Puerto Montt; gateway to Patagonia.

I’ve arrived in Puerto Montt, Chile, a settlement that lies a thousand kilometres south of Santiago, and the point from which my Patagonian journey is set to begin. From here, the fabled Carretera Austral lies just a few days riding away, the 1200km stretch of gravel – ripio, as it’s known that funnels travellers deep into the most southerly reaches of the continent.

My convoluted plan? To ride south to Ushuaia, the official End of the Earth, before returning to Puerto Montt by boat; and then, in a complete turn of direction, cycling north. In this way, I’ll fill in the missing pieces of this Andean jigsaw, making the most of the changing seasons along the way.

There’s only been time so far to reconstruct my bike (dormant this last month, while I’ve been in the UK) and dust down my gear. And, to explore the warren of backstreets that cling to the hillside flanking this 19th Century port city. While Puerto Montt can’t claim to be the highlight of the Chilean Lake District, it’s certainly not short of appeal either. I’ve warmed immediately to it sense of faded glory. An initial wander towards the concrete blight that embodies its city centre has revealed no shortage of more distinctive traditional housing, each painted a different hue to the next, stacked side by side along San Francisco-like grades.

And in another similarity I can draw to the US, the feel here reminds me of New Mexico. Both share a dilapidated, timewarped and weather-beaten air. Except that Puerto Montt lies amongst lakes and volcanoes – rather than sagebrush and high desert – and the theme is maritime. Sea breezes, port holes and peeling paintwork. Even the wood cladding – made from a hardwood called alerca – seems strangely reminiscent of fish scales…

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And because no post is complete with a photo of food of some kind, here’s what I expect will become a dietary staple during my time in Chile.

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The Chilean empanada. 1000 pesos ($2) a piece, it’s packed to the hilt with meat, onions and olives… and about as plump and heavy as a newborn baby.

Nor, perhaps, should any post omit a photo of that bike…

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My Surly Ogre, attired for this round in South America with corrugation-calming 2.4 Ardents, a Porcelain Rocket stealth framebag, a Revelate Gas Tank, my back-to-front Carradice saddlebag, two matching Carradice panniers, and a Outdoor Research rollbag, cinched to a Tubus Vega rack.

29 thoughts on “Puerto Montt; gateway to Patagonia.

  1. Neil

    Love those colourful old houses!
    Re: the corrugated ripio… the good news is I don’t remember much of it being corrugated – the bits we rode were nearly all on a decent surface. The bad news is that the ripio is disappearing fast and being replaced by tarmac – I’m sure you’ll be able to find some cool little shortcuts and detours to avoid this though!
    Enjoy!

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Just rode a lovely coastal detour, which had a nice corrugated ripio taster – though on the whole, the surfaces have been very good. A few spots of sand, though not quite in the same league as your recent undertaking!

      Reply
  2. Tim Joe Comstock

    Cass! Those photos are so gorgeous that they are a little hard to believe. I find myself wondering what goes on in these places…and how much of an oddity is the cruising cyclist. Are you solitary, or are the others pedaling through the area headed towards the End of the World? Just fantastic. I’m old and very able to enjoy your journeys vicariously with (almost) no shame. And yet…Patagonia!

    tj

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Right now, the area is awash with cyclists – relatively speaking. This is the pedalling season, when journey begin and end. Arrivals from Alaska, or departures for the long and arduous journey north.

      While taking photos of a particular house, its owner insisted I see his home, before strong-arming me into his clapped out Suzuki 4WD to show me other beautiful old residences around town.

      Reply
  3. John Davis

    Hi, Cass.

    I’ve heard that parts of Patagonia are nearly as breezy as the UK so how well does your luggage perform in side winds. Off-road touring bikes look very appealing but I can’t help wondering about a frame-filling bag plus a big bag onthe handle bars when the wind is howling in from the side.

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      I think Ardents may just have become my favourite tyre ever. Though on this loose gravel and corrugation, I’m envious of Daniel and his Pugs. He’s just a couple of days ahead of me, so I’m pedalling hard to catch him up.

      Reply
  4. Eric

    Those Chilean Empanadas are the best. Enjoy them before hitting the smaller Argentine variety. I can’t believe you had sun there too.

