The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through
A Book by Bob
"One is wide-eyed with wonder when we visit a new place." - Richard Burton
The Island Of Chiloe And The Lake District
Click here for map
(and be sure to click your browser's 'back' button to return to this page!)
Puerto Montt is also the terminus of the weekly ferry to Puerto Natales
which takes about 4 days and is the route that almost all travelers take.
It is also the fishing capital of Chile. It was a strange feeling to be in
such a big city after two months of small two street towns. In Chile, often
times people will rent out a few rooms in their house and allow you to use
their personal kitchen. These types of hotels are called Hospedaje are the
cheapest type of accommodation. It might sound cheap to most people, but to
us it was really expensive at $6.50 each, for the night. After we checked
in and had a shower, we went to the famous fish market where we found freshly
caught salmon for 75 cents a pound. They also had smoked salmon for 50 cents
a pound and we bought as much as we thought we could eat in two days. Then we
went to a real food shopping center just like back home and low and behold we
found Peanut Butter. This is more exciting than finding a winning lottery
ticket, well almost. Although it was very expensive, almost a full day's food
budget, we each bought one nevertheless. WE spent a couple of days here,
taking full advantage of the kitchen and huge seafood market to make various
dishes of salmon, scallops and mussels.
On the last day the hotel owner yelled at us for using too much hot water
to do laundry and demanded that we pay an extra $4 dollars. I was outraged
but Ewa calmed me down and together we all agreed on $2 dollars extra. I
guess with having hot water for the first time in a long time, collectively
we did go overboard.
From Puerto Montt we cycled southwest along the coastal road toward the isle
of Chiloe. That first night, we met some people along the road who invited
us to camp behind their house. They had three very energetic puppies who
kept working their way into the tent. This was fun for a couple of hours,
but after a while, they had to be put on the other side of the fence. You
never quite realize how poor people are until you see their house. These
people have 5 children, and they live in what we would call a tree fort.
Because it was put together with pieces of scrap wood that they found
laying about. It actually looks like it was built by a 10 year old. Yet, they
seem very happy and cheerful and quite content with what they had. It's
funny how that with all we have, we manage to find more to complain about.
In the morning, it only took about 2 hours of cycling on very good paved
road to reach the ferry dock and go to Chiloe.
Following our usual routine, I asked the driver of a pickup truck for a
lift onto the ferry and he was more than delighted. He was a single guy
with his own communications company who was going down to the southern
part of the island for business. He actually offered to take us all the
the way to Chonchi because we would have to cycle all the way back to
Puerto Montt anyway. He said he had to make one detour enroute so we
drove around looking for one of his other trucks on some of the back
streets when he actually got stuck in the mud. By a stroke of luck, shortly
after we got stuck, the truck he was looking for came by conveniently
to pull us out of the mud. For some reason, Ewa decided she wanted to ride
in the back of the open pickup truck. I and the driver both knew that she
would eventually get cold and change her mind. As we rode, I kept
looking back to see her getting colder and colder, but her need to prove us
wrong exceeded all form of reason. After 45 minutes we arrived in Chonchi
and a shivering ice women jumped down from the truck saying how great it was
to get some fresh air. With a puzzled look on my face, I said to her, Yea,
the trouble with cycle touring is you just don't get enough fresh air!?
Not sure where to stay, we just wondered around and stumbled upon the Bomberos
(fire house). Inside there was a fire truck from about 1910. Nobody
was around to ask but the doors were open so we went in. Upstairs there
was a huge room overlooking the bay. It was all newly constructed and in
the center was a Ping-Pong table complete with paddles and ball. There
was even a sink and toilets with running water. This was undoubtedly the
best hotel in town. Later on after we officially got permission to stay
here, we found out that this was where the local fiesta and parties were
held. Also, anyone who was interested was welcome to come up and play
Ping-Pong whenever they felt like it. Personally, I thought this was the
most interesting town in Chiloe - a major fishing port, which meant fresh
fish every day and more smoked salmon for 50 cents a pound - now that's
a fair price. I never thought the day would come but by the time we left
this town, I really had had my fill of salmon.
We spent two days walking all over the town talking to the fishermen and
the people. There were many coves and inlets - much like the Puget Sound,
around Seattle. Naturally it also has a very similar climate - rain, rain,
rain and more rain. However, thanks to El Nino, they were suffering in the
middle of a six week drought and there had been a lot of fires and the
horizon was very smoky. There were several days of cycling on Chiloe when
we passed through fog banks of smoke.
