Rolling over Paso Roballos: Coyhaique to Cochrane

3/1/2017.

Coyhaique, Chile.

Having replaced my eviscerated bottom bracket in Coyhaique and taken a day of rest, I was ready and raring to roll. Following the suggestions of a Campbell and a couple other pedaling peers I decided to peel off of the Carretera Austral for another hopscotch border crossing. This time it was to cross the immense Lago General Carrera to Paso Roballos. Get ready for a ton of landscape photos, this area is off the chart! 

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 One more view of Coyhaique from above before pushing South out of town. 

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I was a bit winded on my way out of Coyhaique. Literally. A strong headwind kept my progress at bay in the morning, only letting up around mid-afternoon. I passed the entrance to Cerro Castillo park, wherein a beautiful big mountain and trail system reside. Definitely need to keep this one in mind for next time I come through here. I hear it’s amazing.

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Huemúles are a rare species of deer native to Southern Patagonia. Lots of signs up to protect the creatures, I hoped to see one at some point. 

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OH, there it is! Sauntering across a hillside near the road.. but wait.. is that a collar around its neck? How odd… I’d have loved an explanation for this, but none was available.

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Insane sedimentary layers abound!  

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The whole highway ride to Puerto Ibanez was gorgeous. Plenty of shoulder and mild traffic, given that Coyhaique is pretty much the last developed place heading South, only small towns until the Carretera Austral ends in the small town of Villa O’Higgins. 

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A small pass and a long flowing descent to the lake! 

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The daylight began to bronze and so began my search for a sleep spot. 

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I ended up finding a soft, dry field overlook all of Puerto Ibanez, only 2km outside of town. Perfect, as I’d already determined that the morning ferry across the lake would be departing at 8am. Enough time to pack up and cook a quick meal by the dock before boarding. 

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Lots of bikers headed toward Argentina via this grand lake crossing. Turns out Lago General Carrera is the largest lake in Chile, it would be a 3 hour tour to cross it (though I doubt the captain’s name was Stubing).

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Not a bad way to start a boat ride!

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Yes, the water was actually this color. Well, it at least started out this color. As we worked our way across it made an interesting transition from green to deep blue…

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 Great views from the ferry bathroom…

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Getting bluer…

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… And bluer…

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By second bathroom break it had transitioned into rich deep and dark blue.

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Landing in the small Chilean border town of Chile Chico, I got my passport stamped and loaded up on cheaper food before crossing the Argentinian border a bit down the road.

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Border town on the Argentinian side is called Los Antiguos. Well stocked with food and supplies as well but a bit more expensive. I splurged on a big ice cream cone to jump start the long climb out of town. A very smart choice retrospectively speaking.

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The road to Paso Roballos was nothing short of spectacular. Every turn revealed stunning geological formations completely different in color and shape than those just before it. I’m just going to let these photos speak for themselves for a bit!

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By evening I was physically tired but deeply energized by the evolving vistas surrounding me. The challenge here was finding a wind-protected campground. With all the open valleys the winds were quite dominating and I knew my little tent could not withstand them without a bit of support. I randomly followed a hunch and looked on an app I’d downloaded for international overland travelers (mostly 4×4 vehicles, but who cares!) and found a suggested campground only a few kilometers ahead, right by a flowing stream! I slept under the protection of some low trees on a bed of soft long grass, plenty of wood nearby to have a fabulous campfire. 

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As the road continued back toward the Chilean border at Paso Roballos, so too did the amazing mountains continue dishing out their visual kaleidescopes. 

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Anyone know what these odd and beautiful seed pods are called? 

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The road got a bit rougher, the climbs, steeper. The views… you know…

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Lunch break and water refill, every direction was jaw dropping. 

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The rock features permeating the dunes felt like lone sentinels guarding the area. 

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Okay. Imagine seeing this vista, then literally within 5 minutes, you turn a corner to see…

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This one! The colors and plant life shifted so rapidly it felt like the ride was going in fast forward and slow motion at the same time!

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Rounding another corner I see a large… something… running across the grassy valley at high speed. Looks oddly like an ostrich. But aren’t those from Africa? Well later research reveals these smaller versions are close relative to the ostrich and emu, known here as rheas. They still don’t fly and can run their little asses off! Took me a while to hop off the bike fast enough to get this blurry shot!

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Over another ridge and there in the valley floor was the Argentinian customs office. Hard to imagine a more picturesque location to call your office, but a hell of a commute to get here! 

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Rounding one more set of hills, I came upon the Chilean border patrol.

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I initially just got stamped and intended to roll onward, but the officer’s kind offer to stay in a spare bedroom on site was hard to turn down given the plummeting temperatures and mind-rattling winds. They should make an advertisement: Chile: Not your Mamas Customs Office. Never have I received such hospitality by government employees anywhere as I have here in Chile’s customs offices!

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Amazing sunset views from here. 

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This original customs building for Paso Roballos has since been replaced in recent years, so now only houses a small weight room for the officers and a small bedroom for weary gringo cyclists. 

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Rolling out the following morning, never has a lonesome road down an enormous mountain valley felt so inviting. Good thing this was the way I was already heading! 

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Lots of old abandoned mining operations along the valley. 

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Lonesome guanaco, wandering the fields. Too bad they’re so afraid of people. His coat looked particularly pettable. 

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These thistle flowers seem to have followed me throughout my travels. It seems every few months I have come across a thicket.

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As clouds rolled in, I began my long descent to rejoin the Carretera Austral. 

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Didn’t realize I’d come across the park office for Parque Patagonia, the brainchild of Doug and Kristine Tompkins who collectively owned and ran The North Face, Esprit Clothing and Patagonia Clothing. The billionaires bought an enormous amount of Chilean Patagonian land back in 2004 and have been slowly removing all fencing and cattle to restore it to its original wilderness, ultimately planning to gift it back to the Chilean government with stipulations that it remain one grand national park. Pretty cool I think. 

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I’m guessing that enormous mansion tucked under the cliffs is the Tompkins’ house. Now I’m not all the sudden going super materialistic, but a house in the middle of Patagonia, inside your own enormous national park… not bad. 

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A few more twists and turns and I was back on the Carretera Austral, a short jaunt from Cochrane. 

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Rounding a corner into town, I felt welcomed by an old mountain bike with my name on it. Never mind it being a cheap knock-off, I took it as a good omen. I found the cheapest lodging in town: the backyard of a local’s house which had been converted into a small campground. It was actually lovely to be packed in with a bunch of other dirtbag travelers, from a couple moto riders, a number of hikers, and about 8 other cyclists! We shared food and beer and stories of the road ahead/behind. I slept well after 4 full riding days, tomorrow I’d continue my route toward the funky fjord town of Caleta Tortel and its raised wooden walkways throughout. 

Coming soon! 

One Response

  1. Karla
    | Reply

    Thanks! Adding to my Chile biking dreams.

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