But how was the trip to Puyuhuapi? The first day after Coihayque brougt us through the narrow valley of Simpon River which is green, lush and idyllic. Later that day we got into another valley that was more open and that struck us by its resemblance to Switzerland. Flo figured he wouldn't be surprised if we arrived in Glarus (Swiss city) any moment. We turned into a third vally later in the afternoon which was much hillier, something I don't like particularly later in the day. As we couldn't find a suitable wild campsite we continued into Villa Mañihualez where we spent some time looking for a campground. I was tired and started to get annoyed when we finally found the place. To our amazement it turned out to be a "Casa de Ciclistas" which meant we got a bed for free! And even a very comfortable bed!
We knew that the pavement would only last for some 20 km more but why are gravel roads always so bad? And what made everything worse, along gravelroads live armadas of horse flies. Have you ever tried to cycle up a hill, evading holes and big stones and fighting agressive flies at the same time? Doesen't work and even if you can kill one there are hundreds waiting to take over. To our surprise we reached another paved section and made it to Villa Amengual earlier than we expected. For a change we stayed at a hostel that has been recommended by a group of Chilian cyclists and was really nice. That was the second bed in a row! We were getting spoiled.
Next day was hard again. After a few kilometers we were back on gravel again. The big exception, it was a good one. Fortunately, because we had to climb a pass. For the first time for quite a while we really felt like being back on the Carretera. It was a narrow road, winding its way up a steep mountain through dense rainforest. We got a better idea of this "bosque encantado", the enchanted forest on a hiking path near the top of the pass. It was hard to see the ground for everything was covered with bushes, weeds and moss. There were small pink flowers growing all over the trunks and a creek with surprisingly clear water. The path led some sort of mirador where we could see a glacier. The glacier was pretty, but the way there was awesome.
Cycling down the other side of the pass was no fun. Once again the road was more like a dry riverbed and my hands hurt from braking all the time. Rather late that evening we smuggled ourselves in the campground of the "Ventisquero Colgante" the hanging glacier. The hike to a mirador next morning led through a forest very different from the bosque encantado but also dense and nearly as impenetrable. For me this glacier was just another one, nice of course, but nothing overwhelming. In the afternoon we arrived in Puyuhuapi after an easy and short ride.
The next two days were unspectacular. More ups and downs on a sometimes very bad, sometimes rather good gravel road to Villa Santa Lucia. We left the Carretera Austral and in two more days we arrived in Futaleufú, the last town before reentering Argentina. The landscape between these two towns is among the most beautiful we have seen so far. Again, some areas reminded us strongly of Switzerland but its much more pristine and unspoilt.
Within a day after Futaleufú we reached Esquel. It was some sort of shock to be back in civilisation after weeks of wilderness and small towns. There were lots of cars and the usual chaos in the streets. And we were back on a paved road. Next morning we found out that there are not only bad gravel roads but also bad pavment. It was wavy, had holes and uneven patches and required full attention. But the hills were easy, we even had backwind and we were looking forward to another day under similar conditions. Too early. In the evening the wind changed direction and in the morning I didn't even make it from our campsite up to the road. It might not have been as strong as between Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales but the fact remained: I could not cycle in that wind! Of course, Flo was annoyed but finally accepted that I was going to stop a truck which took us to El Bolsón. What a pity, on this stretch we would have had very nice and varied landscape once we would have left the Pampa.
We spent two nights in El Bolsón before setting out in the direction of Bariloche. On the way there we found the ideal wild camp site. It was off the road, flat, protected from wind with water nearby. No thorny, sticky seeds and few mosquitos. That night we got up to watch the stars and Flo managed even to take a picture of the Southern Cross.
We had our reservation in the Centro Atómico on the 18th of March, so we had to spend some time somewhere else. We passed one night in the National Park Nahuel Huapi and one in Colonía Suiza which is a very touristic place founded by Swiss Immigrants.
Now, how do we like Bariloche? After our first day I wondered whether they suffer from some kind of identity crisis. There are hotels called Chalet Suisse and Gstaad, Fondue seems to be quite famous and on the plaza there are men with St. Bernhard dogs so tourists can take pictures. These dogs are on many postcards and are claimed to be "traditional". For everybody who doesn't know: The St. Bernhard dog ist THE Swiss dog breed, some sort of national symbol:-) Bariloche is also full of Chocolaterías, no Swiss town can compete with the number of shops that make and sell chocolate (and ice cream!).
This week we spend the mornings in a Spanish school to make sure Flo gets his Spanish going. As if this wasn't already very little time, Flo skipped today's class to give a talk at the Centro Atómico. He knows people there, this is why we got cheap lodging at the campus.