The excitement of single track biking…

As if my cycling through the Patagonia region had not already been filled with a lifetime of experiences – first of all sharing the journey with a group of random adventure seekers who became friends sharing their passions, their life stories all wrapped up in a great sense of humour.

Crossing through the varying terrains of both the Chilean and Argentinian landscapes that make the region the legend that it is.

Climbing the still active Villarica Volcano in Pucon – one of the most mind blowing and triumphant expeditions I’ve ever accomplished.

Exploring my own personal strength and endurance through the cycling adventure itself, learning the bike, mastering different surfaces and building my own confidence in managing the long distances crossed.

Then at the very end, pumping my adrenaline through the exciting opportunity to ride on the single track runs through the National Araucania Park – narrow trails filled with unexpected ups and downs, twists and turns – having to manoeuver encroaching trees and low hanging branches and constantly on the lookout for the odd tree roots and rocks to jump over. May sound scary but with a strong heart and lots of determination to succeed, we all came out triumphant, exhilarated and fired up.

…. and now on to my next adventure, whenever and wherever that may be. Hoping we will continue to explore together…

Traveling to the middle of nowhere…

Leaving Pucon by bus and traveling to the outskirts of Melipeuco, a small town and commune located at the foot of the Andes, in the Araucaria region, we cycled through the beautiful countryside lined with pine trees, small farms with sheep and cattle and enjoyed our lunch shaded from the hot midday sun.

Moving on to our final destination through the Parque Nacional Conguillio, we traversed the corrugated gravel roads, lined with lava rocks, remnants of the last eruption of volcano Llaima in 1927, where nothing has grown since, a distinct contrast to the lush green of the vegetation before. Aided by the gentle breeze we endured the long uphill climb always with a view of the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance and the Rio Verde on our right, giving hope of life, colour and always that sense of tranquility.

Finally arriving at our accommodation for the night situated in the middle of the Araucaria forest.The Araucaria (affectionately called the monkey puzzle tree) is an evergreen tree growing to 1.5m in diameter and 40m high and because of the longevity of this species – approximately 1000 years – it is described as a living fossil. It is naturally the national tree of Chile.

Quite simply then, our log cabins, located in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, afforded us an eco style environment – peaceful, enchanting, surrounded by these wonderful trees. We spent the evening basking in the silence and beauty of one of the most renowned national parks in Chile.

Exploring Ruka Pillan…

The story is told that when the spirits in the Ruka Pillan become angry anything from spewing lava, to massive rumblings and even a volcanic eruption can take place. None the less, we donned our winter gear and hiking boots, packed my camera and marched up that snow capped mountain – zig zagging, stopping only to refresh ourselves with small rations of food and water – slowly, step by step, breathing heavily as we reached the top – 2847m. At this point our fearless leader instructed us to drop our back packs and tools – “You’ll need only your camera and gas mask”, he warned.

Quite an ominous instruction. We obeyed in silence, and eagerly, but cautiously, climbed the last remaining steps to the most amazing view of the still active Villarrica Volcano in Pucon, Chile. Villarrica, is one of a small number of volcanoes worldwide, known to have an active lava lake within its crater.

Perched on top of the volcano we surveyed the views. We congratulated ourselves on our triumphant ascent as we reviewed the steep and treacherous trek. We had climbed and conquered the Ruka Pillan.

Then the concern set in – our impending descent. Once again we received an instruction to put on all our gear and follow our leader. Hesitantly we followed him to the edge of the mountain, fearful of what was to happen next. We sat in position and slid down on our plastic bib as instructed.

And oh my what an experience. Like children we screamed in delight as we descended luge style, swerving through the snow, crashing into each other at the end of the man made snow tracks – getting up and starting again. Smiles on our faces, glee in our hearts.

A most exhilarating experience and one I’d recommend to the strong of heart and the child at heart.

The long and dusty road…

With the sun on our back and a smile on our face, we set off on what would be our longest journey – Traful to San Martin de los Andes. Once again following the long and dusty road – 75km to be exact, along the lake Traful , through the beautiful forest of Lenga trees, along the route of Siete Lagos, we were pleasantly surprised to encounter, dotted throughout the countryside, small indigenous farmers with their herds of cattle and sheep. Grazing peacefully were their work horses used to round up the cattle.

We stopped to have lunch at the side of a lake used by the locals to spend quiet moments with their families, swimming and BBQing, which seems to be a favourite Argentine pass time.

Our last leg brought us speeding downhill into the picturesque town of San Martin to de los Andes. Primarily a winter resort, we arrived on a Sunday afternoon, clear blue skies, warm temperature of 22 Degrees C and immediately set out to explore this seemingly sleepy town.

