14: Chiloe to Chaiten and the Carretera Austral

Days 20 – 23 (14th – 17th Dec.)

Day 20 – Calen to Hornopiren
We were up early today as we had a long ride ahead of us. From Calen we had to ride back up to the north of Chiloe in order to catch the ferry back to Pargua, on the mainland, and then back to Puerto Montt again. It was a wet and misty day so despite having waterproofs it was a miserable 60 or so miles in the constant rain to the ferry. Luckily, we rode straight onto it and were back in Puerto Montt in good time. We continued our journey, joining the Carretera Austral just south of Puerto Montt, and headed for the little port of La Arena to catch a small ferry which took about half an hour to get to another little port, Puelche. From there, we headed for the larger town of Hornopiren where the next morning we would take a 2-stage ferry to Caleta Gonzalo.



On the way to Hornopiren, Mark had some more fun taking the sidecar off the paved road, as much of the road to Hornopiren was a muddy, gravelly surface for several miles with dips, huge puddles and slippery wooden bridges. What made it more scary for me were the huge trenches at the side of the road, but we took it steadily. There were a few other vehicles on this stretch of road, mainly huge lorries charging along, and 4×4’s which usually overtook us at speed. We turned up the Scottoiler (the automatic oiler for the bike’s chain) to help protect it from all the grit and debris from the road which was flying everywhere as we rode along. It was a bit of a relief to get onto tarmac, only to find it was a small section and we were then back onto the unmade road again for more miles!  Believe or not, this is the one and only continuous road accessing the whole of southern Chile:

The road to Hornopiren


We eventually arrived at Hornopiren in the late afternoon and filled up the bike and spare fuel can as petrol stations will be more scarce where we are heading, and then checked into our Hostel for the night. This was very near the ferry terminal so an ideal position as we had to be there the following day to book in at 8.30am.
Day 21 – Hornopiren to Caleta Gonzalo
We were up early and waited with other passengers to book in – it was very busy and we had to take a numbered ticket and wait our turn to get our tickets which we’d pre-booked on-line.  Luckily, our reservation was fine so we grabbed our tickets and embarked. Whilst waiting, we got chatting to an English couple, Sally and Andy, who were cycling the route and who by chance we had overtaken yesterday….the only time we overtook anyone all day! We received a lot of attention from the ferry crew who swarmed round the bike and were asking where we were from and how we got the bike to Chile. We passed some time chatting with Andy and Sally, along with some other motorcyclists – two from Brazil riding a BMW 800GS and Yamaha 660 Tenere, and a German couple on a BMW 1200GS.

Heading to Gonzalo….


….in the Chilean fjords


A 10km unmade road linked the 2 ferry stages, which totalled around 5 hours from start to finish. After disembarking at Gonzalo, we checked out a campsite a couple of hundred metres beyond the port.  It was within the beautiful Pumalin Park which comprises some 3000 hectares of untarnished temperate forest. As it had stopped raining, we decided to camp there for the night – luckily, we managed to erect the tent just before the rain returned in torrents which continued all through the night. The noise of the rain on the tent, along with noise form the fast-flowing Gonzalo river nearby, was intense but a good test for a first night in our new tent. After sorting ourselves out, we walked over to a very welcome fire pit area to warm up and try and dry some of our wet things. Other campers from Chile, France and Israel were doing the same. Sally and Andy had stopped off here too, so it was a lovely atmosphere all chatting together and preparing our suppers by the fire pit.

Home for two days….
….approached via a rope bridge
The much-welcome fire pit

Day 22 – At Gonzalo
After raining for the whole night, it continued for most of the day. However, we found a café a short distance away and warmed up sitting next to their open fire and had a bite to eat. By midday, there was a break in the weather so we said goodbye to Sally and Andy who had joined us for lunch as they were heading on towards Chaiten, about 58 km away, on their bicycles. Hopefully we will meet up again in due course.
After lunch, it stopped raining for a while so we decided to check out a local trail to which led to a series of nearby cascades. The lush vegetation with ferns, huge Alerce Trees and gentle streams was a beautiful sight. But, when we were nearing the top it started raining heavily again which prompted an early descent. Whilst we saw a number of small waterfalls we’ll never know if there was something bigger further up!

Day 23 – Gonzalo to Chaiten
We awoke to a recently rare site – the sun. Given that dismantling the tent would be easy in the dry, we decided to pack-up and move on to Chaiten, some 58km south, the last sizeable town before Coyhaique, a few hundred km to the south. The road to Chaiten was largely unmade, ranging from a well-compacted and level surface to shorter stretches with deep potholes, ruts, loose stones and mud. Roughly at the mid-point, several km’s were in the process of being paved and thus we had a billiard table ride connecting the pogo-stick (but fun) start and finish rides.

Stopping en-route to Chaiten….
….at a glacial tarn

On the way to Chaiten we had to stop at a red light where road improvements were being undertaken. The workman operating the lights, as well as asking for a photograph of himself with us and the bike, asked how far we were travelling since there had been, on the previous day, a disastrous landslide which had all but destroyed the next town beyond Chaiten, Santa Lucia, with the result that the Carretera Austral had been closed and would remain so for an unspecified period of time, possibly weeks. As it happened, the next crossing over the Andes to Argentina was at Santa Lucia, and thus we couldn’t cross there to continue south. We therefore have had to review our options of which there are two – first, to re-trace our steps back along the Carretera Austral to Puerto Montt, complete with 3 ferry crossings; and second, to get a ferry Chiloe (where we were staying a few days ago) and then ride back up to Puerto Montt from there. We’ve decided on the latter since it will take less time and will enable us to press on south – this time on the famous Ruta 40 in Argentina.
Upon arriving at Chaiten, we booked into a great Cabana on the seafront.   Numerous helicopters have been flying overhead, which we assume is to do with the rescue operation at Santa Lucia where five persons have perished and sixteen are missing.  It has made us think….had we not decided to camp at Gonzalo we would have been two days ahead and may well have been near to or even at Santa Lucia when the landslide occurred.

Whilst taking a walk around Chaiten, we spotted a well-used Africa Twin, an early RD04 model, which appeared to be on a round-the-world trip. Unfortunately, the owner was not around as it would have been interesting to hear more of the trip (and the bike).


Sunset at Chaiten

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