Carretera Austral #1 - Puerto Montt to Futelefu

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October 30th 2014
Published: October 31st 2014
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Its 10pm and I'm in front of a roaring fire in a cabanya in Futelefu. Its freezing outside and I'm exhausted from concentrating all day on potholed, sometimes icy gravel roads, the occassional crazy Chilean driver, and magnificent scenery at every turn. Perhaps this blog should be called: " a postcard on every corner and other challenges of driving in Pategonia....." Though I'm gradually getting used to driving on the right hand side of the road, and not veering left at oncoming trucks...

We left Puerto Montt the day before yesterday, 2 days to drive 260kms to this magic place... Futalefu; makes me think of wizened old Chinese men catching flies with chopsticks....

The northern end of the Carretera is broken by extremely steep terrain (cliffs into ocean), so it involves ferry crossings.... these are ocean going ferrys in cold weather, and are a serious business.

Tuesday involved a short drive out of the chaos that is Puerto Montt, a city which has tripled in the 8 years since we were here last, mainly on the back of salmon farming.

Our journey took us south around the fjords, until we could go no further, then a short 30 minute ferry ride ( we can do this....) and on to Hornopieren, a tranquil fishing village in a stunning setting below a massive volcano. Last time we were here we walked the national park tracks, so we were happy to camp in the park. Yesterday morning was dusted with snow; calm, clear and crisp, promising a day of scenic travel.

The day was meant to have involved a ferry crossing of 4 hours, a short drive, and another crossing of 1 hour, with time to find camp in Pumalin National Park.... but this was not to be.... the day ended after our first crossing, when the wind came up, and the rain set in, and it started to hail..... we were stranded on a peninsular between 2 towns, with an immobilised ferry either side.

So it was good we were in a camper van, as we could cook dinner and settle into our sleeping bags for the night..... but it was an interesting night - bitterly cold, snowing, a strong and gusty wind rocking the camper, and the occassional rattle of hail.... we shared this with a few trucks, some hardy folk who slept in their car, and another camper with a German couple.

Fortunately, this morning our onward ferry came, so were able to cross the short distance to Pumalin and back on the road to Patagonia.

Pumalin has to be my favourite national park, anywhere. Donated to Chile by Douglas Thomkin of Esprit and North Face fame, Pumalin is 400,000 odd hectares of pristine Alerce forrest, with lakes, rivers, waterfalls and the fearsome Vulcan Chaiten. It is home to a significant population of pumas and the incredible Alerce trees. We spent 3 weeks here in 2006 and did many of the amazing walks. Alerce trees, like Californian Redwoods and Tasmanian Huon Pines, are called 'milleniarium' trees, as they are over 1000 years old and were around for the last ice age. They are grand, imposing and mighty collosus of trees, with trunks many metres around. They shelter the most beautuful rainforest and an abundance of creatures

Then in 2008, Vulcan Chaiten, previously not even thought of as a Volcanoe, erupted destroying much of the town of Chaiten, and doing a lot of damage to the park. We were able to see this damage as we drove through today, and it is heartbreaking.

Beyond Chaiten, we visited a hot spring at Amrillo, where it snowed while we were in the water. Then we traversed the snowy Corcavado range, continued around the picturesque Yelcho Lake, and through a steep sided valley to Futalefu.

We have swapped the camper for a couple of nights in a cabanya, a warm fire and a chance to shower and wash some clothes...... blisssss

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