As we move into Patagonia, the character of Chile changes substantially. Patagonia stretches from a latitude equivalent to Eureka’s, to a Latitude equivalent to the Bearing Straights (separating
Alaska from Russia). We chose to only explore the northern section in our little car. The defining characteristic in all of this territory is wilderness where there are almost no people.
The Carretera Austral (aka Ruta 7) is the main road running north to south in Patagonia. The Chilean government constructed a dirt and gravel road down most of the length of the Patagonian countryside, mostly to defend their border with Argentina. In some sections, the road doesn’t exist; the sections are bridged by occasional
ferry service. The gravel sections are quite rough, though driveable even in a Hyundai i10! The driving experience includes being frequently stopped by major road construction, driving past sections labeled “evacuation profunda”, which means there are big holes and ditches, being stopped by bulls, cows, sheep or goats frequently, and during rainstorms getting the feeling that you are running a river in your car rather than driving on a road!
The cool thing about the Carretera Austral is the OUTSTANDING scenery. It is really the reason for driving this route. Each day contains beautiful visions of mountain lakes, snow capped peaks and volcanoes, green hillsides, quaint farms, very small towns and villages, waterfalls, rivers.
Adventurers travel the length in all manner of vehicles. We met a surprising number of bicyclists, even in the rain. Photos of some of the transportation means are below.
Christmas in a Patagonian fishing lodge
We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day in this beautiful fishing lodge with about 8 other guests, just enjoying the luxurious atmosphere. The lodge “team” left us each a Christmas present under their tree and served us some special holiday meals. We enjoyed the comraderie with other guests from the U.S. and Germany. It was a very “chill” two days!
Controversy in Patagonia
Currently controversy reigns in Patagonia. The issue is whether to harness the many and powerful rivers to generate power for Santiago and the power hungry copper industry in the North. During the Pinochet era, laws were passed that gave ownership of all waterways to a private Spanish company that’s responsible for power generation. This positions them to damn up the rivers, install generators, and a backbone high voltage power line to carry the power north. The good thing about this is that it would supply a country which lacks any oil and gas resources with an economic, reliable, and sustainable power source. The bad news is that damns would choke and flood many of the most wild and energetic rivers left on earth.