Carretera Austral

About time to get some new stamps, because after a nights drive to the Argentinian-Chilean border at Los Antiquos we walk to the border post to get a Argentina stamp and then quickly organise a ride to Chile Chico. The young couple from the north of Argentina are on holiday in Patagonia and planned a day trip to Chile Chico. Once arrived the two change plans and decide to continue to Puerto Río Tranquilo, five hours of unpaved road ahead. The route along Lago General Carreta – the second largest lake in South America – acquires a place in our top three of the most beautiful roads we have traveled so far. Fifty kilometers before Puerto Río Tranquilo we turn on to the Carretera Austral. The famous road and Chilean counterpart of the southern part of the Argentinean Ruta-40 is the dream of every roadtripper and hitchhiker.

In Puerto Río Tranquilo we book a tour to visit the Capillas de Mármol. The marble caves carved out by the currents along the shores of Lago General Carreta annually bring thousands of visitors to the small village, most of them as day trips from Coyhaique. As a result the town appears to be quite touristy at first glance, but the facilities are limited and life is lived at a fairly low pace in Río Tranquilo. And that is quite a nice match with our travel speed at the moment. We share the boat to the Capillas de Mármol with two Chileans who also act as our interpreters. The marble caves, the marble cathedral and marble chapel, the deep blue color of the lake, the snowy peaks that spread out into the lake in dark green forests and a lovely sun above our heads seem to be stolen from a Disney scene and are hard to catch in words. We are glad to have booked the extensive tour to marvel over the marble formations and thank our personal translators.

The rest of the day we wander through the village, collect our groceries in a few local shops and decide to hitch out the next day. Fortunately we are early, because not long after we settle along the Carretera Austral more and more hitchhikers arrive, who all line up neatly behind. This time our patience is put to the test for almost four hours. We travel with Cata and Diego from Santiago to Villa Cerro Castillo and camp at the same campsite. The tiny Villa Cerro Castillo offers just the necessary amenities so we are on the hunt for a while to gather the ingredients for a nice dinner. With the mighty Cerro Castillo in the background it is difficult to skip the dayhike to Laguna Castillo. More than three hours climbing up steeply to reach the viewpoint. The wind is also back to welcome us and we have to catch our breath a few times between the rocks on the way to the top. The reward, however, is definitely worth it. After Torres del Paine and Cerro Fitzroy, it’s just another lake with a steep cliff, ice sheets, waterfalls and mighty peaks. But Cerro Castillo seems to be from a different world and after an extensive photo session and lunch sheltered between the rocks we quickly descend back towards the Carretera Austral.

We are in a bit of a hurry since we have just enough cash for one night of camping or a bus ride to Coyhaique. So we want to spend the afternoon in a useful way: waiting at the side of the road with a thumbs up in the air. But this time we have to line up at the back. When after a few hours of waiting two Israelis give up, we move forward and fifteen minutes later it seems that we will still get Coyhaique if a van decides to pick up everyone! Via a small detour we reach the largest city in the region and we commit to our guilty pleasure to go shopping in a real supermarket again. That is almost four weeks ago. We use our stay in the city to wash clothes, get cash, buy new socks and a memory card and to get two tickets for the ferry to Quellón on the island of Chiloé.

We turn left, away from the Carretera Austral towards the coast and spend the night in Puerto Aysen. As Coyhaiques little brother, we like the atmosphere in town. Due to the lack of tall buildings, the mountains are visible all around in the valley that reminds us of Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland. After a tough search, we discover a small campsite, more or less in the front yard of a friendly family. The toilet building is not finished yet so we use the bathroom of the family and are invited to have breakfast together the next morning. We chat for two hours about Aysén and the environment and adventures that the family experienced as fortune-hunters in New York before returning to Chile after ten years. Also in Puerto Chacabuco we are not able to find a camping spot without a struggle. When we check at a guesthouse, after a short chat a jeep stops and takes us to the house of the family. We can set up the tent in the garden and if we need something: “please just knock at the door”. We do not need more than some water and we spend the rest of the day exploring the village for groceries for the thirty-hour boat trip to Chiloé and enjoying the sun at the tent and celebrating our three-month traveling anniversary with two beers from some local microbreweries.

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