After a couple of days, we were anxious to cycle out to the west coast, our
first experience in Chile with the open ocean of the Pacific. The road to
the west coast is unpaved with small rolling hills and it passes along the
north shore of a lake. Because we had become so comfortable with
pavement again, it was frustrating to be on gravel again and it was a
long 21 miles out to the town of Cucao. There's about 40 families that live
out here year round. In all of the coastline of Chile south of here, about
1500 air miles, this is the first place with access to the open sea. As
soon as we arrived I felt like I was on the Oregon coast. It was very windy
with huge waves breaking well off shore and rolling up to the beach.
There was a National Park just North of Cucao and for a dollar, the locals
will take you across the river, but to me this whole place is a national
park, anyway we didn't go.
It's hard for me to believe that this is Ewa's first bike trip. Despite
the one time of trying to hide on a deserted road, she's been doing
remarkably well. We've been averaging 30-40 miles a day but she has done
as much as 60 miles in one day. She appears to be having a good time but
sometimes I would look back and she'd be walking and pushing her bike up a
hill. I often wondered if she's having evil thoughts of me for suggesting
such a "holiday".
Just before the trip she bought a standard 18 speed road bike with good
kevlar tires (700cc) and upright handle bars. I think it was a close friend
of hers who did a lot of cycle touring before and loaned her all the gear
and clothing and encouraged her to go. Even a nasty fall on the ice in Vienna
two days before she left did not discourage her from going. For someone who
hasn't done any cycle touring before she has been able to keep up very well.
Ewa admitted that it was something that she would never do alone, but would
do again in the future.
That night we were looking for an empty house to crash in when we ran into
5 youthful Chileans on holiday who said they had found a great house that
had some broken windows but a huge pit in the center of the house that we
could build a fire in. Ewa and I went to check it out with them and sure
enough, it was just as they'd said - wind howling through the house which
was necessary to blow out all the smoke from the fire that they had going
in the center of the house. We moved all our stuff inside and went out to
gather more wood. At this point, it was dark and from outside, the house
looked like it was on fire with big flames billowing in the center. But
surprisingly, no-one in town seemed concerned about this somewhat unusual
sight. We stayed for two nights and no-one asked us who we were or why we
were staying there. I LOVE this country. I spread out the rest of the
smoked salmon and we cooked dinner over the open fire. The Chileans, like
all Chileans had a gallon of homemade peach wine. Unfortunately, the wine
was so good it was like drinking peach juice and it didn't take too long to
get to the point where standing up was no longer taken for granted. We
laughed and joked and drank until the wood ran out which meant no more
light and no more heat. But actually it was the empty wine bottle that
finally sent us to sleep.
The next morning, I was feeling rather sluggish and not too sporty. Ewa
was complaining that she had the worst night of her life and had gotten
up three times in the night to pray to the moon gods over the railing of
the back deck. I told her I never pictured her as a religious person.
I knew I was really out of it when I had to turn down an opportunity to
go horseback riding down on the beach. It took me until I was 35 years old
to realize that drinking too much was a stupid thing to do because a
few hours of not knowing what I was doing the night before was traded for
a whole day wasted. I only have a year to see South America, and even
wasting a day was too much. I always seem to have a much better time
when I choose not to alter my mental state with chemicals. I think the
best drugs are a fruit salad or a half hour of meditation or climbing
a 6000 foot peak. True bliss and excitement come from within.
Well after the unplanned day off we were both anxious to get back on
the bikes again. The funny thing about cycling is that no matter how
much frustration I feel or how tired I get, after a day off, I'm
always anxious and ready to get back on the bike. I think the same is true
for just about everything we enjoy doing in life.
