Chile – the Carretera Austral

Written by Sebastian on May 28th, 2012. Posted in Allgemein

Martin: So after an incredible „bang“ I run to the road and see Sebas sitting next to his bike which he smashed into a rock face. Luckily, he’s fine and also no one else was hurt… but Escargot doesn’t look too well. What happened? Well, overexcited he tried a wheelie… as a dozen of times before it worked out fine, this time it didn’t, leading to Escargot throwing him off and her going straight into the rock face. Sebas apologizes, afraid he busted our trip, and maybe a bit paralyzed me, I just think what happened happened, there’s no crying over spilt milk, lets see how the story continues 🙂 First step getting the bike away off the road turns out fairly easy. A very nice family from a town nearby has also stopped at the view point and the father with his two young sons are right away with us. Not only they help us get Escargot to the parking place, they also organize a pick up, that takes us to their place in Panguipulli where they also run cabanas for tourists, where we can stay in one of their bungalows for a fairly reasonable price…

Sebas is of course worried whether Escargot will get on her “wheels” again and how much that will cost. I try to convince him to wait with worrying until we get some facts from the KTM Dealer. Next day in the morning the family organizes someone that drives us in the Pick-up to Temuco, the closest KTM store. Well, „us“ is Sebas and Escargot in a heated car, while I drive behind them at 8 am and it´s freezing as hell 🙂 Arrived at KTM, me feeling like an ice cube, two very nice employees are right away with us and help to get Escargot off the pick up and into the work station. After we pay the driver for the lift, he leaves wishing us all the best and we check into a hostel nearby and hope for the best 🙂

Meeting friends

While I sip on my obligatory morning coffee at noon (yes, traveling has it’s advantages :-)), Sebas shows up his eyes radiating optimism and hope. The KTM guys have already checked the bike and think that most of the broken pieces don’t have to be exchanged but can be repaired. They are a great help, as they also take care of getting the parts to repair to the respective workstation, needing us only to wait and hope that the costs won’t be too high. Additionally he tells me he met a nice architect, Gerardo, when he got there to check the wellbeing of Escargot, and whom we could meet for dinner. The next evening Gerardo picks us up and right away we get along very well. It seems that even if you think something really bad happened, also this happening has it’s positive sides. In this case it’s Gerardo, who makes us feel at home during the week that it needs to get Escargot alive again. He shows us around Temuco, introduces us to one of Chiles´ favorite dishes, the „Asado“ (piece of beef BBQed), explores with us the vibrant night life in this students´ city and helps us with whatever we need. He’s an enthusiastic biker, driving a beautiful black Africa Twin and, being a member of the voluntary fire brigade of Temuco, we learn that Chile is one of the few countries in the world that has a voluntary fire brigade only, even in the capital Santiago. Because of the strong German/Austrian influence in Central Chile, the fire brigade in Temuco is still called Feuerwehr 🙂 He also helps me a lot with my Spanish, as he’s patient enough to correct me when I say something wrong and explains me the words I don’t understand. I will never forget his memory hook on “aaaaancho” for “wide“ 🙂

After a week we get the information that Escargot is ready to roll and as we show up at KTM I honestly can´t believe my eyes. They simply did an outstanding job. If one doesn´t look very closely it seems this accident had never happened. And not only this is great news, also thanks to the great unexpected support of KTM International, the costs are a generous 300 Euros. I know Sebas now for many, many years, but him breathing such a sigh of relief was new to me 🙂 We decide to leave the next day morning go further south to hit the world famous Carretera Austral that leads you 1200 kms from Puerto Montt to O’Higgins through the Chilenean part of Patagonia. Well, as usual, it turns out a bit different… 🙂

On our “last” evening Gerardo takes us out to a nice bar/restaurant that is run by a German couple for many, many years and appears to me like a copy of a typical mountain bar in the west of Austria. Here we meet by chance Engelbert, an Austrian oak from Styria, who is living in Chile for the past 20 years. Right away we get along very well and he invites us the next day to his house, a bit outside of Temuco, for a Asado. Well, even though we are strongly convinced that we continue our trip next day in the morning, after a couple of beers the story looks way different and next day at noon we arrive with Gerardo at Engelberts place 🙂 We have a great Asado with his family and friends and are flabbergasted as his Chilenian wife starts to speak excellent Styrian German with us 🙂 The view from is house on some volcanoes is spectacular and I’m really excited as he tells us his plans of building a hostel for travelers and bikers close to his place.

Conguillo, icecold water and the freakin’ passport again!

After a very nice evening Gerardo picks us up with his African Twin, “La Negra” the next morning. So now there’s Escargot, La Negra and Eva Dos, and instead of going straight way south, we decide to visit the nearby Conguillo National park. A decision we shouldn’t regret. The national park is simply incredible, and not only once we wouldn’t have been surprised of a Dinosaur walking by. The area looks so prehistorical, that it’s no wonder, that dinosaur documentaries have been filmed here. Central point of the park is the volcano Llaima, that erupted last time on first January 2008, and you can get an idea of the power of the eruption when driving by one of the dried lava streams in pretty far distance of the volcano. As we pass a beautiful lake with clear blue/turquoise water where you see dead tree stumps on the ground, and, even though it´s cold as hell, Sebas can´t resist to jump inside. Honestly, this time I’m really glad my lad didn’t suffer a heart attack..

