During my stay in Santiago de Chile, I took a closer look at the remaining itinerary of my journey. It soon became clear that all of the pins I had planted on my maps were located in Patagonia. It didn’t take me long to decide to spend the next three months only in that region. That meant I had to skip a 700 km stretch between Santiago and the mountain town of Pucon in the Chilean Lake District. On September 27, I boarded a bus with my bike to gain additional time in Patagonia, some of the most spectacular regions in the world.
The Lake District of Chile and Argentina is one of the countries’ prime tourist destinations. People come to ski, fish, climb, trek or bike within landscapes of huge forests and glacier-fed lakes. After 11 hours on a super comfortable bus, I arrived in Pucon.
Ironically, on the next day, a period of eight consecutive days of non-stop rain started. I was stuck in a beautiful town that is firmly positioned on the global map as a Mecca for adventure sports and located next to an amazing volcano (Volcán Villarrica) and could see nothing but clouds and rain. But then again, it was a perfect time to catch up with lots of reading, contemplating and extended talks with the locals.
Pucon was quiet since the summer season was only about to start in a couple of weeks, but I didn’t mind. Before long, I soon found my favourite cafe and an amazing vegetarian restaurant where I hung out pretty much every day.
On my last night, I was told by the hostel staff that another biker had just checked in. I was curious since I hadn’t biked with anybody for quite a while. Soon, I ran into Philipp, a German guy who started his trip in Europe, took various boats across the Atlantic and then biked south from Panama to Patagonia. Since we were both headed toward Bariloche, we decided to continue biking the next morning.
On October 6, after those tremendous rainfalls, we were rewarded with perfectly blue skies. We passed the cone-shaped Volcán Villarrica which at least showed us its full face on our way out of town. My original plan was to climb it but with that extended rain break, I really wanted to get going. Another two days in town would have definitely been too much.
Less than 50 km out of town, I noticed that another spoke of my back wheel had gone bust, only less than 500 km after the previously broken one was replaced. Again, I threaded and tightened my Kevlar emergency spoke until I come across the next decent bike shop. I wondered whether this was still the aftermath of all the kilometers I had ridden my bike over bumpy roads all these weeks or whether it was related to my first spoke failure. I was a bit worried since some of the roughest dirt roads were yet to come further south. But then again, I couldn’t do anything but get it fixed and hope for the best.
Philipp and I had an awesome time. He is an experienced biker and we were able to share lots of great stories. On top of that, he was originally from the city where I went to university. So there was plenty of common ground.
We truly enjoyed the sunny weather and the amazing view of Volcán Lanín at night was the icing on the cake. Dominating the view in all directions along the Chilean/Argentinian border, the snowcapped cone of this 3776 m volcano is the centerpiece of a national park with the same name. After crossing the border into Argentina, we decided to pitch our tents close to the foot of Volcán Lanín. Since view was fascinating, we had no issue to endure a chilly night with temperatures just below zero.
On the following day, we again entered some very arid landscapes. I always find it amazing how quickly (within 20-30 km) the vegetation changes from lush green forests into a semi-desert, once you cross the Andean mountain range from west to east.
Philipp had a couch surfing arrangement in Junín de los Andes, and I decided to continue another 40 km to a famous mountain town named San Martin de los Andes, where I planned to do a nice day-hike above the lake and get my spoke fixed. The last 30 km were an exhausting stretch. Headwinds gave me a rough time, but why should I have been surprised? I was in Patagonia, and this was just the beginning in a region notorious for its brutal winds.
San Martin de los Andes is a mellower version of Bariloche, the main tourist spot in this region which I am going to visit in just a few days. When I rolled into town, it was in the late afternoon. Instead of heading directly to the bike shop, I only went the next morning and realized that it was Sunday. Even though mid-October is somehow between winter and summer season, I would never have expected that shops in a popular tourist town stay closed on Sundays. But that’s again a relic of traditional Argentinian culture and somewhat related to the concept of siestas which I mentioned in one of my previous posts. Nevertheless, I really liked this quiet little town with its spectacular setting that retains much of the cultural charm and architectural integrity. After a great day hike on Sunday and getting my spoke replaced on Monday morning, I continued my journey.
Leaving San Martin, I followed the Ruta de los Siete Lagos (Route of the Seven Lakes), a spectacular 200 km tract between towering, snow-capped mountains, crystal-clear lakes, all the way to Bariloche.
The first 50 km were overcast but dry, but then it started to rain and snow for the rest of the day, another 70 km to Villa La Angostura. Considering this road is one of the finest in all of Argentina, luck wasn’t with me on that day. But it was not just that. It was a milestone, since it was my first time biking under the rain since I arrived in San Francisco, California last year on October 15. That means for exactly 360 days I never had to bike under the rain. I was always lucky or, like in Pucon, had the flexibility to take a day off the bike. Isn’t that amazing? I have been so damn lucky crossing through so many regions with nearly perfect weather (leaving the temperature, wind, and sandstorms aside). Obviously, I was totally fine to face a bit of bad weather now and to not get perfect views, Besides, on the next day the sky was totally blue again.
In Villa La Angostura I caught up with Philipp and we biked the remaining distance to Bariloche together.
Strung out along the shoreline of Lago Nahuel Huapi, in the middle of the national park, Bariloche has one of the most gorgeous settings imaginable. Excellent snow coverage makes it a magnet for skiers and snowboarders, whereas an amazing trail system attracts hikers and climbers of all levels during summer months. The flip side of Bariloche’s gain in popularity is the uncontrolled growth and commercialisation resulting in a significant loss of its character, some locals told me. And I agree, apart from some excellent restaurants, the overall vibes in town didn’t impress me, but the 3 days of hiking in the mountains were an absolute bliss.
After 6 days in and around Bariloche, my journey continued to El Bolson, a noticeable relief from the commercialism and almost equally scenic, but boasting sustainability as well as a hippie touch. The latter dates back to the 70s, when early backpackers settled in search for their Shangri-La, and can’t be overseen with plenty of stores selling natural and vegetarian food, artisanal beers, sweets, jams and honey made from the local harvest. Frankly, I would have stayed longer but there were so many more amazing places on my itinerary.
Instead of following the main road, I decided to go via a rough dirt road and cut through a National Park which was originally not on my list: Parque Nacional Los Alerces. I only learned about it a day before, when I chatted with a guy in El Bolson, and that recommendation was a gem. I hardly faced any traffic, passed through small villages, and was spoilt with more great mountain views and a campground right next to a beautiful lake.
On October 22, I crossed the border to Chile once again. It was one day earlier than planned because weather deteriorated, and the little town I originally planned to stay, Trevelin, didn’t look appealing at all. I decided that biking another 50 km would make more sense, although the combination of strong headwinds and hardcore dirt road turned this Sunday afternoon into a rough workout. Eventually, I made it through immigration and arrived in a sleepy village with the funny name of Futaleufú, which took me several days to remember and correctly pronounce it. 🙂 I was way ahead of peak summer season, but I later found out that Futaleufú’s wild, frosty-mint waters have made this modest mountain town become one of Chile’s prime kayaking and rafting spots.
Futaleufú was also close to my starting point of the famous Carretera Austral, another top highlight of my whole journey. More on that in the following post.