Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The 500 charity Kilometers

We left Bariloche and took a fairly circuitous route around the region known as the seven lakes, in order to try and spend time at each one, and clock up a few kms for the Red Cross appeal. The cycling around the region is fairly challenging; a lot of very undulating, unpaved routes with miles and miles of road works where they are trying to improve the ripio, and the lakes themselves largely hidden from view most of the time. That said, when off the road and by the lakes themselves the region couldn't be more beautiful. As the holiday season has now officially ended the area was almost deserted, and we had entire lakes to ourselves for camping and fishing! It was a shame to move on, and we were very tempted to take a week off to explore further, but decided in the end to push on for San Martin de Los Andes. Here we did take a couple of days off, after finding a hostal full of other cyclists, we spent some time servicing the bikes, cooking (always such a nice change after eating food off the MSR for any length of time), and exchanging tips for route planning.

We had previously thought it wouldn't be possible to go back into Chile and that we would continue instead through Argentina, however we had really wanted to visit the Lanin and Villarica Volcanoes via Pucon and as we heard from other travellers that this was still possible, decided to take a little 260km detour across the border in order to do so. As with all such Andean border crossings, it turns out there are a couple of hills to navigate enroute, and crossing twice in a week, although memorable, is probably not something we will repeat in the near future!

The terromoto in Pucon was felt at 7.6, and being at the foot of the very active Villarica volcono the majority of people we spoke to were deeply traumatised not only from the quake itself, but from the belief that the volcano itself was erupting. People described the roads literally waving up and down as if made of jelly, the buildings moving so much that it was impossible to stand, and a general belief that it was the start of the end of their world. Incredibly only four people died in the area, and the majority of buildings remained intact. The only visible remnants of the quake we saw were a couple of land slides onto the roads and in areas where the roads are paved they were often split down the middle for extensive stretches. In general however it was amazing how everyone seemed to be getting back on with their lives, after what was such a terrible natural disaster.

From Pucon we decided to climb the 2800m Villarica Volcano; one of the most active volcanos in South America, (it last erupted in 1984 and there are huge black rivers carved down the sides of the mountain from the the lava streams that ran down it!). This has probably been one of the most incredible things we have done so far on our travels; the climb itself was relatively easy, and provided the most amazing views of the surrounding lakes and volcanoes. The crater at the top was like something from another planet, it was incredibly toxic - very difficult to breathe due to the amount of sulphur and phosphur gases being emitted, and looking down into it felt like looking into the core of the earth!! I was only slightly disappointed not to be able to see a big pool of red bubbling magma at the bottom!
We took the quick route down (throwing ourselves down the snow on our bums!!) which was very funny, and meant I finally got chance to try out an ice axe arrest! (although unfortunately still not christening the axe Ja got me for Christmas last year).

We had a couple of long (100km) and what felt like very difficult days back into Argentina crossing the Andes at the Icalma border (1300m, but undulating so felt more!). Two notable events occured here; firstly Ja's worst fears were realised when he was attacked by a pack of four dogs, and ironically he was not armed with any of the many defensive sticks/sprays/alarms he still insists on carrying. My sympathy for him lessened somewhat when I discovered the dogs he described attacking him turned out to be no bigger than your average kitten, and were the house pets of a hotel owner, all were identical to the one pictured here in its full viciousness - two of them even wore pink hair bobbles. Even Ja admitted with hindsight that 'attack' might have been the wrong adjective.

Secondly we discovered the wonders of the monkey puzzle tree (or pehuén), which is native to the region, and at this time of year is full of the piñones seeds that the native Pehuench peoples were named after. The nuts are like a cross between pine nuts and chestnuts, and taste amazing either roasted or boiled. Collecting them became strangely compulsive and seemed to put us back in touch with our hunter gatherer roots (it reminded me a lot of collecting conkers when we were children, except even better as they are edible) and before we knew it we had managed to weigh ourselves down even further with about 3 kilos of the things. We are now planing a pehuench dinner party, and desperately trying to think of recipes to use them up!!

We have managed to clock up 700 kms since leaving Bariloche, and are close to having raised the £500 we had hoped to raise and donate to the Red Cross Chilean earthquake disaster appeal. Thank you so much to everyone who so generously donated, and Richard you will be pleased to hear that at least 200 of them were uphill, with a headwind and on bad ripio, so I reckon we earned it ;-)

We now plan to jump further North, to Mendoza, where we are meeting a French couple Ben&Sylvie, who we will cycle with for a bit before heading up into Bolivia.


  1. I am sick of Jason being the victim. In the new chapter you should make J the hero who suddenly realises he is camp as a boy scout jamborie!!! PS J: next time eat the feckin dog! Show them whos boss!

  2. Jenzo - can you add an Indiana Jones style map of your route to your blog?

  3. Adrian, Ja is always my hero. I obviously haven't emphasised enough the time when he risked life and limb fixing my puncture in a swarm of man eating buzzing things, or the time when I was being attacked by a dog and he valiantly went to find someone to pull it off me, or all the multitude of other minor heroic acts that occur so often I can't even think of them right now...
    Steve... will definitely try and find out how to put a map up. Internet been a bit patchy recently so not been able to do anything. Hope to be back on line in about a week, so will try again then. I imagine it may look a bit more 'Dora the Explora' than Indiana Jones, but I'll try...

  4. Right...
    full multicoloured dora the explorer style map now up for the South America bit, slightly rubbish UK map which I will work on if I get time, and France/Spain still to come....
    Hope all well with you guys.