trip dates 24.12.2005 - 23.1.2006
distance cycled 3007 km
repairs 0x

photos general info gear statistics travelogue     home page

A dash along the South America's backbone.

My second South American cycling trip was the result of overplanning something that was initially ment to be a sedate continuation of unfortunately interrupted tour in China.
General information
ROUTE: It was a south-to-north route from chilean Patagonia at lake General Carrera to Santiago, going up the Carretera Austral (Road 7) to Futaleufu, crossing into Argentina, then north on roads 71, 258, 237 into lake district and more north on roads 40, 143, 40 up to Lujan de Cuyo, crossing the Andes on Ruta 7 below Cristo Redentor and descending to Santiago. For more detailed route see the profile and cycling data under the diagram icon above.

ROADS: There were 3 types of roads, which I named: R for 'ripio' or gravel road, A for smooth asphalt road and B for bad asphalt road with cracks and potholes. In 3000 km, there were roughly 900 km of R, 1700 km of A and 400 km of B. The details can be seen in the route profile (click diagram icon above). Riding on ripio was almost twice slower than on A roads.

MAPS: I used the maps available from the internet. Road maps for Chile are as detailed as they can get, and provincial maps for Argentina were enough for a straight ride like this. I cropped and copied maps onto two A4-sheets.

TRAFFIC: The traffic was mostly low up to Malargue (Bariloche is exception), then it grew steadily with the culmination on the pass between Mendoza and Santiago, where 600 big trucks per day in each direction are a norm. I found argentinian drivers much more cyclist unfriendly than chilean.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT: I flew with Air France Ljubljana-Paris-Santiago and back and Santiago-Balmaceda with Sky Airline. No hassles whatever with my boxed bike. On the way back from SCL airport Air France supplied a bike box for 4000 pesos and helped me pack. Very civilized. A ferry across lake General Carrera (Puerto Ibanez - Chile Chico) charges for a bike roughly as for a person.

ACCOMMODATION: Camping wild is the way to go. Sometimes it's the only option, as there are desert stretches in Argentina up to 250 km. In Chile every village had one of more cheap hospedaje/residencial. In Argentina, they're more into a bit more expensive hosteria/hotel.

FOOD AND WATER: There are few sections in Argentina of about 250 km where you can't find food or water (e.g. Junin de los Andes to Zapala, Las Lajas to Chos Malal). The places in between which are shown on maps are frequently no more than a road sign in the middle of nothing. Elsewhere, food was readily available few times in one day's ride. Water can be obtained from streams too, which are abundant on most of Carretera, less so on argentinian side. I wonder if it's 'mala suerte' to take water from Difunta Corea (or similar) shrines?

COSTS: Camping wild helped me to get away with $15 US per day. In Chile I paid 2000-3000 pesos ($4-$6 US) for a lunch and 4000-6000 pesos for a bed in a guesthouse. Food in Argentina is about 20 % cheaper, hotels not so.

VISAS: Citizens of most 1st and 2nd world countries don't require a visa for up to 90 days. See details for Chile and Argentina.

WEATHER: It was the height of southern summer. Temperatures, measured on the road, ranged from 10 to 45 degrees C. There were some rainy days in Patagonia on both sides of the border, with the worst day of 10 hours downpour at Epuyen, which I observed from the window of petrol station's cafe. North and east of Confluencia (Ruta 237) it was dry and hot. Daylight was from 6:30 to 22:00.
Wind is a special subject. There's no consensus among cyclists about which way the wind blows, except that all of them think the wind is coming from the opposite direction of which they are riding. My experience is like follows. In chilean and argentinian Patagonia the wind comes from the west and is much stronger on argentinian side. If the road turns west, you'll have headwind, when the road turns east, you'll think you've become exceptionally fit. From Barrancas northwards the western wind component is decreasing and the northern wind is increasing. Around El Sosneado the western wind dies out and is even replaced with eastern winds, while northern component stays present all the way up north. With all that said, I don't think I was terribly handicapped going north. There were some tough sections with headwind, mostly about 20 km and never lasting the whole day, and one particular km before Bardas Blancas where it was ridiculous even to try to cycle against the wind. I also had some amazing days with constant tailwind, when riding east in southern Argentina.

SITES: The Carretera Austral has a scenery of mountain streams, rivers, lakes, dead forests, live forests and alpine pastures. Similar scenery follows on argentinian side up to Confluencia where a shrub desert starts and lasts more or less up to the beginning of the climb along Rio Mendoza to the pass below Cristo Redentor. The corrosion-colored stones of the Puente del Inca are the highlight here, before the 70 km descent to Los Andes.
All this places are nice and I think it was a wonderful tour, but don't expect to be knocked off your feet by some out-of-this-world scenery. For such an experience, I guess it's better to go south to the glaciers or north towards Bolivia.

