We had no idea of what to expect for our journey on the Carretera, a 1200km mostly gravel road through Chile's deep south, but so far we have been well impressed. The road itself took some 15 years to complete during General Pinochet's reign in the '60s and '70s. We arrived in the early hours one foggy morning after an extremely uncomfortable night on the ferry to the town of Chaiten. It was hours before any shops were to open so we entertained ourselves by sitting on the waterfront watching people disperse through town, only to return 15 minutes later to wait for the town to wake up. Chaiten is half ghost town, half sleepy fishing village. In 2008 a bump in the earth 5 miles north of town that no one had given much regard to commanded respect with a month long eruption of ash and a pyroclastic flow that scorched the western hillside! The town was partially destroyed by flooding and ash from this eruption. Many people have returned to thier homes to resume life as best they can, but as the town has been officially closed there are no services such as the hospital, school and other infrastructure. We saw one portion of the town that was still buried in over 4 feet of ash. Interesting to say the least.
Next on the agenda was a visit to Doug Tompkins (think North Face & Espirit) very own private park, Parque Pumulin. During the three days of camping we went on a number of enjoyable  hikes - through rainforest up to waterfalls and lakes. It was quite hot but we were able to cool down with cool dips into the crystal clear water. The highlight of that trip was when we saw 4 baby owls on the side of the trail. They were just as interested in us as we were in them and each time we moved to get a better camera angle they cocked and bobbed their heads to make sure they could catch everything we were doing.
Our next stop was Futaleufu, home to one of the top white water rivers in the world. Totally by chance we happened to be there on rodeo weekend and saw the cowboys strutting their stuff in traditional garb. A few days spent lounging by the river and taking some short hikes and we were amped up for our trip on the Fu. It was a fantastic trip on the water. We have each been rafting a few places before but we have never encountered waves so big, or so many rapids in quick succession. It was absolutely fantastic! We may have to return one day to spend more time on the river, I could run the same section of the river 5 times and still find it exciting.
Destination number three, National Park Queulat. Home to a huge hanging glacier as well as a beautiful blue lake filled with icebergs! We camped for 2 days and were serenaded to bed each night by a talkative fox. It was also a place of reunions. We bumped into a couple we had camped with in Pumalin who are biking the length of the carretera as well as the couple we shared our Futaleufu rafting experience with.  This park also reminded us of the extreme generosity of people. One day while hitching to a trailhead we had a car roar past us, only to return a few minutes later to see where we were headed. Fifteen minutes down the road and he was offering to drive us to his home town to host us for the weekend while a festival was on. Another family who had offered us a ride the day before gave us a ride back from the trail to our tent even though it was out of thier way. And our rafting friends let us ride with them the 4 dusty hours to our next destination.
The Carretera Austral, althoug mostly dirt/gravel, is much nicer than we expected. We even hit the pavement for a spell on the way into town tonight. The vistas are absolutely stunning. The road winds its way along a river valley between two sets of parallel mountains. The mountains, or more realistically big hills, are covered in rainforest -quite unexpected a this southerly latitude- and topped by glaciers! The rivers are extremely clear but with a nice-icey blue hue. It is beyond beautiful and we are so grateful to be able to experience this part of the world.
We are now in the metropolis hub of the south, Coyhaique, boasting some 50,000 people. Although it may sound small to most of you it feels huge to us at the moment. There are two, yes two, big grocery stores that actually have fruit and veg! Up to now most of the towns have had a few corner stores for our grocery needs; it is quite easy to find beer, wine, soda, cookies and pasta or other dehydrated foods, but anything fresh is difficult to come by. It has really opened our eyes to have fortunate we are in the US and Australia to have the quality and selection of food available to us that we usually take for granted.


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