About half way back out the road we had just cycled in, we met an old
couple - one man was 87 - and his 67 year old son had just bought some land
and planned to build a small hotel here. They invited us to a barbecue of
meat and potatoes and of course more Chilean wine. I felt bad for Ewa being
a vegetarian, but she at least had a piece of potato. Neither of us was able
to partake of the wine much to the dismay of our hosts. What I find amazing
is how simply people go on a picnic. They bring the usual (wine and meat and
potatoes) and whenever they decide to eat, they stop, look around, scrounge
up whatever they need to get a fire going, grab a piece of metal for a grill
and they proceed to cook up the most amazing meals. No fuss or carrying
charcoal or BBQ's or worrying about regulation fire pits. Freedom and
After dinner they brought us down to the lake where they had a skiff with
a motor on the back and they offered us a ride around the lake. Because of
the wind and the size of the chop, I declined and advised Ewa to do the
same. They went out on their own and returned, as I expected, completely
soaking wet. Nothing like being cold and wet in a cold and wet climate
while attempting to camp. That night we cycled into Castro, the capital
city of the island where we got a hospedeje, did our laundry and hung
everything up over the wood stove in the kitchen to dry. In the morning,
I noticed I had my first flat tire. Just a pinhole through the tube, so
small I couldn't even find it so I just threw the tube away and put a fresh
one in. It was also fortunate that it happened in a large town and I was
able to fill it up at a petro station rather than by hand.
About 20 miles north of Castro was the town of Dalcahue, famous for its
fish market and a place where you catch the ferry to a small island in the
gulf. Why is it that city planners always feel compelled to put a stop
sign at the bottom of a long steep hill. About half way down this hill,
my hat flew off, but not will to sacrifice this momentum, I continued
on only to become frustrated that I had to stop anyway because of this
bloody stop sign. Then I had a flashback to a few days earlier, while
cycling I saw a guy lose his hat as he riding in the back of a truck.
Naturally They didn't stop to pick it up, and then the next car that came
from the opposite direction stopped to pick it up because a hat is actually
a very valuable necessity in that area. With this in mind, I became anxious
about returning to pick up my hat. As I started back up the hill to get my
hat, Ewa came down and stopped right next to me. I asked her if she had
found my hat. She looked at me very puzzled and said that she hadn't seen it.
At this point I felt that someone had already picked it up and I was saddened
at the prospect of trying to find another hat. I started back up the hill
to double check anyway. Ewa let me go about 100 feet before she shouted
that she was just kidding and waved the hat at me. I wasn't sure whether
to be happy or angry at her. Of course I was happy!
It was here that I met a guy traveling from Ohio - my first and only
on the trip. He was quite impressed that someone had been cycling down in
this part of the world but like all travelers was in a hurry because he
only had a couple of weeks. We planned to get together when I was back
home. I have since written twice but no response yet, wonder if he is still
there? Probably captured by a young Chilean girl and he is holding himself
Both of us decided that we didn't want to take a trip back up
to the island because it was just a dead end road anyway. That evening
we ate dinner in a small little restaurant by the sea and we tried
something totally new called Loco. It's very similar to abalone only
smaller - a large mollusk that is pounded and sautéed. They attach
themselves to the side of rocks in about waist-deep water and it takes
a small crowbar to pry them off during low tide. The next day we both
walked the huge hill back up to the plateau and headed north to the town
of Ancud. This is the largest city on Chiloe. We cycled 50 miles this
day. After we arrived in town and stocked up on some more groceries,
we had our normal routine discussion/argument about where to camp. We
selected the beach. I said how about here, she said down there. I didn't
see the point in walking 100 yards on soft stones pushing my bicycle
but apparently she was quite fond of that idea. In her stupor, as she
walked down the beach with her head down, she missed one of the most
beautiful sunsets into the sea to the right and an equally beautiful moonrise
to the left.
I guess being half-way around the world down to the south, the moon
appears very different. At home we have little islands on the moon,
areas of gray and white and here it appears completely white except for
an area of gray shaped like Australia across the bottom. I think I'm
actually looking at the other side of the moon.
The beach was made up of small golf ball size stones, which made the
most pleasant sound as the small waves rolled up the shore. I sat
down for a while and soaked it all in, a and wondered why people always
argue about trivialities. If you worry about something, that just means
that your not trusting in the divine plan. That night I made a fire and
cooked a lentil curry over the open flames. It sure is nice to be able
to camp and build a fire anywhere we feel like without having to worry
about someone coming over to tell me to put it out or asking for ID.
Something that always happens to me in the United States even in remote
In the morning we packed up and cycled over to the ferry which was
departing every hour. There were a lot of people selling snacks and
trinkets and a line of trucks waiting. This time we found a flatbed
tractor trailer that was empty and he let us toss our bikes on for the
15 minute ride across. This time it was a relatively rough crossing
for the water was very turbulent with a very strong current, but we made
That day we cycled about 50 miles to Puerto Varas, which is about 8 miles
North of Puerto Montt. It seemed like every town is a Puerto something
largely because all these towns are on the water and therefore a port.
