Patagonia day 15: Camping Los Nires to Puerto Rio Tranquilo

January 12, 2020. 108km.

Just after dawn I woke up to a sound I couldn’t place. It sounded like scissors. And animals… maybe sheep? Eventually my brain started working enough to guess that the sound was people sheering sheep. And sure enough, I opened my tent to see a shorn sheep looking at me.

Before I left, there was an ever growing herd of shorn sheep wandering about.

I had planned a long day, but still got a later start than I would have liked. Camping Los Nires is quite a nice place to lounge about, and I chatted a little with the Belgian woman who is staying around here for a day or two to go hiking. My plan was to get to Puerto Rio Tranquilo, the small town from which boat tours go to the Capillas de Marmol (“Marble Chapels”), rock caves worn into the cliffs by Lago General Carrera. I figured if I got to town this evening, I could do the tour tomorrow morning (when the weather was supposed to be good) and then do a few hours of riding in the afternoon.

I finally got on the road and had one fairly steep climb on pavement before reaching the end of the paved portion of the Carretera Austral. No more smooth roads for quite a while!

As a welcome to many days of ripio, the quality of the road right at the beginning was quite poor. Lots of loose rocks, no easy tracks to follow. It was really slow going and I started to doubt my plan to get to Puerto Rio Tranquilo. I saw another rider going south a couple times in the morning, but didn’t talk to him. He had a very lightly loaded bike - I would be really impressed if he was self sufficient.

There’s a 15km section of road here that is closed to all traffic for several hours on weekday afternoons for road work. Since I was going through on a Sunday, I didn’t have to rush to make it through by 1pm. Good thing too, because the morning was sloooow. At least the scenery was a little different. Swampy, and then following a river.

I guess someone wants to be able to cross the river here.
I guess someone wants to be able to cross the river here.

I made it to the start of the construction around noon. In a surprising, but appreciated, turn of events, the quality of the road got waaay better through the active construction. It was mostly well compacted dirt with no rocks, and really smooth. They even had a water truck going by at one point spraying the road to keep the dust down a little.

The construction is quite extensive. Huge excavations, people jackhammering at cliffs, trucks moving giant rocks around, people spreading and compacting dirt. There were a few sections with only one lane open, and in one I saw a camper change back into their lane too soon and get stuck in a pile of loose dirt. They were blocking the road for a bit, but they must have gotten them free since traffic started passing me again.

There was a relatively large hill in the middle of the construction zone, but the road quality continued to be quite good. Even after the construction, it stayed better than it had been in the morning. Thank goodness! Once past the earthworks, it was back to lupines and mountains and rivers.

It’s better than rain, but the sun was pretty intense all afternoon. Enough that I noticed a patch on my calf that I must have missed with sunscreen because it turned bright red and started hurting. I still had 50km to go in the early afternoon, and I started focusing mostly on making progress. There were occasional notable changes to the scenery though, like this sudden patch of tall trees that provided welcome shade and made the road feel like a tunnel.

It was also pretty dramatic to come around a curve and get my first glimpse of Lago General Carrera (which I think the Argentinians call Lago Buenos Aires). Once the road started going along the western shore of the lake, there were often cliffs providing some shade as well.

Despite being tired, I took at least one photo of a waterfall.
Despite being tired, I took at least one photo of a waterfall.

I knew that I had done the big hill earlier in the day, and that overall it was downhill to Puerto Rio Tranquilo. However, there were still a sequence of progressively smaller hills over the last 20km. The hills were getting smaller, but I was getting more and more tired so they seemed like they were getting bigger. I pushed my bike up one particularly steep one (steep enough that they paved a portion of it). I was so relieved to see the sign saying that I had made it to town.

Shortly after reaching the main street of town I stopped to look at a map to figure out where the campgrounds I wanted to check out were. There were tons of people wandering about - it’s clearly a tourist town. I had only been standing there a minute when someone from one of the boat tour agencies came over to ask if I needed help. I asked where I could find camping, and he pointed me toward Camping Rio Chirifo on the other side of town (and also told me to come back at 9am for a boat tour). I decided to take his advice, and it worked out well. On the few blocks across town I noticed that my back tire was really low on air. Perhaps that had something to do with the cycling feeling hard at the end of the day.

The campground owner was very friendly, and spoke a little English. The campground has wifi, a cherry tree with ripe fruit, and the two German women I met in Coyhaique (they had taken the bus and did the boat tour yesterday). As an “urban” campground, it’s relatively crowded, but not too loud. Would be pretty hard to find flat ground for a large tent, but I found something good enough, mostly just glad to be done cycling.

Bronwyn Woods