Alejandro Avampini
15 days cycling along the Chubut River in Patagonia Argentina
Alejandro Avampini / Blog
Oct 23, 2021 18:31

A two-week adventure crossing the Argentine Patagonia from the Andes mountain range to the Atlantic coast, allowed us to live immense experiences, outside of our daily lives.In its more than 800 km of route, the Chubut River crosses several regions and localities of special archaeological, ethnic, cultural, tourist and geological interest. An adventure on a bicycle took me, with my wife, to travel the middle course of this river, about 550 km. A gravel road accompanies the river that gives its name to this Patagonian province, in its slow descent towards the sea. In the middle course, the river heads southeast, passes through Piedra Parada and then turns east in Paso de Indios, Route 12 that borders it from there is asphalted and maintains that direction until its mouth in Playa Unión, port of Rawson, capital of the Province. Precipitation is very scarce and does not manage to form permanent water courses, it only runs through canyons that form temporary courses. In this article I will tell you a story, which is essentially part of our history.

One fine day, after years of "wandering", of traveling for more than two consecutive decades trying to find myself, I found myself. At least today, almost 20 years later, I still think so. One day in my thirties, I began to realize that the most intense search was for myself and that my compulsive effervescence was subsiding. I lived a slow maturation, where I stumbled dozens of times and between naivety, ignorance, passion and outbursts, I sent myself a thousand shits. I offended other people's egos, for which I take the opportunity to apologize, but my unshakable need to find the course of my life made me run into the established rules more than once, walls built of inflexible beliefs and convictions. A blinding self-reference always made me slip away from the precepts and mandates of the past, obsolete dictates of destiny, to see what the always fresh and renewed future told me.

At that moment of my meeting with me, Cecilia also appeared, who at the same time was in her own personal search. Since then she is my inseparable companion of the last 16 years, with whom I traveled and still do. I always tell her that she came for desserts, because since we got together the planets aligned and left the erratic path, coinciding in a harmonic order for both. As you may already know if you read any of the articles that I already wrote here in Intriper, before this ride we walked through the Caribbean for 3 years. We left our native Argentina, battered and without prospects for us. All the sticks in the wheels that the system gave us and the people who managed it, in the projects in our country, helped us to realize that if we flew, those sticks thrown on the ground would not hinder our walking.

It was easy, we put detachment into practice, we got on a plane and landed in another part of the world. We started doing photography and web pages in hotels and working with ecological foundations in several countries of Central America and the Caribbean and it started to go very well. So it was that we returned to Argentina to greet the family and to sell a piece of land in Puerto Pirámides with a project stopped by the provincial bureaucracy, to build a small hotel. Upon arrival we saw a country that was beginning a recovery cycle and we were tempted to continue with the hotel project after they assured us that they enabled us to build. We decided to stay in Argentina and begin the construction of the first ecological hotel in Argentina.

What does all this romantic story have to do with pedaling down the Chubut River? Wait, calm down ... everything is linked in history.

First of all I said to Ceci: If we are going to start building a hotel, let's forget about traveling and continue our wandering around the world. We are going to have to stay stuck in Peninsula Valdes for a long time.

It seems to me that we should arrive very slowly. Enjoy the freedom that we learned to travel. What do you think if we cross Argentine Patagonia by bicycle? While we know part of the province of Chubut, through its gravel roads, its towns and we go into the heart of the region to arrive on a symbolic trip without a motor, sustainable to Puerto Pirámides.

She found it a major challenge and she told me:

- Yes, everything is very nice, but I can't even pedal to the corner ...

- Don't worry, let's take time as a factor in favor, we train and we do it.

We put together the necessary logistics and settled in my mother's house, in Villa La Angostura, Patagonia Argentina, but on the side of the Andes Mountains, not the Atlantic Coast. A place that we knew very well and among its mountains, we started training, first 10, then 15 and finally 30 kilometers, every day for 3 months we trained for several hours. Meanwhile, during free hours, through emails and phone calls, we started the project to build the Eco Hotel on the other side of Patagonia.

Of course, training in the mountains, where everything is uphill, prepares you to be able to cross the Patagonian steppe without problems. Because in a geography of mountains, the descents are very fast and fleeting and always end in the next endless climb and again to pedal and pedal uphill. The most difficult muscle to train of all is the brain. The body accompanies, but the head has to understand the concept and stop drilling us with the usual thoughts; I'm tired, what am I doing here, why do I do this, I'm cold, I don't think I'll be able to, and if a tire gets flat, etc, etc.

