(86) Volcanoes, lakes and goodbye to mates
After a brief encounter with fame we headed on to the start of the ‘7 lakes region’ of Argentina and to quickly discover why so many people visit this area…
Sunday 26th January
After a stunning night of stars we woke to a beautiful day and a clear view of the sparkling lake. We headed off around 10am after thanking our Argentinean neighbours for getting us supplies. It was a hot day from start to finish and we sweated our way along the Tarmac being rewarded periodically by views of stunning lakes.
As if being being happy with these stunning lakes wasn’t enough we also passed our 18,000 mile mark and stopped briefly to take a photo. As each 1,000 mile mark goes past it becomes more unbelievable and a bit surreal to be honest.
Late morning we saw the dreaded ‘road works ahead’ sign and were subjected to 10 miles (15km) of dusty rough track which we shared with an abundance of Sunday tourists.
With the temperture now in the mid 30’s we were soon soaked with sweat. As we reached the brow of one of the many short climbs Tim spotted a water fountain and headed straight for it. It wasn’t long before Sharon was in and then Joe and lizzie.It was just what we needed.
We stopped for lunch by a river and enjoyed a break from the intense sun. By mid-afternoon we were starting to feel tired and spotted a restaurant on the side of the road. Before we knew it we’d ordered a small carton of wine and 4 glasses (in lieu of a cold beer which was really expensive). We met a lovely family from Buenos Aires and enjoyed chatting with them. We decided to do another 5 miles or so and find somewhere to camp by the river further along so we didn’t have too far to go in the morning to the town of San Martin de los Andes.
We crossed a bridge and saw people relaxing beside the river so asked at the neighbouring house if we could camp and they said no problem. We pitched the tent, cooked dinner and got an early night.
Monday 27th January
It always felt calming sleeping next to a river and with 14 miles to the next town which included only a 250 metre ascent we knew it wouldn’t take long. With little condensation on the tent we were soon packed and sweating on the climb above the town. Once at the top we enjoyed a nice long descent down to a stunning lake and into a very busy town.
It was a beautiful place but with so many people it felt very intense. We spotted some pretty street art which we stopped to admire.
We found a supermarket and bought a few goodies when a guy asked Tim where he was from. He replied ‘England’ to which he made it very clear he didn’t approve – we assumed he was referring to the Falkland Islands (known as the Malvinas in Argentina). It was the first time we had this and with everyone else being very nice we just put it down to a one off. We headed into town to find a bike shop so Lizzie could change her worn bottom bracket. With the first shop saying no and the second having the wrong part, then the camp site we looked at was rubbish, then the ‘free internet’ in the town didn’t exist – we were starting to feel like we wanted to leave. Our motto is ‘if in doubt about anything drink tea first’ but as we were in Argentina we went in search of delicious ice-cream instead. After a ¼ of a kg each (at the amazing price of £2) we found the bike mechanic had a spare bottom bracket and would let us use his Internet.
Tim went off with Joe to change money returning after getting a great rate of 11.5 to the US dollar which was more than we were previously getting to the pound. He then realised he had misplaced a $100 note. Feeling like the day was never going to get better we headed out of town to find a campsite we had been told about. We arrived and although it wasn’t the cheapest, it would be ok for one night and once booked in Tim found the missing note. It had been a strange day which had been quite productive but although not as relaxing as we had hoped. We decided to have a beer and ride on the next day hoping the next town was much quieter and cheaper.
Sharon making the most of the very busy camp spot next to the very busy road.
Tuesday 28th January
We woke after a fairly good night’s sleep despite the busy highway. Joe and Lizzie headed on to the next town of Junin de los Andes as we needed to do some things on the internet. After a while we were on the road too – it was a good ride and we got our first view of the incredible Volcano Lanin which was on the border of Argentina/Chile and stands at an impressive height of 3,747 metres.
We soon arrived at the town of Junin de los Andes and Joe and Lizzie had found an awesome campsite next to the river. It was quiet and cheap (about £2.50 each) – perfect! We spent the rest of the day relaxing, eating and enjoying the calming surroundings. We lit a fire – Joe excelled himself when collecting firewood and we enjoyed relaxing next to it.
