Looping the Landslide
Updated: Dec 10, 2020
Despite crossing back into Chile being my destination that day, I still needed to get insurance for Argentina in Esquel before leaving if possible, since I'd be crisscrossing the border a few times. I hit 5 places, all closed for holiday of course, then gassed up and gunned it for the Futaleufu border crossing and praying I wouldn’t get stopped. I’ve heard consequences are severe if you are caught without it and Jules had just met two Chilean riders whose bikes had been seized by Argentinian authorities, adding to my paranoia.
Just south of town I saw a checkpoint ahead with 5 officers lined up on the center line and started getting nervous. I slowed and rolled up tentatively, preparing for the worst, to find 5 attractive female officers who were smiling and pleasantly waved me through. My fear immediately turned to sadness at the thought of missing the opportunity of being gang tackled and handcuffed by five women for no insurance paperwork. Damb.
It wasn't long before the blacktop changed to gravel that lay in piles and ribbons for about 20 kilometers to the border. Traffic was constant and the dust thick.
After a while the Argentinian border buildings came up with a long line of folks outside. The process was the most organized of any crossing yet, with an attendant organizing the line, and each step marked in order. It would have been a 10 minute process had the tourists not been there. An hour later I was back on the bike and a few hundred yards further at the Chilean border, similarly organized and easy, other than the line. It was a minor relief clearing Argentina and a possible insurance check.
I stopped at the small town of Futaleufu to sit in the warm sunshine and enjoy a cup of coffee. It was a nice little community, a bit funky cool with hipsters and backpackers about, and more traffic than usual from the summer vacationers.
The day was spectacular, with crisp sunshine and blue skies as I skated on stone marbles for the next 70 miles, rarely able to look at the mountains and false blue lakes and rivers surrounding me. Since this had become a main route after the landslide in Santa Lucia, they'd probably deemed it worthy of an upgrade and just as in the US, Ricky Bobby Johnny the road guy, thinks there's no problem that can’t be cured by dumping 4 inches of gravel on it. There were sections that were great, but far more with rutted gravel piles keeping it interesting. Oncoming pickups and SUV's had as little sense or care as anywhere, driving far too fast and in your limited lane space, running you deep into gravel and smothering you in dust. At some point a dozer was schmearing an 8 inch deep layer of soft dirt on 4/5ths of the width of the road leaving a huge berm that couldn't be surmounted and an oncoming fire truck with lights blazing in the middle of nowhere was blasting towards me. I barely got over the berm then got stuck on the narrow strip. All in all, a typical riding day.
The Chilean Austral landscape was inspirational, a combination of the Alps, Alaska, Germany with some West Virginia thrown in for good measure. Rich soil and green fields, rivers of aqua blue and lakes the same color, with snow capped mountains around. What an awesome road it was and one I wish had been easier to ride for the viewing. As is often happens, there are no places to get stopped and off the bike for photos, watching beautiful images slide away behind you. The gravel and cars were a real problem that day.
The town of Villa Santa Lucia showed on the GPS and then around a curve, in real life. The landslide bypass road was right at the edge of the town, but one could see where the swath of mud landslide had left desolation and the damage in the town. It must have been a true nightmare to endure. Police and military oversaw the roads and construction. I was directed which way to go and was surprised to find asphalt when Ruta 7 came under the wheels.
I wasn't sure how much of the roads south were paved, but it felt damn good to roll up the engine revs and let the big 1200 roar on the silky smooth tarmac. The landscape was beautiful, one of the more impressive I’ve encountered and similar in my mind to what I fantasize New Zealand might look.
It wasn’t too long before the blacktop road fell back to gravel for long sections, some easy and some overzealously deep in loose gravel. It appears it won’t be too long before the entire route south is finally blacktop.
La Junta wasn’t too far away and as the shadows lengthened I rolled into town, finding the only gas station and grabbing a juice for a butt break and a chance to look for lodging. A hotel showed to be about 50 yards down the road and I swung in to find a quiet oasis. It was a nice and cozy lodge, with the owners friendly, the rooms first rate and a small bar and restaurant as well. I grabbed the last room and decided to call it an early night and enjoy the fast internet. I can’t tell you how many times I’d tried to get a good hotel, only to find out the internet didn’t work worth a crap in the last few weeks. I’d gotten so far behind on the ride report and blog it was overwhelming and the time wasted trying to find the next and next hotel with internet was frustrating.
But not tonight, a king size bed and a nice warm laptop was the plan. Fifteen minutes in as I began my first photo upload, the internet stopped. Crap I thought and waited for it to cycle back on. Forty five minutes later and I was not happy, heading into the lobby to have the wonderful owner tell me they were sorry, but a truck carrying a high load had snagged the phone cable over the road and ripped out a huge section of the line, killing internet for the town. Of course.