Hitchhiking on the Carretera Austral

27/02/2014 – Caleta Tortel, Aysén, Chile

Note: While hitchhiking is ‘dead’ in the USA, it is alive and well in the southern wilds of Patagonia. Hitchhiking is a highly accepted form of transportation, especially for those who don’t have a car. As an unintended corrollary, you can get to know fellow travelers while waiting for a ride (sometimes this could be days), or while sharing car space with complete strangers. The community spirit is alive and well in this regard.

After spending a few restful days in Villa O’Higgins, the southernmost Chilean town on the Carretera Austral, we started asking around for rides. This, an advanced and more personal form of hitchhiking; directly asking people in town, talking with them a little, seeing where they are headed. In Villa O’Higgins, everyone with a car is headed north, as you can only continue south via boat, bicycle, or foot.

So, our options were: wait a few days for the only bus that left O’Higgins (frequency – 2x a week), or, hitchhike now.

We went door to door. We put a short clip on the radio. The night before we were set to leave, after asking pretty much everyone in town, we ended up securing a ride with an amazing couple from Concepción.

We even interrupted their dinner to ask them for a lift. Gracious hosts indeed.

At first light, we sprawled out in the bed of their pickup, adjusted our packs for support, zipped up our jackets as tightly as possible, and let the windy world pass us by. Bouncing along the sinewy, unpaved road, happy, wondering at verdant forests and glaciers spewing seemingly endless waterfalls. It seemed like there were thousands of waterfalls that day, on the road between Villa O’Higgins and Caleta Tortel.

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 11.23.15 AM.pngAs we pulled into Puerto Yungay to take the ferry (the Carretera Austral has many points where the road stops with the land, thus, ferries are needed), ominous clouds crept in and down, and it started pouring.

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During the 40 minute ferry ride, all four of us were inside the small canteen, talking and learning about each others’ lives. Dr. Fabian and Angela had plenty to talk about and plenty to teach us. Fabian, as an oceanologist, was explaining the magic of the Baker River and how it spews out through Tortel and through the fjords and all the way to the Golfo de Penas. The fresh water is heavier than the salty ocean water, thus when the currents meet, the Baker goes underneath the ocean water. A plethora of ocean life uses this area/natural effect as a breeding ground, to reproduce, incubate young, etc. When they are more mature, these creatures rise through the fresh water to the salt water and ride the currents out to sea…

Fascinatingly, the Baker River, the fastest flowing, most voluminous river in Chile, acts as the outlet into the sea for the entire region of Aysén.

Once we were back on land again and pondering the wonders of the Baker, Fabián and Angela cleared out some space for us in the cab, so we rode in comfort, and dryly, the rest of the way to Tortel.

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  1. […] town, is a place I would have otherwise avoided. Although it’s a necessary fuel stop on the Carretera Austral, it’s got the feel of an overgrown cow town – the good, the bad, and the ugly?  Even […]



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  • We Said Go Travel

    WSGT Travel Writer

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