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Our journey thus far has been largely just us.  The meetings with others of our disparate ciclista clan have been precious and infrequent – often months apart.  Now all has changed.  The sight of approaching bicycles risks becoming a mundane part of our day – no longer as special.  Not as before to be remembered and discussed for days/weeks or more afterwards – jewels casting illumination on our insular world.  Passing a seemingly invisible shift we’re dime a dozen!  Or at least measured in couplets or triplets most days.  The Siete Lagos route south of Junín turns out to be surprisingly crowded with all types of traffic.  On our map it’s a minor road – in reality, given our timing in peak holiday season we risk fading into the crowds of travellers.

The other local infamy is dust – volcanic and notorious.  Admittedly, this time, we had heard some tell of this further north.  Stories of face-mask wearing breathing difficulties had been shelved on our ‘we’ll wait and see’ list.  Although we’ve picked a mostly Argentinian line until side-stepping across onto the Carretera Austral in southern Chile, we have myriad options – passes and thus escape options abound.

Apparent heading south from Junín, the volcanic ash is background haze against which the locals hunt

South of San Martín though, the haze thickens, but doesn't impede anything else other than a clear view

The contrast between the moody, graded colouring as evening approaches

and the sparkling brilliance after overnight rain

The ash is not a problem – at least not on the scale rumoured, and south of Bariloche fades from daily life leaving the clean-up crews near Villa Angostura busy with their piled masses.  For us, we’re back on the Ruta 40 – now an overly truck dominated and paved highway.  Appeased in part by the marching peaks and verge-side fruit (blackberries and apples to fill many a pie) we tolerate it until after El Bolsón where we can duck through the Parque Nacional Los Alerces and some calm.

A string of interconnected lakes and multiple free official camping leads us through PN Los Alerces.

Thankfully the rain we get is light and well spaced - further west towards Chile things are much wetter

Beachside Tasmanian-esque colour near our camp

And fleeting patches of blue sky squeezed between the racing clouds

South of this we tack west, and into Chile and onto the Carretera Austral.  Aware of these things now – pushed by parallels in weather at the very least – this crossing also takes us south of Australia.  It quickly becomes apparent that western Patagonia is not at all disimilar to the west coast of New Zealand – another rain soaked, lush revealer of clothing inadequacies.  Our impermeables are not so any more.

In Futaleufú, just across the border into Chile we re-meet a cycle-touring family who shared the Belén-chaos with us more than a month and a couple of thousand kilometres ago. Alice has Unai heading for sleep on her back - then to be transferred to Andoni's trailer until the next feed further down the road

Understandably preferring smoother, gentler surfaces, Andoni still cranks apace up the ripio hills while trying to concentrate on the best line for 4 wheels. Maia chats and sings all the while, oblivious to the effort on her behalf.

Glimpses of even higher peaks crick the neck - the impending washes of rain signal camp time. Enter the secret weapon - noone can refuse a request fronted by a baby and a winsome 4 year old who's already learnt to use her dimples to devastating effect...

All the water has to go somewhere - rafting and kayaking are core industries here

Some of it's a bit more tranquil - lunch backdrop

Route notes here

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