15th till 21st of September 2019.
Open the door.
Key objective of this voyage was to break with our old lifestyle, detach from the rat race, learn to live without high heels and makeup, contemplate on our next chapter. Biking the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and Patagonia and spend a lot of time discovering this great outback. Connecting the dots in between North and South should clear our heads, open new doors.
We tried to bike everything and the first time we had to hitchhike because it was unsafe we were sad, even if it was never set in stone that we had to bike every inch. We even discovered that biking everything was not always possible as we had to hitchhike a few times when it was too dangerous or one of us was sick and we needed to get to a sheltered place. But we never took any buses. Now only 3 months away from our return date, after a very long discussion, we decided to take a bus to cover the 1,000 km from Santiago to Puerto Montt, where the famous Carretera Austral starts. Giving us more time in Patagonia, the area we wanted to visit for more than 20 years.
The apartment we have stayed in is rented out today forcing us to find a solution as our bus only leaves at 20:00. We can use the lounge of the apartment building. Wondering why there would be such a big sitting area and who would use this. We are the only people here for the whole afternoon. Biking downtown we don’t find the nice biking lane we had coming out here but Santiago is sleeping off the party coma (or preparing for the next).
On a bus.
When the bus arrives we see that we have made the right decision of choosing a premium bus with only bed seats, especially because it was only 5 euro more expensive. Why was it the right decision: all long distance buses have two decks. One behind and lower than the driver, between the front and back wheels, and one deck on top of the driver. On a premium bus you only have 3 seats per row on the top level. With a normal rate you have 4 seats hence more people and way more luggage. Our bus is only half full and the bikes just fit. Space is even so small the wheels need to be removed.
Seats are similar to older airplane business seat. Luxury.
Haunt you every day.
Waken up 100 km before our goal by the sound of a flat tire and it is really beginning to look like a jinx. We are haunted by flat tires, the blown bus tire is right below Frank’s bike.
Bummer is that they can’t fix the tire and everybody is transferred to empty places on buses passing by. Meaning also the luggage and the bikes. Resulting in a broken mirror on Frank’s bike.
Being wide awake we enjoy the sunrise and first impressions of central Chile, looks a lot like Germany and the South of Belgium.
Reassembling bikes on a busy bus station: one of us watching over all equipment while the other is working on the bikes. Wonder who is doing what?
Due to the delay we decide to first enjoy a brunch in the fishing village of Puerto Montt with the largest mussels we ever have eaten. They don’t know how old these creatures are but must be several years as the water here is cold. Considering the ones you eat in Belgium, 4 cm long, are 3 years old, how old must these be?
We find a B&B overlooking the harbor. Puerto Montt is the salmon capital of Chile. With 245,000 people living here it is the second largest city of this side of Chile. Several large hardware stores and larger areas with fish food. Buildings are weather beaten and it all looks a bit poor, or a bit “tired” as our friend Gavin would say. After having found a new bicycle mirror and stocked up on food I call it a day and enjoy the luxury of a real bed. We even don’t try to cook but just have bread and cheese in our room.
Puerto Montt is the start of the Carretera Austral, 1,240 km long, started in 1976 and finished early 2000. Now the aim of the government is to pave the whole route. It provides access to only 100,000 people, but has a strategical meaning too, since in the past this part of Chile could only be reached via Argentina. Looking forward to bike some remote areas. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carretera_Austral
But before we start biking on the Austral we will cross to the Island Chiloe. Recommended by several people we met, locals and tourists, we decide on this detour.
Paint a new world.
Following the coastline to the ferry is as biking in Vancouver and Vancouver Island. It is like a deja-vue that started with the red rocks in Argentina and continues here. Remember when as a child you would drop watercolor on one side of a paper and fold it double to create a butterfly with identical wings. This is how it now feels biking more south, as if the outer edges of north and south are copies, Similar but different at the same time.
Steep climbs alternate with steep descends, they are not long but often +10%, no pushing but sweating for sure even if it is cold and a slight rain alternates with sun. Pity the rain is not synchronized with going uphill. Its one of these days we spend lots of time taking on and off our rain gear, happy we have bought the new rain jackets! And new fluo jackets. Even if we will bike in remote areas there will be traffic and we want them to see us, especially in this weather or between trees we don’t mind to look silly! Did you know wearing a helmet is mandatory when biking in Chile?
Home by the sea.
Asphalt turns into gravel, slowing us down. Great sea views! We know there should be a camping at around 70 km but are lucky that Senora Christina is standing outside her cabanas. Pity they are fully booked, great that she lets us camp at the back of her house with amazing sea view. For free 🙂
As they also have a big party room of which we can use the outside toilets.
We enjoy watching a couple of black and white swans which have claimed this area. Each time when others try to forage in this area they are chased away.
Cooking at the beach, sleeping under the stars on a bed of grass. How romantic! Until it starts to rain. And it even does not stop when it is time to get up.
