Lakes & Gates

February 24th, 2014

In my experience, when given the choice between a lake and a gate, cyclists would normally always opt for the lake. Throughout our trip, pedalling past beautiful lakes has brought us peace and contentment. The two mighty lakes of Atitlán in Guatemala and Titicaca in Bolivia spring immediately to mind, but there have been countless lakes along our route to relax by and enjoy.

Gates on the other hand have always represented a temporary or permanent obstacle in our path; an annoyance. Either we have been completely unable to pass or, in deciding to tackle the gate, we have had the onerous task of unloading our bikes, heaving them over the gate and loading them back up again – not much fun with two bikes and ten bags between us.

On this leg of the journey however, it was to be the reverse. The lakes, although pretty, were hidden from us behind a succession of wet and grey days and instead it was the series of gates that were the real pleasure along the road, tempting us along towards the Carretera Austral.


Sarah outside the tent near Villarica, Chile

Leaving the northern Chilean coast behind, we are off to a bad start, arriving at Villarrica, portal to the Chilean lake district in the middle of torrential downpour. Unlike our beloved English Lakes, there isn’t even a fascinating pencil museum to shelter in and so we pitch a soggy tent in a soggy field…

Building a beach near the lake in Villarica, Chile

…and wake up to breakfast on a building site. Villarrica sees the potential in tourism and is in the midst of building an artificial beach for its visitors.

A view of Volcan Coñaripe over the lake of the same name, Chile

Things improve when we reach Coñaripe and camp next to the mystical lake…

View of volcan Coñaripe, Chile

…before a beautiful ride, climbing up towards the volcano of the same name.

James picking blackberries in the Lake District, Chile

We are racing against time but the change in the seasons means we can enjoy the blackberries…

James picking blackberries in Chile's lake district

…picking juicy ripe berries as we go is one of the highlights of travelling by bike in the autumn.

Pan amasado, local honey and a flask of tea in the Chilean Lake District

Another highlight of bike travel in Chile is stopping for warm bread straight from someone’s oven. Pan amasado can be found in nearly every village in Chilean Patagonia and this particularly warm, fluffy and comforting batch couldn’t have come at a more welcome time. Straight from the oven with fresh local honey and a cuppa from the flask. Perfect.

Fire station at Puerto Fuy, Chile

Rain again stops play. We are forced to postpone our ferry crossing at Puerto Fuy because the weather is so bad but it leads us to ask for shelter at the cosy new fire station in the village.

Wooden stair rail in the fire station at Puerto Fuy, Chile

Beautifully constructed from local pine, it’s not quite finished yet, but the attention to detail and craftsmanship are evident.

Wood panelled room in the fire station

We stretch out in a warm dry room, listening to the rain hammer outside.

Sarah pulling into the port at Puerto Fuy, Chile, on her bike

By the morning, nothing has changed and it’s a damp journey to the port…

James and Sarah on the ferry across Lago Pirihueico, Chile to Argentina

…reminiscent of soggy days in Alaska at the very beginning of our trip.

Two bikes leaning against a tree at Lago Nonthué , Argentina

The ferry takes us from Puerto Fuy across Lago Pirihueico and back into Argentina. When we arrive at idyllic Lago Nonthué just across the border, the sun finally shows itself…

Rainbow over Lago Nonthué, Argentina

…and we hang around the campsite to watch the rainbows.

View of the lake near San martin de los Andes

No visit to the Argentine lake district is complete without a stop at San Martín de los Andes…

Picture of Sarah's Ecuadorian hat at a campsite in San Martin de Los Andes, Argentina

…where it is time to say goodbye to my faithful but battered old hat, with me all the way from Cuenca in Ecuador (May 2013).

One of the lakes in the Argentine Lake District

The Argentine lake district seems distinctly more attractive to us than its Chilean counterpart…

Light shining on a meadow near San martin de Los Andes, Argentina

…but perhaps that is because the sun shines on this side a great deal more.

Russian style church in a meadow near San Martin de Los Andes, Argentina

Pretty churches with a Russian feel hide behind trees…

A rule measure sticking out of a lkae in the Argentine Lake District

…we ride quietly past…

Lago Espejo, Argentina

…until crystal clear Lago Espejo (Mirror Lake) convinces us to stop riding early and jump into the water.

Man fishing near Bariloche, Argentina

It’s hard not to fall in love with Patagonia…

River near Lago Espejo, Argentina

…really hard.

Shop window of a chocolate shop in Bariloche, Argentina

But there is an uglier side to this area – chocolate shop Swiss-style towns like Bariloche sometimes make the lake district feel like it’s a bit of a circus…

Two circus performers in Bariloche, Argentina

…especially when the circus does in fact roll into town and add to the mayhem.

James and Sarah in front of a distance sign on Route 40, Patagonia, Argentina

Back on the road, we are heading for the less-visited towns of Esquel and El Bolson, stopping along the way to “create” a birthday card for James’ brother Ed. A handily placed road sign with the year of his birth, a hastily prepared poster, a tripod and hey presto we’ve got ourselves a card!