ANNOYANCES: The drivers in Argentina, particularly bus drivers, made me very nervous. They seem to be ready to make an omelette of you rather than swerve one inch away of their preferred path. Lesser thing are horseflies, which know how to choose the worst moments (steep hills + heat + no wind) to molest you.

EQUIPMENT: Road bike and very little more. Click the bike icon above for details.

REPAIRS: I had no punctures in 3000 km. Tyres, even as narrow as 25 mm, pumped to maximum pressure (90 psi/6.2 bar) seem to be immune to pounding on gravel roads. No problems with rims or spokes either. However, the home-made steel plate, used to attach the rear rack to the seat stays, broke after only 700 km. I used nylon strap as a temporary solution until the next village, where the plate was readily replaced by 3 times thicker aluminium one.

LINKS: Check the biggest collection of South America cycling links. For a start, try the following:
Syd Winer cycled almost exactly the same route on a longer journey.
Ivan Viehoff's touring notes on Chile, Argentina and Bolivia.


I had a road bike with aluminium frame, carbon fork, triple chainring (52/42/30), 8 speed cassette (12-26) and tyres 25-622. As usual, I traveled extremely light. The list of things was similar as on the Tibet tour. I left out some things like woolen cap, neckerchief, water filter, underseat bag, long sleeved jersey and spare tyre and I additionally took overshoes and fishing line. The luggage weight was 8.8 kg and the new bike was 1.5 kg lighter, so that the bike, luggage, water and food combined weighed 22.3 kg. Frequently used objects were in the handlebar bag and other things in a light stuff sack (160 g) tied to rear rack together with a tent. Instead of foam sleeping mat I used a strip of bubble-wrap; this reduced volume significantly and additionally I could wrap all my things in bubble-wrap and put the bundle in the stuff sack, making it practically waterproof. The luggage in the rear (about 5 kg) was in my slipstream, giving very little air resistance so that the bike handled very much as unloaded. I kept the original narrow 25 mm tyres and they worked even on 'ripio' (gravel road), but if I'd do it again, I'd go with broader ones, say 28 mm, for more secure riding.
I used all the things I had with the exception of flash light and some tools and spares. In the last week of the tour I got ulnar nerve inflamation - cycling gloves might had prevented it.

Route profile and cycling data

Day Date Trip Time   Speed  Climb Alti Total Accom Notes (daily end-stop) ***
                    Avr Max            
    d/m   km  h:m  km/h km/h    m    m    km
0  24/12   0  0:0   0.0  0.0    0  300     0   a   Ljubljana-Paris-Santiago
1  25/12  66  4:22 15.1 49.6  665  642    66   w   Santiago-Balmaceda, Puerto Ibanez -20km
2  26/12  27  1:29 18.1 53.7   72  314    92   w   Chile Chico +2km
3  27/12  67  7:30  9.0 29.8  382  333   160   w   Puerto Guadal -50km
4  28/12  98  8:44 11.2 31.2  490  240   257   w   Puerto Tranquilo
5  29/12  76  6:49 11.2 29.6  503  518   333   w   Villa Cerro Castillo -47km
6  30/12 141  9:25 15.0 65.6  984  350   475   h   Coihaique
7  31/12  90  5:10 17.4 61.4  199  190   565   h   Manihuales
8   1/1   85  8:05 10.6 39.9  272  132   650   w   Puyuhuapi -50km
9   2/1   75  6:52 10.9 29.3  649  152   725   w   Puyuhuapi +10km
10  3/1   87  7:52 11.1 27.0  204  215   812   w   Villa St. Lucia -20km
11  4/1   91  7:49 11.7 32.5  775  453   904   h   Futaleufu
12  5/1   77  5:59 12.8 32.9  466  707   980   w   Los Alerces
13  6/1  109  8:36 12.7 40.9  541  777  1089   w   Epuyen -10km
14  7/1   17  0:57 17.4 33.2    0  414  1106   c   Epuyen
15  8/1  172  9:57 17.3 49.3 1512  907  1278   h   San Carlos de Bariloche
16  9/1  143  7:26 19.2 55.8  266  694  1421   w   Junin d.l. Andes -70km
17 10/1  124  7:44 16.1 52.5  869 1002  1545   w   Zapala -160km
18 11/1  158  8:01 19.7 52.5  839 1050  1703   h   Zapala
19 12/1  203 10:32 19.3 51.5  387  846  1906   w   Chos Malal -15km
20 13/1  124  6:33 18.9 53.0 1150 1049  2030   w   Barrancas -5km
21 14/1  112  8:36 13.1 50.2 1167 1282  2142   w   Bardas Blancas -50km
22 15/1   97  7:10 13.6 47.3  846 1428  2240   h   Malargue
23 16/1  185  9:45 18.9 44.3  186  687  2424   c   San Rafael
24 17/1  129  6:58 18.5 30.0  857  973  2553   h   San Carlos
25 18/1  125  7:09 17.5 52.8  786 1477  2678   h   Potrerillos
26 19/1  117  7:16 16.1 53.5 1253 2548  2795   h   Penitentes
27 20/1   94  5:18 17.8 51.6  582  365  2889   h   Los Andes
28 21/1  118  7:23 16.0 37.9  498  365  3007   h   Santiago
29 22/1    0  0:0   0.0  0.0    0   65  3007   a   Santiago-Paris
30 23/1    0  0:0   0.0  0.0    0  300  3007   a   Paris-Ljubljana

