Cycling Chile/Argentina '04 | ArgenChile Index Day 23 Day 25
      Day 24: El Chalten -> Laguna del Desierto 39KM Imperfect Storm

On the map, Chalten is the end of the road. But to us, it was the start of the most rugged, breathtakingly beautiful, eventful, and memorable part of our journey.

We would cycle to Laguna del Desierto, take a ferry across the lake, pass the Argentinian border control, push our bike through a 6km horse track, get to the Chilean border, and somehow find that illusive boat to take us across Lake O'Higgins to Villa O'Higgins, an outpost at the very end of the Carretera Austral.

We had leisure breakfast and chatted with the hostel owner, Luise, who seems to know a number of climbers who had climbed Fitz Roy, and an Israeli traveler, Ben, who appears to have developed an addiction for drinking mate. It wasn't until noon that we were packed and ready. Even Chris, who always take his time and never seem to be in a hurry of anything left half hour ahead of us.

It was partially cloudy in the morning, and now, it started raining, sun shower first and by the time we hit the road, the sky turned dark as well.

"Don't forget more than 30km is considered speeding here." Luise poked fun at us when we said good-bye.

Ripio was in pretty bad shape. It rained constantly but with very little wind most of the time. We were well protected from wind by the mountain. The scenery couldn't be further away from the pampas. After a couple of hills, we were actually in the rainforest. And it was not raining and we were in forest, we were actually in green, lush rainforest.

Chris soon caught up with us from behind. He stopped and visited a waterfall a bit off the road.

Despite the rain, it was a very enjoyable ride. We even stopped to do some filming by a small waterfall.

Right before we got to the campground at Desierto, Brian unexpectedly fell off his bike, or "taking a dirt nap" as we referred to. I "took a dirt nap" too going up a hill but got out without a scratch. Brian, on the other hand, was not very well-trained at handling "crash landing" and smashed his hand pretty hard on a rock.

37K from Chalten, cold but in good spirit, we reached Desierto. The boat dock was only a couple of kilometers ahead. We confirmed the schedule - 10:45 tomorrow.

Back at the camp, when the camp host found out we were going to Villa O'Higgins, he told us he could take us there for a daring price of a quarter of a million Chilean pesos, about 500 dollars. That's not our way of travel. We paid him 10 Argentinian pesos for pitching a tent.

It's a lovely campground with a big open grassy area, snow capped mountain with hanging glacier in the back, and a wooden hut in the middle with black smoke rushing out from all sides. We found a couple of Argentinian families inside and a pile of badly burning firewood. The middle-age couple who were here for a fishing vacation offered us Mate. It still felt strange for me to drink out of an universal, shared bombilla but I accepted, and so did Brian. With everybody in their thick winter jacket and me in my wet cycling shoes, it was nice to have something hot.

Chris and Graham arrived soon after and joined us for a couple of more round of Mate. We set our tent up by the "smoke house" and made pasta with smoked sausage inside. (Just a coincident). The smoke was so thick that we had to run out of the hut every so often to take a breath. We had more Mate using our own pot, the big calabash we bought in Calafate. We kept the tradition though, passing it to everybody around.

With all our clothes smelt like smoke and our stomach saturated with Mate, we retired to our sleeping bags.

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