Those who hurry in Patagonia, lose time

Trip Start Nov 29, 2013
Trip End Nov 29, 2014

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Flag of Chile  , Los Lagos,
Friday, February 21, 2014


The greatest and worst aspect of the Carretera Austral is the road. More of a dirt track, it requires a 4x4 and is extremely remote. It's common for only a couple of vehicles to pass the lonely hitchhiker in 1 hour. Perfect because this means less tourists... We've not met a single English person here. However, as we encountered on our journey from Puyuhuapi to Futaleufú, it's hell on earth trying to get anywhere fast.

'Quien se apura en la Patagonia pierde el tiempo' as the locals would say. Or 'those who hurry in Patagonia lose time'.

Joined by a mountain climbing paramedic, Bennett from Albuquerque, we clambered onto the mini-bus in Puyuhuapi. Greeted by our red-eyed traveller, Arthur, who offered us "bus wine" and tails of his travels. He'd come by some much longed-for weed in Coyhaique... You could tell.

Reaching the 'gathering town' of La Junta by nightfall, the low full moon was perfect for wine and conversation. It's a rarity to meet English speakers on the Carretera, we were drawing some "sshhhh's" as our jovialities became louder and later. We rolled into our sleeping bags when our bellies were full and the wine ran dry.

Since all buses to Futaleufu were leaving at 3pm the next day, it was suggested the four of us go for a 'light' trek. What an efficient idea, it wouldn't be unusual for us to sit and eat until the afternoon normally.

A few minutes into said hike and these Americans gathered speed, they were machines, almost running up the steep incline. David kept pace, looking back at me sympathetically, then waiting for me to catch up. Normally I was fine, have you seen these thighs? Today, however, it felt like cross-country at high school all over again.

Half an hour in, feeling faint and drenched in sweat, I vomited. Sat in the dirt, the paramedic told the nurse she was dehydrated. No shit Sherlock?! With that diagnosis, beard and blonde slugged back to camp while the professionals raced to the top.

La Junta is a village with no real bus stop, never mind a station. At 3pm eight of us sat and waited outside a shack where the bus may or may not stop. Half of these travellers had just spent the last two days attempting a hitch hike out of La Junta, a bus was their last option. Those poor sods, I was glad we were getting a bus.

At 5:30pm the bus pulled up, we leapt to our feet, finally! It was not good news... The bus was full. There would be no more buses until Tuesday. It was Saturday. One Brazilian who'd been trying to catch a bus for a few days sloped off to cry, never to be seen again.

Arthur and Bennett headed off to walk the 68 'clicks' (kilometer to me and you) to the next town of Villa Santa Lucia where they could get a bus onwards. They were clearly unimpressed by the weakling who couldn't walk and ditched us. Aghhhhhhh we'd have to resume our crap hitch hiking career! Well... Tomorrow.

Over the staple breakfast of coffee, freshly made bread and dulce de leche, we mused over our lack of will to hitch hike. There were some serious travellers out there who don't want to pay a penny to travel on the Carretera, 'out of principal'. These are the same kind of people who won't take a shower or use any laundry facilities, blaming the same principals. Smelly skint flints.

Tash: "Are we just too chilled out for all of this?"
David: "Well, we're sat here in the campsite, still having breakfast at 1pm. Everyone else has left the campsite and have probably been thumbing a ride for half the day"

He wasn't wrong there. Joining our fellow hitch hiking competitors who'd been there for six hours, we slumped to the back of the queue. A kilometre down the dirt track, sixth in line, holding up a new sign; SOMOS INGLES, NORTE $$$.

David also thought people might like it if we dressed the same; "it could be our thing!"

Skin turned beetroot and our matching white vests turned brown, a car cruised by and a hitchhiker we'd spoken to earlier handed us a cold beer. That kept us going until the seven hour mark. We were third in the queue by now, it was very much a 'go hard or go home' moment. For some reason, a car trawled past the first two sets of travellers and the old timers inside picked us up.

Dumbfounded and feeling slight twinges of guilt for the others who had been ignored, it felt like a helicopter had relieved us from a war zone... It was every man for himself out there on that road. Another ecstatic feeling, a rush of adrenaline with a huge feeling of relief. It reminded me of finishing that last day of a six week notice at work.

The Chilean men pulled up about half an hour into the journey. That was as far as he was taking us. We were plonked 20km down the dusty road, into the middle of nowhere and had 48km to go. We had no food, we had no gas. What to do, what to do? "Walk through the night of course", was David's solution. With no other choice, we cheerfully plodded on.

Evening turned to dusk, minutes from darkness we were picked up by Maria and her hubby, a couple in their 50s from Puerto Natales, Southern Chile. Maria dropped us off in Villa Santa Lucia, a small town, where it was rumoured that buses left daily for Futaleufu.

