Life on the road brings with it many interesting experiences. In a matter of 2 days, we found a camera and returned it to its owner, towed a local truck full of wood from a ditch, provided first aid to a Chilean girl Vanessa, who had come off her bicycle, and provided rides to 2 hitchhikers, a local and a fellow German traveller. Remoteness brings with it a sense of community and a built in desire to help those in need, and a less hectic lifestyle provides more opportunities to provide this help. I feel like this is sometimes lost in our modern societies.
Heading back north from Villa O’Higgins, we stopped in a small town called Carleta Tortel. The town is situated on a lake around a rocky outcrop of land. There are no roads in the town, and everything is connected by wooden walkways. It was an amazing and quaint place.
We returned to Cochrane for 1 more night, and then headed further north to visit the Marble Caves (Catedral de Marmol). The caves are literally caverns that have been carved out of the sea, and are in fact made of marble. The marble itself is so smooth to touch and the sea is so crystal clear and turquoise in color.
To visit the caves, you have to go by boat. We took a small motorboat, so we could actually go into the caves. Not only were the caverns incredible to see but also we had a lot of fun as our driver made tight turns and weaved in and out of the caverns. He was so skilled that he would make turns at the last minute and never touch the sides.
Next was Cerro Castillo, an area known for glaciers and hiking. We camped one night there and had the pleasure of meeting Charlotte and Jirin, a couple from Holland riding their bikes through Sth America. Next day we completed a hike, which gave us views of the glacier and waterfalls. Our hikes have become biology lessons as we examine different insects, plants and the environment. We had coffee at a hippy bus and moved on.
Coyhaique was our next stop, the biggest city in the region with ~60,000 population. We experienced culture shock coming into such a busy and big city after wild camping and being in unpopulated areas on the Carretera Austral. We just wanted to escape as soon as we could. We did take a day to do our monthly maintenance and car cleaning.
We were able to hook up with Jeff (our friend we had first met in Buenos Aires) who was also on the Carretera Austral heading north. We had been searching for him, and found him at the last minute before we headed out of town.
Jeff is a great travelling companion, and a lot of fun.
We headed north to Puyhuapi with Jeff as our travelling companion to meet up again with Kaj and Carina. The road now took us through lush farmland, with some interesting changes in road conditions.
Puyhuapi is a very small town situated on an inlet from the Pacific Ocean. German settlers established the town in 1935. There was no road access at this time. The German influence can still be seen there today.
We stayed one night at the waterfront. It was raining so Jeff slept in the car and us in our roof top tent. The next 2 nights we splurged and rented a house for us all to celebrate Keira’s birthday.
Keira’s 5th birthday was perfect. Not only did we have Kaj, Carina and Jeff with us, but 2 other travelers Dof and Arnold who we had spent time with previously happened to be in town so joined us for a party celebration. Keira got a xylophone from Kaj and Carina. We had an impromptu “band jam” with Kaj, Carina, Dof, Jeff and Keira playing different instruments. It was a blast.
The area is also known for its hot springs. We spent ~4 hours soaking in the spas, with misty rain, a view over the estuary, and dolphins swimming by us. We were the only ones there, so it was very relaxing and peaceful.
Next was a region of the Carretera Austral that incorporated The Pumalin National Park. The owner of the company North Face purchased the land of the National Park in the early 1990’s. He bought the land, established it as a National Park, and then gave it back to the Chilean government, under the pretense that it would remain a National Park. The area is spectacular, with dense rainforests, lakes, rivers and waterfalls.
We camped free in the National Park for 3 nights. We did a hike through the rainforest to the Cascadas Encondidos (hidden waterfalls). It was spectacular to walk through the rainforest and the falls themselves were very powerful and beautiful.
The Northern part of the Carretera is connected by a series of ferries, 2 shorter ferries and one that is ~4 hours. The scenery on the ferries was spectacular. Large forested mountains with steep declines into the lakes, and rough rocky outcrops.
On our final day on the Carretera, Priscilla had the ultimate test. Another driver going too fast on a National Park road did not move over when passing us, so Mike was forced to move us off the road into a ditch. The ground was soft from recent rains, so any attempts to drive out forced us deeper in. And of course just when we needed it our winch did not work. It took an hour and several attempts with 2 different vehicles to pull us out. Remarkably, besides a dented hubcap Priscilla survived the experience unscathed.
We completed the Carretera Austral, Ruta 7, at its conclusion, just south of Puerto Montt. What an amazing experience. The diversity of the scenery, the stunning vistas, the road itself coupled with its ferry rides, the people we met along the way, and the camaraderie with fellow travelers make the Carretera Austral so unique.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESIONS: recovery gear; hot water bottle; fellow travelers – our Germans/our Jeffy
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- Keira’s birthday in Puyhuapi ; Keira- my birthday; Riss- Keira’s birthday and the spa at Puyhuapi
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike- getting Priscilla out of the ditch; Keira- leaving places that I like- I get a little sad. ; Riss- putting the tent up and down in the rain for 5 days in a row
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- finding squishy candy similar to Aussie jelly babies (Mike bought several packets), Keira- my chocolate birthday cake; Riss- soy milk in Chile supermarkets
BEST CAMPING SPOT: camping near Chaiten- we had an indoor kitchen area in the rain, it had no doors or insulation and was essentially a frame but for us it was luxury (been wild camping too long!)
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.