I think my jaw hit the floor when we got to Futalefu and I didn’t really pull it up until we started north again on the road to Buenos Aires. The Austral has got to be one of the most scenic drives on earth.
George and I wanted to see it all, so we planned to power through the remainder of the gravel and sometimes corrugated road to the end of the line in Villa O’Higgins. We thankfully had some company (Patagonia or Bust and Andamos de Vagos) and some walkie-talkies to help pass the long hours on the road (Wiggly to the Condor! Wiggle out!).
We lucked out with Reserva Nacional Rio Simpson campground for our first night. There was a little hut complete with fireplace and picnic tables to spare us from the onslaught of rain.
After another wet night, we made it to Puerto Rio Tranquillo. There is a short dead-end road heading west and then northwest out of Puerto Rio Tranquillo (X-728) that takes you through Valle Exploradores. The drive is spectacular with a number of places to pull off and admire your surroundings. A short and pricey hike will take you to the lookout for the Exploradores glacier.
We met a couple serendipitously at the end of the road in Valle Exploradores at Rio Exploradores who informed us of the very ripe salmon fishing opportunities across the river. I knew immediately that there would be no discussion with George, he was going fishing. The guys piled in a boat taxi that ferried them across the river to the clear water. They came back with a beautiful salmon in tow. We found a sheltered camp spot along a tributary road leading to the shore of the river that evening and feasted on salmon and grilled vegetables.
Just south of Rio Tranquilo is the marble cathedral, a cave complex that you can visit with a boat or kayak. We camped out near the boat launch that evening, letting the rough roads melt away as the sun set over Lago General Carrera. The lake and the shades of blue in the cave would force the most loquacious person into a moment of contemplation.
Making it to Cochrane, we decided to take advantage of the abundant leftover salmon and try our hands at sushi in the Tomasin Campground. Huge success!
Splitting from the pack in Cochrane, George and I decided to push on to Caleta Tortel, a logging village that sits on the mouth of the Baker River. Caleta Tortel has no streets, just wooden walkways and stilt houses. The remoteness and dense forest create an atmosphere that you might think to find in Northern Alaska or Scandinavia oddly enough.
Although we had originally planned to continue south from here, we were warn out by the rough roads and rain. From here, we decided to skip Villa O’Higgins (no path into Argentina) and head north to Paso Roballos which would take us back into Argentina.