Guanacos

Guanacos

Cochrane (Carretera Austral, Chile) – Bajo Caracoles (Argentina)

We left the wonderful colored lake and continued on the Carretera Austral down south. A mighty river has carved a deep valley into the mountains. Again we are stroke by the colors. This time I was reminded of cooling liquid for my motorbike engine.

Cochrane is the most southern part of the Carretera Austral we reach. From here we go straight east, through the “future National Park Patagonia”as the Tompkins advertise it. Douglas Tompkins (founder of The North Face) built up a couple of National Parks here in Patagonia, not without resistance from locals. The resistance seems to be pretty odd at first, but imagine a Russian oligarch would buy large areas in the US. That certainly would not go unnoticed and strange rumors would spread.

The Tompkins had the conservation of a great landscape and wilderness in mind (see their own vision here http://www.tompkinsconservation.org/about_kris_and_doug_tompkins.htm) but of course there are other people affected as well. People have real issues with them, such as the fishing industry and everybody who wants to use the Carretera Austral since the unfinished (and from the locals wanted-to-be-build) part in the north would go through private property and a national park founded by the Tompkins.

So here, east of Cochrane the Tompkins bought large areas of land again and they are eager to turn this into a National Park as well. They build up a nice building as the entrance of the park. A little plane is standing upfront. Seems they are at home here. In fact James who is passing thorugh here a day after us is meeting both Tompkins and has a great talk to them (see more about that here: http://advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1020523).

We soon understand why this area has caught the attention of the Tompkins. It is beautiful. We see hundreds of Guanacos in large herds.

The scenery contains steep snowy mountains, lakes, swamps, rivers with crystal clear water and lots of grasslands which glows golden in the intense sun.

The sky is in dark blue and the bright white clouds create a hard contrast.

We pass through the road with our truck and are happy to have such a rugged vehicle. The road is quite bumpy and rocky at times.There are large herds of guanacos to be found here. These large llamas are adorable animals, sometimes almost elegant, mostly looking a little bit dazzled into the world. Or with other words: they are cute and pretty stupid animals. You just have to love them. And so we stopped the car many times to take pictures and enjoyed their view.

The bordercrossing is a small building. The 3 officers are very casual. It seems their bosses don’t show up very often. The papers are done very quickly and so we are back on the road.

As soon as we get to Argentina the landscape changes again. The hills get smoother and the landscape is more vast. We make it safely to a small town. It is the only town on the Ruta 40 for 200km. And so it is no wonder the few houses here are worth an entry even on the large scale map of ours.

 

Falling ice

San Rafael Bay

I watch the glacier through my camera lenses, fascinated by the different shapes and shades of blue of the ice. It is quite, water is calmly splashing against our small boat. Nobody speaks. Everybody is fascinated by the view.

We heard of the Laguna San Rafael a couple of times. A huge protected lagoon in which a glacier calves into.

The glacier is one of the few exits where the ice of the northern patagonian icefield escapes. The northern and southern patagonian icefields are gigantic icefields, the largest outside the polar areas. And so they feed a couple of glaciers of impressive size.

We organized a boat trip and found a tour organizer who would bring us and James, the motorbiker we met the day before, to the glacier.

It is a long trip. We had to drive down a valley for 1,5 hours ourselves before we had a transfer over a river on a small boat. Then another 30minutes in a small bus and finally 2,5 hours on a boat to the glacier.

We were lucky: we were the only ones on the trip, together with a guide, the skipper and his pilot.

We made a little break for lunch before we approached the glacier. It was beautiful but I had expected to see a large wall of ice, so I was a little bit disappointed, since the glacier seemed to end pretty flat in the water. But this place is playing tricks on you. As we approached the glacier more and more the dimensions became visible. The snout of glacier is between 50m and 80 meters high. It is impressive. You can feel the cold air from the glacier, even though we stay more than 500m away from it.

