Fjords, ferries and dead trees

Puerto Varas – Hornopiren -Chaiten

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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.

Lakes and volcanoes

Osorno – Puerto Varas

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Osorno is not a very pleasant town. We only stayed here to get new tires and to get our steering fixed. Motoaventura is a BMW dealer and rents motorbikes as well. They had the spare parts ready, the tires we wanted on stock and they made a good and quick job.

We waited a few hours till everything was done, but the time flew by as a lot of other travellers (most from Argentina) stopped by and so we had a great time there. We were served coffee as well and had a fantastic lunch on a restaurant nearby.

 

We were glad that we did not have to stay another night though as the town has nothing to offer and so we continued to the Lago Llangquihue which is close by. The lake is incredible. It is pretty big and a fantastic snow covered volcano is towering on its eastern side. This whole region has been settled by Germans and they keep their traditions. So you find Bavarian restaurants, coffee shops offering “kuchen”, and a lot of names are German. We had a short stop in the town of Frutillar for a coffee in a theatre built directly at the water. It is a great building and it seems to be a fantastic theatre, offering room for 1600 people. We wondered how this little village would look like when 1600 people arrive there for the evening event.

The town of Puerto Varas has a fantastic view on the volcano as well. We stayed there and made a daytrip to the volcano and some neat waterfalls nearby.

We took advantage of the German influence and enjoyed an “Erdinger Weissbier” in the evening.

A giant’s burp

Baños is a very touristy little town with lots of outdoors activities going on. The climate is very nice, around 25 degrees, not humid, just nice and friendly. We had a little break there, taking care of our blog, did some laundry, reading and took half a day of Spanish lessons.

View on Banos

The town is situated directly underneath the Tungurahua volcano, which is not only active, but erupting momentarily. Just a few weeks ago a couple of explosions combined with lava flow and hot ashes floating down to the valley scared the inhabitants of Baños.

The danger is very present. Everywhere within the city there are emergency signs, showing the directions to the evacuation routes. In case of a larger eruption the population is meant to leave the valley on the opposite side of the volcano.

View on Banos

View of Baños

As we were sitting in our room one evening, suddenly a loud noise made us jump to our feed. The whole ground shook. We nervously looked at each other having both the possibility of a large eruption in mind.

After a few seconds the whole thing was over. We opened the window to hear whether there would be any sirens. We stood there at the window a few minutes, but beside the usual barking of the neighborhood dogs there was nothing to hear. So we decided that this was not that bad after all. We looked up the volcano in Google whether we could see some information, and indeed there was some sort of explosion at the Tungurahua that was shown on some seismographic measurement stations around. But in comparison to what the graph looks like on a “real” eruption it was clear this was only a small burp of this giant.

The little "burp"visible on the live measurement data

The little “burp” visible on the live measurement data

thats how it looks when it you should get ready to run (recorded August this year)

thats how it looks when it you should get ready to run (recorded August this year)

The Tungurahua volcano

The Tungurahua volcano

 

The volcano is momentarily erupting

The volcano is momentarily erupting

There are several viewpoints on the volcano, but since it was cloudy most of the days we didn’t go there. On the day of our departure from Baños we drove up the mountain opposite of the volcano to have a view. It was still in clouds, but as we were sitting up there the sky cleared up and we had a wonderful view on the Tungurahua.

The Cotopaxi volcano

We had bad weather for 2 days, so we decided to take a “day off” in Latacunga. There is not much to do in the city so we slept in and had a real lazy day. The next day we packed just what we needed to climb the Cotopaxi and rode to the entrance to the park.

You can’t enter the park with motorbikes and it is compulsory to have a guide with you. So we stopped the bikes and negotiated with the guides. With David we started in his 4×4 towards the Cotopaxi.

The Cotopaxi volcano

The Cotopaxi volcano

The volcano is still active and is one of the highest active volcanos. His last eruption was 100 years ago and he is getting warmer in the last years.

You can climb the volcano, it is an technical easy accent but takes it talls due to the altitude of almost 5900 m. With the guide you can drive the road up to 4300 m and ascent by foot to a mountain lodge at 4800m. 1 hour later you reach the glacier (yes, it takes that long for 200m …).

