Technically we ‘skipped’ the last 45 km to the big city of Puerto Montt, but they were all paved and we took the unpaved alternated for an additional 60 kilometers of rough gravel. We decided to call this latest section the ‘Carretera Austral Plus’. If anybody asks, we’ll tell them we rode the whole thing!
From Chaiten we rode for a day through the beautiful park of El Pumalin. It is a very large private reserve (owned by an American, strangely enough), with many well-maintained trails and campgrounds. It was a mistly morning when we entered the park, but by midday the clouds cleared and we could see the lovely forest that was clearly recovering from the volcanic eruption. We even took a hike to see some old growth trees!
That evening we took a ferry across one fjord to a tiny spit of land between ferries. We decided to camp here for the night, which was a great decision. It was like we had the whole place to ourselves, and we wandered a side road free of traffic, just to see where it went. That night we camped in a shelter next to the following ferry landing.
The following day we had the whole bay to ourselves for the morning, and we lazed about reading and drinking tea. Just as the first group of motorists arrived a small boat motored across the water to unload a family and about a dozen coolers. They set up shop in the same shelter we had slept in, and proceeded to sell a delicious assortment of food. We bought empanadas and salmon ceviche from them.
The ferry eventually came and it was a production to get all the cars on and arranged properly. One long truck couldn’t make it around the tight corner, and it took about half an hour (and the assistance of another truck) before the long truck jolted down the hill and onto the ferry. The onlookers clapped.
That night, on the far side of the fjord, we followed a 9-year-old girl back to her house where her mom ran an unofficial campground.
From here it was only another half day of riding to the ‘end’ of the Carretera Austral, and to be honest it was pretty uneventful. The scenery got a lot prettier once we took a smaller route north along another fjord lined with steep mountains. For the next three days we wound along the side of the cliff over the saltwater, sometimes finding flat spots where rivers flowed. One night we camped in an abandoned soccer field. The following night we stayed at a very posh eco-campground with lovely sites on a river.
We finally reached the end of the fjord and climbed up and away from the ocean. The forest here was beautiful – lush and green with tall trees and ferns. As we rode we approached a perfectly conical 8,000′ volcano. It was topped with snow, and sometimes hid behind a bank of clouds. Now, we’re in the Lakes Region of Chile. There are volcanoes, large lakes, and farmland. We are looking forward to finding more and better produce in the town markets, and to riding the mostly paved routes that weave between the lakes.
It is our first night in this region, and we camped in the center of a small town. The wind is blowing off the lake (which is huge, by the way) in great gusts. Luckily, this budget site is well protected from the wind by a bamboo fence, even though it only cost $3 each. While we made dinner the campground folks played loud pop music, so we danced while the lentils boiled. It is a minor miracle, but we are still not sick of lentils – even after 3 months of eating them most nights!