Well, once the day of departure arrived, Mom Ana and Adrián, her partner, took us by truck from Villa La Angostura, Neuquén province to El Maitén, Chubut province, 235 km. An important push, because leaving from VLA implied traveling on National Route 40, where gigantic trucks and all kinds of heavy or light vehicles pass by and contrasted with the spirit of the trip. The idea was to enjoy nature and the peace of one of the least traveled rivers in the world. We arrived at Maitén on March 2, where we spent the night in a hotel and the next day we assembled the bikes very early with the luggage rack, the saddlebags and the 30 kg of weight on each bike, tent, clothes, camera, with lenses, kettle , patches and repair kit for any issues.

We started the journey at an ideal time, because although it is still summer on the calendar, in these latitudes it feels without the intensity of January and February. The days go on to have a very pleasant temperature and without being as long as the previous months, they have dusk after seven in the afternoon. Time, where our whole being, already wanted to be at rest. And not to mention that a month later, in April the cold begins to be noticed, especially at night and with shorter days the trip becomes crude. That is why the beginning of March is an optimal date to start any adventure in these latitudes.

We left El Maitén, but not without first passing through its train station, where La Trochita was about to leave, known worldwide for being the Old Patagonian Express, a steam railway line that linked the provinces of Río Negro and Chubut, in which the gauge, the distance between the rails of the road is barely 75 cm. Today it has tourist outings and it was just that day.

The objective of the day was to reach a more internal town in the province and without access by asphalt, Cushamen. About 80 km separated us and there we went, little by little pedaling uphill we began to cross some mountain ranges, a conglomeration of low clouds gave the landscape a somewhat gloomy character. We advanced perhaps 15 km and 3 condors were looking at us perched on some rocks. Not knowing the way, we did not know very well what awaited us later, whether up or down. But what we did know was that towards the East Patagonia from the mountain range to the sea is downhill. It has an average slope of 1 or 2 meters per kilometer, that is, in general we were going downhill. the final destination Puerto Pirámides or Puerto Madryn are at sea level and El Maitén is 1,377 meters above that level. Knowing that the trip was going to be downhill was an important additive and the best thing is that it was not the only one, the prevailing winds in Patagonia are from west to east, therefore we pedaled downhill and with a favorable wind.

The trip to Cushamen was very hard, especially for Cecilia, the road had climbs and I had sold her that it was all downhill ... and the persistent drizzle, drilled our minds. As with the Monday newspaper, everything is easier, now I tell you as something that has already happened, but at that moment and in those situations, an extra kilometer was demoralizing, because in reality the route marked the kilometers without much accuracy. a sign that said that there was so much missing and after several kilometers ahead another one that marked that it was missing more instead of less !!! In places where nobody passes and the gravel road and mountain is all curve and counter-curve, without letting yourself see the destination, you travel without knowing which is the last curve, a reality that turns the head into an unbearable cobblestone. If only a car or someone on horseback had passed ...

As for you to imagine, the solitude of these places, throughout the journey that the gravel trip lasted, about 13 days. We came across 5 cars !!

But hey, we were already at the dance, we couldn't loosen up. Anyway, the idea was to pedal much less per day and at some point, moving away from the mountain range, everything had to be flatter and downhill. We went without haste, we had no arrival date, that was another incentive. The objective was flexible, our ambition was to arrive in Puerto Madryn for the March 18 birthday party of our friend and architect of the Sustainable Hotel Project, Rosario Payer.

We arrived at Cushamen, gutted, very tired and low in spirits. We took advantage of being in a small town to sleep in a small hotel and in the fourth we began to trace the route on our map, the navigation chart, indispensable when it came to seeing the daily goals achieved for a greater objective, was an important motivational food. We had dinner very early, in one of the few restaurants in the place, some steaks with French fries, so as not to lose protein or habit. From there, we fainted very early, but not before going through a warm shower, which was what we had.

We started the second day with sunshine, the course was a place 56 km away, we actually did not know how far we would go but the destination was a rural school where the boys come from distant fields and sleep there, it is a boarding school, the name of the place Fofo Cahuel. But I'm going to jump back in the story.

