The Carratera Austral and the Patagonian myth (P1)

Mighty mountains of my dreams (Fitzroy)
Mighty mountains of my dreams (Fitzroy)

Patagonia has haunted my dreams since i was little. Huge towering spires, icy wastes for miles, a vast empty wilderness, a place of space, of freedom, where adventure is still possible. So it was with huge excitement that we finally booked flights for a few weeks of peddling through this land of fantasies.


Like all things that have been built in your mind and transformed by your expectations, the reality is going to have a hard time living up to it. Im going to try to be positive but also maybe give a bit of info to those who are as idealistic as i was, so maybe you are better prepared for your time there. We also went to patagonia not only wanting to cycle tour but also find some remote singletrack deep in the mountains. As such we restricted ourselves to a world were there was no information. Had we been travelling on foot our experience may have been very different.

After 40 hours flying and waiting in airports, than another 12 on an overnight bus we were finally spat out in rio beuno, a small dusty town in Chiles lake district. The minor hiccup of huws broken leg meant we had altered our plans slightly and decided on an easy first week of road to see how it would cope. Lured by photos of snow capped volcanoes and stunning lakes we were super excited about our journey.

Heading straight to the supermarket we got our first experience of patagonias version of the weird old man. Everywhere has them, scotland is a prime producer, but whilst here they get soaked up into the pubs, in patagonia, their hangout is the supermarkets. We used to fight for who got to escape their attention by doing the shopping, whilst the other would wait outside and deal with the lecherous/demanding/funny or occasionally great old dude. One town we spent some time had an old guy who liked to be in charge, wherever we propped the bikes he would insist that we move them and tell us what idiots we were. He had such a great time annoying us. You could almost see his eyes light up as we approached!

Waiting for the ferry with feral dog cuddles
Waiting for the ferry with feral dog cuddles

We also discovered the feral dogs, or rather, they found us and our western weakness to their pleading gazes. Some were really sad cases that you just wanted to scoop us and take to the vets. Others were fat and well groomed and possibly had an owner some where. Sometimes one would attach to us and follow us round town making us feel so guilty we would dump some cheese for it and run while it was busy eating. Once we were chased up a remote mountain road for several km, even time trialing it we couldn’t loose him and were starting to get worried when he finally lost interest.


This first dusty week we were hit by the reality of trying to camp in a country where private property is everything. barbed wire fences kept us company, 20m on either side of the road all the way south through patagonia. Speaking to other tourers it seems this was one of the most common complaints. All the land is owned, barred and often covered in cow poo. The lake district ended up being a bit of a dusty disappointment for us, not helped by Huws leg which forced us to stay on the roads and not wander far in pursuit of a campsite. It was with relief that we arrived in Puerto Mont and boarded a boat further south. 48 hours of doing nothing but eating, snoozing and admiring the stunning fjords! The Navimag ferry allowed us to make up time lost by the broken bone and was a really memorable part of our trip. We heard later of bad roads and tarmac that we had skipped.


On arrival at Port Chacabuco we headed inland amongst beautiful jungle scenery to arrive at coihaqui, a proper outback town. As we climbed up we left the lush greenery for a stark dry landscape. The contrast between coastal and plains was very sudden and we never totally got used to the huge differences.This is the capital town of the Provence and our last big fuel point. Although all the way on the Carratera it was possible for us to pass a shop every few days, often they were small and horribly expensive. We were tending to carry four days to a weeks worth of food (by food, spaghetti and red sauce. This is not a foodies paradise!).

Once on the road again we picked up the pace, although we passed some beautiful places we were keen to get into the mountains proper and try to find some singletrack. Cerro Castillo national park was our next stop. Initially we had hoped to hikebike through the mountains but with Huws foot not sorted this was an impossible dream. The rangers soon put a damper on it anyway as they would not allow bikes into the park. Why, they couldn’t quite explain and we were left in a bit of a mystery as to if it was environmental, safety or they just thought we couldn’t manage. Anyway, you have been warned, in Patagonia, bikes are treated with disdain and suspicion!


Riding into Cerro Castillo national park
Riding into Cerro Castillo national park


Heading further south we started to push 100-120km days. We had realized time was slipping away to catch the ferry from villa o higgins before Christmas and there seemed to be places of much more interest and singletrack potential south in Argentina. These long days passed in a blur of steep hills, dust, mud, giant buzzing biting flies and, when we could get them, empanadas. We passed through Cochrane, the last small settlement before villa o higgins, again we had hoped to head into the national parks here and skip out some road but given our last encounter with the parks we decided just to push on. We rode along bright blue and purple lupin lined roads, past the stunning ice mint waters of the manys lakes and feared and welcomed the mighty winds pouring off the ice cap. Our camps were usually nice enough, although not always easy to find and it seemed every suitable spot was regularly used, eggshells and rubbish always left behind.


Two weeks in and our first nice peaceful camp, hidden deep in a forest.
Two weeks in and our first nice peaceful camp, hidden deep in a forest.

After a few days of icy blasting, fresh snow creeping lower on the hills and regular soakings we arrived at the end of the road, in Villa O Higgins. This is a strange but lovely place, stuck with the cancelled ferry we ended getting to know it quite well. The town was created for the sole reason of stopping the Argentinians claiming it for their own. The Chilean government offered free land to those willing to resettle and the town was born.

Villa O higgins
Villa O higgins

About twenty other cycle tourers were stuck here with us (its a very popular route) and we banded together for an amazing Christmas dinner. We introduced everyone to the delights of banofee pie 🙂 It was a lovely couple of days finding out about all the variations of set up and trips, we were rather jealous of those that manage to take months to years for open ended traveling. Then, after almost a week of gale force winds and torrential rain, the ferry was on! When we got off we would have an epic battle in a flooded no mans land with raging rivers between Chile and Argentina….


Thanks to Huw ( Over at Topofests) for some of these photos 🙂


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