Days Trip Time Speed Climb Alti Avr Max km h:m km/h km/h m m 31 3007 199:27 - - 17398 - Sum 26 2963 197:01 - - 17326 - Sum, cycling days - 203 10:32 19.7 65.6 1512 2548 MAX, cycling days - 66 4:22 9.0 27.0 186 132 min, cycling days 31 97 6:26 13.8 40.0 621 672 average per day 26 114 7:35 15.0 44.3 667 746 average per cycling day 7 86 7:45 11.1 31.5 468 384 average, only R roads 12 141 7:50 17.9 48.7 765 997 average, only A & B roads 31 53% 46% 40% 42% 61% 78% variation per day 26 32% 19% 22% 25% 53% 72% variation per cycling day 7 17% 10% 10% 14% 43% 57% variation, only R roads 12 23% 19% 7% 16% 53% 58% variation, only A & B roads
*** Legend 12 17/8 - cycling day 13 18/8 - non cycling or rest day Trip - daily cycling distance Time - daily cycling time (while in motion) Speed - daily cycling speed (while in motion): Avr - average; Max - maximal. Climb - daily cumulative altitude gain (registered manually) Alti - altitude at the end of the day Total - cumulative distance Accom - accommodation: a: airplane; h: ho(s)tel; f: at a family; c: camp; w: wild camping variation - is defined as the ratio: standard deviation/average

