Carretera Austral... if you ever come to Chile.

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by durandal, Oct 28, 2007.

  1. durandal

    durandal Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    Greetings, fellow riders.

    I humbly offer you all the tale of my trip to the very, very southern Carretera Austral in Chile. This is the first of 14 chapters to be translated from Spanish.

    5400 Km in total from Santiago to the small town of Villa O'Higgins and back on an XR250R.

    Others have certainly gone further, faster, slower, better or worse equipped. But this was my journey, and I think you'll enjoy --at least-- a pic here and there.

    I gather that ADV regulars enjoy seeing the pics and commentary in the forum itself, so I'll go adapting each chapter to the forum, as well as publishing it on my site.

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    EDIT: Here's the Photogrpahic Index, if you've just landed on the thread for the first time. Links are available to both the posts on my website, and the posts on ADVRider.
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    Chapter 1 (ADVRider post)
    Introduction and Parque Conguillio.
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    Chapter 2 (ADVRider post)
    Puerto Montt and Hornopirén.
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    Chapter 3 (ADVRider post)
    Caleta Gonzalo - La Junta.
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    Chapter 4 (ADVRider post)
    La Junta - Puerto Aysén.
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    Chapter 5 (ADVRider post)
    Coyhaique and surroundings.
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    Chapter 6 (ADVRider post)
    Puerto Río Tranquilo and surroundings.
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    Chapter 7 (ADVRider post)
    Cochrane - Villa O'Higgins.
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    Chapter 8 (ADVRider post)
    Villa O'Higgins and the Fiesta Costumbrista.
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    Chapter 9 (ADVRider post)
    Caleta Tortel and the return to Coyhaique.
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    Chapter 10 (ADVRider post)
    Puyuhuapi - Chaitén.
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    Chapter 11 (ADVRider post)
    Camilo's Adventure.
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    Chapter 12 (ADVRider post)
    Quellón - Puerto Varas.
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    Chapter 13 (ADVRider post)
    Volcán Osorno, Valdivia and the return home.
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    Chapter 14 (ADVRider post)
    Epilogue.
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    * * *​


    Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Sunday, March 04, 2007
    Chapter 1 - Original Post on The Flight of the Platypus


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    "Obstacles are there to be overcome."

    Sign hanging over the slope down to Puerto Yungay, the end of the Ruta 7.


    The natural place to begin this tale is at the start, the beginning. I could talk about the preparations, the motives, the desires, what we hoped to achieve. Let's skip all that: it will all come out in due course, as when you sit down in front of a gas cooker, face illuminated by the blue flame, ready to eat a package alphabet soup, and tell a story of something that happened some time ago. This didn't happen a while ago: I got back yesterday. Give me time to mature the memories and, as I say, all will come pouring out.

    What I can outline, for those that enjoy the concrete, is the following.

    From conception to departure not more than two weeks and a bit passed. Camilo, proud owner of a Suzuki V-Strom DL650, and your gentle narrator, proud owner of a faithful XR 250 R, decided to travel to the South of Chile, with no un-manly feints such as putting the bikes on a train down to Temuco or some such shite, but to instead roll every single kilometre that had to be rolled, and to arrive... well, as far as we could.

    This is the tale of such a trip.

    And quite a trip it was! Here's a visual representation of the 5400 km.

    (Camino de Ida: Setting off, Camino de Regreso: Return, Barcazas: Ferries)

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    As is traditional among motorbike travelers, we stayed up late the night before getting things ready. Camilo wanted to install a bash plate, to protect the V-Strom's exposed engine, exhaust header and oil filter. We bought the aluminium sheet and the stainless steel rod I'd be needing for my saddlebags, and took them to a dark, cavernous building with bending machines larger than my house.

    Anyway, we set off late, as was to be expected, around 3 pm. It didn't matter: we'd stop where night fell.

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    Camilo had a hard time getting everything on the bike. As he gained experience things improved, but by the end of the trip we both fully understood the value of removable and lockable panniers.

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    On the road we met two Koreans. They were coming down from Colombia if I'm not mistaken. We were impressed by their bikes, the length of their trip. Now, after having met many other travellers, the extent of their journey does not seem so great, though my respect for them has not changed.

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    And on, and on.

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    The Malleco viaduct. Inaugurated in 1890. The diagonal trusses were added later.

