The number one route for cyclists, the Carretera Austral, is in all top 10 lists and a bucket list item for Overlanders, motors, road tripping and cyclists. They say it is crowded in high season with cyclists everywhere. We cycle the route in spring and meet more cyclists than we ever did before. We start in Puerto Montt, the official start and cycle all the way to Villa O'Higgens, 1.200 kilometers south, where the road stops. From there people have to travel through Argentina to reach to most remotes places of Chile. There is only one road so we only need our GPS to look at the road profile. Thanks to a new application for us 'iOverlander', we find the best wild camping spots with the help of the travelling community. Though we don't need this the first nights because we are invited again by warm families.
After a short ferry crossing to a small island where the Carretera Austral cruises through, we knock on the door of the local fireman, completely soaked after a full day of rain. Although we still shine in our yellow raincoats. The boss of the fireman asks if we have tent because he has some space in his garden. Rodrigo and Lorena have two smart kids who entertain us while the parents finish their work. Sofia, the youngest, teaches Zoë the Chilean dance cueca, and in the night the kids go out for Halloween to collect some candies. 'Off course' we don't sleep in our tent, but in the bed of the oldest sun, who has to sleep on the couch. And they are surprised when we say that we leave the next morning. We have to say for lunch because Lorena will prepare a traditional homemade casuela, a rich soup with potatoes, meat, corn and pumpkin.
In Hornopiren, 50 kilometers more south, we knock on padre Antonio's door. The priest, a charming old man, says enthusiastically 'de Holanda', when Zoë says she comes from the Netherlands. 'Ooh than we can talk in dutch!' says Toon van Kessel, his real name. He invites us to stay one night in the guesthouse and later in the evening we are listening astonished by his remarkable story. As a young man he was sent to Chile, as a missionary, and he fought against the dictatorship of Pinochet, was put in prison several times, but never lost his idealism. He motivated the youth to fight for the poor and built, together with them, 30 churches. He brought electricity, a sewage system and transport to the remote island and educated illiterates to improve their future. Toon is now 82, and still active as a young bird. The next morning we say goodbye to Toon and the island and continue cycling the Carretera Austral.
We have to take two ferries today and need to find a hitchhike to cover the 10 kilometers between the two ferries, because we will never reach the second ferry on time on the bicycles. This crossing goes only once a day in spring which gives opportunities to meet other travellers. We meet cyclist Jean from France and Ryan from Wales on the motorbike. Both of them are just one week on the road and still very inexperienced. Jean, who only cycling the Carretera Austral, joins us and we will meet Ryan on the first camping. Jean will be our first cycling compagnon since Marlène in Europa. When we arrive at the lake we spent the night together and see how other travellers prepared for their trip. We answer a lot of questions and help them with the information we know from Chile and this region. Ryan leaves us in the morning and with the three of us we continue through the stunning Pumalin Park. The park is very well maintained and the ripio, the dirt roads, are smooth, even for our thin tyres. And even the weather is nice. We expected pouring rain every day, but we even get some sun. Cycling through a green tunnel we inhale the strong smell of nature. The dense rainforest park was the property of the American billionaire Tomkins. The man protected his huge piece of nature with his life, literally. Until he died in a canoe accident and his wife donated the park to the Chilean government. They took this golden chance and will pave the section of the Carretera Austral in the next years. Everyday we see road workers, asphalting a new part, all for us, although it seems like that.
We heard that an English teacher in the tiny village La Junta wants to receive cyclists in his class. We don't have a name nor and address, but we find his house quickly. Oscar seems to have forgotten his promise to another cyclist half a year ago and looks surprised when we knock on his door. But we know this feeling disappears quickly from the moment that we put our tent, make us feel comfortable in the house and chat with the family. The next morning we talk about pur trip in three different classes. There is even a Belgian student in one of the classes, who moved here with her family one year ago. Every Monday morning all the students line up for the national and school anthem, while the best students of the week are honoured. The government invest in the nationalism feelings and does his best to attract people to live in Patagonia. Teachers, doctors and other officials receive a double salary to work in these remote places. We stay two nights, learn a lot about the tranquil life in Patagonia and even have a gym teacher in the next village, Puyuhuapi, who will receive us.
Jean slept the last two nights on a camping around the corner. We meet him.the first day to cycle to some hot springs 20 kilometers further on. A car that passes us appears to be the boss. He tells us that the hot springs are closed but gives us the key and offers us a private hot pool. The next day we meet again with Jean and cycle to Puyuhuapi. Because our night is already arranged, we drop Jean at the local firemen, but after this we lose his track. At the school we meet with Juan Jose and stay one more night to visit the glacier and enjoy the comfort of a warm bed. Hitchhiking to the glacier isn't successful, mainly due to the road constructions, so we enjoy the sparse days with sun and Olivier plays futsal in the evening with Juan's team, which was also more than a year ago. The next morning we leave early to combine the four hour walk to the hanging glacier and fifty kilometers of cycling, to catch up our schedule. We made the schedule to cycle without too much hurry to Ushuaia and arrive on time to celebrate Christmas with Olivier's parents. On the road we meet another cyclist, Patrick, a Belgian!
The next day we find Jean again and cycle together with four. We pass the most beautiful landscapes with dozens of waterfalls and all the trees flowering in abundant colours. Rough peaks covered with snow change to warm green trees, mixed with all their purple, red and yellow bellowers. After every turn we have a new amazing view and even after 400 kilometer we say 'oooohhh' after every turn. Sometimes there is a part ripio but most of the route is asphalted. The climbs are steep, but not to hard, and without many problems we arrive in a village every night. After some failed attempts we finally can sleep a night at the firemen's place. A new experience for Jean and Patrick, and they even get a fire alarm in the morning, although is was false alarm. It is fun to have company on the bicycles, but it asks adaptation from each of us. A cyclist, especially after several months, is rusted in his daily habits. We find out that our machine works smoothly and we even don't need words to understand each other. But every cyclist has his own speed, rhythm and budget. We find out that it isn't easy to match all these differences. One never leaves after 8 o'clock, while the other never starts before 9, or one has a tight budget, while another cares more about comfort. With respect for everyone's wishes it is sometimes hard too find the balance. You share life together with a stranger who you barely know.
The last 90 kilometer to Coyhaique are in the pouring rain. Jean chooses the shorter ripio road, but arrives three hours after us. A broken chain and very bad ripio was the result of his choice. Luckily we can give him a warm welcome in a cosy cabaña which we share together in the center of Coyhaique. It is an important stop, halfway the Carretera Austral, and the last place with a decent supermarket and bike repair shops. After this it will be even tougher, more beautiful and more remote!