(Very loooong post) The Caretera Austral. The Mekka of cycling tourists. I though that Pamir was busy but after few kms from Villa O’Higgins I quickly noticed that the high Tajik mountains in comparison were isolated places.
On the Pamir I was used to stop and have small chats with other cyclists … and here? Serious faces, a quick “hola” and they were already gone (of course a couple of funny exceptions!).
I was amused because most of theme were young couples … generally the gentleman pedaling in the front and behind (much behind) a very serious and exhausted partner … I had the impression they didn’t have much fun … but this was just my perception.
I had the impression to be in an Equatorial jungle: rain and mystic fog. Even the type of vegetation was similar and the chirping of a bird remembered me one of the Borneo jungle … do you know when you listen a music and boooooom you are living again a specific moment? A sort of melancholy raised up … how are they doing my little friends Penan?
Ups and downs. The sweat was mixing with the rain … wet smelly cloths … cold head wind … Frozen hands … Frozen feet … Frozen nose … When possible I just tried to enjoy the majestic view. In the distance blue glaciers, rivers, waterfalls, lakes and forests. A sweet smell of Rosehip. From Equatorial jungles I was cycling in something that was reminding me Canada … or even my home at bigger scale. B e a u t i f u l !
I always say that my trip is not about bicycle but about people … eyes contact, a generous smile and the connection is done. I scroll my pictures and almost NO ONE with people or children. Where are the children???
Here nobody was screaming “heeellooooo!” like in Uzbekistan; women were not shaking their hands to invite me for a Ch’ai like in Georgia, Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan, no one was stopping me just to ask you if I was OK like in Iran … no smiles … no greetings … Indifference.
I was a bit disappointed. A couple (more!) of occasions I was angry … angry to be treated with contempt. Completely wet and cold, doors were slamming in front of my face with any kind of stupid lie or bad comment … “What is wrong with the people here?!?” I ask once to a an incredible rude man.
I was also feeling bad for Ricardo, a generous and comprehensive man who allowed me to pitch my tent below its veranda. Heavy rain like shower. He wanted me to stay at his house but I refused because the kitty. Fortunately! When his wife came back in the evening she was not angry, she was furious. “What is this??” … This??? I’m a person!! I heard theme disputing that night. The day after she didn’t look at me and she didn’t say goodbye when she left slamming the door …
I had mixed feelings. I could tell you many other stories but as usual I try to be short with my posts (already long). When I was telling my experience to other travelers they were looking at me with suspicious eyes: “?? Really?? Noooo we had great experiences! We were invited at their home, they gave us food and we had fun … best people ever!” I think they were trying to tell me that I AM the problem …
Only few travelers had my same experience and in a certain way it consoled me: ok, maybe I AM NOT the problem … Probably I was just unlucky … 2 months of bad luck … or maybe what I experienced in Central Asia was so incredible that now everything appeared insignificant … mmmm no … I’m lying to myself: people with me were unfriendly and this is a fact.
Of course the situation affected my enthusiasm … the Catwoman was passive … the Catwoman was moving by inertia, by the curiosity to see what the region could offer me and by the hope that things would change…and finally somenthing happened. In a warm day I wanted to wild camp but I saw: Camping Cerro Color, Agua caliente.
“A shower would be nice”. I stopped. “How beautiful is this place?! Don’t you need some help here?” I joked spontaneously to Filomena and Saturnino. It didn’t pass 10 minutes and they were back: “Yes, we need help. How much do you want and how long can you stay?”. They were adorable. My soul was nourished with generosity and kindness. I stayed one week and of course I didn’t want money.
With the kitty we had a great time there: greenhouses, sheep, cows, horses, camping … we were busy in the 400 hectares property. They were very happy. “Gracias hijita” (thank you little daughter), they said when I left the property on my loaded bicycle. They wanted me to stay one month. The apex of joy was when we fixed the water pump.
After that week I was filled with food, gratitude, joy and enthusiasm … I needed it. Thank you abuelitos.
Another special person that warmed up my heart along the Caretera was Alisia. Little incredible woman. I had a lot of fun in the kitchen with her and Raul, the chef. She had a comedor where about 50-60 workers per day came to have lunch. Busy busy days but I had a lot of fun with them.
“Gracias hijita, when you come back the door of my house will be open for you”. Told me Alisia and I left also Villa Ortega with my heart filled with gratitude.
I’ll also remeber the abuelita Luzmira who filled my belly with delicious guisos (stews). Also at Luzmira place I helped to fix the water pump … I still remember the big smile and light in her eyes “Gracias hijita“.
Honestly, if you ask me how was what I saw of the Caretera Austral I can summarize it by saying: nice … but why is it so famous I don’t know exactly. Don’t get me wrong: beautiful, but for me that I come from the swiss Alps I was more impressed when I was riding on roads like the way to Chile Chico or Futaleufù … but this is only my opinion.
Probably my disappointment was because for me is not only about nice landscapes but also the connection with people. I’m so happy that I meet those 3 amazing women and Ricardo. They did parts of the Caretera special.
I declare the Chile chapter officially closed. Now it is time to cross again the border to Argentina. It is sure that in this trip I’ll not reach Bolivia, Perù or Colombia… I think I’ll ride in the north part of South America in another trip, with a lighter bicycle and probably without the kitty … Don’t worry, the adventure continue in Argentina!
Hijita Stef and shepard Dimitri