Days 620 - 631: Crossing the Hump to see the Monkey Trees

The border between argentina and chile cuts right over top this volcano.... we had the most incredible view of it!

Contulmo, Chile to San Martin de Los Andes, Argentina 477 km

January 3 to January 14, 2014

From Contulmo we began to angle back towards the Andean range, for yet another crossing.  The ride continued to be beautiful and as we approached the mountains it became stunning; snow capped volcanoes, crystal clear rivers, and lakes abounded! We have now reached Argentina's famous lake region, and are contemplating our route onwards.... 

Central Chile: Part Three

Contulmo - Temuco (three days)

We ended up taking a day off in Contulmo, it was a quiet little town and during our first night there Glenn developed a sore throat and cough.  In addition to this, the day before we arrived in town one of the bolts that holds Glenn's back rack snapped off and was stuck in the frame... we thought we might be able to find someone with tools to get it out...turned out we were wrong, but we did come up with a temporary solution involving a couple of pieces of steel...but hoped that we would not have to test it out on any gravel roads!    From Contulmo we had a steep climb up to about four hundred meters, and then a lovely river side descent.   As they have been for much of this coast route, the roads were quiet and smooth.  We stopped for lunch in a bus shelter, and just as we were assembling our sandwiches a woman came over telling (not asking!) us to come over to her house for lunch.  Even though we were half way through sandwich making, we packed up and went over, and we were treated to some beautiful Chilean hospitality.  Nieves and her extended family fed us and made us feel right at home, they invited us to stay for the night, but we wanted to press on.  We carried on and late afternoon filled up our water bottles and bought food for dinner.   There has been more and more fresh water sources as we move further south, but they tend to have houses nearby making them not ideal for camping... So we are still filling up and lugging a bunch of water at the end of the day.  Sometimes, hard for the muscles (and minds) to take, but water is fairly important.  We eventually came upon a turn off into a Eucalyptus plantation.  As we were making our way down the road, a forestry worker came from the other direction.    We were pretty sure that we would be told that we could not camp there, but he said no problem, just don't make a fire or the helicopters will come with water bombs !   Just as we were setting up, we did indeed see a helicopter trailing a water bomb!  As we cooked dinner on our stove, we hoped that this did not count as making a fire....?

We carried on passing the town of Traiguen, and stocking up for the next night in Galvarino.   Again, loaded with water.  As often is the case there was a big hill out of town and we were tired and ready to stop.   After we reached the top of the hill we saw a truck pulled off to the side stopping drivers, we figured that they were having some sort of engine trouble... But then they beckoned for us to stop too.  The man took Glenn's hand and seemed to reading it, and then a pregnant woman came out of the truck and took mine.  I instinctively took mine away, I was getting a strange feeling about the situation.    The woman then asked me for money and where we were from, I said no to the money request and that we were from Canada.  Their accents did not seem Chilean or even Argentinian, so I asked her were she was from, and she said the USA.  But when I spoke in English she did not understand.  They then asked if they could have some of the water we were carrying.  We said no, because we really did need it, and told them that there was a town just three km down the hill where they could get free water.  We rode off, a little wary.  Several minutes later they drove by.  Then a few km down the road we passed them stopped again... We carried on.  I was nervous about going off into the woods where they might see us.  Then, they passed us again and stopped....the man ran out of the truck saying "water, water, just a little water".  He had two baby bottles half full and wanted them topped up. We did fill them up, and then rode off again.... All in all it was really really strange.   We still cannot figure out what was going on with them.  Luckily they drove by once more, and then we finally started looking for a camp spot.  There was a lot of fenced land, but eventually we found a bicycle sized entrance into a forest so we took it.  It had been a long, and weird day.

We were only about forty km from Temuco, and we arrived there midday.  The traffic had increased quite a lot and it took some getting used too!   We had contacted a few couchsurfing hosts and one person had responded that they may be able to host us, so we used wifi for some time waiting for his response.  It turned out he could not host us, so we had to find a place to stay. This turned out to be quite an expensive city....but after looking around for a long time we did find an almost reasonably priced room... We also found a bike shop that had a new chain for me, the owner also assured us that he could get out Glenn's broken bolt.  We left the bikes and were told to come back the next afternoon... Which meant another day off... Which was ok with me! 

