Chile: Carretera Austral – clouds, water and volcanoes

Carretera Austral in Chile is a must see for everyone traveling through South America. This is the only road that connect the villages in Chilean Patagonia. It goes for 1,220 kilometers from Villa O’Higgins to Puerto Montt. It is mostly gravel, set on backdrop of lush green hills and snow topped mountains. Occasionally, the road hits a dead point at the edge of fiord and you need to catch a ferry to continue.

Unfortunately, most of the time, this beautiful scenery is hidden in rainy clouds and fog.

We started our adventure and the torture of our dear car from the small city of Los Antiguos in Argentina.  The city lies on the shore of lake Buenos Aires. It is a small oasis in the otherwise very dry Argentinian Patagonia and is known as the country’s cherry capital. Sadly for me, there were no any cherries in March.

Lago Buenos Aires (according to Argentinians) or General Carrera Lake (according to the Chileans) is split between the two countries. It is a huge glacier lake with amazing turquoise color.

Northern Patagonia in Chile is cold and humid place, but General Carrera lake generates its own sunny microclimate.

There are beautiful flowers in the gardens of the small villages along the road and billions of rosehip shrubs. I must have been a hunter-gatherer in some of my past lives. My gathering nature took over at the sight of those millions of bright red-orange fruits. I asked Ivan if we could stop for few days and find a small hut with a kitchen and huge pot, where I can make many jars of rosehip jam. I even had the idea to move here and start an organic Patagonian rosehip jam business. Anyway, the idea lived only until I got out of the car and tasted the air temperature and the rain.

General Carrera lake in Chile is famous for its marble caves.

We weren’t fortunate enough to have the best possible light. The sky was cloudy, and the rain started when we were in the boat in the middle of the lake, but still the colors of the water and the marble were spectacular.

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The hanging glacier and a long day

We drove for few hours on a bad gravel road to see the hanging glacier in Queulat National Park. The hike to the view point is through very tick rain forest, an amazing place for someone in love with macrophotography.

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No surprise, the weather was foggy with little drizzle. After three hours uphill hike, we reached the viewpoint and the rain got stronger. We had exactly 3 minutes to see the glacier before it got hidden behind thick fog curtain. This is the best picture I was able to take.

But we were lucky, because the people which arrived shortly after us didn’t even get a glimpse of it. When we descended through the same lush green forest the rain got heavy and it was not that amazing for taking pictures anymore. The trail became a treacherous mud slide. Finally, we got in the car completely wet and continued our drive. After few hours on the same bad gravel road, we ended up with flat tire.

Ivan changed it relatively fast in the rain, just to find out the spare tire didn’t hold air. After some cursing, he fixed it, but the car’s battery run out and we were left in the dark, with no power, no one to ask for help.

Ivan:

Wait a minute. Let me share my version of the story. After few hours hiking in heavy rain, unloading all the stuff from the trunk and changing flat tire in a dark, drizzle evening, finding out that the valve of the spare tire is damaged and fixing it somehow, what could be the worst thing to figure out? Probably that while you did all this, your lovely partner has turned on the ignition key in order to have her seat heated. This turned on also the headlights, the portable cooler and bunch of other lights inside the car. As a result, when I was finally done and almost frozen, the battery was completely drained. No problem, the push I had to do to start the car warmed me up. I love you, honey…

Marinela:

Finally, we reached the next village and found a place to sleep. The beans I made for dinner that evening was one of the tastiest and well deserved meals in our journey.

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Volcano Chaiten

Chaiten volcano is 10 kilometers away from a small village with the same name. It is a little bit more than 1,000 meters high, but its caldera is 3 km in diameter. Chaiten was a sleepy volcano which woke up suddenly in May, 2008. The eruption column was estimated to be 30,000 meters high and covered the village with ashes.

The base of the mountain is covered with lush green forest. The giant Chilean rhubarb is one of the dominating plants.

The hills of the volcano still wear scars of the last eruption and you can see the copses of huge burnt trees.

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Finally, after two hours uphill, we reached the caldera. Today, the volcano smokes very peacefully and quietly.

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Nice birds live here

If you like fog, rainy weather, blue fiords, birds, mountains with lush green hills and snow covered tops, then Chilean Patagonia and Carretera Austral is the perfect place for you.

I appreciate its cold beauty, but somehow, I’m more attracted to the sunny, wine regions of Chile.

2 comments

  1. We love these heated car seats… so often I wake up midnight wondering how a person can possibly survive without them

    Like

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