Puerto Chacabuco Ride, 8 April 2010
NCL Sun from the tender pier at Puerto Chacabuco
Don’t let anyone ever tell you there is nothing to do in Puerto Chacabuco. The bike ride turned out to be one of the best on the trip. We had few expectations as we woke up on a cloudy day to see the steep cliffs outside our porthole. We worried that the weather would be too cold and the rain might make the area unrideable—so much so that we considered leaving the bikes on the Sun and making our visit into a quick walk around the port area. Nevertheless, we decided to take the bikes along when the sun came out. As the tender turned around the back of the ship to reveal the actual tender docking area, we perked up considerably when we spied the significant number of buildings around the pier and the large seemingly flat area surrounding the pier.
The weather was beautiful by the time we climbed aboard the bikes. And the surrounding mountains were spectacular. Snow capped the peaks in the background while the hills in front were gloriously green—but the slopes were steep. Around the bay, we could see several fishing boats, a car ferry, and several salmon fish farms spotted around the bay. A good sized petroleum tank farm lay on an adjacent hill and a trailer storage area held dozens of stacked trailers. A commercial area lay just up the first slope with several cafes and a hotel next to a memorial park area with several statues. Once we navigated the 2-300 security area, the driveway sloped up to highway 240 at a manageable rate. We rode past the hearty shipmates who were walking around the port area and many who were waiting for the buses to Aisen, the port city closed in 1991 by the earthquake which blocked the channel to the ocean. The walkers managed more than a mile from the port area.
The two lane road was surprisingly level and well paved with a 10-feet wide shoulder. Occasional hills and valleys were managed along the road with gradual slopes so that the ride was comfortable and Marilyn would need to walk for a 100 yard portion only once each on the way out and the way back. The mountains rose on both sides of the water at steep angles so that they covered the view up to a 30-40 degree angle in most places. The slope were green in most places except for a monolith rock face every half mile or so.
The area reminded me very much of Switzerland with high meadows everywhere. I found myself singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music” as I rode. I don’t think Marilyn could hear me, though—I hope not, anyway.
The roads were not crowded with traffic, but taxis passed us every few minutes and an occasional truck joined them in both directions. I was surprised to see dogs lazing along the road. A few of them greeted us and followed for 20-30 yards, but none seemed dangerous and few even barked. On one occasion on the way back, I spotted a very large German Shepherd loping along the roadside for almost a mile. On another occasion I followed behind another German Shephard which ran ahead for several hundred yards before slowing at a farm home where two smaller dogs barked loudly and ran to the gate. But the German Shephard ran right up to the gate and they all greeted one another happily for 10 seconds or so.
The homes along the road were spaced far apart and nearly all had a dog in the yard. Several of them had sheep in the yard too. One group of gray-colored sheep I photographed in the back yard behind a house on the way out escaped all the way to the road 50 yards ahead of us on the way back. They scurried back to the fence as a car passed but came back out as we arrived. I tried to take a photo from close up but they retreated 20 yards before I could get the camera out.
At more than a dozen places along the road I also spotted groups of brown and white cattle grazing at the bottom of the slopes within 50 yards of the highway. This brought to mind, even more, my memories of Switzerland. I expected to take photos on the way back but forgot until it was too late. Nevertheless, I am sure that sheep and cattle are a significant part of the commerce of this area.
This large tree remnant lay atop a hill and signals the history of the area. This trunk was likely hundreds of years old (if not a thousand) and indicates the trees we see now are significantly more recent.
Halfway along the road to Aisen was a turnoff to a National park. On the way back, a gentleman on a bike came out of the road to join us. He had passed us earlier on the way out. I noted him to be 55-65 years old and dressed in biking tights and wondered whether he could be from our ship, although I hadn’t seen him on the ship and I was pretty sure we were the only ones who had brought bikes on with us. This time, as he pulled alongside, I asked whether he was Chilean. He responded in broken English that he was vacationing in the area. I said we were from the cruise ship and he asked when it was leaving. When I said 2pm, he agreed that I was right to be returning now to be sure I didn’t miss it. He then rode on. I became concerned that my watch had stopped because I thought we had plenty of time to allow an hour at lunch and internet at a restaurant. I felt better when Marilyn verified my time check soon later.
As we rode out, we encountered a few long upslopes, one of which Marilyn had to walk up for the final 100 yards. Knowing that we would have to ride back up any hill we rode down, I checked with Marilyn on whether we should turn back. On the first request, Marilyn indicated she wanted to move on all the way to Aisen because she wanted to use the internet there. But on the second hill, with Aisen in sight at the bottom of the hill, we agreed to turn back as the time reached 1145am.
Upon reaching the port area on the return, we checked out the memorial park and then looked for the way to the hotel on the hill alongside the port. The road we found was unpaved and rocky and I decided to park the bikes at the bottom and walk up. Here, I discovered I had left my lock key in the safe back on the ship. We decided to skip the lunch and catch the tender back to the ship. We had ridden steadily for 3 hours and were not really fatigued, but felt very happy with our experiences in this beautiful area.
I believe this area to be an excellent one for bikers and should be developed in such a way. The scenery is outstanding.
These unusual plants remind me of Silverswords on Maui in Hawaii
Substantially level rides can be arranged to accommodate most riders and even seniors could enjoy bike rides arranged for them. The turnoff to the national park will accommodate more adventurous riders. The town of Aisen rewards the early starters. The ship tourists could also take advantage of other activities. Kayaking in the area would be easy and greatly rewarding. I can’t help but think that salt water fishing could be lucrative and there must be fly fishing activities in the areas within 10-20 miles of the road. Tours of fish farms would be interesting. I was surprised not to have seen advertisements for sales of appropriately packed salmon for the cruise patrons. But I have heard that NCL and most other cruise lines plan to abandon the South American routes next year. I assume they have some problem with the lack of investment by the local and national governments. I hope they work everything out before long because I really want to return on this cruise and to this port.