Back to Argentina

Adrian taking photos of the lake in Bariloche

Adrian taking photos of the lake in Bariloche

19 November – Day 120

Bariloche, Argentina
Distance: 0kms

Bariloche is an absolutely stunning town. It sits on a massive freshwater lake, Nahuel Huapui, and is surrounded by gorgeous mountains. It reminds me a little bit of Queenstown in NZ and a little bit of Switzerland. Although it was really cold when we arrived last night, this morning was lovely – sunny and bright… perfect weather for a 5km walk to the base of Cerro Otto and a ride up the mountain in a cable car! The view from the top was spectacular. We sat in the sun for a while, admiring the view and watching paragliders take off and slowly descend the 2000m or so back to the Bariloche town centre. So relaxing, it was great. We then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering into different shops and cafes and tasting some of the town’s famous chocolate. Dinner was comprised of the best empanadas I’ve had on the trip so far… full of fresh spinach, ricotta and just a touch of garlic, onion and chilli… delicious!

The view from the top of Cerro Otto, Bariloche

The view from the top of Cerro Otto, Bariloche

18 November – Day 119

Puerto Varas, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina
Distance: 280kms

We got new tyres on the bike today and headed for Bariloche, back over the border in Argentina. It’s a town famous for its chocolate – as well as the stunning lakes and mountains that surround it. The border crossing was good; another example of Chilean/Argentinian efficiency. The ride was very pretty, with huge lakes and snow-topped mountains, volcanoes and glaciers accompanying us for much of the route. We also had an early opportunity to experience some of the infamous Route 40 wind, which is so strong that it’s literally blown many a biker off their bike and the only way to ride in it is to lean the bike at quite an angle into the wind. I have to say, I’m happy that I’ll miss most of it by flying back up from Usuhaia to Buenos Aires at the end of the trip rather than riding – and it’ll be easier for Adrian to ride in it without me on the back, too.

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The pub (and city and country) with no beer…

A sign on a supermarket shelf telling customers that the sale of alcohol is banned for the day

Alcohol aisle in the Puerto Varas supermarket on the day of the alcohol ban – the covered all the shelves with shade cloth!

17 November – Day 118

Valdivia, Chile to Puerto Varas, Chile
Distance: 220kms

Today is election day in Chile and, in a very familiar sight, people are streaming into local schools to cast their (voluntary) vote. In a few of the cities we drove through, the police had closed streets around schools to cars and there were people walking everywhere. I didn’t see hoards of volunteers handing out ‘how to vote’ cards though – maybe they don’t do that here?

We started the day with a leisurely walk along the river into town for coffee. The sea lions from yesterday had moved upstream about 500m and were hanging about right outside the fish market.. not surprising really, given the guts etc being chucked by fishmongers into the water – and in some cases, right into a sea lion’s mouth! It was very entertaining to watch.

There’s a famous brewery in town, Kunstmann, and we’d planned on doing a brewery tour followed by lunch in the (apparently) excellent restaurant there. What we hadn’t planned on was the fact that it’s illegal to sell or serve alcohol in Chile on election day. Seriously. The ban applies nationwide, for the full 24 hours and appeared to be strictly followed… at the brewery, we were advised that we could still do the tour if we wanted to, however they would only be offering alcohol-free beer as a part of the tasting (not withstanding Adrian’s pleas for just a little taste of the other stuff!). We were also welcome to order a beer flight in the restaurant, however we would only get alcohol-free beer. So disappointing! And yet somehow hilarious…

Adrian standing outside the Kunstmann brewery

Adrian standing outside the Kunstmann brewery

Later on, once we’d reached Puerto Varas, there were a few more examples of how seriously the ban is taken: the restaurant we ate in for dinner had big signs in their window saying ‘we’re not serving alcohol today,’ and in a local supermarket, they’d actually draped shade cloth over the shelves in the alcohol aisle and plastered it with big signs.

We’re in a part of the Chilean Lakes District that is famous for looking (and being) like Bavaria in Germany. I’m not sure I agree. There were other towns further north that definitely reminded me of Switzerland or southern Germany, but not where we are now. The only German-eske thing that happened was when I walked into a hostel to check their rooms and prices, the first question the woman asked me was ‘do you speak German?’

