13 March 2015

Puerto Montt to Chaitén via the Island of Chiloé: A slice of Island life

A few days of resting in Sebas´ comfy apartment in Puerto Montt was exactly what we needed to keep going South. The past few weeks had been incredibly scenic, but also frustrating, with some of the worst traffic of our trip. Many days we wondered whether we were burnt out with all the cycling and travelling, and whether it was worth to keep pushing to Ushuaia. Puerto Montt, by far not the favourite of places amongst travellers, offered a few days of living in a real city, where there was not much to do or see but to simply enjoy life in the good company of others.

With rejuveneted spirits, our decision was whether to start the famous carretera austral right from Puerto Montt, or whether to detour via the less popular Chiloé. Many chilenos kept insisting that we must not miss the Isla Grande, that the place remains more authentic than the rest of Chile, the people super friendly, and the scenery different. It also boasts a great amount of seafood, which, at least for Alberto, was also a big attraction.

It wasn´t until the morning that we left Puerto Montt that we finally decided to tackle the 90 km of ripio to the short ferry crossing to Chacao, where our days in Chiloé would start. Being February, the busiest travel month in Chile, we feared hordes of tourists on the dirt roads that take on the coast South to Castro, but instead, we found the quietest ripio south of Santiago. Our short time on Chiloé lived up to the hype and lifted our spirits, and definitely showed us that we were not ready for the riding to end...

Sebas´house in Puerto Montt was a great place to relax, get jobs done, and connect with other cyclists.

We suffer a few false starts with heavy rain making the decision to stay too easy...
And if you wait long enough, you can even get some sun!
...but eventually, we had to get going. Instead of the Panamerican highway we take quieter roads, which take a bit longer but are much more relaxed.

For the last 7km into Pargua for the ferry to Chacao, we finally had no choice but to take the Panamerican, for the first time since Ecuador! Luckily for us, there´s almost no traffic

A short ferry ride later and we are on the island of Chiloé, watching and learning from a señora how make empanadas in her living room. Much to our surprise, we have to admit, Chileans win their Argentinian neighbours when it comes to empanadas

That night, we camp by the beach...We take the costanera (road around the coast) all the way to Castro

...watching dolphins leap past us as we prepared dinner

Beach camping is new to us on this trip, and very easy to do on the island if you cycle by the coast

The next day we make it to Colo, to see the first of the Unesco World Heritage churches of Chiloe which make the island famous.
Just as impressive on the inside as the outside.

The following morning we are back to some good "bike and hike" to get back to the main ripio road

and soon find ourselves in the fiestas de Lliuco, where traditional food is made and everyone wants to get a glimpse inside the church. February brings all the traditional parties to Chiloé: the fiestas costumbristas

One of the specialities is a type of bread made on this large log roasted over an open flame.

We made another diversion to see the church at Tenaun, arriving there in bright sunshine. Churches in Chiloé are quite a thing!

We then try to catch a small boat to Chauques islands, but found it to be full, so end up having a nap on the beach instead...

...before facing another brutal hill from sea level back to 300 m, in less than 2 km!

After more up and downs, we arrive at the first sizeable village: Quemchi. Check out the church and leave in light rain.

Rain doesn´t stop Chilenos from making their asados. These ones from Santiago were particularly cheerful and invited us for some seafood and meat cooked on the fire

We went easy on the wine offers, continued on and camped early by a school full of berries. Our morning porridge tasted so much better!

A few km later and we arrive in Dalcahue, famous for its church (nowadays being refurbished) and for its fish stalls. It´s said that the best farmed salmon is exported to Europe...but this big chunk was still so delicious, at less than $6 a pop!

And finally Castro, with its famous palafitos.
And another Unesco Heritage church

We wanted to check out the West coast of the Island, but figured the traffic would be bad and so took the bus instead... Apparently a great destination for hiking, we simply enjoyed a relaxed (and hot) day chilling on a beautiful beach
From Castro you either go back up to Chacao, or get the ferry over to Chaitén on the mainland. It´s a popular crossing given it´s just once a week!

En route to El Chaitén we see the cochayuyo being brought back to town. A popular seaweed that Chilenos use (dried, then rehydrated) in their soups.

Route notes:

- Puerto Montt to Chacao (Chiloé): we opted for the dirt road almost all the way to Pargua. It´s in good condition, has plenty of villages along the way, and it´s almost devoid of traffic. 7 km before the ferry crossing, you rejoin the Panamerican. The ferries run 24-hours in all weather, and cost 1900-2000 chilean pesos.

- Chacao to Castro: we took the coastal road all the way. The first 100 km were pretty tough, with bad ripio for most of the time, and lots of up and down, with plenty of steep hills that required pushing. There´s villages along the way, so you need not carry food for more than 1 overnight if any. There´s plenty of diversions that you can take to see churches or bays along the way. Once in Quemchi, pavement starts for some sections, though the gradients remain the same. From Dalcahue to Castro is all paved, except if you take the dirt roads that avoid the Panamerican 10 km before Castro.

Camping is easy along the coastline when a beach exists - otherwise we had no trouble asking in small villages.

- Castro to Cucao: we took a bus as we feared this road to be busy with traffic. We were not wrong, and, at least in the high tourist season, this section is potentially very dangerous to cyclists as there´s no shoulder, plenty of blind curves and speedy drivers.