After our time in the lake district of Argentina, it was time to gain some southern miles and cross back into Chile. We made our way towards the border for a week traveling along the Carretera Austral, the original Patagonian highway connecting the remote towns in southern Chile.
Our first stop was the small town of Puyuhuapi. We drove in as it was getting dark and the foggy, waterfront village had an eerie but beautiful feel. We wandered around trying to find somewhere to stay but found the area to be surprisingly full. There was one hostel available in the smallest house ever and two terrible options for pay camping. Rather than camping on the exposed shore in town, we decided to get a few supplies and move on to the National Park that we would have been headed for the next day.
National Park Queulat had minimal signage when we turned in and was totally empty. Technically, the campground was under renovation and we weren’t supposed to stay but no one was there and we would be leaving in the morning. We had a chilly, damp night but oh so quiet. In the morning a kind ranger came over and asked us to move to the day park area. After moving we hiked up to the park’s famous hanging glacier. The area was much more humid than expected, although still cold. We felt like we were right back in the jungle with all the tropical greenery, mosses and huge leaves. Since it was still Chile’s early spring the trails were extremely muddy and many had fallen trees blocking the trails. Unfortunately, the view was blocked by the poor weather and we could only see the lower half of the thin glacier.
We moved on that afternoon and were mesmerized by the overall landscape of this southern part of Chile. Between the fog, fjords, constant lakes and rivers, and mountains dusted with snow, it made up for the terrible road! We eventually reached a campsite at Rio Simpson, where we stayed for two days. When we arrived we were warmly welcomed by Ignacio, or Nacho, who gave us a tour of the place and a little bit of his story. Originally from Spain, he came to Patagonia while travelling and decided the life here was exactly what he wanted. There were three older Swiss couples staying that evening as well. We made dinner in the common kitchen area and enjoyed the fire pit in the middle of the large lodge-like community room. Nacho played guitar and we talked about wine and travel and life back home. The Swiss couples had rented three identical RV’s for their month long journey around Patagonia, and although they were not jealous of Pedro, they desired more time. Nacho’s wife made us fresh bread and we had to try to not eat it all in one day. The next 24 hours were quiet, with just us and the family on the property. He invited us into his house to share Mate that morning. He is a teacher to the max and he enjoyed sharing the tips and intricacies of the traditional drink with us, from how to never move the straw, the correct language of the craft, and the stories of the old cowboys who lived on the stuff. That day he would go from puttering around the place, fixing things or working on his organic garden to teaching Eric guitar and songs and showing us places to go in the area. Eric also learned he was pretty terrible at fishing with a can, a string and a lure. No fish for us. The final evening we shared a meal and wine around the fire together and were introduced to choripan, which will change your life.
That next morning we said our goodbyes and drove into the larger town of Coyhaique for supplies, after getting fairly low the past few days. We had heard about road closures that occurred from 2-6 pm daily so we were in a rush to get past that area instead of having to wait. We breezed past Cerro Castillo, sneaking just a few quick views out our window. Luckily, we made it in time to get past the construction but that still meant hours on an incredibly rough road. That afternoon our drive was so foggy, we felt like we missed any scenery hiding behind the grey. When it was time to start looking for a place to stay, Eric decided to drive down a little dirt road towards a ‘hosteria’ sign. They were closed but we got to chat with an overly friendly, but mumbly, old sheepherder for a bit. We decided to move further on to Puerto Rio Tranquillo on Lake General to an empty campground right on the lake, with much needed wind blocks.
The next morning we were planning on kayaking to the Marble Caves located on the lakeshore but after driving through some snow and rain, we decided to give it one more day. We found a beautiful little lodge in Puerto Guadal and enjoyed an evening in, stoking our own fireplace and watching the mountain view disappear into the night. The next morning it was a blue sky day and the kayaks were calling our names. We headed to the most famous area, the Capilla de Marmol. The jaunt out there was about 45 minutes and I can say that my kayak skills need some work. The water was an unbelievable clear blue-green, and the marble columns carved out of the massive rock were like nothing we had ever seen. We had the place to ourselves and paddled in and out of the beautiful, natural structures. Another favorite experience from the trip where the pictures can say more than words.
After the morning kayak, we had a long but incredibly beautiful drive ahead of us. The road wound back and forth along the coast. The views were stunning and it was hard not to stop and take photos at every turn. Our next camp spot was in the border town of Chile Chico, before we would cross back into Argentina. By dark we were looking for a camp option and ran across two more terrible pay to camp places. Outside of town we lucked into a quiet spot with hot showers and very friendly owners. The owner hangs flags of each country he has had visitors from in front of his land. He said he would now have the US flag up for another year.
Our next few weeks would be spent between battling the boredom and monotony of Argentina’s route 40 and being wowed by the stunning sights of southern Patagonia.