While we were at VLA with the hotel project and with a very conscious focus on building it to be functionally ecological, we found an article on the internet that casually talked about some houses with a very interesting development in Fofo Cahuel, we read everything, but we did not have intentions to find where they were, by bicycle and with 30 kg on top, there was no way to deviate by any route to see if we could find the houses. We never imagined that we were going to pass in front of them.

The point is that the houses could be seen from the route, they were the same as the photo we saw in the article, we took the way down and we faced them to pay them a visit. We clapped hands and Mario Martín came out, one of the owners of the houses and we explained to him that we wanted to build in a sustainable way and that we had read about his house on the internet of course he invited us to come in. He laughed because many people had come to see him, but never anyone on a bicycle. He and his family were very kind to him, they invited us to have lunch and to visit the house. Wonderful the simplicity and logic they used to build. He showed us the solar oven, the solar collectors to heat the water, the thrombus wall, the orientation, the internal garden and fantastic and simple details that helped us to understand that common sense is important before diplomas. We said goodbye and continued on our way to the rural school in Fofo Cahuel, some 18 km away. That is, about 2 or 3 hours.

We had an hour to go and some black clouds baptized us as we reached the shelter of the only roof to protect us from the downpour, the school porch. We were cold and wet, we knocked on the glass door and from the other side some women looked out with scared faces. as if 2 Martians had appeared. Beckoning us, they went to call the principal, who opened the door a bit as if to attend us quickly, and closed it again, tremendous heat came out from inside, they had a balanced shot on all sides, classes were about to start in 2 days. Everything ready to start, the teachers and the whole team, cooks and an arsenal of people who work so that the boys do not lack anything.

But there were no students, we thought how nice it would be if they let us sleep in a couple of the dozens of bunk beds they have in there, but the paucity won the fight, we asked the director if we could please heat water to have some mates outside and Flaunting an unusual generosity, he allowed us to go with the cooks to heat water for us. Luckily they let us sleep at the entrance, because the weather was stormy and without much ado the steppe gets rough. We set up the tent next to a heater run and we hung the clothes near it to dry.

The next day it was sunny, they let us go to the bathroom and heat the water again. While we were killing and disarming the camp, a teacher, Leonardo Montorfano, appeared to talk to us. Very cool and between talk and mate he told us that he was from Morón.

- From Morón, Province of Buenos Aires? I asked.

- Yes, why?

- Because I was born and raised there.

Well, so ... we had a lot of acquaintances in common, I had studied at Dorrego school, just around the corner from mine and it was an unexpected emotion, finding an old neighbor where we least expected it. A fact that made me proud, rural teacher, more than a profession it is a vocation of true dedication. After a while of chatting, we said goodbye like old friends and with Ceci, we continued our journey.

Now the new goal was Piedra Parada, a monolith 285 meters high by 100 meters wide, placed by nature on the side of the river, which since 2006 has been a protected natural area of 132 ha. From there the river continues with some canyons of amazing geological formations a small canyon of the Patagonian Colorado. The road began to be next to the river, the willows and the camping places were presented at every moment.

We made several stops, one of them to have lunch, we took out the kettle and with the water from the river, which we drank without problem, like all the residents of the area, we cooked some noodles, a small fire with dry twigs was enough. We used that cooking system from now on every time we camped, stopped for lunch, or dinner. 200 meters from Piedra Parada they made a bridge to cross to the other side, essential for the inhabitants of the area. Many of those who live on the bank of the river opposite the route, leave their vehicle under the willows and cross home by rowing boat.

From here we continue to Paso del Sapo, a very important town in the area. After pedaling through the windy steppe and everyone full of sand, we wanted to sleep in the only little hotel in the area, but the owner threw us out, laughing, she was not going to let us in. She didn't even want to serve us lunch, because she was going to make everything dirty for her ...

The harshness of the climate and life in general, causes that there are people who are not very friendly, sometimes they go from sparse and distrustful. But hey, after sleeping by the river we went back to town in the morning, to a phone booth to check e-mails. It turned out that the owner was interested in our presence and we began to chat, we told her where we were going and she tells us that her parents, who were there at home at that time, live 40 km towards our next destination. She introduced them to us and with great interest they invited us to sleep at her home. We started there and 3 hours later they passed, Don Evaristo and his wife Elsa, who wanted to load the bikes back into the truck and told us, no problem, don't make so much effort, no one will find out, get on. Some divine, but no, the idea was to enjoy the environment without noise, and with the heart pumping with vital enthusiasm.

