ICE AND MUD IN NO-MAN’S-LAND

Stephen Timm finds him­self in South Amer­ica, be­tween two coun­tries

Financial Mail - - LIFE -

At the end of one of the most re­mote high­ways in the world, in a no-man’s-land be­tween Chile and Ar­gentina, lies one of the world’s last great wilder­nesses. The only way to cross it is on foot or by bike.

That was per­haps why, like a grow­ing num­ber of trav­ellers, I found my­self on Chile’s Car­retera Aus­tral — a mostly gravel road that stretches over 1,200km be­tween the south­ern port town of

Puerto Montt and the iso­lated ham­let of Villa O’hig­gins, where it dead-ends at the foot of the South­ern Patag­o­nian ice field. From there the only way to keep go­ing south is by boat on Lago O’hig­gins and from there to hike or bike into Ar­gentina.

Hav­ing come halfway down the high­way from the city of Coy­haique I made the de­ci­sion on a whim to head on to Ar­gentina.

Af­ter a night’s stay at a lo­cal hos­tel (now one of sev­eral in Villa O’hig­gins since the road link­ing the small town opened just un­der 20 years ago), a van trans­ported me and my fel­low pas­sen­gers to the port on Lago O’hig­gins, a few kilo­me­tres out of town. There we boarded a small launch.

As we sped across the clear blue wa­ter, with Ar­gentina on the one side and Chile on the other, imag­ined what it would be like to be soar­ing high above this all.

I had con­tem­plated the op­tion of fly­ing over the lake the pre­vi­ous night in Villa O’hig­gins. A pilot, I an Aus­trian-amer­i­can who had moved to Chile for some peace and quiet, had been quite con­vinc­ing. Ac­com­pa­nied by his 11-year-old daugh­ter and armed with a lam­i­nated folder filled with aerial close-ups at his side, he promised to fly me from the lo­cal airstrip and over the great O’hig­gins glacier, which is steadily re­ced­ing, and then to make a turn past the fa­mous rocky peak of Fitz Roy.

It might be my last chance to glimpse the great glacier be­fore it dis­ap­peared, he said. On a map I no­ticed a small land­ing strip along­side the same track I would be tramp­ing down the fol­low­ing day. He could set me down there, I thought. But I stuck with the boat and walk­ing.

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