Date: 28th November – 10th December 2012
Where: Valdivia – Paillaco – Ruta 5 camp – Puerto Varas – Ancud – Castro – Puerto Montt – Pucon
Distance: 6334 to 6483 miles
To be honest we’ve had it lucky so far. Days of rain up till now could be counted on a pair of hands without much problem, and we’ve been on the road for over ten months! It had to change sometime, so why not encourage matters by going to the wettest place in Chile: Valdivia. When we arrived it was blazing hot sun and the eccentric hostal owner spoke of a drought…then the Brits turned up…all that changed over the following days as first cloud, then drizzle, then rain swept through. The weather couldn’t stop us enjoying our time in Valdivia though, especially the interesting Tsunami museum there.
With the change in the weather (for the worse) and the change of month (December), we felt it was high time we changed our method of transport and got on our bikes again. The three days to Puerto Varas were pretty pointless, with little to see except a distant Coypu (kind of like a beaver) in one of the rivers we crossed. However the new Brooks saddle which Sarah gave Geoff for his birthday (via Nico and Stavros) performed perfectly, and our legs didn’t feel too weak. Wet and bedraggled we arrived at Puerto Varas before Stavros arrived from Bariloche (he went on a little sub-holiday within his holiday). Puerto Varas has one of the best views of the trip with the conical Volcan Osorno towering over Lago Llanquihue…we saw only clouds! Stavros arrived and we consoled ourselves by going out for pizza.
In our time around Osorno, we bought some fishing tackle and visited the waterfall near Petrohue. We tried our hand at fishing nearby, with Stavros teaching us the art of casting without plucking our eyes out. The closest to a bite was something nibbling one of the floats that looked like a piece of bread. Maybe we’ll put a fine loaf on the hooks next time!
We gave up on a clear view of Volcan Osorno and instead continued South to Puerto Montt by bike. Ever since Salta in the North of Argentina Geoff had been having problems with his low gears often being unable to use them when the hill got too steep and having to push or stand up in the saddle. This resulted in an explosion in the size of Geoffs’ thighs, but they will actually explode if he has to cycle without low gears for the Carreta Austral which is coming up. A tweak of the ‘b’ screw on the rear derailleur made things better, but not completely, and so in Puerto Montt we changed the whole derailleur as on closer inspection it was worn (wobbly). Geoff tested it on a street equal if not above the ‘steepest street in the world’ in Dunedin, New Zealand. It performed admirably, and fingers crossed our most ‘tricky to diagnose problem’ so far is fixed.
We took the bus to Ancud on the island of Chiloe, as the island is usually blessed with a continual drizzle that wouldn’t have been fun to cycle in. As it was, we managed to jinx the weather, and had three days of mostly glorious sun! The sun corresponded to the mood and we had a lovely three days on the island with everything going right. Just out of Ancud was a penguin colony, and a recommended taxi driver took us there and back via some spectacular viewpoints of the Pacific coast. On the way back he dropped us at a restaurant in town where (on his recommendation) we ordered two ‘Curantos’ for the three of us. Huge steaming plates of seafood, meat and potatoes, with the most delicious fishy stock came out, and we had one of our best experiences of local food of the whole trip.
In a packed day we hoisted our full stomachs onto another bus to Castro, the capital of Chiloe. Here we saw the stilt-houses of Chiloe called ‘Palafitos’, and some of the completely wooden churches for which the area is famous for. The final part of our Chilean culture extravaganza was a visit to a ‘Carreras a la Chilena’, which was traditional horse-racing, Chilean style: 1 on 1, side by side, zero H&S, cheap alcohol. We only stayed for one race, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience and will never forget a horse thundering past inches from our faces as it completes the 200m dash!
We returned to Puerto Montt to our bikes in the bus terminal left luggage. All was fine with them, and the next day we loaded them onto a bus for what we hope is the last time, to Pucon up North again. This region is famed for the huge Araucania tree forests in the shadow of volcanoes such as Villarica. We’ll spend about a week here with Stavros before parting ways and heading off to Argentina again.
Date: 13th November – 28th November 2012
Where: Santiago – Mendoza – Valparaiso – Santiago – Valdivia
Distance: 6322 to 6334 miles
We spent a very restful two days with Ricardo and his family in Santiago, before moving to a more central hostal…in fact very central. The Plaza de Armas hostal looks down from the 6th floor onto the very centre of Santiago (there was a lift for the bikes thank goodness).
That night Stavros left Miami and the next morning swooped over the Andes into the airport. We were waiting for him, and swiftly boarded the bus back into town. It was a memorable moment as it was the first person from life as we knew it who we’d seen since meeting Nico in Nicaragua all those months ago (although an ex-work colleague of Geoff’s saw us on the Salar…she thought of us, but didn’t stop the jeep to see if it was us, because the coincidence would be too great!). The hostal was being cleansed of bed bugs, so we dumped bags and went out for food, a favourite Stavrakakis past-time.
The remainder of our time in Santiago is summed up in the photos below, plus a lot of shopping. Geoff in particular completely refreshed his wardrobe!
From Santiago we retraced our steps back over the Paso de Los Libertadores to Mendoza. This time with a tailwind, a bus and a Stavros. We all got to see first-hand what we would cycle in an average day, and all of us were mightily impressed. It doesn’t seem that far when you’re on a bike, but in a bus it looked like miles and miles of uphill though a hot desert-like valley!
The weather in Mendoza was as hot as it was before and we spent much of the time wandering the streets under the cool shade of the trees. Trips to nearby thermal springs and vineyards combined with two parrilladas (mixed grills) and a Tango demonstration gave us all a feel for Argentinean life, and we were soon ready to return to Chile, this time to Valparaiso.
Valparaiso…the coast..the Pacific…sea level! The first time since Trujillo in Peru, over 3 months ago! We really enjoyed our stay in this town, from the working port, past all the graffiti-covered, colourful houses on its steep slopes, to the views at the top. The naval museum was fascinating particularly the one non-naval exhibit: the torpedo-cage which rescued the miners a couple of years ago. We found it impossible to not take photos, the ones below are just some of them showing life in the Port:
Our road trip returned us to Santiago after 3 days in Valparaiso and we set about preparatory tasks to start cycling again. Washing was done, Geoff’s camera was cleaned (at last!), bikes were oiled, punctures fixed and bags packed. Our bus to Valdivia left early the next morning, but it wasn’t till 11 o’clock that we got to bed. From Valdivia we will cycle South while Stavros goes wandering by bus, meeting up every few days for coffee and cake!