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She Bikes, She Eats -- Patagonia


She bumps along...

Full MoonIn the morning, I mount my bicycle and follow the Futaleufu. As the day progresses, the road gets worse and worse. It climbs through green peaks and descends along craggy, rocky banks of water so violent that I can barely hear my wheels crunching on the road. Portions of the road are transformed into deep crevasses by waterfalls that tumble from the mountainsides. The entire day I see only two gauchos, who nod curtly and raise a forefinger from their reins as I pass them. 

With scarcely a farmhouse in sight, the road spirals westward; elbow-jarring gravel bumps me down to a lake where I call it quits for the day, where a string of peaks and glaciers lies at the foot of a warm, azure lake. Three Chileans fly-fishing nearby flash silver tails of line back and forth until the sky turns black.

A mess of land and water...

The Carretera Austral is the only road that heads south from here, a washboarded, potholed path that winds in and out of the mountains, to and from the coast, connecting glaciers and rainforests and glaciers again. The road was Augusto Pinochet's project, intended to open up the isolated south for the Chileans, and it is virtually abandoned; it is much easier to travel by boat in these parts than to navigate the steep mountain passes. 

The road stretches 650 Mountains kilometres south from Puerto Montt and dissolves just beyond the settlement of Coyhaique, where the mess of land and water becomes too complicated to be accessible.

"Aren't you scared..."

I pass a lonely hitchhiker as I turn onto the Carretera. He seems ready to camp out for a few days waiting for a ride, but waves cheerfully Bikeas I ride by. Near the seaside village of Puyuguapi, pigs and chickens are scattered across the Carretera, the only road through town, and I have the feeling that if asked, no one would be able to say where this road goes. Nor would it matter. 

No one travels alone here, and of the few cars that pass me every day, each driver stops to talk, shattering the isolation and loneliness they feel when they travel through these green fjords. They offer me rides, water, food, directions on a road that is only going one place, a reality check...whatever they can give me that will make my life easier. They always ask, "No tienes miedo?" Aren't you scared? they say, with wide eyes searching around them as if something horrible could happen to us here, in the presence of nothing but land, sea, and sky.

For a Patagonian recipe straight out of Anik's book, click here.




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