Today was a lot less about driving, and more about enjoying the beautiful fjords as someone else did all the hard work. The Carretera Austral has four ferries along its route, three of which in its northern tip where we are now.
The first ferry was small, and lasted only 45 minutes, from Caleta Gonzalo in the Pumalin National Park (previously owned by the founder of the North Face brand of clothing, now owned by the government, and beautiful) across to the other side of the fjord. We then had to drive 10km on a track that runs between two fjords, and is only accessible by boat (I like that, driving on a road that just exists in between two bits of water, totally inaccessible from other roads), and has no habitation whatsoever – there was a nice sense of camaraderie in the 20 or so vehicles who then waited two hours for ferry number 2, the 3-hour journey all the way down another majestic fjord.
There are no roads across this part of the country, so it’s the ferry or a many-hundreds of km detour through the Andes, into Argentina and back again. In the queue were other overlanders – including one German couple who had a van from the same company as us, and a swiss couple we had met previously – a team from National Geographic, a group of motorcyclists, some cyclists and backpackers hitching lifts, truck drivers and local families. Lauren walked up and down the queue, enjoying the sweets she was given by the Nat Geo team, and stroking the dogs. Chileans seem to love their dogs and take them everywhere with them, and don’t seem to be at all upset when Lauren interrogates them on whether their dogs have had their vaccines and are safe to stroke before approaching (I’ve trained her well…. Or to be paranoid… ).
The highly efficient staff on the ferry got all the vehicles on safely, and we raced upstairs to try to find a socket to charge our various devices. That out of the way, we turned our attention to departure – we were just pulling out when we got a great sighting of dolphins playing in our wake, and generally having fun.
The scenery through the fjords was lovely, and you can see why people pay big money for ‘chilean fjord cruises’. Ours cost about 80 USD for the two ferries, for us plus the van.
We could see glaciers and frozen waterfalls, lots of fish, dolphins, birds etc. Although after a while, we went inside for lunch and Lauren convinced the poor German guy who we had met previously to play snap, endlessly. He has three daughters, now grown, and lots of patience! Despite his not speaking much English, Lauren nattered away to him happily for ages, seeming not to notice it was a rather one-sided conversation. 9 year old girls, eh!
It was nearly 6pm when we disembarked, and so along with the German couple, we agreed to cross the peninsular to the final ferry, but to camp before catching it, and carry on in the morning.
We believed it was tarmac and an easy 45 KM to where we planned to camp, but as ever the Ruta 7 had a surprise for us, and half the road was being dug up for improvements, and so we still managed to spend some quality time with the ripio. Plus three very long delays at road closures, meaning that by the time we arrived where we planned to camp, and realized it was not suitable, it was almost dark.
We backtracked to the village we’d passed a few KM up the road, and in the growing darkness, identified a spot on the cliffs that seemed not to be private property and seemed to be safe… it was so pitch black, we weren’t really sure where we were parking, or what we would find in the morning, but we had little choice, and so lined up our two rigs and we invited the Germans over for dinner (mainly on the basis that our van had heating and we’d been given an upgrade and they hadn’t and were surviving in a tiny little box on wheels). It was a pleasant evening over simple food and some good wine.
Next day – the end of the Carretera Austral!