The Carretera Austral: The most beautiful road on Earth

After a relatively short, but beautiful ride we arrived in Cochrane, a small, sleepy town lying in amongst the mountains. The air was fresh, cool and clean with not a breath of wind in sight. Whilst parked on the side of the road looking for a hostel, we were approached by a friendly, kind-looking lady who introduced herself as Trudy. She told us that she had just started up a hostel, with ample parking and really wanted us to pop in and have a look. The place was beautiful, warm and homely. She had just recently inherited the house from her estranged husband, and being alone, she had refurbished it and converted it into a hostel for the sake of company. We loved our stay at ‘Hostal Central’ and thoroughly enjoyed Trudy’s company and hospitality, we will be sure to post a review with all the details as soon as possible.

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Our first view of the Carretera Austral

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Our bikes parked at Hostal Central, Cochrane

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Matthew washed dishes and our washing dries over the stove

While in Cochrane, we made a day trip out to the tiny, quirky town of Tortel. The road was once again… beautiful… We traveled past snowy mountains, dense forest and jungle, and peaceful, shady meadows. Through one of these roads through dense, remote and unpopulated jungle, I had been riding at an obviously awesome speed along the empty dirt roads, when out of nowhere, what was standing in the road but a small ginger kitten, looking straight at me with no intention of getting out of the way. Now remember there are no people for miles on end at this point, so seeing a cute ginger kitten in the middle of the jungle, staring up at my war-machine, which was rapidly approaching the speed of sound, was confusing to say the least. I think both of us were equally as confused. At this point, the thought goes through your mind: Do I swerve? Do I try and just brake? Maybe I should do what everyone has always taught me to do: Save myself, keep on going and just hope it gets out of the way. I considered all of the above before deciding promptly: “Nope. I can’t kill a kitten” I just didn’t have it in me. I went with the ‘brake hard and hold on tight and try not to shit yourself’ option. Luckily the little kitten woke up and bounced back out of the road and into the jungle, never to be seen again.

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Napping on the way to Tortel

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Very proud to be riding this legend of a road on a legend of a bike

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There are so many waterfalls on this road that you eventually stop noticing. This is one of the bigger ones

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Arriving in Tortel

Tortel is a lumber town, and what makes it so special is that the whole place is completely devoid of roads. The whole town is made up of a series of wooden walkways, either on stilts over the water, or on the sides of steep hills with stairs to match. Only recently, was a road built into the town, previously it was only accessible by boat, so its authenticity still resounds.

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This town has no roads, only walkways on the water

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Everywhere in Chile is a tsunami danger zone.. walking into Tortel

 

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Tortel

Next stop up was Puerto Tranquilo, the home of the marble cables. Now, you’re going to get pretty tired of the saying this, but the road there… wow… The Carretera Austral was fast becoming the most amazing road I have ever had the pleasure to lay two wheels on, and this stretch was one of the best. The road traveled alongside a turquoise-blue, glacier-melt river, in-between snowy mountains, and on bridges in-between multiple lakes, with amazing views out over the whole glorious mess of it. I don’t think we ever actually wanted to reach our destination for the night the whole time we were on this road, riding it was always just so much better than a any destination could be.

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This is basically what you ride next to for days

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The road to Puerto Tranquillo

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I’ve had worse views on a ride

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Our lunch spot, not too shabby

 

In Puerto Tranquilo it had been suggested that we stay with a local guy by the name of Manuel. Manuel had a house on the shore and was in charge of all the boats heading out to the Marble Caves, so it was said he would also get us a cheap trip. After just arriving in town, Megan told the police at a roadblock, in broken Spanish, that she was drinking white wine from her Camelback whilst riding. Luckily we didn’t land up in jail, but the cops thought it was hilarious and merely waved us through and directed us to Manuel’s house. The stay didn’t promise to be fancy, and we didn’t expect it to be. The plan was to camp in his backyard for a small fee, that we had arranged beforehand. The suggestion turned out to be a bit of a lemon. Manuel, although very welcoming, was a bit lecherous, always trying to get Megan to stay and just being way too ‘friendly’. He also ended up charging us double what we agreed on, we paid the normal rate for a boat tour, and the awkwardness was tangible when we had to share his small bathroom and kitchen in his tiny house. Overall it was actually a pleasant stay, but we were happy to hit the road again.

