Back to Chile,
and the Camino Austral
-- Story by Erin --
Sunday, Jan. 13, 2002 - Chile Chico is a quaint and quiet
little border town that shares the big lake of Lago Buenos Aires (Argentine side)/Lago
General Carrera (on the Chilean side). The lake is surrounded by mountains, many with
snow. We found a nice little hospedaje (guesthouse) on the edge of town and stayed the
night. The next day, while waiting to catch the 4:30p.m. ferry across the lake, we
explored the town on foot. It consists of one short main street that is paved and a fort
on the hill behind town. We were not feeling energetic enough to climb up to the fort, it
was windy and cloudy anyway, so we spent the day chatting with the locals. The two and a
half hour ferry crossing was quite rough and the bikes got soaked but managed to stay
upright. On the other side we were the first off the ferry, as usual, and made our way up
through a mountain pass which was quite rough, under construction, and about to be paved.
Luckily for us it was only 35 kilometers long before we hit glorious pavement!
The scenery in Chile is so dramatically different from
Argentina at this latitude. Chile has big dramatic mountains and everything is green. The
Argentine side drops off to golden pampa plains on the other side of the Andes. Where the
pavement began we stopped for a few minutes to take off some layers of clothing. Although
fairly cloudy, the view from this point of the Cerro Castillo, or Castillo mountain, was
just great. You could even see one of the 3 glaciers that surround it. A few minutes later
we see 3 headlights heading toward us coming up from the south on the paved road. We
instantly knew that it had to be Jason, Marcel and Sancho. We went out into the street and
flagged them down. What timing! We were all very excited to see each other. The final ride
that evening was a leisurely 100 kilometer stretch of paved, winding, heavenly road
through fabulous scenery. The mountains where big and rugged, the valleys green with small
and tidy farm houses and the fields were full of cattle. We arrived in the town of
Coyhaique and again found paradise at the end of a great day.
Another traveler, Chris Bright, had recommended we stay at a
place called the Alburque Las Salamandras which was just south of town. Run by a lovely
Spanish couple, Santiago and Chus, it is very scenic log cabin-style place in the woods,
complete with hammocks and a swing hanging from the trees, a few llamas (alpacas to be
specific) that liked to entertain us with their evening romantic escapades, and a nice
little river nearby for swimming in. Its one of those places that you arrive intending to
stay for one night and end up staying a week! Coyhaique is the largest town in the
area, some 35,000 people and its a useful place to just hang out or to do some minor work
on the bikes (still trying to sort out the problem with Marcel's bike -- we later figured
out it was his CDI unit).
During the week, we were also joined by Michael, a German
travelling on a Transalp, and later Wolfgang, another German travelling on a R100GSPD.
Santi loved all the bikes and hopes more bikers come to Los Salamandras.
On our last day there, Friday, Jan 18th, Chris
and the boys went tubing down the Rio Simpson with our motorcycle inner-tubes. They
had an entertaining 2-hour ride down the rapids of the river until they got cold later in
the evening. Dinner that night was at the Casino de los Bomberos (literally, a restaurant
run out of the back of the local firehouse) where we had awesome congrio fish!!
After 4 days in Coyhaique we decided it was time to move on,
otherwise we would all end up permanent fixtures at Las Salamandras. Our next destination
was the Quelat National Park and the Ventisquero Colgante (Hanging Glacier). Another
traveler, a German bicyclist we met in Chile Chico, highly recommended staying at the camp
ground there and taking the walk up to the glacier. The ride from Coyhaique started out
great with about 100 kilometers of beautifully paved road and great scenery through
mountain gorges. After about 100 kms the paved road ended and the ripio (gravel) road
began again. Oh well, it was rough going but the scenery was still very spectacular.
Only 40 kms or so on the ripio and I got a flat rear tire.
