Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Biking to the Pot of Gold: A Detour to Argentina. February 22nd-26th

Villa Santa Lucia-Palena-Corcovado (Argentina)-Atilio Viglione-Lago Verde (Chile)

We have several cycling blogs that we follow to get ideas for interesting routes, and one of our favorites (velofreedom) gave us the idea to take a horseshoe-shaped detour out to Argentina before meeting up with the Carretera Austral farther south. Our thought was that this would bring us to less traveled, sunnier roads (in much drier Argentina), and would give us a chance to scout out some interesting trails. Here's what happened...

From rainforest and dreary skies in Chile...

...to open pastures and sunny skies in Argentina.

Our detour starts with a nasty, washboardy gravel road. Happily, there's some nice scenery to distract from the pain in my butt. Sunshine, glacial lakes, waterfalls, and the great Futaleufu River. It kills me to pass this internationally famous whitewater destination, but going kayaking or rafting out here is way over our budget for the moment.

The first trail we are considering taking leaves from the town of Palena and leads to the town of Lago Verde. We know that, years ago, this track was frequently used to herd cattle between the two places, but now who knows what state it´s in. Our quest for current information begins by asking a guy who we pass on horseback; perhaps he has ridden some of the trails in the area? He tells us to stop a green truck that will apparently be passing us in 5 minutes or so, and ask them. We do that, and though the people in the truck quite possibly think we're crazy, they direct us to the yellow house on the end of town where we get some good info. Unfortunately, things do not look promising. With the construction on good highways, cattle are now moved between places via truck, and the trail is overgrown, steep, rocky, and tough to follow. When the lady at tourist info in Palena confirms this info the following day, we decide not to do it. On foot it would be a great adventure; with bikes, it sounds like it would be a sufferfest. Second best option: we're going to Argentina!

The Chilean landscape overtaking this small house near Palena

Some friendly border officials and sunshine welcome us back to one of our favorite countries. As we stop to admire a river flowing through a big gorge, several young, local guys approach us. One is wearing a wetsuit and a GoPro. He's gonna jump from the bridge! Before the jump, he and his friends pass around a drink. In the US, this situation might call for a beer or a Red Bull. In Argentina? A cup of mate. 

And... he jumps!

The road continues to be in awful condition, but at least there is very little traffic, and we have nice scenery to distract us. Red-streaked mountains, sandy soil and windy remoteness all remind me of the northern expanse of this country, but trees, shade, and frequent water sources are a welcome difference. Late in the day we come upon an enormous, wild lake. On the side opposite from us, jagged peaks cradle glaciers that waterfall into the deep blue depths. Wind whips the too-blue water into frothy whitecaps and sweeps it up onto the sandy shore that our tires are grinding across. Fighting to ride through the gale, I feel like the water wants to rise up and swallow me. Hello, Patagonia!

Beautiful blues

The next morning dawns with considerably less wind and a gorgeous rainbow. The colorful ribbon seems to end just ahead of us along our road. Let's bike to the pot of gold!
Unfortunately our rainbow fades, and as we turn east back towards Chile a frigid headwind picks up, spitting rain into our faces. We put our heads down and ride to stay warm.

Things are considerably improved by the town of Dr. Atilio Viglione. Not expecting to find anything here, we are pleasantly surprised to meet a wonderful old lady with a well-stocked shop that happens to have our favorite brand of Argentinian cookies. Score!

Some riding on quiet forested roads brings us to the Gendarmeria where we're happy to go inside to have our passports stamped and to get out of the rain. Turns out that the officials at this immigration complex are super nice and want to do everything they can to help us out. Soon we are camped in a covered area shielded from the wind and enjoying a hot dinner made with water brought out to us in a thermos. What a wonderful end to a tough day.

The picturesque gendarmeria building

Camped in the woodshed

Helping the day end even better! Our copy of this book has been through almost as much as Mark Watney.

The next morning dawns with another rainbow. We set off, warm and dry and in high spirits, because this isn't any normal border crossing: it's a 4x4 track with several challenging river crossings.

Riding some riverbed gravel

Tam using her improvised carry method to cross the Rio Pico

I wish all international borders were like this one!

When we arrive in Lago Verde we are stamped in by the carabineros of Chile and start asking around for information on the next section of trail we are hoping to explore. This track runs from Lago Verde to La Tapera and would cut out a significant amount of distance for us. Turns out that we're in luck! The next blog post has all the details.

Route Notes:
The Argentine ripio is generally in relatively poor condition with lots of washboardy gravel. No water from Lago Palena almost all the way to Atilio Viglione except for one little irrigation ditch that may dry up at times. Also be aware of the river crossings that may become more challenging in wetter seasons. For more info on this route, see here.
We were unable to follow Nathan´s route notes (on the link above) from Atilio Viglione to the gendarmeria. Ask locals for the current location of the bridge, and then stay on the ¨main¨ road - there´s a lot of fun two-track around there, but we got a bit lost trying to figure out where it all went.


  1. Hi! I just spoke to Dan and Gina and they said you actually remembered me from freewheel cycle in Jasper Alberta!? I was the Mechanic that fixed your Kona Sutra up, crazy that you ran into Dan all the way down there... Glad to hear you are both still at it and going strong by the looks of it! Happy I found a way to keep track of another awesome trip.
    Coburn Brown.

    1. Yeah, it's not every day we meet someone named Coburn! I'm surprised you remembered the Kona Sutra.
      Take care, see you next time we hit up the icefields parkway!

    2. Awesome, if you are ever passing through any part of Canada (I move around a lot...) again shoot me an email at
      coburn-brown@live.com if I can't meet up for a few days of riding I hopefully will be able to find you a free place to stay!

    3. Sounds great, thanks! Same here - we´ll be hunkering down in California for a while.