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Puerto Tranquillo

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The Marble caves

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More marble caves

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The water was amazingly clear

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The place is covered with interesting little islands

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Boating it for a change

We had been recommended another place along the Carretera after this, and we wanted to give it a shot. The place was ‘Camping Los Torres Del Simpson’, and although slightly out of the way, seemed worth it from what we had heard, and what an understatement that was. After a long, cold, wet ride we arrived at the campsite. Situated in a beautiful valley, next to the Simpson river, and surrounded by massive, imposing, “Jurassic-Park-old” mountains that shoot straight up into the sky. They end up looking like massive green walls because of just how staggeringly steep they are. It was a very humbling landscape.

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Torres Del Simpson and its walls of mountains

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our home for a few days: the peacefulness of this place was a rare experience

Las Torres Del Simpson was definitely one of the best places we have camped on the trip. The campsite is in a beautifully built central area with awesome amenities. It is based on his small, family-run organic farm where Nacho and his wife Sandra showed us how to grow organic vegetables in a greenhouse, and raise sheep amongst other things. We were even welcomed into his home, where he taught us how to properly prepare and drink Mate as well as all the tradition behind it. We had such an amazing, relaxing time we didn’t want to leave. We got to walk and play with his two lambs he keeps as pets, and we spent some time getting drunk on Chilean wine around the fire and playing Pink Floyd together on the two guitars he keeps. We were sent off with a delicious, hot, home made bread from Sandra which I’m proud to say, didn’t even make it off the farm due to it’s scrumptiousness. What a stay. Anybody going through the area needs to stay at this awesome, kind, and welcoming place, definitely a highlight of the trip.

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Taking the lambs for a walk

 

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Everything is just lush and green as far as the eye can see

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Meg feeds the lambs

With a pile of suggestions from Nacho, and two new Chilean Maps complete with crib-notes we headed out on the Carretera once more, the ever-changing beauty of the road welcoming us with a boatload more in store

Part 2 of the Carretera Austral to follow shortly!

Escaping the wind: The quest to find the Carretera Austral

The snowy mountains, forests, fresh air and glaciers of Ushuaia, Torres del Paine and El Chalten and Calafate were a great reprise from the windy, flat, dreary pampas of Argentinian Patagonia. But after leaving El Chalten and hitting the fabled Ruta 40 we were once again in the thick of it… and worse than ever. We travelled North on Ruta 40 in Argentina through some of the worst winds I could imagine. To give you an idea, the wind will blow at over 100km/hr all day, all night, for weeks on end without reprise. It is absolutely maddening, with a constant noise in your ears you cannot put anything down, your wallet blows away, your helmet and gloves will blow off the bike and down the road, your lunch will blow out of the pannier lid and into the dirt and in one incident that just summarised it all: I myself, at 100Kg was blown over with my fully packed motorcycle after what I believed to be a good fight against mother nature. Ironically, the reason I had stopped, and subsequently been blown off the bike, was that I was busy trying to start my GoPro in order to catch evidence of the wind that no-one would believe if you had to tell them.

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Our lunch stop on Ruta 40

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The open spaces in Patagonia just seem so massive

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Ruta 40

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The start of Ruta 40, this dirt section was amazing before the tar began

The Southern part of Ruta 40 was, to put it bluntly, horrible. Don’t do it. It is a flat, barren wasteland with a single boring tar road, for the most part at least. Well at least the road would be boring if you weren’t having to ride at 45 degree angles and lean left around right hand bends to fight the wind. A common sight along the side of the route is overlanding cyclists, themselves and their bikes lying flat on the ground after succumbing to the wind. We stopped for a few because they looked too similar to road kill to ignore, only to be begged for water and food from dry, chapped lips. Poor bastards. We helped where we could.

