Thursday, March 10th through Tuesday, March 22nd
Leaving Coyhaique, we had two options. We could continue north along the Carretera Austral. Alternatively, we could take a ferry over to the island of Chiloé and bike northwards from there.
Quite frankly, we were done with the Carretera Austral. Though the few kilometers immediately ahead were on pavement and would lead us through a pleasant climate, further beyond we knew that the Carretera meant more terrible roads and wet rainforests.
|Me, posing with our last Ruta 7 sign along the Carretera Austral.|
We were fine saying goodbye to Ruta 7.
We were far more excited about the alternative. We'd heard nothing but great things about Chiloé from the locals. Plus, this alternative would require a ferry ride that would take us through the Patagonian fjords, an area we had yet to explore.
|There was a food truck at the intersection where we left Route 7. Food trucks were popular in Chile long before they became a fad in the Pacific Northwest.|
The 85 kilometer pedal to Puerto Chacabuco, where we would catch the ferry, was splendid. The road meandered though the valley alongside Río Simpson. The traffic was minimal and the views were maximal.
|A nearly perfect cylindrical rock.|
|The colors and lines of the suspension bridge offer a nice contrast to the natural surroundings.|
As we approached Puerto Chacabuco, we noticed a thick cloud of black smoke ahead. Though vehicles were being stopped, we were allowed to pass. Hmm...what's going on? As we pedaled further, we noticed that a protest was being staged in the middle of the road. As El Mecánico noted, the protestors were burning some stinky "Goodyear or Michelin logs."
|It's one thing to protest. It's another thing to pollute the environment while doing so.|
We watched the protest for awhile, thinking something would happen to breathe life into the uneventful gathering. Alas, the show was nothing more than a fire, a sign announcing the cause (the sign was so poorly made that we couldn't read it), and a bunch of people standing around. We continued on to the ferry terminal.
A little while later, we boarded the Naviera Austral ferry. The ferry ride would take us from Puerto Chacabuco to the town of Quellón, on the southern end of Isla Grande de Chiloé.
|The red line represents the route we biked (from Coyhaique to Puerto Chacabuco) and the blue line represents the ferry route (from Puerto Chacabuco to Quellón).|
The ferry ride was spectacular. The boat navigated through picturesque fjords. All around us were steep rocky escarpments, thick uninhabited forests, and glacier-capped peaks. We spent hours on deck watching the landscape go by.
|Our view as we admired the snow-covered peaks in the distance.|
And to make the experience even more magical, one of the passengers spent a few hours on deck practicing his violin. He was quite a skilled player. Hearing the tunes of Mozart and Beethoven as we marveled at Patagonia as it drifted by made it seem as though we were watching an IMAX film -- though, of course, in real life.
|While our eyes were enticed by the sights, our ears were enticed by the sounds of this man's violin.|
Twenty-nine hours after leaving Puerto Chacabuco, the ferry pulled into the port in Quellón. Our Lonely Planet guidebook had provided this tidbit about Quellón: "...an increase in street crime due to the salmon fallout...and a generally insipid shadiness about the place makes Quellón a get in, get out town."
As we arrived just after midnight on a Friday night, we were especially anxious to get out of town. We pedaled as quickly as we could past the drunkards and the groups of partygoers on the sidewalks. About 10 km out of town, we started looking for a place to pitch our tent, which, let me add, is particularly difficult in the middle of a dark night.
The next morning we awoke to an island shrouded in a mesmerizing fog. Let our Chiloé adventure begin!
|It's difficult to distinguish among the clouds, water, and fog.|
Chiloé is the second largest island in Chile, after Tierra del Fuego. I would say that Chiloé is to Chile as the San Juan Islands are to Washington state; it is a popular place for vacationers who are looking to dial down the pace of life. Similar to the hillier of the San Juan Islands, the terrain on the island is undulating, and so we rode up and down one hill after another for the entire length of the island. Though the climate is typically on the cooler and damper side in March, we were fortunate to visit the island during an unusual spell of clear skies and warm weather.
|There are more than 150 wooden churches and chapels on the island, many of which are recognized as Unesco Heritage sites.|
|These are the well-known palafito houses in Castro, the largest town on the island. The front sides of the houses resemble regular houses, while the backsides are built on stilts over the water.|
After biking the length of Chiloé, we took another short ferry back to the Chile mainland and began riding north. We rode through Puerto Montt, the official northern terminus of the Carretera Austral. The town was overcast, industrial, and slummy. As we ate our sandwiches in a dingy town park, we were grateful that we decided to detour off the Carrtera. We had made the right decision, as the ferry ride and the Chiloé venture offered us new experiences.
|Brian rides along the Pan American Highway, which begins in Quellón and extends all the way to North America.|
We had met a Columbian bicycle tourist down south who mentioned that cyclists could camp at Copec gas stations in Chile. A cross between a gas station and a rest stop, the larger Copec stations even have showers and wifi. We thought this sounded like an interesting experience, and so we gave it a go.
|Copec, offering gas station camping for cyclists.|
|A beautiful sunset, enjoyed from the Copec truck stop.|
Wanting to explore Chile's Lakes & Volcanoes region, our next destination was a circumnavigation of Llago Llanquihue. We hadn't realized that a paved bike path (gasp!) existed around 60 km of the lake. What a lovely surprise! We didn't have to worry about cycling along shitty roads or dealing with traffic. All we needed to do was pedal and enjoy the sweet smells of eucalyptus along the way.
|The bike path along Lago Llanquihue.|
As we biked further to the east around the lake, Volcán Osorno became larger and larger. And what a beautiful volcano it was! El Mecánico found us a badass stealth camping spot on the shores of the lake, just across from the volcano. We had the whole beach to ourselves!
|Volcán Osorno by day...|
|...and at dusk.|
Plus our campsite was equipped with a plethora of blackberry bushes, which we took full advantage of.
|Blackberries for our morning breakfast.|
|Me, with Volcán Osorno in the distance.|
|A picture-perfect homestead along the route.|
|Fred Flintstone has a popular following in Chile. I was fortunate to hang out with him for a bit.|
Having finished circling the lake, we pulled into the town of Osorno to figure out our next steps. We spent the last two months pedaling around Chile, we decided we were ready to hunker down in one place and try living as the Chileans do. We decided on a town, booked a room at an AirBnB, and hopped on a bus to the coastal city of Valparaíso. Here we come, Valpo!