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  • Total days on the road: 586
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  • Miles Driven: 36821
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Carretera Austral: Chaiten to Coyhaique

Written by Jared on January 21, 2013

A great view of a mountain and stream on the Carretera Austral.

Start: December 28, Quellon
Finish: January 3, Coyhaique
Pigs Tickled: 1
Fish Caught and Eaten: 1
Times Stopped on Road to Take Pictures: 27
Hours Spent Sleeping on Overnight Ferry: 3

The Carretera Austral runs 770 miles through Chilean Patagonia. Endless stretches of breathtaking scenery, crystal blue lakes, raging rivers, snow-capped mountains and some of the best trout fishing this side of the equator. It was first described to us by a German overlander we met in Cusco as being like the jungle, except with snow-capped mountains and pine trees. Unsure how to untangle that statement, we left with the assumption that it would be beautiful, and very rainy.

Fortune shined on us during the first half of the Carretera Austral. Unlike friends who went just weeks before us, we enjoyed sunny skies almost every day and only had to pack up wet tents once. Trout were caught, lambs were roasted and scenery was soaked up at every turn of the road.

Our ferry awaits in Quellon, Chile.

Our trip to the Carretera Austral began in Quellon, the southern-most town on the island of Chiloe. The day of the ferry crossing we awoke to beautiful blue skies, exceptional considering we'd been through several weeks of rain nearly every day.

The road actually begins in Puerto Montt, but is broken by several long ferry crossings that drop you off in the town of Chaiten, where most begin the journey south into Patagonia. Alternatively you can take a ferry from either Quellon or Castro to Chaiten. The Castro ferry does not begin operation until the second week of January, so we opted for Quellon which starts loading vehicles at 10pm every Thursday and departs at midnight from a dock several miles east of Quellon.

Loading up into the ferry.

Late at night the doors of the ferry finally drop and vehicles are waved inside. We met at least a dozen other overlanders waiting in line, including these three yellow Soviet-era cars driven by a Czech team who may have a few loose screws in places other than their vehicles.

The loading is straight forward. Cars drive in and turn around inside, big trucks back in and the ferry departs promptly at midnight.

Jessica looking unhappy about the seating arrangement on the ferry.

Actually, it doesn't. The ferry is very dependant upon the tides and weather in order to make the crossing. We spent seven hours just off the dock waiting for the tides before finally making the four and a half hour crossing to Chaiten. As you can see from the look on Jessica's face, she's not super excited about the prospect of sleeping aboard.

Our first view of the glaciers.

Arriving into Chaiten we get our first glimpse of what the Carretera Austral has in store for us. Blue water, snow-capped mountains and alpine wilderness that would require a 20,000 mile drive north to Alaska to see for a second time.

Our stop for lunch near a river under a bridge.

Having slept enough on the ferry to push on, we leave Chaiten in the dust and head towards the town of Futaleufu. For lunch we stop along a river and soak in the scenery while munching on the ten thousandth ham sandwich of this trip.

Kobus tickles a pig.

An hour or so outside Futaleufu we find a campground on a river and decide to hang out for a couple days before continuing into town. Instead of dogs and cats, this campground has a pack of domesticated wild boars that, as Kobus discovers, enjoy a good ear ticklin'.

I go fishing on a river.

One of my goals for this trip, and the reason we've schlepped seven fishing poles and a bag of gear across 16 countries, is to catch a few gigantic Patagonian trout. My first day on the river proved very memorable, but didn't yield any fish larger than six inches. However, this little spot on Rio Futaleufu is without a doubt the most beautiful place I've ever fished and I still managed to leave with a smile on my face.

The next day we drove into the town of Futaleufu and spent two nights camped next to this same river. That day of fishing proved to be a bit more productive. I landed a 10-inch trout that later became fish cakes, and Kobus caught a few more that he threw back, much to Jessica's disappointment.

Lambs roasting over a fire pit.

From Futaleufu we drove south to Puerto Puyuguapi and camped near the beach for New Years Eve. The family who operates the campground was throwing a party that night, Patagonian style. Above is a photo of asado patagonica, two whole sheep slow-roasting on an open fire.

We spent the night hanging out in the small kitchen at the campground sharing stories and swapping information about the route with two other overlanding couples on motorcycles from Holland and Australia. A bit before we rang in the new year our gracious hosts arrived with a big bowl of lamb for us to sample. After a couple bites the three of us knew this was something we'd have to attempt to cook ourselves in the near future.

A beautiful blue sky on new years day.

The morning of January 1, 2013 greeted us with weather beyond comprehension. For the first time in weeks we saw not a cloud in the sky. Down by the beach the water is like glass. Our luck appears to be holding and spirits are very high as we head to our next stop, the largest city on the Carretera Austral, Coyhaique.

A scenic stop along the road.

During lunch stop we take a few obligatory scenery photos with Blue. From this vantage point we could see dozens of waterfalls and an endless line of snowy mountains.

A view of the mountains from a roadside viewpoint.

We toyed with the idea of emailing these shots to our friends who drove this way before us and had nothing but rain, but that would just be mean.

Fishing on the river in Coyhaique.

We found a nice camping spot a half hour drive before Coyhaique and decide to spend a couple days there to fish on the Rio Simpson. The fantastic weather holds for a few more days and we pass the time in t-shirts and shorts down by the river.

Me with my first trout in over a year.

After a frustrating two hours of fishing, exactly one cast before I decided to pack it up for the afternoon, I finally get a decent bite. We saw plenty of these small brown trout in the water, and got so close as to bump them on the head with a worm, but couldn't find any takers. This was the only fish caught that day, but it was enough for dinner and a small step towards justifying the amount of fishing gear we've been traveling with for 16 months.

A view of the city of Coyhaique.

After two nights on the Rio Simpson we pack up and head into Coyhaique to resupply and find a place we can camp that has internet. Coyhaique is home to just under half of the 100,000 residents of the Carretera Austral region and more importantly, has a supermarket with more than two aisles of products.

Squealers the cat climbs Jessica's shoulder.

In Coyhaique we found a hostel that would let us camp and use their kitchen and common room for our work day. It also came complete with a tiny kitten we named Squealers after his Peruvian cousin, Squeakers.

Squealers on my laptop.

When Squealers wasn't whining at the top of his tiny little lungs he was climbing curtains, pant legs and Jessica with his itty bitty needle claws. Boomerang may be a more apt name for this cat. Every time you moved him off of yourself, the table or my laptop, he would return within 30 seconds. Oh well, we've had tougher obstacles to overcome during our time spent working on the road.

Up Next: Weather permitting, we continue our trek south to the end of the Carretera Austral at the town of Villa O'Higgins.

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