Carretera Austral – Chile


Carretera Austral, or the Southern Highway, runs through the deep Chilean Patagonia. We heard that the views are beautiful, the people are few and it was a must see if you can afford the time. Well, time we have…but sometimes it feels like we are always in a rush, always doing something.

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Anyway, the actual highway runs from Puerto Montt, last large populated town to Villa O’Higgins, a little village in the woods. It is a total of 1200 km and at points the road ends and you have to take a ferry.

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When I say highway, i dont mean 4 lanes each way type of highway…this “highway” is not even paved in places. But…after Bolivia we are not afraid of offroading anymore.

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The supply chain for important things like wine and coffee is unreliable on the Carretera, so the night before leaving Puerto Montt we stocked up on essentials. Hyein asked me to pick up some wine for 3 days…i think this will do. Not knowing the gasoline situation on the road, we filled up to the brim both of our tanks and both spare cans. The car packed and ready for the South.

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The first night we drove 30 minutes of Puerto Montt and camped in a really nice campground in the woods and by a river. Although it was raining, the pyromaniac within me couldn’t resist and we got a fire going. Finally, this is what i call camping – a fire in the woods, amazing wine, great food and a dry bed to sleep in.

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Discovered Hyein’s favourite wine – a late harvest dessert wine. Its like the nectar of gods, sweet and tasty.

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Not sure what is going on here or why this is in the blog?

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Yup, that is our Hodori in a ditch.

SHIT! Dont worry, before i explain the whole thing – WE ARE OKAY!

So, after a nice breakfast we drove out of the campground and headed back to the main road. It was raining and another car was going in the opposite direction. The road was narrow and when i was passing them i drove off the road a bit and into a ditch. We tried to get out but it was so wet and the ditch so deep that it was only making it worse. We ended up skidding to a halt.

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It doesn’t look too bad from this angle, but the whole right side (passenger’s) is in a ditch and the whole car is sitting on top of dirt. The wheels barely have any traction.

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You can actually see the freshly moved dirt that our Hodori started leveling with the underside of the car.

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This is where it actually looks pretty bad. The grass and dirt come up so high that you cannot see the wheels at all, the doors obviously dont open and the dirt comes up half way up the door.

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Oh and yeah…we hit a tree stump while skidding.

First reaction was – are we okay? Yes – everyone completely unhurt.

Second reaction – F***********CK, why did i do this to Hodori and ourselves?

Third through 30th reaction or about 10 minutes – f****CK, C****CK, SH***T, BA***LS all to myself and not out loud.

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Anyway the people who were driving the other way stopped and gave me a lift back to the campground where we saw the manager and his truck. By this point i was thinking that we can just get a tow rope and pull it out.

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After calming down and taking a better look, we realized that pulling it out might not be a good idea. There were so many rocks and roots stuck in the undercarriage that we might damage something by pulling the car.

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So, we set out to digging. I had a little shovel, that i brought mostly for burying human cakes in the wild, but it would do in a real emergency. The other guys drove to a nearby ranger station to get another shovel.

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More digging, a solid hour of just shoveling dirt and huge rocks from under the car, clearing the wheels, the shocks and the springs.

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More people stopped by to help out, we got a little Suzuki for pulling duty and i was able to open the back enough to get our yank strap out. I was hoping that we would never need to use it, but glad that we brough it along.

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Just look at everyone’s rain jackets – they are completely wet. Yes, people got out of their cars and help out for all this time even when it was raining and very cold.

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There was so many roots in the dirt we had to first chainsaw the ground.

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Remember that tree stump that made a dent on the way in? Well there was no way to get out without having to cut it off. By this point it is becoming a full rescue mission with chainsaws, 4 cars and 10 people.

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By this point it has been over 2 hours of non-stop digging, pushing, clearing and moving rocks. I’m glad I needed to work, because standing around would just make think about all the possible things that we could have broken. By working hard, i didn’t have time to worry, only one goal in mind – get our Hodori out of the ditch.