Sea lions in Chile

Sea lions by the promenade

Sea lions by the promenade

16 November – Day 117

Pucon, Chile to Valdivia, Chile
Distance: 229kms

We had a lovely (self-drive) scenic tour of several of the lakes this morning – they’re all slightly different yet equally impressive. Still no sailboats though… maybe it’s not a thing here? It’s another glorious Chilean spring day… perfect weather for being outside.

Lunch overlooking one of the lakes was a picnic of freshly-baked bread, gourmet olive tapenade (from the olive farm we visited in Maipu, near Mendoza), salted almonds and dried apricots. We were entertained by a friendly pack of local dogs who seemed to ‘own’ the park and really went for each car that drove past. I don’t know how they managed to say out from under the wheels each time; they seemed to get sooo close… but they always survived to chase down the next car. And the next one. And the next one. I was very glad that we didn’t have to ride past them on our way out of town; I’ve had more than my fair share of dog chases while on the bike and don’t feel that I need to experience any more games of chasey first hand!

A boat on the shore of a lake

One of the lakes where we stopped along the way

We made it to Valdivia by early afternoon and went for a walk along the river here into the old town. The surprise for the day came in the form of multiple sea lions lounging around on piers just outside of the city centre! A few minutes before seeing them, I saw what I thought was a strange sign on the promenade along the lines of ‘DANGER do not under any circumstances walk your domesticated pets along here at RISK of ATTACK.’ At the time, I thought it was pretty funny that they’d warn of some sort of random attack on domesticated pets (just domesticated pets?!) and put it down to an over-zealous local council. Then I saw the number – and size – of the sea lions, sunbaking on the rocks right next to the promenade and also on some of the wharves and piers and all of a sudden it made sense. A little Chihuahua would probably make quite the tasty meal for one of these guys.

The Lakes District

Adrian walking along the bank of a lake with a local stray dog

Adrian picked up a new friend while we were walking around Pucon…

15 November – Day 116

Pucon, Chile
Distance: 0kms

There is a giant, active, snow-covered volcano standing guard over the city of Pucon. It sort of reminds me of pictures of Japan’s Mt Fuji in advertising brochures – only in the flesh, it’s more impressive.

We’re in the Chilean Lakes District, an area considered one of the most beautiful in Chile not only because of the volcanoes, but also the azure lakes and the emerald forests. I have to say, it’s pretty spectacular. Pretty, and spectacular. It reminds me of a cross between Switzerland, New Zealand and the southern parts of Germany.

The weather has also improved – it was lovely and sunny today… which made the lakes and the volcano all the more impressive. It’s amazing how the sun does that.. a bit of bright light, and nature just sparkles.

Helpfully, there’s also good coffee and a vegetarian restaurant here… so in addition to natural beauty we’ve got our creature comforts sorted!

We walked around the various lakes looking for somewhere renting out sail boats so we could get out onto the lake, but they only had very uncomfortable looking manual paddle/pedal boats which didn’t really excite us. So instead we read our books while eating icecream in the sun on the lake’s foreshore.

 

Santiago, Chile to Pucon, Chile

14 November – Day 115
Distance: 756kms

Over 700+ kms today we went from warm (hot!) sunny weather where getting sunburnt was a strong possibility to a little town by a big lake where everyone seems to be wearing a beanie. And it’s for good reason – it’s freezing!!!

Today was the longest day in terms of distance travelled that we’ve had on the bike (although it wasn’t the longest day in terms of hours spent with bums in seat). We’ll be here by the lake for a few days… hopefully it gets warmer tomorrow!!!

Santiago!

Glasses of red wine lined up on a table

Wine tasting in a Santiago wine bar… hands down the best wine bar I’ve been to.

12-13 November – Days 113-4

Santiago, Chile
Distance: 0kms

One of the cool things about Santiago I noticed straight away is that they have ‘public’ pianos on street corners and in parks and plazas throughout the city where anyone can just sit down and pump out a few tunes. It’s excellent! It’s also lovely and warm here; the city has that feel that Sydney gets in early summer.

The other thing that was hard to ignore was the amount of rubbish everywhere. Mountains of it. Apparently, the public servants are striking at the moment as a part of a pay dispute, so rubbish just isn’t being collected. The strike also meant that several of the public institutions such as museums and national parks are closed.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Chile is holding a national election next Sunday. It’s almost certain that the next President will be a woman – given that the two primary candidates are female, it’s hard to see it any other way. Which is excellent! It’ll be the first presidential election where voting is not compulsory and it’s widely thought that Michelle Bachelet will win, returning to the top office after a stint as President from 2006-2010 when (according to one of my tour guides) she was the first female national leader not just of Chile, but of a South American country. I also happen to know that she was awarded an OAM last year.

