A remote treasure of a road trip, the Carretera Austral (southern highway) or Route 7 runs south over 1200 km from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins, Chile. This is the wild and adventurous sister of Route 40 in Argentina. This is pure Patagonia and the only herds we saw were sheep and guanaco, not tourists. A magnificent web of seas, lakes, rivers, mountains, glaciers, green marshes, pampas and jungle provide a natural boundary between northern Patagonia and everywhere else. The road built during Pinochet’s years in the 1980s linked these isolated regions but make no mistake, this is out there. It is unwise to rush in this part of the world whose rhythm is determined by the weather. In this nowhere land beyond the Lakes District, self-sufficient locals know not to fret over delayed ferries, and washed out roads. For us the chance to explore this twisted treasure of pavement, gravel, muddy stretches and ferry boat rides was a path of unrelenting beauty on an unforgettable stretch of Chile.
Immersion in wild road trips such as this are life changing and I couldn’t help but recall a childhood memory of a similar experience. In 1967, my parents Doris and Norman along with my sister Joy and I ventured on a road trip along the Alaskan Highway. Constructed during World War II to connect the lower 48 with Alaska, the ALKAN Highway was not paved at that time. Over the years it was paved just as the Carretera Austral has been losing its rough edges during recent years. Somehow I’m happy I have memories of both in their less than perfect states of repair. I’ll always remember that moose jumping in front of our truck in Alaska as my dad braked, leaving a cloud of dust in our wake as I will always remember the Guanaco herds lingering too close for comfort along the rutty roadside of the Austral. If this kind of thing appeals to you, go now and log a memory in your remember when file.