Wednesday 29th January
We spent the day washing and swimming in the river – we soon discovered that it flowed really fast and was great fun to float down it for around a mile and get out and walk back to the camp.
With another huge bundle of firewood collected Joe lit another roaring fire for the evening so we could enjoy another delicious meal together.
Thursday 30th January
After what had felt like a good rest it was time to get going. The sun was warming the tent and with Joe and Lizzie already up we slowly cleared the tent and packed the bikes before breakfast. Tim noticed his stick that was used for a bike stand had gone. It wasn’t a great loss as the end was broken, so it was time for a new one. It was a sad moment as he had had it since Romania.
It had been such a relaxing place and although it had no Internet it was probably a good thing. We were soon on the highway out of town and the scenery was stunning but with a strong head wind that had picked up through the morning it wasn’t going to be an easy day.
As we got closer to 1pm Joe and Lizzie were approaching their 10,000 km mark. It was such a great achievement and after a few photos we rode on a few hundred metres to a sheltered spot to have lunch.
With more and more clouds coming in from Chile we got going and rode the 20 mile stretch to the border. We were approaching volcano Lanin but with low clouds and rain on its way we didn’t have a great view of it and donned our rain jackets, arriving at the start of the gravel road.
It was slow going in the volcanic gravel but with the odd ray of sunlight poking through a rainbow appeared and it was a stunning sight.
Deciding to get the first border crossing done we rode to the Argentinian border where we stamped out. With fresh food in our bag and the rain now coming down a very kind border-guard let us cook our dinner in the shelter of the control allowing us to use up our vegetables that would no doubt be confiscated at the strict Chilean border control. He fetched us hot water and came out to chat while we prepared our dinner. With the worst of the weather past we thanked him for his kindness and waved goodbye to the rest of the guards. It wasn’t long before we covered the half a mile of no-man’s land past many impressive monkey-puzzle trees, to the Chilean border where we were made to put most of our bags through the scanner.
Once we had the all clear we rode on around half a mile just out of sight of the control and pitched at the foot of the volcano thrilled to have successfully ‘smuggled’ some honey through. With more and more of the volcano becoming visible we hoped that the morning would bring a clear day and the full view of this amazing mountain.
Friday 31st January
As the rain hit the tent through the night, the thought of waking to a clear day disappeared but woke to the sun hitting the tent. Tim unzipped the inner to be faced with the full view of volcano Lanin. It was stunning and we were so happy to see it close up. It felt quite surreal eating breakfast next to this huge giant that hadn’t erupted for nearly 10,000 years.
We soon joined the track and rode for another 10 miles descending out of the mountains to a nice smooth main road. It felt like bliss gliding along dropping down long, steep, smooth Tarmac into a deep valley. Wanting a break we stopped at a small shop to buy empanadas and a drink. Joe opted for a mote which was a Chilean maize and peach drink with a whole peach in it.Within the hour we couldn’t resist stopping again as we passed a small food festival – we called in, wandered around and bought a strawberry beer which was really delicious and healthy consisting of a small can of lager, a large handfull of strawberries, a large tablespoon of sugar and ice all put in a liquidizer then poured into a glass.
We soon rode into the town of Pucon which is popular with tourists due to its close proximity to another stunning volcano called Villarrica.
We hoped to climb it the following day – our friends Andrew and Emma from home had done this some years before and told us you can descent on your bottoms on the snow – this sounded great fun but we would have to see what the weather was like as the forecast was not great. We found the campsite which was a haven compared to the busy streets. We pitched our tents and ventured off to the camp kitchen to cook dinner. Joe and Lizzie had decided to stay a few days as they had plenty of time before they were due to stay with friends further north. We wanted to head on sooner so it looked like this was where we would split. We would be sad to leave them as they had been such great company. Joe bought a few bottles of wine to celebrate such a great month together and we had a great evening full of the usual laughter.
Saturday 1st February
We decided the weather was too cloudy to pay $80 each to climb Lanin and not really wanting to get up knowing we were leaving Joe and Lizzie behind it wasn’t the best start to the day. We joined them for breakfast and it felt strange that it was the last time we would see them for a while and we really would miss them.
