Patagonia day 11-12: Torres del Simpson to Coyhaique
January 8, 2020. 45km (plus a rest day on the 9th)
The long day to Camping Torres del Simpson meant a short 45km to Coyhaique, where I booked two nights at the Aumkenk Aike hostel. In the end I think I'm glad I did the long day before, because the trip to Coyhaique was wet and cold and hard even with the short distance.
I left fairly late, taking advantage of a short break in the pouring rain. Always nicer to at least start not in a downpour. I did put on my full rain gear though (good thing, too). I got to start the day out with the now typical views of cloud-shrouded mountains.
I am pretty immune to waterfalls at this point, but there were a couple particularly nice ones along the road in the morning. Probably the days of rain has made them more impressive.
The road was all paved, but without a shoulder to speak of. And it's the main road between the two major population centers around here (Puerto Aysen and Coyhaique) so there was more traffic than I've been used to. Still not that much, but more than the usual car every 5-20 minutes on earlier parts of the trip.
I knew there was going to be a moderate hill before Coyhaique, but the weather and construction made what would have been only a small challenge into more of an ordeal. The uphill side of the hill would probably have been quite picturesque if it weren't raining. It also featured a short tunnel that was really loud when vehicles were going through it.
Before the true tunnel there was a stretch of covered road with pillars on the outside. I tried to take a picture of it from above, but it was raining pretty hard and I didn't want to get my camera too wet. I ended up with a picture focused on the nearby grass instead of the tunnel.
The top of the ridge was, of course, really windy and cold. Going down the other side I again wished for long-fingered gloves. So on my rest day in Coyhaique I bought some. The downhill also featured two stretches of one-lane road due to construction. These had stoplights at either end, and it's always a bit stressfull because it's hard to know whether you'll get through before the cars from the other direction get the go signal. Since I was going downhill, I wasn't far off. There was only a short stretch in the first one where I had to bike on the “closed” side for a few hundred feet. Luckily it was fully paved. Mostly, my fingers were cold and I was sick of rain.
Coyhaique isn't actually a large city, but it's a whole lot larger than anything I've seen on this trip. It's also built on a hill, and my hostel was near the top. I made it though! I booked a bed in the dorm, but the beds are constructed as their own little caves with a fair bit of privacy and a light and outlet. It's actually pretty cozy. There's also a cat wandering about.
I took a shower, went grocery shopping, did laundry and had a lazy evening mostly curled up in bed.
On my rest day I got out of bed late, ate breakfast, and then wandered downtown for some shopping. I found another gas canister for my stove (the first one isn't out yet, but I don't trust it to last the whole way and don't know that there will be another place to buy one - we'll see if it just ends up being extra weight). I found a pair of long fingered gloves. They aren't waterproof, but should be better than nothing if I end up with more rainy days. I also got more cash from the ATM (running out of money wouldn't be fun) and exchanged a bit of it to Argentinian pesos, just to make it less urgent to find cash when I cross the border.
Coyhaique isn't too bad as cities go (I tend to really not like cities while on tour). The hostel is out of downtown, and it's not very built up.
The center of town has a lot of touristy stores, a bunch of banks (most of which are boarded up though open - maybe because of the protests?), and a very nice central square.
The 20 minute stroll between the hostel and downtown was about the right amount of exercise for a rest day. Even in the city you get nice mountain views. And a mural.
I spent a while trying to plan out more of the trip, but it's really hard to plan for the southern half too much. It's pretty much all unpaved, so the quality of the road and the weather will probably have a huge influence over how long it takes. Which will in turn have a big influence over whether I bus from El Calafate to Puerto Natales (and then maybe go to Torres del Paine from there by bike or bus) or try to brave the notorious Argentinian winds and do a bike loop through Torres del Paine on the way to Puerto Natales. The latter is more aesthetically pleasing in terms of routing, but the winds and lack of facilities through that stretch of Argentina really don't sound that exciting. Luckily I have a couple weeks to decide.