Sunday, May 26, 2013

Carretera Austral redux

Heading back north it was an easy decision to catch as much of the Carretera Austral as possible, given how much more scenic that route is than the desolate (but still beautiful, just more stark) areas of southern Argentina.  Leaving Puerto Natales took us through the smaller Paso Laurita - Casas Viejas crossing (instead of Dorotea on the way in). Even though this crossing was much smaller, these guys still knew to ask for our reciprocity fee paperwork. Only 2 times were we able to get into Argentina without paying that new fee, and I have a feeling those leaks are plugged by now...

A few travelers have stopped at this gas station...  Where the dirt of Ruta 40 stops near Estancia Tapi Aike
(common gas stop for travelers, as evident by the sticker accumulation on the window.  They even actually had gas this time past)

Rainbow over the TA and tent, somewhere between Pto Natales and Tres Lagos
(rainbow over camp. Somewhere near Tres Lagos)

For some reason on our way back north, much more than on our way south, we passed an inordinate number of large moto tours. Some were fully guided and supported with chase vehicles and the like. Of the people we talked to, many were quite happy. But those groups looked like an absolute disaster waiting to happen. One instance had riders of varying ability jockeying for position on a slippery mud road. The rider in back was very unsteady, training wheels out with his boots down. Following immediately behind him was the chase truck, ready to run him over in a moment's notice. If you decide to take a guided tour, be sure you know who you're jumping on with. Other large groups were self guided. But the fact of traveling with more than 8 people seemed to turn that into a disaster all the same.

Leaving the hotel at Bajo Caracoles we ran into a huge group of Aussies/Europeans.  Trying to chat them up was a dead end.  So we left.
(After a night camping back in Bajo Caracoles, we saw this self-guided group of Aussies and Europeans on all sorts of fancy, late model bikes (even a Ducati Multistrada thrown in for good measure). A short chat with one of the riders was more than sufficient)

Just north of Bajo Caracoles is the entrance to Cueva de las Manos, (Cave of the Hands), a Unesco site with painted handprints on the walls from a long time ago. The over loaded TA on our new street biased tires, combined with a still slightly crooked front end and Mike's lack of mud-riding skills, did not make the super slippery conditions we encountered that much fun. Even the slowly moving AWD cars were sliding all over the place.  Progress was so slow that we turned back.

Our new road biased tires combined with a still twisted front end did not make this slippery mud very easy.  On the way to Cueva de las Manos
(Cueva de las Manos is still on our list!)

Our route into Chile this time was on a different road around Lago Buenos Aires (Arg) / Lago General Carrera, taking us through the small towns of Perito Moreno, Arg and Chile Chico, Chile. That stretch was a fantastic ride, following the lake on our right, with distant views of glacier covered mountain ranges across the lake and straight ahead.

approaching our campsite, Lago General Carrera, west of Chile Chico
(riding alongside Lago General Carrera)

This retaining wall seems absolutely necessary, alongside Lago General Carrera, near Chile Chico
(This retaining wall seems absolutely necessary)

mountains in the background, Lago General Carrera, west of Chile Chico
(view from just above our camp, Lago General Carrera)

approaching the Carretera Austal, west of Chile Chico
(approaching the Carretera Austal)

(not-so "wild" campsite, tucked between the road and private property, off the Carretera Austral south of Coyhaique)

Futaleufú was a must stop on our way back north. The valley had such a spell on us from our first time passing through that we had to go back. We even considered ways to make living there a possibility and didn't find any immediate answers, but haven't given up completely on the idea. It's such an inviting place!

Sunset over main plaza, Futaleufú
(Sunset over main plaza, Futaleufú)

Reflections in Lago Lonconao (we think that's this lake).  Outside of Futaleufú
(Reflections in Lago Lonconao (we think that's this lake). Outside of Futaleufú)

While both of us absolutely loved our time southbound on the Carretera Austral, covering the same ground was less enjoyable on the way back north (except for the Futa valley, that place still rocks). I suppose the fact that we were seeing it all again had something to do with it, but I also think that the views are increasingly more incredible in the southbound direction. Perhaps even more relevant is that we had a couple days of cold rain on our way north - that makes everything a little less fun.

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