Caraterra Austral – Chile

From the awesome rafting in Futaléufu we wanted to start the Caraterra Austral to head south. There was one bus per week from Futa leaving Sunday at 9am so we bought tickets at CHP$24,000ea (AUD$47ea). The bus was “comun” which means there is no toilet and the seats recline about 5 centimetres. The bus ride was 10 hours because the road is rough but it wasn’t so bad because the scenery along the way was amazing.

Along the journey are snowcapped mountains, lakes, rivers

We arrived in Coyhaique and spent a while looking for accommodation and finally came to a hospadaje called Maria’s run by an elderly couple. She showed us a room with one large single bed and wanted $20,000 for it. We managed to get her down to $16,000 just like a Jew would. We found a Vietnamese, Thai and Japanese combined restaurant on the way to the hospedaje and didn’t hesitate to go there for dinner in hope for some actual flavor in our food!! The restaurant was called Wok n Roll and the dude that ran it was really cool. He had spent 3 years fitting it out himself… we got chatting after dinner and he shouted us beers in his restaurant while he closed up. We remained there few a few hours for a few more after the restaurant closed… he was super friendly and the food was so good! Recommend it with mains about CH$5000 it a flavorsome bargain in this bleak culinary landscape.

The next day we were eating lunch in a café and talking about what we should do and this dude piked up and starting chatting to us. Andre from South Africa was heading north but wanted to quickly cruise down to Villa Cerro Castillo and organise to ride horses up the mountain with the same name. We were heading south anyway and didn’t see much to do in Coyhaique so we all went hunting for information.

The info place in the town square wasn’t that helpful but we ended up finding enough to get by…. the horse riding would be CHP$28,000ea for a full day starting at 9.30am. The next thing was to get transport. We went to all the bus office in towns and most were leaving too late or completely full. Car hire was too expensive, so we asked a taxi if he could take us. He said he could for CHP$35,000. We hesitated. We told him we wanted to go the next day at 7am and he hesitated (they don’t like getting up early!), in the end we got him to $30,000 and he would pick us up from our accommodation in the morning. Perfecto!

Throughout the last couple of weeks we have been umming and ahhhring about buying a tent. They are more expensive here than in Australia, and we have to carry it. (Well Richard does). We found one in Coyhaique for CHP$29,000 which was pretty cheap compared to others we had seen. We decided to buy it and got back to our hospedaje to set it up. All the strings in the poles were snapped!! We were leaving at 7am the next morning so wouldn’t have time to take it back and it was now 8pm!! We gassed it down to the camping store and explained we had “un problemo”, he had none of the same tent left, and only a 6 person tent which was way too huge, or 2 person tent – which was poor quality and tiny…… with limited ability to communicate he told us to come back in half an hour. We hesitated because they could easily shut the shop knowing that we are leaving early in the morning and they have our money we had paid for the tent and the tent itself!!!  It turned out OK…. the guy sent his kid home to grab a different 3 person tent he must have had in storage. The only problem was it was CHP$49,000 – $20,000 more than we had already paid. We weren’t happy and he could see this and ended up dropping the price to $39,000. We got home and set it up and all was swell, a much better quality tent (although heavier).

Tent-ready we caught the taxi with Andre the Saffa to Villa Cerro Castillo, we didn’t know where we were going to find horses but saw a sign out front of  a house saying they did it, so we knocked on their door. Easy, sorted.

We saddled up by 10am and hit the trail with our horses. Last time we rode horses I had a crazy horse and Richard an itchy one, this time it was like they were both starved, all they wanted to do was stop to eat the whole trip! But we managed to complete the 2 hours riding up, stopping for some wild strawberry picking. We then tied our horses up and had to walk the last hour to the top.

We made it to the top in the stinking heat and came to a glacier with waterfalls making a beautiful aqua lagoon. It was so worth the climb.

We ate lunch at the top and shouted our guide.
The poor guy looked only about 15.

We got back to town around 6pm and because of some confusion about us seeing some famous ancient horse painting Claudio the guy running the horse show gave us a lift to see the 3 million year old Manos de Cerro Castillo National Monument hand painting and the horsey thing. The horsey thing was shut so we go to see these indigenous paintings.

Andre signalling these painting are 3 million years old – whoot. But they’re actually 3,000 years old I believe…??

Claudio then drove us to a campsite which was awesome, it had dorm beds for Andre who didn’t have a tent (the igloo looking thing in the background of the photo), and a kitchen we could use to cook food. We set up our tent and worked out we needed to sleep in it 8 nights to make the purchase worth while!!!

Night one…. brand new tent

We got up and started to cook ourselves a breakfast we had been salivating about since the idea came about the night before. Sausages (for bacon), eggs, onion and potatoes. I went to whip up the scrambled eggs – and all 7 of them were rotten!!! So we went on a mission across town to get some more to complete our dream breakfast, probably doesn’t sound that good to you but to us it was heaven!

About 11am we farewelled Andre who was heading back to Coyhaique and mosied on down to the bus stop to hitch hike south to Puerto Tranquilo or catch a bus, whatever came first. The lady at the tourist info place said there would be a bus later in the arvo so we had hope.  4 hours later….. two Chileans got dropped off just near us, 20 minutes later…… 5 Israeli’s arrived, and we noticed another couple attempting to hitch at the food van up the road a bit. Hope was disappearing!!

