(November 11 – written by Dave)
Our two relaxing days in Osorno come to an end tomorrow. The usual “let’s stay another day” pull is there, but our wonderful tiny house is booked for the next week so we have to move on. Since moving next door is just about as complicated as moving to the next town (with the bikes that is), we might as well move on down the road…
Osorno is the second largest city in the south central area of Chile, being only slightly smaller than Puerto Montt. Osorno has origins in colonial times. It was set to be founded in 1553 but that was delayed by the death of the fellow who planned to do the founding. The Spanish got a new guy to come in and the founding eventually happened in 1558. These Spanish towns were often founded by small handful of conquistadors and a friar – so founding is an interesting concept worthy of further study.
As with many of these new-world towns, not much happened in Osorno for centuries. Growth here was slow until the mid-1850s when the local government finally subdued the bulk of the region’s indigenous Mapuche peoples. Seeking more settlers, the Chilean government heavily promoted the area in Europe and in particularly in Germany. Immigration-fuelled growth caused the area to boom. All of which helps explain the German architecture, the German beer brands and the German names, that we’ve been seeing since crossing over from Argentina.
Speaking of Germans – last night we reunited with Manja (German/Swiss) and Martin (Swiss) – the two cyclists that we mentioned the other day. We last saw them in Medellin, Colombia back in April. We’ve been trading route and lodging notes throughout South America. It is still a bit mind blowing how we could end up here in Southern Chile at the very same time as they have – we’ve taken such different routes and had such different trips since we both left Alaska in May, 2017. Last night Manja confirmed that they left Alaska one day after us – so technically, they are still newbies to this touring thing, unlike the grizzled veterans Nancy and me – haha!
We compared routes and plans with M&M and looked at having a couple meet-ups down the road. For sure maps and distances are a constant subject on a trip like this but now, as we near the end, it becomes more prominent. We have a map page that tracks our progress. It can be found here (or here if you want to see the map with nightly stops marks). We are still planning on riding all the way to the bottom of South America. If you look at the map, you’ll pretty quickly notice that it appears we have a really long ways still left to ride. The space between where we are and bottom is quite large.
Well, it turns out, it is not really that far. When a round surface, like the earth, is projected on a flat surface, like a map, the only point where distance is accurate is the centre of the map – or in this case, at the equator. At the poles distances get exaggerated. On city, state and even most county maps, the distortion is not that big of deal. On a big map, such as one of the entire world, the distortion at the poles becomes quite noticeable. We figure that we have about 2,400 kilometres, or less than 9% of the entire trip ahead of us. But if you look at the map, you’d be forgiven for thinking we have a lot more than 9% of our journey left to complete.
About one half of our remaining 2,400k is on a route called the Carretera Austral (the “CA” for short). It runs from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. For hardcore touring cyclists, the CA is one of those routes that definitely sits somewhere on your bucket list. It is reputedly getting easier by the year, with ongoing sealing of the gravel road surfaces but it is still a challenging route. Being in the deep south, just getting to and from the start and endpoints is a challenge that keeps many folks away. Then there is the time required – a good solid three weeks to do the whole CA. Not everyone can get that sort of time off from work and family commitments.
The CA is relatively new, with construction only starting in 1976. At the time Chile and Argentina were in locked in a dispute over islands in the Beagle Channel down near the bottom of the continent. Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet ordered the building of the road to improve access for the military. There are some accounts that building was done to help the remote peoples of the region, but mostly it was about the dispute with Argentina. Like other great highways built in remote areas, some sections were hard to build – meaning some steep and rough riding for us now and a good number of ferries to cross. For sure the CA gets easier to ride every year as they pave, straighten, re-grade and slowly improve the road. But it is still very remote and wild – or at least that’s what we’ve heard. We’ll let you know.
So tomorrow we head off to Puerto Montt. We may stay there for a day just to double check that we have everything we need for the rest of the journey. Of course, there are towns and food out on the CA but we’re not sure how much peanut butter we’ll see as we work our way south. We have two jars now and Nancy is still thinking that she wants me to carry a third – I’m not so sure…