The Carretera Austral

Finally we arrived in our own “promised land”, Patagonia! In our minds this was always the final destination of our Southbound trip. However, Patagonia is big and there is a lot to see and to do. So, before we really got to the most southern point of our trip we still had to enjoy plenty of stuff.

In this first part of Chilean Patagonia we explored the “Carretera Austral”, a dusty road connecting several remote towns who are scattered around in a huge wilderness of mountains, ice fields, forests and fjords.

By taking the ferry from Quellon to Puerto Chacabuco we actually skipped the northern half of the Carretera Austral. Even though we missed some nice places by doing so, it was the most practical way of traveling for us and we did not regret it. We learned long time ago we cannot visit every interesting spot along the way.

Anyway, when we got off the boat in the early morning we took some buses in the direction of Coyhaique, one of the towns connected by the Carretera Austral. It was a beautiful morning and we enjoyed the beautiful landscapes until we fell asleep one by one. A couple of hours later, our beauty sleep was ended when we arrived at our destination. We located a camp ground just outside the town and put our tents up before we did some exploration. We had a relaxing day and we treated ourselves with a pizza.

We decided to go further south pretty fast as we wanted to do some hiking in  Parque Patagonia. So the next day we hopped on a bus and headed south again, this time we did enjoy the scenery (most of the time) until the bus dropped us at the side road to the entrance of the park. It was already afternoon and we still had to walk several kilometers to the entrance and the camp ground. After a while we got a ride from some guys working in the park. It saved us some time so we could relax and enjoy the beautiful afternoon at the almost empty camp ground.

Next day we went for a long day hike up in the mountains. Many clouds provided us with dramatic views on the lakes and the valley while the wild Guanacos put a smile on our faces.

After this nice day we decided to do some more hiking and get to the nearby village, Cochrane, by foot. This would take us two days through the mountains and along several lakes. For Jonas, it was a good introduction to hiking I think. He surprised me and Nina by swimming in a very cold lake. At least, in my opinion it was very cold, according to him it was pretty fine! Nina got inspired by him and joined him for a short while to wash the sweat away. I was still smelly when I got in my sleeping bag later that evening.

Cochrane is another sleepy town in the wilderness. Not much to see and to do in these little towns, except exploring the surrounding nature. After a couple of days of rest we drove on to Tortel, a small coastal town, famous for it’s lack of roads. All streets exists of wooden boardwalks. We even camped on wooden platforms because the underground is either sloped or very wet. While we did enjoy being in Tortel we stayed there for too long. The bus to the next village, Villa O’Higgings, did not leave until 3 days later. And as we were with 3 persons now and very few traffic was navigating the dusty roads we gave up on the idea of hitchhiking.

So it happened we spent 3 days in Tortel while one day is certainly enough. To make things worse the weather was not very good either. The third night we even traded our wooden camping spot for a little hostel. Anyway, Tortel is pretty nice for a little while and we also enjoyed the surroundings and the beautiful views. One night, while it was raining a little pup entered our tarp in search for a dry place to spend the night. Nina could not resist the little puppy eyes and sacrificed her (worn out) sleeping pants to give the little street dog a soft bed. Next morning she was gone again.

Finally the day came we could go to Villa O’Higgings. This town is the literally at the end of the road, and therefore at the end of the Carretera Austral. This means the more southern parts of Chile are not connected to the northern part by Chilean roads. If you want to go there by car you have to cross the border into Argentina,  drive further south and cross the  border again into Chile. However, we did not have a car and had another idea in mind. From Villa O’Higgings it is possible to take a boat to cross Lake O’Higgings and then spend two days hiking to cross the border into Argentina and finally end up close to El Chalten. El Chalten is an Argentinian town at the foot of Mount Fitz Roy and its surroundings are praised for its beautiful hikes.

During the bus ride from Tortel to Villa O’Higgings we once more enjoyed the beautiful scenery and also met a young french couple, Sofia and Theo. They had the same idea in mind but planned to take the boat the next day while we wanted to go only the day after. They were clearly better informed than us and when we arrived in O’Higgings we kind of followed them around. At the boat ticket “office” we decided to go with them next day and bought some tickets too. Luckily we did so because it were the last tickets and when some other guys arrived a little bit later they informed us the tickets for the boat we planned to take initially were sold out too. We figured out Sofia and Theo were some kind of lucky charms and so we continued to follow them to the hostel they booked. Again we were a bit lucky to get some of the last beds in this very charming hostel.

While we were shopping and cooking we met some other Flemish people at the hostel. Robin, who was biking through South America, even lives in the same city we do. And Melanie with whom we would spent quite some time during the following days, together with our lucky charms Theo and Sofia.