“The reason is not the waves from falling ice parts” Russel, the guide explains “more dangerous are ice parts from underneath the water. The Glacier continues under water and when parts of that break off, they come with no warning from underneath, creating massive waves”.

It was a very active day for the glacier, a lot of parts fall off from him. They seem to fall in slow motion which gives you a feeling for the size and dimensions. Even though they only create small splashes they are as big as a car.

As I keep looking through my lenses suddenly everything in there seems to move. I zoom out and understand whats happening: a huge part of the front wall, as big as a small skyscraper clashes down into the water. In slow motion the massive ice block is seperating fro the main wall and slowly moving downward. A massive wall of splashing water appears, huge waves are formed.

What an impressive sight.

We see more ice falls. Actually it rumbles all the time, but this one fall was bigger and mightier than I would have ever imagined. We are deeply impressed.

 

Turquoise

Cerro Castillo – Rio Tranquillo

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 16.14.47

The road to Rio Tranquillo is one of the best ones on the carretera Austral. It is a pretty good gravel road, going up and down all the time and it offers a incredible landscape.

We saw a couple of cyclists and I felt real sorry for them though: they had the wind in their face and it was strong, very strong, unforgiven… We tried to encourage them and for a solo rider we stopped and gave him some power bars. From my own bicycling days I remembered how helpful a short encouraging talk to a total stranger can be. It can get your spirits up again and keep you going. There are lots of bikers on the Austral, from all countries and all ages. It is pretty tough though, but as always, it is only a way of looking at things: we met an elderly Kiwi couple who thought is was an ok road and wind is just the way nature works, “you have to deal with it….. “. Others told us about their difficulties, especially with the deep gravel and the heavy winds and how hard it was for them… In any case: the Carretera Austral seems to be a real adventure on the bicycle. And a great road for any other traveller as well..

For us it was pure pleasure. We followed the winding road up and down and around sharp corners. Each corner offered a new surprising view. The rivers here are all fed by glaciers. Their water has an almost unnatural milky turquoise color and creates a strong contrast to the fresh green of the surrounding bushes. On the road we met James, a experianced rider from the US who is travelling on his DR650. We kept on meeting the following weeks again and again. He is a great fellow.

After a while on the road we finally hit the Lago General Carrera. So far we had to adjust our boundaries of what to call a “natural color” already a couple of times. This lake though is truly amazing. It shines in the brightest turquoise and is so big, that this strong color is taking place a large area in your field of view. It’s surface is scattered by waves which are surprisingly big. Not so surprisingly after you leave the car though, the wind is pretty strong up here and the lake very long, so the waves can pick up some momentum.

We happily arrive in Rio Tranquillo where we organize a boat trip for the next day and catch something to eat in a small place with a great view on the lake.

 

On the road again…

Puerto Aysen – Cerro Castillo

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 16.03.09

We had a late start in the morning and got back on the Carretera Austral pretty late therefore. We took it real easy. I still had to get used to the huge car. But driving was very relaxed. This mighty car is not a sports car, the weight and the calm gurgling of the huge engine makes you accelerate very slowly. RPM rarely over 2500, usually at 1500. Cruising is the word!

I am glad we are going so slow: Christy spotted some wildlife next to the road: Huemules (the local deer) stood there calmly and crossed the road right next to us…

The landscape was incredible. Rich vegetation changed with dry and colorful mountains, red cliffs and crystal clear rivers. The road was all paved till the village of Cerro Castillo. The village gets its name from a fantastic mountain that is standing on the side of the road. It really looks like a castillo, a fortress. Dozens of thin rock needles stick up in the air in different sizes. Dark and threatening it is overlooking the broad valley where clouds create a dramatic play with the sun rays. The dark clouds opened up eventually and had the sun shining into the valley which gave everything a more friendly look.

We found a nice little hut where we stayed for the night, outside the little village of Cerro Castillo.

