So after almost three weeks with Jeroen, Grecia and Gabriel, I was ready to pick up my nomadic rhythm once again.
When I arrived in Chiloé, I had no idea where I was going next. So after a good rest and some decent planning, I now knew where I was heading the next few months.
In a way, winter simplifies my route options a lot. North of Santiago, snowfall closes down all the mountain passes/borders between Chile and Argentina, except for two. There’s the paso Cristo Redentor between Santiago and Mendoza and the paso Jama, all the way in the North, close to San Pedro de Atacama.
Winter in this part of the country means rain. Therefore I wasn’t very tempted to go wander off in Chile’s lake district either. With some detour, I would make it to Valdivia. Then I would follow the coast up to Concepcion and Valparaiso, to cross towards Mendoza and Argentina. From there, I’ll be heading towards Salta and Jujuy in Argentina before entering the fifth country of my trip: Bolivia.
What’s more, is that my mother is going to come visit me in Bolivia in September! This is a great motivation to keep going the next couple of months. It also gives me a time frame: I have to get there in the beginning of September.
“So let’s go!”, I thought.
After a beautiful day cycling towards the north of the island (rugged coastline, little traffic, lots of steep mountains, dolphins playing in the waves (!) and spectacular bays), I got to Chacao from where one can take the ferry back to the continent.
The former boss of Grecia and his wife hosted me. I had talked to him on the phone in the morning, but when I got there in the night, he had no clue who I was. Turned out he has dementia. Luckily his lovely wife saved me and they took me in as I was their grandson.
Jeroen had also set me up with Miguel, a tourist guide in Puerto Varas. Just before getting there, in the city of Puerto Montt, I had also met Zara and her husband who invited me for lunch the next day in Puerto Varas. The beginning of some weeks full of lovely encounters!
So after cycling for only two days, I already had myself a rest day, which also made me finally update the blog.
Miguel’s family turned out to be really sweet, especially their daughter was just too cute. I headed over for lunch to Zara’s house and joined Valentina, the oldest daughter, to have dinner with her friends. I sure wasn’t traveling alone these days!
I had now made it to the Llanquihue lake. Two volcanoes, Calbuco and Osorno, turned it into a very spectacular setting! Calbuco had erupted just a couple of years ago, the footage is mind-blowing!
I camped at the beach of the lake, overlooking both volcanoes. Not bad, not bad at all!
When I got to the bigger city of Osorno, I still didn’t want to follow the highway number 5. So I cut through the fields, asking if I could pitch my tent at a farm. They wouldn’t let me! Instead they would take me in, put me next to the fire, feed me and let me sleep in a bed. A beautiful gesture that would be repeated!
I crossed the Rio Bueno by boat (the man only wanted to charge me 1.5 euro) and headed down a ripio towards Hueicolla at the coast. Little did I knew what awaited me…
Road conditions had always been good in Chile, making me not worry too much. Therefore I didn’t asked around how the road up ahead was. First, there was a ridiculous amount of steep hills, just one after the other. Up and down, till I would make it to the office of the Conaf, the nature preservation organisation, at 1000m. There was only one ranger staying at this time of the year, and it was so kind of him to let me stay in a house, light the fireplace and ask his only neighbour to bake bread for me.
Next day, I went hiking a bit, because the oldest living thing that I will see in this entire continent was standing at just two km from the road. Alerce trees grow with just one mm per year, and there I was! Facing a 3500 (!!!) year old tree! It’s greatness was hard to capture on photo. The front was about 1.5m wide, but the side was almost 4m!! That sure was worth a small hike!
Back to the road then. More up and down (loose rocks also made me push the bike more than I would like to admit), before having a huge downhill towards the coast. Dropping 1000m over 17 km over bad dirt road, sure was fun! But even here I had to push some km’s! A layer of 30 cm of mud blocked the road. The few locals that had passed me, even had to put on their snow chains to get through!
While having lunch, my legs and bike all covered in mud, I had a big grin on my face. I felt so alive. I was absolutely loving the struggle, not bothered whatsoever with the slow progress. Last couple of years of cycling had tought me how to deal with these situations, how to be patient, how not to worry, and how to enjoy while keeping your head up.
It wasn’t over yet. A 30m river crossing awaited, after which I had to climb back to 700m altitude. I could only guess how the road was going to be on the other side of the river, too…
Stupidly, I first crossed the river at the wrong place, which just got me to the beach (very pretty though). So I headed back, searching where the actual coastal road was running. By now I had discovered that my panniers float! I couldn’t believe it! With not much current in the river, it was much easier to cross it than expected, even if the water reached my hip.
After cleaning off all the mud in the river, I started climbing through the ‘Valdivian jungle’. With such a high water level in the river, it was obvious that not many cars (or any at all?) could cross. Therefore, the road was now totally deserted and unmaintained. Dodging rocks, branches and creeks, I slowly made my way up. I pitched the tent next to the road, before continuing the struggle. Rain had washed away a great part of the road, still there was some absolutely great cycling too. The brakes got a very good test-run and I was having one heck of an adventure.
For the first time in a long time, I put on my helmet and kept the speed somewhat down in the downhill, knowing very well that it could take a looong time for someone to pass me here to help me out.
I got out of the jungle and back at the coast without big problems and headed towards Corral to take the ferry to Niebla, close to Valdivia. Not having a place to stay in Valdivia yet, I asked a family if I could pitch my tent in the garden.
Next day, I got to Valdivia early. Although my panniers had floated in the river, crossing it three times had made everything somewhat wet. My toes were killing me already for some time (winter toes they call it in Belgium: red, a bit swollen, itchy, burning feeling), and a wound was starting to infect (while doing the workaway I had somehow managed to drill a small hole in my foot). I was going to stay with Tamara, Grecia’s daughter, but she went to Chiloé for the weekend. It was raining and I was cold. So I searched a room to spent the night. At the market, I met a woman who charged me 13 euro to rent a room in her house. The place was all rundown and dirty, but the shower was hot. Nice!!
The bike needed some essential maintenance. After 12.500 km, it was time to change to chain and sprocket. The brake pads were gone too. But first: new shoes! With my toes still burning, I couldn’t bear the idea of wearing these wet, rundown shoes any longer. Therefore I searched some proper waterproof hiking boots (the guy gave me a lovely 15% discount luckily).
Bertille had been offered some work in the city as a French translator, so she hitchhiked from Chiloé to Valdivia, leaving her bike. Great to see her again! She had been living here for 10 months already, so she was a great guide too.
I then moved to the family where Tamara (Jeroen and Grecia’s daughter) also was staying for two nights. It was great to meet her, to finally get to know the whole family. She studies English, so I helped her out a bit with that, and we went to visit the museums Valdivia has to offer.
Finally, Pamela and her mother, Bertille’s friends, offered to host me for another couple of days. In return, I helped them around the house.
I spent some more days hanging out with my new friends, cycling around searching parts for the bike, going to the movies, learning about the German colonisation,…
The costanera (along the river) and cycleways make it nice to go around by bike. And the sea lions are just too funny!