The Carretera Austral

This post is going to be an attempt to get the blog more up to date (I claim lack of good internet and exhaustion as my defence). It covers a lot of distance, so I will try to let the pictures do most of the talking!

From Bariloche I was finally into Patagonia. This vast region at the southernmost tip of South America is split between Argentina and Chile. To give an idea of the size of this area and it’s population density (or lack of):

United Kingdom

249 000 km2, 272 persons/km2

Germany

357 000 km2, 232 persons/km2

Patagonia

1 043 000 km2, 1.9 persons/km2

It’s vast, challenging, mostly remote, and utterly beautiful. As a result there are sometimes long distances to cover between any kind of settlements, so you need to carry plenty of provisions, and prepare for the worst road surfaces yet encountered. But that’s offset by incredible scenery!

As the gateway to this region, Barriloche is a well-developed town, with a distinct mountain-resort feel to it. Many buildings wouldn’t have been out of place in Austria or Switzerland.

My journey from here was to take me south through more of Argentina, and later to join the famous Carretera Austral in Chile; the highlight of many cyclists’ South America tours.

The first week or so was gloriously easy cycling, with lake after lake, typically with spectacular backdrops.

I was also lucky enough to wild-camp alone by the side of one lake, allowing me my most spectacular bath ever!

One day I took a great diversion that was well off the beaten track, and was surprised to find a mosque signposted.

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Needless to say, my curiosity got the better of me and I followed the sign, past the gate requesting Allah to bless me, and waited at the little shop. It turns out there are about 8 families living there at the moment in a commune type setting. I’m not sure who was more surprised – me to find this community in Patagonia, or the woman being asked questions by the crazy cyclist who said he used to live in Pakistan…

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My route also took me through ‘Welsh Patagonia’. This area in Argentina was first home to Welsh immigrants who arrived in 1865. Whilst I didn’t hear the language being spoken (there are apparently a considerable number of inhabitants who do speak Welsh), the Welsh influence is very apparent.

From this area I crossed into Chile once more. At the border it was a relief to see good tarmac again (albeit it wasn’t to last long).

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The next stop was the Carretera Austral. Built under General Pinochet during his dictatorship, its 1240 kms finally connected previously remote villages to the rest of the country. Some parts were only finished as recently as 2003.

The scenery was stunning, which made up for the sometimes shocking condition of the roads. The ‘ripio’ as it’s known, is corrugated concrete, often with big holes and rocks. Sadly many car drivers are blind to the danger to cyclists from flying stones and dust as they race past at breakneck speeds. Luckily the wilder it got, the less traffic there was. The route took in mountains, lakes, ferries and remote villages. Often, despite it being summer, you also get to experience four seasons in a day.

I was fortunate enough to meet some amazing people on the route. Wild campsites often became very social places, all of us sharing in the delight of our travels.

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There were two meetings that particularly stood out for me: Oliver, who was walking from Ushuaia to Alaska with all his kit in a baby-stroller (he’s previously walked across the United States like this too). He covers around 40/50 kms a day – http://olithewalker.com/en/

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And then there is the truly amazing French family who are travelling from Lima to Ushuaia with three children aged between 6 and 10. They were on two tandems, each steered by one of the parents, and the children alternated between the tandems and the kiddie’s bike, complete with panniers. We all had lunch together in a bus shelter on the route. They were (all five of them) truly inspiring people! https://envourchonsnosvelos.wordpress.com/

As I went along the Carretera Austral I met so many other international cyclists. By the time I got to Villa O’Higgins, the end of the Carretera, a group of 10 of us had formed. After the end of the Carretera comes a ferry crossing (pedestrians and cyclists only); a hike over the border to Argentina and the next lake; and then another ferry. The hike is famously challenging, so we decided to form a team to help each other across the bits that weren’t navigable. But that was to come. For now we were elated to have completed the Carretera Austral.

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As ever, much love to all.