The missing link

Coyhaique – Puyhuapi – Puerto Aysen

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 15.47.25

We decided to take the truck north to Puyhuapi, since this part of the Carretera Austral is supposed to be very beautiful and we bypassed it on the Argentinian side. It would also allow us to test whether the bikes are stable on the bike. Since we would go back to Coyhaique we could contact Traeger, the car rental company in case something wouldn’t work.

The road was just incredible beautiful. A broad valley with high mountains left and right. Lots of cows stand on large meadows chewing on wild flowers and the rich green grass. The clouds are pretty low but we can still get fantastic views on the mountains and the glaciers that cover their tops. And the low clowds contribute to a nice atmosphere.

The closer we came to Puyhuapi the steeper mountains became and eventually we hit the fjord that cuts deep into the mountains. We crawl its way along the coast with a steep slope on one side and the sea to the other, with just enough space for a one laned gravel road.

The last bit to Puyhuapi is under construction and it is pretty bad. Rockfall happens here all the time. We are happy to have this massive truck and the good wheels. We take it very easy, make a lot of stops and enjoy the incredible scenery this road has to offer. It winds along a deep fjord with very steep walls to our right and the ocean to our right.

After a night in Puyhuapi we went the same road back. The construction site was closed though for a couple of hours, so we stood there and waited for the road to be re-opened. It poured down and it was quite cold as well. The first time since Christys accident we were really happy not to be on a bike. That would have been really terrible. Instead we chewed some potato chips and watched a TV show on the I-Pad. Overlanding on a 4×4 really has its good sides…

The solution

Coyhaique

After we have checked different options we finally decided to rent a big 4×4 and put the bikes on the back of it. MotoAventura, a Chilean motorbike rental company gave us a contact to a car rental company in Coyhaique. Rolf Traeger has more than 50 cars to rent, rides dirt bikes himself and is the contact person for MotoAventura in case their customers are in trouble.

After we contacted him it became quickly clear why MotoAventura works with him. He is a real trouble-solver. When I told him our problem he immediately came up with a way to do this.

In fact he had to put quite some work into this: his rail to get his own (lightweight dirt-bikes) on the back of the truck snapped due to the weight of our bikes. So they did a lot of welding to make a frame for the bikes and some rails to get the bikes up. They helped me loading the bikes as well, provided straps to fix them. He even put on brand new massive off-road tires on the truck so we would be safe on the bad roads.

It was really fantastic. I felt very well supported and I slowly got the feeling that this solution is actually really good, even though it meant we would not ride through southern Patagonia on our bikes any more.

We can drive the car down to Punta Arenas and just drop it there, or bring it back to Punto Montt. From there we plan to continue on the bikes again. Let’s hope Christy feels good in 3 weeks.

By the way: it is a really cool pick-up truck. Something you would never drive in Europe. But here it is just perfect.

Massive. Huge. Rugged. A little adventure itself.

And when we were standing in the pouring rain at a construction site for 2 hours to wait for the road to be re-opened we noticed the nice things about travelling in a car…

X-mas in the cabin

Coyhaique

We moved from the hostel to a cabin that the hostel is renting out as well.

It was quite luxurios with a nice stove, some sofas, a kitchen and a comfy bedroom.

We relaxed a lot, Christy hang out on the sofa, watching television, reading and doing some research.

We had to find a way to continue with our bikes. Christy couldn’t ride for 6 weeks, so we checked our options.

We also contacted all the people we knew to get some ideas. All were very helpful but at the end there was little they could do. It was X-mas as well, so most people were busy with other things of course.

It was a relaxing 2 weeks we spent here. Sebastian, a traveller from Chile we met in Lima visited us on Christmas.

In our little kitchen we cooked some meals and we used the time to let our mind rests as well. The last few months have been so intensive, that we almost enjoyed doing nothing.

Christy got a nice boot for her foot and some crutches. So she was getting slowly used to walk with them and got more and more mobile.