From the notebook

The first sound to be noticed stepping out of the Coihaque's airport hall at Balmaceda was the hissing of the wind. There are very few occasions when I like the wind and this was certainly not the one. First wheel revolutions of the tour are always awkward, more so if there's considerable headwind, wobbling luggage clumsily tied to the rack and front derailleur which denied obedience. 10 km further, when I begun to get a hold of the equipment, I met the first cyclist. He was a German bound for the same destination as me, but had missed the turn-off and was now cycling to the Balmaceda airport. After a careful examination of the maps we proceeded together, but soon we discovered we were not compatible pace-wise and I went forward in my first day of what was to become a very hectic tour without a true rest day. Much to my surprise I found out the next day that the German had cycled through the night and had come to Puerto Ibanez before me. I came in the morning and the ferry to Chile Chico was parting in the evening, which was not too bad, because the next ferry was 2 days later.
Hell started the next day on the road along the south shore of the lake General Carrera. Beside the very bad road and steep climbs and descends my arms were burned by unexpectedly hot weather and most of the day I cycled in rain jacket. That evening I wrote in my diary that hardships of this road were not worth the few sightings of the dramatic vastness of Lago Carrera. In the comfort of my home now, I'm inclined to be of different opinion.
In the following days I started to get a grip of the gravel Carretera Austral. The climbs were not a particular problem and the descends which at first I took slowly, pushing the brake levers to the bar, were becoming increasingly quick and bold and soon I felt like a gaucho on a Sunday rodeo. On the third day I was confident enough to name my bike 'Rey del ripio'. The one thing I couldn't stand though was ridiculously steep lateral inclination of the road in the turns - as if the drivers were driving through turns at 200 kmh.
That's my bike fully loaded at left. My luggage attracted lot of attention and astonishment and the questions like "You must be on a day trip, right?" were quite frequent.
The picture to the right shows how it looked like from the wheel perspective. The cyclists I met were shaking their heads in disbelief when they looked at my tyres. Sooooo narrow! Have you actually ridden the Carretera? The fork was another thing. I was advised to sign my will before the trip if I intended to cycle on carbon fork. "Catastrophic failure", "razor sharp", "face plant", were few keywords that I got when inquiring about touring on this type of fork. I must say I was a bit intimidated, so I put a piece of bubble wrap around the fork as a protection from stones. Interestingly, the only question about the bike I got from the local people was: "Is it a carbon fibre frame?".
I stubbornly thought that I'll make this trip without any mechanical problems. But life is full of surprises. The pleasant one was that I had no punctures on the whole tour - I think it's first time ever. The less pleasant was a story of a broken plate. 700 km from the start of the tour I heard annoying squeaking sound coming from the rear wheel. The inspection revealed that a steel plate, which was used to attach the rack to seat-stays, had cracked in two. More embarrassing was the fact that I designed this plate myself and had tested it by sitting with full weight on the rack - the rack held good. I had 73 kg at that time and could give my right hand that the luggage on the rack - at most 5 kg or less than 1/14 of my weight - even when dynamically accelerated could not make any damage. Wrong! Temporary solution was easy - nylon band wound between the rack and the frame, and final solution was made in Puyuhuapi where a mechanic made a copy of the plate, this time 3 times thicker and in aluminium.
I camped half of the nights. The tent was not space technology, it seemed to be from the family "Hydrofiliidae", ie. "the one that loves the water so much that it's always full of it". On this tour it suffered from the bad disease of disintegration. On the 4th night a pole broke, but it wasn't something a duck tape couldn't fix. On the 6th morning one peg (out of four) disappeared in the grass and the next morning another peg flew miraculously from my hand and again disappeared in the grass. On the 9th night - or 8th morning, it is not clear - the broken part of the pole disappeared. Luckily, I had a bicycle, and used it as an extension of the pole. It was my (unintended) version of Bikecamper.
A person can be classified by the amount of time he or she can spend sitting idly in a closed tent on a rainy day. I fall into 1 hour category. That morning, after waiting one hour for the rain to stop, I had it over the head, packed in the rain and started cycling with a firm determination do make 180 km to San Carlos de Bariloche this day. 10 km later, battered by the wind-swept rain at 10 degrees C and soaking wet, I hastily retreated to the Epuyen's petrol station cafe. It took me 2 hours to stop shaking and another 6 hours of gazing through the window (left picture), drinking innumerable coffees and praying for the rain to stop probably made me one of the legendary guests of this cafe. But even the Murphy gives up sometimes, so at 18:30 the clouds started to part and the rain ceased enough for me to jump on a bike and make 6 shivering kms to the nearest campsite. In the evening I was sitting by the fire in the camp's cantina together with other campers, well fed, dry and almost unpleasantly warm and couldn't stop wondering about the strange ways a day can turn for a lonely cyclist.
The next day was a revenge day - I managed to cycle to San Carlos de Bariloche. In other terms also this was an exceptional day. After relatively flat and fast riding of some 50 km I came to El Bolson where I enjoyed the coffee at the petrol station's store - a habit that continued to the end of this trip. After El Bolson the climbing starts and culminates at the triple pass, each climb of about 10 km followed by fast descent almost to the starting altitude. The excellent smooth road and nice alpine atmosphere made this a fantastic ride. Many cyclist were coming in the opposite direction, but they were so frequent now that we didn't stop to chat any more. The wind turned my way some 30 km before Bariloche and I stopped to adjust the front derailleur to be able to swing the chain onto the big ring - I didn't bother to do this before, having no need of a big ring so far. In Bariloche I started a search for a room, a task that turned out to be very frustrating. In the 20 or so hotels that I asked in I got two similar answers: "todo completo" and "we're full". To make thing worse it was raining all the time and some high-end hotel staff were unhappy to see a man in cycling shorts and overshoes hanging for a short time around reception, leaving wet trail on their precious carpets. When my mind was preparing to accept the thought of overnighting at the doorstep of some pub, the luck stoke and I got a beautiful room with such luxuries as shower, towel, soap, toilet paper and TV. The ending of this day inevitably called for a celebration with a big dinner and a beer in the pub around the corner.