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    And night fell, near Talca. Before it was too dark to set up the tents, we stopped at a camp site, the same one where Octanito got a flat tyre two years ago on the way to Talca. We set up the tents, and fell asleep in the warm night air.

    The next day we carried on south, and took the exit at Victoria towards Curacautín. Night fell again, and we searched for a place to stay. We found one run by a nice lady near the city's main entrance. Out we went for a bite to eat, and we had our first brush with hight prices and slow or nonexistent service.

    An early start the next morning, and off we go to cross Parque Nacional Conguillio, a strange fusion of sapphire blue lagoons, age-old forests, araucarias and arid landscapes produced by the Llaima volcano.

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    Kids, when you get off the bike, use suncream. Make sure you cover the tops of your ears, and learn from this idiot's misfortune, as he did not enjoy putting his helmet on for the next few days.

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    The circuit through the park takes you through thick woods, the undergrowth impenetrable with coligüe, occasional glimpses of the lakes through the vegetation and occasional turnoffs to get a closer look.

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    Arguably the most striking thing in the whole park, this lagoon.

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    See that underwater?

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    Makes me dizzy.

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    And, abruptly, welcome to the moon.

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    We met some german bikers on a package tour. The average age was probably well over 50, and they had a support van carrying all their kit. There were about 15 of them. Initially I envied them for not having to pack everything each morning. Now, after having completed the trip, I don't. Fly halfway across the world to be bound by someone else's itinerary? Have your luggage carried for you? In their favour, I'll say that they had probably done trips on their own already, in earlier years (when the line of candles behind them was short) and wanted to take it a bit differently now.

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    The obligatory self-pic.

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    On and on we rode, hoping to get to Pucón.

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    Somewhere along the way, your gentle narrator took a wrong turn, and we ended up doing a good threescore and twenty extra kilometres, perhaps more. At least we got a nice view of Lago Colico. Twice.

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    Oh well, the pics always make it worth it.

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    One thing I haven't mentioned, but that should be kept in mind: Camilo had no experience on dirt roads. Worried about a fall, cracking his alloy rims or busting his V-Strom's suspension, his rythm was quite slow. The shadows were growing long, and we did not want to ride in the dark on dirt roads. Oh, how innocent and wet behind the ears we were. :-)

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    Soon we arrived at Pucón. Looking for a campsite; nothing but Cabins, Cabins, Cabins, km and km of signs for cabins on the stretch of road between Villarica and Pucón. Eventually we found one at 10000 pesos a night, but we were tired.

    That night Camilo went out to the Casino (having brought a nice shirt precisely for this purpose) and came back sickened by the ill-mannered brats that had flooded the place for the summer, all high rolling daddy's money. I had gone out for a drink with someone I knew in Pucón, and on my way back, I missed the camp site. Completely. I did the whole Villarica-Pucón road some four times. It was cold, very cold. I ended up asking the night watchman of a campsite similar to ours. No idea. Up and down the road I went, I must have done about 70 km or more. I started getting low on gas. This is not how you want to end a tiring day of riding.

    I finally found it, and flopped into my tent, very tired. The next day, Camilo mentioned over breakfast that he had searched the Villarica-Pucón road some 4 or 5 times looking for the campsite, and had stopped to ask the night watchman at a campsite that looked similar to ours.

    It was probably summer's most interesting night for that guy.

    Next Chapter: Puerto Montt and Hornopirén.

    <!-- Saltar al capítulo: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-Epílogo o al Índice Fotográfico
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    #1
  2. Katsumoto

    Katsumoto Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Tabasco, Mexico
    Que maravilloso pais es Chile en verdad... Me asombra la claridad del agua.

    Muestra fotos del rack que construiste para tu moto...

    Saludos!
    #2
  3. durandal

    durandal Been here awhile

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    Albuquerque, NM
    Katsumoto asks about my rack.

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    d.
    #3
  4. Indochine

    Indochine 'Bikes are OK, but . . .

    Joined:
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    Great start to a report on a fascinating part of the world, at least for me (these parts include Southeast Asia, China and South America).
    #4
  5. huemul

    huemul .

    Joined:
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    I seldom touch a pc these days. still on the road; nevertheless today I came across this thread only to realize our paths have crossed. we met when I inadvertently embarked from chalten to chiloe. nice post. come to think of it, we had lunch together once we got there.
    y’all take care.
    CRF450R ‘round the world
    #5
  6. durandal

    durandal Been here awhile

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    Well I never!

