03 January 2018

Chile: Patagonia on the Carretera Austral

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,


Dear Louise,

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.

3:40. A.M.

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!
Camp dog!

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.
This steri-pen is awesome. The nurse practitioner we consulted for vaccines said they work great, but the batteries run down quickly and we needed to carry a lot of them. We bought the one that can charge off the bikes--no battery issues for us! I highly recommend it.

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....


18 December 2017

Camping--Central and South America the Tenting Way

Baja camping. Had the whole place to ourselves.

I love camping. I am one of those people who actually enjoys finding some out of the way spot, throwing a tent and sleeping bag on the ground, and going to sleep with nothing to listen to but a chorus of night insects. This isn't true of everyone, and I know that it is not even true of all the men and women I know who are adventure motorcycle riders. But, for me personally, I find that a night under the stars adds to the excitement, beauty, and relaxation of a moto trip.

A Colorado Springs friend who is in the planning stages of doing his own Central and South America trip in 2018 asked me recently whether I thought camping gear would be a good thing to take. Here are some things to consider before I tell you what I think...

If one doesn't do a lot of moto camping, the truth is that camping gear takes up a good chunk of space. Of course, it all depends on how much and what type of gear one takes along, but when really planning on camping away from civilization, in more than one season, gear can take on some larger dimensions. So, then part of the decision about whether to carry camping gear or not can come down to whether a rider is comfortable maneuvering her heavily-laden bike.

Another aspect to consider, is whether a rider is comfortable with the cost of camping. Of course, when it comes to campsites vs. hotel rooms, we think of this as a no brainier--camping is cheaper. However, the front end of camping is rarely inexpensive, and I'm pretty sure that when people find themselves going the route of cheap gear, that is what they get. If a rider wants gear that will stand up to ten solid months of travel in hot, humid, cold, freezing, dry, bumpy, dusty, and muddy conditions, Coleman gear will most likely be a let down.

There are loads of articles, websites, YouTube videos etc., where riders (hikers, climbers, bicycle riders) review gear. Everyone has ideas of what works well, in what type of conditions, and at which pack size. I'm not going to go into reviewing gear here, but it's worth looking into and researching prior to buying.

Yet another consideration when deciding whether to bring camping gear is safety. I've talked a bit about safety in another post from a couple of months ago, and I will say that I still feel that we have been safe everywhere we have stayed. My CS friend who asked about the camping hosted an Argentinian friend at his house for a few days, and had a dinner party with other riders to talk about planning a trip such as this. Not long after the party, it was mentioned to me that the Argentinian friend remarked on camping being unsafe.

I was pretty shocked to hear this, to be honest.

First off, I was shocked because, as I've said, we have always felt safe. Second, from all accounts I've heard, Argentina is a country of campers. There are national parks and camping everywhere in Argentina. It is a rather expensive country to visit, and one of the more affordable ways to see a large amount of it is by camping.

At one point when asked about whether we were finding many places to camp, we compared our nights spent camping to our nights spent in hotels/hostels, and found we were about 60% camping. Later, this friend, when mentioning the safety aspect brought up by the Argentinian, said he would be curious to see if we were able to keep up the percentage of nights camping we had started with.

Camping in the pouring rain can suck!

So, all that under consideration, here is what I think about a ten-month, multi-country moto trip that includes camping. Camping is, without a doubt, a value added aspect of this trip. We have sought out national parks in many countries we've been in--including in the states of Durango and Sinaloa in Mexico--to explore and stay in because we had gear with us. I love camping, and I love what it has added to the trip.

This campsite had power and individual sinks to wash dishes at each site. Shared bathrooms had hot water showers, but only half the toilets had toilet seats...

The gear we are carrying is fairly bulky, but we've split it up. Each person carries his/her own personal items including Thermarest pads and sleeping bags, while we have split up the kitchen and the tent. The tent is a 3 person tent, because quite honestly, I couldn't imagine only having the room of a two-person tent for ten months--someone was probably gonna die, or at the very least, have their feelings hurt when I couldn't take the confined space anymore. When you see pictures of my bike, the Mosko Moto duffel that goes across the back of my bike has the tent, my sleeping bag--bulky as it is a -5 degree bag--and my pillow. The kitchen is in one of Josh's panniers, and what we refer to as the "feed sack"--a bag that contains food basics for lunches in the middle of nowhere and campsite dinners--lives in his top box.

