Nowhere, it seems, does the topic of the weather serve as conversational bedrock more than in Chilean Patagonia. And that’s coming from an Englishman. Our winding journey down Chile’s Carraterra Austral has been characterised both by ceaseless rain, reducing us to jittering wrecks and questioning why on earth we’re doing this, and days of perfectly clear skies, where the full vibrancy of the autumnal yellows is unlocked and suddenly everything makes sense again. An all or nothing, love/hate affair if ever there was one.
Following this ‘must do’ road all the way to it’s southerly conclusion at Villa O’Higgins (a brilliantly un-Latino name if ever there was one) was never going to be an option for us. The boats needed to make the subsequent crossing to Argentina have now gone into hibernation, leaving us with a couple of interesting dirt road exit strategies to chose from instead. Enter Paso Roballos. This cheeky little crossing into Argentina sees scarcely anything in the way of traffic and, partly as a result, turned out to be an absolute gem and definite highlight of the past few days riding.
The Roballos route kicks off just north of Cochrane, a relative metropolis as settlements go down here, boasting a ‘mini sex shop’ no less, advertised under the same roof as an arts and crafts store. Brilliant. Veering off the mighty Austral vegetation soon starts dropping away as we start the gradual transition from dense Chilean forest to Argentine pampa; an expansive, windswept plain of yellowed grass and occasional lonely bush. Compared to the mighty Andean passes scaled previously, at a lofty 600m, this one barely even registered as a climb. Soon passports are handed over, eyebrows raised at multiple Saudi visas but nothing more, stamps squeezed into remaining gaps like a jigsaw puzzle and then it’s onwards to the desolate world of pampa. The rain doesn’t make it past the mountains, hence the dramatic change in landscape, but what this side lacks in precipitation it makes up for with absolutely brutal winds. Famous amongst cyclists, they truly are a force to behold. Roaring 40’s, soon to be furious 50’s; days can either go really well or really badly down here…
My camera finally gave up the ghost on the first day out of Coyhaique, so thanks to David for the first couple and to Sam for letting me borrow his little Canon for the shots thereafter.
Some Route Info:
The turn off for Paso Roballos is 16km north of Cochrane, then it’s a rolling 65km or so to the Chilean Border post (well graded ripio for the first half, then pretty rough). 11km or so more until the Argentine post, then around 80-90km on very rough and exposed ripio to reach ruta 40. Progress from the ‘pass’ will be determined by the wind, generally blowing from the west. From here it’s 15km south on ruta 40 to the small village of Bajo Caracoles where there’s a shop for essentials at the gas station, a few houses and I think camping/hostel open in the summer. Your last real food supply point until Gregores.