Carretera Austral

We have spent a lot of time down south. Now it is time to slowly move north again. The main question is which way to take. Should we go up the famous RN 40 and stay in Argentina or do we want to cross over into Chile and take the Carretera Austral? So far we didn’t read too much about the southern parts of Chile as there was no time. A planning session is needed for one evening over a glass of wine utilizing modern and more traditional tools. ;-)


In the end we decide to cross over to Chile on Paso Rodolfo Roballos after stopping for a night at Estancia Suyai at Lago Pueyrredon. The way to the estancia is a little adventure in its own. We passe a landscape that is completely different from what we have seen so far. A bit like a moon landscape. The campsite is very green and a nice change to most camps we have seen so far in Argentina.


Continuing from here up to the pass and down into Chile is fantastic as well. On the Argentinian side we drive through dry land with amazing rock sculptures and mountains. After crossing into Chile the scenery changes completely. Dry and dusty stretches of land suddenly turn into green and yellow forest with large rivers and lakes. Lot’s of water on this side of the Andes. Argentina on the other side only gets the wind but not the rain from the Pacific Ocean. In fact, this whole landscape reminds us a lot of Switzerland or the southern parts of Germany...

While the road can be (and in fact is) really tough and we are not making much progress in one day we still very much enjoyed driving it and the ever changing landscape that surrounds us. A good place to camp is Camping “Las Torres Del Simpson” about 30 minutes north of Coyhaique on the tar road. Nacho is the name of the owner and he originally is from Madrid/Spain but living in this beautiful spot of land for more than 11 years with his Chilean wife Sandra. The site is fairly new and they are still working on building the facilities. Their main business however is growing organic vegetables. Although our initial plan was to relax for a couple of hours in the sun drinking beer instead we get a very warm welcome including a round of Mate, home made cake and an introduction into organic farming. In addition he gives us a few good tips what we must not miss while traveling further north. As it turns out later his advise was great! :-)


The next day we continue our drive north. The Carretera Austral is crossing the Parque National Queulat. Our first stop on the way is the 2.5 hour walk through the so called Bosque Encantado (enchanted forest) up to a glacier lake.

In our guidebook it says that more often than not it rains here. This you can clearly see by the fast growing and very green vegetation. We are very lucky again to have a fine day with blue skies and no wind. On the way up crossing various small rivers and wooden bridges we are busy taking many pictures of the enchanted forest. After about an hour of sometimes steep uphill hiking the forest opens up and you can see the spectacular view of the glacier and various waterfalls. 20 minutes more and we are up at the glacier lake.


While this glacier is one of the smaller ones we have seen so far the park has another attraction: the hanging glacier “Ventisquero Colgante” about an hour further north of the Bosque Encantado. While most of the walks we can do are free here we need to pay an entrance fee. We can camp here as well on spacious and very nicely done sites. Different to what the Lonely Plane states the camp site actually does have hot showers. A nice surprise that we happily accept. ;-)


As we are already a bit late for walking all the way up to the closest viewpoint we enjoy a cold beer and the remaining sun shine. First thing next morning we cross the massive wooden hanging bridge and walk to one of the lower view points first. During high season they offer boat trips from there but not at this time of the year. In the back we can see the hanging glacier.


While still being on our way up to the other view point the earth suddenly starts shaking followed by thunder-like noise. No, this is not a thunderstorm or an earthquake - this must have been a massive piece of ice breaking away from the glacier. As we are up there and much closer to it we can also see pieces falling off. While still spectacular it was not comparable to what must have been falling down earlier. For us it is the first time that we see such a hanging glacier. Very different from the others we have seen so far.


Just a bit more than a couple of hours drive later we change the hiking gear for our swimming suits on a nice, warm and sunny afternoon. We have arrived at Termas Naturales El Sauce. Just 16 km west off  La Junta we find this small terma which is not at all touristic. Rustic pools with hot and very cold water is what we get combined with apparently very healthy mud that we are supposed to put on our body. Great source for funny pictures but very enjoyable and very relaxing. ;-) In fact we are very lucky that they are open as not many people come here outside the season. If you find it closed just drive back 6 km and turn left. This is where the owner lives and you can negotiate with him to open it for you.