I had a little walk and a spin on the motorbike to have a look at the surrounding area. It is beautiful…

But most of the time we were simply hanging around our little cabin, had a fire warming the room and relaxed.

This is how we spend 2 weeks here to figure out how we would proceed with our travel…

Snap!

Carretera Austral – Tecka – Rio Mayo – Coyhaique

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 00.31.41 Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 00.19.48

I just saw a cloud of dust in front of me. Christys bike slid on the right side. Somehow she managed to be still on the bike. With a little pirouette the bike bounced to the left side and Christy finally crawled away from the bike.

This all happened very quickly right in front of me. It looked painful.

I slammed the brakes and ran to her to see whether she’d be ok…

 

The road led from Rio Mayo in Argentina back into Chile to Coyhaique. We had to make a detour via Argentina as the Carretera Austral was blocked due to a landslide. There were only two options: wait for a few days or make the detour. With the pouring rain we had in Chile the decision was made quickly. We rode across to Argentina, stayed the night in Tecka and went down the paved Ruta 40 till Rio Mayo, where we found a little hotel. From there it would be only going straight west back to Coyhaique in Chile. So this was how we ended up on this road

The road from Rio Mayo was enjoyable, but it was difficult to ride on. I followed Christy and could see how her bike bouncing underneath her quite wildly at times.

But she did well, and looked quite relaxed on the bike. The road consisted of deep gravel with stones as big as my fist. The only way to get through there is either very slow or with some speed. We felt comfortable to go with 60km/h and that turned out to be a good speed. You had to be very concentrated though, since the gravel was soft at times and piled up to deep ruts. We rode this road for 2 hours before the accident happened.

Christy was surprisingly pretty relaxed. Her right foot hurt badly, but after a while sitting on the ground she decided she could go on. I can’t believe how tough she is. We continued on the road for another 60km before we reached the Chilean border. The road got a lot better and we found a nice hostel in Coyhaique where Christy laid down. The foot has swollen quite a bit and she was in pain.

The next day we went to the hospital to make sure nothing has been broken and to get some medicine.

She got an x-ray and the doctor opened the news on the screen very frankly: 2 broken metatarsals (2nd and 3rd). No walking, not to mention riding a bike off-road for min. 6 weeks.

We had to do some re-planning…

 

Into the rain

Chaiten – Futaleufu- La Junta – Palena

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 00.14.51 Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 00.14.21

We started out of Chaiten in sunny weather. The paved road followed a valley with spectacular mountains. After 30km the road turned into a very well maintained gravel road and we enjoyed riding quite a lot.

We heared of the town of Futaleufu which was supposed to be real nice. So we turned off the Carretera Austral to ride the 100km up the mountains. A fantastic scenery was the reward for this little detour. The town is known mainly for its class 5 whitewater rafting and so you see a lot of wild rivers along the way.

The town itself was not as enjoyable as we thought, but we were compensated with an incredible sky that was illuminated in the wildest and most intense colors at sunset.

The following day was cloudy and soon after we started on the motorbikes it started raining. And it wouldn’t end that day. We rode down the road we already knew back to the Carretera Austral in pouring rain, it got cold and so we were happy to find a cafe where we could warm up a little bit.

Soon after our break we where stopped by a motorbiker who came the other direction. He told us that the road was blocked and that the only options would be to wait until the landslide was removed or to go around it via Argentina. We stood there in the pouring rain, checking the options and finally decided that waiting wouldn’t be what we wanted to do. So we turned around and rode the road back again.

We found a nice little Bed&Breakfast where we stopped for the night. With a warm oven and a great meal in our stomachs we slowly warmed up.

The following day we would cross the border to Argentina, and again we started in the rain and it would rain until we hit the border. It was miserably cold…

Fjords, ferries and dead trees

Puerto Varas – Hornopiren -Chaiten

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 11.50.44

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.