Torres del Paine to Punta Arenas
14th October 2009
We have been telling friends that although we enjoyed Argentina there was something “missing” but it wasn’t until we crossed into Chile we realised what it was - mountains, forests, water and rivers, reaction.
Everyone, and we mean everybody, was smiling and waving hello and by the time we reached town our wee hands were exhausted from waving back!
With empty cupboards we hot footed it to a supermarket then drove to a fantastic riverside area and had our first naked bush shower of the trip, surrounded by mountains and trees - it was heaven! We had to drag ourselves away to enter Torres del Paine whilst the good weather lasted and spent a week in wonder at the mountains and waterfalls, glaciers and icebergs of the park and breathless with the VERY strong winds!! Every night we were completely alone where-ever we parked unless you count the parrots, flamingo and condors as company. Peak tourist season does not begin until December yet peak rates start in October!
TORRES DEL PAINE -a wonderland of sights, trekking and camping.
The weather finally closes and we decide to drive south passing Rio Verde on the way. Our inverter has stopped working so we go shopping in Zona Franca, Chile’s duty free shopping area in Punta Arenas. You can buy anything from Swiss chocolate to a car here and we found a small inverter to keep us going. We have been keen to find out more about the indigenous people but the local museum answered few questions. However, the local cemetery was worth a visit - who would have thought it! We decided to drive a couple of kilometres out of town to find a spot to camp but saw a hitchhiker and took pity. Marco was travelling 50 kilometres to join his family for a camping weekend in Puerto Hambre, so we found ourselves camping there also - it was a lovely area. Puerto Hambre (Port Hunger) was a Spanish outpost in 1584, short lived as the inhabitants starved to death - hence the name.
It was another area where we could have spent time but the weather is still unreliable so we continue toward the “End of the world”.
Punta Arenas cemetery - very grand.
Fuerte Bulnes entrance.
Native Selk’nam tribal ceremony - 1920.
Chile Chico to Futaleufu
Some places deserve to be spoken about and this next trip is one of those.
Pinochet’s dream was to connect the villages and towns in this isolated region of Chile by completing a road where previously people relied on boats and planes. The Carretera Austral, completed in 1996, is a 1,240 kilometre route that passes through some of the world’s most stunning scenery and is guaranteed to shake you and your vehicle to death. Without doubt it is one of the world’s greatest drives.
We follow the shoreline of Lago General Carrera thoroughly enjoying every twist and turn on the road with each new view it brings. Fortunately we only meet cows and huasos on this section as it’s rather narrow in places. Bush camping is a real pleasure here, dipping in the cold but crystal clear waters of the lake and sleeping in complete silence.
Turning south we follow the mighty Rio Baker, who’s turbulent aquamarine waters thrill rafters from around the world, before finally reaching a town called Cochrane with a supermarket definitely worth a mention. You can buy anything there ; horseshoes & spurs to guns & tyres complete with snow chains to outboard motors & washing machines. Luckily they also sold food!
Tortel is our most southern stop on the route, a village linked by boardwalks that in itself was not worth the drive but the scenery on the way down was definitely rewarding - at times we were reminded of our beloved Malaysia.
Turning north we touch the shoreline of the lake again before reaching Coihaique - the largest settlement in this region. North again and we pass through Parque National Queulat, a park that promised glimpses of ‘steep-sided fjords flanked by creeping glaciers and 2000m volcanic peaks’. On the day we drove through it was cloudy with a steady drizzle of rain so the views stayed hidden but the weather was entirely appropriate for the jungle setting and we very much enjoyed what we saw.
The fjord scenery appeared briefly at Puyuhuapi where hot springs abound for the weary traveller.
We decided against driving to Chaiten - the town is still recovering from the massive volcanic eruption of 2008 and the National park to the north of the town is still closed - so we leave via the lovely Futaleufu.
Lush green forests and flower filled meadows tumble past rocky elephant buttes to reach the aquamarine and turquoise waters of the lakes and rivers. Exotic flowers and bamboo jostle for space in the mixed forest jungles where you are as likely to see a volcano as a glacier. The road sides are an explosion of colour and scents - lupins, thistles, whin and rose hip bushes sit side by side with giant ferns, orchids and nalca plants, the aromatic Chilean incense cedar completes the natural Patagonian perfume.
Overlooking it all are the snowcapped mountains, their waterfalls weeping at the sheer beauty of it all.
Does this mean I’ll have to get out and push?!
Lago General Carrera and a local huasos.
It has been a fantastic trip but we must mention the roads and drivers - average to bloody awful.
The Carretera Austral is predominately ripio (gravel) with washboard and large impacted stone sections. There are two things that can be found everywhere ; Potholes - millions of them, and fast Chilean drivers who pass you in a spray of gravel and stones leaving you to choke on a dust cloud and the damage they have caused your vehicle. They say this road is the ‘ultimate adventure experience’, in our opinion you need two things for ‘adventure driving’ - healthy backs and healthy bank accounts. We won’t return until the asphalt team have been!
Puerto Tranquilo - full of lupins. Coypu in Parque Nacional Queulat
Who needs a golf umbrella when there are nalca leaves nearby!