Cycling Chile/Argentina '04 | Tortel Index Day 33 Day 35
Day 34: 12K N of Puerto Yungay -> Caleta Tortel 42K Schism

As usual, stars turned into rain drops at 3AM. When we got up in the morning, our tent was surrounded by small streams. I was not very motivated to return to my wet socks and wet shoes.

The very first hill out, I fell. My body had gotten so used to react to falling that I was barely hurt. After that, it was not bad at all. Pay-back time came after another small hill. The hood of my rain-jacket was blown off. Water was flying off my face. In a crazy way, the cold rain made me want to laugh when the wild downhill sent us all the way down the mountain with hundreds of feet of sheer drop to the roaring river down below.

On the edge of one of the switchbacks, we saw a stone shrine that pays tribute to the construction of this wild, wild highway. A stair leads up to a lookout. From there, we could see numerous rivers wide and narrow across the valley.

A truck driver stopped us wondering if everything was okay with us. (Yes, I agree. People who ride their bicycles here in the rain probably need to have their head examined. ) We told him cheerfully that we were enjoying the ride. Going to Tortel, he said, was all downhill from here.

We took a brief moment to celebrate at the bottom of the hill then continued on the one-way road to Tortel. 22km to Tortel.

Even with the rain, the ride to Tortel was one of the most enjoyable cycling I have ever done. The relatively flat and good, hard-packed ripio took us through rivers, open plain, marshland, and rainforest where giant ferns and bamboos thrive. And probably because of the rain, we were surrounded by hundreds if not thousands of waterfalls that looked like milk pouring down the greenish mountain. The further we rode, the deeper I felt we were going into somewhere primordial, somewhere with myths to be listen to, riddles to be solved.

I was almost about to declare the road sign a lie when at 22.5km, there were still no signs of a town and we were climbing up a big hill. And then at 22.9km and over the hill, it was Tortel. Houses with blue, yellow, red shingles hugged the semi-circle shoreline and filled up all the space between the mountain behind and the ocean in front. We rolled down the hill and came to a large parking lot. This was the end of the road.

We sat our bikes by the fence, walked over a tourist information portal, and stopped in front of what seemed to be the map of the town. Then, we discovered something, let us say, rather unusual. There are no roads in Tortel. The whole town is on wooden scaffolds. All that blue, yellow, and red shingled houses were connected by catwalks, duckboards, and stairs from as low as the 3 feet above the ocean to hundreds of feet up on the cliff.

Carrying our bikes over these stairs didn't seem to be a good idea. So we returned with only our backpacks trying to find the closest place we could stay. Following the stairs down, I was quite amazed to see dogs running and chasing each other on the fenceless boardwalks less than 3 feet wide and nobody even came close to fall in to the water.

1km and many slippery steps later, we came to a hospetaje. And not surprisingly, it was built on stilts. At first, we were not sure exactly which house it was because on the same hill, following the same set of stairs, there were at least three houses. All the doors were locked. We knocked on the one closest to the sign. Nobody was in but we could hear TV was on. Minutes later someone came in through a back door and we were in. A drunk was sleeping on the couch.

The room looked clean so we stayed. Even inside the house, there were stairs to go from the common area to our room, two gigantic steps each about a foot high. All I can say is people in Tortel like stairs.

We made another trip back to the parking lot to get the rest of our luggage then set off to explore the town.

Maybe it was Sunday or it was raining, everything seemed to be closed. We watched a couple of locals knocked on the door of what appeared to be a grocery store and were let in. So, we thought we could do the same thing. Up, down, and around some more stairs, we saw a small sign on a house that said: Bread for Sale. So, we knocked on the door. They had bread! We got 6 hot rolls and continued. We were hungry, so we had one roll each just off the door.

I started to notice some markings on the boardwalk. Red or blue blaze here and there. Must be some kind of street signs but they were definitely not made to be understood easily.

At the bottom of a stair when we were wondering which way we wanted to go, a nun passed by and started speaking English to us. Sister Rosy is from the Philippines and very friendly. She was in Tortel for a mission. She walked us to another house, knocked on the door. Another hidden grocery store!

We thanked Sister Rosy and kept on going. We felt hungry again so Brian reached in his jacket and we each had another bread roll.

Eventually, we came to a bigger platform with a statue, a lighthouse, and some houses around. We must have walked 5km by now and countless stairs. It was getting dark, so we made our way back, we thought we followed the same way, but ended up passing a house with a cross on the front door - that must be the church where Sister Rosy stayed.

"Only one left." Brian said. And we finished the last two breads.

"You need 6 breads to go anywhere in Tortel." Brian claimed. With a couple of wrong turns, we retraced our steps back to the house that sold bread and got another 10 of them.

Through slippery catwalks with hardly any handrails, we got back to our hospetaje shortly before dark. The owner was really helpful. He quickly built us a fire and even helped us with hanging our wet tent and gear in the hallway.

The rain had gotten much heavier. Just when I got out of the shower, two very wet travelers walked in. Chris and Gabi. Surprised to see them but not surprised since no cyclists would want to lug their stuff further than this place. They settled to a room next to ours.

The stove in the hallway turned much more powerful when the owner put in more wood. I smelt something burning. That was my socks. One liner was melted. Another one got a big hole on.

Outside, it was really pretty with hazy house lights reflected on the ocean. The rain was loud, and so did the open drainage pipe. In fact, I could not even tell which was which.

Index Day 33 Day 35