8. The Carretera Christmas.

In Coyhaique I'm soon booked in at an ideal hostel/campsite just around the corner from the main streets, making it easy to pop out for bits n pieces, and even making use of the launderette - one of those jobs I usually do by hand!

Later in the day I see a familiar face, Frederika, a Swedish female cyclist I'd previously met in Villa O'Higgins - the start of the Carretera Austral - but departed a day before me. The following day we both take off to catch up with online duties and blog-writing, we also talk about riding the next section together. With both of us riding similar daily distances and speeds it should prove a good match. Fredrika had cycled out of Sweden, down to/through Turkey, then Iran, through the Stans, China, S.E. Asia, Australia and New Zealand then flew to Ushuaia and had departed there several days before myself so certainly a well-seasoned cyclist who could handle most situations.

Looking back at Coyhaique as we climb up and away from the town, sitting at a relatively low altitude of 302 metres.   
Although the route in and out of Coyhaique was sealed, ten kilometres out was a junction that gave choice between the shorter bump-n-grind of gravel-n-rocks of the Carretera or keep to the newer - slightly longer - road that bypassed the older route. Previously talking to Fred about this section I'd mentioned that I'd prefer the longer route - no doubt quicker - route, but no there was two of us... 
Cycling out of town we noticed that the road was actually quite busy, not being used to such volume of traffic, upon reaching the  junction I'm tempted to have a look at how bad - or good? - the old route was, the main advantage being obviously traffic-free, also, now having company may distract any [possible] negativity from the route if it were to become bad. 
The initial inspection looked okay and could tell Fred wanted to ride it and I'm soon convinced back to the old route, here it is a few kilometres in;

And here's Fredrika a few kilometres in, smiling as ever!

It was actually good to get back on the gravel, just an occasional car passing en-route to the few villages along the way, pretty flowers, brooks and streams, as rough as the route had been it was like being reacquainted with an old friend.

A while later we pass through one of the villages, stopping at the store for a few basics then continuing. By lunch, drizzly rain-clouds have caused the temperature to drop to around 10'c so we didn't hang around too long to eat. Toward the day's end we approach three cyclists from the opposite direction, informing us - as we expected - our old route was about to end by merging with new the sealed road.

As the final few metres of the old route approach us we were both jubilant we'd chose to ride it. Passing onto the sealed road we become even happier as a slight tail wind pushed us along at 30 kilometres per hour. Both tired from our day's route we start to look for a place to pitch for the night, with a parallel river to the road it was inevitable we'd soon see somewhere suitable and several kilometres along we spot a wooden suspension bridge over the river with a good  grassy area around it, perfect.

After checking it's suitability we move in for the night.

As we awake to a cloudy sky we continue down the [now] relatively quiet road, passing through Villa Manihuales and stocking up on a few supplies. No! Not a zebra crossing, but piggies crossing...oink oink oink!! 

Although the day started to warm slightly, the clouds failed to clear and in the afternoon as the road started climbing up into the dense mountain greenery the clouds thickened and eventually the rain started. An hour in and we're both damp/wet with sweat and rain, briefly pausing in a bus stop to take a breather we soon reach the mountain-top village of Villa Amengual, the area we were passing through was the national-park 'Queulat'.

With no sign of a campground we have two choices, either free-camp somewhere close or make use of one of the small village's guest houses. With Fred's daily budget being lower than mine she's concerned about the room's price, so almost being being Christmas (closer for Fred as the Swedes celebrate it on the 24th) I treat her, making her soooo content!!

Hearing from other travellers that the mountain-pass ahead would be closed between mid-day and 5pm for major road works, the following day we leave the cosy guest-house room earlier than normal and crack-out a good few kilometres - luckily being a good section of downhill - before the mountain-pass section commences. Again, low misty-clouds lingered in all directions and we'd inevitably be climbing up into it..

Briefly stopping at a view-point to see a cliff-edged water-fall we talk to a family with three children travelling by hire cars on an around the world tour - at times travelling can be being difficult enough but with three young children?..now that's hardcore!...coincidentally they were from Oxford!

Clouds thickening as we go up. 

 If the road gets any narrower we'll be in the greenery!

Eventually at the top we start the descend, gradually descending from the misty clouds that had engulfed us. At the bottom we take a lunch break, where - upon this side of the pass - the clouds were slowly parting, revealing a welcoming clear sky for our afternoon's ride. The route now closely hugged many lakes and eventually to a Fjord that the day's destination town of Puyuhuapi was perched against. 

That day's start village of Villa Amengual can be seen halfway along the ruta 7 (Carretera Austral.
Puyuhuapi proved a quaint, interesting place, a very 'sunday' feel about it, relaxed and sleepy. With it being 23rd December you'd never think that South America was a Christian continent, such few signs of the festive season, maybe they celebrate it for it's [correct] religious aspect, and not the commercial side that's stuffed down our throats in Europe. All we really noticed here was a Christmas tree on a small wooden decked plaza near the Fjord edge.
As a popular tourist village there were several campsites and we were soon booked in at one.