We rode out of Pucon with the volcano already surrounded by cloud and joined the busy highway to Villarica. The road was one of the busiest roads we had been on for a long time but with the traffic being kind we made our way into the town and found a good spot next to the lake which if the volcano wasn’t surrounded by cloud it would have been even better. We picked up a couple bits from the supermarket and rode on to an almost deserted road passing rolling fields reminding us of our home in England, although no doubt much drier.
The going was good but we soon reached the next junction where we had a choice. Looking at our maps they indicated we should have gravel roads but both were Tarmac. We picked one and for the first 7 miles it was great. Our good fortune was not going to last and we soon found ourselves on a slippery and very steep gravel road. It was like riding on a concrete road that was covered in gravel and sand. At times it was so slippery and steep we had to help push each others bikes to climb the 400 metre pass.
With time getting on and feeling tired we reached the top and continued to undulate up and down steep gravelly slopes until the final descent to the next lake. We passed several farms and with all the road sides fenced all we could do was ask if we could camp. We spotted some kids in a garden so we asked if we could speak to their mum or dad. A lovely lady called Teresa came out and said yes so we pitched the tent in her garden and cooked with a lot of attention from the kids. They were so good and we showed them the tent and how we cooked and they helped us learn some Spanish.
Once we had finished our tea we were invited into their warm, cosy home to eat watermelon and have a shower. They were such a great family and we felt privileged to have been welcomed into their home. Once washed we thanked them for their kindness and headed out to our little home, ready for another day.
Sunday 2nd February
After a late night we woke tired but both slept well. Hearing drops of rain start hitting the tent we got up and quickly packed before everything got soaked. It didn’t last long and we were soon invited in for breakfast. It was so nice to sit and practice our Spanish armed with 2 dictionaries. It was great for us as it was forcing our hand into learning rather than saying Jo or Lizzie “what did they say?”
After a few games of ‘thumb wars’ with the children we said our thanks and got on the road. Surprisingly it was only just before 10am and we made good progress along the gravel road before it joined the Tarmac for the last section into the town of Cunco. We made our way to the square picking up some chocolate on the way and sat to watch a wave of rain showers pass through. We got going continuing along a nice Tarmac road towards the border and the town of Melipeuco.
This was a smallish town that sat at the base of another volcano called Volcan Llaima which was used as a ski resort in the winter. It was such a shame it was raining as it would have been a great sight.
With the rain becoming more persistent we decided to stop at a coffee shop for a hot chocolate. It was so nice and we even managed to get Internet.
With the fire lit we could have stayed there all day but knowing we would be thrown out at some point and the fact it had stopped raining we headed on out of town. The valley was stunning and with the clouds much higher it revealed an almost vertical line of mountains with a very flat valley in between. This made it amazing for cycling along the flat roads to the start of an ever narrowing valley. We stopped for lunch in a bus stop out of the rain.
We stopped at a great spot after seeing a lot of blackberries and being great fans of blackberries we soon had a huge bag full (you would have been impressed Mum Pitts!) With another crumble in mind it started to make our mouths water. As the light started to fade we stopped at a huge lava field from a previous eruption and got chatting to some very nice Canadians and after some information about the road ahead, we rode on another 5-6 miles and started to look for a good spot to camp.
With the usual fence that lined the road it was going to be tricky. Spotting a couple walking out from a farm we asked if we could camp in their field. They went off to ask their parents and came back with a yes. They showed us to a great spot next to the river but with another band of rain coming in we then started to juggle the evening cooking and drying between an ever increasing number of rain showers.
With a surprisingly warm wash in the river we could finally relax in our warm yet damp tent. With the news of the weather improving we looked forward to having dry clothes but with less rain in the mountains we knew the access to water would slowly become less and less.
Monday 3rd February
Hearing the rain bouncing off the tent is a nice sound but not when it’s time to get up. Although we were in a beautiful valley it felt cold and very damp. With the ground sheet wet and a few drops of water coming in through the fly sheet we just wanted to stay in our warm sleeping bags until the sun came out but with a thick layer of cloud drifting up through the valley we knew it wasn’t going to happen soon.
