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The Dictator’s Highway: Patagonian Exploits along the Carretera Austral

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After seizing power in a violent coup, President Augusto Pinochet ordered the construction of the Carretera Austral, a highway across Chile’s southern wilderness. Staggering over mountain passes, skirting around volcanoes and glaciers, and cutting across interminable stretches of dense rainforest, the ambitious project took the rest of the century to complete. In an absorbi After seizing power in a violent coup, President Augusto Pinochet ordered the construction of the Carretera Austral, a highway across Chile’s southern wilderness. Staggering over mountain passes, skirting around volcanoes and glaciers, and cutting across interminable stretches of dense rainforest, the ambitious project took the rest of the century to complete. In an absorbing account, Justin Walker explores this territory from one end to the other, a thousand kilometres and more, moving from village to village by any available means. His expertly crafted descriptions create a vivid picture of Chilean Patagonia: devastatingly rugged landscapes, turquoise rivers, curious wildlife, and the tough realities of daily life in some astonishingly isolated communities. Through tales of the early settlers, and in regular exchanges with today’s residents, this book also engages with debates of critical importance for Chile, a country rising to prominence in a modern globalised world: hydroelectric megadams, the catastrophic destruction of forests, inequalities in schooling and the stark polarisation of wealth. Combining independent travel with local history, social conscience with environmental awareness, and contemplative reflections with light-hearted humour, The Dictator’s Highway is a unique book and a compelling read.


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After seizing power in a violent coup, President Augusto Pinochet ordered the construction of the Carretera Austral, a highway across Chile’s southern wilderness. Staggering over mountain passes, skirting around volcanoes and glaciers, and cutting across interminable stretches of dense rainforest, the ambitious project took the rest of the century to complete. In an absorbi After seizing power in a violent coup, President Augusto Pinochet ordered the construction of the Carretera Austral, a highway across Chile’s southern wilderness. Staggering over mountain passes, skirting around volcanoes and glaciers, and cutting across interminable stretches of dense rainforest, the ambitious project took the rest of the century to complete. In an absorbing account, Justin Walker explores this territory from one end to the other, a thousand kilometres and more, moving from village to village by any available means. His expertly crafted descriptions create a vivid picture of Chilean Patagonia: devastatingly rugged landscapes, turquoise rivers, curious wildlife, and the tough realities of daily life in some astonishingly isolated communities. Through tales of the early settlers, and in regular exchanges with today’s residents, this book also engages with debates of critical importance for Chile, a country rising to prominence in a modern globalised world: hydroelectric megadams, the catastrophic destruction of forests, inequalities in schooling and the stark polarisation of wealth. Combining independent travel with local history, social conscience with environmental awareness, and contemplative reflections with light-hearted humour, The Dictator’s Highway is a unique book and a compelling read.

16 review for The Dictator’s Highway: Patagonian Exploits along the Carretera Austral

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jack Montgomery

    Having driven much of the Carretera Austral four years ago, Justin's journey took me right back to many of the places we'd visited and experiences we'd had. I wish I'd read whilst driving the Dictator's Highway though, as I'd have been far more sympathetic to the plight of hitch-hikers along the way. Having driven much of the Carretera Austral four years ago, Justin's journey took me right back to many of the places we'd visited and experiences we'd had. I wish I'd read whilst driving the Dictator's Highway though, as I'd have been far more sympathetic to the plight of hitch-hikers along the way.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael Whinney

    The Dictator's Highway is a long and remote road through Chile's southerly Patagonian regions called the Carretera Austral. The is book is a terrific insight into a six-week expedition of geographical and self-exploration. The descriptions of the countryside and its people are arresting and the characters stay in the mind: the elderly, wise gaucho Don Vincente tending his animals high up on a mountain, the massively-built Pablo cutting logs for a living, Maurico running an ecoutourism camp; thes The Dictator's Highway is a long and remote road through Chile's southerly Patagonian regions called the Carretera Austral. The is book is a terrific insight into a six-week expedition of geographical and self-exploration. The descriptions of the countryside and its people are arresting and the characters stay in the mind: the elderly, wise gaucho Don Vincente tending his animals high up on a mountain, the massively-built Pablo cutting logs for a living, Maurico running an ecoutourism camp; these and many others came alive inb my imagination. The stories of everyday Patagonian people blend well with the details of the landscape and the local history, making a delightful read. The author's engagaing style inlcludes many memorable turns of phrase, making for an intimacy with the reader. You don't have to be an addict of travelogues to enjoy this book, but if you are you will love it!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Hamborg

    An entertaining and informative account, this book provides essential background reading for anyone planning a visit to Patagonia or Chile.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Louise Irving

  5. 5 out of 5

    Diana Taylor

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anne Worley

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alex Brook

  8. 5 out of 5

    Marcelo Mercuri

  9. 5 out of 5

    Siobhan

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dennis

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kyla Ettinger

  12. 4 out of 5

    Terence Boyle

  13. 5 out of 5

    Paul Salter

  14. 4 out of 5

    Matias

  15. 4 out of 5

    Claire Sutherland

  16. 4 out of 5

    Karen

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