Where to for New Years?

I’m sitting in “San Carlos de Bariloche” – or just Bariloche for short – trying to work out what I should do for New Years Eve. I’m planning to leave here tomorrow, and head to El Bolson, an old hippy community about 125km south. It will take me two days to get there, so I should arrive on the 30th. If I don’t stop there for a rest day, then New Years Eve will almost certainly be camped somewhere in a forest, by myself. Again. I need to decide now, because places are getting fully booked now, and it looks like there is going to be a LOT of camping coming up, because that will be the only place I’ll be able to get.

Christmas was spent alone though, so it won’t make much difference if I do the same for New Years. Probably wouldn’t be the best idea to ride out of town on New Years Day anyway. At the time I’m leaving, people will just be getting into the swing of the party. So I’ll keep riding, even if it’s only short days.

I left San Martin on Christmas Day, through eerily empty streets. Around the lake the good road was deserted, but then as I began a long climb up a gentle gradient, I was surprised at the number of vehicles passing me. Cars, trucks, carrying/towing boats, old American-style pick-up trucks with 10 niños (kids) in the back, all sorts. I couldn’t work out where they were all going – don’t they know it’s Christmas?

At the top of the pass was “Arroyo Partido” – it doesn’t look like much, but it’s where a small river splits in two. Yes Lindsay, that’s boring, who cares. Well it turns out that one branch of the river ultimately flows to the Atlantic, while the other flows to the Pacific. I think that’s pretty cool. So I stopped there for a while, reading in the sunshine.

Later in the day, I finally worked out where everyone was going – they were all parked next to Lago Falkner, or its neighbour, Lago Villarino. There was a large field beside Villarino, and I was concerned about the clouds that were coming in, so I decided to stop and camp there, with all the Argentinian day campers. You see, although a place looks very busy during the day, they almost all leave at night, leaving you in peace. There were a couple of British cyclists there, who were just packing up. They’d been having the day off, but felt they should probably do some exercise, so were going to push on 20 or so km down the road, before the rain hit. I’ll probably catch up with them again soon.

I thought I’d done well with my tent site, behind a little bit of shelter from the rising wind, not far from some small clean creeks that ran across the field. But then as various vehicles left, and drove close to my tent, I started getting concerned, because there was a bit of standing water left where the vehicles had passed, and the rain was about to start. Suddenly I realised that I could be in trouble if ground water levels started rising, as my tent handles wind and rain, but not groundwater. It was too late to move though, so it was a nervous night huddled in the tent, listening to the wind and rain.

Boxing Day brought more rain, but luckily there were breaks in it. First time I’ve had to get all the wet weather gear out, and I needed it. During a break in the rain, I packed up my tent, and got moving. The tarmac ended after a kilometre, and then I had gravel roads, that they’ve been working on for several years. Roads being worked on can be even harder than un-maintained roads, but these were generally in quite ridable condition. Based on their progress, I think it will be a few more years before it’s all paved though. Some bits are ready for paving, other parts still need some massive earthworks. Beautiful area though.

I had planned on camping, but I was cold, wet and tired, so I wimped out, and got a dorm bed in a hostel at Villa La Angostura. Central heating, very nice. I got confused trying to follow my GPS to the hostel location though – it was saying there was a road in this direction, and to head up that road…but all I could see was a little dirt track. Turned out that was the road though. It’s like Romania here – the main road through town is paved, but nothing off it.

Yesterday I had an easy 60km, with a strong wind behind me, and I was just cruising. Couldn’t last though – I hit a 90° junction, and now the wind was trying to knock me over onto the now busy road. Struggled through the last 20km, and was grateful to make it to my hostel, “41 Below“, run by a Kiwi here. Nice place too, I would recommend it. Safe, warm, quiet, but very central. Cool people here too.

Just been mucking around this morning, getting a few chores done, trying to track down a few items I need. I’ve also gotten a haircut. Low maintenance, number 3 all over. Next time I’ll go shorter though I think. Should cut down on the amount of soap I need to carry. Now if only I could track down some White Gas aka Bencina Blanca…

Oh and before I forget, does anyone know why the Argentinian car fleet is a weird mix of mostly new, and a few quite old vehicles? There’s not much from say 80s, early 90s, but there are quite a few old Ford Falcons and Renaults from the 70s, and a few crappy old Minis. Something odd about it, there’s no progression to the ages. Must be a reason for it.