After this great trip we say good bye to Gerardo, who takes us to the right junction of the Carretera 5 that leads us to the south. Despite the initial unlucky reason why we ended up in Temuco, thanks to Gerardo, Engelbert and the KTM team of Temuco, our time here had just been great. Regarding Gerardo, as it sometimes occurs, there’s people you meet and you somehow know that it wasn’t the last time, that the paths will cross again, the only question is where and when…


As it’s already late in the afternoon we decide not to get straight to Puerto Montt but make a stop-over in the 350km far Frutilla, a village at a lake with a superb view on yet another volcano. A wise decision as Sebas realizes that he – once again – somehow, somewhere lost his hip bag with passport and credit cards. As we reconstruct where he could have lost it, the only place plausible that comes up is the lake in the national park where Sebas had been crazy enough to jump inside. He contacts Gerardo who is so nice to contact the national park office to start the search. Sebas hits the road first thing in the morning, while I, hoping that he will find it, take a walk through Frutillar. The German influence from settlers who came here in the 19th century is not hard to spot. The houses look like the once in Bavaria and western Austria and even have German names, there’s “Kuchen” (cake) offered all around and there’s a German school and German club.

At late afternoon I get a message from Sebas that he didn’t find it. Trying to keep my emotions down I slowly start accepting the idea that we have to go back to Santiago to the Austrian embassy and skip the trip to the south, as already now we are weather-wise quite late for Patagonia and it’s getting too cold. A couple of hours later I get the relieving message that he found it and shortly before midnight he’s back, with a grin on his face and his documents. He dropped it while taking a photo on one of the lava mounts in the national park. The both of us are super happy and glad that once again, his losing his documents issue turned out well. As he arrives late, we decide to stay one more day for him to relax from the stress before we continue our trip.

Finally the Carretera Austral

We get up quite early (= me before noon) and drive to Puerto Montt, the starting point of the Ruta 7, also known as the Carretera Austral. Interestingly, 7, is also a lucky number in Chile, standing for something very good… and we shouldn’t be disappointed. Shortly after Puerto Montt tarmac finishes and a dirt road starts that leads us to the first of many ferries, as the ruta 7 is disconnected because of the many fjords of Patagonia. Right as we board the ferry I see some seals swimming around close to the boat and during the 45 minute ride we see the sun setting down behind the sea, changing the colors of the sky in a beautiful mix of red, orange, yellow and blue. After we arrive we follow a dirt road for a couple of kilometers until we get to Hornopiren, where we wait for the next ferry the next day. We end up at a bar/hotel offering very nice cabanas (unfortunately above our budget) where we spend a great evening with the owners who explain us a lot about the ruta Austral.


We hadn’t booked the ferry beforehand and locals advice us to go to the port at 10 in the morning to check whether there are places left, which we do and find out that the ferry is overbooked but that we can wait and see whether there will be space left for our bikes. Normally leaving at 10.30 the ferry shows up at 2, as we hear because the captain fell asleep and the auto pilot didn’t work, leading the ferry to drive around somewhere in the ocean. Well, whatever caused the delay, we are lucky and there´s space and so we board the ferry for a 5 hour ride. It’s pretty foggy as we pass one fjord after the other and the both of us are imagining how beautiful this ride must be in good weather, as we drive amidst hills covered in green with occasional waterfalls taking their way down into the sea. The closer we get to the port, the worse gets the weather and arrived, the sky is dark grey and it rains like hell. We drive yet another couple of kilometers to the next ferry, that, surprised by the weather (or to be honest too lazy to put the raining gear on :-)), we reach completely wet. But it´s not only the sky that put on it´s unfriendly face, also the waves are huge and already as we place the bikes on the ferry and fix them with a rope, the both of us somehow know, that this will not be enough 🙂 The waves lean the ferry from one side to the other, it´s raining buckets, nevertheless we stand outside on the railing amazed by dolphins that accompany our boat and make us forget everything around us.

When we arrive in Caleta Gonzalo it´s night and walking down to our bikes they are, as expected, leaning horizontally next to each other. Due to the strong waves the ferry staff is pretty stressed, they have difficulties keeping the ship close enough to the ramp and urge us to leave the ship quickly. Easier said than done, as Escargot didn´t survive the fall too well, a dismantled screw teared off her clutch gauge from the driving wheel. Luckily Sebas manages to fix it with duck tape and we start yet another night drive in pouring rain, this time for the first time on a gravel road, until we reach Chaiten, where we find a nice hostel to stay at. This former capital of the region had been evacuated in 2008 after an eruption of the close by Chaiten volcano, that threw up ashes as far as 31km into the sky. Walking through the somehow ghost town the next day, we get an impression how horrible this event must have been for the people. Most of the houses are not only abandoned, but also inside still covered in ash. Under a layer of ash, we find slippers and other things of daily usage. As we pass one of the houses where someone wrote “Chaiten, I love you, I will come back” the both of us get goose bumps, imagining how it must have been, to leave this place unexpectedly all of a sudden. Bizarre as it may sound, this village is an ideal location for a zombie movie…