This is a tourist town. All the clothing looks very tourist and it's
on the southern point of the beautiful Lake Llanquihue and of course it's
pronounced exactly as it sounds - Yankihoo. Not having an interest in
staying here we just stocked up on supplies and headed back out onto route 5.
From now on, we will have pavement but lots of truck traffic. This road
stretches all the way up to Alaska, with a small gap between Colombia and
Panama where its necessary to take a ferry from Cartahena.
Just before we got to the intersection of the access road and Route 5, we met
the eyes of three smiling faces - an old couple and their son who was in the
police force. The police are called Carbineros. They invited us both in for
tea because we both looked very cold. First there was the a few basic
questions of where we were from and where we were going, they didn't even
bother to ask us if we were hungry. I guess they realized the futility of
such a question to people traveling by bicycle. They just put a huge plate
of freshly fried fish and potatoes in front of both of us, brought out a
loaf of freshly made bread and refilled our coffee mugs. I couldn't
believe they wouldn't massage my back while I was eating, how insensitive.
These kind people were actually insulted at the question of whether we could
camp in their back yard. There was no chance of this they said. The woman
just got up and made special arrangements moving around all the furniture
for us to sleep on the floor in the next room. They even said we could use
the stereo to play music if we wanted to. Then they disappeared. After such
a full day and a complete meal, I fell right to sleep and the next thing I
knew, bacon and eggs were being cooked and coffee was being poured. The
amazing kindness of the Chilean people knows no bounds.
Its now the end of march, the days are starting to get short and on some
of the mountains the leaves are starting to change color. Its time to
reflect on life, my journey and the changing of the seasons. That's what
seasons are all about, changes, the way we see or do something today, may
be completely different from the perspective we had last year, or will have
in the coming years. My internal system is thrown off a little, by the
feeling of winter coming on in the month of march.
People always say to me how dangerous my lifestyle is, not just cycling in
south America, but not having a career. People ask me what about health care,
what about retirement? Life, like traveling or any endeavor you wish to take
on, is only dangerous for the imprudent and the ill prepared. This goes beyond
packing a good Swiss army knife and avoiding dark streets and bad neighborhoods
at night. It means having a clear understanding of why you want to take this
path. Even more importantly what will be some of your intrinsic rewards from
your efforts. The world reserves it beauty for those who come to it in the
proper state of mind. Remember you are not your body. Your body is made
only of elements of the periodic table, mostly hydrogen and oxygen that
happen to be in solid or liquid form. We are nothing more than vibrating
energy as is the whole universe. Its what you choose to do with your mind
and how you interpret what you experience that makes up your life.
Why do we always have to know where we are? Sometimes in life
there is more joy in not knowing. Improvisation and spontaneity are two
very significant ingredients to the success of any undertaking.
Surprise can be the spice of life. Remember when we were young,
how excited we were when daddy came home and said he had surprise
for everyone? More of life should be this way. Traveling should always be
this way. Don't stick to known routes and sometimes go without a map. That's
what my whole life has been about, getting off the main road of life and
going down some of life's side streets, maybe even spend some time in
The art of approach determines the character of our passage between here and
there. If we change our expectations we can alter the way we experience
our journey and the people we meet along the way. Remember its not the getting
there that's important, there is no there, eventually we will all evolve
into another form of energy, its the trip that counts.
Cycling north from Puerto Varas on the busy Pan Americana highway,
averaging a whopping 12 mph, I'm finding my thoughts wandering to Santiago.
How nice it will be to get to a big city again, get mail, call home, and I
catch myself in time and say stop that. Life is a moment by moment here and
now. I think of people stuck in traffic, frustrated anxious to get home, we
live life in hurry, we even travel in a hurry. Gotta' get here, gotta' get
there, must visit this museum, see that statue, or that waterfall. Sometimes
just being where you are is enough. Remember the movie " Its Tuesday It Must
Be Belgium"? A film where a bunch of tourist went on a package tour, and
every minute of their two week trip was scheduled out in advance, always
rushing to the next site. Beauty in life is absorbed over time.
