Carretera Austral is the legendary road of Patagonia in Chile. This 1240 km long road starts from Puerto Montt and ends in the town O’Higgins. In 2017 winter 60 % of this road was paved. I’m sure the rest will be paved because construction work was continuing in that period.
Construction of the roads in this region had started in 1940s, but initially wasn’t designed to connect the settlements in this region to each other. The land transportation was done from Argentine side. Then, interpreted as a strategic military investment to increase the power of Chile in this region by dictator Pinochet the road construction works to interconnect the settlements had started in 1973 employing 10 000 soldiers.
In 2003, the road arrived till O’Higgens. In 2017 when I was riding on this road, construction works to widen the road and pavement works were continuing.
Looking on the map, Carretera Austral is the road stretching down from the right side of Puerto Montt in Chile. But I didn’t start from Puerto Montt. I preferred the road at the left side to visit Chiloe Island.
Then, I boarded a ferryboat from Quellon located at the end of the island. I got off the ferryboat at Port Raul Marin Balmeceda a half day distant on the opposite side of the island. By this way, I skipped the 385 m long upper part of the Carretera Austral road. I was informed by other travelers that I would come upon similar landscapes and views. Therefore, I preferred to visit the island.
After ferryboat service I arrived at the mainland early in the morning. It was early in the morning. The coast was very clean and nice. According to the map, the name of the road which I’ll take is X 12. This road connects to Route 7 after 72 km. The view of this road is beyond spectacular. At some places I just stopped to watch the landscape for minutes. Throughout the day neither a car passed by nor I saw someone but there were farmlands around. If in need, one can ask for help. This is a nice situation. At the end of the road you come to a gas station and a settlement. On the map also hostels are located. Generally, it is better to camp in deserted places than to stay in settlements. Just before 5 km to the settlement I set my camp on the right side of the dirt road where the cars passing by won’t see me. I can say that winter has arrived; the thermometer started to show minus 10°C.
Setting up my tent I cooked my dinner as usual and started to read a book after it got dark. Well, I was about to sleep when I heard the noise of a car from far. Hmmmm. I guess the owner of one of the farms I saw on the road is returning home. Since the place I camped was elevated from the road they won’t see me. Fuck, I forgot to lie down on my bike. The reflectors on the tires will show where I’m now. Gosh… The car just passed by and then stopped. The doors of the car opened and I also got out of my sleeping bag immediately. Well, someone was walking to the tent.
- Hi! Are you ok?
- Yes, I’m well
- It will be cold in the night. My house is just ahead. If you want you can stay with us. Don’t stay in the cold.
- No need, I’ve set up my tent. I’m comfortable. Thanks for your concern. I may come over in the morning.
- My name is Martin. I own the farm you have passed by. Take care of yourself.
- Thank you once again.
Gosh, how I could forget to lie down my bike on the ground? Sometimes such forgetfulness happens. While Martin was going back to his home, lay down my bicycle next to the tent. I just want to keep on sleeping in my warm sleeping bag. I had set up my tent and was comfy, why to tidy up in the middle of the night.
Arriving at the gas stations along Carretera Austral, I look at the stickers put on the windows of the stations by motorbikers and people traveling by caravans. Many of the stickers belong to South American motorbikers. Especially, Brazilian motorbikers are possessed with Patagonia. To ride in this area is as riding through Alps in Europe. I also used to carry stickers and put on many places along my road but after ran out of those stickers I stopped since I had to carry those on bicycle. If the internet addresses are written on the stickers with nice designs, I note them to check in my spare time. I also sometimes came upon stickers of Turkish motorbikers. Well, since the names of the project of some of those motorbikers are not Turkish, you won’t recognize that they are Turk unless you know them. To me it is always better to have Turkish flag and Turkish names on the stickers.
After this point, there isn’t free WIFI at gas stations along the road but at larger towns. Even, at many places credit cards are not taken and there aren’t any ATMs if mostly out of duty. In small villages, shopkeepers having POS terminal take money from your credit card and return you in cash for a small charge. I did this once.
During my world tour I came upon several cyclists on the road but didn’t ride together because we all were going to different directions. My last companion was the French Gautier in Africa. He is also now in South America but riding somewhere in the north, I don’t know whether we’ll meet or not. I received a massage at somewhere when I had internet connection.
- Hi Gurkan. I’m Nicholas Gault. I’m waiting for you in Coyhaique. I’m on my tour from Alaska to Ushuaia. We may ride the rest of the road together.
- Hi Nicholas. I’ll be there in 3 days. See you.
I have still a few days road to go till Coyhaique. I stayed one night in Puyuhuapi a small fishery village on the road. The view of the sea and the nature were amazing. It was a region where pavement work continued in 2017. Since this village was at a cliff, setting my camp I was looking down from time to time seeing sea lions.
Before arriving in Villa Amengual, I spent one night in the mountain. I set up my tent in an empty camping area used during the road construction work. The next day I arrived in Villa Amengual. I kept saying “Dude, what majestic trees there are in this region”. When I stopped for lunch, a tree caught my attention.