    I remember your adventure quite clearly. As I understood it, you'd be towards the end of your journey once you got back to middle Chile. How wrong I was.

    Do you remember how we talked about a life in science? I was trying to figure out whether coming up to the US for a PhD was worth a shot. In the end I figured it out on the trip, bit the bullet and here I am. And there you are, still on the road.

    Man, my hat's off to you.

    I'm not sure if anyone's seen what huemul's up to (on ADVRider), but once I get to Chapter 10 or 11 or thereabouts, you might be in for a surprise :D.

    Cheers and godspeed.

    durandal
    #6
  7. gen

    gen Been here awhile

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    I've been to Tortel back in 1993 when there was no road. If you have photos of the Tortel area, I'd love to see them!

    Here's a photo from up on one of the mountains on the Campo del Hielo Norte.

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    #7
  8. durandal

    durandal Been here awhile

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    They're coming, they're coming.

    Things have changed a lot in the area. The road has allowed for tourism, though thankfully it is light and has not impacted the community in any negative way that I could see.

    When walking around Tortel I felt like I was in the game Myst, or Riven.

    So you went by boat? Or by plane? I forget when the small airstrip was built.

    If you have pics, dig them up and post them when I get to the chapter on Tortel; it will be fantastic to compare.

    That pic you posted is impressive. I don't want to let on too much of what's coming, but it turned out that someone I knew worked on the actual construction of the branch to Tortel of the Carretera Austral, or the vicinity.

    Cheers,

    d.
    #8
  9. gen

    gen Been here awhile

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    We took sea kayaks down the Rio Baker to Tortel. We camped next to the airfield.

    Unfortunately I don't have my photos with me (they're in storage in the US and I am in Japan) but yes, Tortel is a mystical place in my mind.

    Amazing place, the 11th region.
    #9
  10. GB

    GB . Administrator

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    Toronto
    Chile riding... so beautiful, thanks for posting :thumb
    #10
  11. Saeed

    Saeed Life-long learner

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    d Great write-up and GORGEOUS pics!
    Thanks for sharing<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><o:p></o:p>
    #11
  12. kennyanc

    kennyanc Long timer

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    :lurk
    #12
  13. durandal

    durandal Been here awhile

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    Hi!

    I edited the previous post, I think it looks nicer now.

    Also, note that the map image in the header of each chapter is clickable, and will show you a larger version.

    I'd appreciate any comments on formatting, spelling, or anything else.

    Enjoy!

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    Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Monday, March 05, 2007




    <table bgcolor="#ffffff" width="630"><tbody></tbody><tbody><tr><td>[​IMG] </td><td>Days 4 y 5: Pucón-Puerto Montt, Start of the Ruta 7, Hornopirén.

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    Despite having gone to bed late, I woke up early. The tent was not sunlit. I could hear a soft, constant noise, the occasional crinkle of a plastic bag at another campsite, the clink of a fork a few tents off. What was that soft, constant noise then? My consciousness drifted here and there, compared it to the sound a TV makes when it gets no signal, and promptly shut down for another five minutes of dozing. My eyes popped open wide when I understood what the noise was: rain. Crap. That meant that we'd have to take everything apart and pack in the rain.

    We did, and it was quite unpleasant. Somewhere in the pile of stuff that we had on top of and below the campsite's table (both slightly drier than everywhere else thanks to a tree) was my inflatable bed roll. I got it as a Christmas present, it's one of those thin ones that self-inflate. A few days later I realised I had lost it, most certainly hanging in the tree or tucked out of the rain under the table.

    Wet and uncomfortable in our yellow rain suits, we set off. We didn't want to have anything to do with the scenery, turnoffs, tourist stops. We just wanted to get there as soon as possible.

    And we did. Stopping at service stations every now and then, for food or fuel. On one of those stops some naive soul, glancing at the half-donned rain suits as we munched some food, actually asked Camilo if we were motorcycle delivery people. Ah, the wonders and mysteries of thy neighbour's mind...

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    One thousand kilometres from Santiago, and night fell.

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    We rode in to Puerto Montt quite late, and weren't too thrilled at what we managed to see of the city. We decided to stay at a hotel (Millahue), so we could dry our things and get good rest before the main leg of the journey. It was still raining.

