The geography and the quality of the road changed dramatically when I crossed Paso Mamuil pass from Pucon Chile to Argentine. While riding under rain on a good paved road on the Chilean side, entering Argentine at the other side of the mountain it was sunny and I started to ride on stony dirt road. The Chilean side was green and the Argentinean moorland.
How come a geography change that fast? It was like in a movie set. While heading on the road I met a French cyclist coming from the opposite direction. We talked shortly and he said that I was really lucky; further down I would have back wind.
I was feeling pleased. First, I rode to Malleo, then to Junin de Los Andes on route 60. In both villages my master and visa cards didn’t work at the ATM’s. I had only a few Argentinean pesos in my pocket. I spent the few dollars which I had. I ran out of money till the next touristic town. I need to find a place where credit cards are valid.
After this point the road I used till Bariloche was going through the lakes’ region of Argentinean Patagonia. The first nice town on the road was San Martin de Los Andes. Its view was spectacular arriving at the end of Fall. Part of the city looked like the villages in the Alps. If someone would beam me up to this place I would say I’m somewhere in Europe.
Indeed, Pucon in Chile, San Martin de Los Andes and Villa Angostura in Argentine differ from the other settlements in the region. The center of Bariloche was so touristic that I didn’t like at all. One of the most important reason that this town had become a touristic destination was the presence of the many tour companies’ headquarters. For a certain age group, the easiest way to have a comfortable excursion is to visit the surroundings of Bariloche. But to me, staying and spending time in those three towns I have just listed above is much more satisfying than visiting Bariloche.
Especially, the surroundings of Villa Angostura, the view of lake shore was beyond spectacular. After this point it was amazing to camp riding around the lake. The Route 19 starting at San Martin de Los Andes and passing through national park was so nice. This is a road connecting to Route 40 after a while. In this region the camping sites shared on the app “Ioverlander” are very good. I stayed in some of these camping sites.
Till Barilocha I didn’t come up to heavy traffic, the roads where almost empty (maybe this was due to the season, end of Fall). Well, who the hell will ride towards south in South America in winter time? The lakes, mountains, the landscape were amazing! At many spots I felt myself like being in an aquarelle.
The town Bariloche was a bit different from what I had expected. I wouldn’t say I liked it very much but the road passing through Villa Campanario, Llao Llao and Villa Tacul was beyond spectacular. I kept saying: “So nice houses, what lives”. Indeed, the reason why this region resembles the Alps in Europe is due the Germans migrated to this area after the two World Wars. They had built their own culture in this region. Even, I can say there are immigrants, the grandchildren of the Nazi officers who migrated after the Second World War living in this region. In some restaurants the swastika was used as a decoration object to catch the attention of the customers.
Argentine is not a cheap destination anymore; especially towards south the prices increase gradually from town to town. I stayed at the Hostel Marcopolo Inn Bariloche for three days. During my stay I met Helen and Tomas from the Netherlands. We hung around together for a couple of days. We were sharing the same room in the Hostel. One day we returned to our room after breakfast to take our cameras before going out. While we were chatting sitting on our beds, Helen:
- Hey, guys! I don’t feel well.
- What’s wrong with you? Are you alright.
She collapsed on the bed. Tomas and I first thought she was kidding! Because just before she was laughing. How come a person collapses in a second like this? After a couple of seconds recognizing she is not responding we rushed to her… Tomas was saying “Gurkan, help”, at that moment I found myself at the lobby 6 floors down. “Call an ambulance, immediately!” I returned to the room, Helen was still unconscious. The ambulance arrived in shortest time and meanwhile Helen had opened her eyes but couldn’t move. She was paralyzed. She neither could move nor speak but only cry. They went to the hospital.
I stayed at the hostel and looked after their belongings. We couldn’t understand what had happened. During the next few days Helen’s situation remained the same. Since her situation could not be diagnosed, Tomas decided to return to home. I’m worthless. A person at her 30’s got paralyzed in front of my eyes. With this I realized how important it was to have a health insurance during a travel. Well, the hospitals in Argentine are free but the return flight tickets were covered through this insurance. I sent a couple of messages the next few months and was informed that her health status remained the same. I hope she’ll recover soon.
There are also tourists coming for fishing in this lake area. There are various fish sorts endemic to this region. They hook the fishes, take a photo and then return to the water. I met with fishers in the hostel who came specifically for fishing to this region. There is diversity in Argentinean tourism. There is a huge advertisement on Patagonia, but I don’t know whether it is that good yet. Let’s see what’ll come up the next days…
After Bariloche the cyclists usually continue to south, towards El Balson or ride around the lake towards Cardenal Antonio Samore Pass. There is another cross which is used less by cyclists which is not free costing 120 USD. It is the only spot between Chile and Argentine which is not free. You are not allowed to cross by car or motorcycle but only on bicycle or as backpacker. Well, why 120 USD then?
