La Junta-Puyuhuapi-Villa Amengual-Villa Mañihueles-Ñiregua-Coyhaique
Lest my writing fall too far behind my cycling, here’s another collection of photos from the Carretera Austral (more of an introduction can be found in the primera parte). This latest instalment covers the stretch from La Junta to Coyhaique – the most sizeable town on the route, and one that marks the Carretera’s approximate midway point.
I’m now joined by Daniel and Jorge, both from San Francisco, and both aboard Pugsley fat bikes – surely the ultimate riding machines for the Carretera Austral. With pressures running well below 10psi, their gargantuan tyres help smooths out corrugation, and positively hover over deep gravel – taking most of the backache out of the terrain.
If you would like to keep up with where I am between blog posts, I try and keep my While Out Riding facebook page regularly updated, along with posting extra photos. You can find it here.
Sad news for dirt road enthusiasts. Sizeable chunks of the Carretera are in the throws of ‘improvement.’ Change is slow going, but eventually the whole road will be paved. In the meantime, egg-sized stones slow standard touring tyres to a crawl. No problems for fat bikes, which eat eggs for breakfast, and spit out gravel like a bad taste.
Jorge, running a lightweight setup on his Pugs.
I’ll admit it. I have Pugs envy. Daniel’s Rohloff’ed machine, with Porcelain rocket and Ortlieb bags. A day on the bike did nothing to help quell my thoughts.
The previous owners of Jorge’s first generation purple Pugs were Rivendell Bicycle Works – they’d given it the drop handlebar treatment.
Both sport Knard 3.8s, positively dwarfing my Ardent 2.4s, shod as they are to 65mm rims. Not that I’m displeased with my setup. The aggressive Ardents are a great tyre for the ride – I’ve heard of several cyclists loosing control on the ripio’s loose gravel corners, and even breaking collar bones.
Regular settlements, like Puyuhuapi, provide a chance to dry out water-logged gear.
It’s those fishscales again.
Rain brings vibrant colours.
There’s no shortage of bike love on the Carretera, with a dozen or so riders tackling it each day.
Eventually, the rain abates and the sun hats are out.
Then it’s time for the first of the big stuff…
… where treeline merges into glaciers.
A thousand shades of green.
… cupping us to either side.
Wander off to either side of the main road, and there’s a sense of pristine, lush, wholesomeness.
Dropping down towards Villa Amengual. Rugged scenery abounds.
As do roadside flowers…
… adding a dash of colour to Jorge’s getup. They match the purple Pugs too.
Nearing Villa Mañihuales, we venture off Ruta 7 onto what looks like a dirt road alternative, on the other side of the river.
Perfect. Until it ends in a locked gate, forcing us to backtrack. Still, these are the kind of tracks we’re looking out for.
Mañihueles brings bountiful empanadas – one meat, the other apple, on this occasion.
Behind the scenes empanada action.
And, the small settlement is home to one of Latin America’s most welcome institutions – a Casa de Ciclisatas.
This one was set up by accountant Jorge, who in his spare time runs a small community bike shop. Like most of the Casas, accommodation is free for touring cyclists, or by donation.
Duly, everyone signs the visitors book. Sunshine and rainfall – that’s what it’s all about in Patagonia…
Leafing through past entries makes for entertaining reading too.
Keen to avoid any further pavement, we head off for a detour towards Ñiregua, joined by Axel, a young German who’s ridden down from Northern California.
Sporting skinny tyres and all his load balanced precariously on a rear rack, steep inclines require some heavy duty pushing. But he perseveres regardless. A non-operative rear brake makes descents a little dicey too.
No problems for the Pugsley twins.
Here, the road is our own.
Which was is the wind blowing today?
Bus stops provide perfect shelter from the elements.
A Chilean family invite us to camp in their yard that evening, overlooking the Valle de la Luna. The land they work on is owned by a Coloradan, who visits occasionally.
Together, we share a few rounds of mate, the traditional South American infusion that’s passed round like a peace pipe. Later they invite us in for soup and homemade cherry jam.
Mountain Man Daniel, whose beard grows in both volume and lustre with each passing day.
And the inimitable Axel.
A late afternoon wander around Ñiregua reveals plenty of photogenic clutter.
Batten down the hatches, or else…
Round here, tails serve as door handles.
Axel and Jorge chew the cud.
The Valle de la Luna.
Can’t get enough of that Patagonian light…
For pictures of the last day’s ride to Coyhaique, have a look over here.
The Casa de Ciclista is easy to find in Villa Mañihueles – just head for the main square. There’s one in Coyhaique too, though it’s trickier to find. Look up Boris on warmshowers.org for details.
If you’re escaping a downpour, La Sirena campsite (4000 pesos) in Puyuhuapi has covered camping, internet (from the tent!) and a room with a wood oven stove – perfect for endless cups of tea, and drying clothes. Puyuhuapi has a fine selection of empanadas, fresh bread, and denatured alcohol.
Coyhaique has everything you could need, including a very well stocked bike shop (with 29×2.2 Geax Saguaros for $28, amongst other finds), an outdoor gear store, a well stocked supermarket (peanut butter, yeah!) and plenty more.
Figon Bicicletas: firstname.lastname@example.org, Fonofax: 234616, Simpson 805, Coyhaique. Later, when my bottom bracket suffered an untimely death, I was able to ring them up, pay electronically, and have a replacement sent on the bus to Cochrane.
Dirt road detours:
There’s a sizeable section of pavement south of Puente Queulat, so to whittle it down, we detoured out to Ñiregua from Villa Mañihueles, via the X-421 and X-445. A few steep hills make it a challenging ride in places, though it later mellows out – wind aside. Just 30km from the Argentine border, the region is known in tourist literature for its Valle de la Luna (not to be confused with the moonscape of the same name in the north of the country). There’s very little traffic, and it makes a pleasant change from the main road. There’s a longer detour, via the X-421, but we wanted to check out the Casa de Ciclistas at Villa Mañihueles.
Also: Too late, I spotted a 21km detour through a parallel valley south of Villa Amengual. This would be another way to cut down on pavement miles. I was gutted to miss it, as it looked lovely, flanking some white-capped mountains. It emerges 10km north of Villa Mañihueles.
Now that’s a nice surprise. Geax Sauguaros and Akas for $28, at Figon Biclicletas. There were folding versions too, and I noticed 26x3in inner tubes for fat bike riders.