2/12/10 to 16/12/10 440km
Arriving on the night bus from Santiago to Temuco we awoke to the unfamiliar sound of rain on the road and grey gloomy skies. We had arrived in the south we had wanted to be for so long, and it was a sudden shock to be donning the waterproof gear at 6:30am and riding into the drizzly cold rain of Temuco. Be very careful for what you wish for...after so long on the altiplano and in the desert of the north without any substantial rain and the brown, red and yellow hues of the landscapes, we had been dreaming of lush green forests, clear mountain streams, waterfalls and even the sensation of rain on our faces. Well now we had it and wondered just how it was going to go over the next months heading south!
Luckily we had been invited by a friendly woman Miriam on the bus to go and stay with her and her two granddaughters, to get some sleep and prepare for leaving the next day. “Of course, why would you go to a hospedaje? You should come to my house where it’s warm, i have a bed, stay as long as you need” she told us. So by 7:00am and a little wet and cold after a short ride from the bus we fell straight into Chilean hospitality of the south with home cooked meals, a warm bed and a friendly family.
PN Conguillo and the Araucaria wonderland
Leaving Temuco behind the weather cleared up as we rode through farmland, blooming flowers on the roadside, a distant view of Volcan Villarica and the looming Volcan Llaima ahead us still draped in cloud. Traffic decreased with every village we passed through and by the time the road entered the beech forest we were on a narrow dirt road devoid of traffic climbing steeper in the direction of the Volcano. We actually reached the border of the Parque Nacional Conguillo the first day and camped near the ‘Salto de Lan Lan’.
The next day we climbed higher into the first of the araucaria forest and skirted around the north western slopes of the volcano through mixed beech and araucaria forest.
The silhouettes of the drooping top heavy branches of the araucaria made an impressive site against the glowing white snowy cone of Volcan Llaima. At 3125m one of the most active volcanoes in southern Chile (along with Volcan Villarica) last erupting in 2008.
The road to renter the park from the north was built over lava flow from a 1957 eruption so was rocky and sandy and a challenge to re-climb some 500m of elevation that we had just lost. But after some hard riding soon we were among the araucarias again before a short steep climb that we had to 'two-man push' bikes up and over among more awesome forest this time giant coihue beech trees before descending to the camping area at Lago Conguillio.
The next day we left the bikes at camp and hiked up the Sierra Nevada trail some 7km up a ridgeline through huge Coihue (beech) forest with the sound of woodpeckers echoing through the trees to a series of lookouts over Lago Conguillo and Volcan Llaima. We emerged onto a snowy ridge lined with ancient araucarias and jaw dropping views of Volcan Villarica in the far distance, the twin peaks of Volcan Llaima and her black and red lava flows interspersed with green forest, Lago Conguillo shimmering like a jewel, and a pair of condors circling above in the blue sky.
A pair of condors in flight above the Sierra Nevada trail, PN Conguillio
Carpintero Negro (Campephilus magellanicus)
An araucaria wonderland!
Why a ‘monkey puzzle’ tree? When we thought about this question I had thought that the hexagonal shaped bark appeared like some sort of wooden puzzle that maybe only a monkey could figure out. But after doing some research it got its name in England after someone remarked over one of the first specimens to be grown there in a garden “It would puzzle a monkey to climb that”. It didn’t already have a common name and therefor the name stuck.
The Mapuche call it the Pehuen and it was a very important source of food with its edible nuts that taste like large pine nuts. Anyone for basil and pehuen pesto?
Heading south out of the park was another spectacular days riding over a black lava flow from a 1950’s eruption of Llaima. Have you ever ridden over a lava field before?
Pucon and the pouring rain!
Arriving into the campground in Pucon we met up with this hardcore bunch of riders from Flagstaff Arizona and Marin county California on a 6 week tour of the Araucania and lakes districts and shared some good old pizza pie, beers, stories of the road and laughs at a wood oven pizza joint in town.
