Bikes adjusted, saddles changed, we were away heading along the western edge of Lago Llanquihue. To avoid the trans Chilean motorway hard shoulder we headed along the ballast of a railway rarely used. Past the Nestlé factory along a path and onto the tarmac through Llanquihue Seemingly the centre of Chainsaw Wood carving, multiple creations littered the main street and riverside walk. There were cabanas littering the lakeside but the potato pickers refused Lynne’s request for a picture with a laugh as they filled their pink sacks by hand. Lunch at Frutillar Bajo, It was here that we discovered the German tradition of Kuchen. Enormous quadruple layered cakes decorated layered display cabinets, well it would have been rude to refuse.. We finished in Porto Octay and stayed at the only hotel in the place, Hotel Haase. Like a place from the Wild West it was a 2-storied affair made totally of wood with walls so thin you could have made a book out of them. With a central upstairs seating area and shared toilet and bathroom heated by a wood burning stove. The town looked unpromising but we gave it a go, what a revelation, nothing of architectural value unless you love wood, however the town was out in force around the town square.
Cloudy weather greeted as we ascended the 5km climb out of town. Onto the flatlands either side with little to see, even the Volcano refused to emerge from the clouds as the newly tarmacked road headed straight for it. Turning left at Las Cascadas the waterfall beckoned and viewed. Lunch beckoned, seeing an unpretentious signs Empenadas were on the agenda. From nowhere 2 ladies rolled dough, passed it through a pasta machine, wrapped a block of cheese and with a vat of boiling oil produced a delicious lunch accompanied by produce bought from the local shop. The rain set in in the afternoon which further obscured the volcano and Rosales National Park. Our night was in delightful shore side cabins in Ensenada.
The early morning light shining on Osorno volcano was awesome as finally we were able to appreciate the sheer magnitude of its towering presence. Snow tipped, the pure conical shape loomed over the cabins and many a camera shutter opened and shut. With no cloud cover it was cold as we headed back into Victor Navez Park along the cycle path which climbed gentle through the trees growing in the larva field. Being a crossing point into Argentina, the whole process was efficient and well organised. Bags labelled with numbered tags were loaded into numbered grey containers and winched onto the ferry. Bikes strapped to the front and bikers aboard we set sail across the lake, and a night in the National Park
It looked easy, 24km across the border and into Argentina. Breakfasting on the usual suspects cheese, ham, bread, yoghurt drink, toast and jam and in a relaxed frame of mind we assembled at the Chilean customs. Passports checked, PDI slips handed in and of we went, what could be easier? Well the first 3km were murder, the grader had been through the track and the large stones had been pushed aside to reveal sand amongst the other rocks making it hard going, after this it got so much better as we headed through the mountains, along a wide stream bed and to the start of the climb by the customs post. Up and up it went, 9 switchbacks on gravel as we climbed and climbed. At the Argentinian border the sign had fallen, so souvenir picture was tricky, however the descent was fine where we were the first to await the ferry. The lake was small and the ferry chugged its way across along with our luggage delivered from Peullo. A short cycle to the new hotel at Blest with a night in the National Park in splendid isolation.
Puerto Blest is at the terminus of the ferry from Bariloche and a hive of activity for people wanting a day out in the National Park. As such it has amenities way beyond its isolated position. We had a choice of a number of circular walks from the ferry port, so being cyclists chose the longest to the waterfall. This being a terminus, kilometres of recently built boardwalk had been laid on making the navigation pretty straightforward. On the ferry and the day out experience continued. Filled with day-trippers the fun was in full swing, raffles, photos and prizes all round with the fabulous views seeming less secondary of lake and mountains around. Re-united with German at the ferry port our introduction to Argentinian driving mirrored Kens observation of a cycling article called 23 ways to die in Argentina as the cars hit the horns despite the give 1.5m room to cyclists signs. Our evening meal at the German inspired beer and burger joint was filled with chips and ale.
A relaxed start saw bikes repaired and passports photocopied, is there no end to the beaurocracy? Phil, Steve, Lorna and Sima had decided to take the long road round the lake. German warned on the wind, I warned of the trucks, but they loved it. Onto the ferry, alike Captain Nemo’s boat the twin hulled catamaran headed north across the lake whilst we settled atop to admire the view. I say that but in reality it was all about the selfies and the seagulls. The mountain backdrop was remarkable but it also provided a backdrop for any manor of pouting, posing and hanging over the edge. Behind me on the mast a solitary seagull sat, but like moths to a flame seemingly the whole boat invaded our space armed with packets of biscuits. Arms outstretched and cameras at the ready a squadron of seagulls swooped, pooped (on us) and dined on Argentina’s favourite digestives as gigabytes of memory were created on hundreds of smartphones.
