This post was originally an email sent to our friends and family during our travels in South America Nov 2004-Feb 2005- please see the "The next big adventure.... and the previous one..." thread in The Dual Sport Zone for more details...
Its true what they say about these Chilean RAINforests... Jan 9/05
Happy New Year!
We hung out for a while in the Villarrica/Pucon area and had clear, warm weather on New Years day for a ride up volcano Villarrica to the ski area there. Very fun riding around in the dirt and we had great views of the lake and the surrounding mountains in the area. Getting air at the gas station back in Pucon, a German guy came up to check out Scott's bike- turns out he is touring on a DR800 (Scott's DR600´s big brother) with his girlfriend on a Honda Tenere. He has been travelling for 4 years and she with he for 2. So 3 months is a cakewalk in this context. We compared notes about crossing SW Bolivia and they had a crazy time of it too. It sounds like she is completely through with the whole off-road scene and leaning towards trading the bikes in on a minivan or something to keep travelling in. It isn't Bolivia fault, they've just been at it for so long and I can see where they are coming from. After a while, it is tiring to have to find a new cranny for every new thing you pick up on the road, like a battery charger or a pair of flip flops and when you are travelling for a long time, you need more of these little creature comforts than you can do without on a shorter trip like ours. Easier to pack stuff in a 4-wheel vehicle for sure. Other than chatting with them over beers, ours was a pretty quiet New Years. There were a few fireworks at the beach and a band, but pretty mellow all in all.
Next day, we loaded up and headed out of town for the nearby National Park and a trail starting in it that passes between the volcano we were on the other day and another one nearby with several hot spring areas along the way. The 8 km of the trail that was within the park was somewhat challenging, particularly with the bikes fully loaded and the new oil in Scott's bike messing with his clutch a bit, but a fun satisfying ride with the road all to ourselves as everyone else slept off New Years hangovers.
New Years Day
We stopped at one of the hot springs with a beautiful waterfall and a family there invited us to have some of their asado (BBQ). Janet and other vegetarians will want to stop reading until the astrix below*. The asado was a half a goat on a stake over an open fire. How do we know it was goat? Well, the other half of the goat was hanging from a nearby tree by his rear hoof and his innards and head were under the tree, around the corner from the picnic area. Poor little goat was probably alive when he got to the picnic area and thought he was on an outing with the family. But before we noticed the rest of him, we were offered some of his cooked half and he was actually pretty yummy. We smelled like BBQ afterwards though and the smell of him combined with the memory of him looking up at us from under the tree was a bit much. 2005 did not treat him well.
*Next day we poked around the Lake District some more, lots of roads off the highways and cool dirt roads around the backside of beautiful lakes surrounded by amazing mountains. We had fantastic weather too and it was hot. We camped right on the shores of Lake Llanquihue and next day headed for Puerto Montt to suss out the Chiloe-Chaiten ferry situation. You never know if you are getting the right info at tourist info places, but if you ask at 3 or 4 places and get pretty much the same answer each time, you have a 90% chance of it actually being correct. And Puerto Montt had.... MacDonalds! One more familiar lunch before we head off the beaten track. A 20 minute ferry ride from a port 60 km outside of Puerto Montt took us to the northern end of Chiloe Island. We stayed in Castro, in the middle of Chiloe Island.
En route to Puerto Montt
short ferry to Isla Chiloe
We had a day to spare before the first ferry of the year from Chiloe to Chaiten, the start of the Carretera Austral, so we took a day trip to a tiny little nearby Island, Isle Lemuy, which only has dirt roads and very hilly terrain- true rolling hills. And it poured rain, so that turned out to be good training for the CA- our training so far has mostly consisted of drinking Austral beer, which we also did that night, for good measure.