    The next morning we trudged over to the Easy home maintenance store to buy a few things. I got the unpleasant surprised that my waterproof gators, needed to complement my short touring boots, had had some sort of existential crisis, and were no longer waterproof. It seems the rubberized backing just dissolved. I wonder why, since they weren't a year old.

    I decided to buy a few metres of polyethylene, transparent contact glue, 3M two-sided outdoors sticky tape. The plan was to extend my rain suit's trousers with all of this, since they rode up whenever I was on the bike. Camilo bought kitchen gloves (yes, those yellow rubber ones), since his gloves were getting soaked.

    Before we left the room, I noticed that roof of the building next to the hotel had been used for some strange re-decorating sessions.

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    We set off in the rain towards Hornopirén. We were finally on the Camino Longitudinal Austral, the Ruta 7. We didn't know what to expect: mud, holes, washboard, giant rocks.

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    After about 60 km of riding we reached Caleta La Arena, where we took the first ferry. The queue of vehicles was quite long, but we just buzzed straight down to the loading ramp. Ah, the beauty of motorbikes. If you can't do this sort of thing where you live, it's time to pack up and ride across a border or two.

    We bought the last empanadas we'd see for a while, which we had not time to finish before El Trauco came in.

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    It rained still.

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    The ferry was swaying a bit, and both bikes were in risk of toppling over, particularly mine. Beside us, a large truck, rocking on its suspension with each wave. Unsettling, to say the least.

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    On the other end, about 50 km to Hornopirén.

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    You can't really see it clearly, but down there by the river there's a wall of nalcas, giant-leaved plants that were a constant sight in the damp areas from this point on.
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    We had no way of knowing it then, but this segment of the Ruta 7 was a good approximation of what the rest of it would be like. The fears we might have had about mud turned out to be unfounded, and though some parts of the trip were harder than others, we never had serious road trouble (not considering the stretches of loose stones and strong crosswinds that make your palms sweat).


    The greatest danger on the Ruta 7 are other vehicles. In many places the road is not wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other without having one of them slow down and brush the overhanging vegetation aside. Most parts of it were what one might call a three-track road, and some times gravel, stones or loose earth lay outside of these three tracks. That meant that having to leave the right-most track at high speed would result in a certain fall.

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    Sometimes the road was wide, flat and well packed. This was generally the case in areas of dense vegetation, where there was enough organic material in the road surface to keep things from turning nasty too quickly.

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    In Hornopirén, it rained still.

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    We rode up to the small office of Naviera Austral, but they were closed for lunch. There were many people parked on the narrow road that passed the office and led down to the loading ramp. Quite a few were standing about: a few families, a few young backpackers, a few foreign tourists. A young guy finally came out of the office, and by the way people looked at him, he probably worked there. A gringa asked a question in bad spanish, and so he answered in English. I barged in, speaking in English as well, and when he was no longer able to understand what I was saying, I switched back to Spanish. This seemed to surprise him and those around us. What, can't a guy have two native languages? Though I was not a pretty blonde, I had briefly been a gringo, and had my questions answered, but now that I was merely a chileno, he gave me the cold shoulder and buggered off down the few slick wooden steps, into the tiny garden, out the small rusty gate, and disappeared in the general direction of the tiny cluster of trinket and homemade food stalls. A first taste of what we would later learn is Naviera Austral's modus operandi.


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    There was no space on the ferry that day, and there were people in Hornopirén who had to wait three or four days for a ticket. Luckily we were able to get something for the next day, again thanks to the fact that were were a pair of motorbikes and not something larger.


    That night we visited every single hardware store in Hornopirén, searching for a 12 mm allen wrench. Camilo needed it to take the front wheel off, should he get a flat. We came across what must be the best-equipped small-town hardware store we've ever seen. Bicycle brake lines, chains, wrench sockets, nails, glues, lubricants, license plate frames, rolls of wire, netting, the list just went on and on. And Camilo found what he was looking for, so after chatting to the nice guy behind the counter, we were off to the supermarket to find something to eat.

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    I open my eyes and turn the cellphone's alarm off one final time.
    The constant purr of the small gas heater, the cold air, and the two blankets on my bed are not something that I'd normally need in February. Outside it is softly raining. Anything in the room that might serve as a hook (including the curtain rails) has at least two damp things hanging off it, drying. Camilo is still asleep. I peek through the curtains. There are the bikes: soaked, bits of mud and sand stuck to them. If I visually follow the narrow path up to the cabin into the distance, over the trees and bushes, I can see the black silhouettes of the hills, covered in dense vegetation.
    At that moment the clouds part slightly. The room is now slightly lighter, a shadow here and there become more defined. On the bikes, a few drops manage a glimmer. And then the clouds close up again. I have a feeling that was the only bit of sun I'll see all day.

