The Carretera Austral (aka Paradise) Part Uno

Much to the delight of PETA, the cat is out of the bag: I’m home. I (Ted) opted for a slight itinerary change to facilitate a bit of decompression and rest time before heading back to work at the beginning of April. While I miss my compañeros, I feel tremendously accomplished and am relishing my return to the EEUU. Somerville, it’s good to be back. Now that I’m back, I’m hoping to fill in the gaps for the guys and for you, our loving audience.

Here is a more recent photo of the four of us. I’m happy to be back, but goodness I miss these guys.

I’ll start with the good stuff, a trip-to-date recap from Puerto Aysén to Buenos Aires. In the days coming, I’m hoping to highlight our campsites, talk about the routes, and maybe give some lessons learned. In case you want to learn more about the Carretera, here’s a helpful link: The Carretera Austral on Wikipedia

Otherwise, enjoy the views… I’m going to do this in sections so if you don’t want to see my pictures without knowing the story behind them, don’t click through to the album just yet.

Here’s the direct link to my full album of photos from the Carretera on, though I’ll feature many of the better ones in the narrative below.

We last left you in Puerto Aysén, a beautiful city located in a river valley in Northern Patagonia. Thanks to our guide and host Katy, we were made privy to a gorgeous view of the city and the surrounding hills and rivers.

The next day we got ourselves together and reluctantly left the loving embrace of the Heresmann-Gutierrez family. Here is a photo of our hosts (from L to R) Helga, Carmen, and Katy.

And here’s one of the bunch of us before rolling out to take on the elusive (to this point) Carretera Austral.

We can’t possibly thank the Heresmann-Gutierrez family enough for their hospitality and care while in Aysén. We left with bellies full and minds at ease, two qualities that aided our voyage unspeakable amounts. While the separation anxiety was difficult, we were greeted on the road by an incredible view that foreshadowed what was to come in the following weeks. For those of you following along at home, we’re now on Ruta 240 heading east between Aysén and Coihaique.

Unfortunately, not only did we look in the direction of Carmen, Katy, and Helga when we turned around, we also saw snow capped mountains as well.

We mustered up the strength to continue, probably through the consumption of dulce de leche in some form, and soldiered on. Our first stop was to be the Cascada La Virgen, where we promised Carmen we’d fill our water bottles. Drinking the water from this waterfall is said to bring blessings and good luck.

We continued on, having intentionally hydrated (with water at least) for the first time in a week or so and were greeted with beautiful scenery at every bend.

Shortly after taking that photo we met a very friendly Chilean family (this was and continued to be a recurring theme, if you haven’t noticed) and struck up a conversation. The father told us about a great spot for fishing on a nearby river and suggested we stop and check it out. Now, faithful readers, I must admit to you that bicycle touring is not exempt from Sir Isaac Newton’s concept of inertia. Once we stop, it’s hard to get moving again. Just ask Valparaiso, Chillan, or Aysen… This is especially true when the scenery is beautiful and there are incredible camping spots everywhere. Dan, in culturally appropriate fashion, tracked down the residents of the closest domicile and asked permission to camp there for the night. We were granted said permission with the understanding that we would not throw any parties and would leave the place we chose to camp as close to how we found it as possible. No problems there.

We set up camp and threw in a couple lines. Zach caught a little fish for dinner and the rest of us lived with what we had. We got to watch some wild mountain goats graze along the mountain top and relaxed the afternoon away.

The next day we broke camp early and started up a long climb. Part of the climb went through a pretty cool feature: a rockslide tunnel.

Climbing on a bike tour is bittersweet. It’s certainly not quick and/or easy, given the weight and physics involved, but eventually you forget you’re doing it and then you’re greeted by a new, always beautiful view at the top. Here was our first glimpse of Coihaique.

We also got to see the wind farm that Dan researched when he studied abroad in Chile a couple years back. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this trip for me was seeing the country and people that Dan had been rambling on about all this time. We’d all lived in Chile vicariously through Dan since he returned, but to be able to have him show it to us first-hand was just incredible.

Just before we hit Coihaique, we officially joined up with the Carretera Austral (aka Ruta 7). At this point the road was paved, but we didn’t let the smooth surface ruin the experience for us.

We routinely passed waterfalls, and almost always took the time to stop and smell the flo-, er, water? However that proverb works, we did it. Here’s Zach taking in the view.

And here’s a 2D view of something more easily appreciated with all 3 dimensions present.

Here’s Zach attempting to solve a welcome dilemma. We were at a bridge that gave us access to four different sections of the river (to the left and right of both sides of the water). It seemed that the four of us each saw a different section as more virtuous than the rest.

Instead of separating and meeting up in the morning, we reconciled our differences and picked correctly.

Given that it was our first full day on the Carretera, I treated myself to a couple Cerveza Australs. Here they are cooling off in our refrigerator.

I must say, this was a particularly beautiful campsite with a fantastic river and a view of the mountains in the distance.

And in an extreme case of whatever the opposite of adding insult to injury might be called, we had a gorgeous sunset to top it all off. These are unfiltered photos, people… this is honest to goodness natural color.

We roasted some salchichas over the fire and had a nice dinner before bed.

It was a good thing we rested easily that evening because we spent the entirety of the next day being knocked off our feet by the stunning beauty of Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo. Here was our first taste, and it only got better from there. I won’t attempt to convey the feeling through the written word, I’ll let some pictures speak. In any case, I’m fairly sure I was dumbfounded with awe that whole day so my words might not even make sense.