On the the way up to the mountain hut

On the the way up to the mountain hut

The weather was still uncertain with lots of dark clouds sorruounding the mountain. So we were not sure weather or not we would actually see anything or whether we would just stumble around in the clouds.

You enter the National Park on a dirtroad which swerves between 3 volcanoes with Cotopaxi being clearly the major and most beautiful.

Suddenly the clouds on our right opened and for the first time we had a fantastic view on the northern flank of the volcano. Standing on a flat gras plane we could see the mountain building up slowly with gras covered brown earth. It was steepening up and the ground turned into a red more rocky wall which finally ended in a perfect white cone head.

The road steepened up and led in sharp turns up the volcano. The guide got busy driving. On some hairpin turns the road seemed to end in the sky.

Finally we arrived on a small area where David parked the car. A few hundred metres above we spottet the hut and started walking. It was steep, and a cold wind blew, but the sun was shining and with its intenseness it was quite warm.

View into the broad valley

View into the broad valley of Cotopaxi NP

Even though we were already at 4300m the climb was ok, obvisouly we have been adjusted to the altitude in the meantime.

The view was incredible. The flat area underneath the volcano was spotted with shadows of small clouds that covered the sky north of us.

The east and west side of the volcano was in dark clouds. Just the north flank from which we were ascending was in the sun. We were really born lucky.

Great views from the Cotopaxi

Great views from the Cotopaxi

After we reached the mountain lodge I wanted to go on the reach the glacier. The guide was a little bit unhappy with it, but he couldn’t leave we walking alone and so he and Christy followed.

We walked up the steep path. The view changed every minute and was incredibly beautiful. We had a lot of breaks to enjoy the view since the altitude was taking its toll.

The difference between the start of the hike at 4300m and the last bit from the lodge to the glacier starting at 4800m was amazing.

The 500m difference in altitude made it so much harder to breath. Its not a new thing to me in general, but the effect within such a small altitude difference really surprised me.

The guide said, that the ascent from the lodge to the summit is usually 5hours for trained mountaineers, 7hours for “good-in-shape”-tourists. And it is only 1000m difference in altitude.

The glacier summit of the Cotopaxi

The glacier summit of the Cotopaxi

As we reached the glacier the guide started to hurry us up, since the clouds were thickening and became very dark. He was afraid of a thunderstorm that would very quickly develop at this mountain. In fact we heard some thundering on the way down, but finally I think he just had a private appointment that he didn’t want to miss. We took our time to shoot dozens of pictures from this wonderful place and view.

The hike up the hill is quite breathtaking, not only due to the thin air

The hike up the hill is quite breathtaking, not only due to the thin air

We were unbelievable lucky that day. With all the clouds surrounding us during the day, it could just as well been that we just stumbled around in the clouds, not seeing anything. I acutally found it wonderful to have all these clouds around us, since they created a dramatical atmosphere.

Dark clouds left and right of us

Dark clouds left and right of us

The “throat of the moon”as the name is translated in an indigenous language really meant it very well with us.

Our travel seems to get better and better….

Avenue of the volcanoes

In two days we drove from Mindo to Latacunga. The weather changed and so we got quite some rain one night. It was freezing cold at night and so we asked the owner of our hotel in Machachi to start the little oven we had in our nice apartment. The warmth of the fire was fantastic and created a very cozy athmosphere.

On the Avenue of the volcanoes

On the Avenue of the volcanoes

The place we stayed used to be an old train station.

The road of the volcanoes is impressive. Left and right one volcano after the other, in between the Panamericana. The road itself is nice to ride on: 3 lines in each directions, all very wide, little traffic, winding between the mountains. But of course it is a highway, so stopping is only possible on the shoulder. It became more and more cloudy and when we arrived at the Cotopaxi Nationalpark, it rained again. We couldn’t see anything of the Cotopaxi, a 5900m active volcano with a picture perfect cone shape. So we decided to find a nice hostel and stay there for a day to wait for better weather.