Sarah and James in a bus shelter, near El Bolson, Argentina

Map check in a lovely log bus stop. I could happily live in something like this one day I think.

Road sign for Route 40 into Esquel, Argentina

Unbelievably, we are still on Route 40! It brings us to Esquel where…

A tray of facturas from Esquel, Argentina

…true to form, we seek out the bakery. Facturas are mini pastries to be found in every Argentine bakery in Patagonia. The quality varies but in Esquel we hit the jackpot.

View of the river valley from Corcovado, Argentina

Time for another detour and we choose a route to avoid roadworks at Futaleufu, the traditional border crossing for the Carretera Austral which takes you back into Chile. Keen to avoid the gravel, dumper truck mayhem we have been hearing about we used Skyler’s Off Route blog to plan a more picturesque and fun-filled route.

Road sign from Corcovado to Lago Vintter, Argentina

It’s a route that takes us along dirt roads, past forgotten lakes and through plenty of gates to our destination of the Chilean border crossing at Lago Verde, just a day’s ride from the fabled Carretera Austral at La Junta.

Tree branch hanging over river near Lago Vintter, Argentina

Idyllic camp spots…

A stone through crystal clear water near Lago Vintter, Argentina

…with crystal waters…

Small daisies in a field near Lago Vintter, Argentina

…and pretty little daisies which, I learned after all this time in Latin America are called margaritas. I will never look at a tequila cocktail in the same way again.

View of a windy day at Lago Vintter, Argentina

We reach Lago Vintter on a stormy day. The wind blows caps onto the lake and all of sudden we feel we are by the sea.

Pushing through the wind to Las Pampas near Lago Verde, Argentina

Ploughing through that wind, we head for the hills…

View of the zig zag in the road on the way to Las Pampas near Lago Verde, Argentina

…I love the zig-zag at the end of this dead straight stretch of road.

Picture of policeman Aldo in Las Pampas or Doctor Atilio Oscar Viglione, Argentina

At the end of that zig-zag lies a village that used to be known as Las Pampas and is now called Doctor Atilio Oscar Viglione. Thankfully our generous host that evening has a much more manageable name: Aldo. Head of the local police Aldo wastes no time in taking us in, giving us a bed, plying us with tea and then providing the tastiest indoor bbq I think we will ever eat.

Sign pointing to lake Number 5 on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

Saying goodbye to Aldo, we start on one of the most enjoyable days we’ve had in a long time. We only clock up 30km, slipping and sliding across rivers and through gates but it’s challenging, remote and beautiful…in all the right doses.

Sarah pushing her bike across a river on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

We start the morning with a push across the icy river outside Las Pampas…

James standing at a gate on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

…and encounter our first gate…

A gate  on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

…and then another.

Sarah on her bike riding a pebbly path on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

I lose count of them eventually, all linked together with pretty, pebbly tracks…

View of Sarah cycling through a gate near Las Pampas, Argentina

…all beautifully engineered…

Gateway on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

…leading us to…

Argentine border post at Las Pampas / Lago Verde, Argentina

…perhaps the most pristinely cared for border post in the world. Even the dog is immaculate.

Sarah pushing her bike through a high river on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

I rashly opt to push through the next river fully loaded…

James lifting his bike across the river on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

…while James sensibly lifts his across.

Yellow eggs for lunch on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

We fire up the stove for a delicious lunch made with Aldo’s sunshine yellow free range eggs.

Burned trees on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

Post lunch sees us weaving through a fantasmical ghost-wood.

Sarah crosses the gate at the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

One final gate marks another humble international border…

Welcome sign at the on the border between Argentina and Chile at Las Pampas and Lago Verde

…and we are in Chile.

View of Lago Verde from the border, Chile

The stunning Lago Verde awaits with a prime camp spot but before we get there, refuelling is needed…

Dog sniffing cake at Lago Verde, Chile

…Aldo has slipped a homemade cake into our panniers and this local hound knows just as well as we do that it’s a tasty snack. What he realises much later to his dismay is that cyclists don’t share!

River near Lago Verde, Chile

We soak up the sights on the Chilean side…

Lancha on the lake at Lago Roosevelt near La Junta, Chile

…and our final camp spot before we hit the Carretera Austral? Why at a lake of course: this time, the serene Lago Roosevelt.


3 Responses to “Lakes & Gates”

  1. Jorge Iván Says:

    Sin palabras. Simplemente fenomenal. Alegría al leer y ver las fotografías. Bendiciones y buena vibra.


  2. Ma and Pa Says:

    As always – awesome pictures and beautiful writing! Well done. Can’t tell you how good it is to have you back. Just hope you don’t feel smothered now that you have to live indoors with people who don’t feed you delicious pastries and buns!


  3. Margy Says:

    Lovely pictures as usual! by the way we have margaritas here to!!!! I was given a plant covered in these lovely little daisies many years ago by a gentleman who bought it for because of the name!!!! from what I hear your home baking surpasses all those wonderful cakes etc !!!!
    Much love, Margy xxxxx


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