24-25 Jan 2015.
I ended up enjoying two nights of R&R in my little campsite outside Ensenada, and got lots of small (but important) things done. Changed the fuel filter, did my laundry (most from before Christmas !!), made a few changes to storage methods inside in preparation for 1200 kms of dirt road, and, most important of all, after a 5 day hunt through every corner of the car, found a money pouch containing quite a few of my $’s which I had put away so safely before I went back to Australia for Christmas that I couldn’t remember where I had hidden them ! So that was a big relief as I was seriously starting to believe I had done my increasingly frequent (age related ?) trick and left them lying around somewhere ! Also I fitted a few of the minor spare parts I had picked up in Aus, including finishing my “legless chair” which works perfectly – Thank you for your help, Jamie !!
The camp site had filled up completely on Saturday afternoon – It turned out there was some kind of mountain bike race in the area the next day. When I woke up on Saturday morning it was trying very hard to rain again – Like before, more like Scotch Mist, really. Even with the bike race, few people stirred early so I got all my ablutions done and after a leisurely breakfast, hit the road to…….Didn’t really know where !! I have till noon on Monday to get to Hornipiren to catch my ferry, and as that is only about 120 kms away, there isn’t really too much hurry ! Studied the map and decided I might as well continue on the circuit around Lago Llanquihue just for a look, but only about 20 minutes up the road saw a turning up a hill signposted to Volcan Osorno, with a skiing sign. So being the inquisitive little bugger that I am, off I went up this narrow road.
It was steep ! Second gear a lot of the way, and before long I reached a look out where I was about to disappear into cloud above, but it was still clear(ish) below. I then continued through the cloud up to the top, driving up yet another twisty switchback road, and coming into the car park at an altitude of about 1250 metres. Not that high really, but we had climbed from sea level up to that height in only about 20 minutes, which gives you an idea of how steep the road was (important for you to remember this later on in my story !!).
Looked down the hill – not much of a view in the clouds. Look up the hill – not much of a view of Volcan Osorno in the clouds, although lots of snow visible. But we were cloudless in the middle !! There were signs of ski runs, and one of the chair lifts was operating – If you wanted to go up into the clouds in the cold (it was windy and quite cool !). Then I spied an interesting VW Kombi – on caterpillar tracks ! Went over for a look and took a few pics, then found a snow man, and just as I was about to head back down the mountain, a green Kombi with Brazilian plates from Manaus pulled in, and went over to look at the Kombi on tracks. So I wandered over to say G’Day, and basically that was the end of the next 2 hours !! Greg is from Manaus, and Rebecca from Austria, and we got chatting about the Kombi, and our trips and so on. After a while we were getting a bit cold, so they invited me into their van for coffee – An offer I gratefully accepted. They have been on the road about 6 months and have been all over S America, and are also headed south to Ushuaia. We passed a very pleasant time over some delicious coffee and biscuits, swapping tales and generally enjoying each other’s company. When we meet up further south, I owe you guys a dinner !! Safe travels.
The clouds had lifted a bit so we could see the lake below, but no views of Osorno, unfortunately, so I headed back down. The steepness of the road (if you can say that) was much more obvious going down, and knowing from previous mountain passes how easily Troopie’s brakes get hot (with her 3400 kg weight), I was going down a lot of sections in second gear in order to allow the brakes to cool. Even so, I could smell hot brakes ! Good job I had new pads put in in Santiago !! Near the bottom we came to a policeman with a stop sign – The mountain bike race was crossing the road ! As I pulled up, the brakes were quite spongy, and when I stopped, there was smoke pouring out from the front pads !! I told you the road was steep !! The Kombi pulled up behind me shortly afterwards, and they had a similar issue – So it wasn’t just me ! I made sure to leave the handbrake off and just leave the car in gear while we waited, and once we set off again 5 minutes later, all was fine. Note to self - Must make sure I use really good quality pads and brake fluid on Troopie – She is so heavy that any big down hill sections really give the brakes a good working over.
I filled up with fuel and stocked up in the grocery store in anticipation of poor and expensive supplies of both over the next few days on the remote Carretera Austral. By now it was 3 pm so rather than continue round the lake, I decided just to head towards Caleta La Arena, where my first ferry left from, and camp somewhere along the way. At about 5.30 I was pooped and looking for a camping spot along the side of the Golfo de Ancud, and suddenly saw a sign up into the Parque Nacional Alerce Andino. So off I went up this little dirt track, into the increasingly low clouds, and although the sign said it was 7 kms to the park, after 3 or 4 kms it was getting so rough and muddy and misty that I was close to turning back – If I could have found a turning place, I would have. But I couldn’t, so I didn’t, and 3 kms later found the camping sign, turned in, and the little track opened up into a lovely camping area beside a big fast flowing river ! And there was only one other group of people there, way down the other end – Perfect. Didn’t feel like cooking much, so set up, put up the fly sheet on the pop top in case it rained, had some instant noodles with fresh veggies, and hit the sack, pleased with the great little place I had found to sleep.
