On March 25th we crossed the remote border crossing Rodolfo Rodaballos, from where, and through one of the worst roads we have ever driven on, we rolled stone on stone the 74 kilometers that extend along the Chacabuco Valley to the first crossing where the Carretera Austral finally welcomed us. The boundaries of this valley are marked by the mountainous system of Cerro Jeinemi and the Rare Duck by the north, and the cordon Cachabuco on the south.
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We drive into a 1345km route, without which, the Chilean Patogonia would remain isolated from the rest of the country, keeping within a great beauty quite difficult to describe.
Villa O’Higgins – Puerto Montt; La Carretera Austral. Route 7
Leaving behind the guanacos, rheas, foxes and royal eagles as real owners of the Chacabuco Valley, we arrived at Route 7. No even 100 meters we had traveled in it, and as if like a host it was, anxious for the arrival of their guests and honoring the mouths that mark it as one of the most beautiful roads in the world, she wanted to give us an advance image of what would be our trip through their domains, putting before us the spectacular image that forms the confluence of the Baker River and the Chacabuco.
From now on, we only have to drive and let us be surprised.
The next destination, Cochrane, was waiting for us behind the cornice path that runs along the deep valley that holds the turquoise waters of the Baker River. The rose bushes and wild flowers were the color notes on both sides of the route.
Cochrane or Baker Zone, as this area was known before modern colonization, witnessed the occupation of the Tehuelche or Aoniken culture (people of the South in their language). This nomadic people traveled for centuries the pampas of Patagonia, leaving behind numerous testimonies of their presence, such as cave paintings, chenques (burials) and remains.
Some of these vestiges were found in the lakes that surround the town, such as Vargas Lake, Emerald Lagoon or Lake Cochrane, which is located 16km from the town and to which we arrived to spend the night in front of the water and in the only company of a full moon that was fighting with the clouds to find a hole to shine through.
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From here you can continue to Caleta Tortel, where the streets are cypress footbridges, and Villa O’higgins, gateway to the Southern Ice Field and for now, the end point of the famous Austral Road.
Back on Route 7 we head north, and after a few miles we stop to walk along a path that leads usto the confluence of the rivers Baker and Neff. A confluence where the glacier and cloudy waters of the Neff River that come from the Northern Ice Fields invade the turquoise color of the largest river in Chile, thus altering the tonality of its waters to its mouth in Caleta Tortel.
The conditions of the road makes us move slowly, very slowly to the shore of Lake Bertrand, where a few meters from the water we turn off the engine of LaFuriosa making of this spot our garden for 2 days.
Back in the van and not far from this beautiful placewe just leaft, we can see General Carrera Lake, the largest in Chile and the second in South America, only after Titicaca Lake. General Carrera brings life into Bertrand Lake from where the imposing Baker River is born.
Again on the move we came across something tempting, a sign at the beginning of a path that leads to the Leones Valley and the Leones Glacier; gateway to the North Ice Field. The sign also warns us that the next 17 kilometers to the beginning of the walking route are only suitable for 4×4 vehicules, but, will it be true?
Read post “Trekking to the Leones Glacier”
After this beautiful adventure where nature reminds you once again that we are only the guests in its property and we are just passing by, we set off for Puerto Río Tranquilo. There, our friends from El Puesto Expediciones await for us to take us on a kayak trip around the Cathedral, the Chapels and the Marble Caves. These are rocky formations of marble that the wind and the waters of Lake General Carrera (Lake Chelenco in Tehuelche language) have been molding with time, and where the light of the sun reflected in the water makes magic with the colours.
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The rain on the mixture of stones and sand that form the gravel of the Carretera Austral means that our average speed does not exceed 25km / h. And at this speed we observed how the Dead Forest lies on one side of the route, a forest that one day could only watched as the ashes and lava of the Hudson Volcano covered it completely.
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We continue along Route 7 towards Villa Cerro Castillo; a typical Patagonian village with tourist information where you can find info and trails maps to walk on Cerro Castillo National Reserve.
From this point and after traveling hundreds of kilometers over gravel and dirt road we can feel the asphalt below us, and with it the almost forgotten sound that emanates from the heart of La Furiosa. Saying; “everything is going well”.
La Furiosa flies towards Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysen region, where we find all kinds of services and refill the pantry. Here we look for a corner next to the river Coihaique to spend the night at.
As soon as we leave Coyhaique the road tries to draw our attention to both sides of it. To our right we stop to see the waterfalls of the “Veil of the Bride” and the “Waterfall of the Virgin”, while on the opposite side the show does not cease, dozens of waterfalls line one after the other on the top of gigantic rocky black and white walls known as Las Pizarras.
