The day off in Villa o’Higgins was great, I had the last huge dinner with Emilie and Ludo (http://les-andes-ouilles.blogspot.com/) for a while (they are heading north as well, but in different speed and route).
Feeling very good, I started the Carretera Austral on March 7th. After the first few kilometers and a little fall on the gravel road (which consists at this part out of big loose stones) I found my rhythm. It was great, the road went along beautiful lakes and streams, not far away you could see big glaciers in the mountains, it was the absolute contrast to the Pampa I cycled in the last few weeks.
In addition to that, the road started to become very hilly, I enjoyed the climbs and of course the downhill. In the evening I pitched my tent at a beautiful spot next the Spanish cyclist, Carlos, who has been travelling by bike the last 5 years.
The next morning I got out of my tent and it was raining, I still packed my gear and started cycling and I arrived in time for the ferry to Puerto Yungay. On the ferry I met up with some other cyclists again. After warming up in a little kiosk on the other side of the fjord, I started to cycle up to some col/pass and experienced for the first time what people meant when they said “the Carretera Austral has so steep climbs that you have to push the bike!”. Fortunately I had to push only for a few meters, the rest I pedaled up the hill. After a great downhill, where I got a lot of water as it was still pouring rain and the temperature dropped to less than 10°C, I met Carlos (spanish cyclist) and Gregory (French cyclist, who has been travelling already 10 months by bike) in some sheltered bus stop on the crossing to Caleta Tortel (20km of the Carretera Austral, supposed to be very beautiful). Gregory and me, finding a road worker hut unlocked., decided to wait for better weather tomorrow and dry our cloth. We spent a great afternoon in the woodfire-heated hut.
The next day it was still raining slightly and we wanted to get within one day to the next town, Cocrane, about 100km away. On paved roads 100km can be easily done, but on “ripio” (= gravel roads) 80km is mostly a good effort. Cycling together with Gregory worked very well, we were at the same speed – not only on the bike, but also when it comes to the important question of eating. For lunch, we had already cooked the day before 600gr Pasta. Because it was raining and quite cold we asked at some house next to the road if we could come in, warm up and having our lunch. We could warm-up our Pasta, dry some of our cloth and even had Mate (very popular tea in Argentina & Chile) with the family.
We arrived in Cocrane wet, but happy, that we made it! We really deserved the hot shower at the campsite.
Although it rained all night, the next day around noon the sky cleared up a bit and Gregory and me headed further north. Starting late and having had a big day the day before, we made only about 50km (at this part there was literally the road went never flat, always up and down) and camped in humid forest near the village Puerto Bertrand.
The next morning we had 1°C when we got out of our tents. We cycled all day along the lago General Carrera, as the weather was fine, we could fully enjoy the stunning landscape. In the evening we found a beautiful camping spot right next to the lake. It’s sometimes hard to find a good spot because all land right next to the road is private property and mostly fenced. An Australian couple with their four-wheel-drive camping car joined as and we had some beer at the campfire.
At these days we had a dog following us. In the beginning we thought he would go back when he gets to the end his terrain, after he followed us for more than 20km and spent the night next to our tents we tried everything to make him turn back, he even continued following us when a Canadian couple going south by bike feed him with cookies. The second night, he had done more than 100km with us, we gave him Pasta and made plans how to get rid of him at the next town. With the long downhill to Villa Castillo he lost our traces and hopefully follows now other cyclists going south.
Gregory and me enjoyed this part of the Carretera Austral very much, there was hardly no rain and the landscape was amazing. We found a great camping spot right next to a waterfall, before heading towards Villa Castillo (and 250km of paved roads!).
What a big difference between cycling on “ripio” and cycling on asphalt. While you have to be concentrated on the rippio and have to search for a part of the road where you can go with your bike, the paved road allows you way more to enjoy the landscape around.
With the paved road we also had to climb up to highest point of the Carretera Austral. Cycling up the turns reminded we very to cycling in the Alps, some parts of the Carretera Austral could have been in Switzerland or in the Massive Central of France as well.
We moved fast that day and stopped only 30km south of Cohaique in the small village of El Blanco (not more than a police station, hotel and 5 houses). We stopped at the Hotel for a coffee. As it is already out of season, there we no guests in the Hotel. We asked Flor and Irma, who ran the Hotel, if we could pitch up the tent in the garden (cold and rainy). In the evening they invited us to join them in the kitchen (where we could dry our clothes). Both were very interested in our stories and somehow they treated us like their sons who are living far away. The next morning we had breakfast in the Hotel, then Flora and Irma waived us goodbye when we cycled the last kilometers into Cohaique, the biggest town by far in the region.