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      I suppose the salient question is… can you tell (-;

      I ended up picking up a 6D on promotion in the States, and using the lenses I have – and delaying investing in a new system for now. It’s a lovely camera, though it only shaves a few measly grams from my 5D…

      Reply
        1. Cass Gilbert Post author

          Andi. Riding right now with Daniel: 22in Pugs, Rohloff, Son 28, framebag… Going to give it a whirl!

          Reply
      1. Logan

        Nice! I got mine as a refurb, and soon thereafter they dropped the price to under the refurb cost… ah timing. I am loving it though… glad to hear you picked one up and look forward to more great pics!

        Reply
    2. Mark_BC

      That’s what I was wondering too! I’ve been hesitant to buy into another system besides Nikon because I like my long lenses for wildlife. But I could keep the V1 and 300 f/4 for wildlife, which is also good because of its crop factor, and get a smaller non-Nikon camera for the more normal focal lengths. I see Fujifilm is coming out with a new X-T1. It has an APS-C sized sensor too. Great for dynamic range and low light which the Nikon CX format doesn’t perform well in due to its small size.

      Funny Cass how my bikes are looking more and more like yours… The main difference is I’m making a front “rack” out of a single aluminum bar I’ll bend and mount over the front wheel, attached to the lower eyelet on each fork arm. To this you can strap your sleeping bag on one side and mattress on the other, wedged up against the water bottles. It works well, and not much weight. Not going back to front panniers.

      Also, how do you find the Moment in the wind, which I presume there is lots of in Patagonia? Mine didn’t seem to hold up very well in Mexico. I’m wondering if the Contrail you are considering is better or not.

      Reply
      1. Cass Gilbert Post author

        Mark – I’ve spotted the X-T1. Very interesting! I almost went for an X Pro-1, as they’re being heavily discounted in the UK (and worldwide), with all kinds of deals on lenses to entice you into the systme. With the latest firmware, the focusing is certainly a lot snappier than I expected, but still far from DSLR standards. The lenses, though, are AMAZING! At least, the one I tried in the shop, a 50mm 1.4 equivalent. And I really like the Fuji ‘look’. A weather resistant Fuji would definitely be worth considering.

        I have both poles for my Moment. It’s certainly not as stable as a two-skin, but I’ve never had any conditions that have had me worried. The extra pole is said to help a lot – are you running both?

        I ended up investing in the Contrail, mainly on Kurt’s recommendation. He reckons it can handle pretty much any condition, as you can alter the height at which you pitch it. I really like it (only 3 nights in it so far) and love the minimal packsize. Condensation might be more of an issue that with the Moment, and I miss the internal height. Overall space though is good – roomy for 1, a squeeze for 2.

        Reply
        1. Tom

          I agree that the X-T1 *looks* nice. Have also had good times with Fuji glass in the past. I’m either waiting for the EM5 successor (later this year) or the EM1 successor. the 12-40 Oly f/2.8 is a very fine lens. Enjoy the biker-packed reaches of the CA.

          Reply
  5. Isaac

    There was some road work starting when I was down there spring of 12, but I have a feeling work goes a lot slower down there. I remember park workers Mt biking in Torres Del Paine national park. If you’re over there it would be an amazing single track overnight. Bon viaje!

    Reply
      1. Tom

        My challenge to you is to wangle the appropriate passport stamps to allow you to bike direct from El Calefate into Torres Del Paine from the north (we failed). Would be some good riding.

        Reply
  6. el guapo

    Be aware that the empanadas de pino have a whole olive in them. Dont break a tooth on it. Looks like good fun down there. Stay safe.

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      So I’ve found out. A nice little treat. Funnily enough, I just broke a tooth, but not on an olive (-:

      Reply
  7. Harry & Ivana

    Hey Cass,

    will you pass through San Martin de Los Andes (where we live) after getting back to Puerto Montt?
    There are some nice roads out of here, switchbacking over the Ades. Our WarmShowers profile is off due to a new baby, but send us a message and we will be able to help out some way, would be great to meet.

    Cheers,

    Harry

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Harry, thanks for your message. I’d love to meet up with you guys – I didn’t realise you were now based in San Martin de los Andes. I’m not sure of my route quite yet but I’ll let you know for sure!

      Reply

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