Sitting under the smouldering eye of Volcan Villarrica, Pucon is a South American mecca for adventure sport junkies. Here you can climb the volcano with crampons and an ice axe, raft down white water rapids, skydive or ride horses into the outback.
We left all these activities to more adventurous types and went for a bike ride instead, up to some beautiful waterfalls and on to explore Lago Caburga. Much of the ride was on ripio (gravel tracks) where predictably Andy went too fast down a slope, skidded in some loose sand and catapulted off his bike. Maybe a more extreme sport would have been safer after all!
February in Pucon is peak holiday season when this small town of 20,000 welcomes over 180,000 visitors. Full of life and great restaurants we loved it, especially as our visit coincided with an excellent Jazz and Blues Festival which entertained us late into the night.
After leaving Pucon we slowly cycled around part of the Circuito de Siete Lagos (seven lakes circuit) managing to visit five of them and staying in some interesting small towns on the way, each very different in character.
Lican Ray is a small lakeside resort full of young working families. We stayed right on the beach and enjoyed both an extraordinary sunset and a chilly morning swim.
Staying in a cabina meant we could prepare our own food. As Clare shopped for a rotisserie chicken, Andy watched a family set up stall to sell their homemade sopaipillas (fried bread topped with mustard or ketchup). So popular, they sold out in just 10 minutes but not before we’d grabbed one … it was not the healthiest snack in the world but was absolutely delicious.
Only 20km down the road was Conaripe, home to Termas Geometricas the most authentic hot springs in the area with 21 pools all at different temperature (35 to 45 degrees celsius) and set in a beautiful, narrow gorge.
Panguipulli, the last stop on our mini lake tour was full of weather board houses that gave it the feel of an America frontier town. Here we enjoyed huge rainbow trout straight out of the lake.
Some of you have have been asking about a few bits of Andy’s kit that we’ve mentioned in previous posts. He’s still wearing his favourite cycling shorts, now sporting a shiny new button but still with the French safety pins holding up the fly. The fishnet undershorts have also made the trip but now have too many holes for a photo!
Unfortunately, Andy’s super-expensive-imported-from-America leather saddle stretched and sagged so he needed a new one. After trying out lots of uncomfortable saddles in different shapes and sizes, he remembered his Dad’s old one gathering cobwebs in the corner of the shed.
Instantly it felt like sinking into a favourite armchair.
OK, it looks a little ridiculous with it’s two layers of padding and attracts many derogatory comments from real touring cyclists. But with a comfy bum after 6 hours riding, who cares!
From Panguipulli our gentle cycle around the lakes came to an abrupt end as it was now time for two days of serious riding up into the Andes. It turned out to be a bleak introduction to this famous mountain range.
We set off on a beautiful new road along the lake with lots of viewpoints to enjoy. A feature of new roads in Chile is that the distance from the start of the road is recorded every 100 metres. Unfortunately, different surveyors measure the road slightly differently making the distances more of an approximation than an exact measure.
It wasn’t the road, nor our legs, nor the many hills that marred this first day … it was the relentless rain and cold. By the end of the day Clare had hit the wall and even our bikes were complaining about the grit that had built up under their brake pads.
After 40km we came across the first sign of life and stopped at a tiny shop hoping for a hot cup of coffee. Even though they weren’t a cafe, the family took pity on these wet and bedraggled strangers and invited us to sit in their front room for a very welcome cup of Nescafé.
Still raining, we arrived at our destination – the wonderfully named Huilo Huilo (pronounced WEEL-oh-WEEL-oh and always with a smile) a private bio-reserve. Too exhausted and too wet to explore the spectacular waterfalls, volcanic museum and extraordinary hobbit inspired hotels it will be worth coming back on a sunny day (in a car!)
Early the next morning we caught the Hua Hum ferry (pronounced WAH-oom and always with a whoop) across Lagos Pirihueico and into the wilderness.
Crossing the border meant for an early lunch as we were not allowed to bring any fresh food into Argentina. They were clearly worried our tuna sandwiches, tomatoes and bananas would import some deadly disease.
It was then a tough 55km ride along a ripio track through a lakeside forest, followed by a two hour climb up to the tree line until we eventually dropped down into San Martin de los Andes. With very few lake views, it became a bit of a grind.
However, yesterdays pain was todays gain – the rain had made the track firmer and prevented dust clouds blowing up from the occasional passing car.
We were grateful for the company of the only two other cyclists crazy enough to tackle this challenge on this particular day. Pierre and Alex are two dashing young French touring cyclists, both seasoned adventurers who have already clocked 9000km on their journey from Bolivia.
his crash, Andy was a lot more careful on ripio, staying unclipped and in the granny ring for the whole day. Clare impressively ground her way up the hills by listening to Spanish-for-Beginners on a loop. Despite the improvement in her language skills, she’s decided that cycling on motorways is much more preferable to cycling on ripio!
Today the sun has come out and having enjoyed several beers by the lake we’re now looking forward to cycling further into the mountains and exploring more of Argentina.
Clare and Andy