The Carreterra Austral is a long road that goes from South to North ( or Vice Versa ) in Chile. It is without question probably the most incredible and dramatic stretch of road that we have ever driven.
It starts in the south in a small outpost town called Villa O'Higgins and the drive down from Cochrane is about 200 km along unpaved roads that twist and turn through mountain passe's and river beds . It is truly awesome . The town of O'Higgins however, isn't too exciting but appears to be a very popular destination for back packers and hitch hikers alike . It would appear that every young Chilean must do this route as a right of passage to adulthood.
The journey down was fantastic , we had a couple of hitch hikers on board . The scenery was incredible .
The next day the rain started really heavy and from our parking space we could see several youngsters begging for lifts back north. They were stood in the pouring rain all day . Being a bit of a soft touch we picked 5 of them up and delivered them 2 hours later to the small ferry at Puerto Yungay .
We stopped in the port car park for the night and the rain never ceased for a moment. The unpaved gravel roads were slowly turning into rivers and large puddles. The road surface was becoming very fluid.
The next morning we set off towards our next destination of Caletta Tortel , a small very picturesque town about 40km away.
Two of yesterdays hitch hikers " Sara and Augustin " asked for a lift and as the weather was so dreadful we agreed.
About 5 km down the road we were held up by workmen who were repairing a large section of the road that had washed away previously . We had just passed them and had to stop to let an oncoming car past when the "Shit Happened "
Whilst stationary we felt the truck move slightly to the right. Then within 2 seconds the whole ground beneath us collapsed in a fluid fashion and the truck fell over sideways rolling down a large embankment ending up nearly upside down. It was very scary moment and everything that wasn't strapped down including the hitch hikers went flying in all directions
Pat was strapped in in the lower half of the cab pressed against the window upside down , I was suspended by my seat belt hanging above her and Sara and Augustin were stuck to the ceiling in the Cabin. The crashing sound was terrifying.
After a lot of struggling we managed to get everyone out safely via the drivers cab window and back onto what was left of the road. The rain was still pouring down.
Here is the "Oh My God" bit I mentioned earlier.
With a few minor bumps and bruises we all stood on the side of the road in shock. Pat and I were devastated, We still are.
By shear luck the local Carabineros ( who I will talk about later ) arrived after about 10 minutes . they were taking a vet called Manuel to the ferry boat a few km away. Manuel spoke great English and selflessly abandoned his plans for the day and stayed at the scene to assist us and the local Police Officers with his translation skills and giving Sara first aid as she had cut her head
The rain still poured and poured
We all remained at the scene for an hour or so and with the help of two cyclists from America " Grant and Leslie " who we had met earlier we retrieved a few belongings from the chaos inside the truck and were all then transported to the local village of Tortel to be examined by a doctor. Pat, Sara and Augustin travelled by ambulance I went in the back of the police pickup.
We sat in the doctors waiting area soaked to the skin looking at our feet in total devastation. I was absolutely convinced that the dream was over and the truck was destroyed. I have never felt so low as I did at that time. Shock, emotions and fear took over. Pat however, was surprisingly rational and really took control at this point .
The calls went out to the family, who being so far away felt totally useless and unable to do anything .
Suggestions of them flying out were put on hold and to add to all this mess I was told that I was technically under arrest as I had to have a blood test to check i wasn't drunk or on drugs . The problem being was that the doctor who could take the blood test was over two hours away in Cochrane and I would have to be driven their later after the dust had settled and everyone had been treated by the local doctor
OK . The doom and gloom is now over.
Here is the bit that still makes me emotional even as I am typing this post a few weeks later
In earlier blog posts you might remember our dear German friends called Ellen and Perry who we travelled with on the first part of this journey.
They were now ahead of us on their tour and were someway north.
Without hesitation they made the decision to abandon their own journey and turn round to come to our rescue. Them problem being was that they were in fact 1800 km away and were facing a journey of endless driving over bad corrugated unpaved roads and very long ferry crossings. This was additionally complicated by the fact that it was still raining more and more .
Now I also mentioned earlier that I would come back to the local Carabineros who came to the scene.
I cannot find the words to describe the kindness and hospitality they showed us at the time and over the next week.
The held our hands and made sure that we were never feeling abandoned.
One guy Carlos , who I am now very proud to call my friend, showed us so much kindness it was beyond belief.
An example of this would be that having driven me for two hours on the day of the accident for my blood test, he then took me to his home , arriving at about 1 am and introduced me to his lovely wife " Daisy" who had made a meal for me . I unfortunately wasn't the best of company at that time but I fully appreciated this incredible gesture.
Meanwhile, again with the help of the local Carabineros in Tortel, Pat had booked into a little Cabanas, which was in fact a two bedroom shed with a toilet. The two shaken hitch hikers had one room and us the other.
The next day Carlos and his colleague spent the whole day chaperoning me, taking me back to the scene to assess the damage.
As we pulled up my heart sank. I looked at our poor truck in its inverted resting place and could not see any way forward.
How would we ever get it out, would it be repairable, was it really destroyed as I believed.
The dream was surely over