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I  think my exhaustion is starting to show on my face.

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With enough dirt and rocks cleared, we tried to pull Hodori out. The Suzuki alone, was not getting it done. So 4 guys helped by pushing in the front.

Counting down: “One, two, three!” or i think it might have been in Spanish…so lets stick to the facts – “Uno, dos, tres!” And i actually felt the car being picked up. This is no Civic that they are pushing – tis a fully loaded Land Cruiser. And i actually saw the front end go up a few inches as the lifted it out of the hole.

Suzuki giving the final tug and we were out. Well, almost. We could climb out by ourselves, so we filled in the ditch where our wheels used to be, built a little ramp and Suzuki, now pulling from the front – we were finally out on the road.

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Obligatory group photo of everyone who helped out.

Thank you so much for all your hard work, we couldn’t have done this without you!

“Muchas gracias por todo!”

Remember all that wine we bought the night before? You thought that was a bit much right?

Well, we gave all the wine away to say thank you for their hard work.

It was raining, it was cold and people spent 3 hours in the dirt helping us – humans are AWESOME!

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Assessing the damage. Mostly just twigs, dirt, rocks and grass here.

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Shit, there is some damage that we won’t be able to just wash off.

But it is just a flesh wound…we can still go on.

Exhausted physically and emotionally we went back to Puerto Montt got a hotel room with a hot shower and a nice bed and just relaxed for the rest of the day.

We knew that everything is going to be okay and in the future we will look on this moment with a smile. So Hyein was in charge of documenting the whole rescue process, thanks Jagi!

Next morning we stopped by a garage to change the oil and examine the damage. The rear window is actually not that bad, the window itself is unharmed and the weather seal is still intact. Under the car we took of all the metal protection plates, cleaned the dirt and rocks and examine everything. Seems like the plates did their job – nothing broken that i could find. We will find out with time.DSC04445

You know the real kicker of this story? We came to this place to look at a 3000 year old tree, but because of the weather left in the morning without looking. After we got the car out of the ditch, one of the guys told us that we crashed right in front o the 3000 year old tree. I’m glad we didn’t have to cut it down to get our car out. The lighter colored tree is the one.

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Relieved, we set out back on the Carretera. About an hour after Puerto Montt we had to take the first ferry. They run constantly and take about 20 minutes to get to the other side.

 

 

 

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We had enough time to just take a selfie and eat some sandwiches. This ferry cost us

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The second ferry is much larger and takes over 5 hours to sail from Hornopiren to Caleta Gonzalo, cost about 35,000 Chilean pesos ($50usd).

When we got to town and saw the huge line of cars waiting for the ferry, we thought we would have to spend a day just waiting for the ferry. Other bloggers suggested that you make a reservation, that way you are guaranteed a spot. hahaha….reservations, thats not how we travel. We just show up and see what we can do Smile

I tried to buy a ticket but was told that i cannot. A guy came up to us and started speaking really fast, of course in Spanish.  All i could get from him is that i CANNOT buy a ticket… he kept saying other things, but i was not getting it. He looked around at other people and proclaimed aggressively that I can’t understand Spanish. Another gentleman decided to step in and without a word of English he explained that i had to go back to the car line and wait there until i get a number …with that number i can then buy a ticket for the ferry.

You know why i understood him? No, i didn’t magically learn the language in a second…no, he was calm, spoke slowly and used the most basic vocabulary. THAT IS IT…no magic to it. Turns out that when got back in the car line, the same first guy came to us and gave us a number. He was in a much nicer mood and spoke much slower this time.

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The ferry was completely packed with barely any room to walk between the cars. We got the food out of the fridge, plugged in our laptop and connected it to the car speakers and watched movies for the whole time. It was awesome, like being in a movie theater.

By the time we got to Caleta Gonzalo it was 1am, so we parked near the ferry and went to sleep.