It’s been 15 days by now, 2 weeks travelling with the rain as a permanent companion, without seeing the sky open and felling the rays of the sun warm us from head to toe. Already in Puerto Aysen, Mrs. Loreto opens to us the doors of her cozy cabins at her complex Shangrila, where with a glass of wine and the heat that radiates from the wood stove we continue to give shape to our second book “Guide to live the Van Life”.
Here we visited the cliff bay (Bahía Acantilada) and for the first time we spot the Martin Pescador, what a beautiful bird! We start our way from Aysen passing “La Piedra del Gato” and stopping right after to spend the night in a cliff like balcony over the Cisnes River. Next morning we drive up the “Cuesta del Queulat” (Queulet Hill) from the “Salto del Padre Garcia” and “Condor” hikes begin.
Today, at the foot of a fjord where the sea lions move freely in its waters we stop to sleep, knowing that the days after a small boat will be waiting for us at the dock nest to the Austral Pier. Here we park the camper to cross the fjord to the Dorita Bay where we will let ourselves be pampered by Puyuhuapi Lodge & Spa, who invites us to relax in its hot springs, to walk through a forest where fairies seem to be born, and to sleep in a bed facing the gentle waters where The bay is hidden. Beautiful!
After the gift to which we have submitted our bodies, we continue on route 7, this time towards La Junta, a village where we buy food and fill the tank. We would love to take the detour to Puerto Raúl Marín Balmaceda but the forecast is rain, rain and more rain, so we decided to keep on to the southern entrance of Pumalin Park, El Amarillo.
The Pumalin Natural Park is private and totally free except in the months of January and February. It covers 290,000 hectares that extend from the heart of the Andes to the fjords of the Pacific Coast. The first night at the park we slept at the Camping Grande where there are baths and very cold showers. Right at the entrance of the part there is an information center, 4 km far you find the Termas del Amarillo (spring waters) and within this area of the park there are different trails, like:
- Interpretive Path, Ranita Darwin
- Mirador Trail. Viewpoint Trail.
- El Amarillo Ventisquero Trail
From the viewpoint the Ventisquero shows impressive, and to get to the glacier you have to walk 9 kilometers where it is you who mark the path, having even to cross a river.
The fog is gone, the clouds open and finally the sun glows radiantly over our heads, we don´t know yet but he will be with us for the whole next weeks. He knew we missed him so much. We arrived at El Chaitén to refuel and buy the ferry tickets, necessary to be able to continue the journey along the Carretera Austral further along.
Although pretending to pass unnoticed, the Chaitén Volcano stand visible in the distance, this colossus that in 2008 darkened the sky of this town and spread mountains of ashes that covered the streets and houses, causing the quickest evacuation of the history of Chile. Today we walked to its top.
Read post “Ascensing to the Chaitén Volcano”
After the beautiful ascent to the volcano, we drove a few minutes to the camping Lago Negro (it is not free of charge in January and February), and looking for a small corner next to the lake where to fish we stumbled into the sunset and the fumes that still emanating from the top of the volcano far in the distance. Here we rest.
We do not drive much more until we find the next garden where to spend the night, the camping whose name refers to the walk that starts from it, Las Cascadas Escondidas; 90 minutes trail through the interior of the forest where we can also find 3 beautiful waterfalls.
About 9 km further north is the trail to the “Tronador Lagoon” and “Los Alerces” . The last one zic-zac through an old larch grove with informative signs about the species and specimens up to 3000 years old whose cracked but soft and fluffy skin coverts it completely.
The Alerce is a tree threatened by overexploitation and was declared a natural monument.
At Caleta Gonzalo we board on the first of the two ferries that will take us to Hornopiren: Caleta Gonzalo-Firodo Largo and Leotepu-Hornopiren.
At this point and after 35 days surrounded by pure nature we have to choose from one of the 2 options that will take us to Puerto Montt, the end of the Carretera Austral. We can go around the “Estero Reloncavi” or take the ferry from Caleta Pueche to La Arena.
At Puerto Montt we must go and visit the “Angelmó” and the avenue that leads to this market of smells, crafts, flavors, music, colors and people-characters you will never forget.
Our delicious farewell came from the hand of Maria Soledad and its restaurant Entre Mar y Pasta, she welcome us in her cosy restaurant and treat us with an delicious dinner base on local products and amazing flavors, completed like that this beautiful adventure in this side of the world.
See you soon Austral Road!