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Tues 8 Feb (contd): Termas del Plomo–Lo Valdés (73km, 880m ascent)

Anticipating an easy descent to San Gabriel for lunch we dawdle over breakfast, keen to warm up and dry our footwear. We set off at 11 and find that the road is the worst sort of ripio so that even downhill progress is slow. Also San Gabriel is further than our map says – about 50km.

Yeso

Co. Aparejo

Embalse el Yeso

means ‘gypsum’, and the river is so named for a reason, as we realise when trucks of the stuff start passing us. They mash the road-rubble to a fine powder and then kick it up in clouds. But there are views to compensate.

We reach San Gabriel at 3 and find the carabineri between us and our restaurant, the Eagle’s Nest. We have to endure the frontier formalities before sitting down to the cold beer and large steak we deserve.

After lunch we follow a less bad road to Lo Valdés. Now it’s uphill, and still we share it with gypsum lorries and their clouds of dust. The final 500m to the Refugio are too steep to ride. It’s after 7 when we get there.

Notes: The refuge is friendly and reasonably comfortable; the food is very good. One of the people there, Andy, is from England. The drawback to Lo Valdés is the lack of tranquillity. Not only are there trucks, there is also a processing yard in Lo Valdés itself, emitting occasional loud noises. Unbelievably, the activity continues through the night.

Weds 9: Baños de Colina (30km, 870m)

We

Baños Morales

decide to ride to the Baños de Colina with thoughts of following the Río de Colina further: the JPM map shows a cyclable route going far enough to give us views of the Paso de las Nieves Negras, an alternative to the Piuquenes.

The first 6km are unrelentingly steep, averaging about 7%. Then the valley turns a corner and levels out, but by now we’re exhausted. We get to the Baños which we’re too mean to visit, continue to the end of the motorable road, and agree that we’re too tired to continue. We eat a packed lunch and head back, using the dilapidated old road on the right bank of the Colina.

Note: the link road between the left and right banks was recently built by the quarry company. Its junction with the road on the left bank is above the steep climb at 19H 0406715 6257870 (2331m). A fair amount of pushing is needed even for the descent on the right bank road.

Thurs 10: El Morado (distance unknown, 900m)

For

Co. Morado

our final day we decided to visit the San Francisco glacier in the El Morado national park. We didn’t know whether we would be able to cycle to it. People have certainly done so in the past, but national parks are inclined to ban such things.

We rode as far as the park HQ and sure enough a notice prohibited us from taking bikes in. We locked the bikes there and continued on foot.

It’s a pleasant walk, with Co. Morado at the head of the valley almost always in view. The glacier snout is the natural stopping place. We had lunch there, cooled our water in the stream, and returned. Tracey was by now quite exhausted and found the return journey an ordeal, though she perked up when she got back on her bike.

Note: do not enter the ice caves. They may collapse on you, or rocks may fall on you as you leave.

Fri 11: Lo Valdés–Santiago (85km, 280m)

We rode to San Gabriel, where Tracey did a little dance to celebrate the end of ripio, and continued on good tarmac following the Río Maipo. There’s a moderate amount of traffic, and the drivers are a little maniacal. We had lunch at El Canelo and set off to Santiago, reaching the suburbs after 70km. We’d have liked to catch a taxi at once, but we needed to find a bank first to withdraw some money, and taxis aren’t easy to catch on the busy roads we were on. Eventually a taxi with a roof rack dropped someone off near us and we persuaded him to take us back to the Posada del Inglés.

Sat 12: Santiago–England

And so it ends.

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