The next day, after all our hard "training", we woke up at noon and did a bit of shopping and got down to the port for our ferry ride at 4pm. The ferry was late and crossing was a full 7 or so hours and we arrived in Chaiten around midnight to find a hostel just as the rain started to POUR. I mean hard. Next day was better though and we took a ride up to Park Pumalin, just north of Chaiten. This park is privately owned by the guy who founded Esprit and North Face. I gather he got sick of the business world, started cashing in his options and began buying up chunks of pristine forest land from farmers who were having marginal success at farming and were contemplating selling the land and timber to logging companies. After a while, he has amassed hundreds of thousands of hectares and the government starts getting worried about the fact that a gringo is holding all this land and starts questioning his intentions. Never mind that he is trying to give the land back to the government to preserve as a sanctuary. Anyways, he ends up realizing that Conaf (Chile´s park and forest department) doesn't really have the resources to do with this land what he wants to see happen, so he turns it into a private park with amazing amenities like beautiful carved wooden signage and trail systems and beautiful private campsites (reasonably priced) and a high class café serving organic meals (less reasonably priced but a treat).
Beautiful, private campsite in Parque Pumalin
Very different than any other Chilean park we have been to so far. I also suspect that his ownership of this massive amount of land, including any areas that would be suitable for a highway to connect Puerto Montt with Chaiten and the Carretera Austral is the reason why a 7-8 hour ferry ride from Puerto Montt or Chiloe is the only way to get to the northern end of the Carretera. Interesting story and beautiful area, but under threat of another heavy rainfall that night, we decided to have lunch and continue back on south, back through Chaiten and to La Junta. We also skipped a planned side trip to Futaleufu and river rafting for now as it is a bit cold and rainy and we hope to be coming back across from the eastern side of Argentina nearby Futaleufu so hopefully we'll catch it then, on our way back north.
Next day we had a long day to get to Coihaique on some paved but mostly dirt roads, some steep and wet through stunning mountains and beautiful lakes and inlets- the terrain varied a lot throughout the day. It is really gorgeous and rugged here, we only wish the weather was a bit more clear because we can tell how beautiful it must be-I mean, it is pretty amazing with the cloud cover so is probably breathtaking on a clear day. However, judging by the geography and the size and numbers of rivers in the area, I doubt there are too many clear days. This is a true rainforest, similar to home but with bamboo and monkey puzzle trees growing in the woods with the pines and alerces.
A few pics of the scenery along the wet Northern Carretera Austral....
Unfortunately, these tiny pics hardly do the huge views justice
We did have a couple of minor mishaps on this leg of the trip, but nothing serious. In one place towards the end of the day before we arrived in Coihaique, they are doing some work on the sketchier bits of the Carretera Austral and a flag person waved us through but her partner sort of leapt up to wave at us and say "hola" and Scott though she was shouting at him to stop, so he jams on the brakes and stops short just as I am turning to wave at them. I looked back in time to swerve and avoid him with my bike but I took off a saddlebag in the process. Quite comical actually that the only run-in we've had so far is with each other (knocking on wood as I type this). Anyways, we velcro the sucker back on and no harm done. We also noticed that I was losing air in my rear tire at an increasing rate. We made it through the last leg of the trip to Coihaique by stopping about 5 or 6 times, every 40, then 30 then 20 km to pump it back up. Changing out the tube at the hostel the next day, I am tightening everything up at the end of the job and manage to slip with an allen wrench and rip a fingernail off. Right off from the nailbed! Not so bad now that we have it cleaned up but I had greasy bike filth all over my hands and nails at the time and had to clean it. So we are just chilling and enjoying the hostel we are staying at for a few days. It is a couple of kms out of town in a cozy log building in the middle of a pine forest with a bunch of bedrooms and a loft filled with pillows and movies to watch, computer for internet and a communal kitchen- very laid back and comfortable place to rest before we head out again.
Coihaique hostel Las Salamandres, in the woods
So, we plan to get to Chile Chico in a couple of days where we will cross over into Argentina at the start of Ruta 40 through Patagonia. Ruta 40 will take another couple of days to get us to El Chalten at the base of Mt. Fitzroy where Scott wants to hike into the Jim Bridwell base camp. Really not sure how much internet we will have for the next couple of weeks, but we'll keep you posted!!
Scott and Pam