That’s Joe Murray ‘1984/85 Norba mtb champion and frame builder’ with his own custom designed touring rig ‘Sendero, Roper ‘the redneck’, Anna (enjoying the attention of these gentlemen)and John the ‘I am more Italian than Italy’ from Marin County just before the rains really kicked in. (Thanks guys for the pizza, beer, laughs, bike tune-up and REI complimentary spare parts!!!)
In Pucon the heavens opened for nearly two full days of torrential rain where our tent was flooded from the ground on up. Luckily we had a refuge at the campground where we could sit, cook, eat, plan and wait for the rains to stop, as usual with the campground dogs. Any plans to visit the PN Huerquehue, or climb Volcan Villarica were quickly dampened or flooded by the rain, which meant all there was to do was rest!
In Between the Volcanoes on the ‘Camino Intransitable’
As soon as the weather showed signs of letting up we hit the dirt road towards Volcan Villarica. We met up with our biking friends from the UK Hugh and Pauline and with the grey skies and big climb ahead to 1200m we decided to stop early and camp nearby the ‘Salto de la China’, a spectacular 73m high waterwall flowing well after the recent rain and spraying the surrounding dense valley with fine mist.
Anna mesmerised by the awesome sound and spray from ‘Salto de la China’
Hugh and Pauline from Cumbria, UK on a 6 month South America trip. This one was taken near where we met in Cunco
At the National Park entrance a sign declared that the road from here on is ‘intransitable to cars and only hikers should continue’. I think they underestimated the power of the mountain bike and the determination of the four of us. Indeed the road soon turned into a two wheel jeep track deeply rutted and with large stones embedded in the surface and at times extremely steep and off-camber.
Mostly rideable but in places we were reduced to pushing our heavily loaded beasts of burden up steep pinch climbs, deep ruts and through water crossings.
By the time we reached the pass at 1230m it was snowing or sleeting and no time to dwell in the Araucaria wonderland we were in.
Anna with Pauline close behind near the pass and it started snowing!
This time in a very different mood than PN Conguillo, grey skies and snow falling, the silhouettes of the Araucaria created an eerily beautiful black and white scene.
The descent was bliss through moss covered grey trunks over firm damp volcanic soil. This would have been heavy mountain biking on ‘wildside’ starting off in snow, over huge lateral Arauracaria roots, through deep ruts, over rocks, through streams and with the extra weight we were carrying the bikes stuck to everything we rode.
From the snow...
To the dirt stuff meshed with tree roots... Pure adventure mountain bike touring, this is what we are doing it for! and well worth the pushing and straining on the climb to enjoy the downhill.
Hugh negotiating one of the many 'water hazards' of the route while Anna looks on "mmm at what point do I jump in to help Hugh?..."
Hugh and Pauline performed faultlessly on the rough dirt with drop bars on their Audax style bikes not showing any sign that they had never ridden mountain bike trails at all (well done guys!). They rode it all like seasoned professionals and later thanked us for giving them some confidence riding as four and not just the two.
Exiting the park and the ‘intransitable’ section of road a felled beech tree with a girth of maybe 150cm blocked the road for cars....definitely intransitable from this direction! So the road improved and the descent continued past a number of famous hotspring resorts including the luxury ‘Termas Geometricas’ but none of them would allow camping nearby so we declined their services and not so ‘biker friendly’ attitudes and rolled on downhill in search of a place to camp.
Near Coñaripe we ended up asking a friendly lady Pamela if we could camp on her property next to her restaurant if we bought some bread or food from her.
She didn’t have bread to sell but allowed us to pitch our tents next to her ‘Quincho’ (a five or six sided stone building with a fireplace in the centre - backgorund left in picture) and within minutes was organising a fire inside for us to keep warm and a place to cook our dinner.
