The Road from Chaiten

April 2016

South of Chaiten, we met the Carretera Austral proper. One of the most scenic roads in the Southern Hemisphere, Ruta 7 Chile is known as the Patagonian Road, one of only two, including its sister road in Argentina, to span the southern tip of the South American continent. On the Chilean side, it weaves in and out of lush valleys and pernicious mountain passes. On the Argentinian side (as I’ll show in a later post), it is mostly vast and flat pampas with gradually rising plateaus and endless sky.

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The story as we heard it was that many years ago a plane crashed here. Years later a man purchased the property with the downed plane with plans to turn it into a house. The plane house was never finished and the land is once more for sale.
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Carretera Austral, Ruta 7 Chile

Our friend Claudia directed us to some spectacular sights south of Chaiten on our way to Puyuhuapi, a speck of a village known for its woven goods. First, there was Parque Pumalin with its jaw-dropping vistas of blue glaciers and verdant valleys. Here, we happened upon a crew of four motorcyclists, calling themselves Frio to Fuego, on their own journey from Canada to Tierra del Fuego. They instantly took a liking to Olivia, one  chasing her across the fields while I showed the others the edible berries in the nearby bushes, a surprising treat Claudia had just demonstrated.

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Parque Pumalin
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Hitchhikers on their way south

Then it was on to idyllic suspension bridges, long winding lakes, and finally Puyuhaupi, which we reached just as the sun was sinking beyond the hills. Dark came quickly in this mountainous part of Patagonia, where the towns were strung like pearls in a necklace dropped into a forgotten crack of the world.

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A beautiful day on the Carretera Austral
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The view north from the bridge

Unfortunately, Puyuhuapi was inaccessible this time of year. To be specific, the town was under construction – yes, the entire town. In the scant few weeks after tourist season and before winter sets in, most small towns in Patagonia go under extensive repairs. Most services are closed and hostels and hosterias are filled with visiting construction workers who are brought in from far away cities with their skills and equipment.

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The view south from the bridge
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All along the Carretera Austral, you’ll see these public works signs declaring the cost of paving and maintaining the roads in Patagonia. Much of the roads we drove on in the South of Chile were unpaved and many also were in the process of being paved.

We drove carefully into town, rerouted again and again by road construction, wending our way through the small town in search of a place to stay the night. We were nervous at each turn, wondering whether we’d find ourselves at a dead-end and be forced to try and turn our car and trailer around in next to no space. Finally, a few hair raising squeezes later, we found ourselves on the costanera – or the water-facing main road – a term used in every Chilean city or town we’ve come to yet.

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Road paving in process
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Typical scenery in Northern Patagonia

We stayed the night in Puyuhuapi in a small bed and breakfast, going out for a walk along the short and muddy costanera at nightfall, and sharing local beers from a park bench while Oli ran around burning off energy. Sadly, due to the construction, we didn’t get to sample any of Puyuhuapi’s delights or visit the weaver’s house.

The next morning, we drove on.

 

 

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