Photos of this leg here (can’t embed because Google says I don’t need that any more)

Argentina Already

The problem with random conversations with cyclists, is that you can end up different things to what you planned. So it was, and so it is that I am now in Argentina, several weeks earlier than I had thought I would first visit. I had planned on staying in Chile a while longer, but after chatting with another cyclist, I decided to head to Argentina from Villaricca.

I headed down to Lican Ray, then around the lake to Conaripe. Herr Meyer struck again here – my high school German managed to get me free lunch. I was picking up some supplies from the supermercado, when a local came and started chatting to me. He had been born here, but his parents were from Munich, and so he spoke German. There is a strong German influence in Chile, which you can see in the houses, some names, and the beer. Anyway, he took me to a local bakery, where he seems to have an account, and bought me an empanada. These are a pastry turnover, with different fillings – e.g. cheese, mince, etc. I’d been pretty disappointed with them in the past, as they were quite lacking in substance, but this was a proper one, filled with good quality ingredients. He told me a bit about the place and people, and sent me on my way, not letting me pay for anything.

From Conaripe, the pavement ended, and the ripio (gravel roads) began. A big slog up a hill, then a very steep descent down to a Termas. The Termas Conaripe is a fancy place, with expensive hotel rooms…but right next to it is the “Eco Termas Pellaifa” which is a bit more basic. Camping sites, 3 pools (cool, warm, warmer), bathrooms, etc. Plenty of other people there when I arrived,but they were only day camping. So by evening, I was the only one there. A bargain at $6USD for the campsite and access to the pools. I would have just liked to relax in the pools, but a Mapuche girl wanted to practice her English. Oddly enough, you are generally left alone by Chilenos, completely different to China, where people are always interested in you. I could have done with the rest, but it was good to chat, to learn a bit more about the place, and hopefully improve the image of tourists.

Next day was tough, taking a little used road towards Puerto Fuy. Some sections were extremely steep, with very loose gravel. In 20km, I saw about 5 vehicles. At the top, a guy in a ute asked if I wanted a lift – a bit late! On the way up to Puerto Fuy, I passed the Montana Magica Lodge. Surrounded by forest, up a gravel road, is this enormous wooden hotel. Looks like the sort of place that very rich celebrities go to when they want to “rough it” in a 5-star hotel in the middle of nowhere.

From Puerto Fuy, there is a ferry across Lake Pirihueico to Puerto Pirihueico. There is a very rough track around the lake, but the 90 minute ferry along the long, narrow lake is a better option. I had no idea what the timetable was, but figured I could always stay in Puerto Fuy if need be. But luck was with me, and somehow I managed to roll onto the boat 2 minutes before the 14:00 sailing. Turns out that the current timetable is 14:00 Fuy -> Pirihueico, and 16:00 return. In Janurary and February, it runs at 8:00, 13:00 and 18:00, returning 2 hours later. If I’d been just a little slower, I would have had a whole day to kill in the tiny town of Puerto Fuy.

At the other side, it’s about 11km to the border, so I decided to camp for the night. I thought I had a perfectly good little spot, hidden from the road, didn’t appear to have been anyone else around for a few weeks…and then after I’d set up a guy came past with a couple of cows. He didn’t seem to care though.

At the Chilean customs the next morning, the place was deserted. They are supposed to be open, but they know that there were no ferries due for hours. After a bit of waiting, I eventually went and woke some people up, and they stamped me out. Just as well I did get them to, as on the Argentinian side they checked my exit stamp.

A pretty long, very slow climb on the Argentinian side. At least the road surface improved dramatically, from loose stones, to a hard, reasonably smooth surface. But it was slow going, exacerbated by the fact I was very low on food, and there was nowhere open selling food until my destination. I was pretty happy when I reached the highest point (1040m), because then I knew I could reach San Martin de Los Andes, and food wouldn’t be a problem.

This is a very upmarket kind of place, and a big change to the villages on the Chilean side. It’s too expensive to stay long, but I will stay 3 nights, so that I will be here on Christmas Eve (Christmas Day NZ time). I’ll then ride out on Christmas Day, heading towards Bariloche. Looks like New Years Eve is going to be in the middle of nowhere too…

More photos on Google photos – you need to click this link, I can’t embed it any more.

