The Chilean Lake District

Route: Puerto Monto – Puerto Varas – Ensenada – Entre Lagos – Puerto Novo – Los Lagos – Huellahue – Villarica – Los Laureles – Melipeuco – Paso Icalma

18/01/2018
There are two roads to leave Puerto Montt to Puerto Varas. Road nbr 5, the “Panamericana”, and one via the airport. The last one seemed to be the smallest one.
When I asked about traffic conditions at the tourist information, the lady told me I can not take that last road. I will 100% sure end up without a bike and without luggage.
Oh ?
And also most of the locals take that road to avoid the fee one has to pay for the Panamericana.
This Panamerica is busy as well, according to her. It also has no shoulder. “We don’t do that in Chile”, she said.
“You’ll have to pay a small fee, but take that road, it’s much safer”, according to her.
I thought it over for a bit. Mostly car drivers are not very well placed to judge what’s ‘safer’ for a cyclist.
As my guesthouse was closer to the Panamerica as the other road, I decided to follow her advise (my guesthouse was in a ‘very dangerous area’ as well, according to her).

Cyclists (which are allowed on the Panamericana highway) don’t have to pay a fee and there is a shoulder all the way. I hope her perceptions about safety and dangerous are as wrong as her other advise.

So, a busy highway it is to Puerto Varas, but it’s only twenty kilometer and this way I get to experience for a little, little bit what the Panamerican is like. Incredible some people choose to cycle this highway all the way across the Americas.

Puerto Varas is a little bit the Brasschaat of this area. A nice upmarket little place, expensive hotels, outdoor stores and a beautiful setting at the Lago Llanquihue. I checked whether they didn’t have a decent camera shop here, but they told me Puerto Montt had it all …

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Volcano Calbuco with Lago Llanquihue in front.

The paved road around the lake has a bicycle lane !
It goes all around the lake, said the lady in the tourist information.
Things really get good here 🙂
Outside Puerto Varas, there’s a Jumbo supermarket. It’s not huge as it’s name might indicate, a bit like the Delhaize in Brasschaat and perhaps even more beautiful. They even sell Camembert cheese, have a nice selection of fruit and vegetables, excellent -)
Didn’t know a good supermarket could make me so happy.

Cycling lanes, a tailwind, a good supermarket…. something must spoil the fun a bit, no ?
Indeed, these black / orange terrorist bugs. They are around me in the dozens. I need to take tree branch and sway it around myself while cycling to keep them of me. Half a second after I stop, they’re all over me, diving right at me. They are terrible and so numerous here.

Cycling along the lake, I have Volcano Calbuco on my right side, which had a major eruption on 26th May 2015, in front of me the beautiful Osorno Volcana and behind that, Volcano Puntiagudo.

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Volcan Osorno.

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Volcan Osorno again.

 

The bicycle lane stopped in the village Cascadas…
More tailwind blew me quickly to the next lake, Lago Rupanco and then to yet another one, Lago Puyehue. This is where some really bad ripio road started. Big stones and enough low flying traffic to cover me with a big layer of dust.
It sticks in the suncream.
Temperatures always go into the mid or high thirties in the sun during the day.
No complaints 🙂

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Lago Ranco is one of the bigger lakes in the Chilean lake region. It being Saturday and the proximity of some bigger coastal towns as Valdivia means it’s packed with tourists. Beaches filled with unhealthy looking tourists, frying more sausages, eating more potato chips, more ice-cream, more soft drinks, more beer.…
Lot’s of garbage along the jammed road.
Bushes full of toilet paper and its smells coming at you.
Jet ski’s, car stereo’s….
Some people seem to love it though.

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I can’t be away from it soon enough, but the cycling ain’t fun here, sharing the narrow road with speeding, stressed pick-up trucks racing from one lake to the next.
I pitch the tent in a field, a few meters from that busy road. High grass in between, so nobody will see me.
It’s not your quiet, natural wild camping spot but it beats the camping ground for sure.

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Enjoying sunny evenings near the tent.
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I passed the 40th latitude again. Last time around, in the other direction near Junin de los Andes, that meant the start of terrible head winds. Today it is calm.

After a short day, I end up at Camping ‘Los Suizos’, run by a Swiss man. The camping lays at the top of a 35 meter high cliff with below the Rio Calle Calle.
I have some overdue bike maintenance to do, like switching the front and back tyre, changing back to the first chain and give the bike a good scrub. And most importantly, look for some good alternative, little used back roads going north.

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I’m having a few rips in the side wall of my tyre. I was thinking to buy another one in Puerto Montt, but they don’t sell Schwalbe here, so I try to repair it. A repaired Schwalbe is still better then some crappy mountain bike tyre.
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I cut an old tube in little pieces, attaching it to some duct tape.
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Hope this will hold out for the next months.
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After cutting tyres, it’s cutting veggies.
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A shinny bike, for an afternoon. Tomorrow it’s back on ripio.

In hindsight, the route I drew out, was fantastic. Still a few kilometer on the busy main road from Los Lagos towards Panguipulli, but then I take a left turn and cross the Rio San Pedro with a little cable ferry. From here it’s all ripio for a while with literally less then a handful of cars the rest of the day. Inclines are steep sometimes and require pushing, but they are never long.

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Obesitas is a big problem in South-America

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In Huellahue I join the paved road again for a while. Not as busy as further west, but still requires a constant eye in the rear view mirror.
I do have some views of the Lago Calafquen from higher up, but instead of riding down towards the village of Lican Ray and ending up on the busy road to Villarica, I again choose some little used ripio option.
All is good. Again I find a nice place to pitch the tent.
Well, the place is nice, but unfortunately the chain saws from different directions go on till sunset, barking and howling dogs from the north-west, north-east and south-west. The dogs are soon joined by a guy who is shouting really, really loud “whooohaaaa – whoooohaaa” in the distance. The dogs going more crazy. Then he cranks up his ‘music’.
When he finally decides it’s been enough for the day, one of his neighbors a bit to the east opens his sound system. More ‘boonk-e-boonke’ till midnight.