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    Since my bike was unloaded, I went for a spin.

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    After the rain, sun!

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    I went up a small dirt road towards the Parque Nacional Hornopirén, passing through the small town of Chaqueihua. The road ended in front of a saw mill, and further on, a wooden gate across the entrance of a place that looked very much like private property, though it was apparently the way in to the park. I glanced at the map again. My desire to reach the Lago General Pinto Concha was not to be fulfilled. (Spanish speakers will understand my motivation :-).


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    At the saw mill I was told that there is another road that went all the way up to another lake. The road was not an easy one, but you could do it on a motorbike. So off I went.


    And yes, the road was indeed a 4x4-only trail. Large volcanic rocks, loose and part of the ground made riding hard but very, very fun.

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    Up and up I went, riding gleefully through muddy puddles that covered the crank case, gassing it over unreasonably sharp and gigantic rocks, I came to a place that was almost impossible to do if you weren't coming at it fast. (Never forget the difference between attempting to get over an obstacle using the engine alone, versus the engine plus your inertia). I lost speed, and nearly went over to my left, in one of those nearly-nearlies at 0 km/h.




    The Polo brand gators that I was wearing (in case of rain and as a substitute for my other ones) were ripped to shreds after kicking and slipping on the sharp volcanic rocks. With the kind help of a guy that came out of nowhere I was able to push the bike up over the hard part and carry on. Soaked in sweat (because I was in my rain trousers), I pushed on.

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    After more puddles, mud and all the rest, I decided to stop. The trail had become ridiculously steep and irregular, to the point that I was not sure whether I could safely come back down it without a problem. The visit to lake Cabrera was therefore left for another day.

    Coming down turned out to be easier than going up, and just as much fun. This is the house (and probably the family) of the guy that helped me.

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    And this is the hard part. The picture was taken looking up the slope, so the horizon is really about where the rocks between the diagonal boards are, in the lowr third of the picture.

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    Soaked in sweat, covered in mud, volcanic sand and dead leaves, I arrived at the cabin, where Camilo was sunbathing or something equally unmanly. He set off to get a place in the ferry's queue, and I changed clothes and packed my stuff. I took off my jeans and put on some semi-water-resistant trousers I bought for cheap at a place that sells fireman and ambulance crew uniforms and kits, complete with reflective stripes around the trouser legs. My tshirt was soaked, so it got strapped to my luggage, and I just wore my bike jacket. Excuse me, miss, where's the bachelorette's party?


    We boarded without a hitch, and they tied the bikes down with clicky straps. When everyone was aboard, a family on the ferry's frontal loading ramp was still arguing with the crew. "We have a reservation, we have purchased tickets that show our vehicle's license plate, the ticket is for today, and you're not letting us onboard". The crew member just said that they'd better get off the ramp, because the boat was about to set sail. And with that, by raising the loading ramp, the argument was over. A gentleman leaned over and commented, upon observing all of this, that this scene was one that happened time and time again. "No, this always happens. It's a shame". Long live Naviera Austral.


    Next Chapter: Caleta Gonzalo to La Junta.





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    #13
  14. PacoTheGreat

    PacoTheGreat Adventurer

    Joined:
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    Lomp"eek"o
    Hey, Loving it so far. It's been very hard to not click ahead with the link you have to the offsite version.
    #14
  15. Lobby

    Lobby Viel Spass, Vato!

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    Wonderful! :clap

    :lurk
    #15
  16. durandal

    durandal Been here awhile

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    Well, if you speak spanish, be my guest! :-)

    Cheers,

    durandal
    #16
  17. nigelcorn

    nigelcorn Wannabe.

    Joined:
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    Henderson, NV
    I spent a few years in Chile, though I didn't get outside of Santiago too much. This is great to see, I would love to get back with a bike and do the same type of trip. Thanks for the ride report, I'm excited to see the rest.
    #17
  18. santinisantini

    santinisantini Adventurer

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    Buenos Aires, Argentina/Milwaukee, WI
    Well done, spritely Chilean!:rofl
    #18
  19. durandal

    durandal Been here awhile

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    Location:
    Albuquerque, NM
    Patience, zesty gringo. Your time will come (in the next chapter!).

