There is a saying in the Aysen region of Chile: “The one who hurries wastes time” and that could not be more true for us. We have had a very leisurely nine days on the road between Cochrane and Coyhaique but it hasn’t felt as though we are going too slow. The scenery has continued to astound and amaze us, with something to make us go “wow!” around every bend in the road and over each rise. Patagonia is such an awesome part of the world and we have made the decision to breathe it all in and make the most of our time here. More about this later on…
Leaving Cochrane it was just the two of us again but we took some of Alestair’s relaxed approach with us and took our time. The days on the road were a little shorter, averaging around 40km a day riding while also taking our time to enjoy the scenery. A small detour on foot to the confluence of two of the local rivers was one of the most striking places we have seen so far. Milky grey glacial water mixing with shining blue in a lagoon immediately after some impressive waterfalls. It’s these kind of things that we don’t want to rush on past.
Taking our time has also meant we have had plenty of opportunity to wild camp along the way, rather than going from town to town as quickly as we can. Our campsites ranged from secluded, idyllic areas to abandoned houses (we have missed these). It has also been really cool to stay in places that we recognise from friends’ trips down this famous stretch of road.
For the most part wild camping has been very easy with multiple options to get away from the road presenting themselves throughout the day, despite large sections of the road being fenced off on both sides. The reasons for these fences are still baffling us. Part of it is definitely to keep livestock in, but with such a sparse population it seems like there is too much fencing just for that. Maybe through years of Chile and Argentina having national disputes over land claims that mentality has become somewhat engrained into the people, who ensure their own land claim by fencing all around it? Either way, as we got closer to the city of Coyhaique there were definitely fewer chances to get off the road and camp. On the plus side the road had become paved again so the miles were covered a little easier.
It’s not been entirely plain sailing though as our friend, Mr. Headwind, re-joined us just before reaching the town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo on the shores of Lago General Carrera. It stayed with us all the way to Coyhaique and while not as brutal as Tierra del Fuego it certainly required more effort to keep the bikes rolling along. It was really making us work for the rest days that we had planned for when we reached Coyhaique.
Since leaving Cochrane the number of vehicles on the road increased significantly which made for more dusty riding conditions. Sunglasses and a buff were necessary attire but you still inhaled a mouthful of dust with every passing vehicle. It also became a fun game betting whether the next one would be a red pick up truck or not (seemingly everyone and their mum has a red truck of one make or another) and most of the time it was! It is funny to think the Carretera Austral is actually used as a road for a lot of people. It’s not just a pretty destination to ride, drive or backpack along. The majority of people using the road, this early in the tourist season anyway, probably don’t see it with the same awe and wonder as we do. For us tourists the Carretera is a journey whereas for those who use the road as part of their daily life it is just that, a road that gets them to their destination.
On a similar note we have seen so many more touring cyclists since starting the Carretera two weeks ago, especially since camping in Cochrane with the other six people (and one dog!) on bikes. On the road north we have seen at least two riders per day with the most being 11 cyclists in one day. It is a big leap from the five others on bikes that we saw in over a month since leaving Ushuaia and reaching El Chaltén! Everyone we passed was really friendly and stopped to have a chat too, from a quick sharing of upcoming road conditions and potential camping spots to a full-blown half hour conversation. It was the first time we realised just how common this way of travel is and the popularity of the Carretera in particular.
It is interesting to hear that most of the other cycle tourists we passed were doing shorter trips though and travelling in a North to South direction. We will probably never see those travelling in the same direction and at a similar pace to us as they will always be behind us but from everyone’s surprise at seeing people going north (and hearing how far we’re going), there aren’t many others in front of us!
November is still Spring here in the Southern Hemisphere and in Patagonia that still means chilly mornings and evenings in single digits rising to the early teens if you’re lucky. If you’re thinking we’ve got warm weather here in all of our blue sky photos, it’s not as warm as looks!
We have travelled 2000km since our starting point on Tierra del Fuego but here on the Carretera there is still so much snow on the surrounding hills and mountains. The scenery reminds us of the Alpine regions in Europe but what is different about this part of the world is how low the snow line is. We have been cycling at a few hundred metres above sea level for most of the trip but it feels like you should be at a higher altitude to be surrounded by so much snow. It’s definitely a pretty special part of the world and we both feel privileged to be doing what we’re doing.
Back to that Aysen saying, “The one who hurries wastes time”.
Patagonia is only the start of our cycling adventure but it’s somewhere we have fallen in love with. The scenery is superb, the people are incredibly friendly and welcoming, and the way of life here is dramatically different to what we are used to in the UK. While riding past the rural farms in this area we have often wondered what people’s lives are like in these remote parts.
To learn more about what it takes to live in this rugged area and to experience Patagonia to the fullest we have decided to take a few weeks and work on a self-sufficient family farm near Coyhaique. It will be an incredible insight into rural Patagonian life and an opportunity to actually live here rather than just pass through. From the beginning we never wanted to put a time limit on our trip so that when we get the chance to pause somewhere that fascinates us we can happily take it. The next few weeks will certainly be a change of pace and routine for us, but its something we are both really looking forward to. Our next blog post will likely be very different to the ones up until now!
We’ll let you know how we get on.
Steph and Ben
So you want to ride or travel along the Carretera Austral and have lots of questions? Read our Guide to Cycling the Carretera Austral which answers some of the most frequently asked questions before delving in to the specifics about the route we took along Chile’s Ruta 7.