Week 92 - Carretera Austral, Chile
After our slightly extended, but very enjoyable stay at Nant y Fall Viñas camping, we packed everything up, discarded any fresh food that was left, Kelvin ate it all, and headed off in a Westerly direction towards the Argentina-Chile border.
The border was only about 25km or so from Trevelin and all-in-all it was a very easy border. We were stamped out quickly and then at Chile border it was all very swift as well, probably because the Argentinian and Chilean borders are so used to people crossing back and forth between the two countries due to their Geography. We had to declare any items of food, but as most of the stuff I was carrying was dry or herbs and spices, nothing was confiscated apart from Kelvin's walking stick which he's carved so patiently back in Rio Villegas further North in Argentina. Overall it was all very friendly, quick and efficient and before we knew it we were in Chile for the first time and ready for our Carretera Austral experience!
From the border we continued on to the small town of Futaleufú where we went in search of the sole cash point in the town only to find it was conveniently out of order, leaving with us with only a few Chilean Pesos to get us through the next long stretch of travel. We carried on regardless towards the infamous 'Carretera Austral' to head South. The road was a nice dirt road with stunning scenery all around, with the road turning to tarmac on reaching the Carretera Austral, very little else around, which was ideal. Saying that, we were going to be in need of fuel soon so we thought we'd head to the small town of Puyuhuapi and just hope that they accepted card payments! Thankfully they did, which I was amazed at because it was the tiniest petrol station with a set of pumps outside a small shed-like building. I have to say we were both very relieved, and we took a photo of their poster with fuel stations marked out on route...plenty it would seem so long at they took cards and actually had fuel available.
We decided to stop at Campsite near a large lake called Camping Aldea or something like that. It was very busy and we were offered to put up our tent in the barn with all the cyclists but it was like sardines in there. We opted to find a spot outside with our bikes. After we got the tent up we went in search of a food place. We ended up with some fast food at 'Charollottes', a tiny little place we stumbled upon and one of the few places open, but only took cash, so we were seriously down on our 'dinero'. After that we sourced some groceries from a little store nearby and thankfully managed to pay with card. Unfortunately this town also had no cash points, so we were shit out of luck again, but we reckoned if places on the whole kept accepting cards, we'd be ok. I think Chile has more card facilities than a lot of other places we'd travelled, which we were thankful for.
We headed back to the campsite to watch the sunset by the lake and for some shut-eye. A few more people turned up fresh off a Carretera Austral bus, and one lady came to camp next to us but she couldn't work out how to put her tent up. She was travelling in South America and had been staying in hostels, but as Chile (and Patagonia in particular) was very expensive, she'd recently purchased a tent for this portion of her travels and this was its first erection. We happily helped her set it up and gave her some tips to help make sure it remained watertight and upright, for which she was really thankful.
We soon discovered that there were some crazy loud creatures around at night, part of nature's orchestra, but we did manage to sleep a bit thankfully. In the morning the tent was really damp and as we were surrounded by trees there was little chance of it completely drying out by the time we wanted to put it down, but we'd have it back out later so we'd manage. At breakfast we met a guy called Oliver Tic (Oli Walker) from Slovenia who was walking from Ushuaia to Alaska. Amazing! There were absolutely loads of cyclists all gearing up for a day on the road, and we were quite glad we had motorised bikes!
We got going again and were warned some road blocks up ahead. We didn't fully understand everything that had been said, but we knew that there were some strikes in the area up ahead. It was such a beautiful road and this section was mostly tarmac again, but then on route to Coyhaique we arrived at a huge tree lying right across the road, which apparently had been felled by disgruntled miners. We just waited with everyone else while some locals got to cutting up the tree and removing it, which took quite a while.
Whilst hanging around and taking photos, we met Brazilian couple called Alvaro and Edmea, who were absolutely lovely. We also met an Italian biker on a mission, with very little time to spare, so he was getting a bit jumpy, and a 'Brazil Adventure' motorcycle tour group, who were also a little pressed for time. Eventually we got passed the tree all together once the lorry had pulled a section of tree out of the road, however not too much further along we got to another one. This time there wasn't a forest blocking things either side, but a sloped grassy bank. We went passed the tree down side of the road, and I have to say my heart was in my mouth with my big heavy load on the back.
As I dropped down over the edge of the road it was quite bumpy, but I stayed upright, and just kept the momentum and revs on as I passed the tree and then picked a point to go back up and just went for it. I think I held my breath a bit! Thankfully, I didn't end up as a heap on the floor in front of the swarms of onlookers! Phew! I waited on the other side of the tree for Kelvin and all of the other bikers. I watched as Kelvin passed and then it was the turn of the tour group. It was BMW carnage! Most of them, who didn't have any luggage on their bikes as it was all in the tour truck, ended up on their sides. Normally I wouldn't gloat but I actually felt really proud of myself that I'd made it on my loaded 22 year old DR650, and all the ones on expensive BMW adventure tourers didn't. I'm sure the karma for those thoughts would get me back later!