    And if you ever call me a Chilean again, I'll pee in your D'Olbek glass.

    (All will be revealed once the story is complete, gentle readers).

    Cheers,

    durandal
    #19
  20. durandal

    durandal Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2006
    Oddometer:
    197
    Location:
    Albuquerque, NM
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    Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Monday, March 05, 2007



    <table bgcolor="#ffffff" width="630"><tbody><tr><td>[​IMG] </td><td>Days 5 and 6: Ferry from Hornopirén to Caleta Gonzalo, La Junta.

    Previous Chapter - Next Chapter

    1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-Epilogue

    Photographic Index

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    The ferry's loading ramp was raised, and we slowly pulled away from Hornopirén. The bikes were tucked away in a corner, normally unused space that we were lucky to be able to occupy. The sea was calm.

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    The weather was nice, though on deck, the wind cooled anything that was not sheltered. Witness the only use that Camilo's cap got during the entire trip.

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    Deep and monotonous humming from the ferry's engines. I am on the highest deck, sitting near the hot air grille leading down to the engine room. It's not that cold, and my jacket is warm. An hour ago we left Caleta Ayacara behind, a place where the ferry stops once a week on Thursdays. No sign of the toninas, the local dolphins that usually keep ships company in their crossing of these traits and fjords.

    Some chat, some sleep. We are about thirty people, perhaps more, if you count those that are stil sitting in their vehicles. Ah, and one sheep, of course. It was brought aboard at Caleta Ayacara by pushing and pulling, and it peed in protest.

    I am surprised at the amount of houses south of Caleta Ayacara. Kilometres and kilometres of shoreline, and a house or two every 100, 200 metres. Every now and then, a church. Behind, the tree-covered hills, and beyond, clouds and a sky that was at times blue, at times white.
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    Another ventilation duct, now at the stern, middle level. The sun is thirty minutes away from setting. I feel the heat of the sun, the hot air, and the reflection of the sun on the water. I have been all over the ship, looking for the sheep, and I can't find it anywhere. Do they have a sheep locker?

    Rust, and the thick marine paint that resists it. Objects and contraptions so massive that rust, should it appear, is not a preoccupation. Anyway. Siting across from me, a heavy metal fan, in a hooded top, Morbid Angel's logo on the chest. He lazily plays an imaginary drum kit formed by his thighs, his knees and his feet. The hot air, permanent rumbling of the engines and the sound of the churning water, the fizz after it comes up all frothy and white, all of that is making me sleepy.

    We will get to Caleta Gonzalo late; spending the night is no longer an option.

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    And so it goes: we had to spend the night. Caleta Gonzalo is within the controversial Parque Pumalín. The first thing you notice upon arrival are the occasional constructions and structures: information center, cafeteria, and so on. Built from wood, well-finished, they give the impression that they were carefully designed and built to simulate an ethno gift and decoration shop. Or perhaps something out of Jurassic Park. It just looked as if they were trying too hard, but that's just me.

    We were informed that there are two camp sites. One is 500 metres away and costs 1500 pesos per person. The other, quite some distance away, is more expensive. Or should we just gas it to Chaitén? No, better camp. So off we shuffle with the other semi-dazed travellers.

    Off to the side of the road was a small and narrow car parking space; beyond, a short stone wall, and above it, overgrown shrubs and trees. And then a break in the stone wall, and a gaping black hole in the vegetation, dark and spooky as anything you've ever seen. A couple of cyclists wheeled their bikes past us and disappeared in the hole. Since screaming and munching sounds did not ensue, we decided we'd brave it, and started unpacking. We had noticed a DR650 by the entrance, and we did what every biker would: went over and looked at its kit. The chain looked like a cooked noodle, and it had some sort of horrendous rack/frame for panniers made with steel construction bars (yes, the type you normally pour concrete over) rusted and apparently once painted with spray paint. Despite these details, the bike sported a Kryptonite U-lock and a Xena disc lock plus alarm. An interesting contradiction.

    The way in was narrow. Did I mention it was dark? Night had fallen as we unpacked the bikes. The trail ran sometimes along the forest floor, sometimes on nice quaint elevated walkways. And soon, 30 cm from the ground and spaced every few metres, those nice dim path lights that some people use on their front lawns. This was not like camp sites I know.