We walked up to the “restaurant” on the side of the road, made out of two old school buses, and grabbed a burger. We got talking to Aina from Spain and Hahnz from Belgium. They were really friendly and also had hitch-hiking etiquette saying that we were there before them so should definitely get the first car that stopped.  We teamed up and decided that getting the two girls to flag the cars was the best idea. We stopped two cars but they were only going a few Ks down the road.  Finally we could hear wine calling us and decided to pack it in the for day and try and get a bus the following day. We set up camp again and had some wine with a side serve of dinner.

Regarding the buses It was really hard to find solid information, but we got some guidelines…. the bus would stop outside a supermarket from 10-12 in the morning and if there was room we could get on! There was almost no point sitting at the the bus stop we were at yesterday because the first stop is the supermarket, after that there is almost garaunteed not to be a seat left. We sat outside the supermarket and waited hoping we could get out of this town!!

The bus arrived and there was 4 seats left!! How lucky were we!? Finally. We paid CHP$4,000 to get to Puerto Tranquillo where we camped a night at Camping Pudu with our new mates and luckily they let us use their cooking equipment and supplied us with some soup for lunch!! Thanks guys

The next day we walked into town to see about the tour to the Marble Caves. We were lucky, the boat was leaving in half an hour. There are two tour companies, their vans are on the main drag across from the bus stop, they are the same price, there could be a difference of CHP$500-$1000 depending on how desperate they are. The cost for ours was CHP$5,000ea and the tour took about 2 hours, the boat going into the caves so you stand up and touch the marble.

I am really a cave man now, look at my beard…
and my cave.

After this we wanted to head to Chile Chico but there wasn’t a bus until Sunday – two days. We were given the option to catch the bus to El Maiten, and walk/hitch hike the 8kms to Puerto Guadal where we could then get the bus “every day” to Chile Chico. We decided to do this and on the bus met an Argentinean couple who were doing the same thing. We got off at the El Maiten turn-off, loaded up with our packs (Richard now carrying an extra 3kg of tent) and began the 8km walk in the rain. No-one toldus it was going to be a steep up hill walk.  We struggled through the first 3.5km uphill, with cars passing us making any hope we had of a free ride disappear. Finally a ute stopped! There were already 3 other hitchhikers in the back seat so we threw our backpacks in the tray, helped the Argentines with theirs and sat in the back with the rain whipping our faces for the 4km (mostly downhill) ride to Puerto Guadal.

The first thing was to find out about the buses to Chile Chico, in case we could get there this day and save a night of accommodation! We asked…. no bus until MONDAY! What the? We would have been better off staying in Puerto Tranquilo! We found a hospedaje to stay at for the night and realised we were running rather low on Chilean Pesos. So we went to the shop and bought some wine, rum and some playing cards.

We get to the road to Chile Chico about 9.30am. There’s already two Israeli girls there who slept in their tent in the bus shelter for the night and two Chilean’s who slept behind the girls tent in the bus shelter in their sleeping bags, plus the Argentinan couple we came from Puerto Tranquillo with. That means we’re the last in line, to get a ride, if we get a ride.

Within an hour or so the Israeli girls are picked up. The next few hours were spent drinking some mulled wine to warm us and playing guitar like hippies in the bus shelter.

The Argentinean couple were on a tight schedule and desperately wanted to get to Chile Chico so got us interested in the 6 of us sharing a car if he could find someone to drive us. We got the price of CHP$80,000 and thought it was too expensive. Later, when all hope was lost, one of each hitching couple went to accept this offer (so no-one could get a ride). While this is happening 3 German girls get dropped off, this isn’t a problem because if we can all squeeze in this will be cheaper. The car arrives while two of the Germans have gone on a walk to the shop so we leave them behind and get on our way.

We find a nice cheap Hospadaje called Don Luis which allows us to use the kitchen all for CHP$12,000 for a private room, we take it. Cruise on down to the supermarket and have a fiesta at all the food we can get! We end up making pasta, but filled with VEGETABLES! Mmmmmmmmmm. We had made plans to catch up with the Chilean’s we met and heard that there was a Festival on in town. We go. We see the below. Four Cowgirls singing terribly to terrible music in wretched outfits. All four of us fall asleep and decide to leave about 1am as we couldn’t stay awake to see the famous Chilean rock band.

We got up in time to catch the 10am bus to Los Antiquos, back to Argentina. The border crossing was simple and the bus ride was only CHP$2,000. Too easy. We went into the Los Antiquos terminal to check the bus times south, as we (and 6 others) wanted to go to El Chaltén. The bus had left half an hour before we arrived, the next wasn’t for THREE DAYS! GEeeeeeezzzz!!

Cal Tur bus company gave us the option of getting a remise to Perito Moreno where the bus would wait for us. The cost would be AR$200 – we befriended two Israeli’s heading the same way so shared between 4, and not having to wait three days, the price was OK. The bus ticket cost AR$270ea and was going to be about 10 hours, we bought it and hurried into the cab to catch the bus. We got there and the dodgy cab dirver said the price was an extra 40 peso. We argued with hiim but he wasn’t going to give in. The other 4 girls that were also doing the same thing as us arrived and I asked what they were paying $210, so the Israeli managed to get him down to $210. Joker.

We rolled into El Chaltén about 10pm – the sun had just gone down and it was so windy! We found a place to camp, set up our tent and went in search for food. We’re back in Argentina so the steak was calling. We went to El Vaco and opted for a Parilla for 2. By the time they took our order, the parillla was off…. Richard got an awesome rare Lomo and I had the most amazing pasta of my life.

El Chaltén is full of Americans who are full of them selves and love rock climbing and being hardcore. We didn’t really like them. And of course, Israeli’s!

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