(The Carretera Austral) was commenced in 1976 under the de facto presidency of Augusto Pinochet in order to connect a number of remote communities. Before that, in the 1950s and 1970s, there had been unsuccessful attempts to build access roads in the region. It is among the most ambitious infrastructure projects developed in Chile during the 20th century.
Carretera Austral has a strategic meaning due to the difficult access by land to a significant portion of Chile’s southern territory. This area is characterized by thick forests, fjords, glaciers, canals and steep mountains. Access by sea and air is also a complex task due to extreme winter weather conditions. For decades, most of the land transportation had to cross the border to Argentina in order to reach again Chile’s Patagonia.
In order to strengthen the Chilean presence in these isolated territories and ensure the land connection to the rest of the country, the government planned the construction of this road, which was executed by the Chilean Army’s Engineering Command. More than 10,000 soldiers worked in its construction. Many of them lost their lives during this effort.
So here we are at last. The start of one of the world’s great routes. Characterized by epic scenery and difficult riding, mainly because of the road surface, ripio, which means a kind of gravel, sometimes deep, and frequently with berms. More on that as we get get there.
Up early, Lucinda and I head off to the ferry terminal about 40K southeast of town. It’s critical we get the first ferry: there’s a second ferry which only runs once a day that we need to meet.
Jerzy’s a bit of a rock star at adventure riding, I’m to find out later. He spent 6 months riding extreme routes in Asia and the Himalayas. And of course many other routes. He’s 40 and an engineer. This is Monica’s first ride outside of Poland. We have different plans so today will be the only day we ride together, unless we meet up further down the track by luck.
There are 3 Brazilian riders on the boat. They brew up some yerba mate. Not nearly as fun as coca mate in Bolivia. But at least with yerba you don’t drool like an idiot as the lower half of your face goes numb
Looks like tons, but this is normal. The gourd is filled halfway with the herbs, then the water, off the boil, is added. Don’t stir. Pass it around.The amount you sip is important, don’t under- or over do it
A beautiful road so far. I have to admit to feeling some trepidation about the days ahead as I rode, expecting the dreaded loose ripio at any moment.