Cycling above the Clouds

Riding the Andes by Bicycle

Lakes & volcanoes galore

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From the town of Victoria, I bombed down the Ruta 5 to Temuco for the only full day I’d spend on the motorway during my entire ride through Chile. It rained most of the day and there were no views to see. It was just a case of getting the miles done. The sun came out just as a I rode into town but I landed on the doorstep with my bike and bags still sopping wet.

I was welcomed by another lovely couple at an airbnb homestay. They told me they often had Finnish students to stay on an Erasmus-type exchange programme, and clearly enjoyed having guests from abroad to visit and talk with. I spent a lot of the afternoon chatting with the ‘señora’ of the house, and received yet another invite to join her and her husband for dinner. My Spanish, or at least fluidity when speaking, is definitely improving thanks to all these invitations (although there’s still A LOT of room for improvement!). I continue to be surprised by just how generous and kind everyone is. Many people ask me if I’m afraid cycling as a solo woman, but I do wonder whether, if I were a man, I’d receive quite so many of these wonderful offers.

From Temuco I had less than 500km to ride through the ‘Los Ríos’ (The Rivers District) and ‘Los Lagos’ (The Lakes District) to meet my parents in Puerto Varas. I spent a stunning two weeks cycling in Los Lagos and across the border in Argentina a couple of years ago, which was what partially prompted me to come back and do this tour. I was really looking forward to returning to the area. I had a few spare days, so I planned not the most direct route, but one that would zig zag me in and out in between lakes and volcanoes to see some more of the wonderful scenery and in less of a hurry than last time. I’d go past six lakes altogether – Lagos Villarrica, Calafquén, Panguipulli, Riñihue, Ranco and Llanquihue.

Lago Villarrica

The first of the lakes on my route, Lago Villarrica is relatively well known on the tourist trail. I had an easy ride over from Temuco and was soon rewarded with a shimmering view of the lake. There are two main towns on the lake – Villarrica and Pucón. I’d been to both before, and had decided to book a nice place in Villarrica and spend two nights there. It made me laugh when I read the Lonely Planet description which says ‘While not as charming, [Villarrica] is more down to earth than Pucón, … it has a faded glory that attracts travellers of a certain lax disposition.’. Hahaaa, they got that right!

As soon as I reached my B&B the weather unfortunately took a bit of a turn. Over the next few days I was treated to varying displays of cloud and rain across the beautiful garden, through the picture window in my bedroom.

Lago Calafquén & Lago Panguipulli

Laundry done and more work done on my Australian visa application, I got back on the bike to pedal round to the lesser-known Lago Calafquén and Lago Panguipulli.

Even the clouds couldn’t completely hide my view of Volcan Villarrica (2847m), which sits between Lago Villarrica and Lago Calafquén. The volcano erupted spectacularly in the middle of the night of 3rd March 2015, spitting lava up to 3km into the sky for all to see. On my last trip in November 2015, I remember cycling on cleared roads still piled high at the sides with volcanic ash, just as if a snow plough had been through.

Lago Calafquén seen from the small town of Licán Ray. The town was a lot smaller and quieter than Villarrica, and only seemed to be visited by Chileans ‘in the know’. They’d built some walkways out onto the lake, and whilst the day was overcast, it was a lovely peaceful spot.

It was a beautiful ride round Lago Calafquén to reach Lago Panguipulli. The road really reminded me of a rolling Cotswold lane, gently undulating with flowering hedgerows. Panguipulli town and lake wasn’t quite as tranquil as Calafquén, and the rain was really coming down again by the time I got there, but I was ‘upgraded’ from a room in a shared apartment to be given my own cabin with an amazing fire (which was fuelled by some weird kind of pellets that were continuously fed into the fire on a timer to regulate the temperature) but it certainly did the job of warming my bones and more than made up for the rain!

The stunning Lago Ranco

The next day I had a ‘zag’ section to do of one of my zig zags, riding south west towards ‘Los Lagos’ town, just skirting the Ruta 5, and then tacking back out south east to reach Lago Ranco, where I was planning to stay. The day began overcast but gradually improved and by the time I reached the lake the weather was stunning.

Crossing Rio San Pedro as the first bits of sun start to show through

A flapjack that Sara-Ann gave me back in La Paz in case of emergencies, still not opened – guess that means the trip has gone pretty smoothly so far!

I rode past this tiny rural school on my way back out to the lake. It’s hard to imagine what it must be like being a pupil – or even a teacher – here!

Amazing sweeping views of Lago Ranco emerge from beneath the clouds.

Futrono

Feeling very chuffed with the weather, I sailed down to the edge of Lago Ranco and the frontier town of Futrono, where I’d spend the night. I’d booked to stay in my first proper wood cabin here and was really looking forward to it. The clouds continued to part and I went for a walk around the town in dazzling sunshine. Futrono wasn’t a touristy place, and there were lots of locals out and about doing their shopping and day-to-day business. It was pretty close to the border with Argentina, and the wide roads, low roofs and big skies gave it a real frontier town feel.

Outside the town, the hillsides were lush green and rolling. I’d started to see big dairy farms and a lot of cows grazing on the rich pasture land (thanks to all the goodness of the volcanic soil). As a reflection of the importance of the area ‘Colun’ – one of the big dairy companies, a bit like Nestle – had a dedicated office in the town for doing business with the local dairy farmers.

Excited to stay in my first wood cabin (albeit turned out there was a DIY store directly behind it lol!)

The wide streets and wooden houses of Futrono with their frontier town feel

I bought myself some food to cook dinner, bread and eggs for breakfast and a nice cold craft beer, then got stuck in giving my bike chain a clean after all that rain. This naughty young lady decided she had to help me, but only after she’d stolen and demolished a piece of cake from my pannier pocket. I’d been looking forward to that for my dessert!

Beautiful views as the sun sets over Lago Ranco

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