Relaxing by the Lake

After four days on the road, and my body trying to tell me that it is no longer in the condition it used to be in, I am having a rest. Villaricca seems as good a place as any to stop, especially when it is at a hostel run by a pair of RTW cyclists who decided that here was where they would stop.

From Santiago I got a bus with Linea Azul to Chillan, to avoid the crap riding on the motorway south of Santiago. Since then I’ve had 3.5 days on the dual carriageway Ruta 5, and half a day on the (good) road to Villaricca. After here, the dirt roads will start.

From Chillan, I rode to Salta del Lajos, a waterfall, where I was the first camping tourist of the season. Apparently the others are still 3-4 weeks away. I was all alone in the campsite. Still a ripoff at $10USD for cold water. Prices are per site, rather than per person, making it expensive for one.

Next stop was a very dodgy town, Chollipulli. There’s something odd about seeing Chilean kids trying so hard to look like an American skater, right down to the pants down low showing their boxers. Especially when you’re in the middle of a town that is very much NOT the USA.

There is quite obvious disparity here in people’s incomes. It’s odd stopping at a services area that could be in Europe, then next stopping at a little shack on the edge of a field, to grab an empanada. I don’t think it’s coruption (like say China or Central Asia), more it’s that some people have adapted faster to the changes since Pinochet’s time. There is some serious money behind the agricultural procesing plants, and huge houses in the Lake District here.

Another day down the Ruta 5 from Chollipulli to Temuco, then a nice easy ride out here to Villaricca. Didn’t expect Villaricca to have as many flash places as it does, but I guess it’s a rich person’s playground.

Met my first touring cyclists yesterday, and had a chat about where to go from here. The current thinking is that I may be better off going to Argentina in the next day or two, moving south, then crossing back to Chile around Futaleafu. Seems as good a plan as any.

Click this link for a Google Photos album showing the trip so far. I’d like to embed it, but the Google overlords have decided we’re not allowed that feature anymore.

Puppy Killer

That’s right folks, you better watch me closely now.

Yesterday I was on the road, cycling down the dual carriageway that runs down the middle of Chile, the Ruta 5, aka the PanAmerican highway. Here it’s a relatively recently constructed road, perhaps a bit dull to ride on, but safe for the cyclist, since there’s a wide paved shoulder, so you don’t have to worry about making room for vehicles. The on/off ramps every 5km or so are well constructed too, making them quite easy to negotiate, with plenty of room to move, and work out when it’s safe to cross the off ramp. Regular bus stops also provide shade. Still, a couple more days of it and I’ll be getting pretty sick of it.

Anyway, this section had a concrete ditch running alongside it. Like most of the countryside until the last day or so, it’s hot and dry. I’m riding along, and I see something in the gutter – I then realise it’s moving, and making noise. Other times I might have just left it alone, not wanting to get involved, but 10 metres down the road, I realise what it is, and what I need to do.

I put down the bike, and go back. There’s a small black puppy lying there, paws akimbo, attracting flies. It seems to be dead. But near it is a white puppy, struggling, mewling pathetically, turning its head in my direction, even though it’s eyes aren’t open. I pretty quickly summed it up – someone has thrown a couple of unwanted puppies off a moving car, and the fall has killed one of them. The other was severely dehydrated, lonely, confused, and probably internally injured from the fall.

Dogs are not treated well here. Towns have strays running around, and clearly they are beaten by the locals, as they are timid. Patting one the other day, it was clearly grateful for a simple touch (although it would probably have preferred food…). There is no SPCA. The next town, 10km away, would not have facilities for an animal like this.

Before going back, I had picked up a rock. I use it. Hmmm, not sure that rock was big enough. A second time. It is done for certain.

Not the easiest of things to do, but better than the alternative of leaving it.

Now those dogs here better continue to leave me alone, so there doesn’t have to be any more casualties…

First days in Chile

I’ve been in Santiago a few days now, and I’m starting to get the hang of it, so here’s a bit more on what’s happening. Yesterday got off to a slow start, as I didn’t even wake up until noon. Usually I can tell the time to within about 10 minutes, without a watch, but my body clock is a bit messed up right now. It’s coming right, and should be sorted soon. Hope so, because waking up hungry at 4am, way too hot to go back to sleep, is not fun.

