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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Savant

Riding the Chilean Austral

Updated: Dec 10, 2020


The next morning I left La Junta early for Coyhaique, the larger town further south. As I gassed up, I watched a few adventure bikes stop on the roadside for a conference. There had been a lot of bikes - well, relative to the few I’ve seen overall on the trip - and it seems that Brazilian, Argentinian and Chilean riders really love the roads of the region. My favorites are the MotoViajeros however, the Harley-inspired looking bikers on small adventure bikes. A great group who love riding.

One particular rider I remember was coming towards me at about 60 mph, sandwiched between two cars. He was wearing a brown leather jacket with a sheepskin collar and an old open face helmet, but I could see his huge smile and kicked back enjoyment from far away as he gave me the thumbs up. As we passed, I saw he was attached to the car in front with a 30 foot tow rope, just enjoying the ride and smiling at me. I burst out laughing at the situation but mainly at the sheer joy he was having.

At one point, the road came to a stop with about 15 cars ahead. We all sat waiting for cars coming the other direction, but after quite a while, the attendant directed a few cars off the road down a slope.

After another wait, we few rolled forward and waited again. The man signaled for us to go, but then pulled me over and let all the cars pass me. I sat alone, then a couple more motos pulled up behind. Down the slope I could see a temporary landing and a small ferry coming our direction. The two guys talked to the attendant, then got off their bikes and one tapped me on the shoulder, saying in broken English to follow them.

For some unknown reason I suddenly felt the need to pee badly, but I followed and stood looking at the narrow band of road cut into the mountainside and the approaching ferry. The rider who’d told me to follow, said he was a retired attorney from Buenos Aires and loved adventure travel. He said the road crews were about to blast a chunk off the mountain and he wanted me to get to see it. As we waited for a gas tanker to come from the other direction, he kept telling me there was another “grave road” ahead and then more further south. It took a while before my crazy imagination realized he meant “gravel” and I chuckled inside at the fact the gravel roads were indeed "grave".

A few moments before the detonation was scheduled, several cars were directed to the ferry and as we stood watching, they motioned for us to load the bikes onto the remaining ramp space. We scrambled back up the bank and got the bikes onto the ferry. Just as I swung off the bike, I heard a loud boom and saw a rock fall and cloud of dust on the bank ahead. My two friends didn’t get to see it and were audibly disappointed.

We made our way slowly across the water and through the thin veil of dust at the temporary landing site. The rock fall was down on the road and would take quite a while to clear. It was obvious the road bed was being widened for the upcoming blacktop improvements.

From the short ferry ride, I sped on southward through additional gravel sections that seemed designed to bring bikers down, but the scenery never stopped its pleasant smile. The rocky road was long and wound through forests and canyons, eventually switchbacking up high over the pass. The road was dusty and dousings went on the whole way from the oncoming traffic.

After paying gravel dues a few more times intermittently, the road remained tarmac and was relaxing.

One thing I found interesting was that there were many sections of road repairs done with interlocking pavers and even some long stretches

I got to Coyhaique reasonably late in the afternoon, stopping at the main square, well, the main pentagon, and looked for lodging with my phone, finally locating a place and headed to find it. Of course the GPS doesn’t show one-way streets and after a few blocks of searching for a route I ended up back at the pentagon, making a fast left and catching a glimpse of a couple of parked motorcycles in my peripheral vision. I heard a voice shouting and saw my friend CanuckCharlie standing in his riding gear having just gotten of the bike. I yelled back and made a U-turn in the street pulling up to give him a high five. Though I knew he was in the same region, our contact was sporadic and it was a real surprise to see him again. He had been riding with a girl on a Yamaha 225 who was heading for the little town of O’Higgins farther to the south.

Charlie was unsure what his plans were since he was with the other moto traveler, so I headed on to my hospedaje and later he texted me. He’d been camping and was ready for a break so we split the cost of my room and caught up on past events. He, as well as I, were both a bit punch drunk from the 6 months of travel and mentally weary, but it was fun to catch up and I still needed to find insurance for going back into Argentina the next day.

The search started early and I had little luck until finally one insurance agency told me to locate a cafe downtown and talk to the man behind the cash register. Indeed, he was selling 30 day insurance out of the cafe for the Patagonia region, which covered both Argentina and Chile. Attempts at online insurance purchases for me had not worked, due to some spots on the online forms that didn’t correlate to USA numbers and the process would never complete.

By the time I was back, the drizzle had begun and neither of us were feeling it, so another night was booked and the day was spent with travel details.

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