When you look at a beautiful painting, The longer you look at it the more
you appreciate what it has to offer. We should live more of our life that way
and we should certainly travel that way, slowly absorbing everything we do, see
and taste. We do this when we watch a movie, we watch each moment as it comes
and we willingly let the film evolve at its own pace. No one would try to
watch the whole 2 hour movie in 10 minutes, although I know some people who
would like too.
In looking at a painting, traveling or in living life we should let
TIME WORK ITS MAGIC ON OUR SENSES. Patience, everything in its own time, this
is what will make our trip fulfilling and rewarding, providing us with that
ever so important sense of accomplishment, the necessary ingredient for
any long term happiness.
So rather than hurry to Santiago, Ewa and I decided to take a detour off
the main highway (route 5) and go east down to the town of Frutillar
nestled on the blue lake at the base of the 2652 meter(8800 feet) volcano
Osorno. We productively spent the rest of the day cooking, swimming, eating
and sleeping. That evening just before sunset I asked Ewa if she would like
to cycle around the lake but she was not too keen on the idea of more riding
on bad unpaved road. I told her everything is a trade off, Its either bad
road with no traffic, or a busy paved road. For now we chose the latter.
We started north again on route 5 just as the sun was setting to our
left, creating a bright red glow on the white breast like shape of Mt. Orsono.
As the colors faded into darkness, our sights were now blessed with a perfect
full orange moon rising from directly behind the now dormant volcano, like a
ball of lava rising out of the cone. As the moon rose higher, our light
returned to the point where we could continue riding without the aid of a
headlight. Further more by 10 PM the traffic had become very light, about
one car every ten or fifteen minutes. Yippie! without traffic and the
romanticism of the full moon, and the fact that we slept most of the
afternoon gave us the energy to cycle till almost 3 am when it was the cold
not the lateness that drove us to find a place to nest for the rest of the
night. The majestic MT Orsorno being so large stayed in view for almost 4
hours of cycling, we go to see it in all different shades of light and color. If we had been
traveling by bus or car it might have gone by unnoticed. The beauty of
life takes place over time.
I was about 100 yards ahead of Ewa when I sighted a barn about quarter mile
off the road in the middle of a freshly plowed field so I stopped and when
she caught up asked her if she thought that would make a good home for the
night? Her response was immediate, no argument this time, so walked over
to check it out. Surprisingly there was no fence, and the only open side to
the barn was facing away from the road. The inside was about half full of hay
We took 9 bales of hay and made a king size bed, spread out the tarp, inflate
the thermarest, and shazam! I couldn't imagine a more perfect or more
comfortable hotel room. I love being in a country, where based on my
experience the owner of that barn would be disappointed if we didn't
spend the night in his agricultural warehouse. Considering the setting, I
had some farming ideas I wanted to implement with Ewa. You know rollin' in the
hay, sowing some crops, real agricultural fun, but after a 21 hour day I was
not able to cultivate any interest.
The next day we were faced with a directional decision. Do we go west to
the coast to Valdivia, or right east to the lakes? This is the lake district
so with out hesitation we went east to the lovely town of Panguipuli. The
terrain in this region is hilly with many semi active volcanoes scattered
about. The roads are in excellent condition, some paved some not. For
the most part the roads wind around the hills, making for an ideal cycling
environment. For the end of March its sunny everyday, with high temperatures
about 75 and about 40 at night.
We asked around for a good yet inexpensive place to stay, when we were
directed to this huge old house in the center of town. The nicest little
old man answered the door. He was about 75 years old, 5 foot tall, only 3
teeth left and bald. He brought us up stairs to a double room, showed us how
the shower works. Everywhere we stay people seem insistent on meticulously
demonstrating the correct procedure for operating this ever so complicated
device of 2 knobs, both of which release cold water. Perhaps they feel that
because I come from the United States a rich country, where we must have
something more advanced than this. Anyway after the lesson, he took our bikes
and locked them in a separate storage room. Then he brought us to the kitchen
and showed us the wood stove and where the wood was and how to start the fire,
and said we could use his refrigerator and anything else in the kitchen that
we needed. He charged us 5 dollars each for the first night. In the morning
much to our delight our new landlord informed us of what a pleasure it was
for him to have us in his house and we could stay as long as we wanted too
for free. He had 4 guest rooms upstairs but in the 5 days that we were there,
no other overnight patrons arrived.