First, you head towards Bariloche and then ride to Panuelo Port. There are nice places around to set up your tent. I set upmy tent in an amazing park across a lake view. But that night a misfortune happened and the zipper of the tent broke. Dude, how come? Then, I remembered that I forced the door of the cupboard to close in which I had put my tent in the hostel room. Did the zip break down then? Anyway, I need to find a solution. Let’s think bout it. The next morning, I went to the port and bought a ferryboat ticket.
The ferryboat departs from Puerto Panuelo port, continues to sail across Nahuel Huapi Lake and arrives at Puerto Blest. Here, I started to ride again. The landscape was amazing, spectacular, unbelievable. The road approaches Frias Lake after 3 km to Port Alegre.
In this region there aren’t any settlements or any other alternative roads. There is a service vehicle for trekkers which take them forth and back to the port. It is forbidden to camp between those two places apart from each other within walking distance. There ferryboats serve only once a day. That is, to expect the backpackers to walk on that track is out of the question. But I saw nice camping places to overnight along road I rode on. It is possible to camp and catch the ferryboat the next day.
The ferryboat departing from Alegre Port takes you to Frias. Argentine control post is at the port. Gosh! The motorcycle and the map of the route Che Guevara followed is in front of me. Wow, dude. Did he also follow this route? I guess at that time the ferry prices were not so high. I took a photo and continued. A slope climbing about 400 m high. Spectacular views continued for 10 to 15 km.
I must admit that the most amazing border cross I have encountered so far was this one. I have never ridden before between two countries my mouth open with such a joy. Dude, waterfalls at every corner, freshwater, various bird species, eagles and then the Chilean control post. There were two aunties in the building. I couldn’t figure out whether they were officers at the post or living at the farm nearby. Hahahaha. It was so funny. Anyway, border control was done. The place I arrived on Chilean side was Peulla. Not a town neither a village but there are some settlements. I went to the port:
– Hi. When does the Petrohue ferry depart?
– We are expecting a storm this evening. The ferry services are canceled for the next 3 days.
That’s pity. The zip lock of my tent broke, if I set up my tent outdoor it would act like a parachute under wind. I have a big problem. I need to find a place to hide from the wind. I surf on google, there is only one hotel, Hotel Peulla. Seeing the building I don’t even check for the price, it won’t be below 100 USD per night. The hotel and its surroundings are incredibly beautiful. But then I saw the storerooms at the back of the hotel. I went to check whether the storeroom if it is suitable for me, if so I’ll ask for permission. An elderly man with a fatherly tone and a good English:
– Hi. Are you Turk?
– Oh, yes. Hi.
– Are you coming from Turkey, on bike?
– Yes. I have started in 2012. My name is Gurkan. And yours?
With a smiling face
– Why did you come here?
– I was told that the ferry won’t come for 3 days due to storm. Therefore, I’m thinking to ask for permission from the hotel management to pitch my tent in this storeroom/depot. My tent has a small damage
Follow me and let us ask what they can do for you
- Where are you from?
Talking both about Turkey and Switzerland we entered the hotel. Wowww. Inside was amazing, a magnificent hotel at the most magnificent border cross. We went to the reception together with Albert. He spoke in Spanish and I didn’t understand a bit of course. Then they handed me a key belonging to biggest room at the ground floor.
- Thank you very much, but I can’t afford it.
- I won’t let someone coming from Turkey till here on bike in a storeroom! You can stay at my hotel as long as you want.
Hahahaha. Born in 1937 Albert was the owner of this hotel and today was his birthday. He had visited Turkey many years ago. Wow. Dude, I got so happy. How perfectly nice. My room, the meals, everything but really everything was perfect. Albert’s father had bought this land (a huge land on the other side of the Chilean border) in 1890. Before that Americans used to do tourism with old boats. It was interesting to learn that tourism was done in those years. Within the years the family organized the ferry services and built nice hotels at every port those ferries departing. Well, the price of this road furnished with 3 ferry services and national park crosses is 120 USD.
The electricity and hot water of the hotel was supplied by the hydroelectric plant Albert had built and from the solar panels placed around the hotel. He also had let installed a separate transmitter for WIFI access. He was living for 80 years in this geography and mentioned that with the climate change the bird and insect species had changed. He was 80 years old full of life. Because of the environment he lived in and natural produce he was eating he was still very active. We climbed to the waterfall together at almost the same speed, he was slightly faster than me I must admit. One day he said: “If you want stay 2-3 months here, we can ride on horse to the mountains”. This was an invaluable offer, but I had other plans.
The hotel employee Roberto had established a downhill track behind the hotel. It was a real professional track on which I walked only. It was too steep and professional for me to ride on. He told me that it was the most difficult and steepest track in Chile. He had already organized a few races. In summer period, the hotel prices were reduced to half for cyclist guests. After seeing this track, I would prefer to participate as a bystander. Downhill mountain biking is another type of adrenaline rush. I had met with Turkish cyclists who had set their heart in this sport.
After being a guest of Albert for 4 days I made my last ferryboat trip to continue in Chile. Ahead is Puerto Montt….