Carretera Austral was the first road, that effectively linked the remotes regions of Patagonia (north and south) and the rest of Chile/the rest of the world. Also called highway 7, this road was built in the 1980’s during the military dictatorship of Chile. Some call it Pinochet’s Carretera Austral, which start south of Puerto Montt (in the lake district) and connects widely separated towns all the way to Villa O’Higgins (the sourthern limit of the Aysen Region), a total of 1240 km.
It is a mix of pavement and gravel, the further south the more gravel
Patagonia has indeterminate border; for some it begins with the Carretera Austral, and for others it begins in rugged Aisén running south to the continental ice fields (Campos de Hielo), and ending in Magallanes and Tierra del Fuego. One thing is sure we are in the middle of it!
Primarily using the GSP for distance calculating, since there is only a few road here
Since leaving Puerto Montt behind us we have been on several ferries, that connects the Carretera Austral as it continues further south. The ferries took us across rivers and fjords. On a lot of ferries you have to reverse the vehicle onto the ferry.
Several places the ferry trip very short 5-20 minutes, so prebooking is not possible, instead you just join the rows of waiting cars – waiting for the ferry
Killing time with some reading and a cup of coffee
The first ferry was from Cta. La Arena to Cta. Puelche (short trip) and the second ferry from Hornopirén to Caleta Gonzalo (4-5 hours). From Hornopirén to Caleta Gonzalo reservation is required, and when we came to the office in Hornopirén in the afternoon, there was not room on the ferry before the next morning. Here in high season the ferry departs at 10.30 am and at 4 pm. BUT… when we left the office with a reservation for the next day, we passed by the afternoon ferry ready for departure. One of the employee waved us ahead, and said that they that room for us, because some other vehicles had not shown up for their reservation. So to our luck we just drove onto the ferry and 15 min later we were on our way to Caleta Gonzalo.
History of Pinochet: The dictatorship was established after the democratically-elected socialist government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by a CIA (United States) supported coup on the 11th of September 1973, and Chile was ruled by a military junta headed by General Augusto Pinochet from 1973 to 1990. The dictatorships mission was “national reconstruction” after the “breakdown” of the democracy and the economic crisis that took place during Allende’s presidency. The United States (lead by president Richard Nixon) immediately recognized the new regime and helped it consolidate its power. Further the regime suspended the constitution from 1925 and established a new constitution in 1980, which was a core issue for the dictatorship since it provided a mean of legitimization. The constitution of 1980 was approved by 66% of voters. The critics of the 1980 constitution argued, that the purpose of the new constitution was to consolidate power within the central government while limiting the amount of sovereignty allowed to the people with little political presence.
The third ferry was from Chaiten to Puerto Raul Marin because a major landslide 2 km wide had swept away Carretera Austral and a huge part of the town Villa Santa Lucia. This trip was 7 hours (about 120 km), and we had already made reservations for the 7 am ferry at the office in Hornopirén. Carretera Austral with not be open until next summer. Again having to reverse the vehicle on the ferry.
This stretch can be rough – after checking out the heavy duty equipment on the ferry
We were lucky with the weather, and pretty much only felt the natural movement of the ocean
We got to Puerto Raul Marin, where we waited 1-1,5 hour before the ferry could dock at the small harbor, because another ferry was taking up the dock. Yes, everything just takes longer. The fourth ferry took us across Rio Palena just 10 km after getting of the ferry in Puerto Raul Martin.
Here we are drive unto a ferry, where Lance got his front wheels wet on the trip.
History of Pinochet: The regime was characterized by systematic suppression of political parties (they banned socialists, Marxist and other leftist parties) and the persecution of dissidents. The National Stadium was being used to hold prisoners, and between the 11 of September 1973 and November 1973 as many as 40,000 political prisoners were held there. The regime of Pinochet left over 3000 dead or missing, tortured tens of thousands of prisoners, and drove an estimated 200,000 Chileans into exile (about 2% of Chile’s population in 1973). Today to number of killed during the Pinochet’s regime is 10,000-30,000 people but in total more than 200,000 people were affected by “extreme trauma” according to the Latin American Institute on Mental Health and Human Rights. In 1988 the regime admitted a defeat in a referendum, that opened the way for the reestablishment of democracy two years later (1990).
Landslide between Puyuguapi and Piedre del Gano
The fifth ferry – yes, just one more. Again a landslide (several smaller landslides) had closed Carretera Austral on a smaller stretch between Puyuguapi and Piedra del Gano. The ferry only taking 20-30 minutes, to again we had to wait in line to get unto the ferry. We love to see the landscapes from the ferry, and it reminds us when we sailed from Haines, Alaska to the state of Washington in 2010. We love the nature down here, and getting to enjoy the landscape from the ocean perspective is just another treat. All the ferries made this part of Carretera Austral amazing, but we need to find a place to camp for the night.
Again thanks to www.ioverlander.com we found a spot at Rio Pelena. Lance just had to make it across this old wooden bridge
We made it safely across the old bride, which looked a little bit scary, but was very staple. At the end of the road the landscape just opened up – this was just an amazing place.
The locals were fishing in the river, so I followed along. Fishing with worms as bait I could both a small trout and a small salmon (lunch size). The sky was clear during the night.
The next morning the clouds was gathering quickly, but it never really started pouring down, so we stayed an extra night
The weather was still great for fishing
Back on the road we picked up two hitchhikers – actually people are hitchhiking everywhere here. Here in Patagonia it is safe to hitchhike, and everybody is trying to save a little bit of money, by not taking the bus. In Villa Cerro Castillo which is our next stop, so many people were hitchhiking, that they would sit a wait for a ride for a whole day. One ones we had dropped of, were still waiting for a lift 5 hours later. One way or the other people get stuck out here, because they can’t get a lift, which benefits the local community (small stores and restaurants). In the left picture two girls collapsed after we picked them up. They also slept all the way to Coihaique (200 km). In the right picture are the couple we took with us to Villa Cerro Castillo.
We try to pick up hitchhikers when we can, but we also want to travel at our own pace with includes stopping for lunch and giving Esben the opportunity to get a nap. Sometimes the hitchhikers are almost praying at the roadside to get a ride. There are places without buses here, but a lot of place it is possible to take a bus. It is a balance, but we like to help other travelers or locals on our way, to give something back. A lot of people have helped us, and we are grateful. You know who you are – love you