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After Caleta Gonzalo is where all the fun starts. The road itself switches between paved and “ripio” (packed dirt with rocks). And the views are amazing. In previous posts I’ve mentioned the feeling of satiation with the beautiful landscapes, that only places like the Salar de Uyuni can stir the souls of these wearied travelers.

Well, here the views are worth the long drive and  the accident. You can see forests, mountains, valleys, rivers, landslides and their devastating effects.

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When the clouds clear a bit you can see the rivers of the most amazing blue color. We asked why the water is blue…the answer was hilarious: “Glaciers are blue, water come from glacier ….water blue” I’m pretty sure there is SOME truth in that statement, but not exactly correct. We will find out more in the next blog when we actually go and visit a glacier and see…is it actually blue?

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At night we camped at a parking lot next to a trail-head. We weren’t alone, as some hitchhikers could not get a ride and decided to camp right next to us. They used our Hodori as wind block, i’m not sure if it helped much against the ferocious winds.

Oh, yeah about the hitchhikers. Without a hint of exaggeration, i think we saw over 100 hitchhikers on the side of the Carretera. I’ve done some hitchhiking in Alaska myself, so trust me when i say this, I know how they feel when they see a car coming. Some were stoic and just smiled, some pleaded by waving hands, some were actually creative – a guy painted the name of the town on his chest and would pick up his shirt to reveal their desired destination. We couldn’t fit anyone, so we just waived and drove off. They didn’t know that our car doesn’t have space, all they see is a huge SUV pass by without stopping. Still, the feeling of guilt was following us for a long time on the Carretera.

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The nature is very similar to what i experienced in Alaska almost 10 years ago.

A sea of green and sky of white.

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Little prince…or princess in this case, examining her domain.

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Spent the third night in a little forest by the side of the road. The misty sky distorts perception of time into one long and unchanging day.

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Next morning, the gods were on our side and decided to spare some sunshine and blue skies for us.

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Just before the little village of Puerto Rio Tranquillo, the road takes you by the shore of the bluest lake in the world.

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Name of the lake – Lago General Carrera. The place was sooooo cool that we….we…who have seen EVERYTHING…stopped and gawked for 30 minutes.

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Come on…i know you like this too – look you got snow-capped mountains, yellow mediterranean hills, green shrubs and bluest lake.

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In case you dont believe that we actually drove and just stole all the photos from some other blog – GPS proof.

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Driving over the bridge located at a point where two large lakes meet.

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Oh yes…these are the people who explained to us why the water is blue.

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We didn’t drive all the way to the end of Carretera Austral, because it is a dead end for vehicles. There is no way to cross to Argentina from Villa O’Higgins by car. All the hitchhikers are going to the end, because they can just hike to Argentina. We turned East after the village of Cochrane and headed for Argentina.

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Crossed from Chile to Argentina without a problem. Couldn’t use the US passport because I would need to pay $160 to enter Argentina. Did a swap and unlike Bolivia, no one complained about the absence of an exit stamp. I’m ever more convinced of the corruption at Peru-Bolivia border.

Lets sum up the drive.

1) Was it worth it? Yes, a resounding yes. If you are not convinced look through the second part of this post again. Repeat step 1 until convinced.

2) Was dirt road annoying? Yes, the first 15 minutes, then you forget about it. Its about 50% paved now.

3) Was gas available everywhere? Yes, we did not have any problems.

3 Comment

  1. Sean Ramos says: Reply

    Beautiful photos and journey, mates! I’m so glad you find a great team when in that rut. In Spanish the term for that kind of killer team is equipazo. Thanks for the vocab lesson on burying human cakes…

    1. irazinkov@gmail.com says: Reply

      Hey Sean, thanks. I hope i wont have to use that word in South America anymore. Our Spanish is very limited to: 1) food 2)driving and directions and 3) numbers a.k.a prices of gas and food.

  2. […] Oh shoot…the ice is actually blue…maybe those people who talked about the water color were right? Refer previous post – http://www.nomadicyear.com/2016/03/carretera-australchile/ […]

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