Day 41: Roaming the Carretera Austral

Hola señores y señoritas,

After having slept the first night in the “charming-city-with-unpronounceable-name” Coyhaique we decided to visit the nearby Reserva Nacional. During our visit at the local tourism office we had met up with a nice French lady, with whom we could share a cab to get there. So everything went smooth. We arrived at the park and said bye to the friendly driver, who would pick us up again 5 hours later, leaving us some time to do a hike. Hiking again … our legs still felt like lead and how could the experience here match up to the ones we had in the spectacular sceneries of Torres Del Paine and Los Glaciares?
Nevertheless we dragged ourselves in the direction of the guardaparque (park ranger) and checked which tracks we could choose from within our limited time-frame. When asking about the most strenuous trail in the park, the ranger was clear:

– “No es possible.”
– “Porque?”
– “Necesita todo el dia y además con este condiciones es superdificil, ha nevado mucho!”

So we settled on tackling the shorter track, that is to say until we got to the point where the different paths split. A short look into each others direction and soon we were on the steep track and thus on the “impossible-to-do-within-the-time-limit-trail”. Seems like we made a good choice, because soon we were walking through ankle-deep, then knee-deep and finally thigh-deep (for Tom at least) snow. The “fairytale-factor” of the environment was very high and in no time we were running around like 10-year olds, throwing snow at each other and jumping around like only two Belgians would be able to do.

Flying through the snow in Reserva Nacional Cohaique

The following day we took care of some practical arrangements before a bus would take on our first part of the Carreterra Austral. To prepare ourselves for the 5-hour bus trip, we had a lunch in the “casino de bomberos“. Typically for Chile, this is a restaurant next to voluntary fire brigade of which the revenues are used to support them. The three-course lunch was all we needed and shortly afterwards we were on the road again heading to our next destination. No fire was going to stop us.

After an enduring and curvaceous trip along the Ruta Nacional 7 we arrived in Puyuhuapi, a village founded by 4 Germans sometimes referred to as the “charming-city-with-the-second-most-unpronounceable-name”. Darkness had already set but Don Luis welcomed us and offered our tired bodies a place to get some rest for the next two nights. Not unimportant, because the next day we had to wake up at 6 am to be in time for the early bus that would be taking us to Parque Nacional Quelat. This is the most famous national park in the province of Aysen and has its “Ventisquero Colgante” or “Hanging Glacier” as a highlight. We spent the early morning hiking around in this park, before setting off to the “Termas de Puyuhuapi” which are located inside the boundaries of the park. To get there we walked for another hour along the magnificent Carretera Austral until we reached the little docks of the termas. From here on a little motorboat took us across the lake to the remote location of the therms. Travelling at the end of the touristic season sure has it advantages, because it turned out that we’d be the only living souls who that day would be enjoying the pleasures of hot source water baths in a truly unique environment. Whilst we were overlooking the gorgeous scenery in quite frisky outdoor temperatures, we could choose between the 37 degrees pool or the 38 degrees tropic cave. Just amazing. We hitch-hiked back to Puyuhuapi and ended up in the trunk of a pick-up racing back over the Carretera Austral, better than any funfair attraction.

Jumping into a 38° pool

From here on we travelled further towards La Junta, where we hoped to connect to Futaluefu, only to find out that the weekly bus connection wasn’t as regular as planned. This implied that we had to rely on our hitch-hiking skills again, while our ever growing beards kept undermining our once so perfectly groomed ideal son-in-law image. Nevertheless everything worked out fine and Tom soon got a ride to the next town with Arthur , a friendly German speaking Swiss who is travelling around the world in his self constructed house on wheels with built-in cuckoo’s clock. David needed some more time to catch a ride and finally was picked up by a local on his way to visit his brother in Villa Santa Lucia. Here we were reunited again and took a bus a bit further towards the Argentinian border. When we jumped off to look for a suitable hitch-hiking spot we were immediately picked up by two friendly Chilean construction engineers that took us along for the final 40 km into the small town surrounded by snow white Andean mountain peaks.

Hiking along the Carretera Austral

Futaleufu is world renowned for being the “charming-city-with-the-third-most-unpronounceable-name” and even more for its white water rafting and kayaking. After arranging our accommodations for the night, we set off to explore the little town hoping to find some adventure. We ended up being lucky again: the seasons last rafting or kayaking trip (depending on the number of people interested) was planned. We woke up the next day and went for an empanada, a typical snack bite in Chile, before heading towards the agency and finding out we were going to kayak on the Rio Espelon. Under a shining sun we packed gear and drove off to an easy entry point along the river. After learning the basic security rules for kayaking, everything was gripped and sorted, we jumped into the water and started our descent of the river in “kamikaze-style”. During the kayak-adventure the most famous and challenging parts of the trajectory we encountered had infamous names as “the magnetic wall” and “el ojo de Mavelin”. At the latter David went for a semi-successful grizzly bear imitation and tried to catch a salmon with his mouth. Unfortunately, when he got back above water there was no fish to see and not enough fur on his chest to keep him completely warm.

Kayak Tom & David

Travelling along the Carretera Austral forces you in to a much slower tempo. You’re travelling of the beaten path (definitely when you get closer to the winter months as we did); you only rarely meet other tourists (if you do almost all of them turn out to be Israelis for some odd reason); there aren’t any must see sights and activities but at the same time it feels like you are dropped in the middle of a post card; bus connections aren’t as frequent as elsewhere and as we experienced might just be cancelled without notice; people are genuinely friendlier but are less likely to speak English (which without any doubt is a good thing); it’s impossible to book a hostel via the internet upfront, so upon arrival you just walk up to a hospedaje and hope that the lady of the house has a spare bed fore you; central heating is nothing more than a stove in the kitchen where everybody gathers around and somebody chucks a piece of wood in from time to time…

All in all it has been a great experience. We didn’t plan on spending so much time in this region when we set of on our trip, but are very happy we did. At the same time we are starting to long for some warmer temperatures, sunny beaches and wild parties. But that seems to be on the menu in the coming days/weeks. We’re crossing the border back in to Argentina now, where we’ll spend a week discovering the Lakes region (homely Esquel, hippy town El Bolson and vibrant Bariloche). Afterwards we have some long bustrips ahead of us, first getting to Mendoza which is in the middle of the wine region, then Salta which is in the North-eastern corner of Argentina. From there on we go one final time in to Chile heading for the grand Atacama desert and some surfing in Iquique. Let’s assume you have to experience the one extreme in order to appreciate the other.

Que te vaya bien!

David y Tom

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