Cycling above the Clouds

Riding the Andes by Bicycle


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Colombiiiaaaa!

And so after a sad farewell to Argentina and Chile – countries I’ve become incredibly fond of having now spent so many months enveloped in their majestic landscapes – I set foot off the plane into the hot and humid Caribbean coastal region of Colombia. It’s 9.30pm and still about 27C. First things first – they don’t provide trolleys in the airport, so somehow I have to figure out how to manhandle my bike box and heavy luggage bag out to the taxis. Luckily one of the just two airport porters (with his own trolley which he seemingly owns) sees me floundering, deserts another couple, and helps me out for a small fee. He is friendly and chatty and completely bemused as to why I have a bicycle with me.

Next task – find a taxi big enough to fit the bike box in. That takes a little longer. Eventually, bike, bags and me are all stuffed into a car and on the way to my hotel in Cartagena. Result! I’m checked in within an hour of landing. I guzzle some water, jump in the shower, lather myself in mozzie repellant, whack up the aircon and collapse into bed.

Cartagena

With a number of inlets and ports, Cartagena is a very strategically located city. Many battles have been fought over this city, giving it a ripe and tumultuous history.

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Heading to Tierra del Fuego

I had one last day before leaving Punta Arenas so after doing my usual chores to stock up on supplies I made a short walk to the cemetery, which had some very impressive memorials. There was a lovely extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda on a memorial for people who were killed under Pinochet’s dictatorship.

The cemetery in Puerto Arenas – noticeable are the many British names on the headstones, inherited from the original military settlers at ‘Sandy Point’.

Extract from “Siempre” – from what I can understand it means something like the following (if anyone can provide a more eloquent translation please comment below!!): “…and nothing will extinguish the moment you fell, even though thousands of voices cross this silence. The rain will soak the cobbles in the square but will not put out your names of fire.”

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Penguins!!

A Magellanic penguin on Isla Magdalena

I rode out of Torres del Paine National Park and again took the cyclist’s prerogative of skirting some barriers and riding down a road that was ‘closed’ whilst being re-laid. Being a Saturday I thought it was worth the risk to avoid having to add another 10km on to the ride. The ‘Ruta del Fin del Mundo’ took me to Puerto Natales next – the capital of this wonderfully named region ‘Ultima Esperanza’ (Last Hope). It started to pour with rain for the final few kilometres so I arrived at my hostal soaking wet – always a great way to endear yourself to your new dorm mates.

I thought Puerto Natales was a really nice little town. It was originally a smallish fishing port that also traded lots of wool and yarn. There are old tin houses and cottages with quaint lace curtains in the windows. More recently it’s become the usual starting point for trekkers heading out to Torres del Paine (cyclists like to ride in the opposite direction to the trekkers because of the prevailing winds), so also has a few home comforts – outdoor shops, restaurants, nice hostals, artisanal breweries – to cater to all the trekkers passing through.

The view out over Seno Ultima Esperanza from Puerto Natales

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Volcano hunting around Lago Llanquihue

Returning to the mainland after our visit to Chiloé, we now made our way back to Puerto Varas in the Los Lagos region. I’d found a cheapish hostal when I’d visited a few days earlier, just a couple of blocks round the corner from the hotel where mum and dad would be staying. My hostal had a garage so I’d been able to leave the bike there with peace of mind whilst we went off our on road trip. My room there was a little damp though, so it was very nice to be able to take our afternoon breaks at mum and dad’s much nicer hotel (who kept us plied with cups of tea:).

The weather was a little better this time round and we set off eastwards round Lago Llanquihue to hunt out the best views we could find of the volcanoes.

Famille Brindley: at a mirador in front of Volcan Osorno. Mum and I looking very colour-coordinated.

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The islands of Chiloé

And so here we are with our little family reunion:). After what seemed like many weeks of anticipation pedalling my way down much of Chile, I finally met up with Mum and Dad at Puerto Montt airport. After 5 months or so without any physical contact, it was very nice just to get a hug!

We quickly picked up a hire car and started making our way directly to Chiloé, a collection of small islands just off the coast, the largest and our first port of call being imaginatively named ‘La Isla Grande’. This island is a favourite with Chileans who all talk about Chiloé with much affection – I think in large part to some of the unique culture which is strongly preserved there and of which the Chiloéans are very proud.

View out over the islands of Chiloe

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Lago Llanquihue

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.

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