The bus slowly tracks south, reaching the final stretch of our journey on the Carretera Austral. We’re heading for Cochrane, the last town on this part of land. We pass the confluence of the mighty Rio Baker and the Rio Nef, like a wide step in the river where the waters meet, a turquoise green body, moving and rushing quickly in the narrow part of the canyon then widening out and slowing, the strong currents below making silky movements on the surface. The bus is hot and it makes me sleepy, Moz nudging me awake to look at the views.
We traipse around Cochrane looking for a place to stay, lugging our rucksacks with us. Everywhere is pricier than we want to pay, and one place shuts their door in our faces. Eventually we find a campsite that’s only $4000; it’s lit by the evening sunlight and is quiet and the owner has a lovely smile face and he puts Mozza’s beer in the fridge to chill. There are two Canadians there – a father and a son – and Sonia, the nice Aussie lady we keep bumping into, and who are all cycling the Carretera Austral. The town is pretty, little wooden houses with flowering back gardens and views of the hills.
This is our last proper chance to restock our supplies and we have a day of sorting, getting more gas for our stove and using the cash machine. The sun is hot by 10am and we sit out on the campsite with Sonia and the Canadians, maps spread around us and our feet bare. We cook lunch on the grass and chat, a slow day before our evening bus south.
The minibus is small and there’s dust from the road blowing through a crack somewhere. The driver keeps stopping to get out and bang the side door back in place. There’s golden light touching everything. It’s all so vast: the forests, the huge, wide rivers, the turning water, the mountain peaks ahead like sharks teeth in the skyline, the sun low in the sky so that the driver holds his palm flat to his forehead. I feel like words can’t capture what we’re seeing and I’ve accepted that my phone camera will never do this place justice.
It’s late evening when we reach Tortel, and we find a campsite overlooking the cove. Founded in the fifties for the logging industry, Tortel is a village built entirely on boardwalk, and we have to hammer our tent into the wooden platforms that make up the campsite. There is a string of multicoloured flags and we sit drinking wine from our little plastic cups and looking over the village: “this place is mad” Moz says “how do you end up here?” I look up at the full moon; it’s exactly one month since we looked at the same round orb on the salt flats and we’ve spent the last few weeks standing outside or tent, on the way to the loo or brushing our teeth, watching it grow from crescent to full.
The next day we spend the morning walking around the village which hugs the side of the water. There are no roads or pavements and everything is boardwalk. We pass couple of guys still drunk from a big party the night before and they give us a beer and wave at us as we walk up the mirador to eat our sandwiches. The view is incredible – I stop and take big deep breaths, trying to soak it all in.
The bus that night takes us to Villa O’Higgins, the most southerly town and the end of the Carretera Austral! We made it! 1240km from Puerto Montt and so many amazing sights and experiences on the way. We pitch our tent at a sweet little hostel where we can cook in the cosy kitchen. There are wooden benches and a stove, there’s music on and two nice Israeli guys who are going the opposite direction to us and who give us a battered map and exchange a few pesos for Argentina.
We have a long, long sleep and wake to blue skies. The ferry only runs on certain days so we have a day of laundry, grocery shopping, battling with wifi (and then giving up) on uploading these blogs and chatting to other travellers. We drink our morning coffee in the sun and discover that dulche de leche transforms our usual plain porridge breakfast into something delicious. We head to buy our ferry tickets for the following day and meet Wayne, in his forties and from Manchester, and who has spent eight years cycling around the world. We sit outside the ferry office and wait for the short queue to go down, talking about Wayne’s travels. He eyes Moz for a bit then asks, a smile on his face, “don’t suppose you support City do you? do you know how they’re doing?”
Next stop: the border crossing to Argentina. Wish us luck!