Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cycling into a volcanic evacuation zone...

The couple of days recovery for Gemmas knees was alright. Coihaique, as with other towns along the Careterra Austral, wasn´t up to much. Although it did have 2 giant supermarkets which were frequently visited. We cooked more with big fires. Only because the wood was full of insects and it was better to see them burn than run around in your tent at night.

We bought ourselves ferry tickets from Chaiten to Quellon on the island of Chiloe. These ferries don´t come often following the volcanic eruption and so we did not have time to ride the whole way there. Along with Tim and Kylie (our Aussie stalkers), we managed to find a bus driver crazy enough to have a go at strapping four bikes to his roof, and then negotiate 200km of road works through terrible ripio and bad weather. We also nearly managed to get a place for Stinky - a dog which kind of followed us around town for a couple of days.

The driver dropped us off at Villa Santa Lucia which was a small collection of houses at the junction with the road for Futaleufu - the road most people seem to be taking as it heads back into Argentina and avoids going through Chaiten.

A couple of days cycling later we had entered the outskirts of Parque Pumalin and found ourselves camping at the hotsprings near Amarillo. Around here we found ash all over the floor, all over the roads, all over abandoned houses and cars and there was quite a lot of damage.
We decided to spend 2 nights at the hotsprings as it meant we could stay nice and warm and clean, and more importantly it meant we only had to spend one night in Chaiten.

After leaving our details with the local police we cycled the 30km into Chaiten very quickly. The excitement was great and also it was mainly downhill the whole way.

As soon as we started to enter the town, the devastation of the eruption was clear. Houses were nearly buried, cars were almost completely covered in ash, the southern part of town across the river had all but been destroyed and the place was eerily quiet. A town of 8000 people was deserted except for a few, maybe 100, who decided to stay and continue as normally as possible. A couple of shops remain open and a few hostels also remain. Most other buildings were emptied and left. To top things off, the volcano was still pumping out a load of ash and dust, thankfully being blown in the opposite direction. Although tempted, we thought it might not be appreciated if we ran our fingers across the shelves in the supermarket and tutted.

It was fascinating to see and we are very fortunate to have seen a volcano being so active. At the same time it was sad to see the devastation caused by it and to see people try to continue as if everything was still normal. And people think we´re crazy!

After spending enough time coughing up dust balls and fighting giant horseflies we caught our ferry to Chiloe. That was the end of the Careterra Austral for us. It had been difficult cycling, bad road conditions and steep hills. Hopefully the experience will help us further north. At the very least we know that the bikes can be attached to almost any vehicle with a little rope and they can make it unscathed with a massive amount of luck.

Our next stage is the island of Chiloe and the Lakes district. It promises to be much better in terms of road conditions, frequency of towns, access to shops etc. But the mountains are starting to get bigger as we slowly enter the main Andes and therefore the passes are longer and higher.
We´re not sure if anything can quite top seeing the volcano but things always seem to happen when we´re around...

love to all xxx


Globalmum said...

Once again - incredible sights. You're doing a fab job of writing this up pIan - perhaps there's a book there when you get back? Loadsa love, Mum (2)

Globalmum said...

Forgot to say - another video clip - of you both, woudl be SO SO nice. Lx