22 JAN 2012 – Carretera Austral

On Leaving Bajo Caracoles, we chose to step off the busy and over-hyped, beaten track of Ruta 40 and joined the imaginatively named Ruta 41 towards the Chilean border. But rather than crossing at the logical point, we continued on Ruta 41, northwards, running parallel with the Andes, to the more northern border town of los Antiguos.

Having been recommended this road by Horacio, (a friend who runs Patagonia Rider – an adventure bike touring/rental company), we were eagerly expectant of a great days riding, and we weren’t disappointed.

With only a little farming taking place within the valley, and the (first) border crossing little used, we truly felt as if we had the road to ourselves for large parts of the day. We perhaps saw four cars, until we began to approach civilization again at the end of the day.

Luckily the running repairs required to Chris’s bike meant we got the engine running again after only half an hour of fiddling. Otherwise, we would have been stuck for a few hours until someone passed, who may, or may not, have been able to help!

En-route, the scenery was ever-changing with each turn. From backdrops of snow capped mountains, to intimate rocky outcroppings, green lush pastures and sparse quarry-like escarpments, we had it all. The terrain was also pretty challenging. One minute gravel, then onto sheep-trail tracks, then onto more sizeable stones, boulders and streams – there was something for every kind of adventurer, all in one day!

At the end of the day we staggered to a campsite in Los Antiguos and tried to block out the distant shrills of crowds being entertained at the local annual cherry festival in the town – festivities could wait until tomorrow. After a good nights sleep with earplugs in, we braved the crowds, but not the fairground rides – we do care for our lives after all. A Gaucho Rodeo competition was the highlight, the gauchos themselves also being somewhat of a centre piece with the ladies. Calgary Stampede eat your heart out!

Back on the road again, we crossed the border at Los Antiguos, over to Chile Chico in Chile. The infamous Carratera Austral (AKA Ruta 7) awaited, with even more stunning scenery and rough gravel terrain. Could we take anymore? Well apparently we could – we headed south, backtracking a little in terms of ‘bearing north to Canada’. We had heard about a little place called Caleta Tortel which has no roads, and was previously (until 2002) only accessible by sea or over-land trekking. This little idyllic spot was somewhere we had to visit, whether back-tracking or not! Caleta Tortel was a couple of days ride away, so we rode leisurely, taking in the blue lagoons and picture-postcard mountains.

Cochrane provided a much needed stop for the night, although sleep was not on the cards when we found ourselves next door to a coughing, vomiting, very ill, 60-something man who was clearly not getting any sleep next door, so why should we. That aside, we did have very nice scrambled eggs for breakfast (the first of the trip), and were perked up by some quick architecture-spotting before we hit the winding road south again.

We followed the Carratera Austral south, then the new road that takes you to Caleta Tortel, to the top of the village where you park your vehicles. The rest is on foot, along cedar timber boardwalks, up and down long flights of steps, taking you on a treacherous (when wet) labyrinthine tour of the houses perched on the mountainside, all overlooking the picturesque bay. Still attractive in the torrential rain, it had a ‘tropical rainforest hide-out’ feel to it, although the 20 minutes walk from the car park with all the bags was a bit of a strain. For Chris! A little cat-nap once we’d arrived was all he needed before a late afternoon walk of the boardwalks.

Despite being very pretty, we decided to only stay the one night – the torrential rain did put a dampener on things, and without (Chloe) being able to hike or us particularly wanting to take a boat trip out to another glacier, there wasn’t much else to do! So we saddled back up again and set off in the worst rain we’ve come across yet – tropical storm does not even begin to describe the size and force of the rain drops. Manchester has nothing on Tortel!

After leaving Caleta Tortel, we took the road back north again and picked up where we had left off. One night was spent wild camping beside a lake, accompanied by obligatory cock, next to a farm house where the farmer/ gaucho was wearing sheepskin chaps with the sheepswool still attached. Unfortunately we had no camera to hand when we knocked on his door to ask if we could stay on his land… note to self – take camera everywhere! 

After a long day on the road again, and hypothermia threatening to set in after getting very wet and cold, we decided a two-night break was well deserved and Coyhaique was just around the corner. Chris spent all of the next day in bed while Chloe pottered. Nice! That couldn’t go on for too long though. We were aiming for El Bolson which was a couple of days away, north east, back in Argentina. The roads beckoned.