We continued on the road, with all of the bikes together, but then we all stopped. Up ahead was a road block protest, which was impassable, so went around on a detour which was about 90km! We were close to the tour group and we stayed close to Alvaro and Edmea two-up on their lovely Yamaha Tenere. We meandered through the countryside, which was really quite beautiful, but all dirt road, so it wasn't popular with many, but bliss to us. We pulled over with the tour group at a little rest stop, thankfully with a toilet, much to my delight and Edmea's. They told us to go on, but I asked Alvaro if he'd prefer we stay and he said, honestly yes, so we stayed. The tour group headed off a bit before us while we drank the ice-cold Coca Cola Edmea had brought for us, and then we set off again. We were glad we stuck with Alvaro and Edmea as not far up the road the gravel worsened significantly and it looked like it was due to be graded, but hadn't yet been. My concentration was locked on the road ahead, trying to keep the revs up and try to ignore the front wheel searching around for some grip. I had got used to this a lot more over the past year or so, but I still had to concentrate on staying relaxed, not throttling-off too abruptly, not gripping too hard or trying to wrestle with the front wheel...easier said than done. Edmea was walking by the side of the road for this section as it was so hard to negotiate with a pillion and safer for her. Unfortunately Alvaro fell off in the deep gravel where the bike just squirrelled, but fortunately wasn't hurt. We helped lift the bike and got it on a bit further where they could get back on safely. It took a long time to finish the detour, but finally we got back on the Carretera Austral and we were all relieved.
We stopped for rest together before we reached Coyhaique. They said they would get us accommodation to say thank you for the assistance, which was a really lovely gesture. Unfortunately, to get in to Coyhaique we had to get through a huge section of traffic lights which slowed things down significantly. We finally go to a petrol station, and we all filled up with fuel. Alvaro went to the bathroom and came back out, which is when we discovered that a guy had taken his key, and put it in the bin (well, we found the bin bit our later). It caused mayhem as they didn't find it for hours. They were understandably super upset as the key was coded, so no key, no trip! They just couldn't continue and it would mean going back to Brazil early and cutting their trip short. They called the insurance, a tow truck and tried to contact a Yamaha garage. We later found out that they found key in bin after they had told us to go as they would be there a lot longer sorting things out.
We had gone to a campsite, but being late and peak season it was completely full, and being dark we couldn't find a decent, safe wild camp spot. We then went to a few hostels, but they were all full. On the last one (Hospedaje Simon Bolivar) I met a lady with room but no parking, however she knew a guy up the road with parking (Hostal del Este). She walked us there but he had no rooms, however was happy for us to use his parking. We left the bikes at Hostal del Este and we stayed at Hospedaje Simon Bolivar. It was just about the cheapest we could find in the town that had space available, but it was still £44 for a room with shared bathroom. Crazy for our limited travel budget! We definitely weren't in the cheaper countries anymore, that was more than our daily budget wiped out! However, I have to say it had an awesome shower, a super comfy bed, it was warm, had fast WiFi and great breakfast plus they allowed us to check out at 12pm instead 10.30am, which was MUCH needed after having only found the hostel at about 11pm! Before we went to sleep I went in search of some food, and the only available option at this late hour was a fast food truck, where we happened to meet Edmea, also in search of food. She told us what had happened, and we were so relieved that they had found the key and could continue with their journey. Happy days!
We were welcomed in the morning by an awesome breakfast. I was a little sad as it was 10 years since dad died (RIP 18/01/2009), but we had a nice chat with the hostel owners about our travels and plans for the days ahead. I was a bit teary in the morning getting packed up, and I still don't know why I still get teary after this long, but I got my shit together and once on the road with the blue skies and stunning Patagonian scenery I was ok again. We saw the Brazilian couple Alvaro and Edmea on the road and said goodbye.
They invited us to go with them on the tarmac route, getting a ferry to Chile Chico, but we wanted to take the road trip around some lakes that we had found on the map and get some dirt roads in. We bid our farewells to this lovely couple and headed in separate directions. Later we were very happy with our choice as we found a great off road detour to avoid a 'road closed' section (peeling off Carretera Austral at -46.13440, -72.21059 and coming back on at -46.15942, -72.35156). I think they allowed traffic through at certain times, but it would be busy, dusty and boring, and we wanted an adventure. We headed up off the Carretera Austral along a small single-track dirt road, slowly travelling up and up through the countryside. We were rewarded by views of an absolutely stunning blue lake, snow-capped mountains, and some good photo opportunities of Kelvin riding. It was bliss! We literally only met one local car driver on route, and it really was the back of beyond with clear blue skies, warm weather and uninterrupted idillic backdrops. Our idea of heaven!