The weight makes little difference when I'm riding--I really don't notice it because Camille does all the hard work. When I have to maneuver the bike at slow/no speed, yes, it is hard. But, I don't really touch the ground with both of my feet, so maneuvering a 500+ pound bike is hard whether I have the extra weight of a tent and sleeping bag or not.

We've collected a fair bit of camping equipment over the years, but there was definitely new gear we purchased specifically for this trip. The single most expensive piece was, of course, the tent. But, for this trip, between the two of us, we probably kept the cost of additional gear down to just about $506. If I were to add up the cost of all the camping gear we have brought, it is well into the $1000s. With hotels/hostels being so reasonably or even cheaply priced in all but two of the countries we've been in, I'm not sure that a brand new investment in gear would make sense for someone.

This camp setting in Panama had...
...this. A pool with two outdoor kitchens more beautiful than my kitchen at home. Hot showers and Wifi came with it also.

We have safely camped in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Bolivia, and Chile, so far. I am writing this from Chile, so we haven't been to Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, or Brazil yet. We did not camp in Ecuador or Peru, but there was no specific reason for not doing so yet--I fully expect we will do so when we return later. As of last night, we have spent 48 days camping, and 57 days hotel/hostel. Though this is far from the original count of 60% camping, earlier in the trip, I need to tell you we had planned/hoped to be able to camp about 1/3 of our time on the road. We're actually doing pretty well, I'd say.

Now that we're in Chile, and moving on to Argentina, the lodging expenses are considerably higher. Considerably. Even the camping prices have gotten higher coming into Chile. But, here is the funny thing about camping in all of these countries. Most of the campgrounds/campsites we've been to have things like bathrooms which include showers (often hot),wi-fi, and power.

Our neighbors at a campground north of Santiago. They were using all of the shared power, but had brought a power strip and told us to please use it! We knew they were cool when we saw their blender--they know how to party right! This campground was unbelievably loud until around 1am on Saturday night, but abandoned and silent on Sunday night. We loved this place!

We haven't had wi-fi at any camping spots in Chile. In fact, when we asked at one campground where the price to camp was close to $15US per person if they had wi-fi, the girl at reception laughed and said, "No! This is camping!" But, the next night, when we pulled into a nearly full campground in Santiago's northern wine country, I stood looking at campsites which contained things such as blenders, fans, and flat-screen TVs. The people across the way from us had even brought a refrigerator. A REFRIGERATOR!!! There was still no wi-fi, but damn I had a good laugh looking around at al the comforts of home Chileans brought camping with them.

The final aspect of camping that I love, that I think makes it all worthwhile to do, is the fun people one meets when camping. Though we've had many campgrounds to ourselves due to the fact that we've been traveling in off-seasons and rainy-seasons, we are starting to share campgrounds with other people who also love the opportunity to get outside and have some fun.

If you don't like bugs, you won't like camping here...
I you're thinking, "He looks like he's INSIDE the tent", then you are correct! And he was about 3" long...

If you are a camper, this is definitely the way to go. Though I will warn you, if you're not, this kind of trip probably won't turn you into a happy camper. Don't like bugs? The spiders the size of my face and the tarantula will probably not win you over as "bunkmate of the year". If you're one of those campers who appreciates the QUIET beauty of nature, a campground on the weekend in a Latin-American country is NOT for you. Music is loved here, and as far as I can tell, when one person turns on music, his neighbor turns his volume up until he can no longer hear the other guy's. Then, the next neighbor down turns hers up until she can no longer hear the first two. This goes on all around the campground until all you can hear is EVERYONE'S music, and none of your own thoughts. It's just the culture here.

Look closely next to the tent door--GIANT spider.
But, along with giant spider, this campground came with these two loves. I call that a win.

But I wouldn't have missed it for the world! Ok, maybe that one night on the beach in northern Chile...but that's a story for a different time.


We were the only people camping here on this beach. We came here after finding that the hostel in town would cost about $60US--oh, hell no--and people said it was a totally awesome, safe community. And, it was.