Puerto Varas – Hornopiren -Chaiten
The southern part of Chile consists of high mountains that arise directly from the sea. Many little islands and deep fjords form the outline of the coast. So years ago, the few little villages that exist here were only reachable by boat or little planes that had to curve between the mountains to land on gravel runways.
It had been like this until the 70’s. The dictator Pinochet wanted to strengthen the presence in these areas for strategic reasons and he therefore ordered to build a road here. And so a road, the Carretera Austral now leads to one of the most beautiful places in Chile and therefore we clearly didn’t want to miss it.
The road is mostly a gravel road with lots of pot holes, but it is getting improved constantly and so many parts are paved nicely in the meantime.
It is not really connected to the rest of Chiles road system. You need to take in total 3 ferries to get to the real start of the Carretera Austral.
We took the first ferry, a short crossing of 30 minutes and went south on a good dirt road that brought us to Hornopiren.
The town of Hornopiren is a nice little place. There is a little fish farm, some grocery stores and the little harbor. It is located beautifully at the end of a large fjord. An island separates the fjord into two arms. It was cloudy, we would only get little partial views on the surrounding mountains.
The town has a real pioneer flair. I feel very reminded of the small towns in northern Canada. Simply constructed little houses and a very slow pace. Nobody is in a hurry here. When you stand on the side of one of the few roads cars would stop to see whether you would maybe like to cross the street. Drivers friendly smile and slowly continue when you signal them that you are just standing there to take a picture of the bay.
We found a nice little cabin. It was cozy even though the bathtub was about to crash through the floor and the carpet was full of dirty spots. We stayed there for two nights and just relaxed during the day.
The ferry would leave at noon and so we boarded the bikes and enjoyed the boatrip through fantastic fjords. We were lucky enough to meet the captain who invited us on the bridge and so we had a very special view and a great chat to the captain and his pilot.
The time flew by and after three hours on the ferry we and a whole lot of other local travellers got on a dusty gravel road just to reach another ferry not 20km down the road. The second ferry took only 30 minutes though and so we finally reached the northern part of the Carretera Austral.
This part of the road leads through the Pumalin National Park. This park not only has a fantastic landscape but also an interesting history. Douglas Tompkins, the founder of The North Face has bought large areas here and after some difficulties and skepticism of the locals eventually created this national park.
It is a fantastic area. The road cuts through thick vegetation. Leaves as big as me are next to the road. Gorgeous lakes, rivers and mountains left and right. The road is in good condition and there are many fantastic campsites. We are early in the day though and so we keep on going.
Suddenly an almost shocking change. Riding down a slope we get to what appears a river valley. But the green is gone. All the trees are dead. The riverbed is full of trunks that lay on each other chaotically. This is ground zero of a disaster.
Indeed: 2008 the Chaiten volcano suddenly erupted with little warning. Large areas were destroyed and the town of Chaiten completely vanished.
It is quite impressive to ride the bike through this landscape. But when I said there is no green that is not entirely correct. Mother nature is already coming back and small bushes and plants are starting to heal this scar.
Early in the day we arrive in the new build town of Chaiten. We find a nice restaurant for an early dinner and since the owner also rents rooms we have found our place to stay as well.
Other travellers join us on a beer in the evening and so it is a nice chatty evening with interesting people.