The Caratera Austral is a draw for any would be adventurer. It is 1200 km of road from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. Started in the 1976 the road finally reached Villa O’Higgins in 2000.
We joined the Ruta 7 in Chaiten, about 200 km south of Puerto Montt, after a ferry ride from Quellon. Chaiten is a fascinating town – relocated en mass in 2010 after the evacuation of the orginal town after a volcanic erruption. The town is on a grid system so our campsite was easy to find. While Charly, Will and Izzy put up the tent I went in search of the laundrette. Again this was not difficult to find and was simply a house with a sign outside, a family providing a service needed by tourists and travellers for an extra income.
Boarding the ferry in Quellon.
Patagonia’s mountains looking daunting from the sea.
Our clothes in the wash, our tent up, provisions bought, supper eaten our discussion fell to plans for the short term. Every cyclist who was here had different goals, daily distances and styles but we all had a common goal – to ride to Villa O’Higgins.
Romain (a genial French bike shop owner from near Lille), Mike and Maria (a friendly couple from Dijon who humoured our kids as we overlapped with them at several campsites) and Allesandra (a multi lingual Italian from Briancon who seemed fluent in French, English and Spanish) were all planning to use the good weather forcast to their advantage to ride the 75 km south to the next ‘town’. Two delightful Chilean cyclist who endured my poor Spanish as I explained our trip to them and chatted about Chile in general were heading North to hike at Volcan Chaiten. Charly and I also wanted to ride north into the Pumalin National park but had more modest goals of hiking to the ‘Cascadas Enscondidas’ or hidden water falls.
The follwing morning we bid goodbye to our ‘travelling’ friends (a term we use to help Will cope with the fact that we may never see them again) and cycled to the super market only to meet them all again as they all stopped for supplies. We bought food for the next two nights and some spare for another day at least (you never know), tracked down fuel for the stove and withdrew some cash (there are only a handful of cash machines on the route and it is almost the only way to pay). It was passed 1pm when we rolled out of town in what definately felt like the wrong direction. Within a few minutes we passed the first of several cycle tourists heading south. We exchanged waves and carried on our way. The road was beautiful new tarmac and despite the rolling hills the going was easy enough. We stopped for lunch at a black sand beach and the kids played out of our sight in complete safety.
The beach at Santa Barbara – as good as a play park.
Lunch over we started north again and all was going well until the dreaded ‘Fin de asphelto’ sign…. Any readers of the blog will know that Charly is not a fan of gravel and her mood changed as soon as her front wheel rolled off the tarmac.
Fortunately ‘camping al volcan’ was only 10 or so km up the road and came with running water and views of glaciers and a smoking volcanic crator (google Chaiten, volcano erruptuon 2008 for an idea). The view and quality of camping was probably the best we had had since Bariloche and we settled in for the night happily.
Friday dawned with the predicted rain starting soon after 8 am. It didn’t stop for another 24 hours and we were confined to the tent and the cooking shelter. It was a great opportunity for some school work for Izzy and Will took his first steps in reading for himself by sounding out the initial pages of his new book. This filled about 2 hours of our day but for those who think that we are on a jolly the next 24 hours were certainly not. In the end we resorted to a film on Charly’s phone (downloaded for emergencies) and the last bar of Christmas chocolate, saved for such a occaision. During the evening we noticed dripping showing that a seam on the tent had failed so we had to lash our tarpaulin over the top of the tent to stop the rain soaking us – all we now had to worry about was drowning due to the raising water table…..
Our main reason for riding ‘the wrong way’ for a day was to hike in the Pumalin national park and this we managed to do on Saturday. We fought through drizzle and wet gravel to make the 34 km (and 700 m of height gain) round trip to Las Cascadas Escondidas. The effort was worth it as the rain the previous day had swelled the rivers and the falls were spectacular. The trail up to them was muddy and challenging, especially for the kids, they began to tire on the way down but there was little moaning and, astonishment at the size of some of the larch trees was a welcome distraction.
Will exploring the trail.
Back at our campsite the sun was shining once more and we were glad to have a chance to spread out our wet kit to dry. The night was cold and clear and the sunshine returned the next day and gave a very warm ride back, now the right way down the Caratera, to Chaiten.
The view from the campground shelter.
The smouldering Chaiten volcano
A note to aspiring riders of the Ruta 7: Chaiten is closed on Sunday. We found one open shop and managed to buy pasta and soup but had to resort to our luxuries fund for a lunch out. While in the restaurant another cycle touring family arrived! This was the first family we have met on bikes during our travels and we immediately started to chat and compare set ups before deciding to camp at the same place. For the first time since leaving the UK in November we were cooked for and all of us sat down to a meal together. They are from Toulose and have made a really interesting trip in the America’s (http://roulonspourvoir.blog).
Tomorrow we head south to try to ride some of the 422 kms to Coyhaique and luckily most of this has now been tarmaced. Hopefully the shops will be open to allow us to buy supplies as the next shop is in 70 km (or so we are told). I have my fingers crossed for good weather and a tail wind…..
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