My hopes to rise this morning to the massive volcano and tamed reflection rippling in the lake were lost as the obscuring clouds that prevented my views yesterday turned out to be my nemesis today. The tiny hospedaje served me perhaps the best breakfast I’ve had in South America. Steaming quiche with vegetables, cheese, sliced meats, cold cereal, tasty bread, muffins, croissants and cake. But as the tasty food with decent coffee warmed my tummy the rain cooled down my plan for an early start.
My surrogate grandma for my short stay at her home assured me that the rain would probably pass in an hour. So I took the opportunity to lounge in grandmas living room complete with doilies, dozens of small figurines and floral adornments and finish the book I’d been reading. Two hours later the rain was still drumming on the windows. The clock ticked past 11-am. I had to make my move. The rain and wind hadn’t yet hit gale force and the short dirt road I’d ride to get out of town hadn’t yet turned into a muddy mess. Time to move.
Soon I was blazing down the carratera as rain drops pelted my face shield. But by the time I passed the southern end of the lake the rain dissipated and I rode into Puerto Montt on dry pavement. Finding the Navimag offices was fairly easy as I followed the smell of fish along the docks. But the fancy offices and cute uniformed ladies manning phones and computers didn’t heed to my pleads of desperation to find a small space on that big boat for Doc and me. But no. There wouldn’t be space until the second week of February. Turns out that the ship that normally makes the journey to Puerto Natales was out of commission. It had been pulled from service to assist the navy in a rescue operation of some fishing vessels off the coast several weeks back. The boat was damaged and a smaller boat was put in its place. Mala suerte.
I then started weighing in on my other options. I could hope on the carratera Austal, the road built under Pinochet’s rule in the late 70’s the winds its way through Chilean Patagonian and the western slope of the Andes. Jeremiah rode the southern part of this stretch last year. I recall him recounting his experience. “It was hell, Allan. I’m happy I did it but I would never do it again and wouldn’t wish it on anyone.” The dust, speeding tourists in 4x4s and never-ending pounding of washboard almost did him in. And here I was thinking of taking the same road but adding a couple hundred more miles in the north. Still, I considered this. Dirt roads are find – when they’re dry. Washboard? Can’t stand it, actually. But maybe the views would be worth it. Then I remembered the other thing Jeremiah said. “The demands of riding that road, dealing with the traffic and the suffocating dust took so much of my energy and concentration it was virtually impossible to enjoy the views.”
Still I considered it. But I needed more information. Another traveler mentioned that last fall the road had been graded. So maybe the washboard wouldn’t be so bad. And I’d heard there had been rains so perhaps the dust would be less. I was referred to the tourist information office. Within moments of parking my bike the sky opened up and poured. And poured. For the next couple hours I learned all I could about Chile and its tourist destinations. The 6 year veteran of tourism assured me that the Carratera Austral would be fine on the motorcycle. And that parts of it had been worked on recently. But another traveler would had just traveled the legendary road offered his thoughts. There had been heavy rains last week. I looked out the window and watched the grey skies relentlessly release more and more rain. This week too, I thought. There were muddy ruts caused by travelers in cars and trucks.
That’s all I needed to hear. As the rain continued to wash my dreams of potentially making that boat to Antarctica and South Georgia, I contemplated my journey. Adventure motorcycle riding is not about putting one through so much pain that enjoying the ride becomes impossible. A sailor doesn’t knowingly sail into a storm. An airplane pilot doesn’t intentionally fly into turbulent air a mountain climber doesn’t attempt the peak in inclement weather. Sure, sometimes you make a go for the summit, the straits or lower altitude and conditions can change and catch one by surprise. But armed with this information from multiple sources it was clear I’d be heading into a situation I’d likely regret. Better to manage the risk and shoot for something else.
I headed north when the rain subsided.
Ten minutes later the sky opened up again. Not a patch of blue sky anywhere. Doc and I were getting soaked. I decided to ditch my plan to make Bariloce or Villa Angosta in Argentina. Instead, I headed to Puerto Veras, a larger resort town on the far southern shore of Lake Osorno. The wind was whipping up a steady dose of white caps on this huge lake. I cruised through the center and found a room just a couple miles outside of town on the lake and proceeded with my drying out ritual.