Crossing the Chilean frontier twice in one day was a time consuming business, and caused a certain amount of confusion as to why I would endure the queueing and hassle .. only to immediately about-face and go through the same border control again. (Not least as entering Chile is harder than leaving) However – soon enough I was on my way back towards the PanAm highway, armed with an extended stay in Chile.

Puerto Montt is a big town in a small area- it has a relatively busy port, with ferries departing for the islands and fjords of southern Chile, and cruise ships stopping by, perhaps on their way to or from Antarctica. More importantly, it is the gateway to Ruta 7 – the Carretera Austral.

Some parts of the highway are asphalt, the rest being gravel (‘Ripio’) of widely varying quality. On the road to Caleta La Arena, I bumped into Cesár (who I’d in fact met the previous day in Puerto Montt) and we picked up Felipe as well waiting for the short ferry across to Caleta Puelche. I didn’t get a good photo, but several dolphins chased and played around the boat as we departed.

We cycled together as far as Hornopirén- the others heading for the Hornopirén national park, and I for the boat south down the Fiordo Comau. Camping overnight in a garden on the waterfront, I met Mika- a fellow panamericanista from Argentina, last seen in Tumbaco. There was much amusement that the these two bearded foreign cyclists had not only cycled from much further afield, but in fact knew each other..

Two ferries with 10km of gravel in between took us to Caleta Gonzalo – the landscape is of densely forested hills rising sharply out of the sea, snowy peaks often visible too.

Many cyclists and hitchhikers make their way to the south of Chile to travel this highway, and visit the many national parks along the way. For the first time I found myself amongst not only lots of other cyclists, but mostly Chilenos.
One night a little south of Caleta Gonzalo nine of us camped together – all Chileno save for Mika and myself. Different paces, objectives, and mechanical problems thinned the numbers; by Chaitén we are three – Nicolas, Ricardo and me.

Chaitén has a strange atmosphere – much of it was buried by ash a few years ago, and the population has only relatively recently returned. The main square seems to be that of a rather larger settlement, and much of the eastern part still lies in ruins. To the south however, there is a reasonable stretch of excellent asphalt– with a good tailwind we made good speed to Puerto Cárdenas, and made camp on the shore of Lago Yelcho.

While this road doesn’t climb particularly high, the very variable surface and weather will both be significant trails, I think; it’s a long way yet to Villa O-Higgins.

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