I drafted this blog entry whilst I was on the Carretera Austral but due to lack of decent and less frequent internet, and perhaps due to a shift in priority I am posting this entry almost two months late. It is interesting to post an entry with the view of hindsight but the truth is I prefer to put everything down as I am feeling it. I want this blog to be a record of how felt for me to be in these places, and so because of that intention this post will be written in the present tense as I wrote it when I was still on the Carretera Austral.
Beginning in Puerto Montt and ending in Villa O’Higgins around 1200km south the road was originally called the Carretera Pinochet. Construction of the road was ordered by General Pinochet himself, a strategic move during a time of border disputes between Argentina and Chile, and therefore creating an internal supply route to small communities that lived in the area; this was one of the most ambitious infrastructure developments in Chile during the 20th century.
This road has now evolved into the most popular cycling route on the continent due to the alluring Patagonian landscapes – coastal fishing villages, lush forests teeming with birds and beautiful flowers, snow capped mountains, glaciers, valleys, lakes and rivers so blue and seemingly unreal that you have to stop in your tracks to comprehend. All this, mixed with with iconic Patagonian wooden houses with smoking chimneys, beret wearing gauchos,and small scale agriculture it makes for a a truly spectacular and unforgettable ride.
I was going to write that it is a route that needs no introduction to South American cycle tourists but then I thought a little harder and realised that although I first became aware of the name years ago when first reading cycle touring blogs I was not aware of where exactly the road was and what it entailed until I came a lot closer. Starting out in Mexico I never dared to imagine I would make it this far, Patagonia was a place in my dreams. Now I am here, dreaming awake it seems.
Our stay in Puerto Montt spanned for 5 days. We tried several places before we made it to the refuge of Casa Perla. There were plenty of interesting fellow travellers, but two in particular were of inspiration to me. Both from London there was Martin, a retired Financial Times journalist who was out specifically to ride the Carretera and was part of a cycling group in London called The Friday Night Ride to the coast. Then there was Mike who had just returned from an epic self supported 33 day sea kayak trip around the coast of Patagonia. The beautiful video of their adventure can be seen here.
Typical Puerto Montt shop fronts. As mentioned in the previous entry, this town due to it’s location at the end of the PanAmerican highway has a frontier feel; this crossroads sentiment was also echoed in what we had to get done during our time in town – to book our flights home and for me to apply for a job. I would not be ready to apply for any old job but a position had come up at the child development centre I had worked in before I came on this trip, I loved working in that community and with the talented and dedicated therapy team there and would be thrilled to return – watch this space.
Typical wooden coloured slate building facade.
I could dedicate a whole blog post to the peeling paint of Puerto Montt.
There was a Colombian cafe in town which took my taste buds on a trip down memory lane.
We are . South!
21st January – Puerto Montt to Puelche
We headed out of town late in the morning, we were in no rush due to ferry times. Keen to avoid the main road we took some dirt roads along the coast, some of which actually headed out to sea.
It was not an inspiring day in the saddle but we were able to absorb the feeling of being at the ocean once more and watching our surroundings gradually change.
Less than 50km down the road we arrived at the first of our ferry crossings, from Caleta La Arena to Puelche, there are several boats a day, and takes about 40 minutes.
Making the same journey in the opposite direction.
We arrived in Puelche and a few kilometres down the road we stopped to set up camp for the night. We asked Mol, a merchant seaman who was mowing the lawn outside his home, he said we could camp on the grass leading to the beach. It was then time for a paddle and cooking dinner with this view.
22nd January – Puelche to Hornopiren
These structures never cease to capture my imagination. Due to the timings of the ferries we had another relaxed day of riding ahead of us. This ripio section was incredibly dusty when traffic pasted that it was actually a relief when some rain arrived.
Hornopiren. We arrived in town and attempted to find free camping but without any luck we made our way to Rio Cuchildeo campsite, a quiet river side spot and the owner was a keen bird watcher.
Clouds at camp, these cirrocumulus really get me excited.
These are the days of miracle and wonder.
23rd January – Hornopiren to Parque Pumalin.
The boats leave Hornopiren at 10:00 and 12:00 each day and take around 2 hours. It takes a while to load all of the cars, trucks and buses on, which gives us time to feel where we are.
Catching boats on a bike tour always make me feel nostalgic for all of the other times I have done the same.
Steep forest hills and more cabin porn.
Chilean’s love to fly a flag, perhaps more than any other country I have cycled through, I love the crispness of this flag though, if not the colonial colours.
Once off the boat we have a 10km dash to the next shorter ferry. The cars on board are all making the same journey across the peninsula so they blow up dust as we race by. We miss the first boat by a whisker (my bad) and have to wait another hour for the next….
We were 7 cyclists on board the boat. All the others were holidayers from Santiago out for a couple of weeks. Plenty of shiny new ortlieb panniers and smiling faces.
Aboard the next boat, less than an hour this time.
We catch our first glimpses of Parque Pumalin. The park is owned by business magnate Douglas Tompkins, one of the original founders of North Face. The land was purchased in order to preserve it, at the time this private ownership philanthropy was unheard of in Chile and initially provoked controversy but now continues to gain support.
We arrive in Caleta Gonzales and it is time to pedal. I felt like a tiny ant amongst the tall forests.
The first of many Careterra Austral waterfalls.
Giant plants in the rain forest. It is prohibited to camp wild in the park, and so instead we spent the night in one of the organised campsites.
24th January – Parque Pumalin to Chaiten
It rains all day which only adds to the intensity and atmosphere of riding in the rain forest.
An erruption of Chaiten volcano in 2008 killed many of the trees.
There she goes.
We arrive in Chaiten quite early but decide to stay put in the town for the night. we opt for a paid campsite so that we can sleep under a shelter, and dry our shoes, as we continue along the road we become better accustomed to rain but at initially we found it tough to deal with.
By late afternoon the campsite was full, there was a great buzz, of hitchhikers and cyclists.
This picture shows clearly how the lava would have flown directly from the volcano down to the village. The government forced most of the villagers to leave, and the majority now live in Puerto Montt. The owner of the campsite said to me – I didn’t want to leave, the air is fresh here and the people are good, I don’t think Puerto Montt is like that.
- No Entry – The Chilean Lake District
- Carretera Austral, part 2