We moved my bike off to the side, but there were no trees about and the sun was glaring
down on us. Chris, anxious to use his new air hose took on the challenge with gusto
to fix it. We managed to get the tube out of the tire without much trouble but could
nott find a puncture anywhere on the tube or the tire. We pulled out the new spare
tube and slapped it in. The new air hose, which attaches to one of the spark plugs and
works off the starter motor, was slow to fill up the tube. It was never going to seal the
bead on the tire. Chris was about to take the tire back to the nearest town when "the
boys" arrived to help save the day. We pumped up the tire using the air hose on
Peters R80GS, which runs off the second cylinder, and it managed to fill it up just
fine. But, low and behold we discovered it was leaking air through the valve. After
pulling out that new tube, we discovered a small hole near the valve. Finally, Jason
donated his rear tube to the cause and finally, 3 hours later, we managed to get the tire
Saturday, Jan. 19, 2002 - The recommendation was definitely
worth the visit to the Hanging Glacier. The camping area was nicely secluded and well
maintained by the park rangers. The showers however were a real challenge as their was no
hot water, just cold glacial water to wash yourself off! The next day we took the walk up
to the glacier viewing spot. It took us nearly 2 hours to get to the viewing area, and we
were all pretty knackered! The glacier is really no longer hanging but rather
perched on the side of a mountain. Several waterfalls cascade off the glacier and icefalls
occasionally with a dramatic crash on the rocks and into the lake below.
Monday, Jan. 21, 2002 - Traveling further north on the
Camino Austral we all decided we wanted to try out the world-class rafting on the
Futaleufú River. We had heard they had class 4 and 5 rapids there and another kayak
instructor we met in Coyhaique compared it to the Zambizi river in Africa.
Along the way that day, we finally met up with a fellow
traveler, Chris Bright, who was currently helping to lead a Pancho Villa tour group. He
and several of the members of the group stopped to have a chat with us. A few even knew
who we were from our website -- Dan Cohen from New York pulled up and said "hello
Erin and Chris!" We share the same dealer back home (Lindners), and Dan shot
some video of us to use on a program back in the states. The group was made up of
mostly Americans and Canadians so we didnt have a language barrier for
It was good to finally meet Chris Bright in person as we had
been swapping emails for just over 2 years. Both Chris' used to swap stories/advise on
each of their R100GSPDs. Señor Bright cruised over to Santiago to meet his group
and use a company Kawasaki KLR for the 4 week Pancho Villa Patagonia Ride -- a 4 week run
from Santiago down to Ushuaia and back to Santiago, mostly on gravel roads.
In Futaleufú we searched for rafting companies to check
out. Surprisingly there were only 2 and a third that also did kayaking. We intended to go
rafting the next day, but we woke up to rain, and lots of it. It rained all day and we had
no shelter other than our leaky tent. Chris, Marcel and I spent about 4 hours in a nice
little café/artists shop in town and drank good "machine" coffee (not Nescafe
like the rest of Chile) and tea while perusing lovely picture books of Chile. That evening
Marcel whipped up a fast tuna and rice dish and we were all in our tents by 9pm. Sleep
didnt come easy as the rain continued to pelt the tent and I woke up every half hour
to dab at the puddles on the floor of the tent with our dirty laundry.
Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2002 - If the sun had been shining when
we woke we might have stayed an extra day. But, it was cloudy and misty and we were all
pretty tired of being wet at that point. We packed up and left town, sad to not have done
the rafting. On the up side, after we crossed the border back into Argentina the gravel
road ended after only 50 kms or so. Glad to be on pavement once again we pointed our
collective noses in the direction of Bariloche, the famous Argentine mountain lakeside
resort city. The boys decided to call it a day however in El Bolson, about 120 kms south
of Bariloche. Chris and I pushed on.
Typical view along
the Camino Austral
Salamandras, 2km south of Coyhaique
Meet the owner's:
Santi and Chus
the Gore-Tex lining in my boots
"real" river crossing -- he did great!
Would you let these
overlanders into your home?!?
Marcel, Erin, Chris Bright, Chris, Jason, and Sancho = 2 Americans, 2
Swiss, and a couple of Englishman -- yikes!!
contingent: Erin, Dan, and Chris (with C.Bright giving his best from the back)
We later found out that Dan unfortunately broke his leg 2 days later
Waterlogged in Futaleufú