- How beautiful you are created, how majestic, I wonder to how many animals you are a nest? For how many centuries you are living? Stay there, I’ll come to you. I want to hug you.
When had I hugged a tree lastly? Hmm I hugged a tree and kissed because she protected me from the sun shining hot in Algeria. You are amazing, amazing. On the road I stayed overnight in El Michay in Villa Amengual. Furthermore, there is a small grocery in which you can find everything you are looking for in this small town. You can pay with credit card also.
The last two days I rode under rain. It never stopped to rain and the roads in this region were not straight forward. They let me climb between 500 and 1000 m, every day. The up and downs under the rain pissed me off. After Villa Maniguales I didn’t continue on Route 7 but turned to the road X-50. After some kilometers this road connects with Route 240. Well, I made a real mistake taking this road! The other cyclists should avoid this road definitely! Why, because the truck traffic from Puerto Aysen directly flows over Route 240. Also, since the road goes to Argentine over Coyhaique it was incredibly crowded and without shoulder it was a tiresome road. It was the most awful road I rode on in Chile even though there were “attention bicyclists” signs. If the Route 7 is followed early on, then only 8 km of this awful road need to be ridden on. I don’t remember why I had chosen that Route 240 at time. It is possible that I thought going to Puerto Aysen since it was the most beautiful town in the region. But then I decided to go to Coyhaique, I don’t remember why.
When I arrived in the town I first threw myself to a gas station. Dude, I really don’t like to ride in cold accompanied with rain. Brrrr. Look I don’t mind riding at minus 50°C cold but without rain. I changed my clothes when I stopped because I don’t like wearing wet things. The address Nicholas gave me was Hotel Mente Nomade. A small building in a nice quiet street.
Nicholas opened the door and we hugged each other. A classic; long distance touring cyclists hug and say hello to each other without asking any further questions. There was another bed in the room Nicholas was staying. A twin bed and a single bed. This place was not transformed into a hostel in July 2017 yet, because it had been recently opened. I won’t say anything about the price. Since Nicholas invited me to his room they made a discount to Nicholas. The same day a Finnish cyclist Taneli checked in, he stayed also in our room but slept on the floor. He paid less which was fair. It is the best way to share the room where people sharing the same road stay.
Nicholas Gault is from UK. He left UK to live in Australia. With his savings and cash support of his family, he started his travel from Alaska to Ushuaia. He has been on the road for the last one and a half years.
Taneli Roininen is from Finland. He set off for a world travel. He is not sure whether he he’ll finish his tour or not due to some health issues. Since he will undergo a heart surgery, he wants to finish his adventure riding at high altitude in Bolivia and Peru till that time. Taneli had passed through Turkey during his travel. When I shared a couple of photos of us on Instagram, the cyclists who had met and ridden for a while with him in Turkey sent their greetings. Taneli was one of the best touring cyclists I met on the road. He crossed the Paso Riyo Maya mountain pass located at the end of the Carretera Austral, solo. He gave me detailed information about the road which I would ride on.
The town Coyhaique is on the Argentine road stretching along the skirts of Andes in Chile, a town at which almost all travelers coming by car to this region stop for a break. The town is surrounded with natural beauty. The meaning of its name is “camping area of the lake”. Commented as a good camping place for the explorers in the past now it has become its present look. There are agricultural fields in the region though not much. This town had become the liveliest city with highest trade volume in the region after 2000s. But harsh living conditions and expensiveness made the people suffer. In 2017, protests against the government were continuing. Even in the remotest areas enclosed with mountains forgotten by the world, there is no peace. I can say that this was a town where you can find spare parts for motorcycle and bicycles. Also mountaineering and camping equipment was sold.
I left this town together with Nicholas since we were moving towards the same direction to the tip of South America. The cyclists would enjoy riding on the X-608 dirt road, a side road which goes to El Blanco. By this way you escape the vehicle traffic. Then, you rejoin the highway, Route 7.
After a couple of days we arrived in Puerto Rio Tranquilo. The weather temperature was fixed at 0 °C. We arrived in the town at evening. Since our speed was not the same, I waited for Nicholas for long time when I stopped and rested. He also arriving, we started look for a place to stay. At the same time it started to snow incredibly. We were planning to stay a few days in this town because there was a place which we wanted to see, Marble Caves. The best way to go there was by a boat tour. First we tried our chance at the fire station but couldn’t find anyone there. Since it got dark, we asked for prices in the hostels around but were expensive. At the end we decided to sit in a restaurant. The owner told us that he had a place for us to stay. The price he mentioned seemed reasonable to us. This place was not assigned as a place for accommodation on Google or other mapping systems. I asked Nicholas to tell the woman:
- Your place is not assigned as a place for accommodation. If we add this place on Google or other programs would you a further discount for us?
- Well, we were aware of this, will reduce the price if you’ll do this for us.
