Cycling above the Clouds

Riding the Andes by Bicycle

Lago Llanquihue

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I had a lovely couple of days ride skirting Lago Llanquihue from Osorno to Puerto Varas, where I would then meet up with my parents. This was definitely a great location for cyclists and also joined me up again to some of the route I rode in this region 2 years ago. That trip is partly what prompted me to come back and make this whole 9 month journey down South America.

The route took me through the small towns of Puerto Octay and Frutillar which border the lake. The communes were originally formed in the 1850s, when the Chilean government encouraged Germans (who were struggling to survive due to the effects of the industrial revolution in Europe at the time) to come and settle and develop the region. In Hamburg, the area was marketed as being ‘like Lake Geneva’ although when they arrived, the settlers found that life would be very harsh for a good while, as they cleared the land, built houses and mills, and began farming the land all from scratch.

Puerto Octay

I reached Puerto Octay on the north west shore of the lake first. This town is far less visited by tourists than Frutillar, and still has many of the original German wooden houses – many looking like they haven’t been touched since they were built – close to the central square.

Hotel Haase – I stayed here 2 years ago with the RedSpokes tour. The inside is equally as oldy-worldy as the outside, as if frozen in time, with an old high-ceiling dining hall and upstairs parlour room.

Other old houses in the town – some in better condition than others!

The road around the lake from Puerto Octay to Frutillar was stunning. It was perfect riding territory (especially as I’m increasingly oblivious to the ups and downs in the road these days), with lush green farmland and dotted with more beautiful old German-style farm houses.

Traditional farm houses along the route

It rained on and off, so I the view out over the lake was a little grey as I rode up the bill climb out of Puerto Octay

I stopped at an amazing restaurant for lunch which I vowed to take my parents back to. As the sun came out and the clouds lifted I was treated to a lovely view (ps – not my beer, I was still riding!).

‘Snarky Puppy’ up against the old wooden shingle of the farm house walls

Frutillar

Frutillar was settled in the 1850s, just like Puerto Octay, but today is a much more touristy town (at least the old part of the town is – the new part, up on the hill, has the hustle and bustle and traffic jams of a regular modern city). And with good reason – it’s very picturesque and is also home to an impressive theatre/concert hall, which runs a festival and many events throughout the year. There’s a promenade that runs up and down the volcanic black sand beach where you can see ibex birds going for a paddle.

The buildings in Frutillar have been renovated to a high standard, and the old town is full of character. A really nice place just to wander around.

Views out to the lake from the promenade

Is it just me of is this picture somehow strangely reminiscent of India??!

The theatre in Frutillar

A restored Lutheran church

The final stretch of road to Puerto Varas brought more great views. An older cyclist on a road bike passed me and we had a bit of a chat. It turned out he owned a local bike shop and rode this stretch of road most days. He told me there was a steep hill coming up ahead and that I wouldn’t be able to ride up it with all the gear on my bike. Pah! I soon showed him.

I had blue skies and fabulous views again for this beautiful stretch of road. The problem was I had to keep stopping to take photographs!

The marina on the way out of town

Volcano Osorno comes into view again and again

More wooden houses nestled near the road

I loved the old lace curtains – likely hand made – and the detail of the windows on this German house

Copious flowers blooming thanks to the sun and fertile soil from past volcanic eruptions

Volcano Calbuco appears

Riding out of Frutillar, I passed a beautiful little cemetery next to the lake.

It was fascinating to see all the German names on the headstones

The headstones all faced out towards the lake and the volcanoes opposite – what an amazing view to be left with after you die!

The panorama at this part of the lake had both of the volcanoes within eyeshot

Puerto Varas and getting the chores out of the way before our little family reunion!

Once I arrived in Puerto Varas, I had a couple of days to sort a few things out before I met up with Mum and Dad. First I got myself to a bike shop to get a persistent ‘creak’ that I couldn’t locate and that was annoying me checked out. It reminded me of the noise I heard when I got a crack in the frame of a previous bike, so I wanted to be safe rather than sorry. The shop talked me into replacing a bearing, which I didn’t believe was the cause of the problem – and turned out not to be (3 months later the squeak inexplicably stopped of its own accord!) – but at least the work wasn’t expensive.

As a bonus, they also had some Specialized equipment, including the exact same versions of my ‘summer’ and ‘autumn’ padded gloves – one pair of which had grown a hole in the end of the left index finger (and as a result, I’ve lost some of the feeling in the tip of that finger now after getting it too cold descending down the Los Libertadores pass from Argentina to Chile), and the other where the padding was so squished that I was regularly getting a dead arm due to nerve compression against the handlebars. I splashed out and replaced them both.

I also had time to do some of my own maintenance on the bike for which I didn’t need a mechanic, replacing all the brake pads (they’d lasted about 5000km), cleaning the chain (which I do every few days) and checking the wheels were still well trued in advance of the next stage of my ride down the Carretera Austral, where bike mechanics would be nigh-on non-existent.

There are lots of street dogs in Puerto Varas (as there are in most of Chile) and this little fella kept watch whilst I tinkered away.

Next stop was to head to Puerto Montt – the region’s capital – to extend my visa. Puerto Montt is a busy port city but most definitely isn’t a beautiful place. Arriving in the city, the bus station was full of drunks and drug users loitering about, and was just generally dirty and a bit edgy.

I made my way to the immigration office, where it turned out there was a long queue of Haitians (who have come to Chile due to a partnership of the respective governments following the devastating 7.0 Magnitude quake Haiti experienced in 2010 and from which the country is still reeling, with the island still without electricity 7 years later). Some of them spoke French so entertaining conversations ensued, where a conversation I could have managed very easily in the past got jumbled up with Spanish.

One of the guys in the queue just ahead of me passed me a cute little note which read: ‘Hi Pretty! How are you? I’m (his name), living here. I’m Haitian. You look so awesome, so gorgeous. I’d like to be friends with you and have the chance to talking more and making knowledge. It’s gonna be perfect….’. I burst out laughing – not sure that was the desired effect.

After 2 hours of waiting, I was told they couldn’t process my visa extension, because I’d got the ‘PDI’ (a piece of paper you get given by border control on entry) wet and the stamp wasn’t fully visible. I thought it was still clear enough, but they were sticklers for process, so I then ended up running back and forth across the city to get a replacement from the central police station. It was a race against time and like a bad anxiety dream to get back there, get photocopies of the replacement document done, and to process the visa before closing time. If not, I’d have to come back whilst my parents were visiting which would be a big waste of their time. I made it with a minute to spare.

Puerto Varas itself is a sizeable city on Lago Llanquihue but also with great views across the lake. I had one last day before heading off to meet my parents to meander round and catch up on some of this blog.

Puerto Varas

You can see both Osorno and Calbuco on a good weather day

Sunset – picture taken from a very cool local artisanal brewery with this superb view across the lake:)

Amazing Apple Strudel – a treat for me and a popular dish on the menu here thanks to the German heritage. Mmmmm!

The cathedral by night

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