Military changing of the guard

The very elaborate changing of the guard ceremony outside the Presidential Palace in Santiago

Chile – and Santiago particularly – is working for me… I think it’s at least partly because it reminds me of home. There’s good food, nice coffee, exceptional wine, lovely weather and this sense that I just can’t put my finger on but I think it might be something close to civil order. As in people drive in a way that’s predictable, and more generally seem to ‘live’ in a way that is similar to Australia. I like it!

Funnily, other than Australia, Chile and Argentina are the only two countries I’ve visited (and I’m not just talking about this trip, I mean ever!) where people use ‘how are you’ as a way of saying hello rather than a genuine enquiry into the state of someone’s welfare.

I did a couple of city walking tours here just to get a sense of the place. It was interesting – and very impressive – to see how the country has developed and changed since the Pinochet, who came to power in 1974 after a military coup in 1973, transferred power to a democratically elected government in 1990. It’s all so very recent…

Adrian also got Beamsky serviced. Other than having a few screws loose and therefore in need of tightening (the bike, I mean), all was fine. So we’re good to go for the final few thousand kilometres to the most southerly point of the South American continent!

One of the many historical buildings in Santiago

One of the many historical buildings in Santiago

Santiago wine bar art...to help you assess how you're doing!

Santiago wine bar art…to help you assess how you’re doing!

11 November – Day 112

Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile

Distance: 359kms

Today was another border crossing day – and I can confirm that, consistent with our first experience, crossing between Argentina and Chile is a relatively smooth and seamless process. The ride over the Andes was beautiful (albeit cold), with snow by the road and mountains on all sides.

Wow. Just wow.

Ice floes in the Atacama desert

Little soldiers of ice all lined up in the Atacama desert. There were patches with these ice dominoes all over the place. Amazing!

3 November – Day 104

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Purmarca, Argentina
Distance: 400kms

I know I keep saying this, but… today was truly one of the best days in the bike in terms of the natural scenery. From ice dominos lined up in identical rows on the hot red sand of the Atacama desert (seriously), to pink flamingos, to a lake made from solid snow white salt… the landscape was just so diverse… at every turn, I just kept scraping my chin off the bottom of my helmet; I couldn’t keep my mouth from dropping open in wondrous surprise.

The pictures don’t really do it justice, but I’ve uploaded a couple just so you can get the sense of it.

Today was also a border crossing day.. and it was good! Possibly the smoothest, most convenient, best structured border crossing we’ve done. It was seamless! Helpfully, the ‘check out’ and ‘check in’ counters were right next to each other, and the paperwork was easy. If only they’d all been this good!! Although… then I probably wouldn’t appreciate it as much.  Anyway  – we’re in Argentina!!

The ever-changing desert landscape

The ever-changing desert landscape

Pink flamingos in the desert

Pink flamingos in the desert

Lauren standing next to the BMW GSA on a solid salt lake

Salt lake near Salta

 

 

Atacama desert – wow

Red rocks against a blue sky in the Atacama desert

The Atacama Desert

2 November – Day 103

Iquique, Chile to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Distance: 571kms

The lame jokes have well and truly kicked in, with it just being too hard to not be a little ‘chilly in Chile’ or really feeling like chilli for dinner!!

The first couple of hours of today’s ride were along the Chilean coast. It felt strange being back down at sea level after being up above 4,500m… and it was lovely just breathing in the salty sea air. The coast was rockier than I’d expected, with lots of bird life. In fact, there were so many birds in some places that the rocks were stained white with bird poop!

From there, we headed into and then through the Atacama desert. Wow! It was incredible. The colours, the landscape, the kilometre after kilometre of lifeless, barren terrain that was somehow still full of a vibrant energy. Spectacular!

Elsewhere in the Atacama desert

Elsewhere in the Atacama desert

It was another long day on the bike.. and one that culminated in me asking at at least 10m if not 15 hostals/hotels/hosterias for accommodation only to find that they were all booked out. I guess that’s what happens when you arrive at the only town in the (stunningly amazing) Atacama desert on a Friday evening! We ended up at a rather expensive campsite which was at least close to the town centre. San Pedro the town is very touristy – with the majority of tourists seemed to be local ie Chilean or Argentinian.