The Carreterra Austral - BELIEVE THE HYPE!
When someone says you "have to" do something, then you are always a little wary of your expectations.
Disappointment sucks! so you learn to go in with no to low expectations to protect yourself from those sinking "ugh" moments.
The Carreterra Austral is the exception of this ...it is STUNNING!
It's also wild and free and peaceful. For those that have ever visited the South Island of New Zealand it is very similar in places ...so much so that at times along the route we would forget that we had to speak Spanish when we stopped for food and gas because we felt so much at home.
7th March and we took the Ruta 259 from Trevelin and crossed back into Chile at Paso Futaleufu and then took a gravel road to Ruta 235, past the beautiful lake Yelcho where we stopped to have a break, and then onto Ruta 7 ...the Carreterra Austral.
The scenery was stunning and the weather was stunning ...blue skies too, so we could see everything.
After experiencing the busy roads and many amenities around the lakes of Bariloche we were surprised to find the Carreterra Austral at this time of year was actually quite devoid of people ...we felt like we had the place to ourselves. Unfortunately we had also packed no lunch and had a light breakfast so were getting pretty hungry by 1:30. We passed lots of signs for food but when we arrived they were closed for the season.
Eventually we passed a cafe at the side of the road and doubled back as there were a couple of cars outside. It was a small and quite place and you ate what they were cooking that day ...Plate del dia! (dish of the day!). Soup and a home made bread roll followed by Chicken, potatoes and veggies, and a cup of instant coffee (made with brown tinged bore water ...but you didn't notice once you added the instant coffee anyway!) all for a very respectable $8 NZD.
We had planned to head to a place called Puerto Cisnes for the evening but when we checked the weather reports it showed that a rain front was moving in the next day so we decided to move on and cover as much ground as we could in the good weather when at least we could see more than clouds.
One thing we haven't mentioned yet is the fact that the further south we travelled the colder it was starting to get ...so getting cold and wet didn't seem like a good idea.
We ended up booking cheap accomodation online In Coyhaique that turned out to be in a gated community. When we turned up we were stumped how we were going to get in as there was no cell phone service to message the owners, but Nick discovered that the side walking gate was open and we managed to manoeuvre the bikes through that.
The following day it was raining and windy when we woke up. Our plan had been to ride to see the Marble Caves at Puerto Rio Tranquil but unfortunately the forecast for the next week was terrible weather.
We couldn't wait a week so made the decision again to push on.
Not long after Coyhaique, and in the pouring rain, the road turned to gravel ...very loose and fluid gravel that was making our bikes move around like eels in shallow water! We had talked to many people about this road and all had said it was easy, so it kind of made our hearts sink a bit to think that our riding skills were still lacking (after all these kms!).
45 kms of Oooooo...... Eeeeee.... moments and we realised why the road was so tricky to ride.
Three ...THREE!!! graders all working in a row!!! working up a nice compacted (but potholed) gravel road into fluffy stones!
The road improved surface wise after passing the graders as long as we dodged the potholes (and bulls!).
When we reached Puerto Rio Tranquil we stopped for fuel and met a tour group of KTM riders. They were a lovely group of guys ...but unfortunately Bec has a love/hate relationship with the orange machines after the rider of one once called her bike a "soft" adventure bike.
Still on gravel roads and they shot off ahead of us but we caught them up ...and they were going a little bit slower than we were, so then we are faced with this dilemma of overtake and seem rude or stay behind. But they were KTMs!
So we overtook, and raced ahead, and it felt amazing for our little Honda 500's to be kicking some KTM ass (in our heads!) and it was going great until "BANG!"
Bec lost drive and knew something was wrong so pulled over.
Unfortunately the locking nut on Becs back wheel had fallen off and so had her chain (at speed) and wrapped itself around the front chain sprocket.
Nick struggled to loosen the chain from the front sprocket while Bec walked back to look for the lost nut and holding washer. Unfortunately while she found the washer (by some MIRACLE!) we couldn't find the nut.
We were stuck ...a long way from anywhere.
Here is where is got "guilt inducing". because the support vehicle for the KTM tour group stopped to help. and while they didn't have the exact nut we needed, they did have the a nut that fitted on the final thread and would help us limp to the next town.
That next town that we were heading for was Chile Chico. Once again our lack of planning meant the town we thought was a 50km ride on tar seal was actually over 100kms of gravel roads that went up and over a mountain pass.
We started off going at a max of 20km/hour due to the fact the locking nut was literally "holding on by a thread".
We then slowly sped up to a max of around 50km/hour with Nick following closely behind and fixated on the nut in case it fell off.
We stopped in a couple of small settlements along the way (route 265) to ask for a mechanic but there was no one available.
By the time we reached Paso las llaves we had started some steep climbs on some really unstable gravel so the back end of both bikes were fishtailing. We rode on with a heavy feeling in our guts knowing that if the nut fell off we were stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Soon it got dark and the road showed no signs of improvement, in fact it was so bad that Nicks chain jumped off the sprocket on one of the hills climbs. Luckily we were being followed by a truck who could tell we were having problems so he angled his lights so Nick could see as he got the chain back on and then followed us all the way into Chile Chico ...giving us a happy "toot toot" as we made it to town.
By some miracle we made it to our hotel by 10pm just as the lady on the desk was about to leave. We asked if she had any food but unfortunately not ...only wine!
We hadn't eaten properly all day so wolfed down a bag of peanuts, a squished chocolate bar and a bottle of wine and slept like logs!
The next day we hunted around all the mechanics in Chile Chico and even asked another tour group who said there support vehicle was coming (it didn't).
Our last hope was a garage in the suburbs (using that term very loosely!).
The guy welcomed us in like old friends and found a nut that fitted and had us on the road again!
Unfortunately ,this was just the start of our mechanical woes ...our bikes were starting to feel the hardships and kms we had put them through.
But more to come in the next few posts on that.