Thursday, November 01, 2007

Carretera Austral Part 4: La Junta - Puerto Aysén

Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Day 7: La Junta, Reserva Nacional Rosselot, Parque Nacional Queulat, Ventisquero Colgante, Piedra del Gato, Puerto Aysén.

We left La Junta at the usual time, around midday, and made our way towards Puyuhuapi. Here we bought expensive petrol from a very grumpy man. Camilo made some inquiries at the tourist office while I looked at the things pinned to the walls of the nice wood building. Children's drawings celebrating Puyuhuapi's anniversary, the reproduction of an interview with one of the last surviving original founding colonists.

There were three of them, from Sudetenland, seeking new opportunities. At some point they settled at the end of a long fjord and installed a carpet factory. In the middle of scarcely-populated, densely-overgrown Southern Chile. Sounds like something Douglas Adams would have made up.

A view of Canal Puyuhuapi. That's salt water, son.

We set off again, having decided not to purchase a carpet.

The memories I have of the Parque Nacional Queulat are of dense vegetation, pervasive damp, green mountains with caps of snow and blue ice, almost like Machu Picchu's surroundings (sans ice and snow). And in the middle of it, the Ventisquero Colgante, the hanging glacier. There are three paths, the longest one takes you a few hours and leads right up to the lake where fresh ice crashes down occasionally onto the floes below. That's the best one, said the park ranger. We looked at each other and decided to take the 10 minute path instead.

During this exchange, Tom still had his helmet on, and was sitting between us on his bike. This was to avoid the higher price for foreigners, a policy Chile's national parks have recently instituted. There's a lot to say in favour and a lot to say against this, so I'll just leave it at that. But Tom just nodded away at our fast chilean chattering with the park ranger, and when we went through the gate, I blocked the view of his license plate. 

This is the foot bridge that leads to the longest trail. 

Camilo and Tom. 

More dead trees. You'll be seeing more of this as the trip progresses. 

On the way down to yet another waterfall in Parque Queulat. 

And as we went up and up and up a switchbacking climb, this is what was on the other hillside, facing us. 

And further on:

Ah, yes, La Piedra el Gato. Cat stone. Beneath the bridge you can see part of the original road. 

Another picture from, that shows the initial construction work taking place in 1979. Originally, the idea was to make a semi-tunnel.

The quality of the rock determined that the best alternative was to make an open cut. One can see construction work in the highest part of the cut. The height of the cut was 120 metres and it was 200 metres in length.  This task presented a very large risk to workers; four lives were lost.  (Source:

See the little people on the dark, slick rock?

We stopped on the bridge to wait for Tom. We were hungry. Camilo had one of those emergency ration gels, I think it was called Power Gel. He declared it disgusting. I decided to try it. It was like concentrated banana yoghurt or something. Before giving me the whole pack, he ate some more of the paste, and retched a few times. "You really find it so unpleasant?" I asked. "No, it tastes like milk, and I'm lactose intolerant" said he. Hm....

Further on, more dead trees. 

Waiting for Tom again. 

We eventually reached this strange sign. 

Right at the fork to Coyhaique and Puerto Aysén some pink sunset clouds reared their fluffy heads in the West. I imagined a port, with a few fishing coves, seagulls, a beautiful sea sunset, a rest from all these grey clouds, perhaps some cheap seafood, and a warm bed. That's what I imagined when I thought of Puerto Aysén, so we turned right. 

What greeted us was a miserable town, grey, full of traffic, stop lights, and no sea! A horrible cold wind, a large bridge over a wide river and no sea. We pouted and kicked stones by the bridge for a bit, and then went round and round looking for a place to stay, and everything was full. We finally found this place. 

Since we were concerned about the bike's safety we were offered the shed in the back garden, where they kept firewood. The problem is that there was a rather large beam at floor height crossing the door from side to side. This would make it difficult, it not impossible, to get the V-Strom in. While Camilo and I tried to push it in anyway, Tom was accosted by a drunk that talked to him about god and other similar things, if I'm not mistaken. After much farting around, and so as not to stretch the patience of the hostel owner's family, we desisted: the bikes were to sleep outside. 

The ground was soft, damp and covered in long grass, and we spent another five minutes searching for something that would take the weight of the kickstand. I left my bike unattended as I searched in the dark grass for something hard and flat for the other two heavier bikes. My back turned, I heard a great crash of tin sheeting, metal and tinkling glass. That was my bike going over into Tom's, sending his bike into the shed wall. As a result, my new left hand mirror was shattered. Nice. 

We went out for food, and the lady warned us about the large amount of drunks that wandered aimlessly through Puerto Aysén. As if that weren't enough intoxicated people to deal with, Lucybell had just put on a free show in the main plaza.

We ended up in a place called Dinas, packed with an alarming number of solitary men sitting at small tables, nursing a large mug of beer. 

The menu, very fancily stuffed with clipart and laminated in vinyl, was in English on one side and Spanish on the other. Much to our linguistic horror and delight, we realised that they had just popped the Spanish menu into an online translator and pasted the result in the English section. It was then sent off to be printed in colour and laminated for posterity and glory. A lomo a lo pobre became "to the poor one", para picar became "in order to itch"... the waitress could not understand why this trio of dusty gringos in motorcycle gear were wiping tears from their eyes, laughing hysterically. Ay yes, what a night.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

HI, I found out you blog researching about chile. I am doing route 7 in chile. I will like to do it on a motorbike, I was wondering if you have any idea where I could rent. It doesn't look like there is a lot of info on the web about it. Any help would be appreciate it.

Thanks. You can write to: malakakabroo at

11:33 AM  
Blogger durandal said...

I tried sending an email, but it bounced. Try Moto Aventura in Osorno.


11:46 AM  

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