Another back garden would be our home for the evening. Having to traipse through a living room to use the bathroom, apologising to kids as you skunked past the TV, but this had become the norm.

Unsurprisingly the next day the bus appeared full. We refused to hitch hike, our noses are so raw and sun beaten. A group of Israelis who we'd eaten breakfast with, organised a local to take us down the road for a small fee. These girls ran around the entire village, approaching anyone who had a pickup, begging for a ride for a good price. I pretended to help, David sat in the shade like a lazy tomcat.

On arriving in Futaleufu, we split with the young Israelis and headed out to a new camp. I may be a little bit bias, as this is one of my favourite places I've ever been to, but Futaleufu is paradise! It's a cosy little village nestled in a valley hugged by lush forested mountains and crystal clear rivers. Not just any rivers though! Oooooh no, it's home to the dazzlingly turquoise and wild Futaleufu River. Experts rate it's class 5 rapids as within the top 3 on the globe!

How some people pass through here without donning a wetsuit for a day, goodness me, I'll never know. Advised by a French couple, we approached a leather faced bloke called Josh for White Water Rafting. This older, eccentric American had many a year experience on the waters, having first paddled the river in 1985!

Severely hungover on the big day, beard and blonde were crammed into Josh's car along with a spunky French customer named Jeremy, Josh and his possy of American kayakers who were spending the season working for him. Best job ever if you ask me. Josh was in the main raft with the three of us, Joey took the kayak ahead in the water, Max took another raft and Connor drove the car and trailer the distance we raft.
David: "Why so many helpers Josh?"
Josh: "It gets so dangerous out there man" Good news all round.

The river was gorgeous, as were the surroundings and the weather. At each rapid, Josh explained the reasons behind each name. The shark, the currents from this rapid spat you into a mountain wall shaped like the jaws of a shark. If you were to fall out of the raft, it would suck you under 50 foot. Sure enough, our feet were glued hard to the raft.

I hadn't felt this kind of adrenaline rush since my last cardiac arrest on the ITU. The kind you used to get experiencing your first time on the Nemesis at Alton Towers.

Josh pulled us to the riverbank to explain the curtain raiser, the behemoth, the final class 5 rapid. "That French couple? Yeah, they flipped the raft on this rapid. You have a 50/50 chance of flipping here", he explained as we all saw Max in the 'safety' raft flip. We paddled so hard through those menacing rapids, we were up against walls of ferocious water determined to see us thrown out of the raft and swallowed whole by the river.

When I say we paddled, what I mean is Jeremy, the guy from France and I paddled in time. David, who was sat in front of me in the raft and was supposed to be setting a pace for me was waving his paddle everywhere. There was no pace, sometimes he just stopped and burst into screams. This man is supposed to have gone sea kayaking last August. For a week. What happened Harris?

We claimed that class 5 rapid. All four of us whooped and high fived. Josh said we could jump in and swim one of the easier rapids. The three of us jumped in and bobbed along in our life jackets. After swimming/floating the rapid David took an age to get back in the boat. I learnt later that he was having a quick wee.

We camped in Futaleufu, of course, at a quiet campsite next to the River Espolon, we even had a private beach. We thought Arthur, the friendliest man you'd hope to meet who ran the campsite, had said fires could be lit. Turns out there are designated areas and we got such a telling off for lighting a beautiful fire by Arthur's scary wife. Oop.

We got a fair bit of laundry done here, scrubbing my Victoria Secrets silkies using a bar of soap with Popeye on the packaging was a new low.

The landscape here makes Cheshire look like Holland, so there are plenty of trekking options and mountains to climb. We decided to climb Piedra del Aguila, another stunning hike where horses, bulls and sheep roamed around us. We got lost three times, shocking eh?! At one point David led "the way" through the shrubbery and as the thorns drew blood from my legs I let rip and screamed at him.

We did eventually reach the peak, with exceptional views. A group of Chileans cheered us on and took our picture up there. Certainly wasn't the plan to have lunch at 5pm. Mmmm pate and crackers, followed by a diary entry.

One of our favourite things to do is race down all the hikes, timing ourselves. This was a new personal best, it took us four hours to get up there... Pounding down in an hour and a quarter. Our shins do take a battering.

Futaleufu was an awesome place to finish up on the Carretera Austral. For us, we could have stayed a while longer. We pack up the tent and hop onto a bus, the Argentine Lake District awaits, they'd better have some soft avocado!
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kay owen on

This trip gets more amazingly scary. Ah well, I'm reading it all after the event and the adrenaline levels are back to normal (S.America standard).
People here at home keep asking 'How are David & Tash getting on? What a question...well the question is OK, but the answer is a problem.
Love to both of you and keep hydrated.

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