However on our third night, 5 guys (about mid 40s) showed up at 7 PM and played
cards, smoked cigars, drank rum and cokes and ate dinner. Throughout the
evening the old man cooked for them and served the drinks of which he was
generously paid. The 5 poker players all seemed to be rather affluent and
educated. They asked many questions about our trip, one guy asked if I had a
good map, I said well only this one and I pulled out my map with a scale of 1
is to 4 million. He just looked at it and smiled. He asked if I would still be
here tomorrow at 10 am. I said yes, of course. He smiled and said well I'll be
back then with something a little better for you. In the mean time, he said
have either of you ever had a pisco sour? I said a what? With great
enthusiasm he gave the old man about 20 dollars (10 000 pesos) to buy sugar,
pisco and fresh lemons. And when the old man returned he himself took great
pride to mix these ingredients just perfectly, so to introduce us to a Chilean
favorite. Pisco is grapes that are distilled into alcohol. It has a sweet an
sour taste, very unique. I'm surprised its not exported and more popular
In the morning at exactly 10 o'clock as promised, our personal bartender,
tour planner/cartographer arrived with our maps. He had a map of central
Chile with a scale of 1 is to 250,000 wow! He had photocopied and highlighted
all the areas he thought we should see on our trip. Through out my five
month trip in Chile I consistently, almost on a daily basis met these
kind of people, who offered such a sincere interest in me and my journey
and would voluntarily go out of there way to make my visit a little more
pleasant. I did find it a little inconsiderate of him not of offer to
massage my neck and back while he was going over the maps with us.
That evening we made our nightly walk down to the French fry stand, the
best ho'made French fries. For 25 cents we got more than we could eat. This
seems to be another Chilean favorite for in very town regardless of how
small, you can always buy French fries on the street, served with ketch-up or
mayonnaise. Each night around 10 PM we cooked up a big dinner, and regardless
of what we made , our gracious host would not accept anything we offered
yet would always serve us a bowl of soup he made earlier that day.
I can't believe we have been here for 5 days. The first 2 were spent resting,
doing laundry, bicycle maintenance, writing letters and more resting. The
other days we just hiked throughout the surrounding hills and watched the
daily life of Panguipuli. When we packed up and were ready to leave of the
morning of the sixth day, the old man was sad to see us go, he wouldn't
take any extra money from us, so we left 5000 pesos on the table. Our
experience of the past five days was like looking at a beautiful rose.
Life is a moment by moment opportunity to give love. Love could be holding
a child's hand to cross the street, watching birds or admiring a tree, or
a simple touch, isn't this what makes up our life?
We walked the bikes up a rather steep hill out of town where the road leveled
off but at the same time the pavement ended. From there the road round down
to another lake and around that lake through the coniferous forest.
We only saw 3 cars all day, If the weather, the road, the scenery,
the environment or my spirit were to change in anyway it would result in
We arrived at the small town of Concord, which appeared to be closed. Must
be siesta time. They take their siestas very seriously here for it was a literal
ghost town. So we waited for about 2 hours, then like magic the town came
to life again. Even the French fry stand closed down for siesta, which is
good for when they open they will make fresh ones, oh boy! After a quick snack and
a restock of groceries and a fresh order of fries we cycled out of town
and within a mile the pavement started again Yahoo! This is great because
on pavement I can make myself a sandwich and eat it while cycling. Ewa thinks
this is crazy so I told her not to do it. In Chile you can buy buns, which
look like thick English muffins. I call it cracker bread because its possible
to peel off thin layers of it and it looks and tastes like crackers. With a
slice of cheese or meat, makes great little sandwiches. because my energy
level seems to run low about every hour, I eat while I ride. This way I
don't have to stop and break the rhythm of the ride.
That night after our usual to do about where to camp, we settled on top of
the hill between the towns of Licon-ray and the famous tourist center
Villarica. Ewa wanted to camp down by the lake, which is nice but I said
first of all its near a town, lots of houses, lots of people, standing water
means lots of bugs, and we have to climb the big hill first thing in the
morning. Reluctantly she agreed to the top of the hill. We walked the bikes
about 100 yards off the road, stashed them in the woods. set up the tent,
gathered fire wood, cooked dinner, this night we even had a great salad, with
fresh fixin's from the last town, made in the huge plastic serving bowl
I've been carrying around for just such a purpose. From this point forward
daily tomato, onion and cucumber salads became a luncheon ritual. Siting
here on top of this hill. looking out over the valley under the brilliantly
red setting sun IM thinking to myself, the key to a long life, eat right,
stay positive, and most importantly live peacefully. be careful what you
think about, the body mirrors any mental event. My personal perspective,
on life, an absence of growth and excitement in your daily life, will lead
to its internal expression, growth and excitement gone wild; that is CANCER.
