The Carretera Austral runs about 800 miles from Puerto Montt to Villa O'Higgins connecting some of Chilean Patagonia's most remote villages. A majority of the route is "ripio", or undeveloped roads, although every year more and more sections are being paved. If you undertake the entire Carretera Austral, it requires three ferry crossings and plenty of patience, as the roads are not for those in a hurry. Since we chose to ride down the island of Chiloe, we jumped onto the Carretera Austral in Chaiten, bypassing the first 150 miles of the route. Our trip down the carretera presented us with several challenges,but it also offered us some of the most spectacular scenery we had experienced thus far.
Coming off several days of cold, wet riding, we were grateful to begin our first day on the Carretera Austral with the sun shining on our bikes. Our first destination brought us 40 miles off the main route to Futaleufu, a small town bordering Argentina. Most people make the side trip to see and experience the Futaleufu river via rafting, kayaking, or fishing. At our first glimpse of this magnificent river, we understood the allure. While we didn't spend the money on a rafting excursion, we did camp for a few nights on the banks of the river, bravely jump into the freezing waters, enjoy a hike up into the nearby hills, and make friends with locals who invited us to partake in the most delicious roast lamb feast imaginable.
Jay super excited to see the sun; lunch break by the Futaleufu river; "Fu" river raging
Birthday boy with his pony keg; lamb roasting over the fire; its a blurry pic, but you get the idea of how much Jay was enjoying the feast
Futaleufu downtown hotel; It was COLD; Campsite by the river
Photos from our hike in the hills; Campground buddies from San Fran- thanks for the camp meals and fuel, guys!
The section of road leading up to our next destination alternated between newer pavement, dirt, and super deep and squirrelly gravel not conducive to two-wheeled riding. When we arrived in Puyuhuapi we found a basic camping area under the protection of a metal awning and set up alongside bicyclists from France and Romania. At this point, I was still trying to figure out what all the fuss was about the Carretera Austral. While it was pretty enough, it hadn't yet knocked my socks off. Little did I know the best was yet to come.
"Your annoyance is a small sacrifice for the benefit of this route."; Jay descending into Puyuhuapi; Camping area
While the rain sputtered on and off the next morning, we decided to gear up and make a break for it since we were only shooting to ride a short distance to the Ventisquero Colgante, or hanging glacier. The ride took us along the Puyuhuapi bay where we witnessed three dolphins gracefully swimming alongside each other, letting out short puffs of air as they broke the surface of the water. (To see a short video of it, check out our Facebook page). Okay, I guess the Carretera Austral isn't half bad.
After setting up at the campground near the hanging glacier, we trudged up the 3.2km to the viewpoint. The clouds broke apart and cleared a view of the natural wonder just as we reached the top. We stared in awe for a good five minutes before the thunderous boom of a huge chunk of ice breaking off snapped us out of our trance. We watched it tumble into the canyon below, somberly realizing that we were witnessing the slow death of this great glacier.
Various photos from our hike to the hanging glacier
More rain the next day made for a very wet ride. Luckily, the beauty of the surrounding valleys helped distract from the discomfort- kind of. Fields of wild purple, white and pink lupines lined the road creating a natural barrier between the traffic and the grazing sheep. When the city of Coyhaique came into view we were taken aback by its size. The sprawling buildings seemed to pop up out of the middle of nowhere in this remote part of the world. We found a very homey and comfortable mini-apartment where we spent Thanksgiving and rested up for a few days.
Looking for a pee spot on the side of the road as per usual; Beautiful lupines; Valley near Coyhaique; Thanksgiving tortellini feast; And the road gets more interesting
Now here's where the really spectacular beauty of the Carretera Austral shines. The scenery between Coyhaique and Puerto Rio Tranquilo alternates between low wetlands with glacier blue rivers and sprawling, hilly ranches dotted with cows and horses, and then BAM, el Lago General Carrera comes into view and drops your jaw to the ground.
