Mendoza to Panguipulli in the Lake District. - 30th December 2001 - Miles. 15,910


Mendoza is a large city with many leafy plazas and tree-lined streets. Plaza Espana is almost completely covered with decorative tiles. Even the seats are covered. The last time we saw anything like this was in Mexico.

From Mendoza, the road climbs steadily over the Andes towards Chile. It followed a river, which was in full flood with reddish muddy water carried down the mountains from the melting snow. At Punta del Inca we camped behind a mountain refuge hut where only 100yds away was a series of hot spring pools and a building constructed as hot baths in 1817. The building still had baths with constant hot water and was covered inside with stalagmites and stalactites.

At the border, we showed our new passports, police report and letter from the Embassy and explained that we had no entry visa because it was stolen with our passports. The immigration officer was quite adamant that we should pay 100 dollars before he could let us out of Argentina and no amount of argument could change his mind. Eventually, we used a technique that had worked previously when in trouble with officials. We found a senior policeman who over-ruled the immigration officer and gave us documents to allow us into Chile. Just before the Chilean border post there was a long tunnel which was banned to cyclists and the Chilean police not only took us through in a truck, but also offered to see that our entry gave no problems. We gave them our passports and a few minutes later they were returned complete with visa and stamps. It had saved us at least a half-hour queue and more importantly the hassle of arguing yet again with immigration officers. No matter what the guidebooks say, we have found over and over again that the police and army have helped us out of difficult situations.

All downhill through an amazing series of 22 hairpin bends and on to Los Andes. While getting money at a cash machine in the plaza, we were approached by a Frenchman who told us that he was a cyclist staying with another Chilean cyclist in town. It was free, and we could stay there as long as we liked. The owner was Eric, who ran a local veterinary business and owned a large house with views over the Andes. He was a qualified vet, a keen cyclist, and was on the cyclists hospitality list. At the house, we met Kelo, his wife, Michel a French cyclist who had been there four months, Carter, an Canadian cyclist who had been there for a year, Eric's two young boys, and many cats and dogs.

Three large scrapbooks contained notes and pictures from all the cyclists that had stayed there over the years. We added our own page. We were made very welcome and told that we could stay as long as we like, but in the circumstances of our lost time our plan was to be south of Santiago by Christmas and so we left after only two nights.

Santiago was only 60 miles away, but we soon found ourselves on a busy motorway leading through the suburbs. As on many other motorways or autopistas, there are signs banning cyclists, but nobody, not even the police, enforces the rule and in most places there is no alternative route. In England, a cyclist would not last more than 100yds on a motorway before being stopped.

As we had a lot to do in Santiago, we stayed in a hotel at 12 pounds a night and this seemed about the cheapest available. Amex gave us 350 dollars replacement cheques, but would not reimburse the 14 dollars phone call to the USA. KLM informed us that our return ticket from Quito was not changeable to another location, but only by date, but we managed to find flights from Punta Arenas to Quito at a reasonable cost. The problem with internal flights in South America is that the baggage weight limit is only 20kg in total. Excess is charged at 5 dollars a kg. The bikes can also be a problem on Lan Chile . With all the uncertainty, we decided not to buy air tickets or make arrangements to get back to Quito until we arrive at Punta Arenas. Talking to travel agents makes it probable that we will travel by bus from Ushuia to Quito. This would take about 4 days in total, would cost much less than flying and would give us the opportunity to stop wherever we liked.

Followed a straight motorway most of the way from Santiago to Talca, where we turned off at San Javier towards the coastal strip. The road to Cauquenes was hot, hilly and with the now unrelenting headwind making for very tiring riding. After paying 8 pounds for a campsite at Maule, it was a nice surprise to find a room in Cauquenes for only six, although it had no window.

A lot of rolling hills and headwinds all the way to Tome, which is a local seaside resort. The resort looks much like any other small seaside town with fishing boats and sea-front cafes. As it was Christmas day, we treated ourselves to a hotel and a fish dinner on the sea front. The road out was very steep and quickly rose a 1000ft, but we decided on only a short ride of 30 miles to the large town of Conception. Here, we opted to take a bus south on the very boring motorway for 120 miles to Temuco. As we lost so much time in Cafayate, we needed to catch up in order to appreciate southern Chile and to be able to take our time in the best areas. The bus was very cheap (3 pounds each) and scorched along the dual carriageway into the headwind with no effort at all. We arrived 3 hours later in Temuco.

Stayed 2 nights to do a bit of shopping and surprisingly got nearly everything on our wanted list.

David replaced the wire on Joan's cyclometer which was broken when some children pulled at it. It was cheaper and easier to buy a small soldering iron and do the job himself rather than search around for somebody to do it.

Only 20 miles of motorway out of Temuco before we turned off to the northern lake district for a detour around the lakes. Villarrica, a typical tourist town was ridden through quickly and we found a nice quiet campsite just past Lincan Ray. A short ride on very rough roads brought us to one of the best campsites yet. We found an isolated spot by a lake where we had a clear view of the volcano Villarica with its snow covered slopes and smoking cone. In the evening, just as the sun went down, the volcano changed colour to a purple hue and ideal for photography. As David was taking photographs at sunset a full moon rose over the top of the volcano and gave a rare photographic opportunity. We hope the pictures come out!

Another great campsite in Panguipulli where we were the only ones there.

Our MSR cooker has finally failed us. The thread on the jet seating eventually gave up and would not seal the jet. Several attempts with lead washers and aluminium foil were to no avail. The main problem is that the jet only screws in one and a half turns before it seats and after many removals and replacements for cleaning, the thread was so worn that further tightening stripped it. There are only two solutions and neither are practical without the right equipment. The jet seat can be deepened or the jet itself shortened to give more thread entry to the seat. Another cooker must be purchased. MSR is not available around here and a simple gas burner will have to do.



Dave and Joan