The shore provided respite but the photography continued. A short walk, tea stop and souvenir picture would mean temporary immortality on the TV screens mounted all over the boat. Thankfully we left that aside as having been chased out of the tearoom for not having our picture taken the track beckoned. What followed was 12km of fantastic trail with 2 vista points and 600 year old arrayán trees. The hotel meal was fabulous and the lake views grand
Breakfast at 0730 and left at 0830. The collie dog followed us out, then into town and then amazing 10 miles as she appeared from the bushes to my right. Young at heart and in teeth, she continued to chase all the cars even this far from home.
The road itself is hailed as one of the 50 rides to do before you fall of your bike and has recently been fully tarmacked, as a result we were to see quite a few cycle tourists on the ride. Passing seven lakes the road dips up and down but the emphasis is gradually up as you pass huge mountain vistas and virgin forest as far as the eye can see. With a good shoulder and courteous drivers it is a fantastic ride. There was even a coffee and cake shop close to the ned before a wonderful 8km descent switching this way and that to Lago Lacar and into San Martin.
Junin de Los Andes
A tail wind propelled us along route 40 with mountains either side. The cars were quick but the gravel shoulder provide some security especially with mountain bikes. Junin itself was a revelation; many of the towns e had passed through had a Western/Tourist slant but not this one. The turquoise Christ in the church was exquisite, the river walk a revelation and several trees were stuffed with parrots.
Fruit and rolls powered us through the rising sun in the direction of the border. The early morning light lit the mountains to the left where erosion had revealed the inner core of igneous rock, not unlike the tors on Dartmoor. We were on the drier side of the Andes with an intense green of tress meandering along the river bed along which we followed. To either side individual towers of rock pointed skywards, pretty impressive. ‘It’s like an Advent calendar’ Sima enthused, ‘ a new opening and experience whenever you turn a corner.’ The road was gradually up, with a 2% gradient, which had a slow tiring effects on the legs. Ahead of us in the cloud lurked Lanin volcano with only its snowy skirt revealing itself through the white cloud. However the easterly wind was blowing and gradually over 2 hours the clouds lifted to finally reveal its snow tipped cone. By this time we had entered the National Park and a 10km corrugated gravel path leading to the border crossing. Argentina was a ticketed exit and entrance with a stamp in the middle. Chile was a mile away along a flat gravel road through the araucaria trees. Bags through X-Ray and a fresh PDI the descent started after 10km of perfect tarmac road and some descent it was. Switchbacks then a long fast descent with towering mountains on both sides. Then nirvana, to our right a small wooden shed revealed itself as a café with fresh cake and hot chocolate. The fact that Stephen got the one and only enormous blueberry tart did nothing to dampen the sense of ‘wow, what a wonderful place. Into Currarahue, a typical Chilean town, far removed from the tourist spots we had so far experienced.
Currarahue was the host’s revenge. Little visited it was our host’s turn to subtly take our picture round the breakfast table. Assembling in glorious sun for a group photo, our departure was accompanied by the dogs that bounded along with many miles snapping at each other and any cars that passed. The track was firm as we followed the river and although the views weren’t fantastic the lack of traffic was a bonus.
Along the main road and into Pucon along the cycle path that took us all the way to the centre via an encelada stop on the outskirts. Our evening finished with a delightful meal at Ecole
A gaucho, a genuine gaucho, ambling along on his horse in all the gear with 2 dogs behind. 16 minds think alike, we need a subtle picture Result 16 bikes screech to a halt and out popped the cameras, a couple of scared dogs and one very cross gaucho . Never mind onwards and upwards with Villarica Volcano dominating the sky behind us we pedal upwards to Caburgia passing what feels like a gazillion closed road side stalls. The final 5 km is hard uphill and the surprise is an amazing vista over an azure coloured lake ringed by mountains that’s even warm enough for a dip, how good is that? Our route back takes us along the gravel, but the views of Villarica Volcano are sublime. Back at Pucon, the vegetarian menu at Ecole takes another hammering
We’d been kitted out the day before, crikey we need a lot of stuff, boots and a coat are obvious but a gas mask and a device that looks like a nappy in black was a touch surprising, all prized into a rucksack that we have to carry to the summit.
