.
We’ve recently had a few frosty nights and have many more in store ahead. The snow line is now lower than two thousand meters and creeping steadily downward. Eighteen months ago, we were racing south from the Arctic, one pedal stroke ahead of winter; now we’re flying toward the Antarctic’s frozen wastes. Each day grows a little colder and is noticeably shorter. At our last count, it looks like we won’t have many (or any) rest days until we get to Buenos Aires in mid-April. Along with our photo and writing contracts and our preparations for re-entry into Canada, we’ll be working hard over the next few weeks.
We’re now embarking on Chile’s Carretera Austral, a gravel track that runs about a thousand kilometers down Chile’s coast and ends in ice fields near Mount Fitzroy. It’s known as one of the most spectacular roads in the Americas, and is one of the trip’s final milestones before we reach Tierra del Fuego. We’ll do our best to share the ride with you.