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!!!

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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.

Malbec in Mendoza

Old wine barrels (that are still in use!!)

Old wine barrels (that are still in use!!)

8-10 November

Mendoza, Argentina
Distance: 0kms

Our long weekend in Mendoza started with a full day winery tour – as well as an olive oil factory and a small artisanal chocolate factory where they also produced homemade jams… and absinthe! The weather couldn’t have been better.. it was just a lovely day to be out in vineyards. We went to three different types of winery… a small boutique producer, a mid-sized one and finally a massive commercial operation which looked more like a soft drink factory than a winery. At each stop, we had tours of the production facilities and were told about how their particular wine was produced (and what was special about it). It was very interesting – and enjoyable; we got to taste some pretty nice wines.

Industrial winemaking... inside a mass producer's factory

Industrial winemaking… inside a mass producer’s factory

The next day – Saturday – Mendoza ran out of water. Literally. The first inkling something was amiss was when I tried to drop off a load of clothes at the Laundromat around the corner from our hostel. The woman said no and to come back on Monday because ‘there isn’t any water.’ When I pressed further, she just shrugged in a pretty relaxed manner and repeated that there wasn’t any water, so I couldn’t get my washing done. Still, back at our hostel we seemed to have water so I didn’t really think much more of it… until a few hours later, when the water stopped there, too.  Apparently it happens reasonably often… the city temporarily runs out of water, so literally turns off the taps to certain areas of the city, one at a time. The irony is that Mendoza is one of the most ‘first world’, progressed places we’ve been in for a loooong time… yet sometimes there’s just no water… and the people are so relaxed and matter of fact about it. It really gives the term ‘water crisis’ a new meaning.

We’ve been spending our time here relaxing, exploring the city in foot, checking out the local markets, parks and monuments and hunting down the most delicious empanadas. It’s lovely!

 

7 November – Day 108

Chilecito, Argentina to Mendoza, Argentina
Distance: 638kms

6 November – Day 107

Cafayate, Argentina to Chilicito, Argentina
Distance: 496kms

We had two long days on the bike for a couple of reasons… firstly, there aren’t too many places between these cities… and secondly, we wanted to have a few days off the bike in Mendoza.. which effectively had to be earned! Probably the most interesting thing that we saw was an olive farm that extended at least 20 kms along the main road and was at least 100 trees deep (if not more). I’ve never seen so many olive trees in the one place!

Happy goats

A happy goat!

A happy goat!

5 November – Day 106

Cafayate, Argentina
Distance: 0kms

Today was a ‘holiday day’ which involved reading our books in a café on the main square, hiring pushbikes to ride to some of the local wineries and a goats cheese factory, delicious gelato and lots of sunshine! It was great. The pushbiking didn’t quite turn out as we expected… after starting with a 4km slightly uphill (although note that even a slight incline over 4kms at midday in the blazing Argentinian sun is hard work!!!) ride to Piatelli Vinyards, we were told that there wasn’t a tour for another 30 minutes, and the next English tour was in an hour and a half. So we decided to return later, after we’d been to some of the other wineries in the area… only… they were all closed for a lunchbreak too!!! The end result was that we had a lovely ride around the area without any wine, and then after an icecream in town, jumped on Beamsky to do it all again.. this time with wine!

Piatelli was excellent… not only was the tour fantastic, the wines (especially the Malbec) were delicious… as were the little chocolates they provided to go with the reds. We also got to meet the American owner of the vineyard who just happened to be in the country, at the vineyard, while we were there.

Piatelli vineyard - such a beautiful spot... with a great Malbec!

Piatelli vineyard – such a beautiful spot… with a great Malbec!

We then went to a local goats cheese factory for a tour and some tasting… it was interesting although as it was all in Spanish, I only got about 45% of it and Adrian a somewhat less (because he stopped concentrating after the first couple of minutes and decided instead to just enjoy the surrounds!!). Interestingly, they play classical music to the goats while milking them to keep them calmer and happier – thus producing more and a better quality milk.

4 November – Day 105

Purmarca, Argentina to Cafayate, Argentina
Distance: 351kms

The route from Salta to Cafayata is apparently known as being one of the most spectacular roads anywhere, and it didn’t disappoint. Wow! We’ve seen some pretty spectacular scenery over the last couple of days – and the trip in general – however I think  yesterday and today have really taken the cake.  Huge rocks in an incredibly diverse range of colours… red, orange, grey, white and more… and textures… smooth, marbled, lined, gravelly etc etc. Today was definitely one of the most spectacular days on the bike. Nature is amazing.

More desert... still beautiful!

More desert… still beautiful!

We ended up in Cafayate, in the heart of Argentinian wine country. And we’re happy about that! We’ve been looking forward to Argentinian wines for a while now… and our first taste, with dinner, did not disappoint!

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.

Longest day yet – and breaking the biking rules

Adrian riding through the desert

Adrian riding through the desert

By Adrian

1 November – Day 102

Arequipa, Peru to Iquique, Chile
Distance: 738kms

Leaving Arequipa and heading towards the border with Chile we were mesmerised at times by the stark beauty of the desert landscapes flowing past us and the myriad colours and shapes the mountains formed. The border crossing was one of the quickest so far, however still not very straight-forward, needing (amongst other things) to fill out a passenger list before exiting the country which it turns out is the means via which they ensure there are no stowaways by the other end of the crossing. Not sure how we’d get a stowaway on the bike?

We were a little shocked that we weren’t surrounded by money changers sticking wads of cash in our face and offering exchange rates stacked in their favour. I missed the to and fro of negotiating the rate… and it also meant we were in a foreign country with no local money and in need of petrol! We ended up finding the bus terminal in the next town to convert our Sols to Pesos.

Somewhat stupidly we thought we’d press on for the next town only to be held up by roadworks.. and the next town turning out to be no bigger than a fuel station and a restaurant. By the time we reached Iquique it was 9pm meaning a full 12 hour day on the bike AND we’d been riding at night, against the golden rule. We were both shattered and further shocked to find out we had lost two hours crossing the border with a time change and that it was actually 11pm.

And… there was an issue with the bike just as we arrived into Iquique… a very loud bang followed by an extended whirring sound had me pulling over to the side as quickly as I could, convinced that – highly inconveniently – we’d just ‘achieved’ our first popped and now flat tyre… late at night, without accommodation, after a loonng day, in the middle of nowhere. However… lady luck was shining on us and instead of a flat tyre, it was actually ‘just’ that the mud flap on the back wheel had snapped off and was dragging against the tyre. Not so bad after all!

Eventually we found some accommodation (at the third place we tried) and that was it for the night.

On the positive side – we got to see (well, Lauren mainly – I was concentrating on the road) a spectacular desert sunset. The colours were amazing… and post sunset, when it was actually dark (and definitely past our ‘riding time’) we both saw a shooting star! Very nice.

The amazing scenery between Peru and Chile.. wow!

The amazing scenery between Peru and Chile.. wow!

The colours kept changing from grey to red to orange to white to maroon and so on... it was just really spectacular.

The colours kept changing from grey to red to orange to white to maroon and so on… it was just really spectacular.