Saturday, February 21, 2009

Volcan Vilarrica.

The mean people in Pucon made us wake up at 5.30am to get ready to climb the volcano. After a couple of cocktails the night before, we looked so rough when we arrived that the tour guide had us transferred to a different party on "the special bus".

From Pucon the volcano looks high. From the start of the cable car taking us half way up, it still looks very high. Once we set off walking it was already really steep and the guide had said it would take us about 3 hours to reach the summit.

The first part of the climb was over old lava fields and loose rocks which Gemma would often stop to admire or pick up and stash for taking home. The guide re-estimated our time to summit as 4 hours.

An hour or so into the climb we reached the snow level. From here we would have to use ice axes to help us climb up the even steeper slope. After asking Gemma how she was going, Ian turned round to find her with a crazed look in her eyes and muttering to herself, "I´m not happy, I´m not magnificently happy".
So she´ll be alright then. Off we go. The guide just started swinging his ice-axe a bit faster to encourage her.

The reason for Gemma being terrified was the 45 degree slope near the top. Include the 2,000m drop behind, and the guide piping up with, "Whatever you do, don´t fall here. There´s a cravass just below us and if you go in there, you´re not coming out!".

Cheers guide. Thanks for that.

Eventually, finally, after just over 3 hours of staring at the ground just in front of our feet (it´s not easy to look up or down when you´re terrified of sliding off to be a human snowball) we reached the summit.
We were greeted by clouds of sulphurous gases making our eyes and lungs burn. This may have put many people off but we have become accustomed to these fumes after many nights in the tent when Ian has eaten giant steak and had a couple of beers.

After a rest and loads of photos of the surrounding panoramic views, we had to make our way back down. Going down is always more fun, that´s obvious. But when you have a special item of clothing to fasten to your behind, a big pot of bike oil, a 45 degree ice slope, 2,000m down and absolutely no fear of death whatsoever (Ian), you have a magical treat which will be remembered forever.

Guide: - "Okay, sit here, take your ice-pick like....

Ian: - WHOOSH!!!!!!!

Guide: - er... okay... next... sit here, take your ice-pick and hold it like this...

Gemma: - Arghrgrhgrhgrhgrhghaghghrghtghgghgfjhgfkshflkgjrj!!!!!!!!!!!

At the bottom of the ice there were phone calls from Pucon. Local volcanologists were wondering why they could see fire on the slopes and asking if lava was streaming down towards town.
Nobody could reply as Ian was wildly running about, shaking guides and shouting at them to get back up there for "round 2!".

Eventually he was calmed down and everybody was safely returned to town.
We had great fun climbing up the volcano and seeing the amazing views. The crater was also spectacular but it was the slide down that made the day extra special. It will certainly be one of the highlights of our trip.

We need to give a special mention to Fred (Gemma´s grandad) as he is 80 years old in a few days time. Sorry we can´t be there to help you celebrate Fred, and we obviuosly both hope you have a fantastic day, Happy Birthday!!!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bariloche to Pucon.

Leaving Barichocolatey behind we had to cycle around a big lake. This road took us to the start of the "7 Lakes" route which would lead us eventually back into Chile. Our first stop along the way was a place named Villa La Angostura. Although it´s February, they still think it´s Christmas there.

Despite of their obvious lack of calender control, the town is very nice. We decided to make a days detour and ride out to Peninsula Quetrihue which apparently is home to the last forest of Arrayanes trees. The trail seemed to be made entirely out of the roots of these trees ,which Ian reckons he´s seen growing in Australia.

After the mini detour we headed north to San Martin de Los Andes. This 7 lakes route was initially unpaved and although the views were probably great from a vehicle with suspension and comfy bouncy seats, all we could see from our iron-donkeys were blurred hills, the insides of our heads and huge clouds of dust and gravel being kicked up by the numerous tourist buses.

Following a nights stay at a lake side campsite watching fish jump out to eat flies we got back to the road which then turned back to pavement. It´s amazing just how much difference it makes to your day - riding on tarmac makes us happy, makes us smile back at drivers who beep and wave at us, makes us take lots of photos, we talk to each other lots and it leaves us positive for the next days riding when we camp. However, on ripio, rubble, rubbish and rocks we cycle with our heads down, no talking, we gesture rudely to nearly all vehicles (well, Ian does), we curse even the slightest of gradients and feel terrible when we camp.