Various pics from ride to Rio Tranquilo
With huge grins on our faces we pulled over at the mirador to take some pictures. I looked back at Jay and saw that his smile had suddenly turned upside down. "Shit...you have a flat tire." This sort of thing is fairly standard on a trip like this, but since we had ridden 21,000 miles through some pretty rough terrain with the tires holding strong, we were somewhat shocked. I suggested trying to pump some air into it and limp to town which was only 11 miles away. Jay was doubtful this would work given the tube's complete absence of air, but we tried anyways. I cautiously rode the final miles to Puerto Rio Tranquilo, cringing over every rock, bump, and ditch. Lo and behold, Sue made it...and the tire had stopped leaking air completely, making me and Jay true believers in Ride On (a liquid sealant you put in the tubes that plugs holes when punctured). We brought the bike to the local mechanic who patched the tube and sent us on our way.
Step one: remove tire; Not a minor hole; Victor - our mechanic buddy
We camped for the night at Puerto Marmol, which is a family-owned piece of lakefront property. They offer kayak and boat rides to see the Catedrales Del Marmol, or marble caves, a short 15 minute paddle up the lakeshore. While they claim that the camping is free if you pay for an excursion, the prices suggest they just roll it all into one fee. Regardless, we took a double kayak out the following morning, and felt it was worth the cost!
Various pics from kayak excursion to marble caves & Puerto Marmol camp area
After drying off and warming up, we took off for Chile Chico. The section of road between Puerto Rio Tranquilo and Chile Chico took us toward the Argentinian border and off the Carretera Austral, which continues on south to Villa O'Higgins. We would have loved to experience that final portion of the route, but would have had to double back the 150 miles since there is no way to cross the border with motorcycles that far south. Once we got going on our chosen path, we were not dissapointed. Hugging the stunning, turquoise Lago General Carrera, the dirt road cut into the side of the mountains climbs and descends like a roller coaster.
Various pics from beautiful ride to Chile Chico
Consta-grins were plastered on our faces until about 20 miles from our destination. "I think my tire's flat again!" I yelled at Jay through our intercoms. Sure enough, the patch had failed and my back tire was fresh out of air. We put our faith in the Ride On once again, but alas the air wouldn't stay. Filling up periodically with our hand pump, I limped Sue to Chile Chico.
We pulled into the gas station to collect ourselves and make a plan. Filing up at the pump next to us were a group of guys from Santiago on a week long motorcycle trip. We got talking to them and explained our tire troubles. Being the helpful gentleman they were, they offered to help Jay change the tube that evening. It was late, and we were both exhausted so Jay politely declined their offer, planning to tackle the problem in the morning after a good nights sleep. We ended up checking into the same hospedaje as our new friends, and before Jay knew it he had been talked into accepting the help and getting it solved right away. Things just went downhill from there...
Put a group of well-intentioned, but slightly macho men together and egos will take over and wreak havoc. Pushing Jay aside, they got to work on the tire and in no time had the old tube out, and the new tube in. Proud of their record fast tire change, they patted Jay on the back and retreated to their rooms. Jay, on the other hand, was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Instead of being impressed by their rapid handiwork, he was appalled by the carelessness in which they performed the job. So when we went to fill the tire with air, he wasn't the least bit surprised that it didn't hold. They had punctured the tube multiple times during the process, ruining our only spare. We were stewing in frustration when the guys came back to check on us. Upon finding out it wasn't, in fact, fixed, one gentleman callously replied in Spanish,"Oh yah, I killed that tube when I was mounting it. I always do that." AHHHHHH!
After a restless night, we woke the next morning and did what we should have done from the very beginning: brought the tire to a tire shop for a proper fix. We had bought a new tube off our buddies (although I still think they should have given it to us for free) and got it mounted without issue. The mechanic also patched up the two leaky tubes so we could have back ups in the event of another rear tire puncture. Although the end of our Carretera Austral journey was somewhat sour, the beauty we were able to take in along the way was plenty sweet.
Ivan - Mechanic #2; Windy evening in Chile Chico; Our wonderfully kind hostess, Georgia