The Carratera Austral part 6 – to the end of the road.

The climb out of the Rio Baker valley was steep and had several switch backs but the gravel was firm and not to rutted meaning that we were able to make the climb without too many issues.

Having left Tortel early we knew we would easily make the ferry from Puerto Yungay to Rio Bravo at 1800 and consequently we could relax and try to enjoy the riding. This was not quiet so easy for me as I was on my last set of brake pads and was therefore having to brake conservatively on the down hills. Despite this we were able to take in the dramatic scenery. We were now in true wilderness territory with inaccessible high pastures, forests clinging to steep slopes and waterfalls cascading from glaciers a few hundred metres above the road.

The Puerto Yungay ferry runs several times a day in the summer to connect the ruta 7 with its free service. We areived at the tiny port and its scruffy houses, some now abandonned and went straight to the small cafe for an instant Nescafe fix. The boat was scheduled for 1800 but we were taken by surprise when the boat arrived early and even more shockingly, left early.

Alone as the ferry steams off.

Izzy riding off on the last stretch.

We had chosen to wild camp on the other side of the crossing but Joquim, a young Argentine cyclist we had met chose not to board the ferry but to sleep in the ‘terminal’ and take the first boat the next day.

Always looking forward to a ferry ride we enjoyed the 30 minute crossing – the views and remote nature of the crossing appealling to us. Landing at the other side we rolled our bikes offthe ferry and made our way along a very quiet road to the wild camp spot we had previously selected. Not far from the road it was nonetheless idylic. Clean, well grassed, protected from the wind – everything we could want. We fell onto our normal camp routine of cooking, tent pitching and as much school work as we could persuade the kids to do. The moon rose slowly and shed some light on the tent without obscuring the stars and we took the opportunity to wake Izzy up at 1am to lie on the ground and marvel at the scale of the Universe. She lasted about 5 minutes before falling asleep again and being lifted back into the tent but Charly loved every minute of stargazing and has relished the dark skies this trip.

Collecting drinking water from a stream.

The next day gave is a simple ride, 60 km to a ‘refugio de cyclist’ built by a local farmer as a free place for cyclists to be able to stay. Joquim overtook us at about lunchtime and pedalled off into the distance as we kept churning onwards at about 10 kmh. Late in the afternoon we stopped to fill water bottles and the rain started. By the time we reached to cabin we were soaking (except Izzy and Will in their Spotty Otter waterproofs). Joquim was inside, fire kit and kettle on and it was great to be out of the wind for a few hours. We camped just behind the cabin as it was a little cramped for 5 and Izzy and Will make lots of noise and wriggle alot. The fire dried most of our wet kit and it was a joy to put warm, non soaking wet socks on and to enjoy a coffee.

A bijou hut in the patagonian mountains…..

We had let ourselves relax a little with Villa O’Higgins only being 35km down the road but alas this was a mistake and the next day was as hard as any other on the Carretera Austral. The surface was OK but still the washboard and potholes appeared and the ripio seemed to stretch out infront of us. Will asked several times how far it was to go and each answer I gave sounded hollow and evasive. Eventually, at the top of a rise above Lago Cisnes, we had our first sight of the southern most town on the Ruta 7. By a cruel twist, probably envisaged by someone who enjoyed mocking tired cyclists, the crow fly distance was about 5 km but the road still had 15 km of love to give us. A sharp descent and then a long ride across a spit of land exposed to the brutal wind vlowing off the lake took most of what we had to give. By the time we areived in Villa O’Higgins we were spent. Despite being pleased to have arrived celebrating felt like it would take too much energy. The supermarket was our first port of call and our spirits lifted when we saw that they had avacados, apples and fresh salad. Lunch bought and consumed (on the town square obviously) we did the unthinkable and turned north again. Our chosen camp site, a few hundred metres north of town, was perhaps not where many would choose to camp. It has no electricity (a solar panel charges a car battery during the day to allow phone charging) and composting toilets (if you need an explanation google it) but the focus was on low environmental impact so we were happy.

Fairly normal….

Villa O’Higgins is not a big town and options for entertainment are somewhat limited. Our first priority was to sort out our ferry across Lago O’Higgins, this can be difficult as in high winds the boat can’t sail and a backlog of passangers builds up. The ferry had just been repaired and the wimd had lessened meaning that we were likely to be able to get a boat fairly quickly. Walking into town the next day we pottered around and did some odd jobs before beating a retreat to the shelter of our campsites quincho to shelter from some awful weather and freezing temperatures. The kids worked, Charly and I read the selection of architecture books and ecology based sci-fi, fired up the wood stove and we all relaxed. It was great to be warm and to have no real pressure to ride. The realisation of what we had done slowly washed over us; we had set an ambitious goal to reach the southern point of the Carretera Austral and we had made it. Stopping our ride here though was not really an option, we did not want to ride north again so the road south – in its very basic form would be our path. We had to get the boat.

As with many places in Patagonia long lunch breaks abound in Villa O’Higgins and with the ticket office closed we enjoyed the culinary highlights the local restaurants had to offer. Burger and chips with no a green leaf in sight but it was served by a friendly french lady who was happy to chat so it could have been worse. It also killed enough time before the supermarket and boat ticket office reopened.

Our tickets were fairly easy to secure with the company running the boat. They were called Robinson Crusoe Expeditions which, to be honest did not fill us with confidence but there was not much choice. We still had one more day to spend here so we resolved to hike up to the series of miradors overlooking the town and the surrounding glaciers. Of course this meant that it rained the next day. Cold rain and low cloud made the decision to stay warm for a bit longer much easier and it was not until late afternoon that we climbed to the first view point. Interesting but not at all picturesque we walked on to the others enjoying the time spent in the forest more than the views. Rerurning to the campaite we were chuffed to bits to learn that the ferry had been delayed the next day until midday. This meant no early start for us and a much easier morning.

We took full advantage of the kitchen that night, drying our wet clothes and cooking a meal for ourselves and two other travellers. Going to super markets everyday is something that the kids put up with but sometimes they come in handy like when Will reminded me that we had not eaten squash risotto for a while. Conversation flowed in english and faltered a little in Spanish but we had a great evening. The atmosphere at the campsite was one of mutual trust and shared ideals – why else would you want to use a composting toilet…..

A composting toilet.

Rolling away from the campsite the next day a little later than hoped due to a flat tyre we made our way down the now very rough and rutted road to Peurto Bahamondes, the true end of the Carretera Austral but the begining of another series of adventures for us….

Finally at the end (sort of)…

If you like what I have written about our trip then consider clicking the following link to ‘buy me a coffee’ – essentially this means more cake for the kids……

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Ed

Biologist who teaches. In 2018 I took time away from work to travel and world school my children. We travel by bike and try to treat life as the adventure that it is.

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