Once we left Ushuaia we hit the road pretty hard for three days in a row since for thousands of kilometers there was not much to see. We stopped just for the night at Rio Gallegos, Puerto San Julian and Los Antiguos. The highlight during these three days was the fact that Oscar reached his first 10,000km 🙂 Our goal was to head back to the southern part of the Carretera Austral.
At the Los Antiguos – Chile Chico border crossing (Paso Jeminei) we faced the most stringent border control on our journey so far. All of our backpacks and suitcases were sent through a big scanning machine and of course they found all of the food we had with us. Luckily, Irina declared on her food declaration form that she had food with her. One of the customs ladies was making a big deal about four Argentinian apples which were packed in between clothes in one of the suitcases. I told her that we were not aware about the apples and that the kids possibly put in there while playing. She was quite insisting that we did it on purpose and she wanted to fine us. However, I referred to Irina’s declaration and that we had declared and thrown away all of the other forbidden food items (cheese, salami, walnuts, milk etc.). So Irina had to controversially argue for 15min with two ladies in a separate room and fortunately was convincing enough as she also came up with the kids‘ story 🙂 We’ve read before that undeclared food penalties can be up to $200 (!). Anyhow, it was quite an educating experience and we won’t risk anything at our next (Chilean) border.
The route from Chile Chico to Puerto Rio Tranquilo consisted again completely of gravel and hence took a long time to cross (4h). However, it was definitely worthwhile because the views of Lago General Carrera (on the Argentinian side it’s called Lago Buenos Aires) and its surrounding mountains and small little islands were very beautiful. Not forget to mention the beauty of the Patagonian flowers (Lupine).
We concluded this long driving day with a well-deserved dinner:
The next day we took the 9am tour to the beautiful marvel caves of Rio Tranquilo. It was a small boat with eight passengers which made the atmosphere quite exclusive. It took us on a 30min ride to different cave formations such as “The tunnel”, “The caves”, “The cathedral”. The black, grey and white marvel was very impressive and we could observe it at the interior of the tunnel and even touch it. Together with the turquoise water they looked magnificent.
We spent about 45min at the different marvel rock formations and enjoyed the views from varying perspectives. Overall, a very recommendable trip (10,000clp /adult)!
The dirt road continued the next day for the entire day (160km distance with an average of 40km/h) when we headed toward Villa Cerro Castillo. We left early to arrive late afternoon but unfortunately we were surprised by a road blockage. One of the construction workers mentioned an alternative route through the mountains but we opted not to take it since the main road of the Carretera was already quite a challenge for Oscar. Instead, we bridged two and half hours at a nearby river (Rio Ibañez) with fishing and beers 🙂 No luck though with the salmons which are presumable inhabitants to that river. The beers worked though 😉 Eventually, after letting the opposite’s site rural traffic pass we made our way to the village and found quickly a cabaña for the four of us.
At 8:20am the next morning Lothar started to hike the trail to Cerro Castillo. The trail is easily reachable by a gravel road from Villa Cerro Castillo (ca.1km). The trail itself was very entertaining since the terrain changed from woods and grassy parts to gravel and steppe and finally to snow and rocks. After 1.5 hours uphill Lothar got surprised by a sudden shade which turned out to be a huge condor(!):
The views of the valley with the Rio Ibañez and Villa Cerro Castillo were breathtaking and rewarding at the same time!
The last third of the ascent even got a little bit tricky since it was covered by snow.
After 3 hours and 1000m of altitude difference Lothar reached the lookout point to Cerro Castillo with its deep blue glacier lake:
One of the astonishing things about this hike compared for example to Torres del Paine (some call it the sister mountains of the Torres mountains) was that Lothar did not meet a single person during the ascent. In fact, he had the entire Cerro Castillo (means by the way Castle due to its shape) for the first 20min by himself until six hikers from another trail arrived.
Overall, on the way back he crossed ways with another 20 hikers or so such that this trail still has the character of a hidden gem.
The descent took a little bit more than 2.5hours and was completed with a short bath in a beautiful waterfall.
The last stop at the Carretera was dedicated to Puyuhuapi, a village founded by four Germans at the beginning of the 20th century, and its nearby National Park Queulat. This time most of the road from Villa Cerro Castillo was paved such that we took some time to look around the center of Coyhaique, withdraw cash, drink some craft beer and buy groceries. We reached Puyuhuapi which consists of five streets or so an hour before sun set (usually around 21:30) and found quickly a cabaña to stay at.
The next morning we visited the National Park with its main attraction the hanging glacier of Queulat. The first trail took us up a steady steep path for nearly two hours through dense forest and bushes. Occasionally, we enjoyed views of the nearby laguna. Leo completed the entire hike by himself. The reward was a spectacular lookout point of the hanging glacier and small surrounding waterfall feeding the lagoon at the bottom.
The glacier is considered to be “hanging” due to its weird position in between two peaks.
The other two trails we’ve completed lead us to the lagoon and the river fed by the lagoon. They were pretty easy (600m and 300m) and also offered great views of the glacier. Thanks to the warming sun we had a great day in this beautiful park.
We left the Carretera Austral again via Villa Santa Lucia and Futaleufu, the road we had taken a month before. Due to the few border crossings northern of Puyuhuapi, our next destination Bariloche and our smooth experience with the border officers it made sense to us though. While searching for last minute souvenirs and squeezing post cards under the closed post office’s door (will they ever arrive?) the lifter of the driver’s window broke – Oscar’s first injury 😦 Luckily, we managed to close it completely though since of course on a Saturday afternoon in a small Chilean mountain town is working anymore 😉 Another item on our to do list beside the tablet charger (see below).
This second time on the Carretera should conclude our Chilean-Argentinian border hopping for a long time. We plan on visiting Chile a last time in April/May from Bolivia due to its proximity to the Atacama desert.
PS: This post was supposed to be published three weeks earlier but the charger of our Windows Surface broke. After visiting dozens of computer and electronic shops and websites in Argentina we finally found a solution. More on this in the Mendoza/Argentina section.