Tandem across the
Some highs and lows in
Chris and Mike Simpkins
Beware Christmas presents that seem a little, well…, odd.
Two years ago I received a climbing guidebook to
Mike plans these trips, sitting on the computer and poring over Lonely Planet guides. A Spanish computer course and a phrase book also absorbed his time. I just pedal on the back, enjoying the views………..
The Technical bits
The idea for the trip came from a backpacking journey by some friends. With the aid of the Encarta Computer World
Atlas and a couple of Lonely Planet Books I made a rough plan for the tour. Later we received a brochure from Saddle
Skedaddle, an excellent cycling holiday company that we had used in
We did have some vouchers from American Airlines, (we were ‘bumped’ the
previous year), that had to be spent.
This paid for most of the airfares but meant we had to fly via
We carried spare tubes, a tyre and a couple of temporary spokes plus a reasonable selection of tools and a supply of cable ties. Our Orbit Pegasus tandem was magnificent. The only problem we had all trip was a broken bracket on one front carrier, probably as I had failed to spot it working loose. Three cable ties sorted it out and lasted the rest of the trip. Our Karrimor roll top panniers kept our gear perfectly dry, no small task in the conditions.
We spent eleven days in
Probably the first high of the trip was finally arriving in Puerto Montt to find the tandem undamaged. It was raining, but not much. Twenty two kilometres over dirt track brought
us to our first stop at Puerto Varas where we found
out just how easy (and cheap) accommodation in
Wet in fact sums up the days we spent in
Our first journey into the mountains was a mixture of highs and lows,
both physical and emotional! Starting at
50m above sea level at Lago Llanquihue
we set off towards Paso de Pérez Rosales at 1022m. The route was first used by the Jesuit
missionaries picking their way across the mountains linking a series of lake
crossings. Nowadays it is a ‘tourist
trip’ using buses and ferries. The buses
do not carry bicycles under any circumstances so we were on our own. Up to Lago Todos los Santos was pleasant, dryish and mostly on surfaced road. Crossing the lake by catamaran through
spectacular mountain scenery was easy but then came the real offroad experience.
Leaving our fellow travellers to eat and drink at the hotel we set off from
Peulla in the rain along too many kilometres of
unfortunately flat track through stunning farmland and forests. It was unfortunate because we weren’t gaining
height as we cycled, which meant that the ‘up’ bit was going to be steep. And it was!!
The first bus passed us at the foot of the pass – and the guide
recognised our Welsh flag and was pleased to tell us that
A real high point of the trip! This was the Argentinian Customs post and inside was the last ferryload of tourists! Heaven! Our friendly guide from hours ago took over, arranged for our documents to be filled in/sorted out and put us by the stove to drink hot chocolate with brandy.
I will never again complain about how long customs officials can take to process entry to their country. Eduardo, the guide, decided we would probably be better off staying in the next hotel so radioed ahead. After another boat ride and three kilometre dash to Puerto Blest we fell into the hotel really pleased that we had made it. It had been fifty kilometres and 1220m of ascent/descent but successful. And yes, conditions were so bad that they offered to put the tandem on the bus to get us down to the hotel, but we declined – and after having had lots of photographs taken by the tourists decided that we were heroes indeed!
Another boat journey and short ride and we arrived in Bariloche. The guidebooks tout Bariloche as the tourist destination and it is - full of shops selling fleece garments and not particularly good chocolate, busy with traffic and noisy at night. We left, glad to go back out into the countryside, and even beginning to enjoy some of the dirt roads.
