Well, we made it. Two thousand, four hundred and something KM up the Carretera Austral, without a puncture or an accident. Through National Parks, across fjords, up volcanoes, past mudslides, in beautiful sunshine and horrible storms, past sparkling blue rivers and over high mountain passes. Five ferries, many litres of diesel, a few hitchikers, a number of shared meals, the odd panic, an even the occasional shower.
As is to be expected from such a capricious road, the end to our epic journey up the Carretera Austral was not simple. The route officially ends on the coast road in the centre of the unlovely city of Puerto Montt (or, as the locals apparently call it, Puerto Muerte). Turns out, the coast road is a three-lane monstrosity with no parking for miles.
We boarded the last ferry this morning, enjoying watching seals frolicking in the sea below, hyped up knowing there were only 40-odd Km to go to ‘Kilometre Zero’ – or the start of the CA. Obviously, we were doing things in reverse, and ‘Km zero’ for us was actually ‘KM 2460’.
Once we were off the ferry, we both counted down the KM marker signs at the side of the road – from 20 KM we shouted them out, over my ‘happy tunes playlist’. While the CA was only a section of this epic Argentina-and-Chile adventure, it was the most challenging, the most remote, and had the most bragging rights attached. Most people we met had not travelled the full length, and we were rightly proud of ourselves for ‘making it’ all the way from deepest, darkest, Villa O’ Higgins.
About 4km out of town, the traffic got a bit intense, and the marker signs disappeared. There were roadworks on the coast road, and total chaos getting into town. The CA was not going to make this easy, and we almost fell at this last challenge. We drove straight through town without even a peek of somewhere possible to park. Eventually finding somewhere to haul our monster of a van round, we headed back the other way, spotting the ‘Km zero’ sign at a busy junction outside a shopping mall, but I wanted photographic evidence. Lauren begged me to just give up and keep going, we knew we’d done it, why did we need a photo (she’s a mature child), but no, I wasn’t going to be beaten at this stage. We would get to KM zero, and we’d pay proper homage to the road. People died making that road, and I’d put my all into finishing it – I was damned well going to celebrate the fact.
I may have got a bit grandiose….. she buried her head in her book…..
Eventually, we spotted a car park about 2km past the sign (on the other side of the 6 lanes of traffic, but still) and I carried out a probably-illegal manouvre to get there. We pulled in, I spotted a space…. Then the guard came and told us it was private, and no, we couldn’t just park there for ten minutes so I could take a photo….
I set off down the backstreets and found a spot eventually by some shacks, in a potholed lane full of stray dogs. It would have to do.
We yomped back to town, took the obligatory photos …
Then went for coffee and got the hell out of Puerto Muerte, thankful the van hadn’t been broken into.
We had a proper celebratory lunch in the much nicer Puerto Varas, less than an hour away, in an Irish pub named Pims, where we over-ordered Mexican food to such a degree that the leftovers were still being consumed two days later.
Now, we have a gentle few days in the Chilean lake district – volcanoes and lakes, but with good roads – then a trek up to Santiago to return the van.