The Carretera Austral, highway 7, is the southern most road of Chile. It is 1200 Kilometers in length, starting just south of Puerto Montt and ending in the south at Villa O’Higgins. The road was only completed in the 1980s. It links widely separated towns and hamlets, with various ferry crossings between certain sections of the road. This area is a web of mountain peaks, glaciers, lakes and rivers. The road is impassable at times in winter.
We are completing the Carretera Austral from south to north. We started our journey on the Carretera Austral just north of Cochrane. We decided to make the journey ~200 kms south to Villa O’Higgins, even though we would be backtracking, and once again we have been rewarded for our efforts.
Villa O’Higgins itself is a small town with basic services. The journey to Villa O’Higgins and the surrounding area is spectacular.
We set off from Cochrane early morning. It was below freezing so it was not easy to get out of our cozy sleeping bags, and brave the cold to pack up the tent and get underway, but we did it. We did make one error of judgment. We forgot it was Sunday and that the gas stations may not open at this time. We could not go anywhere without gas as gas stations here are spread far apart and with any unforeseen circumstances we could find ourselves stranded. Both gas stations were closed, so we prepared ourselves for the wait until they opened and we could fill up. However the gas attendant living in quarters near by spotted us and came to fill our car up. We are still not sure if it was opening time or if he purely came to serve us. Either way we now had gas and had learnt a valuable lesson yet again.
The day before we had a similar experience when trying to get money from an ATM. At some of the old ATM’s our US credit and check cards do not work because they have a chip in them. When I first tried the machines, they would not allow me to withdraw any money. We had just crossed back into Chile so had minimal Chilean pesos. It was a Saturday, which meant the banks were closed for the weekend. If we didn’t have money we could not go south until the banks opened on Monday and we could get funds. Luckily the second time I tried it worked. It turned out the machines were low on funds and they had just serviced them.
Gassed up and with sufficient funds we set out. The sun had risen but had not made it over the mountaintops to the valleys and lakes below. Low lying mists danced across the lakes as the first rays of warmth drew it upwards and towards the light. The snow on the mountain peaks and glaciers glistened. The road itself was gravel, like the majority of the Carretera, but in decent condition. The “ahhh’s”, Ohhh’s”, “epic’s” and ‘OMG’s” continued throughout the journey.
Two and a half hours later, some 122 kms, we boarded our first ferry on The Carretera Austral, from Yungay to Rio Bravo. It is a 50 min journey on a free ferry that runs 3 times per day in each direction. It is a small ferry that can only take ~8 vehicles. It was a really pleasant crossing. Keira got to act as Captain and hold the steering wheel.
Just when we thought the scenery couldn’t get any better it did. The magnificent lakes, now in full sunshine provided calm waters in which a perfect mirror image of the surrounding snow capped mountains was projected.
We both commented that we didn’t think such pristine beauty existed in the world anymore. But here it is and we feel so privileged to be experiencing it.
We arrived at Villa O’Higgins but this is not in fact the end of the Carretera. The end of the road is 7 kms further south to the ferry terminal, so we drove that extra distance.
On the way into O’Higgins is a magnificent lake, that Mike had been eyeing earlier as a perfect fishing spot. There are not many places to camp outside of Villa O’Higgins as the road takes up all the available space between the mountains and the lakes. There was one perfect spot, and lucky for us some locals were just packing up from a day of picnicking there.
Paradise! What a kitchen, bedroom, living, and dining room to have for a couple of nights. And Mike did indeed fish.
Plan is to head north again, through Cochrane. Looking forward to celebrating Keira's 5th birthday on March 30th.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESIONS: rubber band ball – rubber bands come in handy for all sorts of things/solar panel for charging our car batteries; first aid kit-used to patch up a girl Vanessa from Santiago who had fallen off her bike
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- fishing with the locals ; Keira- making sand dinosaurs with her Dad ; Riss- the drive to Villa O’Higgins/having a dragon fly land on me and hang out.
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike- figuring out the electrical problems with the car; Keira- being car sick; Riss- being puked on by Keira again
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- coconut milk curry made on our camp stove/finding bacon, Keira- toasted marshmallows roasted over camp fire; Riss- rice flour crepes made by Mike
BEST CAMPING SPOT: by the Lake near Villa O’Higgins- location not be disclosed
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.