Everyday in Chile is something new and something astounding. Not an hour goes by that I don't round a bend and say, "Oh my gawd!" or "Holy shit!" or, more often than not, simply, "WOW!" I say "WOW" a lot. The scenery is quite simply amazing in the whole country, but the further south we get, the more breathtaking the views become.
While waiting (an eternity) for my bike to be repaired in Santiago, I read an article by a rider talking about the beauty of the Carretera Austral, and admonishing riders to ride it before it was all paved. They are pretty constantly working on the highway, and bit by bit it is being paved. So, while in Santiago, we made the decision to ride it instead of crossing into Argentina and riding the ever-popular Ruta 40. Sadly, the day after we left Santiago, a massive landslide devastated the town of Santa Lucia, wiping it off the map. Getting the road open again would take a backseat to trying to dig out survivors. While waiting to hear news of the town's residents, we knew we would have to find a different way.
While in Pucón, we re-examined our route, and found a ferry that would take us around the affected part of the road. From Pucón, we rode south past Puerto Montt, hopped on a 30 minute ferry to the island of Chiloé, and spent the night camping in Ancud. Unlike some of the completely janky ferries we had previously been on, we rode directly onto the steel deck of this one, set off across the water watching seals and sea birds frolicking (seriously, they were frolicking) and quickly and easily rode off at the other side.
|Drying out the tent in Ancud before setting up. Ten minutes after getting it set up, it rained...|
We found our campground fairly easily, got everything setup, went to the grocery, and returned to make dinner. About ten minutes in, the skies opened up. It started as a light rain, but then it REALLY began to come down. At that point, I was so tired of being rained on and my jacket was getting soaked, so I gave up and went into the tent. My plan had been to remove the wet down jacket and put on the Goretex liner to my riding jacket, but...don't tell anyone...I stayed just a little longer. About the time the rain was ending (how's that for timing...) I emerged to see the most beautiful rainbow screaming across the sky and dipping into the bay, as if to say,
Chile apologizes for its constant and completely inconsiderate rain. Here is a rainbow just for you!
Love, The Bay
|That's a pretty nice rainbow. Thanks, Chile.|
I immediately forgave Chile.
|This sweet little one-eyed shepherd mix was one of two camp dogs.|
|This Sofi look-a-like was a loud mouth. She wouldn't shut up. She was also so skinny...broke my heart. I'm not one for feeding other people's animals, but I think she fends for herself, so I fed her.|
We rode out of Ancud the next day, heading for Quellón where we would need to catch our next ferry at 5:00pm. We arrived with enough time before boarding to head to the start/end of the Pan-American highway. Though we rode relatively little of it over the course of the trip, choosing instead to ride smaller and often dirt roads, we had ridden a good amount of it in Panama and then also in Chile.
|This is me saying, "This is a really stupid monument..."|
After taking a few pics at the monument, we headed into town and boarded the ferry. We knew it was a long-ish ferry ride, but despite Josh's best efforts, he could never really figure out how long it took, and when it landed in Puerto Cisnes.
|We were told we needed to be at the ferry two hours prior to departure to load. Motorcycles loaded last, after cars, trucks, semis, and even walk on passengers--about 10 minutes before we left.|
The fucking ferry lands in a town far, far away at 3:40 in the morning.
We roll off the ferry behind a semi and a street bike, and find that Chilean Aduana is waiting to see our docs before letting us out of the ferry lot. I have to admit, I played dumb because I was tired and pissy, and didn't want to have to drag out my passport and Aduana papers. I pretended I didn't speak Spanish, and then I sent him back to Josh. That may have been a little bit mean to both of them. As they try to communicate, a line of all the cars and trucks backs up behind us. Eventually, after not being able to communicate with Josh, the man walks over to his partner, they confer, and he walks back to me and gives me the ok to go. I do not have to be told twice, and I take off.
Once out of the ferry lot, we pull over on a street to figure out what the hell we are going to do. Shockingly enough, this tiny town in Patagonia, Chile has neither a KOA-type campground with a 24 hour reception, nor a Plaza Hotel with a smiling receptionist waiting for us. The tiny town was solidly asleep. We were not going to show up to either of the two campgrounds in town--basically people's backyards--and knock on doors or sneak in.
