After our Xmas break in the pretty little town of San Martin de los Andes, we left for the Chilean border early in the morning of the 27th. It had been a much needed rest, more for our on-going lip issues than our legs. Claire was especially anxious about the stretch of ripio (gravel road) ahead of us through Paso Hua Hum to Puerto Fuy in Chile. Trying to get good info on the quality of the road from drivers, even from other riders is very subjective. An e-mail from David and Lisa (2 Aussies on an extended vacation after selling their software company to a Canadian conglomerate) who had done the crossing the day before on unloaded mountain bikes, was not too discouraging so we went for it. There was a vicious 16% grade on asphalt to get out of San Martin. This is our absolute max and thank God it was only a few hundred meters. The ripio started shortly after and though reasonable for the first hour it got progressively worse, with long stretches of washboard and loose gravel. On some of the downhills going into corners with some speed, in tricky dappled light, we would run into virtual wave trains of loose washboard that we couldn’t see until we were upon them. It was super sketchy and took all our riding skills (read luck) to negotiate them. (I kept hearing my riding buddies back home saying ‘momentum is your friend’ as I bounced along, faking like I knew what I was doing……..once again! – CH).
After 4.5 hours of tough riding we rode into the spiffy, new Chilean border facility where we were harassed by the customs official from hell who confiscated all our dried fruit, even our much prized bag of trail mix, despite having crossed the border 3x before wherein we’d declared our dried fruit each time without incident. I fumed for an hour or two, my Scottish blood boiling. A scenic ferry ride and an hour of smooth tarmac to our campsite and I had put it behind me.
The next day’s ride to Conaripe with periodic views of Vulcan Villarica, a classic snow clad, volcanic peak, still active and smoking, was wonderful. However, the weather took a turn the following day and we rode into the tourist town of Villarica in a chilly, heavy downpour. Our brand new MEC Gortex jackets were a big letdown with water penetration after maybe 3 hours. We found a cafe with wifi and started perusing our various apps to find a suitably priced (read cheap) accommodation. We rode to our first choice but it was full so they suggested Hostal Chocolate just around the corner. There was no answer at the door so one of the guests had to phone the owner and while we waited for him to show up I assessed the conditions, best described as old, falling apart and dirty but Eugenio, the gregarious, friendly host, found us an upstairs room (with no egress, i.e., the kind of thing I think about), near the shared bathroom. Regrettably the only working shower was downstairs. Nevertheless the price was right so we took it and we’re glad we did.
We had a fine time sharing the small kitchen/sitting area with some of the other guests (young Chileans where, once again, our ability to speak the language so enriches the experience) then shared a couple bottles of good wine with Eugenio and his friends. They were travelled, engaging, interested in our trip and full of stories. Had a long talk with Peyo who was in the process of building a mountain biking/skiing lodge on the slopes of the volcano. He was a fascinating character and an accomplished ocean sailor. By the end of the evening he invited us to go mountain biking. Liam, a young Scot who was working for Peyo, picked us up in the morning. Valerie, a friend of Peyo’s and the Chilean Master’s class (over 60) mtn biking champion joined us as our guide, we rented some bikes in Pucón (crappy by Squamish standards) and before long we were doing shuttle rides down the slopes of Vulcan Villarica- our idea of an awesome rest day! Cooked up some salmon for dinner (delicious), Eugenio had breakfast ready in the morning, along with more animated stories and advice. Then back on the bikes for a quiet, scenic, backroad ride into Pitrufquén on the last day of the year. It was a memorable 2 nights in Villarica.
As part of our haphazard trip planning we wanted to experience something of the Chilean coast but not a stretch of beaches filled with vacationers. I had seen what looked like a nice coastal ride heading west from Villarica through the heart of Mapuche territory. Eugenio and buddies immediately nixed the idea due to recent native unrest (remember The Oka Crisis of 1990 in Quebec, this was similar). They later recanted saying things had settled down, so we went for it…..and thus we found ourselves in Pitrufquén, a small working class town, far off the tourist grid, for New Year’s Eve. Contrary to everywhere else we’ve been there was virtually no accommodation. We ended up in an old, ‘economy’ hotel that initially wasn’t accepting guests but just as we got on our bikes to leave, maybe it was our looks of desperation, they relented. We were the only guests! it was a bit creepy, like something out of The Shining, but instead of a homicidal caretaker downstairs, we had two kindly, old ladies who just wanted a quiet New Years!
The rest of our 4 day ride through Mapuche territory had similar odd stays and encounters (tales for another day) but was a lovely ride on quiet roads through small farms with views of the ocean. However for the first time this trip we felt some hostility in two brief exchanges with natives, so contrary to what we’ve experienced to date. Now that we’re through and have read up on recent events (murders, violent protests, burnings, etc.) plus read a little of the troubled history and, most importantly, seeing first hand, the burnt out remains of at least 20 highway blockades we now understand the hostility. As they say, ‘ignorance is bliss’!
One constant in our trip to date has been dogs. They are like the sacred cows of India, ubiquitous, uncared for yet not mistreated. Each home has a dog and rural homes at least 2-3 and for each of these there would appear an equal number just roaming the streets. They bark at all hours and many love to chase cars and regrettably, bikes. It is often a stealth attack and accordingly I don’t think deterrents (whistles, sprays, etc.) would be useful, I.e., too hard to get at quickly. My strategy oscillates between ignore them or go at them, yelling aggressively. Regrettably Claire freaks out which I’m worried could lead to an accident. Whatever, the case we’ll have to get our act together as the dogs of Bolivia and Peru are worse.