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My bike rests after losing my battle with the wind

 

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Meg showing off her Sen 20S bluetooth unit and GoPro pack

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The nothingness of tarred Ruta 40

This was the road that took us to Paso Roballos, a small, off-road mountain pass between Argentina and Chile, and a pass, which promised to hook up to the Carretera Austral on the other side of the Andes. Paso Roballos was itself magnificent. Packed with wildlife and stunning views it is not to be missed. If there wasn’t an ever-present gale it would also probably be a really nice road to ride. Instead we were leaning into the wind on loose gravel jeep-track, being pushed from one lane to the next before being pushed into a sand-bank or pebble mount on the side of the road. It was slow going and a constant battle through a beautiful landscape. We passed through the Argentinian ‘border post’ (read ‘hut’), and after asking if we could camp there we were denied and hastily shoed along to the Chilean post. The ride between border posts was a tense one, the wind became unimaginably worse and night was rolling in. The Chilean post was also small, yet bigger than the Argentine one. It was also run by the Cabeneros, Chile’s do-it-all police force who would prove to restore our faith in law enforcement at every encounter.

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Passo Roballos – the Chile side

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Meg letting her bike have a rest…

 

After a lot of begging and grovelling, the Cabeneros took pity on us and granted us permission to stay in an abandoned house nearby the border post. They even went so far as to make us coffee and tea, offer us food, and even give us control over their TV remote, which was useless absolutley to me. I couldn’t tell the difference between the seven different Chilean News stations at all, so I settled on the one with the most violence and car-chases for pure entertainment value. The wind had become far too strong to ride in and I fear it would have even destroyed our tent. I had never been in 160km/hr+ wind until that night, at one point I even had to hold my bike down by the handlebars as it lifted and threatened to blow away in a head-on wind. It was on the centre stand. Our efforts at collecting water were also thwarted by the wind as it blew any semblance of water straight out of the pot we were collecting it in. I had had enough; it was time to get out of this bloody wind. We got ready to sleep on an old, half broken bed in the building and were confronted with a terrifying sight, after the sun set, hundreds of spiders had made themselves known by perching all over the walls of the room, there were too many to count and they were all the same spider and the same size. We promptly moved our bed away from all the walls to the centre of the small room and covered our faces with our mosquito nets, tuning our sleeping bags into pseudo bivvy-bags. After the lights were out and we lay in darkness, Meg became restless, rolling and turning roughly on the already rickety, half-broken wooden bed.

A sound clip of the wind that night (USE HEADPHONES!)

 

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Spending the night with the Chilean Cabaneros

 

“Meg, stop being so rough! You’re going to break the bed!”

“Who cares Poodle!? Its already half broken and this house is abandoned”

“OK fine, break it, we’ll just sleep on the floor…”

 

I have never experienced Megan remain so still in a bed after that.

 

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Not the best… But It’ll do…

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I was chuffed to be out of the wind, spiders or not.

In the morning we packed up shop and were promptly encouraged to leave by the Cabeneros as the Captain was en route to do an inspection of their base. 2 African hobos squatting in one of the buildings would, understandably, not go down very well with the boss. The road out was, once again, windy as hell. This was made worse by the aforementioned Captain driving Meg off the road and causing her to crash on the loose gravel. She was luckily not hurt, and hurriedly helped up and put back on the bike by a very embarrassed and apologetic group of high-ranking police officers. Luckily from then on the road got less windy, the clouds cleared and the altitude dropped until we came over a rise and were greeted with silence-inspiring, jaw dropping site: We had reached the Carretera Austral. Before us lay a beautiful, wide gravel road, endless mountains, forests and blue sky all interspersed with turquoise-blue glacier lakes and rivers, all in the presence of a now spooky absence of the wind that had plagued us for months on end.

 

A strong feeling washed over us that we had just opened a fresh, new chapter of the trip, welcome to Chile indeed.

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A warm welcome from the Carretera, with happy days ahead

Crossing from Mendoza, Argentina back to Chile

A lovely twisty road with over 30 hairpin switch-backs over the Andes as we cross between Argentina and Chile for the SIXTH time, ride footage will follow!
The beautiful audio is all thanks to the magic of Sena and our GoPro Hero3+’s from World of Heroes South Africa

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