If you find yourself leading a constricted and repressed life style, perhaps
this might be a good time to turn down one of life's side streets.
In the morning I was feeling a little guilty about not camping where she
wanted to, but as were flying down this hill into a beautiful sunrise, I
think we both felt glad we didn't . Villarica, with the snow capped volcanic
dome standing tall above the town and reflecting in the lake below.
First we cycled all over town to get our bearings, it sure is nice to have
the freedom to just zip anywhere in town by bike, to arrive by bus and
have to walk everywhere seem like a chore to us. It didn't take us too long
to recognize that touristy stuff is not for the likes of we. without much
dilly-dallying, we went down to the lake for a morning swim which led to an
afternoon nap, my kinda' day. Ewa decided to swim properly, that is without
any clothes on. Not seeing any people around she felt safe. But the one thing
in life that you can always rely on is change. She was about 50 yards off
shore when a row boat of 6 guys came paddling by. I couldn't understand what
they were saying, but I think they enjoyed their boat ride a little more
than they expected to. Ewa said they didn't say anything to her, just rowed
on by but they did all have big smiles and looked at each other a lot.
Later on that afternoon I went for a proper swim thinking I might have similar
luck that a boat load of girls might happen by, but no such luck.
After a couple of picnics and an equal number of naps, we packed up, and
cycled to the hostel opened by a Swiss couple who cycled around the world
before settling down here. This was a planned possible meeting point for
my friend Stuart who I parted with in Rio Grande on Tierra Del Fuego bank
in early January. There was no message, so I left one, only later to learn
that at this time he had already flown back home.
Not ready for a hotel so soon, we cycled east along the lake to the town of
Pucon. Just out side of town it was too dark to continue, so we asked around
for a place to camp. We met a guy in a truck who said follow me. So we did up
a small hill, then down a dirt road to a field. He actually wrote us a note
signifying by divine providence that we have permission to camp here. After
he left, rather than set up the tent, we saw shed, a roof actually over a
stack of 2 x 4's. We only had about a foot in half of head room but with our
sleeping mats it will be plenty comfy. Ewa forgot about the limited head
room several times, always followed by a few unrepeatable obscenities about
how she preferred the tent, but you must admit this made for better memories.
In the morning we packed up and rode to the turnoff for the Mt. Villarica
hike. About 200 yards up the road there was a large house with a family
of many living actually several families all with many kids. We asked if
we could leave our bikes and stuff here while we did the hike, promising
to be back around sunset. They were more than happy to. and even offered
us bread, fresh ho'made, still hot too and some fresh oranges. We had already
made sandwiches and munchies, but couldn't possibly turn down there
generous offering. We waited about an hour for a lift, meaning the 2nd car
that came by picked us up. about 10 miles up the road they dropped us off
among big soft fur pine trees. Felt like the sierra mountains of California.
About 2 miles short of the base of the ski lift, and beginning of the hike we
started walking. Two minutes later a German couple on holiday in a rental car,
stopped and gave us a lift the rest of the way. This place looked a ski
resort you might expect to find on the moon, lava rocks, valleys and ravines
all the way up to the snow line, not a tree in sight. Approximately a half mile
ahead of us were 6 obviously well prepared hikers en route to the top. I told
Ewa to avoid getting lost lets follow their trail. Took us a little over 5
hours to get to the top. About half the hike was in the snow, wet mushy snow.
We caught up the group of hikers just above the snow line. Ewa and I were
feeling tired, clouds were starting to close in, they say if it gets cloudy,
get down in a hurry or your never find your way back!