We stayed at campsite in the center, enjoyed the big supermarkets, Internet and so on. In order not to have to pay for the campsite for more than one night we left Cohaique the next day in the evening and camped about 15km out of town.
That night, kind of our own little rain season started and the next day we started cycling in heavy rain. Our goal on that day was to get to the village of Manihuales (70km on asphalt…easy). Around noon Gregory had two flat tires in a row and we asked someone if we could repair it in front of their house sheltered OF the rain. While changing the tire Alexis, the brother of the family living there arrived and invited us to have coffee, bread and to dry ourself in front of a huge fireplace.
Strengthen by this great hospitality we got back on the road and enjoyed riding with only little rain. We cooked Pasta for lunch right at the road. At some point of the road a car stopped and the driver, Jorges, told us that we should come to his house in the next town (Manihuales), it’s the famous casa ciclista.
Jorges and his family deserve a special thank, they leave a big room in their house for cyclists, following the motto “mi casa es tu casa”. It has everything what a cyclotourist needs, a washing machine, beds, WiFi and a workshop to repair bicicletas (=bikes). Jorges loves cycling and knows a lot about reparing bikes, so he helped Gregory to fix his bike until 1am in the evening.
As Gregory and me didn’t have a proper recreation day since starting the Carretera Austral and it was raining in the morning, we decided to stay another night in this “paradise for cyclists”. With the time more cyclists arrived at the casa ciclista, Carlos and Martin (who I met the first day of the Carretera) and a French couple I didn’t know before.
Jorges, the incredible warm-hearted host in the casa ciclista is a fan of Jan Ullrich, so he was happy to have a guest with the same name. After some group pictures with Jorges, we all headed north.
Soon it was only Gregory and me again, we rolled very good that day, half day on asphalt, half day on rippio and got only little rain. Unfortunately the clouds where hanging again so low that we didn’t see much of the surrounding, which is supposed to be stunning. On the other side the mist in combination with the dense rainforest we cycled in at that part of the Carretera creates a special feeling.
That night we slept sheltered from the rain in some hut next to the road, we both could have continued for another 10-20km but than we would have to pitch the tents in the rain – we preferred to have a dry tent and sleeping bag the next day. Once again it was raining heavily, when cycling , we climbed up to some Col/PASS in the rainforest. With all the rain it was more mentally than physically hard work to get to Puyuhapi, where we stayed one night on a little campsite.
On the 4th day in a row with rain – both of us becoming a little tired of the endless rain – we arrived in the village La Junta. In a nice restaurant we dried once again our clothes and allowed us to have a proper lunch in the rain. Strengthen by the good food and the heat of the stove in the restaurant, we wanted first try to go on by auto-stop but decided to continue cycling as long as the rain wasn’t too bad. Then at around 7pm, we were already lookin for some sheltered place to spend the night, a truck stopped in front of us. We chatted a bit with Alberto, the truck driver, who just sold 25 calves on some fair. He offered us to stay in his house for the night and because it was about 20km further north we put the bikes on his truck (the smell of cow shit will probably remind me the next few weeks on that ride). Arriving on his farm he gave us a nice hut to stay in, with one of these great fire-heated stoves. The next day started with what it has ended – rain. The only thing we could do, was to keep the fire running and the hut warm. When we asked Alberto if we could stay one more night, he gave us bread for the day. I’m once again amazed how friendly people here are and especially Alberto and his wife!
In the morning of the second night the rain stopped and we couldn’t wait to get on our bikes.
Gregory and me enjoyed the last 15km rolling on the Carretera Austral together until Villa St. Lucia. To my great surprise we saw to other cyclists: Ludo and Emilie (with whom I did the “entrada en la Carretera Austral”). Me and my 3 French friends, we had a last coffee together we shared all our great Carretera Austral stories.
Normally the Carretera Austral post would end now, but I would like to include the day tour out of the Carretera towards Argentinia, via the Futalefu-pass. Leaving the Carretera I had sunshine and tailwind. It was great to cycle between high mountains and along deep canyons.
It’s time for a short summary of the Carretera Austral: Stunning landscape and amazing views, great and very hospitable people, a bit of rain and very happy to ride the Carretera Austral with Gregory.