And there she stood – elegant, poised, sensitive to my presence. Maybe a bit wary of my intentions. Nonetheless, she always maintained her composure and, turning away ever so gently, would walk slowly at first and then gallop away with her young ones to a more secluded spot where she could continue to enjoy the peaceful surroundings of this, her nature reserve.
Her majesty, the Giraffe. I encountered her several times while cycling through the Mkhaya and Mbuluzi nature reserves. Sometimes in the distance. Sometimes on our path. At all times, her majestic presence left me in awe of this wonderful creature.
I remember searching through the trails looking for her, taking little notice of the herds of nyalas and warthogs and pods of hippos. I gasped. She just stood there, as if to say “Me? Looking for me?” I smiled. And almost with a gentle bow, I replied, “Yes. I’m looking for you.”
She never disappointed. Was always gracious. And each time I stumbled upon her, I gasped silently. Always happy to see her. Always honoured to have made her acquaintance.
Excited. Anxious. Cautious. Just a few of my emotions as we boarded the open truck and ventured through the wild tracks of my very first game reserve experience.
We will see hippos, rhinos, giraffes, wildebeests, lions, elephants, zebras – what’s your preference? – announced our guide. Well, all……
And as we ambled through the rocky terrain, the animals seemed to appear one by one, as if on queue. Some close by, others in the distance. Some lazing in their favourite waterhole, others scampering away as we approached. Few staring curiously, others not even phased by our existence.
At all times however, our guide taking us carefully through the reserve, stopping at certain vantage points, allowing us time to experience the closeness of these wild animals.
At times we understood that we were not very welcome. An uncanny feeling when you venture on foot towards a mother and baby rhino and discover that you are now surrounded by three large female rhinos whose instinct is to protect their young. So what do you do? Carefully, slowly retreat. Retreat. Retreat. And there and then you understand fully that you are not in charge. You understand the power of the ‘village raising the child’ and wonder when we humans lost this instinct to protect each other so fiercely. Or have we?
It was encouraging to see other families of giraffes, warthogs, nyalas, impalas – an indication that these reserves are indeed successful in keeping these species alive.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.