The Carretera Austral (Ruta 7) famed for it’s beauty and its pot holes in equal measure, actually starts in Puerto Montt, though most only consider the true road to begin once off the ‘mainland’.
Packing up the bike and heading for La Arena, we were pleased to be leaving Puerto Montt. Sign for Ruta 7 began as soon as we passed the bus station. We were now one one of Chile’s most famous roads even if it was a somewhat uninteresting part.
The road to La Arena and the first ferry crossing was smooth and twisty, allowing us negotiate the 45km journey with ease. Once in La Arena we were ushered onto a ferry and charged $7.000 for the 45 minute crossing. Now we’d start the Carretera Austral proper!
The hour’s ride to Hornopiren allowed us to experience the Austral in all it’s pot-holed glory. And the holes were huge. Caution was definitely needed to ensure the front wheel wasn’t swallowed whole.
Rather than take the second ferry, which is a long one, that same day, we opted to spend the night in a small cabina, and catch the early boat the next morning. That would allow us to take our time reaching Chaitén once on the other side, and of course provide us with some time to take in our new Patagonian surroundings.
The crossing is supposed to be around 3.5 hours, then a 10km ride to the third boat, but our ferry went direct to Caleta Gonzalo and totalled 5.5 hours. We booked in advance, but chatted with a another couple of riders who had managed to buy their ticket an hour before departure. One thing that stuck me, was good the prices were. fair enough the first ferry only a 45 minute crossing, but the second was only $15.000 for two passengers and a motorcycle. you’d never get anything like that in the UK.
Chaitén is a small costal town along the Carretera Austral 45 minutes ride from Caleta Gonzalo. In 2008 it was destroyed when the volcano of the same name blew its top after being dormant for the past 8,000 years. I was expecting to see more evidence of this damage when riding past, but it was mostly just scorched trees and forrest damaged by the pyroclastic flow.
Chaitén is a sleepy town and although there is plenty of accommodation it seems no-one wanted us to stay. A few hostals just said no and at least one other didn’t even answer. Perhaps they were out of service, or just on a Christmas, either way they really need to update their signage and let people know.
In the end we stayed in Hostal Llanos along with a Canadian and a New Zealander riding an F800GS and KLR650 respectively. The Hostal was run by an old lady who serves her guests cake with breakfast. The rooms were small, tiny even, but sufficient.
Being New Year’s Eve, the four of us went out for dinner and a few drinks. On the way back there no evidence at that anyone else in the town been drinking, partying, or otherwise celebrating. It might have well have been a Sunday night with work the next morning.
The next morning we set off for Puyuhuapi, 132 miles from Chaitén. Initially the road started out as smooth tarmac for almost 30 miles and progress was swift, even with taking time to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
There’s a bridge crossing then the gravel starts. From memory this section isn’t too bad, though don’t hold me to that. The Carretera Austral is being worked on all the time so things often change.
This lasted about 20 miles then we were some of the smoothest most beautiful tarmac anywhere in the world.
That ended shortly after the river.
From here on the road was terrible. Piles of stones and massive corrugations really slowed progress. In reality I needed to speed up rather than slow down in order to get the front suspension working well, but the rear just couldn’t take it.
We hit a few deep potholes and then before I knew it the rear of the bike was squatting down like a dog (well I suppose it’s a bitch) peeing.
Familiar story? The bad weld made in Salta actually held, but the part of the shock above that had bent, and subsequently snapped in one of the most remote regions in Chile.
Sam went to sit in the shade while I studied the options. We were 76 miles into the journey, so just passed the point of no-return. The next town along was only 20 miles aways but had a population smaller than highschool, would mean heading further from mainland Chile.
In the end, I wedged a small 8″ tyre iron between the shock body and the spring, and then placed the bottom that was now sticking out, into the broken lower mount. This created a hard tail, that would at least allow us to move the bike.
We climed on and began to crawl back towards Chaiten at 8 mph. When we hit a really bad patch of gravel Sam jumped off and I tried to paddle the bike at 6 mph over the bumps. With the hardtail this was not an easy task, It jumped around losing traction as it did.
Eventually we made it back to the sealed road. Being billard table smooth we were able to ride a quite a pace. Over 50 mph at one stage. The problem started when we stopped to take a break. A strong gust of wind blew the bike over, undoing my bodge repair. It must have never gone back right, as when we climbed back on the bike it seemed a good 5 cm higher.
Less than 750 miles later and the rear dropped down again with a bang. The shock had now punctured a hole in the swing arm. Balls!
At this point I laid the bike on its side so it was clear that it was broken, and waited for a good natured passer by in a pick up truck to help. there was no telling how long the wait might be, but this road at least was much busier than Ruta 40 in Argentina.
It only took 20 minutes or so before Toyota Hilux pulled up. Out climbed a French women and her two teenage daughters. Behind them an elderly German couple in a Mercedes G wagon also stopped. Between the eight of us, that included a Swiss hitchhiker, we lifted the bike onto the Hilux and headed back to Chaiten. Sam and I rode in the back with the bike, just like the locals do.
Back in Chaiten, we returned to Hostal Llanos, which was opened up especially for us, and contemplated our next move, which turned out to be getting ferry tickets for the direct crossing back to Puerto Montt, but since the next ferry was two days away, we had some time to kill.