Cycling the South of Chile (and the curious incident of the volcanic eruption in the night-time) 22 Feb-8 March

Santiago

Santiago was very nice. Full of art, museums and restaurants, it has everything you could need to relax and recharge your batteries but not exactly full of must-see tourist attractions. We met up with friends, took a ride on the funicular to the top of Cerro San Cristobal, visited the museum of fine arts, strolled around Barrio Lastarria, enjoyed amazing ice cream and a relaxing lunch at Plaza Bellavista. Our top find was the wonderful “La Chascona”, one of Pablo Neruda’s houses, full of charming design and with an extremely good audio-guide.

A change of direction

“You’re not going south?”, asked our friends in disbelief while filling our glasses with red wine. “You will miss the best part! It’s so green and beautiful with lakes and mountains”.
“We don’t have time to go all the way to Ushuaia and it will be too cold so we’re going to Buenos Aires and then Rio”.
“You have come so far and all you have seen is the desert. You are so close now. The crossing here is so hard and it’s so boring all the way to Buenos Aires. If you go down to the lakes, then you can cross to Bariloche, and only climb about 1300m”.

The glory of travelling without a fixed itinerary is that you can change your plans. Avoiding a huge climb and seeing the beautiful side of Chile sounded like a much better way to go so we decided to continue South.

To get down to the lakes I wanted to save time by bombing down Route 5 (the motorway) as fast as I could. Sometimes there were side roads but they stop without an easy way back onto the main road so they’re pretty useless and it’s hard to avoid riding along the hard shoulder next to the trucks and coaches. After 530km in 3 days, I was still feeling strong but my knee joints couldn’t cope. I spent two days in a town called Los Angeles with ice on them feeling helpless and losing time. Paola had spent 3 days on buses but was glad to be back on the bike as we left the motorway and found more pleasant routes to get down to Villarica.

The curious incident of the volcano in the night-time

We were finally by the lakes, and could relax and enjoy the amazing scenery. A few beers and a good night’s sleep were a good idea.

In the night, Paola woke up at about 4am. Doors were opening and closing in the hostel and people were going in and out. She tried to go back to sleep and it took her a long time. I slept soundly and woke in the morning refreshed. What had all the fuss in the night been about?

Volcano Villarica, closer to Pucón, 25km away, but clearly visible across the lake from where we were staying, had errupted. Lava and ash had shot 3km into the night sky, rivers turned brown with the ash and sliding mud, and people within a 6km radius had been evacuated. The road to Pucón was closed and a “red alert” had been declared as it was uncertain what would happen next.

I can tell you what transpired: nothing but a few tiny puffs of smoke. When we walked down to the lake that morning, the volcano was now calm. We had missed the show which apparently was accompanied by lightning striking due to the magnetic power of the seismic activity.

We cycled to Pucón to take a closer look while the President of Chile flew in for an emergency meeting with the town’s officials. I even cycled up the steep climb of the road to the volcano and got as close as 10km from the blackened peak but turned back as there were no signs of anything happening.
Seeing a volcano explode will just have to stay on the bucket list for now.

Paola takes a tumble

The next day, we left Villarica but we made a mistake. By taking the more direct but unpaved route to Pangipulli, (I recommend staying on the asphalt and going the long way round), we made life very difficult for ourselves. We pushed the bikes a lot through stones and dust, until disaster struck when Paola slipped in the stones on a steep down-section. Her elbow was cut badly and also very swollen. There was a big lump so I was worried it could be broken. Very few vehicles had passed on that gravel path so it was a huge relief that the next one to pass was a combi-bus which took us into Pangipulli and to the medical centre. We were also relieved to be told that there was no break and the swelling would go down. Cleaned and bandaged, Paola could keep going, and I wouldn’t need to play nurse. Frankly the dress looks ridiculous on me.

Crossing Chile to Argentina

There are several options to cross in the South. We chose to cross by turning East at Osorno, because the route is paved all the way and only involves climbing 1300m. There is the small town of Entre Lagos (or Puyuhue) but then there is no other town for 170km. So we stocked up with food and water before heading into the national park and starting the big climb. We were elated to reach the top and the sign saying “Bienvenidos a Argentina”. For Paola a special moment as she had managed to do a big distance and climb all the way to the top in one day. A sharp and very cold descent to the Argentina border crossing took the day’s total to 90km and more importantly we had cycled from her country, Colombia all the way to the other end of her continent. There were some tears as Paola realised what she had accomplished.

The next blog will cover our adventure in Patagonia, the beautiful lake regions around Bariloche, more changes to the gameplan, and the big challenges of cycling through the remote, cold and windy pampa of the famous route 40.

Reunited with our Japanese cycling buddy Naoki. He left us to head South to Ushuaia.
Reunited with our Japanese cycling buddy Naoki. He left us to head South to Ushuaia.

 

Santiago from the top of Cerro San Cristobal with our friend Carolina
Santiago from the top of Cerro San Cristobal with our friend Carolina

 

Volcán Villarica errupted without any subtlety during the night
Volcán Villarica errupted without any subtlety during the night

 

Volcán Villarica when we woke up. Quiet as a mouse.
Volcán Villarica when we woke up. Quiet as a mouse.

Curicó 208km 22 feb
Chillan 213km 23 feb
Los Angeles 109km 24 feb
(530km in 3 days but needed 2 days for swollen knees to recover!)
Victoria 90 (nice hotel)
Freire 60 (very basic hostel)
Los sauces 88km 1st March

Villarica 54km 2nd March
Pucón and back 58km 3rd March
Pangipulli 30km (20km in bus after Paola fell) 4th March
Los Lagos 58km 5th March
Orsono 90km 6th March
Entre Lagos (Puyehue) 50km 7th March
Argentina! Campsite at the border 90km 8th March

1198km in the South of Chile

8,967km in South America

30,475km so far around the world!