We stayed with Nicholas in a tiny two beds room for 2 days. For the first time, I saw Nicholas getting up several time while sleeping. I didn’t care much. Sometimes I also get up in the night and think of where am I, what am I doing, I remain motionless for a few minutes.
We stopped here because we wanted to visit Marble Caves which is located on Carrera Lake shared by Chile and Argentine. If I don’t remember wrongly it was the biggest lake of both Chile and Argentine. It has an amazing view in winter with snow covered mountains around the lake. It is estimated that this glacier lake was 3 million years old.
The Marble Caves were formed due to wave erosion in time. Since it is a very rare formation it became a touristic attraction. In summer time you can go there pedaling a canoe, but we preferred to take a boat since it was winter.
The next day, I was riding on the road covered with chalk white snow. I can’t tell how happy I was. I lastly rode on snow in Norway in March 2013. Now, we are in July 2017. Dude, I haven’t seen snow for five years. I was craving for snow.
- Gurkan, aren’t you cold?
- No, the weather is beautiful.
- Are you sure?
At the beginning Nicholas was astonished that I was riding wearing shorts and T-shirts. If the wind fairly blows then I wear only a wind stopper jacket otherwise only in shorts and T-shirt at minus 5 °C. After a while he got used to this. After 5 years of break, my body still copes well with cold.
On the Carretera Austral road there are ferry crosses at some points. Since those crosses are on the highway Route 7 they are for free. The road is cut by rivers many times and the vehicles are transported by ferries.
Before Cochrane the roads were about to be closed, snow and ice everywhere. We were unable to climb the slopes on our bikes and afterwards unable to descend back. Since Nicholas’s bike has 2.3 MTB tires, he does better than me. I was using Schwalbe Tour Plus 2.0. The mud performance of this tire was already miserable, I slit on snow falling down the bike 3 times. At one of the falls Ukraine came in my mind and I started to laugh. When we arrived in Cochrane:
- Nicholas I’ll stay here at least for a week. I have left my snow tires in Santiago. I’ll let them sent to me. No need to break some bones. The bicycle is not moving.
- I’ll also try to support my tires with zip and other things. Doesn’t matter, we can stay for a week.
We stayed in this small town exactly for one week. The cargo from Santiago to this place on the south costs a little more than 100 USD. During day time you can see a few people but afternoon everywhere is empty, there is no one on the streets. The restaurants are empty in the evening if you find an open one. During that week I just read book sitting in front of the fireplace.
It is in a sort hard to live in such remote towns. It is really not easy. For example, further down is Punto Arenas, a town also at the end of the world, but has an airport. Anytime you want you can fly to somewhere, but cannot do the same in towns like this. Look, one day it snowed a lot and all the roads were blocked by snow. Well, there weren’t any or only a few snowplows. There are no places to get socialized. You know everyone in this small town. If you get ill the hospital is at the other end of the earth. The government has to seriously support this region otherwise the new generation will immigrate to other places.
After the tires arrived we set off. The biggest settlement after this is the town O’Higgens already at the end of the road. We rode on the rest of the road camping in tents for days.
On a rainy and windy day, after riding about 30 km I saw a village house. I said “Dude, forget about riding. Let’s stop here and camp on the backyard of his house”. We went and spoke to the man. He said “there is place to sleep inside”. We were incredibly happy. He cooked us also a delicious meal.
He was a farmer having more than 100 cattle. He started to tell stories after stories. For example, he had killed a puma with a screw driver. With a screw driver? A puma? Two years ago a puma had attacked a German cyclist riding through this region. People in a vehicle passing by had rescued him. Hearing this I turned to Nicholas: “It was wise to come in winter here”.
What remains for an animal to do? Increasing number of tourists from year to year, people like us strolling around among the animals in this region, well, they get annoyed. On top of it, houses and other things built in the area… Well, those animals are trying to protect their territory. And you are a potential meat supply. Anyway, we spent the night indoor. By the way, Nicholas’ MRS Huba tent is permeating water from various points after one and a half year; the same way my The North Face Triarch tent has many problems. Therefore, I get pleased when I find such indoor places.
O’Higgens road was amazing. On top of it, since we rode on a sunny day, I enjoyed the road very much. When I arrived in the town I thought first it was deserted. Dude, there was nobody around. Then I saw a man at the gas station. I went there waiting for Nicholas. I was sitting outside since it had no indoor space. After Nico came were looked for a hostel around. All the hostels in the town at which it is hard to find a place during touristic season were closed in this winter season. We found an open one, but it was very expensive. So we were looking around to find out what to do. A guy on the road saw us:
- Are you looking for a place to stay?
- I have two beds for cyclists in my home, you stay as long as you want.
Are you kidding?… His name was HUGO. He had hosted many cyclists in his house. Everyone in the town knew him. He was planning to establish a camping area for touring cyclists in the next years. If you happen to go to O’Higgens by bike find Hugo, his home is open to all cyclists.
I only shortly wrote about Carretera Austral. An amazing beauty, with its road and view, flora and fauna, its nature. Anyway, after this road Patagonia is CHILE to me.