So, what precisely is a micro climate? People told me it is pristine out here, how pure is that? And how exactly does Patagonia looks like? Carretera Austral, everyone who has been to Patagonia talks about it.
Just a few weeks prior I wanted to ride the Carretera Austral. Initially I did not want to be on the only road cutting through, with loads of other cyclists. Now, I am here and there is no one, except me. It is July and it is cold and very wet. Cycling in a few degrees above Celsius is still fine but I notice I am sitting more in my tent than out of it. To be precise: I only sit in my tent. From 4 o’clock to about 10 the next morning.
Before getting on the Carretera Austral I cycled through lush forests, so dense I could not place my mini solo tent. Trees are tall, heavy, and prevent light from reaching the ground. Water flows about everywhere, tickles from massive walls of rocks, which may break and fall down on to the dirt road. Trees fall down too, when the ground they grow in becomes too wet, soppy and soft. The abundance of vegetation is countless, fungus and moss grows on shady spots, on wooden fences. Rocks are cut away to form a road, a road continuously fenced off. The road is following a river, curving along lakes and cutting through mountains.
Water falls with a deafening voice from heights, a very pleasant sound when removed a little from a small flow at night. Where the sun does not come all is still frozen. Very few cars drive out here and right now, there is absolutely no tourism, and no signboards other than a few ‘keep this place clean’, to see a heap of trash lying around.
Birds chat, answering each other with a distinguished call. Cows roam freely, and so do I, on the only road cutting through. I feel truly embraced by this very compact piece of Earth, where mountains as a firm body tower over me. It feels like a birth when I reach Ruta 7, from a narrow opening into a wider space. A new beginning towards Coihaique, from where I shall make a turn.
I am on the famous Carretera Austral, the smooth tarmac soon turns into horrible rough stones and soft dark sand which has me sink into it. Although I prefer off-road cycling, not when I want to be fast in order to reach the no-rain-zone quick. I am waiting for the impressive nature to come, but after 50 kilometer I still am not impressed. Sure, the nature is truly pristine, pure, beautiful, hundreds of years old, untouched with massive trees growing in beautiful waves towards the light. But I expected something else…
The road is fenced, as much is in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. I understand why: the road is dangerous for cattle and farm animals need to be surrounded by structures. No such issues in the Atacama desert, where there are a lot less electricity lines to be seen either. In fact, the Atacama desert is more pristine!
More rain is showering me. I try to keep my positives vibes, but its starting to be a lost battle. I don’t want to be here. I see nothing, except clouds. The nature is no fun to be in as I always have to trespass and be satisfied with a tiny piece of hideout. I don’t feel in nature as I can not go where I would like to. I see no openness. I feel enclosed by mountains and clouds and fences. I could enjoy it, would it be sunny.
Camping day in day out in damp, wet weather is not nice. My socks stink, the cycle short is wet, trousers too. Kitchen cloths stink tremendously. Mattress holds air only for 3 hours, my sleeps are accordingly. Waking up in a tent resembling a rain forest with drops falling down the ceiling and little pools of water in the corners, is annoying.
Every morning I pledge to knock on a farmers door when it rains but when the late afternoon arrives all I want is rest. My own quiet habitual milky coffee and meditative embroidery. I seem stuck in my own custom which is not that restful when it rains anyway. But the prospect of speaking Spanish and the repetitive questions are putting me off, the whole scenario of asking, hoping and making myself comfortable in someone else place seems so much more work than setting up camp.
It took some time, some stubbornness too, but I am not enjoying the nature anymore, as there isn’t any openness. I need to turn, and it will be long before I get again what I long for.
My thoughts become a mantra of ‘maybe tomorrow it is dry’ and ‘I hate rain’. It is not very cold, an average of 4 degrees in daytime and around zero in the night.
Comfort sits in the sun, in the space outside the confining of a tent, there where nature is amicable enough.
Cycling in a Lycra cycle short when it is 40 degrees Celsius is not comfortable, so isn’t starting the day in a wet Lycra short. It’s totally useless and unreasonable to cycle in the rain for months. Well, at least for 6 weeks now…
Cycling on the Carretera Austral longer becomes only interesting after Puyuhuapi, where a tough climb leads into a national park. I praise myself to do these narrow winding tracks in a Chinese truck. In 4 hours I am in Coyhaique, a distance which would have taken me nearly a week cycling in the rain.
I had made it as far as 10 kilometer out of Puyuhuapi and although it finally was a dry, somewhat sunny day, I was completely fed up with this famous Carretera. I loathed it!
Whether I have to blame my periods, the clouds, the rain, or the toxic smoke in which I had placed myself, my thoughts become as dark as the fumes I capture in a little abandoned puesto I’d found myself.
That evening, cycling out of gloomy La Junta, forgotten to buy consolation chocolate and comfort cookies, I have taken a vow: ‘The first farm or abandoned house is where I will sleep. No more camping in the rain!’
