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Whiskey on the Austral

Cyclist in yellow raincoat on the Carretera Austral
Carretera Austral
November 21, 2017
Portrait picture of dutch missionary Antonio Van Kessel
Toon van Kessel
December 14, 2017

13th of November - 10 o'clock in the morning

With cleaned bicycles we leave the last big city on the Carretera Austral. From now on it's 100 kilometer of Asphalt and 500 kilometers of dirt road, until the end, where the road stops. The last city also means the last stop to stock up. We will find bread and pasta in the next villages, but a bike repair, bananas or some breaks will be hard to find. The alarm bells go off when we hear a strange sound after five minutes, but luckily it is just a leaf stuck in the spokes.

Together with our Belgian companion Patrick we race on the last pieces of asphalt. Patrick likes to camp with us and wants to see how we do this. 'I would like to part of this experience' like he says. We take him on our regular tour in the town. It is windy and rainy so we try to find a sheltered place for the tent. We search the firemen, ask for the police, go to the sport center and to the church. This time the name comes out of a sudden. We get a surname, which sounds like the reward for solving the puzzle. 'Moeki' is the name of the lady who has the key from a church and she might help us with a roof. Soon after we find her, we are standing in front of a tiny house next to the church. None of her keys seem to work so she tells us 'you can break it open'. A little uncomfortable and clearly visible from the road Patrick and Olivier try to break to lock from the door. Moeki watches satisfied and tells us that there hasn't been anybody inside in the last two years.

We prepare for the worst when the door cracks open. With the four of us we stare inside into the tiny house. A cosy decorated, but two year old, Christmas tree smiles at us. A wooden plank serves as a table and some chairs stand in a circle while Jesus Christ watches from the wall. In the corner stands a Russian stove which persuades us to step inside and make ourselves feel comfortable. 'This is your house now' says Moeki and she disappears. We clear the layer of dust from the floor and feel spoiled with our burglared house. Proudly we make it an amazing evening, we toast with a beer to the lord, drink hot chocolate milk and prepare our dinner on the stove. The fact that Patrick adapts and follows our way of travelling, makes this day perfect. 'Nothing can ruin this day anymore' he says just before falling asleep.

We climb to the highest peak on the Carretera Austral when the wind picks up and makes the last part tough. Two huemul deers are grazing in the rough landscape and glaciers are becoming a usual part of the route. We are lucky when the sun shines when we cruise down the thrilling S-curves all the way down to the flourishing Villa Cerro Castillo. A town at the feet of the enormous mountain range with stands as a castle on the hill. Patrick heads on, while we change our bicycles for our legs and walk all the way to the gates of the castle. Before the top arises a white covered layer of snow. Step by step we work our way through the magical blistering mass. Zoë was waiting for this experience since the Picos de Europa adventure that Olivier and his brother did in Spain. On our way down we meet Jean again and from that moment on the cyclist madness starts. In town we meet another Belgian, a German, French, Bulgarians and Brazilians. It is true, the Carretera Austral is the number one route for cyclists. Since then we kept on meeting many.

'I would like to be a rain drop here and fall down on the top and run all the way down through this beauty'

We arrived at the last part of the Carretera Austral, 500 kilometers of ripio, unpaved roads. The big test for our beloved bicycles. From the first part our and their limits are tested with bad ripo, heavy rain and strong winds which blow sand and rocks in our face. We fight against it, but are thrown of our bicycles every five minutes. A small bus stop saves us from this torture and we can wait the storm to pass by. We are looking at the wet landscape, that looks grey suddenly. In this region there are more trees laying than standing. The reason is the gran incendio de Patagonia, the big Patagonian fires, that destroyed everything. A law stated that every farmer who received a piece of land needed to clear all the trees. The farmers decided to take the easy way and burned everything. After this heavy storm we have a lot of nice weather and almost every night we sleep on a dream location with our tent, isolated between the rough mountains and crystal clear lakes. One day Zoë says 'I would like to be a rain drop here and fall down on the top and run all the way down through this beauty'. We pass some touristic places like Puerto Rio Tranquilo, where the marble caves are and Camera Tortel, named poor Venice, before we head on to the very last part.

The last 100 kilometers look like some of the most remote on earth. We share those days with our new friends Bernd and Bernard, two Austrian doctors who cycle the Carretera Austral in three weeks. From the first moment we meet we are attracted by their catchy laughing, fun making and joy on the bicycle. Together we cycle a very tough part with three exhausting climbs. After 70 kilometers we see the first house and now it's up to us. Gaucho Erasmo invites us immediately with his warm stove and has a place in the garden for us. It becomes a very special gaucho, cowboy, experience. Bernd and Bernard barely speak a word of Spanish, but the adventure sparkles on their face as well. We drink mate, eat gaucho soup with dried meat freshly sawed and ride on his beautifully equipped horse. At least, when we are able to manage the horse. The evening becomes even more wild with shots of whiskey and Austrian sausages.


The next morning we leave together for the last cycling day to Villa O'Higgins, the very last village on the Carretera Austral. The two gentleman fly on this road with their light packed mountain bikes, but our bicycles have to pass the last test. The road is so bad that we are going slow than a snail. Since Mendoza we didn't have a single flat tyre, but today on the last part we had two. But if this was it, than our old timers survived with glance, and we arrive smiling in Villa O'Higgens. On the campsite we meet old friends like Patrick and Ross. Everybody is waiting for the same ferry on Monday to cross to Argentina. Bernd and Bernard want to thank us for the incredibly gaucho experience and offer us the master bedroom in their cabaña. The three days waiting change into three days of relaxing and fun. During the day we walk and enjoy the sun, while in the evening the whiskey bottle comes on the table. We sing loudly on Bob Dylan and dance salsa with candle lights. The student house with adults continues until the last candle is used. The three weeks on the Carretera Austral were unforgettable. We took the time to do it completely, just like the Patagonian proverb says, 'quien se apura en la Patagonia, pierde su tiempo' (who hurries in Patagonia, is waisting his time). On Monday morning we cycle together with eleven other cyclists to the ferry, heading on to one of the most challenging border crossing on our trip.

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