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go east

CHILE/ARGENTINA: PUERTO MONTT — PUERTO MADRYN

RAIN

Puerto Montt must surely be one of the top contenders for the title of The Wettest City in the World and so unsurprisingly I arrive to torrential rain, combined with lashings of those famous Patagonian winds. From the snug confines of the hostel where I am the only off-season guest, I contemplate the prospect of crossing the Andes one last time. And despite the inclement conditions, I decide that since it hasn’t actually snowed significantly yet to tackle the Rio Puelo crossing – a route that links Puerto Montt in Chile directly to El Bolson in Argentina and is marked on my map as suitable for foot traffic and horses. A bike is kind of like a horse, isn’t it?

Sigh.

Will I never learn?

A bike shack -- leaving Puerto Montt the relentless rain makes any form of shelter welcome. On a dirt track leading into the mountains, I prise open the door of tiny structure by the side of road. Somehow me and my bike fit inside and we take shelter for the night from the rain, the relentless rain.

There is not much more to be said about this final hike over the mountains except that it might of been a nice walk, in summer, without a bicycle.

GO EAST

Argentina is largely flat and treeless and there are a lot of roads to chose from.  As far as navigation goes, the only thing I really need to do is head east until I run into the Atlantic ocean. I decide to follow the Rio Chubut, largely on the basis of having recently re-read Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia* in which he mentions this river, but also for the practical consideration of having access to fresh water.

I leave the Cordillera behind as the temperatures plummet and snow flakes begin to fall. I made it over the mountains just in time, it seems.

I follow the Rio Chubut which heads generally east over the pampas.

In Cushamen, I am invited by Maria Eugenia to spend the night with her family. She offers to wash my clothes and it is the first time they have seen the inside of a mechanical washing device for many months.

This was once the bottom of a vast lake and the pampas are enlivened, in places, by...

... interesting rock formations...

...but mostly it is just sky and distance.

When the river starts to turn further to the south than I care to return, I strike out more directly east choosing at random from the roads that crisscross the wide featureless expanse on my rather inaccurate map.

...

Just about anywhere is a perfect camp site - except for the lack of water.

It is a time for meditation...

...as the day passes...

...under an immense sky...

... until the arrival of the luminous night when the stars continue to invite me to contemplate infinity until the sub-zero temperatures finally drive me into my tent.

Given the huge distances between any form of human habitation and the lack of potable water, the failings of my map prompt me to discuss my planned route in detail when I do come across occasional settlements. A man in the shop at the tiny village of Mirasol points me onto this diversionary diversion which winds its way...

...to a high tension power line and then follows it east across the pampas cutting off a couple hundred kilometres of boring highway.

It's a local trail barred by frequent gates with an ingenious locking system that can be baffling to re-close.

The few people that I met out here don't get a lot of visitors and are initially suspicious but offer me maté once they ascertain that I am not the unlikely emissary of some mining company.

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It's not as dry as you might think. The are plenty of signs of recent rain and a lot of the road looks like it would be well nigh impassable when wet so I scan the horizon a little anxiously.

Sun down again.

THE ATLANTIC

After ten days, I arrive in Puerto Madryn. I’ve crossed the continent and gone as far east as I can. Now it’s time to turn north.

The rusting abandoned boats here are on a different scale to the rotting wooden hulls of the fleet in Chilean Patagonia.

...

Maria Dolores.

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*I re-read In Patagonia on the Porvenir. Ken’s copy of this venerable book is notable in that it was sent to him as a Christmas gift in 1992 by the Argentinian Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was not singled out for special attention by the Minister: everyone in the Falklands phone directory received similar gifts. March of the Penguins was also deemed suitable material for winning the hearts and minds of the population of these contested islands.

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