[Jeff] Following a nice rest day in Gobernador Gregores, we have 360km up Ruta 40 to Perito Moreno (same name but not to be confused with the glacier we visited a few days ago). Arriving in town we pull up to a likely looking hotel with a driveway around to the back, where we can pull the bikes in away from the street.
The following day we have a short run to the border, no problem getting stamped out of Argentina and surrendering out temporary vehicle import permits once again. We bump into Rodrigo, who we met in Ushuaia and have a quick catch up on road conditions and plans. There's another 5km to the Chilean frontier and the only difference this time is that the border guards want us to unload our bikes and put all our bags through the X-Ray machine. From here, it's a short run into Chile Chico. Pulling into Chile Chico, it has a more touristy feeling, mostly backpackers. We do the rounds of a few hotels, hostels and B&Bs, sometimes it feels like they are simply not interested in the business because more often than not there is no one in attendance through the middle of the day. Eventually we find a nice spot where we can have a cabin near the lake. Chile Chico sits on a lake which spans the border, Lake Buenos Aires. There's a choice of ways around to continue north, we can either take the 270km of gravel road which we had heard bad reports about, or take the ferry directly across the lake. With the memory of Ruta 40 fresh in our minds, we determine to aim for the ferry.
We decide to buy ferry tickets in advance, so we pop into the ticket office at the dock. The ferry runs once a day, a 3 hour trip. The next day is Tuesday and the ferry is dedicated to transporting 'dangerous goods', no passengers. The following three days are sold out, we buy tickets for Saturday but they tell us to turn up on Wednesday anyway and they'll put us on a waiting list.
Google translate is our friend. Above is an example of how we prepare before taking on a new Spanglish challenge.
Wednesday rolls around, the ferry is at 4pm, so we have another day to kill in Chile Chico before heading to the dock at 3:00. The ferry office is packed, a tiny room with about 30 people standing around. Most are foot passengers, so we end up at number 5 on the vehicle waiting list. After 45 minutes of relatively sedate waiting around there is a sudden change in the atmosphere, it's beyond our Spanish skills to figure out exactly what's happening. I focus on another biker and his two friends, who seems to be on a mission to talk the ferry captain into letting the bikes on, Sally stays and concentrates on what's happening in the office. The next 5 minutes are intense madness, the ferry has finished loading, my new buddy and I pleading with the captain, Sally runs out of the office waving and yelling that we can go on. Before making a dash for the bikes (one thing we have learned is to grab an opportunity when it is there, because they evaporate very quickly), I let the other biker know just as the captain relents and agrees the bikes can go on. Ripping on our helmets and gloves I pull up behind Sally at the bottom of the ramp, but there's a lot of backpackers milling around the loading area. Sally doesn't want to go, so I pass and play Moses, parting backpackers before me as I settle on the loading ramp making sure that there is room left for the other bikes if they make it. Sure enough the others quickly follow and it's high fives all round with the other bikers.
To secure the bikes, the deckhand lashes them all together and then ties the end of the rope to a neighbouring truck - mental note to get back to the bikes before the truck drives away. The ferry ride would be spectacular and beautiful, except for the freezing wind. For most of the three hour trip we brave it out on deck with the other weather hardened and interesting people (who also couldn't find a seat inside).
Unloading is quick at the Puerto Ibañez end, there's a police roadblock at the entrance to town, but when the policeman realises that traffic is backed up all the way to the ferry he waves the rest of us through. Same thing as usual, most of the hostels and hotels are unattended or closed, but we walk around and see cabins again. These ones are very cosy and have a wood fire. Some of the towns we are travelling through now are very small and it is sometimes not clear to us whether we have walked into a restaurant and just stumbled into someones living room. This was the case tonight for dinner - it may have been a restaurant, but it could equally just have been some woman that decided to take the opportunity to feed us whatever she had on the stove for money - we'll never know.
The following morning we head off to Coihaique, the biggest town we will have seen for a while. When we're heading to a big town we like to book accommodation ahead so we can navigate straight there and get settled. Certain memories of large towns had, however faded from memory, such as road works which block the entire road in the middle of town and have no obvious diversion. This usually sees us riding in smaller and smaller concentric circles until we arrive at our destination.
We stay in a small upstairs room in a hostel, the bikes parked safely in the front garden. Plenty of good restaurants here and banks that actually accept our cards. This had been a major issue in Argentina, hopefully the days of going to every bank in town to try our luck at different ATMs are over for now. The owner of the hostel told us about the road ahead, some places not to miss and a couple of things to look out for. One of the latter is construction work in the Queulat National Park roads, which are closed between 1pm and 5pm on weekdays. We decide to make the next stop Villa Amengual, which is just before the national park.
We are in for a treat, the road ahead is magnificent and there is no wind. The weather is a mixed bag, typical mountain weather, sunny breaks interspersed with a little rain. The scenery is picture-book, pine forest, rugged granite peaks, turquoise lakes and mountain streams. We had a terrific day riding, one of the best yet.
We roll into Villa Amengual, nice small place, you can stand anywhere in town and see anywhere else, so it doesn't take Sally long while I watch the bikes, to find us a hostel. This time it's a small room out the back of a house run by Veronica, who offers home cooked meals from her family kitchen. We take her up on it, since there is no open restaurant in town. The heating in the room is a small portable oil heater - it pumps out plenty of heat but is very smokey until it gets going, making it necessary to open the door and window.
The Church in Villa Amengual
We wake up in the morning, it's been raining steadily all night and is still going. It doesn't take much convincing to take a Duvet day, watch some movies, read and catch up on the blog. Tomorrow we head off through Queulat National Park, apart from the road construction, there is a hanging glacier and thermal springs to look forward to....and we plan to break out the camping gear!