11.26.2003-12.24.2003       Valparaiso, Chile to San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina
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Due to its prominence in literature and history books Valparaiso was another place that took hold in my consciousness long before this trip began. The city has a storied past of pirates and commercial eminence and is now attempting to regain some of its former prestige. However, the cyclist’s impressions are always tightly coupled to geography. I will remember Valparaiso as the steepest city of the trip. The ride out of Valparaiso set the tone for coastal riding in Chile. I struggled up an impossible grade, wishing I could bring my bike on one of the many funicular railways that whisk pedestrians into the upper reaches of the city. My destination for the day, Thanksgiving Day, was the coastal town of Isla Negra, former home to Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. My plan was to ride the coast, thus avoiding the busy inland highway. Unfortunately, my map was incorrect and some time after Laguna Verde the road began to deteriorate. It ended abruptly at a beautiful overlook of Las Docas, a secluded cove that was once a haven for pirates. After several more futile attempts along various tracks I conceded defeat and made the tiring backtrack to the main highway. I managed to reach Isla Negra the next day and truly enjoyed the tour of Pablo Neruda’s former residence and his eclectic collection of items from around the world. After San Antonio the road turned inland and if the scenery was not so special at least the traffic was light. I returned to the coast at Pichilemu, home to some of Chile’s biggest waves and therefore a big surfer destination.

The coast after Pichilemu was certainly much more remote than that further North. Commercial forests, mostly of pine though occasionally of eucalyptus, dominated the landscape. I encountered occasional small fishing villages/tourist towns. Inland, at Lo Vladivia, I was surprised to see salt pans still in use. The route alternated between pavement and gravel and I soon began to translate the “End of Pavement” sign into “Steep Hills Ahead.” The section before, around and after Lake Vichquen was particularly tough. Never have I had to push/pull/drag my bike up so many hills. But there was a reward at the end of the day--a seaside room in the sleepy fishing village of Duao. When I approached Consititucion I was tired and thought a rest day might be in order. But, despite its scenic location, Consititucion is a rather unsightly place. I spent a night and then pushed on. Unsightly towns were somewhat of a theme along the coast so I frequently found myself wild camping in the plentiful forests. By the time I reached Concepcion my knees were aching so I was forced to rest. I wondered if my pains were solely due to the hilly riding of late or if, after nearly a year and a half of cycling, my body was telling me it had had enough.

I rested again at Laraquete, one of the many beaches south of Concepcion. For me it was perfect weather for lounging on the beach--sunny and cool. But the Chileans’ tolerance for the cold always impresses me. While I sat on the beach just staying comfortable in a fleece top they were all clad in bathing outfits, with several braving the frigid waters. It was the last day I would see clear skies for some time. The next several days I encountered rain of varying intensities. As I turned inland the commercial forests gave way to farms and ranches and the towns, many settled by German and Swiss in the late 1800s, became a bit sightlier. But the terrain remained hilly and it wasn’t until after Temuco that I had my first flat day of riding on this leg. That day I arrived in Villarica, my gateway to the much anticipated Lakes District of Chile and Argentina. I proceeded directly to La Torre Suiza, a backpacker’s hostel run by a Swiss couple. After travelling the world by bike for several years they had settled in Villarica. Upon arriving I heard my Swiss friends Dominique and Marian were already in residence. By coincidence we had rendezvoused on an opportune date--our one and a half year anniversary. That night we celebrated with a traditional Swiss meal.

My primary goal for the area was to summit Villarrica volcano. However, the weather had different plans. The first day brought more heavy rains. On day two we made it as far as the base of the climb before being turned back due to heavy winds and cloud cover. Clear skies finally prevailed on day three. It was the first truly clear day in weeks so there were literally hundreds of climbers on the mountain. Fortunately I was with a fast group and we reached the summit first, picking our way through fresh snow all the way. We descended in a very quick and enjoyable fashion--on our butts. From Villarrica I was Argentina-bound. The first day I detoured to Lake Caburgua, passing several pleasant waterfalls along the way. A dip in the cold but tolerable waters of the lake ended another perfect day. The next day I crossed the frontier for my third time. The pass was at a mere 4,000 ft. so I was expecting a relatively easy ride. But more stiff grades and loose gravel took their tool. At the end of the day I was rewarded with close-up views of the Volcano Lanin. Vegetation changed almost immediately along the frontier, the thick pine forests being replaced by native forests of araucias.

I was glad to be returning to Argentina. I’d had nothing but good experiences during my first visit and was hoping for a repeat during my second visit. My first night I camped at the base of Lanin and experienced anew Argentinean hospitality. After seeing me cooking a rice dish for dinner (definitely not up to Argentinean culinary standards) the camp attendant asked me to join him for a proper dinner of Argentinean beef. However, along with Argentinean hospitality came Argentinean late dinner times. I was sound asleep long before he started cooking. I descended the next day, leaving the trees behind and entering the pampas. After a night in the pleasant(it seems this is an unnecessary adjective in Argentina) town of Junin de los Andes I proceeded to San Martin de los Andes, perfectly situated on Lake Lacar. The next day was another well chosen(i.e. very cold and wet) rest day. From San Martin, again in the company of my Swiss friends, I embarked on The Seven Lakes Route. It was a full day of tough riding but the scenery was splendid. That night we camped along one of the many lakes and the following day enjoyed another scenic ride to the town of Bariloche. Another lakeside town and famous for its chocolates, it would be our home for Christmas.
DistanceElevation GainFlat Tires
Leg1054 mi/1696 km70810 ft/23231 m
Trip18324 mi/29489 km201 mi/324 km23
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