After 28km of pure heaven riding, we met back up with the Carretera Austral and continued about 65km to a wild camp spot next to a big bridge and deep blue river (GPS co-ordinates -46.35894, -72.76076). We had a scout around the area and decided to camp further along a track in the forest. We put the tent up in the trees (I know, this could have been a bad plan), with the bikes close by in the trees, and then had a nice toasty wood fire in the clearing, so we weren't going to set fire to anything. Some other Overlander's from France in a truck looked around to but didn't stay. Following a pasta and veg dinner and a glass of Chilean Gato red wine it was strip washes in the icy cold river and then off to bed as darkness fell.
We got up quite late at round 10.20am the next morning. We made some breakfast, coffee, filtered some water with our Grayl's (great, but very slow), and slowly packed everything up. I also discovered that I'd lost 2 bolts from my left hand handle bar. Bugger! Zip ties to the rescue!! We didn't actually get back on the road until 2pm. We followed the Carretera Austral again, with the dirt road hugging some really beautiful lakes. 'Carrera' lake was particularly huge and stunning, so we stopped a few times just to admire it and the snow capped mountains in the distance. We knew we'd needed some fuel before heading towards the Chile-Argentina border at Paso Roballos (a very remote crossing), so we took a short detour to Puerto Guadal to fill up the tanks and get some snacks. On the way back from our fuel detour the view coming back to the main road was stunning. It amazes me how you can get such different appreciations of the scenery doing a route in both directions.
We met the Carretera Austral again and we followed some bikers on Chilean bikes for quite a way. We realised after a while that they thought we were part of their group of four, but they when they realised we weren't and stopped to wait for the two others we'd passed along the way. Travelling through the undulating terrain we caught glimpses of the river in the valley (Rio Baker). It was a beautiful light blue river, with a few decent viewpoints that we were able to stop at on the way to really appreciate it, and we followed it all the way to our turn off to Paso Rebollos. The road was a lovely, narrow single track road with scenery akin to being in the Scottish highlands (although the last time I was there I was about 10). Before we actually reached the border we found wild camp spot by the side of the road, literally in the hedge! It was lovely though and by a river again. Thankfully the traffic was really light, and we were tucked out of view, plus we saved putting our bright orange tent up until the traffic seemed to have stopped; the border was only open between certain hours and the only place that this road led to was the border, so after closing time it was dead.
We cooked our pasta, veg and cheese dinner, but the cream cheese I'd bought on our fuel detour was a bit too much, and later on that evening I felt quite sick. As the river was out of view of the road down a light slope, and there was virtually no passing traffic I had my first 'full' strip wash in the river, and I have to say it was quite liberating and very fresh! I then went about taking some photos of the area, but the photo card was full. Dammit! We had just enough battery to transfer all the data to our hard drive in our wild camp office. We normally don't whip out the laptop in the bush, but we wanted the camera to be available for the next section of our trip and we didn't know when the next time we'd be sleeping indoors with electricity and a laptop friendly space would be.
It was a super quiet night with barely any traffic, the traffic that did pass would have been just locals or the odd person planning to camp at the border ready for the next day. Our breakfast was a tad unhealthy consisting of just coffee and biscuits, but it filed a hole. We filtered some water again with our Grayl's...at this point we wished we'd kept our MSR guardian which Kelvin had taken home from Lima. Filtering water would have been a lot swifter! We were soon packed up, leaving no trace as always, and headed towards border at Paso Rebollos.
The border was easy peasy, and the paperwork was all done by hand rather than computer on the way in to Argentina. We met a US guy and Polish guy travelling together (Richard and Pawel) and some French guys on Urals as we crossed. Luckily we got to the crossing first so we didn't have to wait too long. After crossing in to Argentina we rocked up at fuel station after a fast dirt road ride and met some Aussie guys Gordon and Craig from Coffs Harbour. Then a little bit after Richard and Pawel rocked up. We decided to book a room there as did the Aussie guys because the wind was horrendous, it was looking like rain and it was over 200km to the next town...who's in a rush anyway?! Pawel and Richard set off again to head South, but Richard returned not too long after due to thinking it's a long ride in the wet and wind, and decided staying warm, dry, and partaking in some whisky with us lot was far more appealing! We all chatted until midnight with whisky and wine as the wind bellowed outside. Good decision all round I felt!