We’re several days through our ride of the Carretera Austral or Ruta 7 and we have been surprised on a few fronts. The scenery is just unbelievable and the roads have been better than expected. Everyone says it is beautiful. Everyone is right but nothing really prepares you for just how pretty it is.
We approached the Carretera with some trepidation. A lot of sections are mapped as ripio, gravel roads of varying quality and exactly how much and where is not openly mapped anywhere that we could find.
That meant we have been going south to a road that filled us both with a bit of fear. Neither of us has any real experience of riding on ripio which is entirely our own fault but in fairness the bikes are pretty good. The major downside to the Versys is the front wheel is a bit small so its not the best on poor surfaces
So, before we first dropped onto the Carretera we had actively looked for roads that were ripio so we had a chance to build some road craft. I’m glad we did.
Our first big test had been to head into Argentina via Puerto Fuy over 50km of gravel and through a 600m pass but we had to turn around only 10km along the road when Clairs bike overheated with the failed fan, so that plan was scuppered.
That had made us head to Osorno and in turn we had some options to get to the Carretera and we had chosen to skirt to the east. A road we thought would be tarmac turned into an 80km tough ride, in fact it was tougher than just about everything we later encountered after joining Ruta 7. It actually worked out well and gave us a lot of time to get used to the poor road and I sank my bike up the the axle in some soft sand at one point so I learned how to get it back out again.
Our first taste of the Carretera Austral was mostly tarmac apart from several stretches of roadworks which was a relief, we ran south to Hornipiren where we were going to get a ferry. We had booked the ferry and arrived into town with a couple of days to spare so we had two nights at a campsite that was pretty awful. The site was at the bottom of a hill with two thin broken strips of concrete. Getting down there was a little exciting, I went very slowly, keeping tight control of the speed. Clair came down somewhat quicker and despite skidding near the bottom as she hit the grass she kept in control. Watching her come down I thought for sure she was going to be off but it just shows how much improved and skillful she is and she wasn’t fazed even though I was.
Leaving Hornoprien we had a three hour ferry ride before disembarking. There followed a short run over land to a second ferry. The 10km ripio road was awful, we really struggled not least because we were first off the ferry and everyone behind us seemed to be in a hurry, we stopped and let everyone past. When we got to the port we were waved to the front of the queue so it was certainly not worth rushing.
After we got off the second ferry we had about 30km of varying road quality, all ripio and we found a beautiful spot to camp at the side of a lake. We got to know the local wildlife which seemed to be mostly frogs.
In the evening, we had a bit of a noise issue with the locals:
The next day after another 10km of ripia we finally hit some tarmac. “Sweet tarmac” as it became known was just out of this world. The roads are smooth, twisting and turning through hills and valleys and the towns are miles and miles apart so the road just goes on and on and on.
We rolled into La Junta and had a chat with a German couple before heading off to find a campsite.
Towards the end of the day, with a 12km stretch of ripio, just to finish us off, we rode into Puyuhuapi where we found a pretty basic campsite. (Hot water and power only from 16:00, power to the kitchen area and hot water goes off after midnight) . There were a couple of Argentine bikers there we were able to have a little chat with.
Leaving Puyuhuapi, I left a pair of socks behind on a washing line. They caught up with us later on in the day, the socks that is. Of course there was more ripio only a few miles out of town. It went back to (sweet) tarmac for a while and then 5km of roadworks and the hardest road we had ridden. It was bloody awful. There were no tyre tracks a lot of the time and we were running as slowly as 15kmh. The roadworks ended though and we were straight onto a climb to a mountain pass that was slow just because of the rain and the roads surface coupled with switchback after switchback.
I went first and was able to guide Clair as to the best line for each of the switchbacks and we climbed up and up to the top of the pass. It went well, all that practice had paid off.
We crossed the pass and started down and….. sweet tarmac!!!!
On a short break, both the Argentine’s and the Germans went past us. About 20km down the road we pulled into a town and one of the Argentine’s had my socks!
That band of asphalt went on (without roadworks) all the way to Coyhaique. We had booked a room for a couple of days to rest up and buy me some shoes as well as to try and get a ferry ticket to cut out two days of Ruta 7 and get us to Chile Chico where we planned to spend Christmas.
However, the weather reports were pretty crap and unfortunately, the office for the ferry company in Coyhaique is now a cake shop. The nearest office was at the port an hour and a half away and it’s impossible to pre-book tickets online.
We decided to stop where we were for a few extra days and hit the road again on the 26th. Christmas for us the first time out of the country has been a little sad, we have both missed our son and family a lot, in particular on Christmas Eve.
Alan called us at 5am on Christmas morning. Since he was little he has woken us at 5am every Christmas morning and being thousands of miles away was not enough to stop him today. It made our day.