Our day off in Temuco was pretty relaxed, it is not much of a tourist town ... At all... But there is a museum so we visited that.  In the afternoon we headed back to the bike shop, only to find that my chain and new chain ring were not installed yet and the mechanics on duty did not know a thing about the bolt....regardless, they said they would not be able to remove it.... The saga of the stuck bolt continued. 

Temuco - Pucon (one and a half days)

We got a late start from Temuco, seems to the the trend these days.  It doesn't get dark until almost 10:00 pm, so we are up a little later and not so rushed in the mornings.  We had a brief 20 km taste of the highway 5 that runs right down the centre of Chile.  It was busy, but with a wide shoulder and no real hills we knocked off that 20 km in no time at all... It was rather shocking after the past weeks of hilly, curvy fun... We then turned off towards the mountains.  The road was still flat and fairly straight, so we moved along quickly.  We wanted to stop before the town of Villarica and avoid paying for a room again, and luckily we were able to find an ungated turn off about 15 km before town.  It turned out to be a fantastic camping spot the bamboo grooves! 

We woke up to cloudy skies, and as we were eating breakfast the rain began.  By the time we reached Villarica we were soaked.  We stopped and got food for lunch and decided to press on to Pucon.  Our aim was to get beyond Pucon and camp...  The road between Villarica and Pucon hugs the river, and should be wonderful, in theory.  The problem is that the road is in very bad repair, especially the shoulder (if it's there at all), there was a lot of traffic and it was still pouring! So, by the time we got to Pucon we were tired, grumpy and really really wet.  We started asking about places to stay and were shocked at the prices (minimum of $70.00 for a double room), we had pretty much resolved to carry on and camp in the woods when Glenn decided to ask one more place.  Luckily it was less than half that of other places.... Still way beyond our normal budget, but on this particular day, it was worth it.  We spent the evening drying out and resting!

Pucon - San Martin de Los Andes (three and a half days)

Under sunny skies we pushed off from Pucon and towards the pass into Argentina.  The road was quiet and smooth, but we knew that this would not last... We had incredible views of the Villarica Volcano behind us and the Lanin Volcano ahead... It was spectacular.  We were also joined on the road by many many road cyclists, likely out training for the Iron Man race that was taking place in Pucon in a few days.  We also hit yet another milestone today....notice the horse fly that makes a special guest appearance:


 Late afternoon we arrived at the end of the pavement, and also the Lanin Park visitors centre.  We asked about camping in the grassy area behind the centre, and we were brought over to an unmarked and fabulous little campground!   It was in the woods, and just 50 meters from a lovely it was free!  We also had a very friendly dog as company for the evening... Although he did have a bit of a jumping problem.  

Today was a dirt, sand, and gravel sort of day.    We started climbing right off up the rocks and dirt.  It was slow going, but fortunately we had done a good chunk of the climbing yesterday on pavement and we only had about 600 m of elevation gain left.  The scenery was spectacular and without a doubt some of the best of the entire trip... Snow capped mountains, rivers, lakes...good good stuff.  We did not reach the top, and the border until about 3:00pm, and then we started going down.  Unfortunately, the gravel/sand continued for another 13 km....and it was nasty riding, even though we had gravity on our side.   It was near 5:00 pm by the time we reached the pavement again, and it felt like heaven!  We eventually found a camp spot (which may or may not have involved lifting all our stuff over a fence), went through the normal evening routine and crashed just before the sun disappeared. 

We carried on down the pavement and it was lovely! The landscape had changed quite dramatically on this side the mountains.  Much drier and vaster, the rugged beauty reminded us of Bolivia in many ways.   We stopped in the town of Junin and got some groceries, as we were planning on stopping before the next town of San Martin.   We pushed on, in the heat.  This area is normally quite temperate, but seems to be experiencing a little heat wave.  Granted, it is only 30 degrees, not 42!   We finally found a camp spot, beside a little creek and enjoyed an incredible sunset in the evening.

We had a short ride to San Martin, and initially we were not planning on stopping overnight, but when Glenn mentioned the idea of taking a day off I jumped at the idea.  I think that our bodies are getting a little weary at this stage.  The ride into San Martin was intense, it seems it is touristy at this time of the year and traffic was thick and drivers seemed grumpy!  Then,  we had a hard time finding anything in our price range...but eventually we happened upon a little place run by a friendly woman and she had a cabana, which was really a big funky room with a little kitchen.  Perfect! So we will stay here a couple days, regroup and decide on our route onwards.