Now we are sitting here in Puerto Montt, drinking beer, and try to remember all things that happened the last four weeks on the Carretera Austral. That road goes from Villa O’Higgins far in the south 1247km northwards, until Puerto Montt. It connects many very remote regions. Road construction was started in the seventies, and the last bit was only finished in 2001. The maintenance of the road needs millions of euros (billions of chilean pesos…). Most of the road is gravel, often as tiny as a forest path in the Odenwald. Sometimes, there are also freshly paved, very wide parts, were you fly along on tour bike. Besides the distance we also had to deal with more than 10000m of height. But their it is important to note: What goes up, goes down eventually.
In contrast to most stories and previsions from others that rode the road before, we had mostly beautiful weather and nearly no rain. Sometimes we reached valleys where it drizzled, and some nights we heard the rain on our tent. Typically, it was over in the morning and we cycled in sunshine. The wind also changed. It not only came from the west, but mostly from north (where we had to go…). But it was much weaker than in Patagonia, and we were used to it, too. It was always funny to meet “Hobby Cyclists”* on their single head wind day and hear them curse the wind. While it was relatively cool in the south, temperatures climbed the more we got north. We could leave the sleeping bags open some nights, and actually had to use sun screen during the day.
Wet air in the morning
Planning was very easy, as we could basically sleep everywhere next to the road. Often we found nice spots that were even hidden from the road. Fresh, drinkable water was to be found everywhere, either on the rock walls next to the road or in freezing cold mountain rivers. In general, views from sleeping spots were superb. Sometimes, there were even waiting houses or refugios with fire places and fire wood. Once in the 4 weeks we allowed us the luxury to sleep in side - and knocked the rightdoor. A very nice hostel with brand new mattresses and perfect sanitary installations
Sleeping next to a river
The landscape near the road is a good explanation why building the road took so long. Everywhere were mountains, except for places where rivers or glaciers made room for valleys. Often, these valleys were filled with lakes or fjords, which did not make the construction easier. But very nice to look at. We also enjoyed four relatively long ferry crossings at places were road construction would have been way to complicated. Thanks to the (before we came) heavy rain fall, there was massive vegetation. A lot of the time we cycled through rain forest (“temperate rain forest”). Or we had at least on one side a massive rock wall, which showed traces of explosive works to build the road.
One of the many lakes
Besides nice landscape everyday, sometimes there were even more special things. This includes a variety of national parks, and also sights like the “Cuevas de Marmol”. The washed out rocks and coast areas at the Lago General Carrera were especially beautiful in the morning sunshine. Inside the national park Queulat we wandered through an enchanted forest, and saw a hanging glacier. In Pumalin Park, we saw impressive waterfalls and our first visible vulcano. Although worth mentioning is Caleta Tortel, an village in a bay that has no roads but only boardwalks and houses on stilts.
Cuevas de Marmol 1
Cuevas de Marmol 2
“Enchanted Forest”, with bewitched biologist
Caleta Tortel, at least parts of it
Another specialty stand at the road side, alive - a Huemul. A long time before that, we saw warning signs asking cars to drive slowly, avoiding killing this endangered species. There were even since to remember killed Huemuls. Until we saw it alive, Moritz claimed all the time that the Huemul would be a Marketing-Gag of the Chilean road authorities.
It is real - the Huemul
After more than 1300km we arrived with many dirty clothes, few left over food and a small bit of cycle tiredness in Puerto Montt. There, we relaxed the last couple of days, slept long, unpacked the bags and overhauled the Blog. From tomorrow on, we will try a different way of traveling. We rent a Pick-Up for five days and will cruise around the lake region, before we go back to the bike.
One of our favorite road signs - let’s hope it continues like that
* Hobby cyclists: Travel mostly for less than a month, limit there cycling to a single road/region, and have much less need to carry replacement parts in their luggage.