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We spent about 4 weeks cycling in Chile in January 1997. We rode mountain bikes and stayed in hotels. It had been a hard winter, and Colin had had to do unaccustomed training miles in the cold.

Our plan was to ride from Temuco to Puerto Montt, crossing over to Argentina on the way, seeing the highlights of the Lake District. We didn’t spend any time at Santiago, where we merely changed planes.

The best source of info was a Turistel guide available only in Chile itself. [Note (2004): I recently obtained a similar guide over the internet from Antártica.]

Day 1: Temuco – Villarica, a pleasant lakeside town. Tracey couldn’t resist trying to ride up to the summit of the volcano. We spent 3 nights here, more for the sake of recovery than sightseeing.

Day 2: Villarica – Pucón, short and easy. Pucón is the grand chic of the Chilean lakes.

Day 5: Pucón – Termas de Palguín. This was less than we’d intended. Our plan had been to cycle all the way to Coñaripe, but the road was unpaved and undergoing roadworks (perhaps being surfaced), and we made progress which then seemed unbelievably slow. Only later did we realise that that was the nature of Chilean roads. We spent the night at the comfortable hotel attached to the Termas, and visited some nearby waterfalls in forests of wild fuschias and giant rhubarb.

Day 6: Termas de Palguín – Coñaripe. This was one of two really enjoyable rides on the entire tour. The sun shone, and instead of being an all-weather rubble track the route was made of smooth dry mud. Finding the way was hard. We climbed through a dense rainforest of monkey-puzzle trees giving superb views and dropped down to our destination, looking back at the volcanoes we’d flanked. We arrived in time for a late lunch.

Day 7: Coñaripe – Panguipulli. This was not according to plan. We’d intended to ride to Chosuenco via Carirringue but found the road to be the most odious washboard imaginable. We changed route without finding the road much better. Panguipulli has nothing to recommend it except a restauarant attached to a catering college. But the roads by the lakes give some beautiful views (see photos). I’m afraid our preoccupation with the difficulty of riding rather got in the way of our enjoyment.

Day 8: Panguipulli – Chosuenco. More loathsome rubble, but Chosuenco is nice and there’s a comfortable lakeside hotel run by prosperous locals. We had a rest day here and rode part way to Enco, found the bridge down, and got attacked by horseflies.

Day 10: Chosuenco – San Martín de los Andes. Not a bad ride to the spectacular Huilo Huilo falls, where we had a picnic, then on to Puerto Fuy where we caught a boat to take us across the Andes to Argentina. The customs formalities weren’t too bad, since there were a few cars going the same way to rouse the officials from their sleep. It was now 6 in the evening, and we had cartographical proof of the existence of a hotel. There was nothing of the sort on the ground. It was four more hours, with a 500m climb, to San Martín; all the same execrable rubble as we’d hoped to leave behind in Chile. But San Martín was truly nice in a cute Bavarian sort of way, and the restaurants stayed open late. We had a rest day there. There are lovely views of the lake.

Day 12: San Martín de los Andes – Lago Falkner. The rubble continues. Happily there are places to stay – even pleasant places – on the isthmus between Lago Falkner and Lago Villarino.

Day 13: Lago Falkner – Villa la Angostura. A nice destination with a comfortable hotel on the lake. I leave the road surface to your imagination. We had a rest day and enjoyed the second pleasant ride of the trip – along the Gibraltar-shaped Quetrihue peninsula to the forest of Arruyanes (which are cinnamon-barked trees not worth going to see, except when the journey is so delightful).

Day 15: Villa la Angostura – San Carlos de Bariloche. We’d had high hopes of Bariloche, but it had outgrown its charm. There were good food and mountains of chocolate. The coffee had not been manufactured by Nestlé, and the wine sported names like ‘Aberdeen Angus’. We spent 3 nights there.

Day 18: San Carlos de Bariloche – Peulla. By now the weather had turned foul. We were back to cycling by boat, rather more expensive than previously because the lakes here are alleged to be especially beautiful. The clouds were a remarkably British shade of grey. We almost missed the second boat (to Puerto Frias) because all the other passengers had been shuttled to it by bus. It came back to pick us up. We spent an age banging at doors at a customs post to waken the official. Eventually we arrived cold wet and miserable at the hotel at Peulla which, in pleasanter conditions, might have been thought attractive.

Day 19: Peulla – Ensenada. We crossed Lago Todos los Santos by boat, and reached tarmac road at Petrohué. Oh Bliss! An easy ride onwards in the rain. At Ensenada you can eat every form of pigmeat at an Austrian restaurant. We had a rest day here and rode to Ralún.

Day 21: Ensenada – Puerto Montt. A fast easy ride. Not yet sated by rain and rubble we took a day trip to Lago Chapo.

The clouds lifted on the day we flew back from Puerto Montt to Santiago and from Santiago home, and we got beautiful views of volcanoes from the first flight, and of the Andes from the second.

Gentle reader, I cannot deny that Chile disappointed us. But we are told that the roads are better in other regions, and that the weather is not always so bad. Ivan Viehoff, who went in a subsequent year, liked the country.

CJC. 2001

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