Just as an aside, it is a funny feeling each day, having no idea of where you will sleep that night, but just assuming something suitable will turn up. In the US and Alaska there is always a campsite in every town, so all you have to do is make it to a town and you know you will find a place. But from Mexico onwards, there isn’t a camp site in every town, and you never know whether you will end up in a camp site, a hospedaje, in the back of a gas station, or just finding a spot somewhere off the road. To start with I found this quite difficult – I like to know where I will be that night, or at least have a plan. But I am now finding it easier just to accept that something will turn up – Especially down here where camping is more acceptable and popular – In Central America I must admit I more strongly felt the need to be in an approved camping spot for security reasons. Just a personal observation about myself !!
Woke up to sunshine, and the knowledge that I was in no hurry to hit the road. So I even cooked myself some fried eggs for breakfast, and had fresh ciabatta rolls from yesterday’s bakery to go with them – Yummy ! Packed up – Facilities were expectedly “rustic”, given we were in the middle of some forest national park in the mountains, but quite adequate, although I must admit that having had frequent hot showers recently, and all clean clothes, I did pass on the opportunity for a freezing cold shower (only one tap !!). Then I came back to the car, and there was what I am told is called a Chilean Eagle, sitting on my spare tyre on the back of Troopie !! I managed a few quick photos before he flew away – What a shame my tyres are BF Goodrich and weren’t American Eagles – I might have been able to sell them the photos for advertising !!
Having enjoyed the beautiful moment with the eagle, even though they are quite small, I climbed into the driver’s seat and was preparing my maps and other dashboard paraphernalia before I set off, when I heard a scratching on the roof – I think the eagle was back !! I got my camera ready, sat very still, and waited…………….and suddenly he fluttered down from the roof and sat on the bonnet of the car, not 2 or 3 feet from me !! I couldn’t believe it – As long as I moved slowly, he didn’t seem to mind me at all – Just watched me through the windscreen with his beady eyes. He was there for about 10 minutes, and it really was very special to be so close to him. I unashamedly include quite a number of photos of him because I want to share an amazing few minutes of nature at its best with you all – If it makes you feel any better, I can assure you I deleted a LOT more photos than I include !!
Finally, presumably he realised I wasn’t edible enough for him, so he flew off to find more interesting things – But left me with a big warm smile for quite a while. A lovely way to start the day.
I drove back out to the main road and continued on towards Caleta La Arena, where the first of 3 ferries on the Carretera Austral leaves from. This first ferry requires no booking, leaves every 45 minutes 18 / 7, and takes about 40 minutes to get to Puelche. But from there on, the next two ferries, one of about 3 hours and the other of about 40 minutes, they do require booking for vehicles, especially during the busier summer months (like now !!) When I got to the ferry terminal in La Arena, the ferry was due in about 30 minutes, so on chatting with the loading people about the road and camping etc, and enjoying a couple of excellent empanadas, I decided to go on this ferry now, then drive the hour or so to Hornopiren and camp the night there so that it would not be a rush to get to the ferry for my ferry at 12 noon. It turned out to be the right decision, because there was a lot of road works on the way, and with tomorrow being Monday they would be working on these, which would no doubt make the delays much longer than today when no one was working. I met two cyclists at the ferry who I had seen on the road earlier – Juan Pablo from San Antonio Texas (yes, really !), and Justin from Ottowa. Juan Pablo was turning back at the ferry, but Justin is continuing to Ushuaia, so no doubt I will see him tomorrow as he intends to catch the same ferry from Hornopiren.
Tiny little ferry, just 15 cars, and it took about 40 minutes to Puelche. I was first on, and first off, and glad to be so, because after about 5 kms of black top we were on the dusty dirt all the way, and being in the front, I didn’t have to eat everyone else’s dust all afternoon ! Ha ha. Lovely sign on the boat “Children are the responsibility of their Parents”. A few supermarkets and other places in Australia should have signs like that !!! AND ENFORCE IT !!
Noticed some ?salmon farming? areas in the ocean – Not sure about that – I read about that in Scotland and they get a few two headed ones if they are not careful, don’t they ?? Hmmm. The dirt road and road works continued all the way to Hornopiren, and after a quick drive around town (its not very big !!) and past the ferry terminal so I knew where it was, I headed off out of town to see if there were any nice camp sites. Not far down the road I saw a big sign saying XXXXXX, which sounded great. I turned up a little lane and a girl came out and basically (I think !) told me to just keep going up the road ! So I did, and about 2 kms and a couple of gates later, the road opened out into a big camping area right next to a river, with lots of people enjoying themselves with kayaks and swimming in the river, and having bbq’s. Let me tell you when these locals do bbq’s, they really do them – Put Aussies to shame. Several people had big rotisserie type bbq’s they had brought, on which they had enormous pieces of meat. When it was ready, everyone gathered round their table and it was like a chiroscaria – Carving great chunks of meat onto everyone’s plate off giant skewers ! And they were just day trippers !!
Anyway, great little camp site – I dozed and read my book in the sun for a while, and then cooked some spag for supper, which I ate sitting on the river bank with some local Chilean Merlot. Perfect. Then to bed, and ready for the adventure on the Carretera Austral tomorrow.
Pics are here :-
Pics are here :-