As we meandered through the streets, it was obvious that this was not as sleepy as we had first imagined. As scores of people, everywhere, were chatting with their friends and family, entertaining themselves in one form or fashion – in the plaza dancing to the rhythmic sounds of the drums beating, by the lakeside enjoying the cool breezes and warmth of the setting sun, or simply strolling through the streets enjoying each other’s company.

A great place to spend a well deserved rest day.

And the landscape continues to amaze…

Having had somewhat of a rest day in Bariloche, we eagerly set out to explore the landscape on our way to Traful – just a mere 35km cycle on undulating gravel road, with its unexpected twists, turns and uphill climbs.

Certainly an ever changing environment – from the awe inspiring scenes around Lake Nahuel Huapi in Bariloche to the impressive rock formations dotted throughout the varying landscape from arid mountains to graps of lush pine trees meandering through and along the Rio Minero.

Cycling on this type of rocky terrain added the extra adventure and earned you the right to take a break, admire your surroundings and move on again.

Traful, a very small town, will, in my estimation, be at least double its size in the next few years. As its tranquility and beauty will certainly be sought after by those wanting to sit back, relax and be amazed.

The journey to Bariloche…

Smoothe sailing as we cycled primarily down hill watching the changing landscape of Argentina in the drier Pampas region and made our way around the Nahuel Huapi Lake to Bariloche, famous for its world renowned chocolate and situated at the foothills of the Andes. Just as exquisite, the short cycle in and around the growing city which offered indescribable views and a growing sense of tranquility, as we absorbed the beauty of this small winter resort.

I know I’ve been focussing on the sights which is very difficult not to do when you are immersed in such beauty. But there is beauty in everything that surrounds. Bariloche itself is growing and fast, with construction every where you turn. The people are excited as they see you exploring their small town and are happy for you to enjoy their wonderful space, urging you on to the best scenic spots. Just as happy were we to partake in the local food and customs, inclusive of the Sunday line up for what must be the best ice cream in town.

Crossing the Andes…

Starting in Chile at 1300m and at a temperature of 11 degrees C and after having lunch in the snow, we descended on our bikes through amazing views of the Andes to 700m warming to 19 degrees C, slowing to breathe in the fresh air, stopping at times to capture the different scenes permanently. Quite an exhilarating way to cross the Andes.

Our lodging for the night in Villa Angostura gave us just a glimpse of the exquisite views we were to experience in the days to come. Perched on the lake, we took the opportunity to explore the rocky beach, watched lazily at those engaged in fly fishing and spent the evening feasting on the renowned Argentinian steak and wine. Not a bad way to experience the Patagonia region first hand.

Exploring Patagonia…

Together with a group of like minded adventure seekers, we set off to explore the Patagonia region on bicycle. From Puerto Montt, a port city in southern Chile’s Lake District, known as a gateway to the Andes mountains and the Patagonia fjords, to Puerto Varas which sits on the southwest banks of the expansive lake Llanquihue where you would normally have great views of the still active volcanoes Osborne and Cajbuco. I say ‘normally’ because as luck would have it our days were interspersed with rain, which, while it made the temperature cool for cycling, the cloud cover was not very much appreciated.

Not to be swayed, however, we traversed the gravel roads, soaked in the amazing views, lush flora and fauna, one kilometer at a time, and in no hurry, all the while dodging the rain.

This scenic route and inclement weather not only offered us the unique opportunity to gawk at the untouched mountainous views around this Chilean Lake district, but brought with it the opportunity to begin the forging of relationships with a haphazard group.

It never ceases to amaze me how people from different walks of life, with just one thing in common, can immediately begin to open themselves up to others, without reserve, with passion and of course a great sense of humour.

Santiago – La Ciudad de Amor

Whenever I visit a new city, place, country, I immediately try to immerse myself into the culture so that I can get a feel of the personality, drive, aspirations of those who live there. Could I be a part of this, where would I live, what would I do in my spare time, what would keep me here.

At first Santiago (Chile) was just like any other south american city – the architecture, the people, the parks, the fountains. We visited the Mercado Central and were enthralled by the variety of fish and seafood in general – even partaking in the Soup of the day with the locals.

As we meandered through the streets however, Santiago took on a different look and feel. Everywhere at any point, there were couples embracing each other without a care in the world. There’s always that one thing about a city that strikes you as different. There’s always that one thing that you too want to be a part of.

As we climbed to the top of Cerro de Santa Lucia, it became clear how romantic this city is. As this young couple in front of us took every opportunity to stop, pose and take the most intimate selfies I’ve ever witnessed. That’s just one couple I thought for a moment. But as we descended and ventured throughout the parks, they were all over the place.

Happy, laughing, hugging, kissing. Not a care in the world. And as we strolled through the streets later in the evening it was even more evident – the serenades of the likes of Gloria Estefan, Strauss, and young women and not so young men entertaining you with the sweetest of music from the Andes, creating an atmosphere, which, coupled with the great food and wine, made you want to be a part of this great love of life, of living.