So the tarmac into San Martin was great, it also helped that the last 16kms (10 miles) were all down a very big hill. Happy, smiley, speedy fast, wonderful, everything was perfect until out of nowhere..... bbzzzzzz ..... whats´s that big black dot ... . . bzzzzzzzz ....... BANG!!!!


Gemma had managed to avoid speeding drunk truck drivers all the way, dodging huge rocks in the road, whizzing round pedestrians as they blindly meandered into the road. But after all this, she couldn´t avoid the meanest wasp looking for a fight on a hill while travelling at 40mph. The wasp managed to sting Gemma´s eye and leave her blind for a couple of days.

Another visit to another hospital (that´s 2 in just 3 months!) and this time poor Gemma was subjected to a cortisone injection right in her butt-cheek. Ian winced while taking photos - obviously we can´t show these, kids are watching too and we wouldn´t want to scare them.

Fortunately San Martin was a beautiful place to spend a day resting, made more entertaining by Gemma walking with a funny kind of limp and occassionaly bumping into lamposts.

Once Gemmas eye had reappeared we enjoyed a great day riding along flat roads with a big tailwind to Junin de Los Andes. The fun didn´t last long as from here we headed up (now with headwinds) to the Paso Mamuil Malal which at around 1,300m was our highest pass thus far.

A wonderfully clear day gave us magnificent views of the huge Volcan Lanin most of the way up. The road also went through a forest of giant monkey-puzzle trees. Ian was rather confused here. If monkeys can´t climb these trees, why are they not all jumping around on the floor, scratting each other, flinging stuff at cars and heckling cyclists?

Overnight the winds bought in colder weather and by morning the summit was gone, hidden in huge clouds.

Over the pass we found ourselves back on ripio, rocks and rubble. A swiss cyclist coming the other way had warned us the road on the other side was much worse. He was absolutely spot-on. On the Chilean side they are in the middle of major roadworks, (or is that ripioworks? - these shouldn´t be classed as roads!). Descending a major pass at slower speeds than you went going up was depressing. The gravel was deep. The deep gravel was deeper. The piles of gravel next to the deep gravel were bottomless. It was downhill hell.

The sufferring lasted for a full day. We arrived eventually at Curarrehue and camped in a nectarine orchard. It would have been great to try some after the hard days work but they had all been eaten by the cows, goats, sheep and wasps. We sat in the tent instead, eating chocolate while it hoofed it down. And hoof it down it did, all night, and all the next day as we cycled the last 40kms into Pucon.

It´s not that bad though. We found a giant empanada shop to keep us warm and full. Also, in Pucon we are next to Volcan Villarrica which is waiting for us to climb it. At the 2,800m summit we hope to peer down into the crater and have our eyes and lungs burned by sulphurous fumes coming from the red liquid hot magma. And when we´ve just avoided death by suffocation we will grease our bin-lids up and leave a trail of fire on the side of the volcano which Chevy Chase would be very proud of. Who knows, maybe the locals will think it´s magma coming down from the crater and we might end up having the whole town evacuated. Now there´s a plan....
We will update again before leaving, so lots of love to everyone back home. We could say we miss you but we´re off to go climb a volcano... woohoo!!!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

"Rest days" in Bariloche.

Having signed up for a weeks worth of Spanish/Latin American lessons in Bariloche, Gemma was busy for 6 hours each day, Monday to Friday. These lessons were all about helping Gem overcome the confusion with forming verbs and their gender etc...

Ian had decided that he didn´t need to do this because pointing and shouting was working rather well.

In total we spent 8 days in Bariloche. There is so much to do in the surrounding area we could easily have stayed for another week. However, the frequency of the visits to chocolate and ice-cream shops was increasing and so were our waistlines, yummy!

While Gemma was off being baffled with irregular verbs every day, Ian decided to "relax" on his rest days in the only way he knew how... bike rides!
Cycling up a mountain wasn´t enough, he then cycled to the bottom of another one and walked up it. Follow this up with a 50 mile ride out to a village with nothing there, due to boredom, and you have yourself a good candidate for admission to a special hopsital.

It was during this boredom that Ian realised there might be only way of getting out of Bariloche. Gemma had been dazzled by the lights in the chocolate shops so there was only one thing for it. A photo of Gemma was handed in to every chocolate and ice cream shop in town with a strict note not to sell her anything else.

