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Continued (mis)adventures up the Carretera Austral

The next morning we awoke bright and early.  I peeked out the tent half expecting to see horses.  There were none.  We reluctantly packed up and tried to summon up the courage for our day ahead.  We had no breakfast since I didn’t plan on camping again.  I found 2 cookies and we shared them.  A German guy boiled some water for us  so we could make coffee.  A grim beginning.  We waved goodbye to beautiful Lago Desierto and took one last photo:


We departed together with the Chilean couple.  They soon passed us by, we could not keep up with them with all the weight we carried.  The first 2 hours, the path was narrow and slightly muddy with rivers to cross and relentlessly uphill.  We stopped often.  Laurent already looked dead.  He used his trekking poles for support and I found 2 sticks.  After 2 hours, the path widened to a dusty road and we reached the actual border of Chile.  We felt triumphant.  We said hello to Chile:


And bid farewell to Argentina:


We got one final look at Fitz Roy:


But we still had 4 (alleged-according to the map) hours (it turned out to be more like 6 for us!) of trekking.  Two hours later, we were ravenous.  I built a small fire on the side of the trail so I could boil some water for a shitty cup o soup.  That cup o soup would have to keep us going for the remaining 10 or so km.  It’s all I had that we could make quickly.

Laurent was already broken from all of the pressure on his shoulders.  We stopped very often so he could rest.  I was doing okay but the weight I had on my back was too much for my backpack to handle.  The pressure pressed on my lower back and I really started to feel it as the day wore on.  Six hours into the trek (this is the total time it should have taken us) we were still miles away from the Chilean customs, Candelaria Mancilla.  Laurent really looked done but he trudged on.  I never really understood that word ‘trudge’ until that day.

poor Laurent, literally trudging

poor Laurent, literally trudging

The last two hours of hiking, we stopped more than we walked.  We barely spoke.  Only to let the other one know that we were stopping.  I think Laurent would take about 10 steps and then sit down to rest.  The pain against my back was becoming unbearable.  Time was ticking by, it was getting late!  There was a boat that left Candelaria Mancilla at 5:30 to go to Villa O Higgins.  Villa O Higgins was the place where the Carretera Austral started (or ended/depending on which direction you travel).  It was our destination.

Fortunately, the whole time we hiked, it did not rain and we were greeted with beautiful landscape as we neared the end:

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It was 6:30.  We had missed the boat and since it was Saturday, we knew another boat wouldn’t come until Monday.  Fortunately, at Candelaria Mancilla there is a campground located on the same property as an estancia (farm).  I have no idea why there is a farm in the middle of nowhere but I was so grateful that there was.  You could stay at the estancia if you wanted (for only 7000 pesos-$14).  There was no way we were camping that night!!

the cozy estancia at Candelaria Mancilla

the cozy estancia at Candelaria Mancilla

We arrived to the Chilean customs office at around 8 pm.  We thought we had reached the finish line.  The guy stamped our passports, barely looking us over.  We were absolutely disheveled.  We anxiously searched for the estancia.  We asked him where it was.  1 more kilometer was his dull reply.  1 more kilometer!!!!!  Was he kidding?!  I don’t know how we pushed ourselves for that last kilometer.  It felt endless.  We finally stumbled upon the estancia and we desperately tried to find the señora.

Señora took one look at us and ushered us right in.  She took us to a room in the back of her house.  We asked her if she had food.  My stomach was burning with hunger.  Twenty minutes later we sat at her kitchen table while she prepared soup and meat with potatoes.  Everything was so wonderful.  Fresh baked bread was laid on table filling my nose with its lovely aroma.  I thought we were in heaven.

We stayed at the estancia for the next two days and I spent two of the nicest days of our trip so far.  We walked around her house and were awed by the amazing scenery.


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We rested.  We ate her delicious bread and homemade jam with raspberries right from the backyard:


We could cook our dinner on the wood burning stove.  We had hot showers.  Life was good again!  We did  it!!  We walked into Chile!

Monday morning the boat pulled in to Candelaria Mancilla:

IMG_6129 To treat ourselves we decided to go on the glacier tour to see the Glacier O Higgins.  We got a peek at Parque Nacional Bernardo O Higgins:


and marveled at the wild landscape.  I’m not sure if I loved the clouds or the scenery more!



O Higgins glacier was massive and amazing.  It’s one of the 4 largest in Patagonia:


on approach to the glacier wall

the massive Glacier O Higgins

the massive Glacier O Higgins


refreshed, relaxed & showered!!

After viewing the glacier, we continued on the 3 hour boat trip to Villa O Higgins, with its jaw dropping scenery:


the colors of the rock were amazing

the colors of the rock were amazing


condor soaring overhead

condor soaring overhead

The boat trip ended at the start of the Carretera Austral!!  We had officially arrived!

We took a 20 minute bus ride to Villa O Higgins and arrived at sunset:


We had finally arrived in our first town since leaving El Chalten, almost 5 days ago.  This is a town of about 400 people, a real outpost town:

the entire town of Villa O Higgins

the entire town of Villa O Higgins

Chickens ran all over the dusty roads and you could walk the entire village in about 8 minutes.  We found a great hostel that also ran a campground.  We figured we’d stay in Villa O Higgins for a day or so before starting our journey north.

When we checked into the hostel, we asked the woman when the next bus left town.  Friday, she replied.  But that was 5 days away!  Wasn’t there some other way?  She told us we could try hitchhiking.  Hitchhiking!?  We weren’t 18 years old!  Who hitchhikes these days?  We’re almost 40 for crissakes!  So we decided to wait until Friday for the bus.  We hiked in the area to kill time:

gorgeous nature in this rugged part of Patagonia

gorgeous nature in this rugged part of Patagonia

Hmmm…a 5 day wait in El Chalten, a 2 day wait in Lago Desierto followed by another 2 day wait in Candeleria Mancilla, and now a 4 day wait in Villa O Higgins.  In our naivete planning this little adventure, we figured it would take about 1 week or 2 weeks max to go up north via the Carretera Austral.  And now we were already 2 weeks into the trip and were still at the beginning.

But wait a second….what ever happened to those damn horses??  Well, it turns out there is dispute between Argentina & Chile regarding the horses crossing the borders into the others country.  They don’t want it.  So that means no horses for anyone!  Would have been nice if someone told us.  If you are planning a trip like this…do NOT expect horses!!  Even if you are promised!

Stay tuned for the next chapter!

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