We consulted iOverlander and saw that at the other end of town from where we had disembarked, were two wild camping spots marked. One was essentially a pull-out on the coast road, and the other was a recreational area which has signs specifically saying "No Camping." We figured we would see which looked less dangerous and catch a couple winks.
We rode out of town and immediately found ourselves on a potholed, dirt road. Did I mention it was raining when we got off the boat? No? Well, it was. So...it's now almost 4:00 in the morning, and we are riding down an unknown, holey, dirt road in the rain. We passed three pullouts, all of which were filled with standing water, and proceeded on to the rec area. I didn't see the sign that said "No Camping" but Josh did. There were small shelters for BBQ areas, and we decided we'd just toss the sleeping pads on the ground in there and sleep. If there's no tent, we're not really camping, right?
A few minutes later, an SUV rolls up with a couple of overlanders from Australia, and they are going to spend the night too. We settle down to sleep, and a few minutes later, a security guard walks up with his two dogs.
I straighten out my addled brain long enough to tell him we've just come from the ferry, and he says it's no problem. He even gave us two thumbs up with a smile when he said, "Es bueno!" We just have to go in the morning, because, well, there is no camping allowed. He was so kind, and I assume he sees his fair share of confused people desperate for a place to stay. While lying there on the ground, I made friends with his dog--he very proudly told me it was HIS dog--and I think that helped things along. When I woke around 7, I took a little walk around and his dog joined me. I decided to lie down again, and the sweet dog curled up with me for a while.
|It was so windy and cold in this town...|
We got up a bit later and packed up what little we had unpacked. After a morning of sleeping in their vehicle, the Aussies moved to a shelter and were making themselves breakfast, but I was ready for a cafe with bread and coffee. We found the perfect one, and after an hour of coffee, breakfast, and pastries, we headed out for our first day on the Carretera Austral.
|Josh loves this picture because when he took it, I had no idea what was on the wall behind me--I hadn't even noticed when I sat down. I just knew I was in a warm shop, and hot coffee was coming my way.|
The whole first section we rode, to Coyhaique, was paved. At one point, we came to a junction where we could either stay on pavement, or take the official highway, and ride dirt. We were both tired from the events of the previous night, and made the decision to take the paved route. While trying to decide, I said I thought there had been a road works warning for that section of dirt, and that I really didn't want to be stuck. A few days later, we would hear from some travelers that there was, in fact, road works happening, and that it was brutal--miles and miles of torn-up road, slow going, and constant stopping.
|The wildflower in bloom in Chile are AMAZING right now.|
|This is a brewery in Coyhaique. The promise of good, craft beer was so close, yet so closed. Sad faces.|
We rode into Coyhaique, found our campspot, and spent a lovely couple of nights, getting a chance to talk with all our family on Christmas. Tuesday morning, the day after Christmas, was forecasted to be a beautiful, sunny day, and as we packed up camp, the blue skies and lack of wind told us it was to be our most beautiful day yet in southern Chile. We left Coyhaique and headed south on the Carretera Austral.
|Crazy cat guy at the campground--there were six extremely friendly cats at this one.|
|Christmas at El Camping Coyhaique.|
The entire section of road from there to Villa Cerro Castillo was paved once again, but not lacking in stunning views. Every bend in the road revealed something new, something beautiful, something to take a photo of. We only had a couple of hours to ride, as we had chosen an inexpensive campspot outside the town, in a climbing area. We stopped in the town for food supplies (where the owner of the grocery was so kind and gave us lovely chocolates as a gift before we left) and headed out on a small, rocky farm road toward the bolted, sport climbing area where we could pitch a tent.
|I found it! The secret farm where they grow the giant marshmallows in in Chile!|
|Sometimes riding pavement is fun!|
|That is Cerro Castillo in the background--a beautiful peak in Chilean Patagonia.|
The road was two-track, with sections of large, loose rock, but it was so similar to riding in the Rocky Mountains. Suddenly the road smoothed out, and I realized it was because we were hitting patches of sand. We were riding near the river, and I thought, "Hey, this feels pretty good!" Then we rounded a bend and saw what lie before us...a large river to cross.
The river wasn't particularly deep--more to the point, if you ride a moto you could find a way across in water just over a foot deep--but it had a few sections to cross, all of which were made of deep, shifty, round river rock. Coming out the other side, was a bank of deep, loose gravel which led to more sandy two-track. Following the #1 Rule of River Crossing, I stayed back and let Josh go first, criticizing his very deep line through the large portion of the crossing.
