I have taken a keen interest in any property or homestead for sale on the Carretera Austral. This peculiar fascination stems solely from never wanting to leave. I have developed a crush on Patagonia, for there is no better example of Patagonia’s perfection than riding the Carretera Austral through southern Chile.
Twelve hundred mostly unpaved kilometers meandering through Evergreen rain forests, glacier-clad mountains, and pioneer homesteads without telephones or electricity; the Carretera Austral is more like a trip to Alaska than Latin America. We caught our first South American trout on the Simpson River, were trapped in our tent as we weathered a four-day deluge of snow and rain, and had the most magical camping of the trip thus far. Every campsite became our “favorite ever” only to be bested by the next one down the road. The Carretera Austral ranks in the top three favorite destination routes of our trip along with Copper Canyon in Mexico and the Cordillera Blanca in Peru.
A little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. Puerto Varas, Chile.
Excitement is in the air as we depart on the first of many ferry crossings that help comprise the Carretera Austral. This route, connecting northern Chile to its southern reaches, is one of the most fantastic routes we have ever ridden.
The Carretera Austral was completed in 1996, took twenty years to build, and cost US three hundred million dollars. It is a road not based on common sense but a focused will to connect the disparate southern reaches of the country previously only accessible by boat. The remoteness and very low population density of this region make this road seem more like a trip through a national park than the sole thoroughfare connecting a country.
In Hornopiren we found a hardy homesteader building a new fishing boat out of rough logs and a chainsaw. The quality of craftsmanship was impeccable.
The hamlet of Hornopiren makes its living from fishing and seafood. I would love to know the story of this retired little boat.
We are on the Carretera Austral in early Spring and old man Winter is having a hard time passing the baton. Hornopiren, Chile.
Ferry #2 took us south through a calm inland sound and deeper into the Patagonian backcountry.
The Carretera Austral is a “bucket list” road for motorcyclists from around the world. On ferry crossing #3 the other riders are also excited to be traveling this fabled route.
This early in the season many campgrounds are not yet open. Thankfully “not open” simply means no one is around to tell you that the campground is not open. So we set up camp anyway and had the entire Lago Negro park to ourselves. We also lucked out with suitable shelter; it rained all afternoon and night. Carretera Austral, Chile.
At sunset we had a break in the rain so we set out from camp for the 20 minute hike to Lago Negro. Parque Pumalin, Chile.
Another closed campground but this time someone was around. They cheerfully opened up just for us and charged us half price to boot. Lago Yelcho, Carretera Austral, Chile.
Carretera Austral, Chile. At this time the route is 40% paved and the rest is gravel road of varying degrees of quality.
Glacier fed rivers come in all colors due to the powdered bedrock coming from the grinding of the ice.
One bonus of early Spring, we are here to see all the flowers come into bloom.
We stayed with Nacho on his Simpson River farm. He was kind enough to teach us the entire process and etiquette of Mate, the revered herbal hot beverage that is the lifeblood of the region.
The Simpson River was in Spring flood and I was told by the locals that catching fish in the dirty water would be difficult. Persistence pays off and this dandy brown trout made a tasty dinner.
Nacho explaining to Shannon the ins and outs of organic farming in Patagonia. Aside from his cash crop, a unique breed of local lettuce, Nacho also raises sheep for wool and food.
On a river named Ibanez we broke trail to the edge of the forest and we wild camped in breath-taking solitude. It was cold so we were happy to snuggle inside the tent when the rain came and kept coming it did. In fact, the rain didn’t stop for four days, furthermore, it snowed at either end of the valley (insult to injury) and eventually we were flooded out of our tent pad as puddles became ponds; we were forced to relocate the tent in a snowstorm as water began pooling under where we slept. After four nights, almost exclusively inside the tent, everything we own was either wet or at least damp and the down stuffing in the sleeping bags had the consistency of oatmeal. We wondered if we would ever leave the valley.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Not only did the puddle reach into the tent but the rain turned to snow and the temperature dropped even further as the storm intensified. Thank goodness we have a water filter and a hearty supply of food for situations like this.
The morning the weather broke we packed-up camp and got the hell out of there before Mother Nature could change her mind.
During our hibernation on the river named Ibanez we took advantage of the rare moments when the rain stopped. We would stretch our legs by walking onto the broad, sandy flood plain. Then the sky would darken and we would scurry back to the cave. In the end we were charging the Kindles off of the bike battery, without books to read we would have needed straight-jackets by the end.
The snow that had us pinned down on Rio Ibanez was ridable on our way out due to the convoy of cars and trucks that blasted through the snow ahead of us. As long as we stayed in the wheel tracks it was doable.
October showers bring November flowers in the Southern Hemisphere.
On the Baker River all is forgiven. The sun is out again and the snow is miles behind us. We wish we could stay on the Carretera Austral for an entire year just to watch the seasons change on this remarkable route.
Pioneer wife Shannon rocked the wood stove in the Refugio Nadis camp and even baked a casserole with the power of firewood.
It is prudent to carry a spare clutch and brake lever on a trip this long. I needed the emergency clutch lever today and the install went flawlessly. Proper part for a proper job is the smboilerworks motto.
p.s.. the plastic elbows on the mirrors can’t handle the washboard dirt roads. This is the third mirror, of four total between the bikes, that has auto-ejected from the bikes as we ride.
I am obsessed with fishing and try my hand every chance I get. Here at the confluence of Rio Nadis and Rio Baker I got skunked, but the required hike to the river from camp was spectacular.
Gates across the road are common here and not meant to stop people, only to keep the livestock in the proper fields; just be sure to close the gate behind you. The bridge over the Nadis River is open to any vehicle that fits (and is under 6 tons).
The Caraterra Austral was one of our favorite routes of the trip thus far. As we motored toward the border, and the pampas of Argentina, Lago General Carrera was good company as we reluctantly leave this magical and fabled route.