Yes we enjoyed our time (and beer!!) at the Zapato Amarillo Hostel. The homemade food and bread were excellent, but…as always we had to leave and move on. Sunday morning after breakfast, together with Uwe, who was heading towards Argentina, we left to go south on the famous Carretera Austral or Highway 7. Achim had to take the bus back to Valparaiso to receive his bike which was transported back there with a broken driveshaft.
Along the Carretera Austral you will see some of the most dramatic landscapes in the world with wildlife, deep fjords, plateaus, large lakes, vast forests, glaciers and snow covered mountain tops.
First we drove around the Lake Llanquihue, which was just beautiful with rolling pastures at the foot of the Vulcano Osorno and lots of “Kuchen” (cake) signs on the side of the road. There seemed to be a significant German influence here once, because many Hostels/Hotels had German sounding names. A little south of Puerto Montt we had to take a ferry to cross a sidearm of the Seno Reloncavi. Then over partially paved road we reached Hornopiren. We camped at a very simple Hostal Residencia Nicol more or less in the backyard of the house with several other travelers. This sleepy town surrounded by mountains, some of them snow-capped reminded us of Alaska. Old wooden fishing boats were sitting on the shore, looking like they haven’t been used in years. We did have salmon for supper on that night (maybe it was Canadian?) We had to wait for another ferry in the morning, which would go 5 hours to Caleta Gonzalo, our next destination south on the Carretera.
So, next day we joined cars, trucks and a bunch of other bike riders for an uncomplicated ferry boarding and then 5 hours of driving alongside mountains and islands of various sizes. After coming off the ferry it was mostly gravel road but thankfully not too coarse. We rode through dense forest passing more Volcanos and visible signs of big rockslides until we reached Chaiten.
In May 2008 this town was devastated by the eruption of the Volcano with the same name that is 10km northeast of the town. It spewed with a 20 km-high Colum of ash that reached as far as Buenos Aires and the 4000 residents had to be evacuated. The government sanctioned relocating the town slightly northwest to the village of Santa Barbara, but recent improvements to the old town infrastructure has residents returning to recover their homes in Chaiten. Many houses still look partially destroyed and abandoned but there is a lot of building going on.
We found another Hostel (Los Narcas) with camping in the backyard. Again the main house was very simple built, the shack which was the kitchen was partially build out of cardboard and aluminum and had an old wood fired kitchen stove. The traveler’s crowd was an interesting mix of an older lady from Canada with polish roots, a couple from Italy, a father (with British roots) with 2 sons from Brazil, a couple from France and…of course one more German guy.
The following day when we left there was not a single cloud in the sky and the sun was really burning. The ride was awesome, almost felt like at the foot of the Alps with turquoise rivers and lakes and snow-capped mountains and glaciers. The road changed from asphalt into gravel and because of the dry conditions at the end of the day we were again covered in dust! We stopped at the Parque National Queulat, which is also famous for the hanging glacier “Mirador.” The campground there was almost like the ones in North America, but since it was a bit larger, you share it with some more people. We had a father with his daughter from San Diego, Calif., a father with his son from Italy on bicycles and a polish backpacker, who lives in Seattle…again another mixed crowd.
Next day Heinz went hiking up close to the glacier while I stayed back. My right foot was starting to swell up again and looked a bit reddened, so I thought I would take it easy and nurse it. The last thing I need now is a re-infection! I only went as far as to the Lagoon, which collects the water that is coming down from the glacier in big cascades. Every once in a while big pieces of ice break off and it sounds like thunder when they crash into the lagoon. Quite amazing!
After 2 nights we continued our travels south. We drove through little sleepy villages, the landscape did not really change. Even though it is high season, we didn’t notice too much traffic. This time we stopped at a campground called “Las Torres del Simpson”, which is a little off the beaten track. It is run by a couple, he is Spanish (from Madrid), she is Chilean. Nacho (real name Ignacio) is quite an energetic guy, had built the camp shelter by himself, has 14 sheep, he grows organic lettuce and his wife bakes bread every day. Yesterday he gave me a lesson in “Mate tea customs”. A special cup and straw made out of silver (I believe!) with a small sieve at the end is required for this herbal tea. Out of politeness you have to accept this invitation of tea drinking, where the host keeps pouring hot water onto your herbs until you say thank you after emptying the cup meaning you’re done and don’t want more.
We are taking it easy here, Heinz has joined Nacho in the greenhouse already to look over his shoulders. We are eating “pick your own” Raspberries (picked by Heinz from across the roadside!) and enjoy homemade bread, until tomorrow when we will move on!!