Frigio Cap is called the area, we stayed there for two days. Very kindly, these humble people gave us everything with incredible affection. In these places, there is no telephone, much less internet, communications are through a VHF radio and AM radio, with these two technologies they communicate between the towns in the area. For example, if they have to tell their daughter something, they call a central VHF that takes their message and 5 times a day there is an AM Radio program on LU20 called Messages for the Rural Settlement, and there they broadcast the messages to the air. They generally say, Message to So-and-so: Sultano says that he is going to go to his field, please leave the gate unlocked. Message for Mengano: Pancho says that he lost the bus and will not arrive until the next day. That is why within the chores of the local people, he is sitting next to the radio during the hours of that program to find out if there is a message for them and, incidentally, know the news of the great provincial neighborhood.

Life in such remote fields is very difficult, that is why many of the children and grandchildren of these people do not follow up on these rural enterprises. In the photo above is Don Evaristo with his brother who came to say hello, he came on horseback 15 km from his field. They inherited, together with other siblings, from their parents 6,000 hectares of field, each. An enormous amount of land, even the portion that Don Evaristo received has 10 km of river, in an incredible place. But the land here is very arid, the only thing it is useful for is to raise sheep, the main characteristic is that due to the rain regime, the plants do not abound or grow enough and it needs 6 hectares per sheep. The account shows that he can only raise 1,000 sheep and with that number of animals he is not even enough to pay a laborer to help him. It is incredible that he has so much wealth and at the same time does not allow him to have a more affluent life. An old truck, a wood-burning water heater, a cheap stove, and not much else, is what they have.

A stallholder on horseback from a remote field also passed by, whom they have known since he was a kid. They gave him a place to sleep, because he was going to Paso del Sapo to do some errands. I took the opportunity to make this portrait of him, with the hill in the background, which gives its name to the Cerro Gorro Frigio region, named after the similarity with that red bag-shaped hat with the end dropped to the side or behind that was taken as an emblem of freedom by the French revolutionaries of 1793 and later by the

Well, we continue to travel this wonderful river, bathing in its waters, drinking it and without stopping to be grateful for the possibility that we gave ourselves by choosing this adventure as the beginning of a new stage in our life. After several days, we reached the asphalt route 25 that connects Teka with Trelew and that runs from East to West, it was a track, we did about 50 km on asphalt and with a tail wind, we were going 41 km per hour without pedaling, It was very relaxed, it seemed that the bikes had a motor. We reached Los Altares, a town that we had already passed through several times, on that route already known to us.

We camped next to the river again, the next day we left early for the next town, 100km from Las Plumas. Also with a downwind, we were going fast, but the cars were passing us at tremendous speed, some of them were going more than 200 km per hour. On this route, as we got closer to Trelew, there were more vehicles that circulated, we did not get to hear them, they appeared suddenly and when they passed they left us trembling. We were coming from the gravel road, very calm and we went out to a race track. As soon as we got to Las Plumas we decided to continue by bus to Puerto Madryn, because the idea was to enjoy and not suffer from an immovable decision. At 4 o'clock in the morning the bus passed by, almost not taking us due to the amount of gear and bikes, but luckily, the driver took pity and we traveled.

We arrive in Trelew where we change buses and continue to Puerto Madryn. On March 18 before noon, for the birthday of our friend Rosario, we were on the first arrival, celebrating with friends and having a lot of fun, it was all a great joy. Two days later we decided to continue the remaining 100 km to Puerto Pirámides, our final destination. We were escorted by Mauro, Rosario's husband and Construction Site Director for the Hotel's construction, and by Mario, a resident of Puerto Pirámides who is professionally dedicated to doing Mountainbike tours with his company Tracción a Sangre. In 6 hours we arrived at the workshop that was waiting for us to start building Del Nómade an Eco Hotel that he made and continues to make history. Of course we do not forget and from the village phone booth we called Radio LU20 for the Rural Messenger program and we left a message: "For Don Evaristo and Doña Elsa de Gorro Frigio, Cecilia and Alejandro say that they arrived safely at Puerto Pirámides."

Well, see you next time!

Blog / Alejandro Avampini
Oct 23, 2021 18:31


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