Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What a difference!

Volcan Villarrica was the end of our stay in the Lakes district of both Argentina and Chile. With still a month to go until we need to be in Santiago (800kms north) we had some big choices to make.

We could either leg it up the Pan-American highway and see nothing, possibly choke or more likely get squished by a drunk trucker. We could be in Santiago in a week, leaving us plenty of time to relax and wash - maybe even a trip to the beach at one of the coastal towns.

Another option was to head to the Pacific coast and visit the many towns and beaches along the way. It would be safer than the Pan-Am but further and we have no idea of the road conditions.

So we decided to stick to our original plan which was to head back to Argentina for a few more weeks.

We had thought about going over Paso Icalma - it would have led us to a beautiful lake with some small towns along the way. We were close to taking this road.

From Villarrica we headed for a town called Cunco which was not far from the bottom of the pass. Arriving here after a very long day of more unexpected ripio (all our maps showed paved roads here) we were told that the road over the pass was under construction.

Road works in Chile are a nightmare. Tackling 50km stretches at a time, the labour-force of just 20 are clearly daunted by the massive task. So they hang around talking to each other, peer into holes, shovel stones around and wave at anything that goes past. We have rarely seen heavy machinery being used purposefully. And after cycling through probably 200-300kms of roadworks in Chile, we have not once seen them laying tar-mac.

Almost turning back on ourselves we headed for Temuco, a big city on the Pan-American highway. The plan was to then get a bus to Zapala in Argentina and cycle north from there.

Not a very nice place but it had everything you would expect from a city so we were quite happy.

Arriving at the bus station in the morning with plenty of time to spare we found our bus. So had the other 50 passengers. As soon as the luggage doors opened all hell broke loose. The boxes and bags being pushed in were getting bigger and bigger. Ian managed to grab the luggage-monkey and point out that he needed to put the bikes in soon and then put the other luggage around them.

Ignoring this advice the luggage-monkey carried on throwing luggage around and screaming wildly. Eventually all the luggage was loaded, the people were on the bus and the driver was revving the engine. At this point Ian had hold of the luggage-monkey and was pointing back at the bikes and asking what he was going to do with them.

"No possible. Mañana, mañana!"

This was immediately followed with a big arguement in the office. Absolutely nobody in that office had a clue who was saying what.

The bus left without us.

The following morning (at 3am!) we were back at the bus station - deja vu was setting in when the crowds descended on the luggage-monkey with more huge boxes. Luckily this monkey was slightly further along the evolutionary stages and was able to understand when told the bikes need to be in there first, luggage around them.

Off we went. Here are some monkey puzzle trees on rocks...

Ten hours later we were in Zapala. To celebrate we headed for the local swimming pool - it was a blisteringly hot day. After passing the medical examinations and nit-checks Ian jumped straight in and surfaced with icicles on his face. Gemma followed and could barely swim - it's not easy when you can't feel your limbs.

Cycling north from Zapala took us to Las Lajas and then onto Chos Malal along Ruta 40, one of the longest national highways in the world. In these three days (250kms) we had realised this was a different world to Chile. In the shadow of the Andes there is barely any water. The river beds were almost all dry, the wildlife was very different (snakes, spiders, scorpions!) and it was so hot! After the winds of Patagonia we had not wanted to encounter any more throughout the rest of the trip. Here in the heat we were relieved by the slightest of breezes as it cooled us down for all of two seconds.

Just before arriving in Chos Malal we were met by a couple of cyclists... Olivier and Caroline who we had last seen in Puerto Natales in December! We hadn't seen any other cyclists for quite a while so it was nice to be reminded we were not alone. And then all of a sudden, a couple of Belgian cyclists turned up. Bizarre how we all can meet in one place, absolutely miles from anywhere.

Mad Max style house - middle of nowhere in the pampa...

Through the "valley of the dinosaurs" we found these. Gemma reckons they're called Geodes???
Ian is positive they are fossilised dinosaur eggs, "you can still see where the yolk was, and look, a claw!".

Now, we are in Chos Malal. Some serious map studying has shown us that we don't really have enough time to cycle to Mendoza and then to Santiago in time for the flights to Easter Island. So from Chos Malal we will take the bus on Friday north to Mendoza. Missing out many kilometeres of empty Pampa. This leaves us with enough time to cycle from Mendoza to Uspalata before crossing the pass and back into Chile. Its a shame to miss cycling this part but we would rather bus it than miss our flights!

Gemma showing off her white bits; nice cyclist tan.

So the next post should be from Santiago, in a few weeks before we head off to Easter Island for Ians 30th!

Love to everyone

Ian and Gemma xxxxx

1 comment:

Globalmum said...

Hello! We are both reading your blog and feeling quite jealous! Dvid even suggested (for a split second) that we should do something similar..... yeah right!
Hoping to hear from you again soon - missing you loads! David sends his love too and says sorry for not being in touch more.
Take care both of you, all our love, Mum (2) and David (not your real Dad by the way) XXX