The journey there in a crowded minibus has the radio on, and we deciphered the Pop Song as ‘We’re going up a Volcano, we’re all going to die’ No matter off loaded and for 4 hardened soles we walk the first 400 metres ascent whilst the other 296 take the chair lift. No matter we’ve got chocolate in these bags of ours. The cloud is non existent and the wind is negligible, so with fabulous views all round we inch our way upwards stamping footsteps in the snow in snake like lines up the edge of the volcano, whose sulphurous plume is getting closer and closer. 200 metres from the top, we drop the bags and ascend through the larva field that went this way 2 years, or was that 2 hours ago? Suddenly there we were at the rim. In England the crater would have been roped of to 50 metres with loads of big red signs, but not here as strange looking people in gasmasks took multiple selfies, teetering close to the edge. Way below orange larva bubbled away to the delight of all in attendance.
So how to get down? We slid, yes really because that black nappy was a skid pan on snow and for good measure we had a circular sled strapped to our belts for extra slippiness, fantastic.
At 1600 we emerged at the car park, tired but ultimately happy at having conquered the volcano and to round it of, I’m sure there must be something we haven’t yet tried at Ecole?
Not even the great Google showed this road. We’d all spent months looking at this road desperately trying to figure out f it was really there at all. On the computer it started and finished, but where was the middle bit? Only one way to find out, ride it, as another tour had done 5 years before and I’d met some of them, so it must exist surely. It started well enough and the dirt track was wide and smooth, but then it veered upwards….steeply, eek, were we going up another volcano? It continued to rise but more gently now as we were between two steep hillsides pushing ever upwards. Then the National ark entrance appeared and the track became a dirt trail heading further upwards. However it did indeed exist though definitely not for a family saloon car. The reward was primary forest full of araucaria trees. Like huge monkey puzzle trees they stretched into the sky, a breathtaking site. The descent was tricky, dirt and loose gravel and the pleasant town of Conaripe was littered with shops selling rubber rings just in case you fancied a trip to one of the many thermal pools in the area.
The cloud was low as we cruised along the perfect road with the lake on the left with its black sand beaches. The vehicles as usual couldn’t tolerate cyclists abreast, and so it was horns aplenty. Up the hill and coffee and then into Villarica just as the sun and the clouds rose over the volcano. Villarica’s high street revealed a cabinet full of the most delicious cakes in town. Tummies full we set of northwards out of town leaving volcanoes behind. The views were more pastoral with cows and sheep as we headed for the last piece of rough stuff. 16km of marbles, why oh why don’t they tarmac this central section? Uphill’s were tough downhills worse and you needed to keep your eyes on the ground all the time, it was with relief that a downhill signals tarmac as speeds dramatically increased. Into (find the town) and straight for the store that sold ice cream at 600 (75pence) a scoop. The owners cleared the table and set out the seats and 6 of us enjoyed chocolate ice cream in the lowering sun.
The final section was flat and quite fast. Into the cabanas to be greeted by a hot tub and a good 3 course dinner of steak, potato’s and salad.
The usual suspects appeared for breakfast . The hot tub was ignored as we set out westwards towards Cunco along comparative flat lands either side. The road remained excellent as it has been throughout Chile and it wasn’t long before we were immersed in the supermacados of a typical Chilean town. Chile does have a lot of little shops. Each with their stacked shelves behind the counters of written chit of green paper hand supplies. Not a great deal of choice but the basics. To one side will be the vegetable area, carrots, potatoes along with fruit such as peaches and bananas. With each purchase comes a clacking of the calculator and a hand written chit as a receipt faithfully carbon copied into a leger. Cunco being farming country had a number of butchers, most advocating Hereford Beef, a source of great delight to Lorna as she was from these parts. Views of Llaina Volcano, rivers and beautiful trees were delight as we entered Mellipeuco. A single main street littered with Supermercados, an art shop and a café serving fantastic doughnuts acted as lunch as the temperatures crept higher.
A left turn and an ascent into the National Park. Through a slightly wooded area and into the full heart of the sun on fine corrugated gravel under the shadow of the double coned Laina Volcano to our left. Our night was spent in the Eco-Lodge where we were deposited in cabins in the woods with volcanic (what else?) views. The evening meal at 17000 (£21) needed to be good and so it proved, almost fine dining in the mountains and no corkage on the red wine brought up from below
The sun rose over the volcano highlighting the redness of the rock near its cones. Beneath lay a larva field from many eruptions ( the last in 2009) it was through this that we rode to a blue clear lake filled with dead trees that had been created after the river was dammed by larva. Downwards now to be collected by coach and to wend our way home.