We continue the gravel road that takes us to Futelefu river, as we heard, a rafting paradise. We pass by a river channel at the lake side where the both of us get right away the idea of a perfect camping site. Located directly next to the river with some already prepared spots to make a fire with tree stumps around it to sit on, it seems to us like a “wild” campsite for comfortable campers like us :-). We continue to the town Futelefu, and as the prices for accommodation are way beyond our budget we decide to go back to this beautiful spot to camp there… not without bying simple fishing lines to catch some salmon for dinner (and just in case sausages :-)). Regarding to fish our dinner… what to say 🙂 Well, Sebas turns out to be really into it, even after his fish hook gets stuck between stones, he doesn´t bother to get into the ice-cold water to get it out and try again for a couple of hours. I, on the contrary, turn out to be a real fishing idiot, as while throwing the fishing line, forget to hold tight to the end of it, and can watch as my whole fishing equipment vanishes somewhere in the river. Well, whatever, in the end the both of us are glad that we have bought the sausages 🙂


It had to happen one day…

We continue our trip on a great gravel road amidst a beautiful landscape that reminds us a lot of the Austrian Alps until – yes it had to happen – I have my first flat tire shortly after we pass a cheese producing farm. No idea what this about 4 cm long screw had to do on the road and found its way through the profile of my back tire, but well, shit happens. We drive back to the farm where we mount Eva-Dos to remove the back wheel and luckily there´s a bigger village close by, where Sebas takes my tire to search for a tire fixer. I wait for him and get closer with the employees of the farm and while we talk about our trip and I show them some pics, Sebas comes back telling me that the tire fixer has no idea how to get the tube out of the wheel rim and thus refuses to fix it. Lucklily Sebas remembers a tip Martyn gave us in Santiago, that is, to mount the other bike on the center stand, place the tire below the side stand and push the bike down. Even though I hesitate a bit , as I don´t want to damage my wheel rim, I finally agree to give it a try… and it works perfectly! With the help of one of the employees we get the tube out and after Sebas comes back with the fixed tube we place it inside the tire and are lucky enough that the farm has it´s own automatic pump, with which we pump it up. We leave not before being invited for some coffee and sweets. As Sebas wants to give one of the female employees the – for South America – typical kisses on the cheeks to say goodbye, she backs off. Kisses are only for family and good friends, as she explains us causing a grin on our faces. It´s not just the landscape that is similar to Austria 🙂


As its already quite late we end up in a village not far away where a very nice family that runs cabanas, that are not only way too expensive for our budget but also overbooked, let´s us sleep in their garage and use their own private bathroom. They are incredibly kind, offer us breakfast in their place the next morning and only take some money from us after us insisting. From there we follow the road to Cerro Castillo, a town next to a beautiful mountain, where we stay over night. The landscape is sheer fantastic, we drive from one untouched valley to the next, for hours, the only ones on the road is us. We pass by a valley full of dead trees and it seems to me, that this place hadn´t changed for the past thousands of years, it´s just spectacular! Then suddenly I almost cause my first accident. Not very intelligently, I take a left curve in the opposite lanes side and of course exactly at that moment a car shows up. I maneuver the bike automatically into the ditch next to the road while the driver of the jeep makes an excellent change maneuver in order not having to scratch me off his windshield. To the surprise of the both of us, the driver jumps out of his car and doesn´t give me hell in Spanish but in Viennese dialect. It turns out that the guys in the jeep were Viennese on vacation in Chile 🙂 I apologize a dozen of times, as it was clearly my fault, but guess the driver was too shocked and unable to calm down and in the two minutes where Sebas tried to help me to get Eva Dos out of the ditch and we turned our back to them, they rushed off. A pity, guess in other circumstances this could have been a nice encounter.

Finally at O’Higgins

At night we reach the port of the last ferry of the Ruta Austral only to find out that there is really only a port with no sleeping facilities and the ferry is leaving the next day at 11. Sebas goes to the ferry to ask whether there are guest houses close to the port. There are none, but the very nice captain invites us to sleep in the heated cafeteria of the ship. As it´s once again raining and it´s getting really cold at night, he doesn´t have to ask us twice and we gratefully accept the offer. We don´t sleep too well on the benches, but it´s warm and taking the circumstances into account, we couldn´t have been luckier. The last 100km of the ruta Austral are yet again beautiful, the road taking us through an area covered with trees with autumn colored leaves and lakes surrounded by mountains, until we reach O´Higgins, a bay town, and literally the end of the road. The town itself is nothing special and so we leave after two days. We drive a bit up north to take the Roballo mountain pass to cross from Chile to Argentina. And once again, we we shouldn´t be disappointed…but that´s another story. Stay tuned 🙂