This is what Lucy did, a woman we meet staying there for a week on her own. She lives in the area and has problems with her back. As doing the hot/cold bathing combined with the mud helped her with a knee problem before she decided to try it again. She tells us what to do and how to make best usage of this natural resources. We share our wine with her talking a few hours sitting next to the hot pools in the evening which gives us very interesting insight into how people live here!


On the same day a group of Japanese arrives with a big film camera. As it turns out they are making a promotion movie for this region as one of the Japanese is living here. He wants to build up some sort of eco tourism. For this a friend of his, apparently a famous actor, is helping out. We should have taken a video of them recording the different scenes as it was a great show for us as well.

The next morning it is raining a bit but we take another round in the hot tub before we continue our journey on this tiny little street west to a little village called Puerto Raul Marin Balmaceda. Not so long ago this road did not exist and the only way to get here was via boat or little planes. Despite the rain clouds hanging low the drive is very enjoyable. The landscape is again very different from everything we have seen so far. Especially the various bridges we find “interesting”. Of course they are save to use but they don’t exactly look this way by European standards. ;-)


About 10 km before we reach the village we also need to use a ferry across one of the rivers. We arrive at 12:58 pm just in time to get the last boat as they go for lunch until 2:30 pm after that. Despite the fact it rains all morning it turns out to be a very nice afternoon. We therefore decide to camp in the dunes outside of the village and take a long walk along the endless beaches. Watching lots of birds, collecting stones and drift wood. Very relaxing.


People coming here typically take a boat tour as you can experience a lot of wild life. We decide not to do this and instead walk down the beach. Despite this we are again very lucky and can watch dolphins twice very close to the beach. Once in the afternoon and later on next to where we are camping. With the high tide the dolphins are hunting very close to the beach. Really amazing and something we have not seen before.


As the sun sets a lot of birds fly towards the ocean again. We see big groups of Pelicans for example flying in formation towards the setting sun. In combination with the hunting dolphins, a great sun set and a nice cuba libre a great ending to a fantastic day.


During the night the calm ocean is changing gears and becomes a bit wilder. For us this means a bit of a shaky night as well. Parked in a fairly sheltered spot we still experience the power of the winds of the Pacific Ocean first hand. Combined with the rain we decide to slowly make our way again to the Argentinian border first thing in the morning.


As we want to cross over the small river again with the ferry we have to wait almost three hours. Not because we missed the slot, simply because of bad weather. Nothing we can do about it. Very interesting fact is that it is completely for free. You show up, they pick you up (if they are not for lunch) and you continue your journey. We think it is probably still much cheaper for them compared to building a bridge. Curious fact as well is that on one end of the 2 minute trip we need to get off with our car in reverse order. This is not a big issue on the end with the short street leading towards the ferry as it is straight and wide. However, on the other end it has a curve and is very narrow. One wrong turn and we could check out if our car can actually swim without the ferry. Of course we manage without any problems.

Passing over from Chile on Paso Futaleufu into Argentina we experience the different climate zones first hand. In Chile we still have low hanging clouds with rain. Pretty much at the boarder to Argentina the rain gets less and less, clouds opening up to sunshine. While we enjoy this change it has a great impact to vegetation east of the Andes. The further we drive east the dryer the land gets. Even in Esquel, not even 100 km from Chile, it is very dry and we don’t see the very green stretches of land we saw just an hour ago. Something very interesting for us, especially if you drive through these different zones in a matter of an hour or so.


Another thing we find very amazing are again the cyclists heading either south or north on the Carretera Austral. Large stretches we only had gravel road producing massive amounts of dust. However, if we would do one part of South America by bike this actually might be an option. The scenery is stunning and much more interesting compared to cycling along the RN 40 in Argentina.

We leave the Carretera Austral with good memories. In fact, we are thinking of coming back here. Next time maybe with our own bicycles. Let’s see ... ;-)

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