Carretera Austral — Part 2

Route: Hornopiren – Chaiten – Puyuhuapi – Villa Manihuales – Coyhaique

The two ferries from Hornopiren dropped us off to the next stretch of the Carretera Austral. There is a restaurant/camping area at this point that looked very nice, but we wanted some more mileage for the day (Simons comment: we had only gone 10 miles from the ferry to the next). The engraving of a large puma on the restaurant’s sign had me imagining wild cats stalking in the dense rainforest on either side of the unpaved road. Right when we were starting to look around for possible wild camp spots, we came upon a national forest campsite. We were more than happy to make use of the camping facilities Covered picnic table — woohoo! There were two other hitchhikers camping there as well: a free-spirited American — who later earned the nickname “Rainbows” for telling us “See you in the rainbows” when we bid him goodbye — and a Dutch Man who worked in sustainable farming. They offered to share their lentils with us for dinner, so we offered them pasta with carrots, caramelised onions, and garlic. They politely declined, blaming a garlic allergy. Later we found out they only eat superfoods (no pasta) and avoid onions and garlic because they ignite desire. Who knew?

Rainbows kindly gave us the weather forecast for the week. The next day would be sunny, rain the day after, and then a whole week of sun! I expected to spend the entire cycle South to be in cold rain, so this was great to hear. In the morning, we went on a waterfall hike to take advantage of the good weather and prime campsite location. It was lovely and a great way to do something physical off the bike. Rainbows gave us the brilliant idea to spend the rainy day in the hot springs 45 miles away. We headed that way, sleeping in an abandoned shed along the way.

Our plan was to arrive at the hot springs in the morning, spend a good portion of the day relaxing our muscles and then camp at a nearby campgrounds in the Pumalin National Park. The first part of our plan went very smoothly, but when we were heading toward the campsite, a ranger told us the park was closed for the season and camping was not allowed. Bummer! We went to by Rocklets (similar to M&Ms) to prepare for a night camping in the rain when we met a musician from Spain – Roberto. He said he had been invited by Mr. Tompkins, the owner of the National Park and inventor of the brand “The North Face”, to play music at the end-of-the-season party for the park staff. As luck would have it, Mr. Tompkins was letting him sleep in a house for the park’s construction workers and Roberto thought he could extend the invitation to us. It felt amazing to sleep indoors with a wood-burning stove. This was also the first time we thought to toast bread on our trip — amazing discovery!

As we cycled further South, the road alternated between smooth-ish gravel roads, silky pavement, and horrible large construction rock. We wanted to be in Coyhaique (capital city of the region) for Simon’s birthday, so we had a few extra days to kill before getting there. This meant we took a slow and relaxed pace. We spent another day hiking all of the trails at the Ventisquero Colgante (Hanging Glacier) Park. We discovered all of them led to different look-out points to see the same thing — a giant glacier with a waterfall that drops from it’s base to the lake below. The 2 mile hike took you close enough to hear ice chunks breaking off the glacier, but the laguna hike was the most scenic. Simon wasn’t interested in hiking that one until the idea of running it was proposed – ha! I love him (Simon’s comment: If you make it a challenge I tend to rise to it). I also loved trying out my new trail running shoes and they passed the no sprained ankle test with flying colors.

The next night we found ourselves at an epic campsite. It was next to a river with a fire pit and loads of dead wood lying around. Up to this point, we have wanted to remain stealthy when we wild camp, but we couldn’t resist! Simon made impressively quick work at building the fire and we laid next to it on a blanket under the stars – very romantic. (Simon’s comment: We also paid to stay in a comfortable cabin for the night after because we bumped into a local who told us it was going to pour down rain again. It didn’t materialise, which shows how unpredictable the weather is here. The roof wasn’t necessary but we made use of the bbq pit that evening and the next morning. We’re now hooked on campfires!)

We were struggling to think of how to stretch the remaining 150 km to Coyhaique in 5 days when it would normally take 2-3. Luckily, another cyclist told us about a casa de cyclistas in Villa Manihuales. We had a hunch there was a casa in a nearby town when a group of 6 cyclists passed us going North (Simons comment: shouting “do you want to join the caravan of happiness!?”, cycling on and giggling like children). When we arrived at the casa, Kurt opened the door! We had met him at the casa de cyclistas in La Paz, Bolivia. The other cyclist there, Mike from England, was traveling the minimal gear set-up like Kurt. Mountain bike, no panniers, with a frame bag, handlebar bag, and bag on the back rack — could be good for a future ride, eh Simon? We happily spent a day there making use of the oven and wifi in town. Great food and great company.

We set off again thinking this time we couldn’t prolong arriving in Coyhaique any longer. That is, until we passed a sign reading “Camping, Hot Showers, Organic Food, Homemade Bread, Internet” Say no more!! We turned down the road and found ourselves at Nacho’s Organic Farm (Simon’s comment: I must admit I did complain that it was 2km down the road, but thankfully Olivia gave me a look that said “keep going it will be worth it”. And so it proved). Nacho gave us the tour of the greenhouse and bunkhouse for campers, both of which he built with his wife. He offered to bundle meals in with our stay and that night’s BBQ was the best food on the trip thus far. The vegetables were freshly picked that day and the lamb grew up on their property. As if this wasn’t enough, he invited us on a boat trip the next day. Nacho’s friend, who worked on a lake, gave us a tour of a salmon farm and then took us to a secluded beach for another BBQ. We certainly got our meat fix that day, especially since we ate dinner of sausages and smoked salmon with them.

We finally made it to Coyhaique with one day to spare to make preparations for Simon’s “birthday duvet day”. Weeks of camping certainly make you appreciate things like supermarkets and warm beds! (Simon’s comment: we went into the supermarket and bought everything we wanted. Turning thirty never tasted so sweet!) Now we will head an additional 200 km South before cutting East into Argentina and on to the next chapter of our adventure.

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