Eventually we came through a very high mountain pass. I don’t think it was physiologically possible for my brain to think it could get better, but it did. We had an incredible descent (one of those descents where stopping to take a picture to remember it by prevents it from being an unforgettable experience… we all chose the latter over the former). We did, however, stop at a vista at the midpoint of the descent. You’ll see why…

To give you an idea of how good this downhill was, even skinny little “Pulga” Derek nearly hit 50mph on the straight sections. Shortly after, we came to the image that so many of you were left to ponder nearly a month ago…

Behold, Cerro Castillo. In case any of you were wondering: yes, cerro is Spanish for hill. HILL. If that’s a hill, why are we trying to cross the Andes MOUNTAINS?

Eventually, we came to the end of the pavement in a small outpost settlement called Villa Cerro Castillo. This is not to be mistaken with Cerro Castillo, a town outside Torres del Paine in Southern Patagonian Chile.

We loaded up on whatever supplies we could and prepared ourselves for the end of paved roads for the foreseeable future. By this, I mean we drank a Dolbek and bought some sausages. Here marked the beginning of the hardest and most amazing thing I’ve ever done.

We’d already ridden a lot that day so we focused on finding the first campsite we could. To this point we’d been able to pick out a river on our map and ride there, where we’d be greeted by an almost always perfect place to camp with delicious clean water. At this point in the day we were all exhausted and overheated. It was easily 90 degrees and in this part of Chile there is almost no ozone to protect you from the sun’s blazing rays stealing whatever push your legs had left. Our first hope for a river was a total failure.

We pushed on, stopping occasionally to catch our breath, cool off in the shade, and take in the views. The riding surface was terrible, sandy and loose or miserably washboarded. We could see a river the whole time, as the road was following it, but we were seeming to keep climbing away from it.

Eventually, we found a turn-off that advertised a lake in 4km. Unable to resist, we turned off and chased camp… and what an amazing choice we made. The road kept us in the watchful eye of the mountains…

And eventually brought us to Lago Las Ardillas.

We got past the bouncers…

And found access to the lake.

In a move contrary to our usual form, we didn’t even set up camp before we started to unwind. As it might appear, we immediately found the water and jumped in. Wouldn’t you?

The next day we rolled back out the road to rejoin the Carretera Austral. It may have been the good dinner and the refreshing swim or any number of other influences, but things just seemed to get easier from here on out. The road tightened up a little bit and made riding much easier. Most people do this road on mountain bikes with wide, knobby tires and suspension; we did it on rigid touring bikes with slick tires (including 700×32 tires on Dan’s and my bicycles.)

Nonetheless, nothing was going to stop us now…

We pedaled on, with a new magnificent view around every corner.

Here’s Zach enjoying a snack the Patagonian way. I couldn’t have been more pleased that my 1000th photo on the trip came out this good.

It wasn’t all mountain vistas either… take a step back and you’ve got a different view.

On the Carretera, we no longer benefited from pace lines and drafting, so we traveled at our own pace. We’d usually leapfrog each other as the day progressed and we all knew about when we should call it a day. Anywhere between hour 4-6 of riding on a given day, we’d regroup and work on finding a place to camp. Therefore, I passed Zach knowing I’d see him again before long.

Sometimes it’s just the view that prevents you from riding for a few minutes…

The water had such an incredible color to it. I’m not sure why it had a milky hue, but I didn’t care.

One of the funniest parts of the Carretera was the use of signage to mark hills on the roads. Note the pitch of the wedge showing the size of the hill Zach was (luckily) descending. Sometimes they were honest, sometimes they weren’t.

The road kept giving as the day went on. I don’t think there’s a more beautiful road to bicycle on the planet.

Keep in mind these aren’t just my best pictures from the 3 weeks on the Carretera, the last 13 pictures up here were taken ON THE SAME DAY. More from that day…

Believe it or not, this is only lunchtime.

We rolled on, eventually looking for a place to camp and embracing the luxury to be picky about it.

We found a cool little abandoned shack on a river with a beautiful waterfall behind it.

Inside the shack was pretty dirty and gross, so we set up camp beside it and cleaned up in the river. Even though it’s hot during the day, most of the rivers around here are glacial in origin (thus potable) so they are cold as cold gets. This one was no exception. The moon came out early that night (and most nights) and it got dark as late as 10-10:30pm.

That’s all I’ve got in me for now… check back in the next few days for the next installment of The Carretera Austral (aka Paradise) and beyond.

Let me know what you all think in the comments section, and fire away with any questions you might have. I’ll actually do my best to answer them this time around…


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5 Responses to The Carretera Austral (aka Paradise) Part Uno

  1. Susan says:

    AMAZING! (Worth caps lock!) Thanks, Ted, for taking the time to take the photos in the first place, and then posting them – with stories to boot. I just took a little journey from the coastal flatlands of Texas to the “cerros” of Chile. What a great study break. Muchos gracias!

  2. carmen gutierrez says:

    Que hermoso ver sus fotos… encanto verlos felices y nostalgia porque sera muy difícil volverlos a ver…..son todos jóvenes muy buenos……un abrazo grande para mis cuatro hijos….
    de mama Chilena

  3. carmen gutierrez says:

    aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa el color lechoso es por que son aguas de deshielo…..

  4. Kert Ringeling says:

    Lovely pictures, you can see all the beauty in them. Espero nos volvamos a ver.
    I’ll looking for future pictures. Fue un gran placer haber compartido con ustedes.

    Un abrazo con Cariño. Y espero noticias de ustedes.


  5. Pingback: The (long-awaited and long-lost) Carretera Austral, Part Dos | Bicicleta Abajo

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