We just might get out of here afterall.

To end our stay we both went out for the day in spectacular weather to scale yet another mountain. Cerro Catedral is the largest peak near Bariloche and a huge centre for outdoor activities year round. We decided the best activity was to ride the cable-car all the way to the top and save ourselves for the evening finale.

The views from the top of Cerro Catedral were nothing short of spectacular. Panoramic views in all directions of hundreds of lakes, mountains and volcanoes. Lots of photos taken.

Feeling adventurous Ian searched out a small remaining patch of ice and tried some butt-skiing.
There is a video of this event which the blog page does not seem to want to upload. We will keep trying and in the mean time we assure you it was in no way dangerous and that Ian would never do anything stupid without proper guidance or any safety measures in place. Having said that, can anyone donate us some new pants and trousers?
Once down the bottom the evening finale was to begin. Posters all over town had been advertising this event for ages - The Annual Bariloche Music Festival held at the Swiss Colony. With Bariloche being the premier holiday destination for thousands of people every summer, we arrived expecting Glastonbury, Woodstock, Rio Carnival even... it was potentially huge.
The bus dropped us outside a house with a nice garden. In the garden was a wooden platform, some speakers, a BBQ, a couple of portaloos and a beer stand or two. Approximately 500 people had managed to find themselves places to sit and wait for the acts. We were given a few starved looking drummers with something that could have been easily replicated by an infant school music class. At least they had some local food and beer to keep us occupied.

The next two acts were no better and within a couple of hours we were on the bus back to the tent. With Rio Carnival just days away, there was obviously a reason these acts were here and not there.

So tomorrow we leave Bariloche and begin our journey through the 7 Lakes route north. Lots of beautiful camping, great lakes and probably some hills. It´s suposed to be beautiful, it certainly looks it from the top of the mountains here.
Love to all xxx

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Following the success of our little insight into our routines, and after many inquiries from back home about the food over here, here is a quide to what we generally eat in our new lives.

Breakfast: -

While on the road we normally carry a resealable freezer bag ful of oats, milk powder and sugar. A big scoop of this is magically transformed into hot porridge when you just add some boiling water. It´s not the tastiest thing in the world but it´s quick, easy and keeps us going for a few hours.

If we find ourselves in a town (or anywhere near a shop) then we can really go for it and have cereal for breakfast. Normally with yoghurt because UHT milk is not great when your so used to the delicious pasteurised milk. Oh what we´d do for a nice big glass of cold pasteurised milk. Mmmm.

Onces: -

That´s elevens´s in Enlgish. Something seemingly introduced by the German population, a good mid-morning snack of cake is great when cycling. We haven´t had many of these yet but now we´re in the Lakes District, it´s cake shops all the way!
Sometimes we collect our own food from the millions of trees providing lovely fruits.

Lunch: -

In Latin America the siesta can (and mostly will) last from 12-4pm. Lazy, but a great idea. We initially thought they just slept for 4 hours but it turns out that lunch is the most important meal of the day for the locals. And we thought it was only cyclists that could eat for 4 hours at a time!

Anyway, for us cyclists, lunch is biscuits, nuts, crackers (with peanut butter or Dulce de Leche - caramelised milk mmmmmm) and occassionally bread with sweaty cheese and warm mayonaise if we decide to carry it.

Afternoon snacks: -

Because we need to eat lots, we keep on snacking. 250g Chocolate bars are gone within seconds of the wrapper coming off. We can easily go through one of these each, each day.

On good days we find the empanada shops. These beautiful little havens are pretty common and they sell meat, cheese, ham and cheese, tuna, and sometimes others rolled up into a lovely parcel of pastry. Much better than Greggs, these shops are Ian´s most favouritest places. Yummy.

Dinner: -

While on the road, choices are quite limited for the evening meal. Most supermarkets provide us with packets of pasta with a few different flavour sauces like cheese, brocolli, meat or "have a guess". They´re not that great but pasta is good for us and is easy to prepare.
When we fancy a change we sometimes boil some rice up. Add to this a tin of fish and some tomato juice and you have an almost tasty alternative.

Evening meals get interesting when we´re in towns or when we´re not cycling. With easy access to supermarkets we can find all kinds of treats. This is where we splash out and buy ourselves giant portions of steaks, sausages, morcilla (blood sausuages are very tasty here), chicken etc. etc. All relatively cheap and supremely tasty. It´ll be difficult going back to British meat after this.
Vegetables are not as abundant as back home, we often find peppers and potatoes which are okay, the avocadoes are amazing, but generally the rest are not great.

