1,508 km of cycling - as part of a bicycle world trip - from the Argentinean border to the Pacific coast, by ferry to Chiloé Island, from its southern end by ferry to the starting point of famous Carretera Austral, then southwards via Coyhaique all the way to the very end of all Chilean roads to Villa O´Higgins, by boat across Lago O´Higgins and via mountain paths to the Argentinean border in Patagonia.
16 November - 10 December 2006 / 25 days
18,982 metres in altitude
Highest cycled point: 1,308 m
Leaving snowy Paso Cardenal A Samoré behind, I left the Andes and passed Osorno and Puerto Montt while heading to Isla Grande de Chiloé, South America's second largest island. Surprisingly hilly I sometimes felt like riding a rollercoaster while passing picturesque little towns with beautiful wooden houses painted in all imaginable colours. I took my time with reaching the island's southern end as the ferry for Chaiten at the beginning of famous Carretera Austral on Chile's mainland was leaving just twice a week.
Six hours of boring ferry ride across the Pacific Ocean and I found myself in misty, grey and rainy Chaiten, a small town at the beginning of one of the world's most famous and fascinating gravel roads. There's just one thing one should be used to when attempting to cycle this road: Rain, heaps of it!
From now on I was cycling on this mostly one-lane bumpy gravel and soil road, full of potholes and washboard ruts, passing endless rainforests, snowcapped mountains, glaciers and lagoons. Gorgeous landscapes, nevertheless just a very tiny part of the Chilean people lived in this southern third of the country. Especially in the deep south it was storming 60 days per year with an average rainfall of 5,000 mm. The sun was shining just about 60 days per year. Here, south of Isla Grande de Chiloé, the Zone de los Canales began, a geological madness with countless rugged islands and huge fjords. A few years ago it had been virtually unimaginable to build a road through such a wild and isolated area. Now I began to cycle it.
After two days of continuous rainfall the sun came out and I got a first real glimpse on these awesome landscapes. In Coyhaique, actually the only real city on more than 1,000 km long Carretera Austral, I met Astrid and Mewes from Germany, cycling from Alaska to the Land of Fire. We spent three days with eating fancy cakes and having beers and wine at Veronica's Hospedaje. After more than 24,000 km and a couple of punctures in the last days obviously it was time to change my rear tyre.
The next day the three of us started cycling further south on a bumpy ride up and down through endless forests, mountains and fjords. We often had lunch sitting underneath our quickly pitched tarp as the constant rain unfortunately almost never stopped. Sometimes in the evening we were lucky to find an abandoned simple wooden hut, that we used as a shelter against the rain and the cold. These huts often were the only remains of an incredible hard and lonely life of people, who in the end had to gave up. Sometimes their raincoat was the only thing they had left, evidence of the unpredictable and unbearable weather.
In Cochrane we stocked up on food for the last four days on Carretera Austral's southernmost stretch. At this stretch's end there would be no way to go further south, not even by foot.
Having spent one night in the tent, we reached Puerto Yungay, a military post, where the officer's offered us a wooden hut. While it still was constantly raining outside, we lit the oven, deeply appreciating this Chilean hospitality. Two days later we arrived at the tiny and isolated village Villa O'Higgins at the end of this famous rugged road. With its less than 450 inhabitants it wasn't reached by the road until 1999.
For two days we found ourselves got stucked in this windswept little town, as the boat that was supposed to cross Lago O'Higgins once a week for getting closer to the Argentinean border wasn't leaving because of too strong winds. But finally we made it, crossing the turquoise lake and passing gorgeous snowcapped mountains in a wild and deserted landscape. Three hours of rough boat ride later, we pushed the bikes uphill to the small Chilean border post. Since no road was reaching here, the officer's only vehicle was an old tractor for carrying the once weekly arriving supply up to their post.
We got the stamps and the fun began: Until the early evening we were able to cycle most parts of a very bad dirt track, zigzaging uphill to the Argentinean border. At 6 p.m. we reached a "Welcome to Argentina"-sign and a border marker in the middle of nowhere. In the constant rain we quickly took a border picture as it was time to start the real fun...