I’m sat in a wide grassy clearing overlooking the choppy glacial blue waters of Lago O’Higgins on what is now my third day of waiting for a boat to carry us across the lake and to the base of the famous Carretera Austral, a 1000km gravel road that winds its way north through some of Chile’s most spectacular scenery. Although on the face of it the weather appears to be fine, we’ve heard that the boat hit an iceberg a little under a month ago on the lake and so the boat now doesn't sail in anything short of perfect conditions.
Since Christmas day we’ve been cycling north through Argentina having crossed the border from Chile on Boxing Day. A few sunny days were spent in El Calafate whilst Robbie and Sam went to see the Perito Moreno glacier and Jam and I had a couple of unsuccessful attempts at hitch hiking to this enormous water-terminating glacier. From there we had our eyes firmly set on El Chalten for some New Year celebrations. Clocking in a mammoth 175km day of headwind to reach the small mountaineering town before New Year took it out of our legs, however New Year’s Eve and concurrently my 23rd birthday were an absolute blast. Much of the evening was spent drinking 4 litres of cheap carton wine sat watching the sun set over the Mt Fitzroy range before then heading to a nearby hostel which had been turned into a club for the night. Waking the next morning with aching heads and dry throats we decided to bring in 2015 by doing a three-day walk through the Fitzroy National Park. With the cost of food in the town prohibitively expensive for our meagre budgets we were forced to subsist solely off rice and a handful of stock cubes. Great to begin with but by the 10th portion we were all starting to go a little rice crazy. So instead of filling our bellies our eyes feasted on the magnificent views that surrounded us. The first night of 2015 was spent sleeping underneath the stars by a glacier with the magnificent rock pinnacles of Cerro Torre towering above us. Although horrendously cold (as you would expect being next to a glacier) the sunrise was a very special view indeed, and one that not many visitors to this area get to experience. The next day we trekked our way to Mt Fitzroy itself before scouting out a hillside that we could climb and camp atop. Darting from the path and across a river during a break in the flow of walkers we spent 15 lung and leg pounding minutes scrambling up through trees, spiky shrubs and rocks as quickly as possible to the most magnificent view I have ever seen. Tents perched on the precipice and Mt Fitzroy soaring high above us we sat in for yet another light display as the sun set over the full mountain range, and the depth of the valley below grew and grew as the shadows drew further and further down. After another sunrise and a fitful sleep as the wind blew ideas of tents being swept off the side of the cliff we slowly made our way back down to El Chalten and bid farewell to the most unforgettable few days of the trip so far.
Next up was yet another border crossing (the blank passport pages are rapidly reducing!), from Argentina to Chile. This border crossing however could only be made by foot and boat, yet upon reaching the first boat that would take us to the Argentinian border post we were told the 12km boat would cost a whopping $45. Way more than any of us were prepared to spend. So, we hunted out a path that traversed its way around the lake and set off loading as much weight off the bike and into rucksacks as possible. A mixture of carrying, pushing, kicking and screaming we struggled over every single metre of the route as the incessant steep ups and downs tore away at our upper bodies which were bearing the brunt of having to carry our heavy bikes and bags over fallen trees, up rock cliffs and across rivers. We were all rueing the decision as the cost of damage to all our equipment will no doubt surpass the cost of the boat. Thankfully the path eventually reached the other side of the lake and we were able to get our exit stamp from Argentina and pitch our tents in the lee of a small copse of wood. The border guard appeared to be suitably impressed with our endeavours, gesturing that nobody took their bikes along that path as it was ‘impossible’. The next section of the border crossing was a 6km singletrack path that worked its way up to the pass inbetween Chile and Argentina. We’d heard other bike tourers describe this section as hellish and how difficult it was. However with our previous days efforts still fresh in our minds we breezed up the 6km, even managing to ride some of the flatter sections of path. Across the border and down a 22km gravel track with rocks the size of footballs we were finally at the Chilean border post. Another stamp and we had completed what I imagine to be one of the more unique overland borders. And so this is where I am now, waiting for the winds to die down and the boat to sail across the lake to collect us and the handful of other travellers who are also here. The Chilean border guards have made the most of it though with a 90 minute football game yesterday afternoon between guards and travellers. Not quite a fair match up since we didn’t want to go in to too heavy a challenge in case our entrance stamp was revoked!