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Patagonia - Part 4: Puyuhuapi

Puyuhuapi, Aysén, Chile

As much as I might have enjoyed a second day lounging on the shores of Lago Gral Carrera, it feels good being back on the Guanacos. We leave the lake and, as we always do, stretch out on the road, each of us riding our own ride, lost in our own thoughts. The sun is bright and strong and already warming up the day. One by one we stop at the gas station in Puerto Rio Tranquilo. There’s a line out to the street and down the block but those that arrive later join up with those already in the queue. The line of waiting cars is none too happy about this and let us know with honks, glares, and what I imagine are some choice words in Spanish. Eduardo, not wanting to incite a riot on such a pretty day, shepherds us to the back of the line. Disaster averted.

We’re on the Carretera Austral (CH-7) now, Chile’s route through much of Patagonia. Like Argentina’s Ruta 40, it may be a national highway and a relatively thick line on the map, but not all of it is paved, and we’re facing 62 miles of dirt and gravel through mountains dense with woods. On a fast, straight stretch, Joe’s tire goes flat. He bravely tries to hold onto the bike but before he can bring it to a controlled stop it throws him to the ground. Thankfully, he’s shaken but not stirred. At least he has on-board Go-Pro footage of his off. Eduardo and Deidrik fix his flat and we continue on.

Lunch is at two colorfully painted old buses converted into a roadside restaurant for backpackers and other travelers. After lunch, a great twisty road winds its way up over a mountain and then spills down the other side in a delicious series of twists and turns before depositing us in a broad valley. The sun is out, the temperature is rising, and the traffic is building to Coyhaique. We get to town and I tell Dennis, “Follow me. I’ve got GPS!” and proceed to get us lost. We finally make our way to the hotel, shower, and jump into taxis for dinner. Our cab driver is playing Guns N’ Roses. We rock out, then dine at one of the best restaurants in town. We toast to another great day.

The weather is iffy in the morning with gray skies and wet roads. It’s not raining but it could any minute. We ride out of town and up to a ridge that would have a nice view on a clear day, and then descend into a narrow, fertile valley to dance with the Río Maniguales. I don’t know if it’s the weather or a little road weariness, but the vibe is pretty chill. We stop for a lunch of empanadas and hamburguesas. I’m used to flaky, half-moon-shaped empanadas that fit in the palm of your hand. Down here in Patagonia they come in various shapes and sizes, some small and round, others—like the ones we just ordered—are doughy and as big as bear claws. The hamburgers are also peculiar—giant pieces of bread with little patties of ground beef hidden in between. An emphatic “NO Wi-Fi” sign forces us to stare at each other and actually talk.

I leave the lunch spot early to set up a photo op down the road. I snap photos as the riders file by and then quickly hop on the bike and give chase. Ted’s chosen to wait for me up the road, and together we turn up the wick and chase the group through a hilly green landscape. It’s one of the first times that we’re able to really attack a set of twisties with the Guanaco 650s, and they oblige, turning in quickly and torquing their way out of corners. The adrenaline flows. Ted’s fast and smooth and we eventually catch the tail of the group.

I decide to push on and leapfrog the group for another photo op. I pass my fellow riders one by one and pull up alongside Eduardo, point forward, and then press the shutter on an invisible camera. He gives a slight nod and I pin the throttle of the Guanaco. It’s not quite a Huyabusa (not even a quarter of one, actually) but it will do. I boogie down the road and try to build a big enough gap so that I can stop, grab my camera, and set up the shot before the group catches up and passes by. I glance in my mirrors and see Ted on my six, still wanting to ride. I smile—he won’t end up in the shot but at least we’ll have fun. The road is wet in spots, so I temper my entry speeds but give it the berries from mid-corner to exit. I check my mirrors again—Chris has joined the party. And so has Marty. And Joe too. I lead the conga line, pushing the Guanaco 650 deep into bends and kissing late apexes for turn after delicious turn. We fly like murmuring starlings. The road runs up alongside the edge of a moody lake, water on one side, steep hills on the other, left-right-left combos everywhere. I press forward and then I look in my mirrors and see the shot that I want. I pull off to the side of the road quickly and get the camera out, not quickly enough to catch Ted, Chris, and the others who tagged along, but quickly enough to catch the tail of the group and get a shot.

It’s a spitting rain now and others are putting on rain gear. I’m not yet convinced that the rain is going to last, so I choose not to. That must have angered the rain gods, because as soon as I get back on the bike and start riding the skies open up and make me regret my decision. The unwritten rule, of course, is that you’re not supposed to stop immediately and admit your mistake, because that will only make matters worse somehow. So I ride and slowly feel the wetness penetrate the zippers and the vents of my jacket.

By the time we get back onto the dirt and stop at a scenic waterfall, it’s full-on raining and I’m soaked to the bone. I put on a raincoat anyway as penance for my prior transgressions, but it doesn’t help. The rain is steady and fills the 50 million potholes on this gravel road with water as the route snakes up and down the mountains in a series of sharp hairpins before straightening out. I can’t see a damn thing through my tinted and fogged-up visor, so I flip it up and the raindrops sting my face. The faster I go, the harder they sting, so I ride to balance my speed with the sting. The Carretera Austral runs along the shoreline of what looks like a lake but is actually the Puyuhuapi Channel, a long, thin body of water that eventually makes its way to the Pacific Ocean. There’s active construction here, and a section between the water and the hills is incomplete, so we ride down a steep embankment to a waiting ferry and skip the three-mile stretch. From there, it’s a short, spirited jaunt to a small fishing village at the end of the channel, also named Puyuhuapi. (In the local language of Mapudungun, puye means “small fish” and huapi means “island.”) Tonight we stay in Casa Ludwig, a remnant of German immigration to the area in 1935. The innkeeper, a pleasant, older woman of German descent, has books and old black-and-white photos of the first Germans in Puyuhuapi. She is also apparently used to gangs of wet motorcyclists visiting; there’s a drying rack over a wood-fired stove in the kitchen. We quickly shed our wet, stinky jackets, pants, boots, and gloves, and head up to our rooms. Tonight, we shall dine at a restaurant overlooking the harbor and toast to finally being dry.

To be continued...

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