We pushed our bikes back onto the gravel road to continue up the rest of the climb. It was tough going but with slightly less gradient we made good progress whilst enjoying watching the vapour billow out of the forest as if it was on fire.
As we climbed so did the clouds revealing an enchanted woodland covered in a light green bearded lichen which is a sign of how clean the air is. It was truly stunning.
We finally reached the start of the high lake at around 1,200 metres and climbed and descended a few short sharp steep hills until we reached the town of Icalma. We stopped at a shop for a few bits mainly chocolate and biscuits and headed down to the lake to make lunch. We sat chatting to a few locals whilst we dried the tent in the few rays of sun we could get.
We headed off with the sight of rain clouds coming up through the valley and to our surprise what we thought was a climb to the next junction ended up being a gentle descent with the odd hill thrown in that meandered through a wide flat valley. The road was good and with rays of light breaking through the clouds lighting up the tiny settlements and their tin roofs it made for a nice ride. By the time we were nearing the junction Sharon was feeling tired and once on the Tarmac we turned to the border to see the control was right at the junction. We checked out of Chile once again and went for a hot chocolate and have a break. We were at 1,050 metres and with the pass at 1,880 metres we decided to get part of it done before we stopped to make tomorrow an easier day. It was great going on the Tarmac with a nice steady climb and with 250 metres out the way we spotted a piece of ground just off the road and perfect for a camp. Tim built a small fire and once the tent was up he started making a delicious crumble using the blackberries we had picked earlier that day and once made we sat around the fire ready to enjoy another great crumble.
Tuesday 4th February
With the alarm going off it meant it was 8am. Sharon got up while Tim struggled to open his eyes – he sleepily said it was all the effort he had put into making the blackberry crumble. The sky was clear so when we popped our heads up above the road we could see a volcano in full view off in the distance. It had been fascinating seeing such giants that hold such a destructive power that most people could never comprehend. Yet here they stood in silence and grandeur, some with ski fields others providing a source of water or mineral rich soil.
Climbing away from them and the lush green expanse of southern Chile would be something we would miss for now and climbing over the near 1,900 metre pass would not let us forget the beauty we had seen.
It was a great climb at a steady gradient and as we reached the summit the wind increased. We passed 2 mounted police on a border patrol before finally reaching the summit and an amazing descent down into Argentina.
It took a while to get stamped in but once through, we were blown along and so looked for a sheltered spot out of the wind. We didn’t stop long and were reminded of the far south desperately trying to keep the flying dust out of our lunch. With around 26 miles to Las Lajas where we planned to have a rest day, we re-joined the road and the amazing tail wind.
The scenery was amazing with clear volcanic action and stunning rock displays it felt like we were in another land. It was such a contrast to where we had come from with yellow dry plains and high rocky outcrops with amazing rock formations.
We were flying averaging between 25 and 35 mph. We soon reached the town of Las Lajas and it felt like a ghost town. We checked it wasn’t Sunday and realised it was siesta time – Argentineans take siesta much more seriously than the Chileans. With half an hour to wait before everyone woke up, we relaxed in the park and soon the town was the bustling town we were expecting. We picked up supplies and headed to the campsite for a day off. By the time we arrived the wind was now really strong with sandstorms coming off the plains. Managing to find a fairly sheltered spot and a Swiss couple who had been cycle touring for nine years, working along the way, we were in good company for the night listening to their stories and advice but not being envious of their ride west into the strong wind that had blown us here.
Wednesday 5th February
We listened to the Swiss couple leaving early as they were hoping to get going before the wind got up and we were grateful for a lie in. We spent the day doing the usual chores and enjoyed a relatively wind free day. It turned out to be very productive after finding a taylor in the town who could sew up all the holes that were starting to form in our clothes. We were leaving the next day and heading north to the city of Mendoza which would be another great landmark for us after reading many cyclists accounts of the city and the infamous 3,000 metre pass west to Santiago. We thought it would take us around 2-3 weeks depending on the wind direction on the next section north on the ‘Ruta 40’…..
Thanks for reading!