Even if it rained, our tents would stay dry! 

The following day we'd planned to continue but Fred awoke feeling a bit under-the-weather, being Christmas day in Sweden I think - talking about her family -  she was more-so home-sick, knowing they'd be gathered for their traditional skiing activities she felt left out...the things you have to give up whist cycling around the globe!! Nevertheless without second thought I say "okay, we take the day off, no problemo for me". later giving her a a little Christmas present that all girls love, Chocolate!! 
With a good few other cyclists I spend most the day in the communal kitchen, keeping warm around the wood burning stove, later Fred joins us after her relaxing day snoozing....dreaming of home??

With the shops open much the same we load our food pannier up on goods for the next couple f days and depart the next day, my Christmas day! After an hour or so we take a brief pause on the edge of an angled lake embankment, sitting down all of a sudden I feel really wobbly, almost drunk, Fred, still standing by her bike I say, did you feel that "what" she says, "did the earth just move" I reply, and as i'm replying a few rocks roll down the embankment to the lake, Fred initially thought I was messing around until she heard the rocks tumbling down to the water. Checking on her phone a few minutes later the news reports an earthquake near Puerto Montt in Chile, 130 miles or so from where we were that had measured a 7.5 on the Richter Scale! Luckily no fatalities and just a few home knocked down and could have certainly been worse in a greater populated area with taller buildings.
That afternoon we roll into a small town called La Junta and as ever I'm drawn to a group of dogs ambling around and give each one a good fuss. A small girl leaning out a nearby house window calls one of the dogs, waving to her soon her mother appears and beckons us over for a tea, gladly accepting we're offered in and then offered some of their remaining Christmas dinner! Talking about the earthquake to them they said their house shook, to think the epicentre was 130 miles away,... the huge amount of energy dissipated within those few seconds of the quake!

Later that evening we pass a crystal clear river so fill our bottles and soon find a nice grassy field just out of view of the road to pitch our tents;

Being my Christmas day I'm finally able to remove from the bottom of my food pannier what must be the most well-travelled Christmas pudding in the world! Buying it several months ago back home it was finally time to crack it open, along with a smothering of double cream!   

With the proof of the pudding in the eating it didn't take us too long to devour it, along with our festive party hats (take note mum!) our Carretera-Christmas celebration was short and sweet.

The Carretera Austral begins (or ends!) in the town of Puerto Montt, prior to starting the tour research had biased me to depart the Carretera and head to / through the border town of Futaleufe'. Nesteled up in the mountains, other's had well spoke about it, and also mentioned a not-to-miss route just over the border in Argentina that started just out of the nearby town of Trevelin. Heading to Puerto Montt also meant a using a couple of ferries that had odd booking requirements so we both decided to head for the Futaleufe route. Our departure point of Ruta 7....aka the Carretera Austral.

Meting a few motorcyclists at the junction town were told it's a flat road to Futaleufe,..the times I've heard that classic line!! Flat? in this terrain?..ah those motorcyclist..twist n go boy!

Our new 'flat' route proved to be very similar to the Carretera but nevertheless refreshing to be on a different route, albeit well travelled by other's. Up's and down's over gravel and stones the new scenery was just as good, initially snaking through a narrow high-sided green valley, passing streams feeding the lakes.
That evening we arrive at the village of Palena, just on the edge we spot a ideal riverside grassy patch to camp. Then there were three of us! From our camp spot we noticed a solo rider on the nearby bridge clearly searching for a camp spot, calling him over he's glad for some company and a good chat.

Abiding the road signs!
As was Fred.

Reduce?? I think we're already going slow enough!

The scenery along this route was awesome, the both of us thinking it even better than the Carretera! The Futaleufu River being one of the premier whitewater rivers in the world and is fed by the lakes on the Los Alerces National Park. During the morning we passed by several rafting centres offering trips for the experienced and also learner guided trips. The name 'Futaleufu' is an indigenous word meaning "Big River". Renowned worldwide for its turquoise waters that's produced by the glacier till (unsorted glacial sediment).

Futaleufu was a picture-postcard town, surrounded by an abundance of mountainside greenery with a sealed (dust-free) road, several grocery shops and free wifi around the plaza. Reaching it by mid afternoon we decided to take a small break then stock up on a few bits and press on toward and cross the border, back into Argentina for - including our initial flight arrival what would be our third time.

Another littl'moggy from somewhere along the route that insisted on being fussed and photographed!
 "Oh it's a tough ol' life being a cat".
- - - 

Next time, the train's gone..and so has my ride partner.