(December 10 – written by “Just Dave”)
Today we are supposed to be on a boat crossing Lago O’Higgins, followed by a 23k bike/hike/push/pull over the mountains to Lago Desierto. But good old Mother Nature decided that strong winds would be more fun and none of the ferries departed Villa O’Higgins. Rain and wind were the themes of the day.
There are three ferries that make the Lago O’Higgins crossing. Two boats are operated by Robinson Crusoe, the other by a company called Ruedas. The two companies have divided the week so that each one sails a boat three days per week. There are no ferries running on Sundays. If weather delays occur, especially in high season, people start to back up on both ends of the ferry so both companies may run boats on the first sailable day after the weather clears. Right now it looks like Tuesday will be the next sailing day and we currently have tickets on Robinson Crusoe’s larger boat – better in rough seas. We’ll move the bookings to Wednesday if the weather doesn’t clear. Weather wins in Patagonia – you just have to deal with it. We have some slop in our schedule so in Villa O’Higgins we sit.
Yesterday we thought that we would sail today so we got all of our chores done – cleaned the bikes, laundry, shopping and a little planning ahead. We didn’t find out about the “no go” on Monday until late in the afternoon (on Sunday). So today, Monday, we had an almost free day.
Other than visit ferry offices, we did manage to get outside today between rain showers. We walked to a lookout over town and snapped a few photos of things that we found interesting or funny. Villa O’Higgins is remarkably well equipped for so few people. They have a library, a fire station (with 20 volunteer firemen), a police station, a bus station, a small church, a bike shop, at least 5 grocery stores (small), a medical clinic, federal department branch offices from fisheries, farms, logging and roads and last but not least, its own radio station.
Villa O’Higgins is young and small – it was founded in 1966 and it only has 550 permanent inhabitants. Naturally, during the summer visiting tourists greatly increase the number of people you’ll find in town. Summer is December to February. Outside those months, it is pretty sleepy – it would be a cold, dreary place in the dead of winter. There is an airport but no regularly scheduled flights. The next town is either a 2 hour drive to a ferry, followed by 2 more hours driving; or the way we are going with two ferries and a bike or hike. The two ferries heading our way don’t run in the winter. In other words, Villa O’Higgins is remote – you have to work hard to get to or from here, and you really have to want to live here.
A brief note about the Carretera Austral is in order as well. It officially started back in Puerto Montt. In our last post, I proclaimed that we’d ridden the full length. This is not strictly true however, as the official end of the highway is at the ferry dock at Lago O’Higgins. We won’t ride the last 8k from Villa O’Higgins to the dock until we head out to get on the ferry. Rumour has it that there is a sign out there marking the CA’s official end – we’ll get a photo to prove that we made it. It is also worth noting that the last 100k of the highway were only completed in year 2000 – until then, the only access to Villa O’Higgins was on foot or by plane.
So tomorrow we head out (hopefully) and start what may be the most difficult leg of the entire journey. We plan to leave our lovely cabana at 6:40 in the morning. We’ll be heading out with Andy and Sarah – our ferry leaves at 8:30AM. We’ve agreed to ride/hike the hike-a-bike section with Andy and Sarah as well – you know, “Teamwork makes the dream work”.
The last two days it’s been stormy looking up back the way we came into town on Saturday. Joe and Sarah have been out there in the muck for the last two days. We hope to see them this afternoon and hear that all of their wheels held up, and that they didn’t get too cold and wet. Did I mention that we love our little cabana? Oh well, tomorrow night might be a different story so we’ll enjoy everything that our woodstove this afternoon.