Haven’t done too much in the way of typical tourist stuff, other than going up the cable car, to the top of the hill overlooking the city. It was quite weird walking through the markets selling tourist tat, and be completely ignored by the hawkers. They were focussing on the Spanish-speaking touristas. Other than that there’s been a lot of walking around, and getting a few things sorted out. Ordering food/drink is easy, but when you need to carry out slightly more complicated transactions, such as getting a new SIM card setup, things get a bit more interesting when you don’t share much language. I’d forgotten how much fun that can be.

People think that travel to exotic locations is glamorous, and maybe it can be, but if they saw me yesterday, sitting in a bright orange restaurant, eating fried chicken that was more skin than meat, off a bright orange plastic tray, watching an Adam Sandler movie dubbed into very loud Spanish, well, they might just think again.

Today I went for a bike ride around Santiago, covering about 35km. Surprisingly, the city has some useful bike facilities, with many bike paths through the parks, and along the riverbank. Many Chilenos were out and about on their bikes too. With it being a Sunday, and an election day, most shops were closed, so there was not much traffic. As an aside though, can you imagine a Western service station closing the shop part (but still selling petrol) just because it’s an election day? Hasn’t anyone told them that most of their sales margin is made in the store, not at the pump?

The vague outline of the ride I did was to follow the river through the city, from east to west. This corresponded with a significant decline in the money in each area. In the east was a huge shopping mall, full of rich Western brands, but closed. Very odd seeing a carpark listing spaces available: 1415. It was all Gucci and Prada out there, but sterile. As I went west, the money dropped, but once I passed the city center, things got much more interesting. Far more drunken bums passed out on the grass. Many shops were still closed, but there were still markets and things going on in the west. I guess when you’re poor, you can’t always just take a day off.

Tomorrow I’m going to get a bus to Chillan, and ride from there. This will save me some time, and avoid some dull riding through industrial areas, and busy roads.

Sunning myself in Santiago

Just a quick post, to say that I’ve arrived in Santiago. Bike seems to have made it through the flight OK too – first thing I did was to put it together. Nothing seems damaged. I took the easy option of getting a minibus taxi to get me and my bike from the airport to the hostel. Purists would of course assemble the bike at the airport, and ride from there, but I couldn’t be bothered. It’s not the easiest to find the non-motorway route in from the airport either.

I arrived around noon, and although I could have probably done with a nap, I decided to get out and about in the sunshine, to help reset my body clock. Plenty of sunshine there was too, with no clouds and temperatures around 30°. Lots of walking around the city centre, dodging the crowds in the shopping areas. I’m getting sorted out with provisions now, and working out how I’m going to get out of town. Current plan is to get a bus to Chillan, to save some time, and avoid riding through busy industrial areas.

3 in 3

Last weekend Wellington, this weekend Sydney, next weekend Santiago. After a paltry 2 flights in the last year, and not even leaving the country, I am at last moving again.

Kiwicon was on in Wellington. This was the third running of a computer security conference. We don’t get many conferences here, so it was heartening to see quality talks, attended by around 300 people. On a weekend no less. The $50 price tag might have helped this somewhat. A good range of talks – some of them way too technical for me, some covering things I know and do every day, and some just hitting the right spot. A good chance to catch up with a few people I know too – it’s a small industry here.

Next weekend is Sydney, for a cousin’s wedding. It will be a good opportunity to catch up with some spread out branches of the family. After Sydney, back to NZ for a couple of days before flying to Santiago. Only two more days of work to go too. I’ve moved out of my flat, everything’s packed up and I’m living out of (nb not in) a cardboard box.

Although I’ve packed up most of my stuff, it doesn’t mean that I’ve sorted out all my gear. I’ve been busy patching holes in my panniers, and sorting out other stuff. I think I’ve got everything I want; it’s now a matter of sorting through and working out what I actually need. [email protected] is going to hold an extra large bike box for me, so next week I’ll box it up, and pray that I don’t get hit with excess baggage charges. Could be marginal.

I’ve also started looking at some of my maps. I’ve got a couple of overlapping maps, and I’m a bit concerned about discrepancies between them. One has a road marked as a highway, the other as a “seasonal track.” At best the road will be a dirt road. One marks some roads as highways when I know that they are dirt roads. I should be able to get hold of some better maps when I’m in country anyway. These ones are just for planning. I’ve also found detailed maps for my GPS, from gps.com.ar. They are detailed, it remains to be seen if they are accurate.