At my preferred time, 4 o’clock Argentinian time, one hour later than in Chile, I see an abandoned little house. I open the gate where it’s build behind and while walking over I do another wish: ‘I hope there is a wood burner.’ First thing I see is a cast iron stove, a non leaking roof and wood enough to keep me warm for two evenings and a full day. I need to crush a bed-frame with my own force, but that’s no problem as I am loaded with negativity.
It’s a grotto little place, filled with animal shit, bird nests and liquor bottles. I clean, rearrange quickly and make a chair from a bucket. A few moments later I am feeling much better and like a queen on a throne I sit. Isn’t that actually sad, to be happy with a bucket as a chair?
The second night I sleep in this little puesto house, where it is 16 degrees, I am finally able to move freely in my little tent: the sleeping bag is zipped open, my legs can move, there is no need to be afraid that the sleeping bag, made of plumage, will get wet by collecting dampness. It feels like a victory.
Yet, the house has the same negative effect on my thoughts as the cloudy nature where I am in. I feel my freedom is taken away because I can’t sit outside and being in a tent is not seeing anything of where I am. I need openness.
My mood becomes so bad I start to long to go home. I start to think of the meaning of cycling, which seems totally useless and leading to nothing. I see no effect of cycling the world, it seems I can do this forever and gaining nothing but happiness, insights, wisdom, positive energy, clarity, and ideas but no effectual creations. It seems my ideas and dreams don’t get further than non tangible blurs. I want to belong to a community, to build up a self sustainable lifestyle, to grow in creativity, together with other powerful spirits. I want to be needed and give care. Not to a loved one or a child, but to a worldly community of mutual interests.
And here I sit, on a bucket, demolishing a bed frame, fiddling with my embroidery. I smile, because I do love what I am doing.
As soon as I leave the little smokey house, my thoughts become sweeter and less harsh for myself. But still they are negative. I just need to get OUT OF HERE!
There are hardly any cars going South, and the 3 cars I halt are not going further than 10 kilometers out-of-town. Luck is on my side when I try not, and assistance is quickly arranged when I am on a ferry with only two other passengers.
I can only hope that this new set of mattresses will add a bit more comfort…
Once in Coyhaique the men with whom I hitchhiked bring me to home-stay ‘Normi’, an 80 year aged lady living on her own. She’s chopping wood, wearing jeans and make-up and not in for a photograph while she sips yerba mate. I stay 4 nights in her cold house which is only heated in the kitchen, where we both sit and repeat how cold it is.
It keeps raining but when I leave it is dry. I cycle towards the border, camp on an open grassy field, forgot about the wind. When the harsh wind picks up in the evening, I at once am reminded that I always should place my tent behind something.
When packing the tent next morning, rain showers lightly, wind is fierce, I am asking myself why I like to complicate situations for myself?
Cycling on with the wind pushing me nicely I reach the Argentinian border quick. Seeing the openness, the fresh colors in perfect harmony with a nearly cloudless sky, a white-topped mountain range and a view ranging from far left to far right, I suddenly feel my lungs open up.
I can breathe. I can see. The endless mass of trees and their attraction for water is gone and I am happy the suffocating feeling it gave me, has abandonded me too.
I know very well that when the wind would not be in my favor, as it is right now, my mood would be less positive. But it seems I have beaten the rain!
At the border I meet with a guy on a motorbike. His number plate tells me he’s from Colombia. I ask him which building is the immigration and the Colombian replies in Dutch. Jeffrey is Dutch, and we both have troubles speaking our mother-tongue to each other. In little less than an hour we both talk as if we need to keep up with the past weeks. This quick conversation makes all the difference. I liked talking to him, and his typical Dutch ways.
Cycling further over mud I notice myself roaring a happiness yell: I sought solitude and I succeeded. I want more of its silence and openness. But not combined with battling the cold rain for over a month, sitting in my tent, doing all to keep warm, while deprived of camp fires, sleeping in a zipped down sleeping bag which I try not to have soaked by condensation. This is not a nice way of traveling. Cycling in these conditions is one thing, not being able to talk to people is another thing because I notice I feel the need to communicate. Real conversation that is.
I am going North, towards the spring in Uruguay! I did not need one minute of pondering whether to continue South, now I am so close to the unimaginable beautiful national park Torres Del Paine. Cycling for me must be fun and reaching a certain place is not part of it.
The next day I don my sunglasses, take off my rain jacket and replace it with a light sport wrapper. I watch the scene behind me and while I sing out loud with African Arabic music, I see I’ve overcome the rain. A clear blue sky, clouds hovering above the mountain range in the distance, a pack of gray-white sadness above Chile. Tears of happiness pop into my eyes, I feel proud I have battled the worst of this trip. Not in those 5 years I have felt like I did previous week, it must have been a built up of many weeks in terrible unpleasant weather.
And although I am feeling the roaring happiness again, I know there is something looming underneath. For me, there must be more than this…