Back to the famous Carretera Austral, at least for a while

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Back to Carretera Austral on our Vespa scooter

It was in 2015 when we first rode across the Carretera Austral, the famous scenic road in the south of Chile, and four years later, we couldn't wait to do it again. However, things were a bit different this time...

We were full of confidence and really relieved after our decision to change completely our route and instead of going further south, go towards the north. We crossed the border to Chile (Los Cipreses) and immediately after the first turn, we experienced the abrupt change of climate between the two countries. The pleasant Argentinian sunshine turned into a moody Chilean mist and just when we left Futaleufú, the first village after the border, the rain started. We were not at all surprised though, as this part of Chile has the most amazing greenest green and constant rainfall is the price for it.

The 47 miles from Futaleufú to Villa Santa Lucia, the place where the small dirt road meets the Carretera Austral (R7) reminded us why we were so excited riding across this area four years ago. The thick forest, the small wooden cabins, the rivers and the lakes... Everything was so beautiful that neither the continuous rainfall nor the cold could spoil our good mood. However, when we finally reached the Carretera Austral, a surprise awaited us. The scenery had changed so much over the last few years that we couldn't recognize it! In 2015, there were roadworks almost everywhere and when they finished, the result was a drastic transformation of the area. A wide tarmac road is way more “invasive” than the narrow dirt road and though we understand why this kind of construction was necessary, the truth is that we were a bit disappointed. We opened the throttle on the black tarmac road and headed directly to Chaitén, a small town by the sea where we had spent a night the previous time we were in the region.

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The town hadn't changed that much, so we easily found the grocery store and the gas station. What we couldn't find though, was the municipal campsite. The coordinates we had kept the last time led us to a place that was completely different from what we could remember and there was absolutely no space to put a tent. So, we went back to the town and looked for a cheap place to spend the night. The cost of living in Chile is significantly higher than that of the neighboring countries, so we had to be very careful to keep our expenses within our budget limit.

It was already late in the evening when a polite but slightly cold man opened the gate of his backyard and showed us the “campsite” – that was his backyard. A place with some basic amenities. A really small business that worked well since tourism had become the main source of income the last few years (and since the municipal – free – campsite wasn't an option anymore). The owner informed us that there are so many tourists that he could now choose his clients.

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From the moment we crossed the border, there had been various hiccups slightly messing up the smoothness of our trip, and apparently they had come to stay. First of all, we couldn't get cash from any of the ATMs and the majority of the small businesses in the town wouldn't accept cards. Moreover, the campsite owner seemed very anxious to get paid and he kept coming to our tent and ask when we could pay. Finally, when the bank opened we felt relieved – but only for a short while. Their official reply was “Sorry”, so we had to come up with another plan. I don't remember if it was our idea or if we read it somewhere, but since there was no other way to get some cash, we went to the gas station and with a big smile we approached a car waiting in the queue. We offered to pay with our card, so that they could give us the amount in cash. And it worked! At last, we had enough cash to pay the impatient campsite owner.

The other issue was the boat itineraries. What boat? The one that would take us to Chiloé Island. I forgot to mention it: when we saw the changes in the Carretera Austral – one of our favorite routes in South America – we made a decision. We would keep our memories of this place intact and we would take a different route this time, to make new ones. The departures towards the island were not very frequent that time of the year and as if this was not enough, when we arrived at the travel agency to book our tickets, they informed us that the ship had literally just departed. So we had to wait patiently some more days until we finally sail.

To be continued...

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We (Stergios & Alexandra) are traveling around the world 2-up on a Vespa scooter. For 6 years we've been traveling in Africa & South America and we're still rolling. Our book "Rice and Dirt: Across Africa on a Vespa" is now available.

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