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Buying blue berries along the road.
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Good exemple of the roads you’re on. No shoulder, no way for you to go but to dive into the side when vehicles have to cross. Again, slowing down seems never to be an option here. It doesn’t even seem to come into their mind.
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This looks worse than it is. They stick to you, but don’t hurt.

The chain saw gang resumed at 07:00. Mowing the trees from 07:00 till 21:00 hrs. No time to waste.
It’ll be good for the economy. For someones economy.

My chosen path towards Villarica sure isn’t the easiest. Washboard and lot’s of loose stones. But when I hit the main road, a few kilometer outside of Villarica, I’m super-glad I was on these bad tracks. Suddenly it’s like I’m in the Monday morning traffic jams to enter Antwerp. Terrible. Are all seventeen million Chileans here ?
Upon entering Villarica, I pedal my seven thousandth kilometer in South-America away.
The famous Volcano Villarica, one off the most active in South-America lies at the other side of the lake.  It’s last major eruption was on 3rd March 2015.  It became super-popular to climb it.
Over 20.000 people a year, I read.
Queuing to the top, not my thing.
I tried again to find a lens for my camera, but in vain. There was a shop selling the same Sony camera I have, but they don’t sell ‘accessories’ and were not prepare to sell it’s lens alone.

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First views of Volcano Villarica
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the busy road into Villarica.
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Volcan Villarica, with Lago Villarica in the front, as seen from the city Villarica 🙂 They are very creative with names here.
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It can’t be pasta every day. I never liked couscous, but it’s good travel food, as you just have to put it in the boiling water and let it sit for 5 minutes. Add some curry powder while it sits there, then prepare your veggies again with some curry & coco milk if available and put it all together. Healthy and yummy.

Allas, I leave the town asap. Soon on ripio again; of the worst kind.
Good.
Slowly I’m getting nearer and nearer to the cordillera, it’s peaks clearly visible now to my east.

As the ripio gets rougher, and the traffic seems oddly enough to increase as well, I decide to take the asphalt road to Los Laureles instead of continuing on ripio towards Lago Corico.
Not special to see in Los Laureles, but I found it a need little village.
The road between Cunco and Melipeuco is the best cycling Chili had on offer. A nice wide shoulder and hills both side of the road. Throw sunshine, temperatures above 30 degrees and a tail wind in, and your day is perfect.

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The end of a fellow cyclist ?
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You see this, authorities and road constructors ? This is all we cyclists need, a white line and a few extra buckets of asphalt makes life more pleasant, and safer, for everybody. Can’t be that hard to construct your roads like that, right ?

After Melipeuco, the last 40 kilometer or so to Paso de Icalma, which is the border with Argentina, is again on a sometimes rough ripio road, climbing steep at times (i.e; in the 10 to 14% range). Once I’m above 1.000 meter, I’m cyclingbetween the spectacular and odly shaped araucaria trees.

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Ashes from the Volcan Llaima, one of the largest and most active volcanoes in Chile.
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The days often start cloudy, but by late morning, the sun always came out.

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Araucaria Trees.

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Camping in the no man’s land between the Chilean and Argentinean immigration posts.  Paso Icalma.
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These Araucaria’s have a beautiful bark.

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I haven’t met any other cyclist in the Lake Region.
Perhaps because I was too often on the little, steep gravel roads.
Few other things that stand out: The dogs here, as well as in the Argentinean part of Patagonia are brilliant. They do somtimes make faint attempts ‘attacking’ you, but you only have to lift as much as your little pinky and the crawl away, their tail between their legs.
Also remarkable is the high number of Chinese cars on the Chilean roads. “Great Wall” seems to be the most popular mark (and they actually look pretty good), but there were other brands as well. Also many trucks are Chinese made.
I think the Western, Japanese and Korean brands are up to a hard future if the Chinese are going to dump cheaper cars on our markets.
More cars for more people …..

El Chaltén – Passo Icalma
Distance: 2.161 km
Average km per cycling day: 58,41 km
Altimeter: 28631

Nights slept inside: 4 (3 in hostel, 1 in the “ferry terminal” at Rio Bravo)
Nights slept outside: 44 (of which 30 wild camping)
Flat tires: 0

The GPS track can be downloaded from Wikiloc

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3 thoughts on “The Chilean Lake District”

  1. Dag Koen,

    Zeg kerel… Laat me je schwalbe banden hier kopen en ik stuur ze naar je toe (evenals lens). Mocht je geen leveradres hebben weet dat ik heel goede kennis heb In Trujullio… Daar kan ik zeker een pakket laten leveren en houden ze het voor je bij.

    Mooi verslag opnieuw.

    Groeten

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hoi Charles,

      Ik heb je ook geantwoord via mailtje. Bedankt voor je mooie aanbod. Spijtig genoeg blijken de douane hier moeilijk te doen als je spullen op laat sturen en zijn ze nogal overijverig een graantje (blijkbaar serieuze graan) mee te pikken.
      Maar misschien kan je een band brengen, en tegelijkertijd je fiets meenemen en een eindje meerijden ? 🙂

      Like

  2. I enjoyed reading your journal and looking at your nice pictures from your actual trip. I hope that your get the replacement lens for your camera soon. Keep up the good work! G-d Bless! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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