After watching Josh and then walking a portion to find a better line--I'm not too proud to walk it first, and besides I have amazing waterproof socks--I headed in a different direction. Though it wasn't much easier, it was shallower, so as my feet went down and my bike and I sunk in, the frigid water was not going over the tops of my boots. Eventually, we were both across, and I realized our road to the campground was an out-and-back.
Great. We'd have to do it again the next morning.
Oh well, I'd think about it the next morning. At that moment, I was thinking about getting to camp. The water had been so cold, that I could not tell if my feet were just cold, or if they were wet too. I suspected the latter, but did not want to think of my perfect socks failing me.
Another mile or so of loose, rocky two-track, we came to the gate of the climbing/camping area. A woman came out of the house on the other side of the road, and let us in, walking with us to show us around. For a completely reasonable amount, the camp area included a wind-blocked area with table and seating for a fire, a refugio complete with a wood stove and sink in case of rain, a stream for water, all the sport climbing you could handle, and pit toilets. The pit toilets had (gasp!) toilet seats and cans of Glade Air Freshener. No toilet paper, but there was air freshener. I totally laughed out loud when I saw that. You must supply your own toilet paper (like most places) but out there in the middle of Patagonia Nature, you can spray a little scent around when you're finished. I thought that was hilarious.
|Great climbing at our campspot!|
As the owner and I were wandering around so she could show me all the amenities, she kept pulling what looked like blueberries off the surrounding bushes and eating them. She told me they were Calafate berries--edible and quite good. I pulled one off a bush and popped it in my mouth. The juice was sweet and good, but they were completely filled with tiny little seeds that were bitter if I bit into them. I was not too impressed with them at that point--too much work with not enough reward.
|Calafate berries. Everywhere...|
|This campspot was beautiful!|
Eventually, our host returned to her home and we set up camp. I saw a girl in climbing gear as she walked by. She asked if we were camping and I said yes, and she said she was sleeping in the refugio. She was very friendly and I really wanted to talk to her about the climbing there, but I suddenly realized that I knew absolutely none of the words in Spanish for this sport I love so much. I didn't know how to ask about ratings (or even what rating system they use), equipment, or even how to say "rock climbing." I've got some things to learn, but it didn't stop me from watching and cheering for climbers as they made their way up the rock face.
|Sometimes, this is what our water sources look like.|
We had a little lunch and eventually agreed on a place to set up the tent. It was a little windy and cool, and I suddenly had a *brilliant* idea. I would collect the Calafate berries, cook them in water with a bit of sugar, mash them up, and make a hot juice drink out of them. So, I had never eaten them, or even seen them. The lady who lived there seemed to like them. What could go wrong...?
|Making hot Calafate berry juice. I made delicious juice, and a huge mess.|
There were about a thousand bushes, loaded with a bazillion berries each. I picked maybe a cup and a half, dodging the wicked thorns. Eventually deciding I had enough about the time I had been poked enough, I cooked and served up a mug to Josh and a mug to myself. About halfway through drinking the hot, delicious juice, I mentioned that in the future when I decide to forage a food source I've never seen or eaten, particularly if it is a berry, maybe we should only consume it one at a time. You know, that way, if someone has abdominal cramps or goes into cardiac arrest, the other person can get help. If we survived the night, that is totally how we would handle the situation next time!
|One of our noisy companions. His mate was nearby, and they eventually settled down together right above our heads.|
As it turns out, we survived the night. We had a very quiet night in the shadow of the Patagonian peaks. The winds eventually died down, and it was so still and quiet even the obnoxiously noisy birds on a ledge right above us went to sleep. We woke to slightly cloudy skies, but the promise of sunshine between the clouds felt pretty good. We packed camp and headed out.
Oh right. The river again.
We both went through it a lot faster this time, both taking the line I took the night before. By the time I had the last two sections to cross, I hammered on it and flew through. Josh remarked on it, and I said I felt like I had had enough by that point. I was over it, so, no reason to go slowly.
We hopped back on our two-track, rode back into town, and turned south once again to tackle some more of the Carretera Austral, and see what more Chile had to offer in the way of stunning scenery.
We would not be disappointed....