The guy on the left, a swiss by the name Andreas Ulrich who was in his third year of round-the-world bicycle trip, happened to had cycled in Tibet with a slovenian Zlatko Kampuš, a person whom I met and who gave me valuable advice for my China tour in 2005, but from whom I also recieved photos from his Tibet trip and among them there were two photos of a certain unknown cyclist, the cyclist who now revealed himself to be the very swiss Andreas Ulrich starring at the begining of this sentence. Everybody whom I told this story exclaimed "Small world". And it's true only if you cycle it.
The young cyclist on the right is a chilean who started his trip northbound, but changed the direction after meeting Andreas, partly because of more favorable wind, but probably also to learn few tricks from the master.
The dirt road of Carretera Austral undoubtedly had its attraction both scenary- and adrenalin-wise, but so did totaly different smooth roads of Argentina's pampas. Whoever thinks that pampa is a synonym for a flat, straight road extending to the horizon is in error. There are enough ups and downs to fill any climber's dream. The top of the passes also don't find themselves at the most logical location - just around the bend as I expected on this picture - but rather few kms further up, down and again uphill.
The wind however is to be expected, as expected. It comes in the form of headwind - very bad, lateral wind - just as bad, and tailwind - quite good, but frequently unrecognizable. One of the big mistakes that I made this time was not to bring the compass. If I did, I could once for all end the tedious discussion of whether the wind in South America blows predominantly from the north or from the south. Without the compass it was impossible to tell.
I identified the fox-like creature on the picture to be Colpeo Zorro (Dusicyon culpaeus). It came to my camp when I was away, busy searching for few stones to prevent my disintegrating tent to be blown away by Patagonian winds. It didn't seem to be bothered by my presence and was going on its business chewing the bushes here, sitting down to scratch its fur there. I obviously interrupted him in raiding my tent and he was just hanging around in case I go away again - vain hope as I had only a couple of chocolate cookies for dinner. Other creatures I saw were: a skunk (Conepatus humboldtii), nandu or lesser rhea (Pterocnemia pennata), burrowing parrots (Cyanoliseus patagonus) always in a noisy company of 6, ringed kingfisher (Ceryle torquata), buff-headed ibis (Theristicus caudatus) - frequent companions which amused me with their trumpeting - and always present southern lapwing (Vanellus chilensis).
I also run over a snake. I spotted the thin white creature too late to do anything else then roll over it - and lift my feet.
After the first week riding the Carretera I realized a fantastic fact that there were no mosquitoes - incredible fact with regard to all that water around. The horseflies probably ate them all. Just as I started to enjoy this fortunate fact I was harassed by a lonely mosquito during the night stay in a hotel in Zapala.
The pass between Mendoza and Santiago - the famous routa 7 on argentinian side and 60 on chilean side - is rather unfortunate choice for a cyclist. While it undoubtedly has fine scenery and excellent highlights as Puente del Inca (left) and Aconcagua, it's also infested by a great percent of the Argentina-Chile trade. A big truck passes every 2.4 minutes, cars and buses filling the gap in between. The road is accordingly in decay, as usually the worst at the rightmost edge where a cyclist is squeezing, hoping not to be run over by drivers who are always in a hurry. They all seem to congregate at the same time at the chilean immigration post, which is a bureaucracy nightmare for someone not fluent in Spanish. On a previous tour I passed the Andes at Paso Agua Negra. Although a gravel road and much higher (4780 m) it (or similar passes north up) would always be my choice.
Since I became committed to 'ultra-light' touring, it was necessary to take a (rather ridiculous) step further and make pictures of myself lifting the fully equipped bike above the head. This time I had chosen a particularly convenient spot: above me in the distance conoseurs will easily recognize Aconcagua - the highest mountain outside Himalaya.
I had a pleasure of meeting Alberto Rios, nick-named Juje, at Puente del Inca. An argentinian from the region of Jujuy, he was a professional racing cyclist in his young days and a strong veteran presently. He was aiming to Vina del Mar and me to Santiago, so we joined forces for part of the way. He was much stronger than me on the climbs - having only 2 front rings he would spent most of the climbs on the pedals and soon I could observe him just as a point in the distance. His professional habit of indicating by hand the potholes, cracks and other dangers of the road to the following cyclist(s) made for a remarkably pleasant ride. The picture was taken in Los Andes where we shared the room before parting each along his own path.
The problem of packing the bike for a return trip started to haunt me early into this tour. While it was just a brief, passing thought in the beginning, it stoke by full force when I approached Santiago. The solution was, however, rather easy. The hotel I stayed in supplied some cardboard boxes (inevitably from China) and in the morning of the return flight I spent few sweaty hours in producing something that very much resembled a cubist's sketch of a bicycle. Since I packed the bike so that it could be wheeled around (forward only, to be honest) it was not just an artwork, it was a true installation, which few inhabitants of Santiago had the chance to enjoy on Sunday morning, 22nd of January 2006. The final surprise occurred at Santiago airport when Air France supplied a bike box and my artwork was put inside it, making a return trip for the bike double secure.