The next moment she invited us to milk her cow with her and while she was able to extract 10 litres in a short time all of us could only manage a few awkward squeezes and a few small squirts of milk, not even enough for a cafe latte. She then showed us how to make fresh cheese from the milk, gave us fresh hot milk and freshly baked bread. As Anna would say, we had fallen with our noses into the butter! Some more amazing Chilean hospitality in the south!
Her two boys then led us on an evening tour to a hidden lagoon and an enchanted forest of Arrayanes. Gracias a Pamela, Nicolas y Matias por todo!
Biking companions, hotsprings and waterfalls
On the crossing between the volcanoes in PN Villarica with Hugh and Pauline we also met two cyclists from Buenos Aires, Sergio and Ricardo. Firstly at the Salto de la China and then we followed their two tyre tracks in the snow ahead of us until we left the park. For the next two days we would cross their path on the road hopping ahead and then falling behind, exchanging some conversation then moving on each at our own pace. At the Termas de Manquecura they joined us for some food, wine and mate not to mention some late night soaking in the hotsprings.
Sergio and Ricardo on their yearly two week tour, usually in the lakes district or Araucania of Chile. Gracias para acompañarnos por un par de dias en la Araucania.
Spectacular smoking Volcan Villarica from the road between Liquine and Neltume
The ‘Salto Huilo Huilo’ an impressive and powerful waterfall on the Rio Fuy where the azul waters squeeze through black volcanic basalt rock and plunge 30 metres into a white thundering mist with rainbows and rainforest vegetation clinging to the cliffs.
The sad thing here is that the waterfalls and the access to Volcan Choshuenco lie in a private reserve ‘Reserva Huilo Huilo’ (owned by the same person who owns the timber forests of the area) which charges some extortionate fees for viewing the waterfall, let alone going into the reserve to the mirador or to go trekking. They have developed some sort of monopoly on nature with a couple of bizarre high end hotels built in the forest like the ‘Boabab’ or ‘Magic mountain’, and a ‘cerveceria’ (microbrewery) and then charge high fees to access to the reserve itself.
Otherwise Neltume was a strange, quiet Mapuche village built on the timber industry in the surrounding hills but we found a beautiful little campground right on the Rio Fuy to rest for a day before continuing on into Argentina via the ferry crossing to Puerto Pirihueico.
Anna enjoying the scenery on lago Pirihueico letting the boat do the kilometres for once!
(info for other bikers: the ferry left at 1pm from Puerto Fuy and cost 3080 COP including the bike and took an hour and a half to Puerto Pirihueico)
In the north like Peru, Bolivia and Chile we would sometimes seek out the harder, higher passes in the Andes like Paso Sol de Mañana in Bolivia at 4900m (our highest to date) but for this crossing at Paso Huahum at only 645m we were aiming for one of the lowest passes across the Andes we have done so far. In fact, a fault in the geography of the mountains means that Lago Lacar in Argentina actually drains west into Chile and into the Pacific Ocean, the first time that it does so from Argentina coming down the Andes from the north so even after the border crossing we were climbing into Argentina.
The Araucania of Chile was a beautiful two weeks of riding, some off the beaten track back routes on quiet roads through National Parks and on the Chilean Interlagos route. We had both been looking forward to seeing the ‘pehuen’ or ‘monkey puzzle’ trees of which we had the pleasure of riding through huge forests of under blue skies and through blowing snow highlighting their distinctive moods. Hiking high above the snowline where these trees rule surrounded by smoking snow capped volcanoes with soaring condors was a highlight in PN Conguillo (a big 'gracias' a Juano in Santiago for recommending this as his favourite place in the Chile!!!). Meeting plenty of other biking companions along the way was another highlight. The feared rain and wet conditions didn’t really eventuate and after those wet days in Pucon it was back to blue skies, hot riding and amazing views. After the Araucania we really feel like we have arrived in ‘the south’...next stop Argentina and Patagonia!
Thanks for joining the journey with us
Hasta la proxima
Ali and Anna