Carretera Austral, Part 1: “No Tickie, No Ferry”

Feburary 5, 2016

The Carretera Austral, (also known as Ruta 7) begins in Puerto Montt, and continues south for around 800 miles, through rainforest, past glaciers and lakes. Spectacular scenery. But to get there requires three ferries: the first and last are about a half hour each. The middle one is about four hours. 

Ferry #1 of 3.


You would think I was the only motorcycle the workers at the second ferry had seen in a long time, based on the confusion that ensued. When I arrived at the dock, I went to the office to buy a ticket. There were four young women working at the counter. I was told by one of them that they don’t sell tickets to motorcycles until all of the cars have been loaded and they determine that there is space for the motorcycle. Okay, I can live with that. 

So I hung around for a few hours and waited for the ferry, along with about a hundred cars (the ferry only holds about 70 or so vehicles). There was a line on one side of the street that appeared to be those who had reservations or had purchased tickets. The line on the other side of the street appeared to be “standby”. I was the only motorcycle.

When the ferry was nearly full, the man on the ramp directing cars approached me and asked for my ticket. “I don’t have one”, I said. “They won’t sell me one until all the cars are loaded.” (All of this is happening in Spanish, of course.)

He looked at me and said “You need to go get your ticket, NOW, if you want to get on the ferry.”

Okay. Clear enough. I got off the bike and walked back into the office. Once again, I was told they wouldn’t sell me a ticket until all of the cars were loaded. 

“But the guy on the ramp just told me to come get my ticket”, I said.

“We can’t sell you a ticket until all of the cars are loaded.”

Confused, I walked back out to the ramp. The guy directing cars asked for my ticket.

“They won’t sell me one”, I told him.

He motioned for me to follow him back to the office, where he told the girls to sell me a ticket.

Now she asked for my vehicle documents. Back out to the bike to retrieve those. Turns out she just needed the license plate number, but didn’t ask for that. 

While waiting, I overheard the other girls saying (in Spanish of course) that I was scared that I was going to miss the ferry. Nope, not at all. Frustrated, but I have plenty of time if I miss this ferry. So just do your job.

Ticket in hand, I rolled onto the ferry, and it became clear that it is necessary to load the motorcycles before the last three cars, otherwise you can’t get the motorcycles in place. There was absolutely no need for the confusion that took place, but it didn’t matter now. I was on my way. 

Have to load the motorcycle before blocking that space with cars. Duh?


Third ferry.

In between ferries is a gravel road, and all of the cars unload and take off for the next ferry in a dust cloud so thick you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Being the only motorcycle, I was a bit nervous about this arrangement, since I couldn’t see the car in front of me, or the condition of the gravel road, or the car behind me. Eventually I decided since I was going to board last anyway, I’d just pull over and let the cars and trucks go first. 

Lots of curious people on the ferries, asking about my trip. Not sure why (perhaps it was the afternoon ferry rather than the morning crossing) but I was the only motorcycle on all three.

So after five hours of ferries and about a hundred miles of total riding on this day, I arrived at Campground El Volcan in Pumelin Park, just north of Chaiten. It was so nice that I didn’t want to leave the next morning. 

Camping El Volcan in Pumelin Park.

2 thoughts on “Carretera Austral, Part 1: “No Tickie, No Ferry”

    • The Carretera Austral is as close as I’ve come to paradise on this trip. Absolutely beautiful. Of course it gets really cold in the winter, and the tourists invade in the summer, but isn’t that the case with most beautiful places? I will definitely return here, even if it’s just flying into Santiago with camping gear and renting a car for a couple of weeks. Chile is now #1 on my list of countries so far (followed by Colombia and Mexico).

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