Friday, March 7, 2008

The Second Third: The Carretera Austral

So we landed in Balmaceda after a 1 hour flight, given a meal and drink!, from Punta Arenas. To go anywhere from this area you need to use the main city of Coyhaique as a hub, unless you have a car of course which we decided not to rent. We planned to head as far south as possible on this southern road and and than loop around back towards Coyhaique and then to the top of the Carretera Austral. Origanally we planned on crossing big Lago General Carrera first, but because of bus and boat complications we first headed to Pto. Rio Tranquilo on the western shores of Lago Carrera.
The hiking part of our trip was now over and this part would be lots of traveling. We still planned to camp as often as possible for budget considerations, and we also like camping. 
So first we spent the weekend in Coyhaique and found this really great restaurant called Lito's serving really nice dishes at nice prices.  We had a day of sitting around a bar drinking
 big drafts of beer listening to all the North Americans talking about fishing in the area. On Monday we headed south.  The micro bus took us through Villa Cerro Castillo, where we stopped for a bite to eat and fantastic views of the mountains of same name.  Then furthur south we went to the 
shores of Carrera and into a spot called Pto. Rio Tranquilo.  From here you could take boats to see the marble cave formations so we found a Hospedaje with camping spots and wandered around. It didn't take long to see all this town of  maybe 200 people and as we were investigating boats for the next day a guy had a tour ready to go for that afternoon, at that moment actually, so we ho
pped aboard. The ride out to the caves was fun. The water was clean and blue with great mountains on the horizon. The caves themselves were also nice. Our guide drove the boat right into a few of the caves. The marble was of different colors and shapes and the water around them was a clear light blue that shimmered in the sun. The ride back was even more fun as the wind had picked up creating bigger waves that crashed against us.
The next day we were disapointed to hear that buses don't run on Tuesday and that we'd have to wait until Wednesday to get out of Rio Tranquilo.  We both weren 't interested in hanging around for another night so we sat by the town gas station asking travelers for rides out.  All morning without luck until around two in the afternoon we spotted a guy, alone, filling up and asked him where he was going, he said Cochrane, which was on the way to where we wanted to go, so we asked for a lift and he said o.k.! Daniel is Korean studying Spanish in Chile for a year for samsung and he was now on vacation.  Turns out he was going to Caleta Tortel which is where we were actually trying to get to.  It was a great ride and he stopped to take photographs of the
beautiful scenery.  We stopped in Cochrane for gas, the last place on the Carretera where you can buy gas, and then contiued down the bad road. I say bad road because not only was it rough and only for off road  vehicles but narrow too.  Whipping around curves hoping no one was coming the other way. Daniel was a good driver though and he'd rented a good 4x4 for the trip so we enjoyed the pace of the ride.
We arrived in Caleta Tortel very late, close to 9 pm. The sun was going down but we were all very happy to finally be here. It was a long day of driving and so after getting information on places to stay and how to navigate the boardwalks we found a hostel and met Daniel for a late dinner. The next morning was overcast and drizzly but it felt perfect for this town. Daniel had left early as he was going even further south to Villa O'Higgins, the end of the line. 
 We decided to check in to a nicer place and found a cute Hospedaje at the far side of Caleta.  There are no roads here. You park your car and get around by foot on boardwalks connecting houses to stores to everything else, or by water taxi. It was really an interesting little place. Very relaxed.
We spent this day relaxing in our nice room with even nicer views of the bay and then spent some time walking around in our matching ponchos out to the camping area, where we had a run in with a bull, and all over the boardwalks. We have some really great pictures from this town. So Sean spent his birthday morning, the next day, on a water taxi to Tortels entrance and then on a local 'bus' to Cochrane.  After a night camping in Cochrane we got a micro bus to take us along the southern shores of Lago General Carrera to Chile Chico.
It was a nice drive, scenic, we have some road pics. In Chile Chico we found a great camping spot close to shore. We went to the port to inquire about boats across the big lake to Puerto Ignacio Ibanez. There was one leaving the next day at 4 pm so we booked that and then found a place to have some beer and french fries. Our tent was nicely protected from the wind by tall poplars and we were treated to a fabulous sky at sunset. The next day before our boat across we hiked up a hill that was once an old fort, now lookout over the town. We then hiked down along the shore, the blue water shimmering in the sun. 
So across the lake to Puerto Ibanez and a connecting micro back to Coyhiaque for some more Lito's and transportation bookings/details for the north. 
We arrived in Chaiten on Sunday giving us a couple of days before the big ship  would take us across Golfo Corcovado to The Big Island of Chiloe.
The micro up from Coyhiaque was slow and scenic. There are many bicyclers on this road and at present lots of construction. So the bus was slow stopping at towns like La Junta, Puyuhuapi, and Villa Santa Lucia, which were all a nice break from the bumps and dust.
 Chaiten is a major town for boats to Chiloe Island or Puerto Montt, and treks into Pumalin National Park. We went for an overnight hike basing our camp at Caleta Gonzalo and doing a day hike up to some waterfalls through the temperate rain forest. One of the most beautiful spots of the trip. Just camping in this rain forest felt great. Pumalin has one of the greatest variety of trees in the world, it was a magical forest.
So this was nearing the end of the mainland. We spent the day before our departure washing clothes, and we rented bicycles for a tour around Chaiten, but other than that we were ready for the last part of our trip on Chiloe Island.

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