In the end Clare didn’t have to throw her toys out the pram!
She didn’t even have to resort to the advice our good friend Maria gave her before we left … “you’re a strong girl, Clare, but remember if it ever gets too tough … just cry!”
The charms of the Casa Chueca (the wobbly house) seduced Andy to stay for another day and then another and then another. We used the time to plan our ride through the agricultural belt of mid-Chile and realised that the distances between accommodation would become even bigger – one day topped 150km.
Maybe it was time to jump on a bus?
We’d always understood that buses in Chile were happy to accommodate cyclists, especially if the bikes were carefully packed in cardboard boxes.
But as soon as our bus arrived, it was clear there was going to be a problem!
Many Chilean buses are double deckers with first class downstairs, standard class up top. The space for those luxury first class seats is taken from the luggage compartment which is squeezed into a high, small trunk at the rear. It’s tight, even for normal suitcases.
To be fair, the driver and his helpers did their best to get our bikes on but it soon became obvious they simply weren’t going to fit. As the other passengers started to glare in our direction, he decided to do the right thing and dumped both us and our oversized boxes by the roadside before disappearing off in a trail of dust.
A taxi? A rental car? Hitchhiking?
In the end, the best option was to ship the bikes as cargo and get ourselves onto another bus. As it was one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year this was easier said than done but we did manage to grab the last two seats on the last bus out of town, arriving in Temuco at 2am.
The problem was that the bikes would take a bit longer to make the same trip … not arriving for another 5 days.
So here is our confession …
We haven’t ridden our bicycles anywhere at all for ten days!
Nothing. Nada. Not a single pedal stroke.
Our journey by bus proved to be interesting. As the main form of public transport, bus stations are jam packed with travellers, stalls and mayhem. They have the feel of a busy airport with buses gliding in and out every few minutes, transporting people and goods to every corner of the country.
Although the route is only advertised between major cities, the driver will happily pull over in the middle of nowhere to drop passengers off or to welcome waitresses laden with pre-ordered food and drinks.
This enforced lack of cycling has meant we’ve been free to explore the country in a different way.
We took a trip from Talca up to the Laguna del Maule near the Argentine border. A large magma bubble is lifting this lake and the volcanoes around it by 2.5cm every month which means we’d be nearly 1 metre higher if we were to come back in three years time. Mind you, in three years time we wouldn’t be able to enjoy watching condors soar above the magnificent waterfalls that tumble out of the lake. Chile’s biggest hydro-electric project is going to turn the tap off and redirect the water down some huge pipes instead.
To reward ourselves at the end of a long dusty ride across the middle of Chile, we had booked a couple of nights at La Baita Ecolodge in Conguillío National Park as a special treat. Now bike-less, we rented a car in Temuco, changed the dates and went anyway.
This proved to be a blessing in disguise as the car meant we could explore more of the park and were fresh enough to tackle two of its iconic hikes. Set around the still active Llaima volcano (it last erupted in 2008), the huge larva fields, glaciers, crystal clear lakes and ancient forests of Conguillío are achingly beautiful.
It was the trees that really took our breath away. Araucaria (Monkey Puzzle trees) and Southern Beech competed for domination 40-50 metres above our heads as we strolled through a soft low canopy of Chilean Bamboo. Often described as a living fossil most of the Araucaria we walked past were over 1000 years old.
We met a wonderful group of Canadian women from Kingston Ontario, one of whom was Jenica Rayne, a professional musician and singer songwriter who was able to conjure up any song on her guitar. It turned out that Isobel, the owner of La Baita, was also a well know singer in her youth so whilst she entertained us with some haunting Chilean love songs, the rest of us tried to remember the words of songs ranging from Dylan classics to Jason Mraz.
Perhaps the moral of our story is that sometimes it can be better for touring cyclists to get off their saddles and explore the world in a different way. We would have missed the wonderful hiking and the even more wonderful sing-a-long if that driver in Talca had let us squeeze our bikes onto his bus.
“Well open up your mind and see like me.
Open up your plans and damn you’re free”
Jason Mraz, from I’m Yours
We’re pleased to say that this story does have a happy ending … our bikes have arrived on time and intact!
This morning we’re back in the saddle, heading towards the Andes and the famous Chilean lakes. There are some challenging rides ahead but we’re really, really, really looking forward to it!
Clare and Andy