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Carretera Austral Day Three…..Coyhaique to Cochrane

Cerro Castillo

Cerro Castillo

Our destination on day three was Cochrane, a city about 360 kilometers south of Coyhaique. We had been told the road was really bad, and that we would not make very good time, so we left early. Our information was correct; this part of the road is receiving some major work, so there are places where we faced delays while work crews blasted away rock and waited while heavy machinery smoothed out detours around places where new bridges would be built. Also, the road was just rougher than what we had traveled up to now. Driving slower did have its own reward, though, since the scenery was absolutely magnificent as we passed through the Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo and into the glacier area of southern Patagonian Chile.

The Devil's Hill

The Devil’s Hill

We stopped for a few minutes in Villa Castillo, a small place with the most friendly children in the world, and a very attractive wood carved stature of a mountain dweller offering mate to whomever passes by.
"El Mate" Wood Carving in Villa Castillo

“El Mate” Wood Carving in Villa Castillo

Villa Castillo

Villa Castillo

From here on to Cochrane the road travels along the east side of a tall range of the Andes and west of a smaller range, the snowcapped peaks visible the whole way even as it drops to hug the shore of one branch of Lago General Carrera.

General Carrera Lake

General Carrera Lake

We arrived at RÍo Tranquillo, where we stopped to take a two-hour boat trip to visit a series of marble-like rock formations in and on the shore of the lake, including the amazing Catedral de Mármol,
Rio Tranquillo Port

Rio Tranquillo Port

Dave, Gonzalo and Claudio heading out to see the "Marble Cathedral"

Dave, Gonzalo and the “Captain” heading out to see the “Marble Cathedral”

carved out by the action of the waves over the years. The Catedral, a marvel of nature yet unspoiled by the crush of tourism, is an obligatory stop for anyone traveling on this part of the Carretera Austral.

"Marble Cathedral"

“Marble Cathedral”

Continuing on towards Cochrane, the road skirts the west side of Lago General Carrera but also provides to the west unparalleled views of the glaciers of Compo de Hielo Norte that sit between the road and the ocean and feed several small lakes with icy water ultimately flowing into Lago General Carrera and Lago Bertrand.

Gonzalo, Dave and Joaquin with backdrop of Andes Mountains

Gonzalo, Dave and Joaquin with backdrop of Andes Mountains

Puerto Bertrand

Lago and Puerto Bertrand

The road crosses a bridge where Lago General Carrera and Lago Bertrand meet and begin to form the iconic RÍo Baker, subject of much controversy around the pros and cons of huge hydroelectric projects. This entire area of Aysén is dotted with fishing lodges and campgrounds where the most serious anglers from around the world find very satisfying environments to practice their sport.
Lago Beltrand

Lago Beltrand

Puerto Bertrand sits on the point where RÍo Baker begins its 200 kilometer rush to the sea, and for most of the rest of the journey to Cochrane we followed this magnificent river, imagining all the fish we would catch, clean and grill, the next time we came to this part of Chile with more time to linger.

Conservation Awareness

Conservation Awareness

We stopped to contemplate a hand written sign on one of the modest houses, which lectured all who pass by:

“Only when the last tree has been cut down;
only when the last river has been poisoned;
only when the last fish has been caught;
only then will you realize that money can’t be eaten”.

Baker Fiver

Baker River

Upon reaching Cochrane, the last “city” on the Carretera Austral, wewe checked out the Military Hotel we had been told might have rooms where we could spend the night. My travelling companions were anxious to stay here, so they practiced standing tall and straight, brisk salutes, and recalled details of all the military “experience” they would profess so that we might “talk and look military” and have a better chance to get a room. We agreed I would stay quiet so as not to reveal my true character of “occasional pacifist gringo”. So I stayed in the background as the others made their case at the hotel. I was secretly hoping we would not be accommodated (military environments make me nervous), although it was an attractive, modern facility. So I was discretely relieved as we were turned away with the excuse that there were no vacant rooms. Gonzalo, the youngest brother, like I, sports a full beard; he concluded that we were turned away due to the military’s deep distrust of beards. The others felt that their stories of past military experience (mostly made up or greatly exaggerated), were not convincing; they surely were not! I, on the other hand, think they simply did not have any free rooms. Anyway, we were offered alternative simple but comfortable lodging at the residence of the woman who manages the kitchen in the military hotel, named MarÍa (of course).

Maria's Hotel in Cochrane

Maria and Joaquin in front of the “executive suite” at Maria’s Hotel in Cochrane

Cochrane definitely has a “frontier” feel to it.  The central plaza is very nice, and holds a most interesting metal sculpture of the native deer and emblematic national symbol, the Huemúl.
Huemul Statue in the Cochrane Central Plaza

Huemul Statue in the Cochrane Central Plaza

After touring the town, and checking in at Maria’s Hotel, we were treated to an especially wonderful meal at ADA’s Café and Restaurant where we feasted on oven-roasted Patagonian lamb, stewed rabbit, and grilled Aysén beef.

Claudio, Joaquin and Gonzalo at Ada's Restaurant

Claudio, Joaquin and Gonzalo at Ada’s Restaurant

A couple of bottles of 2010 Santa Carolina Barrica Selection, Cabernet sauvignon Gran Reserva, a late night discussion we again invited Jack Daniels to join, and we slept soundly in spite of the purple walls, red bedspreads and pink lace curtains in Maria’s funky “hotel-in-progress”.

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David Joslyn
David Joslyn, after a 45-year career in international development with USAID, Peace Corps, The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and private sector consulting firms, divides his time between his homes in Virginia and Chile. Since 2010, David has been writing about Chile and Chileans, often based upon his experience with the Peace Corps in Chile and his many travels throughout the country with family and friends.

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