This is a short recap of my experience when cycling the famous Carraterra Austral road in Southern Chile. The Carraterra Austral is a road which was built in the 1970s by then dicator General Pinochet to link the towns of southern Chile with the more densly populated mainland. This road has linked thousands of people by bringing together isolated communities which were once left isolated due to the numerous mountains, lakes, rivers and glaciers which form Southern Chile. The Carraterra Austral has also become a famous cycling destination for the same very reason. As you cycle along what is mainly very rough ripio roads (ripio is spanish for gravel roads) you will pass beautiful waterfalls, lakes, rivers, glaicers and cycle up and down the mountains which make up this famous road. Sounds Idyillac, and it nearly was but as I rode from south to north looking for adventure what I discovered was a well beaten cycle tourist trail which extended for over a thousand kilometers.
Now do not get me wrong the reason this road has become a famous cycle touring destination is due to its remoteness and areas of natual beauty. It really is beautiful with flowing wateralls and rivers so clean I was able to fill my water bottles anywhere. The downside is everybody else is also on the same trail. I was late in the season and was passing around 8 other cycle tourists daily and whilst normally when I meet another cycle tourist I stop excitedly for a chat, on this road due to the number of cyclists it is often a simple wave if that. People are cycling fast and heading for the latest secret campsite on their secret camping apps, the locals are so used to seeing cyclists that you lose any wonder or interaction with the local community and every shop and campsite is therefore super expensive.
I think maybe I am spoiled. I have been on the road for nearly two years and have cycled many many roads. I myself may have fell for the hype, for the beauty was there but the isolation and local communities were missing. Also I am on a super long tour therefore money and budgeting is a big deal to me, if you were to just cycle the Carraterra Austral money would not be as much as a option and you could enjoy more of the local tastes in the small bars and restaurents.
I would often compare the Carraterra Austral to other roads I have cycled and I can honestly felt that here the adventure was missing. If you are really looking to get lost, to ride across beautiful scenery whilst not feeling like a tourist on a bike but a bike tourist then I recommend these top three roads to explore:
1.G213, China-The old nataional highway runing south from Chengdu to Kunming in China. Famous for mountain views, small remote chinese communitys and cobble mountain. (Cobble mountain is named so by Finola & I as it is a 2700m pass with cobbles for the road surface)
2.Bishkek to Osh, Krgyzstan-The most beautiful road I have ever ridden. Climb to 3600m to the Torugart Pass before desending for almost two days as you come down from the snow lined mountains to beautiful rivers and gorges.
3.Alba Lulia to Brasov, Romania-Cycle past authentic Romania villages where people still sell their wares from horse and cart. Climb over the Fagaras mountains and experience beautiful friendly people and the feel the ledgend of dracula around you. Black bears are also found along this road.
This is just my thoughts and you will find many other people looking to experience the beauty of the Carrera Austal and it is stunning just not adventure I was hoping for.
There is something exciting still about crossing an international land border. I still get excited when I approach a new country and have to hand over my ragged passport to collect another stamp. Each border is different and of all the international borders in which you can choose to cross between Argentina and Chile one of these has become infamous. This is the border between El Chalten in Argentina and Villa O Higgins in Chile. This border is known for its remoteness and the fact that it links the famous trekking town of El Chalten to the start (or end depending on how you look at it) of the famous Carraterra Austral Road in Southern Chile.
I first read about this border crossing when planning my South American adventure and essentially this little known border goes like this. A 40km gravel road to Lago Del Deserto ferry terminal where you must purchase a ticket to get across the lake. This takes about 40 minutes. At the other end of the lake you then get stamped out of Argentina before you need to push your bike across 6km of mud, glacial streams, rocks and boulders before you reach another 15km of gravel track which leads to the Chilean entry border. From the Chilean border you must take another ferry this time taking 2 hours to cross Lago O´Higgins where you reach the township and the Carraterra Austral.
My orginal plan was to go around this border due to the cost of the two ferries working out to about $80US which would take a huge dent out of my small budget. Thankfully after speaking to my sister and telling her about the 250km detour back into the wind she kindly donated me the money for ferries and I was off into the border in the bush. I was super excited to be able to go this way and to follow in the bicyle footprints of those who have tackled this route before me. I was joined by a Belgian cyclist called Alan, who I first met in Purto Arenas and together we set about tackling the mud and steams. The first kilometer is the hardest as the trail goes straight uphill and with my bike and gear weighing close of 50kg I was slipping and sliding all over the place, I was super glad to be joined by Alan as it took two of us to push my bike up the first hill.
The route then becomes a bit of a dug out with my bike fitting snugly in the track with me pushing from above. After the first kilometer the track went across the first of the streams and with care we unpacked our bikes and walked everything across over the little bridge. This was slow going so after this we decided to just get stuck off, socks and shoes off and through the steams and mud we went. It was great fun really, almost like a obsticle course but you have your bike along with you.
This route is well trodden and is in fact not as remote as we were led to belive with and we passed many other cyclists and trekkers going in the opposite direction. I remember reading that people needing to have GPS units to cross this border but this is now not the case anymore as there are signs pointing the way and even kilometer markers to let you know how far there is to go. It is a fun border crossing and whilst much more exciting than the standard entry-exit process it is not difficult to do and I think anyone can manage it even if they were on their own.
By going this way it means I was able to cycle the Carraterra Austral from the begining as it was from Villa O´Higgins I was able to begin the next 1000km of rough gravel road, but more on this next time!
Buy me a beer!! Thank you
This blog follows my cycle ride from Reading, Berkshire to Reading, Pennsylvania.