Sunday, October 28, 2007

Carretera Austral Part 1: Introduction and Parque Conguillio

Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Sunday, March 04, 2007

"Obstacles are there to be overcome."

Sign hanging over the slope down to Puerto Yungay, the end of the Ruta 7.

The natural place to begin this tale is at the start, the beginning. I could talk about the preparations, the motives, the desires, what we hoped to achieve. Let's skip all that: it will all come out in due course, as when you sit down in front of a gas cooker, face illuminated by the blue flame, ready to eat a package alphabet soup, and tell a story of something that happened some time ago. This didn't happen a while ago: I got back yesterday. Give me time to mature the memories and, as I say, all will come pouring out.

What I can outline, for those that enjoy the concrete, is the following.

From conception to departure not more than two weeks and a bit passed. Camilo, proud owner of a Suzuki V-Strom DL650, and your gentle narrator, proud owner of a faithful XR 250 R, decided to travel to the South of Chile, with no un-manly feints such as putting the bikes on a train down to Temuco or some such shite, but to instead roll every single kilometre that had to be rolled, and to arrive... well, as far as we could.

This is the tale of such a trip.

And quite a trip it was! Here's a visual representation of the 5400 km.

(Camino de Ida: Setting off, Camino de Regreso: Return, Barcazas: Ferries)

As is traditional among motorbike travelers, we stayed up late the night before getting things ready. Camilo wanted to install a bash plate, to protect the V-Strom's exposed engine, exhaust header and oil filter. We bought the aluminium sheet and the stainless steel rod I'd be needing for my saddlebags, and took them to a dark, cavernous building with bending machines larger than my house.

Anyway, we set of late, as was to be expected, around 3 pm. It didn't matter: we'd stop where night fell.

Camilo had a hard time getting everything on the bike. As he gained experience things improved, but by the end of the trip we both fully understood the value of removable and lockable panniers.

On the road we met two Koreans. They were coming down from Colombia if I'm not mistaken. We were impressed by their bikes, the length of their trip. Now, after having met many other travellers, the extent of their journey does not seem so great, though my respect for them has not changed.

And on, and on.

The Malleco viaduct. Inaugurated in 1890. The diagonal trusses were added later.

And night fell, near Talca. Before it was too dark to set up the tents, we stopped at a camp site, the same one where Octanito got a flat tyre two years ago on the way to Talca. We set up the tents, and fell asleep in the warm night air.

The next day we carried on south, and took the exit at Victoria towards Curacautín. Night fell again, and we searched for a place to stay. We found one run by a nice lady near the city's main entrance. Out we went for a bite to eat, and we had our first brush with hight prices and slow or nonexistent service.

An early start the next morning, and off we go to cross Parque Nacional Conguillio, a strange fusion of sapphire blue lagoons, age-old forests, araucarias and arid landscapes produced by the Llaima volcano.

Kids, when you get off the bike, use suncream. Make sure you cover the tops of your ears, and learn from this idiot's misfortune, as he did not enjoy putting his helmet on for the next few days.

The circuit through the park takes you through thick woods, the undergrowth impenetrable with coligüe, occasional glimpses of the lakes through the vegetation and occasional turnoffs to get a closer look.

Arguably the most striking thing in the whole park, this lagoon.

See that underwater?

Makes me dizzy.

And, abruptly, welcome to the moon.

We met some german bikers on a package tour. The average age was probably well over 50, and they had a support van carrying all their kit. There were about 15 of them. Initially I envied them for not having to pack everything each morning. Now, after having completed the trip, I don't. Fly halfway across the world to be bound by someone else's itinerary? Have your luggage carried for you? In their favour, I'll say that they had probably done trips on their own already, in earlier years (when the line of candles behind them was short) and wanted to take it a bit differently now.

The obligatory self-pic.

On and on we rode, hoping to get to Pucón.

Somewhere along the way, your gentle narrator took a wrong turn, and we ended up doing a good threescore and twenty extra kilometres, perhaps more. At least we got a nice view of Lago Colico. Twice.

Oh well, the pics always make it worth it.

One thing I haven't mentioned, but that should be kept in mind: Camilo had no experience on dirt roads. Worried about a fall, cracking his alloy rims or busting his V-Strom's suspension, his rythm was quite slow. The shadows were growing long, and we did not want to ride in the dark on dirt roads. Oh, how innocent and wet behind the ears we were. :-)

Soon we arrived at Pucón. Looking for a campsite; nothing but Cabins, Cabins, Cabins, km and km of signs for cabins on the stretch of road between Villarica and Pucón. Eventually we found one at 10000 pesos a night, but we were tired.

That night Camilo went out to the Casino (having brought a nice shirt precisely for this purpose) and came back sickened by the ill-mannered brats that had flooded the place for the summer, all high rolling daddy's money. I had gone out for a drink with someone I knew in Pucón, and on my way back, I missed the camp site. Completely. I did the whole Villarica-Pucón road some four times. It was cold, very cold. I ended up asking the night watchman of a campsite similar to ours. No idea. Up and down the road I went, I must have done about 70 km or more. I started getting low on gas. This is not how you want to end a tiring day of riding.

I finally found it, and flopped into my tent, very tired. The next day, Camilo mentioned over breakfast that he had searched the Villarica-Pucón road some 4 or 5 times searching for the campsite, and had stopped to ask the night watchman at a campsite that looked similar to ours.

It was probably summer's most interesting night for that guy.

Next Chapter: Puerto Montt and Hornopirén.

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