Patagonia day 14: El Blanco to Camping Los Nires

January 11, 2020. 75km.

Today was a good day. I took something like 80 pictures, and spent more time just staring at the amazing scenery. The weather was perfect (if windy). The pavement was good, the construction was minimal.

The 7 cyclists at last night’s campground were all packing up around the same time. The two Americans from Idaho and the woman from Belgium left about 10 minutes before me. The group of three Spanish speakers were still breakfasting when I left.

The construction zone I saw yesterday was long, but not too busy and there wasn’t any active work (it’s Saturday, I guess). It was easy enough to pull over to let the lines of cars pass in both directions, and the single open lane was newly paved. The wind in the morning was much less than yesterday, and when it did appear it was a nice tailwind.

The scenery was mostly a continuation of yesterday. Fewer rivers and large jagged mountains. More rocky outcroppings and farms.

As expected, the first 2/3 of the day were mostly uphill, but it was a very gradual uphill most of the time. The most noticeable part was the funny colored volcanic looking mountains getting closer and closer.

For the most part the grade was shallow enough that I just went into low gear and chugged slowly up without needing to stop too much.

But even gradual uphills can get to you, and I spent a while resting and watching and listening to this flock of sheep.

As I entered the Cerro Castillo National Park, the animal theme continued. This bird decided to hang out next to me on the side of the road.

And there were signs everywhere warning people to slow down because of deer. Some things never change, though I got the impression I was supposed to be excited about the chance of seeing deer here.

The long hill was actually a serious of hills, and I did get occasional downhill sections. This one had a sign that seemed to suggest the hill was more like a cliff. It wasn’t.

A good part of the afternoon was spent with the road mostly following a river lined with lupines.

The most amazing part was the colors. The mountains were all sorts of shades of gray and red and purple. The trees were several shades of green. The lupines added a vibrant purple.

Though I was following a river, there have been a lot fewer streams and waterfalls around than there were a few days ago. There were a couple little ones though. The relative rarity made them seem more interesting.

Somewhere along here, the Americans and Belgian showed up from behind me. I guess they had taken a longer lunch break. We were all going at somewhat different speeds, but saw each other at viewpoints and the one short construction stoplight. The Belgian woman ended up at the same campground as me this evening, but the Americans took a different route at the bottom of the big hill.

The last stretch of the uphill section was a bit of a false flat. It looked like it should have been easy, but it wasn’t, really. The wind had turned to a headwind, and the grade was definitely up even if it didn’t look it. The scenery made up for it though.

And we were rewarded by a fabulous view off the other side once we crested the top.

The American couple was nice enough to take a photo that even has me in it.

A bit farther down, I missed the official pull-off for the iconic picture of the switchbacks on the downhill side of the pass. But I pulled over a little farther down for a slightly different angle on the same view.

The switchbacks weren’t actually that much fun to bike down. A little too steep, a little too curvy. But the downhill continued for a long time after that, and there were fabulous views of Cerro Castillo.

Around here there seem to be a few major industries: raising livestock, growing vegetables to sell to tourists, and building cabanas to rent to tourists. As I went farther down into the valley, all three became more common. It was a bit of a change after most of the day spent without any human habitation at all.

At the real bottom of the hill was Villa Cerro Castillo. Not terribly exciting looking. It’s the start of what’s supposed to be a pretty amazing 4 day hike (there’s also a shorter day hike segment) up to Cerro Castillo. I decided not to do the hike here, mostly because I don’t have good gear for climbing mountains and it’s not really my favorite thing anyway. I’ll appreciate the views from below.

My goal for the day was a campground a bit over 10km past the village. Seemed trivial, but those 10km were over a hill with the strongest wind I’ve experienced so far blowing in all the wrong directions. Again, the scenery made up for it. Scrubby, but beautiful, with more large mountains as a backdrop again.

This section of road was clearly pretty new. I'm frequently impressed that they managed to build this road at all.
This section of road was clearly pretty new. I’m frequently impressed that they managed to build this road at all.

Once I got back down into the woods, there was a little bit of shelter from the wind. The woods were quite pretty. They have the feel of a fairy tale wood - I think it’s the epiphytic moss or something.

I made it to the campground in late afternoon. It’s a really nice place run by an elderly couple. They seemed a little surprised that I was traveling alone. As it turned out, both people camping here tonight are solo female bikers. We each took one of the two shelters. The shelter was great for cooking as the wind hasn’t really died down. Pretty sure my tent won’t blow away with me in it though.

Bronwyn Woods