Mingling with Giants
Date: 11th December – 25th December 2012
Where: Pucon (Chile) – Cabaña heaven – Junin de los Andes (Argentina) – San Martin de los Andes – Villa El Chocón – San Martin de los Andes
Distance: 6483 to 6598 miles
Firstly Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to anyone still reading this, who, like us, survived the end of the World! The festive season has been busy, but we’ll try and update you on our adventures as quick as possible.
After a day of relaxation in some thermal springs near Pucon, and a less relaxing day pretending to be bike mechanics, the morning of the 13th arrived…Sarah’s Birthday and the sun was on her side! The only cloud in the sky was from the gently puffing Villarica volcano. We boarded an early bus to the nearby Huerquehue national park, and had soon negotiated the short walk to a little hostal in the woods with our unwieldy baggage. Refugio Tinquilco would be our home for the next three days. Taking advantage of the sun we proceeded to climb a little less than one Snwdn* to a series of lakes flanked by the mighty araucania trees. These monkey puzzle trees grow to gigantic proportions in the ancient forest of the park. A day of cribbage, dandelion-collecting and general heavenly nothingness was followed by another walk up the other side of the valley to a kind of moorland with gorgeous orchids and Magellanic woodpeckers (see cyclo-twitching page: click here). We were sad to leave our refuge and especially Patricio’s great cooking, and return to the real world. The next day was sadder still though as we said our goodbyes to Stavros as he wended his way back to Santiago to his flight home after nearly three months of traveling.
*For those new to the blog: One Snwdn ~ 1000m (Mt.Snowdon in Wales)
The void left by Stavros was filled with our two (seemingly) repaired bikes and we left Pucon for Argentina in good spirits, happy to be on the road again…but how quick things can change! First came the rain, swiftly followed by the puncture, the realisation the tyre levers had been left behind in Pucon, the successful tube removal and repair using a plastic spoon, more rain, Geoff’s chain getting stuck again (Puerto Montt fix didn’t work!), the approaching night, big Geoff paddy fit, still rain. We’ve been lucky on this trip to get luck just when we need it, and today was to be no exception! A cheap as chips cabaña with its own wood-burning fire, free leña (fire-wood), lounge area with sofas, a gas stove, and separate bedroom away from the bad smells of our clothes popped up. Soon we had a roaring fire going with things drying all around, dinner was cooked and we settled down to watch a lovely film about taxi-drivers in Lima (Metal and Melancholy). Heaven!
Rejuvenated, we pushed on uphill, with Geoff unable to use his lower gears now. We managed the 3/4 Snwdn set of dirt switchbacks without too much swearing, but as the road flattened out towards the top, rain turned to sleet, sleet turned to snow, and we were glad to arrive at the Chilean immigration surrounded by piping hot radiators. A change of clothes and two hours later we left for the Argentinean equivalent. Soaked to the skin, cold to the bone again, we contemplated what to do as it was 5pm. In a split-second decision we scorned the free camping and bombed down to Junin de Los Andes. Mostly downhill, but still 40miles away, we arrived at 9pm as the sun dropped below the horizon. Tiring and tough. The next day was an easy trundle into San Martin de Los Andes and we settled into a nice hostal bed.
See this earlier blog post to compare with the original Huila: click here
The weather forecast was not promising, and after a day of sun recovering, where we went for a lovely lakeside walk and managed to find an old London Routemaster red bus parked on the side-streets, we set off for a small touristic excursion by bus to find more consistent sun (we were fed up of being wet). The overnight bus to Neuquen was a nightmare experience, but we arrived only half an hour late. Unfortunately it was now too late to get the bus to the dinosaur footprints we wanted to visit…so we joined the worldwide community of hitchhikers and in surprisingly quick time found ourselves at Villa El Chocón walking round the dinosaur museum. Later that afternoon we walked the 3km to the shoreline to see a set of giant dinosaur footprints miraculously preserved for 100million years. Having narrowly missed seeing these in Bolivia, we were glad to have finally caught up with them. Truly mind-blowing to imagine a creature making these prints. As we walked back to town we noticed a huge black cloud…”more rain”, we thought out loud, but actually this time it was a volcano erupting 200km North West of us (one day after the world was meant to end). After another day of dinosaur discovery in nearby Plaza Huincul (more successful hitching), we arrived back in San Martin for Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve was spent in a traditional fashion, last-minute shopping, mulled wine, a mountain of food, and then drinking plenty of Argentinean wine late into the night. A couple of English girls in the same hostal took Sarah horse-riding as-well, fulfilling a long-time desire of hers to ride a horse in Argentina. Her crushed backbone is still recovering though! Christmas day itself was as good as we could have hoped: long Skype-chats with family, surprise presents and of course the huge Christmas lunch!
The weather forecast for the next two weeks is pure sun, so we’re ready to go and see some of the most beautiful scenery in Patagonia. We hope our photos can do it justice for you all.
Lastly, thanks to Stavros for helping to make the past month so enjoyable, and leaving us with so many happy memories!