Volcano day

[Jeff] We are entering the lakes district of Chile and there is so much to see. We pick a route that will take us around several of the lakes and into several National Parks. There's not so much 'ripio' (the South American term for a gravel / rock road), so we enjoy perfect, twisty serpentine roads for most of the time, but never fear we still manage to find the ripio when it's around.

First we take a chance of route 225 which winds around Lago (Lake) Rupanco and Lago Puyhue. It worked out great, beautiful road tarmac all the way. The landscape in the lakes district is dotted with volcanos, usually capped with snow year round as they often reach above 3000m. Unfortunately this morning there is low cloud, otherwise we would also have had volcano views. We stop off in a very small town called Entre Lagos (confirming that everywhere has a place called Lake's Entrance), we need food supplies as we are going to camp the next two nights.

We park outside a promising looking restaurant and pop in for lunch, ordering the soup. Before long we spot two more adventure bikes pulling up. It's two guys from the states. Over lunch we swap route info and stories. When our soup arrives, I had to take a photo, though I make it a rule never to do this. The soup is - more or less - a roast dinner in a bowl, it has braised steak, corn on the cob, roast pumpkin and bone marrow. We all paused our conversation - this would require our full concentration. 

Lunch and supplies taken care of, we head another 30km to our camping spot. It's right beside the lake and, being out of season we have the whole place to ourselves. There is free firewood and even a restaurant.

It takes us a while to get moving the next morning, but we have bacon and fresh bread which eventually entices us out of the tent. We throw the swimming 'togs' and towels on the bike and head to Puyehue National park, about 17km away where there is the Aqua Calientes resort with thermal pools. After a good soak in the outdoor pool we head back to camp and have dinner at the camp restaurant. I ask the owner how the restaurant can stay open - we are the only ones there. He says the camp will be busy again at the end of the month for 'rabbit christmas', which I eventually work out means...... Easter.

We do a little bike maintenance (lubricating the chain and a once-over with the spanners). The next morning we are going to pack up camp and move on, although we're not bad at packing the gear we are always looking for ways to be quicker. One tip we picked up from Stefan and Ulli, who we met on one of the ferries, was to prepare a thermos of hot water in the evening to make coffee in the morning. This would mean that I can pack the stove and fuel bottles away the night before - one less thing to do in the morning. Accordingly, we have bought a couple of small thermos bottles and we boil our water that evening.

In the morning the thermos bottles are both stone cold - oh well - it doesn't take that long to pack the stoves anyway. I pull them back out and, as long as I have them hot anyway decide to make toast too.

Pucon's volcano, looming ever present over the town

Later, we are packed and heading to Pucon. It's a lovely clear day and we have tarmac road and volcano views to enjoy. We stay that night in an hostel and have a fantastic meal at a steak restaurant. In the morning we are chatting to the owner and her father in the usual broken Spanglish. When we tell them we are heading to Conguillio National Park, they start telling us about the indigenous Indian food. It comes from the Monkey Puzzle tree (which is native to the park), a nut called Piñone - like a pine nut - which can be eaten raw or made into a pie. 

Sometimes the conversation moves on from one subject to another and we fail to realise. Needless to say this leaves us with some odd beliefs, as was the case here. One second we are talking about pies and the next second the father is telling us that they are so big that the circumference is equal to 5 people holding hands. Only when we saw them did we realise that the conversation had moved on to the actual trees, of which there is a massive specimen in the park with a 2.1m diameter - I had spent the whole day wondering how big the oven must be - sigh!

The ride to Cunco, where we will be staying as a base for the Conguillio visit, took us through some reasonably good ripio, then back to nice sweeping tarmac into town. We found a hotel with a bar and restaurant, which was perfect as we were quite hot and dusty when we arrived. We thought the hotel included breakfast, but when we got up the next morning everything was closed up. We went looking for a restaurant that was open at 8am, not holding onto much hope as it is a very small town. The only place open was a hardware store where a man and woman were chatting. We asked if they knew where we could get something to eat. What happened next floored us and provided one of those little trip highlights that you always remember.

The woman hopped up and motioned for us to follow. She proceeded to walk all over town with us to each place that should have been open, but wasn't. From end to end and top to bottom she walked with us. Eventually, she went upstairs to one of the restaurants and got them to open up and make us breakfast. What can I say?

After breakfast we unloaded the bikes to some extent and head for Conguillio National Park. The magnificent snow capped volcano can be seen throughout most of the ride; on the last few kilometres to the park the landscape turns into an amazing moonscape of lava flows and volcanic sand - the volcano erupted in 2008 and the devastation is still very obvious. The Park is also well known for the Monkey Puzzle tree - an ancient and long lived form of pine, one specimen in the park is 1800 years old. Scenes from the BBC series 'Walking with Dinosaurs' were filmed here.

The ride into the park starts as reasonably good ripio, but then turn to hard packed sand and eventually soft sand. The last time I rode in sand was in Australia.....and this happened....... so I'm not thrilled. I'm down to 30km/h and it feels ok - but every once in a while just to keep you on your toes the steering takes on a mind of it's own and you're just a passenger for a few seconds. There is a saying in motorcycling  - "When in doubt, power out" - which means that then best thing to do is give the throttle a good twist. The second part of the saying is "It doesn't always help, but at least it ends the suspense".

It's too late in the day to start any of the long walks by the time we arrive in the centre of the park, so we decide to visit the 1800 year old tree, a walk which is a couple of hours return. Lovely walk of gentle gradients and well maintained forest trails, there are abundant lizards and we even hear one of the native black woodpecker's at work.

After our walk we gear up and head out, at least this time we know what to expect; however the sand is even softer and more churned up than before. Nevertheless, we get out of the sand without incident and go back through the volcanic landscape. By the time we are out I reckon that I should let NASA know, if they plan on sending motorcycles on the Mars mission that we have some experience. 

Back at the hotel, we don't even get changed out of our motorcycle kit, it's straight into the bar to wash down the dust with a couple of cold beers.

The following morning we pack and head off. We're at the end of the Lakes District and we plan to make a bee-line for Valparaiso over the next three days. One of the great things about Chile....it's just a days ride from the Andes to the Pacific coast. Enough time in the mountains, let's hit the beach!

Here's a little video showing the ride into Conguillio National Park.......