Archives for category: Carretera Austral

The campsite in the Queulat National park has the option of bedding down in an old bus- it has seen better days, but offers some protection from the cool night air. Better still, the luggage rack proves equal to the task of supporting my hammock. References to ‘Into the Wild’ are scrawled on the walls in a variety of languages.
‘Piedra del Gato’ turns out not to be a town at all, so it is in darkness that we roll into Villa Amengual, and camp in the churchyard.

Somewhere close to Mañihuales, we pass 45º South – the climate is still relatively mild, but there is ice on mountaintops not very high above. Mañihuales is small, but sports a small bicicleteria and a casa de ciclistas- both run by Jorge, whose generous hospitality and washing machine are extremely welcome.

The main road runs south west to Puerto Aysén, but we leave the tarmac and take the shorter ripio road to Coyhaique, climbing gently to 750m along the way. Coyhaique is the regional capital- so the biggest town on the carretera austral. We are put up by Boris – I don’t think he intended to set up a casa de ciclistas as such, but I it seems that his house and garden are never empty of cyclists during the summer months. As ever, I am indebted to those offering refuge so willingly to passing travellers.

Francisco and Gonzalo turn for home, so heading south again we are three- Felipe and Mauricio are still game. Relatively good roads take us up to the highest point on the the carretera austral at 1100m, before descending fairly steeply to Puerto Ingeniero Ibañez, on the shore of Lago General Carrera (South America’s second largest lake). From above, the town is all but obscured by the tall shelter-belts of trees that seem to surround even the most modest property. Evidently the wind is strong here..

Faced with having to wait more than a day for the boat across to Chile Chico on the other side, Felipe and Mauricio opt to hitch north.

I boarded the ferry southward- Chile Chico is a modest town, and sits all but on the frontier with Argentina..

Camping on the edge of a farm, we built a not so stealthy fire to cook Longanizas – traditional chileno sausages, and all the better with homemade bread.

Parts of the Carretera Austral are being prepared for tarmac – one consequence of which is surprisingly deep gravel of rounded fluvial pebbles. This can be difficult on the flat, but makes climbing and descending the sometimes steep undulations quite difficult. I managed to only fall over only once, much to the amusement of the occupants of an adjacent house, but damaged only pride. Most of the time there isn’t a great deal of traffic, but that which there is raises an awful lot of dust.. most of which seems to land on my face.

Waking up in La Junta, Nicolas, Ricardo, and I all had different plans and destinations, so I packed up and prepared to head south alone. None of the towns on this road are very big, however – if there are people you know, you’re bound to bump into them. Felipe (last seen in Hornopirén) was leaving just as I was – along with Francisco and Gonzalo. I’ve spent the last few days in bilingual company, but for now at least I have no opportunity for such laziness.

The road south from La Junta is tarmac for a reasonable distance, and the gravel parts weren’t so bad, making for a relatively easy day to the small coastal town that is Puyuhuapi. From here the road will turn east a little, climbing through the Queulat National Park.

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.