NB – Very saddened by the passing of Chris McCrum. He was such a vital man, respected by many and a friend. He has left an indelible mark on our community.
PS – Despite Claire and I having lived with cold sores all our lives we never had to consider the link between diet and their onset. Much to our dismay foods rich in arginine, eg. nuts, chocolate, etc., activate the virus. We survive on nuts and chocolate! Our goto lunch while on the road is peanut butter and Nutella on bread. Drastic change is required!
19 thoughts on “To The Coast”
Aggressive dogs: If you can find a market that sells supersoakers (troglodyte term – fancy squirt gun), cut the top off of a large water bottle and customize it into a holster that you can mount on your bars, within easy reach. Keep it loaded with water or even add lemon. It’s fun and it’ll deter dogs that get within range. Also good for Claire to use when you get all puffed up about something. (okay, that was fun). And let’s hear more about the mtn bike volcano day!
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Allo vos deux, je comprends Claire moi les chiens 🐕 en velo pas le fun du tout. Vous avancez la . Pour le vent c’est mieux. Merci pour les photos et l’histoire des gens , c’est interessant.
A present ralentír semble marcher avec les chiens. C’est la vitesse qui les excitent mais on pense aussi essayer des fusils à eau. Apparemment ça aide pas mal.
You guys are amazing! So inspiring! I can just imagine the Fiery Scotsman coming out at the border! I’m surprised you got through enacted!!
Fun reading all your adventures. I look forward to more. Travel safe!
Thanks Jen it’s great to hear from you. All the best to Monte and the boys
Everyone is sympathetic Claire concerning the dogs! I’d be scared stiff. I prefer the ubiquitous Indian cows that I’ll be seeing plenty of in March. The Kelp sure looks tender and tasty! Take good care – if possible in such conditions. Good luck. I’ll show Mom the post today. WIFI in her room which is great.
Thx Mo your comments always appreciated.
Our love to Mom
Jim and Claire
Thanks Mo. Currently in Santiago hosted by a family whose son did an exchange with a colleague in Squamish . Our reception here has been awesome
Happy New Year Jimbo- you made it to another year! LOL. And Happy New Year to you to Claire- you made it through another year with Jim! 😉
I’ll pay big money to Claire for a pic of you spraying that concoction Gary suggested @ a wild pack of dogs approaching you in with eyes as haunting as Rocket Richard’s flying down the right wing… I can see the caption now, “Jim “Braveheart” Harvey beats back savage dogs with his trusty Corsa water bottle of lemonade!” 🙈
I will never again bike the washboard road on Upper Paradise Valley’s dirt road without thinking of you & Claire ‘s expensive dental work chattering along the Chilean Coastal Highway… (NB. Momentum… AND perhaps a good jock “Cup” are your best friend(s)- sorry Claire!)
Great pics, as always…
But you haven’t lost anything for a while- not even surfing the washboards! You must have fine-tuned your luggage straps etc?
Love your descriptions of the various abodes of accommodation along the way! Still waiting though to hear of your invite to a 5 Star Villa- an experience that I’m sure still awaits you, somewhere off in the distance…, on the roads that lie ahead… (NB. Dare to Dream Baby, Dare to dream…)
Keep on Smiling Harvey’s!
Good to hear from you Steve and Happy New Year to you and Wendy.
We might not be in at 5 star Villa but we have certainly received a 5 star reception in the home in Santiago of a family who’s kid did an exchange with a friend of mine in Squamish. Our hospitality pales in comparison!
We will be taking Gary’s advice and I will be rigging up a quick draw, super soaker loaded with lemon- water. I will report back on it’s effectiveness.
All the best
Happy New Year, Claire and Jim! I’m so enjoying reading about your inspirational travels. Brave duo, and fully alive!
Very glad that you are sharing our travel Rosalind. Hope you and Tam have a great 2019.
I miss you guys. I keep having Sicily flashbacks, and wish I was there with ya! ❤ All my love.
Missing you too sweetie. We are currently in Santiago at the home of a friend of a friend in Squamish. We were received yesterday in a way that makes our hospitality pale in comparison. we will probably stay A couple more days before heading north by bus to San pedro de Atacama and from there probably another bus over the Andes to Salta in Argentina. Going directly from Chile to Bolivia over 4500 m passes is just too hard. From Argentina the transition will be more gradual giving us time to acclimatize .
Hi Jim and Claire: I am enjoying your posts and photos. How are the lip issues?Of all things to slow you down…but it must be so painful. We have good news. We are finally retiring. Coming home for good in June! We will sub a bit in SD 71 but we just decided enough! Happy days ahead. Hope you are both well, Love Char xxx
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This is great news Char. It will be great to have you both around more ie more crazy family gatherings! My lips are healed and I can’t tell you how great it feels. Jim is almost there.. promising me kisses!!!
Elaine is just showing your photo to Granny who is one of your greatest fans.The photos are stunning. We are now registered with SD 71 and should start subbing in the Fall. We have our last hurrahs coming up:Japan,Thailand, Amsterdam, Stratford on Avon and then that’s it! 10 years of travel and work and that’s a wrap! Keep safe,Love Char xxx
Sounds like you are having a fantastic adventure. Although the dogs may be aggressive, and the winds harsh it sounds like the people you are meeting along the way are friendly and supportive. Your blog pics are amazing. Keep safe.
Good to hear from you. Head to La Paz today. Have booked an AirB&B on the 4th floor with no elevator! The city is at 4000M so should be good training. We hope to climb a 6000 M volcano……we’ll see