We picked our way north
After two days rest in Junín we headed back into the Andes, and set off for Paso Tromen (known as Mumuil Malal on the Chilean side) travelling into more barren mountains than we had seen before. Starting on tarmac we swiftly cycled through quite rich farmland, but then turning offroad everything felt more remote and wilder than further south. It took all day to reach the camping area on the shoulder of Volcán Lanin (3776m), forty five kilometres of sometimes very loose and sometimes very sandy track. The weather got more and more grey as the day went by, and as we got the tent out, yes it started to rain. After a comfortable night we got up to find snow in the air – no sign of the volcano but lots of parrots squawking in and out of the trees, and feeding on the campfield. We hadn’t quite reached the top so set off in heavy rain to our next high point - Paso Tromen at 1207m. Eight hundred metres of ascent over sixty six kilometres had been quite gentle; going down was likely to be much more exciting! Cycling through the Araucania (monkey puzzle tree) forest it got colder and colder until we were grateful to drop down and reach the Chilean customs post. Now Chile does not allow animal based foodstuffs to be imported which meant we had a very peculiar bag of food left – margarine, salt and jam mostly – so we were very relieved to see a small café further down the track. There was smoke coming from the chimney which looked promising but the door was locked. Turning away, very disappointed, a low point suddenly rocketed to a high! We were called back – into the fireside and offered warm ham and cheese sandwiches, and tea. Bliss! It seemed very odd to have a café in the middle of nowhere but that was soon solved when a bus arrived and emptied about sixty people into what was the ‘comfort stop’. These tourist buses were a real problem for us on the dirt roads, kicking up dust and stones but this one I was ready to forgive.
We set out again braving the rain and carried on down ever increasingly steep track. In fact it was one of those times when the stoker rebelled and insisted we walk down, not pushing the bike just holding it back. Suddenly a car coming up the stream screeched to a halt and people jumped out, running towards us. One was carrying a large misshapen bag. I was very confused but Mike took it all very calmly. It wasn’t kidnappers, it was Chilean National Television and they wanted to interview us. Whatever we said was going to be dubbed any way so I asked for some sun and views of a volcano! Onwards down and down until at last we reached a surfaced road and set off for Pucón. Our TV friends had not deserted us. As we sped along we realised they had set up a camera on the roadside and were filming us – full waterproofs and all. A little later they chased us with the camera out of the car window focussed probably on our wildly flapping flag. Fame at last but we didn’t see it and probably never will! After fifty or so wet kilometres Pucón was still thirty kilometres away when a sign for thermal baths, just two kilometres off the main road caught my eye. It seemed like a good idea so that night we stayed in a fairly posh hotel and lounged in the outdoor pools which were so warm that it didn’t matter that the rain was still falling down on us!
Pucón is a laid back town, the centre of the Chilean ‘adventure tourism’ industry. This means it is full of backpackers of all ages looking for an adrenalin rush and alcohol. There are dozens of hostels and laundries and cheap eating places and bars and tourist agencies. This makes life easy and as the weather was improving we stayed. In fact we decided to do the volcano! So in bright sunshine (it was Mike’s birthday after all) we joined our tour group, donned our boots waterproofs and carrying crampons and ice axes set off up Volcán Villarica (2847m). Following in the footsteps of our guide we summited to find that we couldn’t see the lava in the caldera because of the smoke and fumes coming out. Nevertheless it was a live volcano and fun! A definite high point of the trip! That night we went with our fellow adventurers to the thermal pools. Much more exciting than the thermal baths – it was in the dark for a start and packed with young(er) people drinking wine and smoking heaven knows what. Mind you, spending money on tours and mini buses couldn’t go on for ever so we decided to head for the coast and see the Southern Pacific.
The next day it rained. Not just
a little. All day and
heavy. Still by now we were used
to it so off we went to Villarica, to stay in a
hostel run by round the world cyclists from
What it did was squalls, heavy squalls with strong winds coming in
followed by hot bright sunshine. This
meant that we spent all day getting wet and drying out and heading west into
the wind, which was steadily blowing stronger.
Eventually, after one hundred and twelve kilometres, our longest day, we
made it into Mehuin to see a glorious sunset over an
empty beach with dramatic sea stacks being pounded by the breakers. Conditions had got so wild that several
vehicles had stopped and offered us lifts, which had not happened before. Over the next two or three days we realised
that we had moved off the gringo trails of Lonely Planet land and more into the
real country. The people were friendly
We picked our way
north along wide estuaries through fertile farmland in beautiful sunshine. Lago Budi was our destination and the bird life there was as
good as had been promised by the guidebooks provided by Beat in Villarica. On our
next trip we must make more of an effort to get information from the local
sources! The next day we crossed the
lake by a free ferry and cycled to Puerto Saavedra (a
popular Chilean tourist spot – quite different from Pucón
and its foreign visitors). We then turned
to the east and with the wind behind us at last headed for
And what book did I get for Christmas 2003? Well that may be another story…….!