Ushuaia at the bottom tip of South America might call itself “Fin del Mundo” but where we’ve been for the last few days has felt even more the like the “End of the World”.
You wouldn’t believe this track went to an international border post:
Park Patagonia just the other side of the pass is owned by Kris Tompkins, the former CEO of Patagonia clothing. She and her husband have bought huge swathes of Patagonia and have rehabilitated the land of former run down sheep estancias. Removing fences and non-endemic plants, allowing it to return to its natural state. The park is an important wildlife corridor between two other national parks. They have donated two other national parks further north back to the Chilean people and have another far bigger one donated as an NGO. It is so impressive what they have done here to return this unique and beautiful environment back to its original state and then opened it up for everyone to enjoy.
The scenery was stunning with snow capped peaks, tumbling rivers and lots of guanacos. We found a pretty camping spot tucked down out of the wind in a little glen. Exiting the park we hit the Carreterra Austral and turned south to get to the bottom of the road. The road certainly lived up to its reputation as we passed through Lenga forests, high mountains and turquoise lakes. If Bilbo Baggins had stepped out of the woods, he wouldn’t have looked out of place.
We had heard about the problem with the lack of transport, in fact any sort of vehicles, in this region so we picked up some hitch-hikers just outside Cochrane. The student couple from Santiago were very happy to get a lift as they had been waiting for two days already.
The next morning we still weren’t decided if we were going to go all the way to Villa O’Higgins at the end of the road. The rain had been lashing down all night and we were worried about the state of the gravel roads, we needn’t have worried as although they were single track they had been well made. Waterfalls were everywhere, tumbling down the mountains to swollen rivers and lakes. We arrived at the ferry at Puerto Yungay just as the ferry was about to depart, so we took it as a sign and decided to continue on. We crossed the free 45 minute fjord crossing with 7 long distance cyclists and no one else. We have seen lots of these hardly souls over the last few days, we are so impressed with their tenacity and cheerfulness even in the pouring rain.
Back in “town” for school we were approached by a couple of European travellers asking desperately for a lift. They had got stuck not just because of extreme lack of transport but also because they had walked and taken the ferry in from El Chalten in Argentina and there was no bank in Villa O’Higgins. We’d actually been told to look out for one of them Jeff by Marissa and Michael (gypsies and a princess) in El Chalten, as they knew him and had dropped him at the ferry at the other end. We said we were happy to take them north but we were going to stop just 10kms away for the night next to a lake, before we headed on. They were a sweet, young pair and we managed to squeeze everyone in out of the persistent rain for salmon, chat and wine before Hanna slept in the cab and Jeff in his tent.
The dripping woods in the swirling mists made for an atmospheric drive over a few passes. We crossed back over the fjord on the ferry and made our way back past the town of Cochrane as the sun came out at last. We had been there just 3 days before but it felt far longer. We felt the round trip of 450km was definitely worth it, as the scenery was gorgeous and sense of remoteness was complete. A few kilometres north the sun came out at last and we found a pretty spot next to the unbelievably turquoise Rio Baker.