Stuart

 

 

32 thoughts on “The Carretera Austral

  1. Again Stuart what a treat to bring us thru your pictures to all those unknown places how could it be we always took the plane from A to B……..now it is too late even to think about it. Great we have you who is able to let us see and read…….I imagine the lakes are inviting for swimming reminds me as well of Switzerland. In Berlin we are doing fine oh I am so happy that the daylight is getting earlier. Love and hugs over oceans mountains – take care Gerda

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    1. Hi Gerda. Glad you’re enjoying it. And no, maybe now not the time to take up cycle touring. We all know what happened last time George was on the bike! Glad to hear all well over there. It’s not long now until I’m back in Europe, and will be catching up with you guys as soon as I make it to Berlin! Lots of love, Stuart

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  2. Dear Stuart, exceptional pictures as always and it is simply uplifting to read about your experiences. Take good care of yourself and keep having a great time. Big hug from Amsterdam, Petra

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    1. Thanks Petra – glad you’re enjoying! I fly to Madrid next month, and am planning to cycle back to Berlin from there. There’s a very good chance that I’ll be passing near Amsterdam, so it would be great to catch up then. I’ll keep you posted on dates! Lots of love, Stuart

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  3. Hi Stuart, looks like your amazing journey continues to deliver unique experiences. Are you ever coming home or will you wander further? I so admire your courage and fortitude . Safe travels Stuart !

    Sharon xxx

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    1. Hi Sharon! Great to hear from you. Yes, the experiences just keep on coming. It’s even better than I’d ever hoped, and I had pretty high expectations to start with! I am beginning the slow ride home next month. I fly from BA to Madrid, and then plan to cycle back to Berlin from there. Look forward to catching up with you whenever next back in London! Hope all well with you over there, despite what seems like daily political chaos. Lots of love, Stuart

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  4. Stuart, it looks absolutely idyllic there, I can imagine that the people you are meeting are pretty impressive aswell, must take a lot of character to embark on a journey like that especially with kids. Fantastic journey. Stay safe mate, I want to hear about it from the horses mouth in the future. God bless.

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    1. Hi Ronnie! Yes, it’s pretty incredible countryside. I’ve certainly never experienced anywhere as wild and underpopulated, and over such huge areas. Truly remarkable. I’ve now got to Buenos Aires, so nearing Europe slowly. Look forward to catching up with you too, very much. Best, Stuart

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  5. Stuart

    My thoughts exactly on seeing the first few pictures, thought you were back in Austrai……

    Great that you have met up with a few like minded travellers, always good to share info / experiences

    Amazing pictures and some stunning views, love the wild swimming.

    Have fun and stay safe

    Lots of love

    Lorraine and Emma
    Xxx

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    1. Hi there you two! Hehe, no, Austria is positively overpopulated compared with Patagonia! Some of the people I’ve met have been remarkable, and the teamwork was great during one particularly difficult stage (more about that in the next entry). Wild swimming was great fun – if just a little on the cold side most of the time! Lots of love right back at you, Stuart x

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  6. A particularly rich and quirky offering, Stuart. What to comment on first: the Welsh and Germanic labels, the equally unexpected Muslims, the ever-more-jaw-dropping pics, your fascinating explorer friends, the laughable gradients, or just your charming natural-scientist beard? My fellow blog fans should decide;)

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    1. Why does it make me nervous when you describe it as ‘quirky’? Hehe. The route has certainly been full of surprises. Followers of my facial hair will be pleased to hear that it was ceremoniously removed upon arrival in Ushuaia! Not long before the European leg now, so looking forward to catching up soon. Best, Stuart

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    1. Cheers Kim. Yes, the camping was pretty insane. Although some of my fellow travellers have been fairly cruel in their assessments of my credentials as a proper camper. I famously made a comment about camping in the rain not being any fun, then promptly realised I’d never done it! Warmest to you both, S x

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  7. Hi Stuart,

    Incredibly breath taking! Stunning photos to equal a stunning journey!

    “A picture is worth a thousand words”….. In this case your photos.

    I love your writings as well. Every time I read your blog, I feel like your journey is steadily elevating you to higher grounds! The Earth is beautiful.
    As always, Lots of love
    Marina 🌸

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    1. Hi Marina. Yes, but even then the pictures (or words) can’t really do it justice. It really is beautiful, you’re right. Patagonia is a remarkable place. Much love back, and trust all is well, Stuart x

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    1. Cheers Olli, doing my best! Glad you’re both on the journey. I fly to Madrid next month, and begin a slow cycle back to Berlin from there, so looking forward to catching up with you (all!) then. Stay safe over there, Stuart

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  8. Gorgeous photos, Stuart, one more beautiful then the other. Great!! And you are defintely a great photographer. Will continue to follow your block!! Warmest wishes from Berlin, Christoph

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    1. Hi Christoph (und Family!). Thank you. Yes, the scenery has been incredible. All of that said, it’s good to be back in a big city again (Buenos Aires). I fly to Madrid next month, and then begins the long ride home to Berlin. Freu mich auf Euch! Liebe Grüße, Stuart

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