After arriving in Ushuaia at the southern most tip of South America, Nick Sanders is now heading north to the Attacama in Chile, en-route to a whistle stop tour of Bolivia.
About to set out on the famous Carraterra Austral, Nick has been giving us his latest updates from his travels:
“The next road out of Rio Mayo was paved and I headed in the general direction of Trevelin when, like some sort of shudder down the spine, suddenly decided to retrace my route back to the small town and check out the weather over southern Chile. Back at the YPF station, the wifi was strong and according to the digital weather map, the skies had now emptied of rain and the isobars suggested little wind. A high pressure indicated a possible completely clear sky with excellent visibility with therefore little chance of mud gumming up the wheels of the bike. I had dodged the inclement period of wetness in the south and looked as if I had made a good judgment of the west as well. If there is no schedule, no travel agenda, then I guess weather trumps route everytime.
The lady serving coffee and snacks at the gas station was pleased to see me. She remembered me not from my previous visit just over a hour ago, but the time three years before when I passed through leading a group of eager chaps from here, or thereabouts to Alaska. She was elderly and had a lovely kind smile and I said to watch out for me next time I should pass and she hoped, she said, to be on the right work rota so as make my acquaintance once again, after which I rode out of Rio Mayo.
If piste could be described as a road or track “in it’s natural state,” then pedantically most of the piste I have ridden on this trip so far is in the final stages of preparation for being surfaced, so no longer counts. Although many sections of back road route is true piste across Patagonia, much of it is being paved. The northern section of Argentina’s legendary highway is still not paved, but most of the rest is. Sad? Well yes and no. Yes for us Super Ten “back-roaders” but not for the people who live there. The enormous frontier spirit that exists here has to be backed up by good transport links. Road construction in Argentina is sneaking into those places you never thought it could get.
So now I want to check out the last piste of any distance across the border into Chile. As Ruta 40 is part of Argentine folklore, so the Carreterra Austral is to Chile.
A bit of geography. The Carretera Austral, formerly known as Carretera General Augusto Pinochet, is the name given to Chile‘s Route 7. The highway runs about 1,240 kilometers (770 miles) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins through rural Patagonia and provides road access to Chile’s Aysén del General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo Region and southern part of Los Lagos Region. These areas are seriously sparsely populated and despite its length, the Carretera Austral provides access to only about 100,000 people. South of the highway’s start in Puerto Montt, Coyhaique (population 44,850) is the largest city along it, and it is one of the last routes in southern South America presently being paved.
Turning out of Rio Mayo I took the road towards the Chilean frontier, it too was in a pre-paved state of construction and then at the top of the hill took the left signposted for Dr. R.Rojas. The paved section lasted only until the town was out of sight and I rounded a hill before hitting the most obnoxious kind of pebble and sharp stone that made it impossible to hold a straight line. The bike falls forward, holding direction in lengthy piles of loose gravel like a drunken man. There is not a second that you cannot steer. For mile after broken mile, there is not an inch of line from which you dare stray. What narrow tyre track of firm surface there is, it is lined by a furrow of sharp stones heaped up like a ploughed field. Cross that line and you lick those stones with your face. Instead you gorge on so much piste you begin to imagine never being on paved roads again. It was 63 kilometres of construction to the turnoff for Alto Rio Senguer but I needed to bear left for the frontier and a couple of kilometres further across a small pass of flat topped hills the dropped to a small bridge crossing the slow moving River Rio Mayo. This was the perfect place to camp. Tent up, spuds peeled, scran on followed by a brew. A lark sang from a nearby tree whilst a small flock of geese flew slowly overhead. Geese have a commander who honks his commands and the young ones flapping to keep up tweeted their little sounds,”c’mon lttle ‘uns,” said Daddy Big Goose, “this is how we fly in formation – honk, honk.”
“Ok,” they all tweeted, “we’re trying,” when whoops, one of them fell out of line until the commander honked him back into place and they landed in the next field. Next field? Patagonia is one pretty big field, something along with the Great Wall of China you could see from outer space, but here, in the most outstanding wilderness and with huge respect to the time, distance travelled, effort and expense to get here, it did look like the hilly region of northern Spain. Maybe it’s this physical familiarity or sameness that settlers find it so easy to get to like when looking for a new home.
As the river gurgled, the sun went down presaging a simple sunset and without the adornment of clouds, day would meld into night without due fuss. A toe-nail of a moon did appear, but it would not be bright enough to compromise the night sky.
That was not quite correct – jumped the gun on that one because there was a length of cloud that condensed the light of the sun to lilac and the toenail of a moon was being pulled down to earth by a little pinprick called Venus. I made a fire and as the twigs spun their flames it kept me warm until in time, the embers resembled radiated insects glowing from inside until one by one they fell apart finally by the heat like worm casts. At which point the moon lay now at the horizon of the edge of the road, sitting on the pebbles until it was gone, leaving only a pitch black sky.”
Find out more about the new TKC 70, which Nick is using on his Super Tenere for this South American tour.