With all the time in the evening, it´s becoming quite common for Ian to build fires on which we cook the evening meals. Many campsites provide firepits where Ian will be found piling wood as high as possible before emptying a litre of petrol onto it. Ray Mears made TV shows about making fires where he showed us all the blisters he got on his hands when rubbing wood together. He obviously doesn´t need to eat quickly.

For most meals we find ourselves being watched. Dogs appear from nowhere and sit by your side while scratching their fleas. Sometimes they look dreadful and are spared a few morsels. We´ve even seen some with fake limps or closing their eyes to pretend to be blind. They normally get rewarded just for entertaining us.
Other animals join us sometimes but we are more and more aware of the fact that some animals are actually watching us, hoping to eat us, especially when the roads are busy or it´s too far to the next town...

Drinks: -

On the road we will normally just carry water. We restock the bottles often at small streams and rivers. It´s clean and cold.
Any shop passed is normally relieved of a few bottles of Coke.
Other options are Tang, a powder (like sherbert) which when mixed with water gives you a litre of E-numbers in any colour or flavour imaginable.
Or, the local soft drink - Pap. It´s exactly that.

When it comes to evening drinks, Ian likes to try Quilmes a lot to make sure it´s still cold.
It never gets chance to warm up.

So there you go, our diets. We´re very well fed and watered indeed. So far.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The way to chocolate heaven.

While at the hospital having those little hammers clunked on her knee, Gemma was told she would need 5 days rest. What the doctor forgot to mention was when those five days started.

So in strict mean fashion, Ian ordered Gemma out of her hospital bed and straight back onto the bike.

It sounds mean, almost cruel, but all for good reason. Just a few days away we could be back in Argentina and in a town called Bariloche. This town is famous in South America for being a bit of a party capital (not quite Rio though) but more so because of the main street on which every other shop is a chocolate shop. Chocolate makes Gemma´s very happy.

To get there we had our favourite day riding from Puerto Varas to Ensenada. The 50km road was pretty flat, paved, had a great view of Volcan Osorno and had little cake shops every few kms. They were very yummy. All of them.

At Ensenada we had our first relax sunbathing on a beach. No swimming though, the lake was baltic with freezing water from the volcanoes glaciers. Even Eric and Fat-rat got themselves out for some toasting.

We then pedalled through more road works, some lava fields and lots of rubble to get to Petrohue which was just a port. From here we put the bikes through yet another ferry - hill - ferry mountain crossing. This one called Cruce de Lagos is ultra touristy and normally only for people on organised tours with big shiny buses and huge amounts of cash to pay for the buses. Doing it on a bike is much cheaper but not very easy.

It was on during the hill crossing we made our first big error with border formalities. It was bound to happen somewhere and Chile seemed likely as they don´t signpost many things, or anything. From Peulla, we had cycled nearly 20km of the 26km border when we stopped at a guard-post to check in with the Carabineros. We had thought this was where we would get the exit stamps but much to the amusement of the guys in the cabin, the stamps were done back in Peulla. It seemed the guards did not take pity on us and so we had to cycle most of the way back before hitching a lift for a few kms.

Gemma doing the Timotei advert, they must have started doing hand creams.

Volcan Tronador - Thunder mountain.
The next morning we set off again with stamps in the passports. We guessed that nothing was signposted here because it seemed the crossing is completely designed for the bus tours on which everything is arranged for you.

Another volcano.

The last 6kms of the road is the mountain pass (Paso de Vicent Perez Rosales) and was unpaved gravel with lots of very steep parts. Just these 6kms took nearly 3 hours alone. It was very hard work and the relief of seeing the top is clear to see in Gemmas face.

Woohoo - downhill next!!!

Once at the bottom of the other side we had to take two more ferries and cycle another 25kms to get to Bariloche. It didn´t take long for the tent to go up and for Gem to hunt down the Chocolate shops of Bariloche.

As soon as Ian finds her again, he will get some pictures of happy Gemma and put them on here. Obviously there´s no need to tell you all that we are both well, we have endless chocolate on tap.
Oh and Gemmas knee has mysteriously healed very quickly... helped by the drugs given at the hospital and the chocolate!