First impression of the town was "O.K I've found the tip, where is the town?" Turns out, the street coming into town was under reconstruction, hence the unfair first impression. So after a good shop-restock, I found the main square. Polish guy at the library. Strong character. Worked for a hydroelectric dam, so resented the 25 or so "¡Patagonia Sin Represas!" cycle tourers/protestors, assembled in town. Gave a Japanese cyclist that Marathon XR the swiss chap gave me earlier in exchange for his tarp, as I couldn't find one anywhere. He accepted, then ran off to a nearby shop. He came back soon after clutching a new tarp. A kind of anger welled up inside me, but I shook it off, the guy was so happy. Sat and read my book in the town square - 'Clear and present Danger', thoroughly enjoyable - even though it was a Tom Clancy. Don't judge me, books in English here are rarer than hen's teeth. Swissdeux finally arrived, halfway through chapter. Bummer. No thats not true, their company was appreciated and we went to the in-town campsite for the usual. Had some excellent fast food for dinner. Swiss had burgers too. Hot water at camp insufficient for three.
We made a late start, about midday. As usual, there was a big hill out of town, when we finally found out how to actually leave Cochrane. "This way!" "No, this way!" "You fool thats the way to Argentina!". A motorcycle tourist pointed as right - "That hill's outta town boys!". Three faces grimaced.
What a hill it was too, turned out to be about three big ones. The valley was arid and Hay los gradientes fuertes! Standard rubbish ripio, but I had managed to pull ahead of the swiss. Got to lovely Puerto Bertrand for a lunch stop and to wait. Jetty. Quaint houses. Little boats on the shore. Little fishing boats, and small dingies lining a shore in a place are one of my favourite sights in the world and this one was bringing warmth into my heart. Added loads of pan and Dulce de Leche (Manjar in Chile) to my stomach for lunch. the swiss arrived and we ended up hanging around Bertrand for a few hours. Left Bertrand to be greeted by another monstrous hill. What's with these 'leaving town hills'? Enough to drive Archy bonkers. Dog peacefully followed me for 5km. Scared it away, didn't want its owner worried, you see. Rode another 15km to a fateful turnoff.
Which way? To Chile Chico? Road really hard and like a rollercoaster. To Cerro Castillo? Few villages but better road and a chance to see Cerro Castillo mountain. Waited for Swissdeux to roll in so we could make our usual democratic 3-way decision. Waited for two hours. Still not here? Its only 17kms, guys! Fed up. Left alone, after consuming five manjar sandwiches and twenty swatted horseflies. At the next bend, (heading towards Cerro Castillo) I saw an old face. German guy from hostel in El Calafate. Greetings exchanged at this coincidence. He was hitching with some German broad to Rio Tranquilo. It was getting late so I went with them in the truck. As I loaded on my bike, the Swiss arrived. With that og that was following me. Told them "I´m hitching for 30km, bye!" I would leave a note for them at Tranquilo. Dog had to walk home 20km.
We got to Tranquilo and I restocked. Also had an "El Compleato" just as I was supposed to board a boat to tour the Marble caves on Lago General Carrera (Lago Buenos Aires in Arg, it lies on the border). The cheap boat trip was nice. Best weather and stillest lake in the history of forever, claimed the boatman. I believed him. Back in Tranquilo, I wrote a note to the swiss and stuck in on the "Bienvenidos a Rio Tranquilo" sign. Probably won't see them again (Haven't yet). Well, the two krauts and I left the boring village to wild camp. The scared Germans voted "no" at an excellent spot over fence for fear of tresspassing fines. We went on a bit and jumped a fence anyway due to the dimming light. Spot not as nice as my choice. Didn't say anything. Had some tasty burger/hot dog thingys for dinner, Germans had rice.
Up bright and early the next day, the krauts still shooting Z's. Left by myself and decided on about 80ms today, a fair cop on ripio. Actually took it pretty slow in the morning and spoke to numerous passing bike tourers about the road ahead. Really hilly and road conditions are crap was the general consensus. Had a small lunch with some euro-hikers and two female Chileno bikers heading south. The road really did go arriba. reading Tyson Schmidshals online diary prepared me for the worst. Really smooth mud ripio on the way down the other side of the hill. Got to the bottom, back to the rubbish ripio, and thought I'd come a long way. But kept going. There was a bad part of the road, 20km being ´reconstructed´. Big rocks. Nearly cried. I asked a road worker "How far to Cerro Castillo, amigo?" "Viente kilometres" "20km? Wow I had come a long way!" I thought. Might as well make it to Castillo, then. Another two hours of cycling pass. this is one looong 20km, I kept saying inside my head. After two more mountain passes at around 400-500m, I asked a local man: "How far to Cerro Catillo, amigo?" "38kms" he replies. Mind starts spinning. Anger at construction worker reaches 'fury' level. Nothing I could do to him as he was at least 38 km away. Decided to keep going - why stop now, use this rage for fuel! After cresting another whopper hill, I entered what looked like Utah. Rolled downhill a long way, and entered Villa Cerro Castillo. Saw a sigh facing the way I'd come: 'Rio Tranquilo 121km'. Not a bad day's work! Bought two sodas and a great burger at a singular bus-restaurant on the main road. After some Castellano confusion, the beautiful lady (first one in Chile so far!) at the restaurant let me camp just outside on their property, with free access to toilets and water. Sunset over Monte Cerro Castillo. Good end to a mammoth day.
Felt remarkably O.K in the morning, muscles were not in their usual cramped, burning state. Packed up camp, bought Pan, and begun the long slow climb out of town toward the famous 1300m pass. About 300m up and 4km into the ride, I realised I had left Ol' trusty, my much adored knife, back at camp in town. Frustration! Rolled back down, got the shank, sweated back up. Met up with the Krauts again, they were camping in some field. Hi and bye! I tackled the pass, about 9 switchbacks then a mirador. I strutted around, feeling like hot stuff around a group of measly bus-tourists. Must remember - keep that ego in check, Arch. The hill kept coming but Michael Franti had me singing up the pass, was actually quite fun - a paved road make a hell of a difference. Coasted down the other side for ages on a slight gradient. Tried to spot a Huemel but didn´t. "Uh-oh, the roads going up again, how can this be? Gimme a break surveyors, haven't I climbed enough today?". Super-exhausted. Got to a lake and saw that it was going to be mostly downhill now, into the big arid valley that holds Coyhaique.
But into the fray comes another player. My good old, almost forgotten nemesis, the wind. And, as it couldn't be any other way, it was bang-on in my face. Almost done for the day. Met Luke, a walker/hitchhiker. he told me of a small town up ahead - 'El Blanco'. The museum in town told me I could camp near the river. I did. Set up camp, and Luke showed up later also, at the same spot. Short green grass, in the shade of the burning sun, no wind, and a potable river right next to me. Unfortunately slipped on a wet rock in said river and lost yet another water bottle. Down to two, started with five. Lentil and rice soup for dinner.
Luke was up bright and early in the morning, to walk to Coyhaique. About 33km. Told me of a place to stay, Residencial Veronica, or Monica, or something. Said "I'll meet ya there!" I rode off about one hour after he left, soon overtook him, after after a frankly dull 33km ride, arrived in Coyhaique. Biggest town on the Carretera Austral and about halfway along.