The days are sort of starting to blur together. Rain, eat, bike, rain, eat, bike, camp. When did I last have wifi? I try to update my journal and have trouble remembering how many kilometers I biked on which day and where I camped. I guess it’s been 3 days or so since I updated my blog, and I’ve slowed my progress a little. The last 2 days I’ve gone about 50 km, savoring a small stretch of pavement which has now ended. I have a large pass ahead of me at about 650m elevation, and I’m going to take my first rest day today and tackle it tomorrow when the weather’s supposed to be better.
I am the first camper of any sort on the Carretera for the season. That means I don’t see any other cyclists, and very few other tourists for that matter, on the roads and in the campgrounds. It’s been, again, just spectacular scenery along the way. Green rivers and lakes, snowcapped mountains right at the side of the road, and gushing waterfalls and rivers. In Chaiten I stayed at the Gallegos hotel and restaurant. I dried off for a night, and reset for the road ahead.
Alone at a campground at the southern entrance to Pumalin park one night, I had the chance to talk to a groundskeeping crew who told me a bit more about this side of the park. This campground, and the workers employed there, all exist because of Doug Tompkins. Doug didn’t just buy this park in 2005, he made it his mission to build all of the infrastructure and employ all the staff needed for a national park as well. This means that all the signs are in great shape, the lawns are manicured, and trails and campsites are meticulously maintained. He also builds housing for all the park staff, has a modest house in one of the towns here, and makes an effort to get to know the people in the area. He was a driving force behind the “Patagonia Sin Represas” movement, which just recently helped stop a master plan to build a dozen new dams on pristine Patagonian rivers. Basically, instead of just donating to vague conservation efforts, Doug has made it his life’s work to get involved specifically with Patagonia and play an active daily role in protecting it. He’s stamped his name and face on the effort, and it’s working. Again, way to go Doug!
My lodging for tonight, and therefore my ability to update my blog, came about a bit by chance. It rained pretty hard most of yesterday, and I was considering turning in at about 25km under a nice big bridge in Puerto Cardenas over the Rio Yelcho. But it wasn’t the best camping spot, and I wanted to get to the bottom of the big climb, so I ate lunch and pressed on for a bit. I ended up stopping at Yelcho en Patagonia, which is a pretty expensive looking camping/cabin/hotel resort at the edge of Yelcho lake. It was deserted, as most things are in September, but I happened to come across a worker who led me to a camping site and said the boss would be back in an hour. It was a nice campsite with services and a fireplace, but since nothing in Patagonia is ever really “dry”, I couldn’t find any dry firewood. Eventually the boss, an Argentinian named Sebastian, came to find me and we talked for awhile about how I was the first camper he’d seen this season and he told me about how busy the place gets during the high season. He offered me an alternative to the drenched campsite, including dinner, beer, and a place in the workers quarters to sleep for the night and wifi. Sebastian is 32, and is finally settling down at this resort in Patagonia with his wife and two young kids after managing a hotel in Tanzania and traveling the world for the last decade. I spent the evening with his family, swapping stories about traveling abroad, and hearing more about Pumalin and the surrounding areas. He lives to fish and explore Patagonia, and showed me on Google earth all the incredibly remote places that he’d like to go fishing and hiking. Also, pictures of Chinook salmon the size of my leg. Good stories and good company. More importantly, I’m dry and ready for the next part of the road.
As I was finishing this blog post, the sun came out, and I got this picture of the lake.
Thanks for reading! It’s a little lonely sometimes out here with nobody but me and the road surveyors and other workers. Through the pouring rain I say “Hola! Buenas dias!” and they look surprised to see me and give me a sympathetic smile. La primavera esta llegando muy lentamente.