More picnic lunches en-route, (perfect), meeting of fellow Scotsman Mike Anderson, and a nights stay in a stable-type shelter in a pretty little town called Puyuhuapi made for a pleasant few days.

When only half an hour from the Argentinean border, Chris was distracted by some whitewater rafters coming out of the river. It transpired, after we stopped at the next rafting centre we came across, that Futaleufu is a famous river for rafting and kayaking. The no.1 river in the World apparently, according to iexplore !  http://www.iexplore.com/activities/raft_top10.jhtml?activity=Whitewater . That did it. Chris needed to go rafting before we went any further. We pitched our tent in the rafting centre-campsite-farm that we had landed upon and Chris went off in search of water sports while Chloe got up close and personal with some of the locals.

The following day Chris’s efforts were paid off as we found ourselves being hurtled down rapids in a rubber dinghy.

After that, packing up the tent and getting on the bikes the next morning seemed positively staid! We finally crossed the border back into Argentina and made it to El Bolson in one day – the hippy colony of the 70’s in Argentina, surrounded by mountains and lakes that unfortunately Hebdon Bridge cannot compete with. A lively happy place, obviously, we felt inclined to stay for a few nights to soak up the aura, browse some of the traditional markets and museums, and take a walk up to the rocky outcrops before carrying on.

Next stop, Bariloche. We were only a few hours ride away but we had been told of a beautiful lake on the way which has a great decent through forests and a good campsite at the bottom. We decided we were in no rush to get to Bariloche, so took our chances and detoured to Lago Steffan where we pitched our tent by the lake and swam in the (mildly cold) clear water.

While at Lago Steffan, we bumped into someone whom we had met way back at the beginning of our trip – Horacio from General a la Madrid, the radio interview town! Together with his son Diego and wife Marie, we all got our heads together to discuss maps and routes and Horacio’s favorite spots in Argentina, most of which had already been relayed once in General a la Madrid, but we needed an update now we had a vague route north planned.

Although we could have stayed at Lago Steffan for an eternity, we thought we’d best leave and get ourselves to Bariloche where we had arranged to pick up some new tyres and get the bikes serviced. In the end Chris serviced the bikes himself, with the help of a garage forecourt and some spare tools. Well done Chris!

The apparently beautifully picturesque town also needed some checking out, although we wouldn’t recommend that anyone who has a sense of culture stake much hope on finding it remotely interesting. The swiss-style chalets all seem fake, given that they are in Argentina, and the innumerable chocolate shops and St Bernard dogs (that you can pose for a photo with for a fee) are all just a bit too much! The cathedral was interesting – the unfinished interior displaying the stone and concrete construction is worth a note, for sad people like us! Needless to say, we drank wine with Sam in the dodgy hotel room, did what we had to do and left, leaving the (fake) Alps behind and heading back into the Andes.

Leaving Bariloche behind, we set off to brave the ash from Chile’s nearby Puyehue volcano, and hoped to see some of the landscape along the seven-lakes route through Angastura up to San Martin de los Andes…

I must admit, we couldn’t see much!

That’s it for now… ciao.

Cow falling over tent in the night                              Chloe 1 v 1 Chris

Scared to go out and check afterwards                  Chloe 0 v 1 Chris

Uneaten Christmas turkeys seen                              Chloe 1 v 0 Chris

Successfully coaxed chickens into tent                  Chloe 3 v 1 Chris

Bee stings to eyebrow                                                    Chloe 1 v 0 Chris

Subsequent droopy eye (3 days)                               Chloe 1 v 0 Chris

Number of zips on clothing broken                          Chloe 0 v 3 Chris

Number of zips on bags broken                                  Chloe 0 v 1 Chris

Generally excessive heavy-handedness                 Chloe 0 v 1 Chris

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2 Responses to 22 JAN 2012 – Carretera Austral

  1. Kate T says:

    I love the music you seem to be getting into!!! Fabulous scenery – and I’m glad you avoided the rides at the funfair – isn’t Argentina where they film that show “Total Wipeout” as it has the most relaxed health and safety laws in the world….!! A perfect read with my morning coffee, thanks guys! Keep safe xx

  2. chris mcconnachie says:

    Just been looking through your updated gallery section, some cracking shots in there, keep it coming.
    Good rafting video too, I assume it is the pair of you at the front of the raft.

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