There is a shelter in front of the house which Frank gladly uses to cook breakfast. We carry the tent there to disassemble. Christina comes running to us and insist that we join her in her house for home cooked breakfast. What a treat! Both retired professors, teachers, they enjoy the country life after having worked in the city of Puerto Montt. This has been their holiday home when they had small kids and now use the cabanas to generate some extra income. What a warm welcome! Thank you again senora Christina!
Wet and windy bike ride brings us to the ferry, other passengers wait patiently in their cars with their engines running. Open ferry where pedestrians can transit for free, you only need to pay for a car or bike.
Already 20 minutes later we are at the other side and the sun starts to shine! Arriving on Chiloe which means “Seagull Place” in the Mapuche language.
Joy has been to soon as within the next 15 minutes we are almost blown off the street. we decide not to follow the main road through center of the island but follow the coastline, which should bring us to more remote areas.
First impression of the island is a mix between Norway and Belgium. Fishing villages with wooden houses, covered with small wooden planks called cladding. They use wood of the larch as it is the most weather resistant. Hardly any people. No camping or cabana signs, everything fenced off. Where to sleep?
When we see a sign indicating cabanas and restaurant we are thrilled. Less when we see a big lock and no smoke from the chimney. When I call they say they are fully booked, when explaining we are on the bike, standing in front of the entrance and it is very cold, they say we should wait for 30 minutes and will be there to help us out. And yes, after 30 minutes Roberto and Gloria arrive. Clean a cabin, light a fire and ensure we are warm enough for the night. So lucky we can dry our tent and don’t need to sleep outside! So happy! Having a coffee together before they leave, Roberto explains that this house has been pulled to this place. The whole community helps for free to move a complete house, called “Minga”, which is an Inca tradition to do work with the community. Afterwards curanto is made and eaten together. Stay tuned to find out what curanto is.
Thank you both for opening the cabana for us!
Speaking Spanish is a plus, this would have been a major challenge if you only manage English.
Rested and dried we leave from just before Linao to Tenaun. Sneak views of the ocean but mainly farmland is our treat when following W15.
Did you know Chiloe is famous for all their Unesco Heritage Churches https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/971/ built in the 17th and 18th century after being colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century.
Tired we arrive in Tocoihue but both hostals are closed. And again land is fenced off and houses are dotted around, not really space for wild camping. So no other solution than to do a detour to Tenaún, bummer as we don’t like to go the same way back and forth. Tenaún is a sweet, small, old fishing village. After a first full hostel we get the last free room at hostal Mirella. A warm living room, a warm shower and sharing great food with the other guests at one big table makes us feel at home. Meeting Andres from Santiago opens up some different conversations as he also speaks English. Our Spanish is sufficient to get by but having more in-depth conversations is more fun.
In the morning the opportunity arises to visit one of the islands and discover the taste of curanto. After some fun discussions with Mirella and Andres about who has the final say on what to do and when in a relationship, we decide to stay and don’t have any regrets.
Great boat ride. Spending 2 hours on an even smaller island. Villa (village) Mechuque. Contemplating how it must have been to be one of the first settlers, or how it must be to live here now. Not my cup of tea, this would be too remote, too wild, too basic. But beautiful to see it in this wild weather.
Fire in the hole.
Returning we find the curanto almost ready. Food cooked a hole in the ground. This is how it is done: burn wood, cover with stones, 3 types of shellfish, chicken, pork and beef covered with the big leaves of Nalca (gunnera tictoria), one more layer of potato dumplings and another cover of leaves and 3 different type of herbs/wood. Let it steam for 2 hours and ready. Delicious!!!
The shellfish is the bottom layer and all the fluid from them broils the meat and potatoes. As lunch is finished at 16:00 we only have dinner at 21:00. Yesterday we could not have breakfast earlier than 8:30 so today we are ready at 8:30 but find a cold fire in the kitchen. Nobody there. Stumbling around to see what we are able to do, Mirella appears with wild hair and sleepy eyes. We suggest we will make pancakes when she has a shower. Perfect solution!
Some last chats with Mirella. What a great vibe. What a woman to have built this place together with her husband and make everybody feel welcome. Working from early morning to late at night. Mirella, thank you for the awesome time!
Andres is on the island for a 5 day trip, returning tomorrow and suggests to bike together. Do you see which Ortlieb bags he has?
I suggest we take the dirt-road next to the hostel even if Mirella warns us that it is steep. We don’t want to listen and instead of biking a manageable detour we have to push our bikes for a 1 km but it feels like 10. It is even so steep we have to push Franks bike with the 3 of us. If we would have been together we would have had to take off part of the luggage. So be warned! Take the detour or be as stubborn as we were. Probably it is faster to bike the detour but this was awesome!
Also Andres has no problem with waiting for us. Also here the 16 years difference and less luggage shows how much more easier biking can be. Or is it the rock climbing he is doing during other weekends? I definitively want to try a bike packing set-up with almost no luggage!
Beautiful ride to Dalcahue where Andres speeds of to Castro and we enjoy cooking our own food.
This village is so much more touristic than what we have seen until now, even with an artisan market.
And then you realize that again a week has passed. If you want to find out why pre-planning is sometimes not a bad idea and what happens when you don’t plan: stay tuned to see how much we pre-planned or not during week 101.