Friday, January 23, 2009

South on the Carretera Austral: Jan 19-23

Karen left this morning, and I rode 100 km back to Osorno to get tires for my bike. This had already been arranged, and it wouldn’t have been a problem if anyone had been at the shop. Unfortunately, the shop was closed. After calling around I finally found them and they promised they would be there ‘soon’. In the meantime, I went to find some oil to do an oil change. Only I only had to try four places before I found someplace with an acceptable oil.

Back at MotoAdventuras, Victor arrived and changed the tires while I changed the oil, and then I was back on the road to Puerto Montt. This was now the fifth time I had ridden this stretch of road and it is BORING!

Adam and I had agreed to split the cost of the hotel (at a reduced rate since we wouldn’t be sleeping there) so we had a place to shower and re-pack since the boat didn’t leave until midnight. This was a real pleasure.

We began lining up to load at 10pm as instructed. And waited. And waited. The boat was full of trucks, and they all had to be loaded backwards so that they could roll off in Chaiten. We finally got my bike on and stuck in amongst some trucks.

The ferry ride itself was not particularly pleasant. Think of economy class on Aeroflot without all the luxury and you’ll have a good idea of the ferry. I grabbed a really good seat with lots of leg room as soon as we got on the boat. Then they announced that there were teeny, itty-bitty numbers on the tickets that were seat assignments. I was immediately displaced by a family with 12 kids. The smart passengers were the backpackers who grabbed space under the tables and set out their mats and sleeping bags. I, on the other hand, got to curl up next to a logger who hadn’t bathed since October… 2006. Little sleep and a cramped neck were my rewards for the evening.

But eventually we arrive, about 9 am, in Chaiten, and the ferry unloaded. This was much faster than the loading since everyone was heading in the right direction

Chaiten used to be a fairly thriving tourist town until last May when the Chaiten volcano decided to blow its top. The volcano and surrounding area are beautiful, and as you can see the volcano still hasn’t broken its smoking habit.

The town itself was devastated. It’s now a ghost town, mostly under ash. There are a few stores that have reopened, and Adam and I were able to get some food.

We had decided that we would ride to the hot springs at El Amarillo, take it easy for the day (since we hadn’t slept), and camp there. I should mention that Adam is a Brit who has been riding around the world for two and a half years. He generally camps, and is well prepared for it. I, on the other hand, do not and am not. I also like a softer bed. Adam’s longer term travel also meant that he was on a bit tighter budget than I was. Travelling with someone else has both its advantages and disadvantages. When you each have different agendas, budgets, or styles it can cause some problems. We enjoyed a few days together, and were planning on travelling down Ruta 40 (one of the tougher stretches of the trip) together, but then because of this we ended up separating.

But we did enjoy the camp, and had lots of privacy, as we were the only ones there. There were a couple of guys in the thermals for the day who worked at one of the nearby salmon farms, and I learned a lot from them about the local salmon farming industry. Did you know that a salmon bush can be harvested twice a year, then has to be dug up and replanted. The salmon themselves are picked from the branches using a kind of threshing machine. Or maybe I had a bit of a problem with the translations!

The Carretera Austral is mostly dirt from this point. Most of it is decent, but there are some bad areas where they are doing construction. Riding south on it, however, was spectacular. We just kept saying to ourselves ‘This is what I came to southern Chile for’. There are just some days that make all the crap worthwhile, and this was one of them. As you can see, incredible scenery.

There was also a bit of mystery, as we had no idea how an old plane wreck happened to be parked at the side of the road. Talk about off course!

That night (Thursday) we stayed in Puyuapi, where I found a decent hostel (although run by a semi-lunatic woman) while Adam camped. Also in the Small World department, we ran across four Aussies that Adam had met in Australia a year before. One of them gave me the card of a travel agent who had helped them get a last minute trip to Antarctica, and this turned out to be one of the best things that happened to me, as she later became a life-saver in getting me down onto the ice.

The next day we went to Coihaique, where again I found a hostel and Adam camped. After about two hours of looking at places together we decided to each look for our own accommodations. Since I had a cell phone and Adam did not, he promised to call me the next morning to make plans. Unfortunately, he never called. I heard about a local horse riding fiesta the next day in Puerto Ibanez and really wanted to go. I sent Adam an email, but got no response until after I had left the next day. So Adam (at least as a travelling companion) became history. Saturday I was off to Puerto Ibanez.

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