    Further ahead, a human traffic jam. Cyclists and backpackers were clogging the narrow path, and two guys in jackets and caps were charging a fee before people crossed the long hanging bridge.

    We paid, crossed the bridge, straining under the weight of *all* our luggage (so as not to leave anything unattended on the bikes), and on the other side... a surprise. It looked like a garden from someone's large house in the very well-off corner of Santiago: Stone paths, neatly trimmed grass, islands of bushes and plants here and there, no doubt laid out according to the teachings of Feng Shui, and the aforementioned garden lights. By the entrance after coming out of the forest were large information panels made from hand-carved wood, ethno lettering and so on. They informed the visitor about the private nature of the park and similar things.

    We set up the tents and headed off towards the common cooking area, some quinchos with picnic tables. Camilo had managed to find the only guy wearing a touring jacket, and the three of us sat down to eat crappy food and chat. It turns out that Nicolás had worked at ING while Camilo was there. He told us about his bike's rack, how it had had a more dignified start in life, at least during the conceptual stage. He had even tried having it made by Alejandro Muñoz, the same guy that made my rack and who was, by now, quite well known amongst Santiago bikers.Unfortunately Alejandro said he wouldn't be able to make it in a few days, so Nicolás set off to Lira, the motorcycle street, to find the first guy with a welding kit that could throw it together. If I'm not mistaken he took it to Lifan, importers of the ever crappy, ever failing chinese bikes that are flooding the Chilean market. He had no need to continue, for I knew already where the source of its crappiness lay. They did a half-assed job, and by 7 pm, when they closed shop, it was still not ready. He took it home as it was, and the paint was a last-ditch attempt at keeping rust at bay. Nico was now on his way home (he'd reached Caleta Tortel), and it had broken several times since he set out.

    That night I discovered the loss of my sleeping mat. It was very cold. I had to use my sheepskin seat liner to insulate myself from the ground. It was so cold, I took a few swigs from the pisco hip flask I had. And I think I lit the gas stove in the tent.

    The next morning, sun!

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    Chaitén was close, so we wouldn't stop there.

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    Glaciers!

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    If I'm not mistaken, this is Puente Yelcho, inaugurated towards the end of the 90s. Before that you needed a barge to get across.

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    Yelcho Glacier.

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    Villa Santa Lucía.

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    I came around a curve, and there was Camilo chatting with another biker. And that's how we met Tom Paprocki, from Wisconsin (www.themanifestdestiny.org). He had come all the way from home on his KLR, nicknamed El Jugoso.

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    Doubltess my favourite sticker is the "Chofer Mimoso" one. Usually seen in urban buses and taxis in Latin America, it roughly translates as "Cuddly Driver".

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    He was going at a slower pace than we were not only because he was alone, but more importantly because he was involved in a serious accident in Bolivia, fault of a truck driver, that sent his riding buddy back to a US hospital.

    I love these road signs. Surely they were out of uphill signs, and rotated a downhill sign.

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    We noticed that our home made bash plate was also a cowshit plate. Is that the biggest skid mark you've seen or what?

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    In La Junta we took a cabin for the three of us, made pasta, and befriended Tom.

    There is an amazingly well stocked supermarket at La Junta. They have everything. This is also the only point where you can use a debit/credit card for hundreds of kilometres in any direction. As if that weren't enough, they are also a Copec gas station. The supermarket also has a few internet points, a bizarrely advanced point-of-sale system running on a couple of recent PCs at the counter, several surveillance cams, fresh fruit, cheese, everything. And outside, speakers playing music, apparently a looped CD of La Oreja de Van Gogh. Check it out on Youtube to get a feel for what we were being exposed to.

    Something interesting from the Vialidad.cl website:

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    That was La Junta in 1981, with 40 houses. And today:

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    I recommend you take a look at the Vialidad website (if you speak spanish); they've put together a wonderful photographic essay of the different parts of the Carretera Austral, all packed with interesting info.

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    A few parting words on speedboats. Think of the speedboats you've seen throughout your life: Don't most of them lie forgotten in garages and patios? To me, they are sculptures that remind us that not all purchases made by the Man of the family are wise, or well considered. But anyway. Perhaps some day this boat will see water again.

    Next Chapter: La Junta - Puerto Aysén




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    #20