Well, we changed our minds in a hurry when we found out that of the six "well
prepared hikers" was a 7 year old girl, accompanied by her father, a
professional guide. He was very familiar with the route and the conditions,
so we felt comfortable to go on. When we go to the top you could see billows
of steam and gas pouring out. You can actually stand on the rim of the volcano
and look down into it. All we could see was steam and a couple of bodies(just
kidding) The wind was blowing about 25 knots, but every so often it would die
for a moment and the steam would engulf us, it was impossible to breath at
this time. You could feel the gas go into your lungs, creating a strange
burning sensation. If the wind didn't pick up right away we would start to
head down the mountain about 50 feet or so just so as to breath again. I
couldn't believe this little girl did this hike without ever being carried
by dad. Impressive! We started down just as the sun was setting, sliding on
our butts most of the way. I carried a walking stick up and was using it as
a paddle, like in a kayak. One time got going a little too fast and couldn't
stop in time and bounced up onto the rocks, tore my wind pants, nothing a
little duck tape can't fix.
The summit was 2841 meters ( 9250 feet) the start of the climb is at about
4500 feet. Above the snow line its easy to become lost and disoriented, but
if the sky stays clear and you concentrate on what your doing its possible
to do the climb without a guide. Even though these people didn't have room
in their small car for us they made room and gave us a lift down to our bikes.
The family watching our stuff was quite worried about us, for it was several
hours after dark when we got back, and the dinner and soup, they made for
us was getting cold. Afterward they brought out dessert and fresh coffee,
even offered us a mattress of the floor next to the stove for the night.
In the morning a friend of theirs stopped by having already had too much
fermented good cheer for breakfast(wine) felt the need to take us in his
car to see his farm. We went through the town of Pucon, part way up the road
to Argentina(remember Chile is only 100 miles wide at is widest, and as
narrow as 15 miles, so it doesn't take too much east/west travel to be at
the sea or the Argentine frontier) before turning off down a very dusty side
road, to bridge of one lane. Crossing the bridge I felt like a pin ball
bouncing from side to side, sparks flying as metal rubbed on metal. After the
bridge he managed to find a large rock over a foot high and 3 feet
long, 5 feet off the road and drive his car on top of is. As the small sub-
compact car lie teetering on this rock, I said look Hogan, this isn't a 4 x 4
Suburu you know. So we got out and pushed the dented, scrapped and bent
demo-derby entrant back onto the road. I told our personal tour guide that
we had seen enough and that we needed to get back in time for breakfast.
When we got back his friends looked at the car with horror on their faces,
We told them that we didn't take the most direct route. I looked at Ewa
who was still shaking from the experience, and said look at it this way,
we have the experience of being in a solo demolition derby to add to our
resume. She looked at me like she always does when I try to cheer her up
and said in a sarcastic way "what a plus".
The ride back to Villerica was frustrating for Ewa for she claims how much
she dislikes cycling the same road twice, but I said its only 10 miles or so
but I suspect she might be getting board with cycling. Things started to
pick up for we are now entering black berry country at the height of the
season. For the next two weeks, we would stop about every mile or at least
it seemed like it, to pick and eat blackberries. I think we spent more time
picking and eating than cycling, but our spirits were high and our tummies
full. The 2nd night after Villarica, we camped in a huge structure, used for
the regions fiestas. The roof was tin but the sides were made of straw. In
the far corner was a fire pit used to roast the unlucky swine for the party.
We asked the caretaker if it was OK to sleep there he sure just put out the
fire before you go to sleep. I made a big hot fire in the corner for light,
heat and to cook dinner on. We put the fire out with sand before going to bed.
About 6 am I woke up to the lovely sight of 3 walls in flames from the ground
to the ceiling. Ewa!! I shouted wake up the building is on fire!! She was
not impressed, as she rolled over to go back to sleep. This time
I physically moved her head to see the flames, then started putting
all our stuff out side, then grabbed the 2 liter bottle of water and started
flooding the ground around the base of the walls. Ewa stayed behind and I
went to look for a lake or stream which was thankfully only about 150
yards away. We each took turns making countless trips to fill our only 2 liter
bottle and a couple of smaller ones. After about two in a half hours we had
it under control. Finally when we both agreed it was out I looked at Ewa who
said don't even think about making another resume comment. Apparently the
fire started slowly through the night. The dirt and packed sawdust and peat
under the fire pit must of continued burning after we put the surface fire
out. The heat underneath the wall kept fueling the flames slowly but never
getting hot enough to ignite the whole building at once. (A stick will stop
burning when you pull it out of the fire, but if you lay it down next to
the fire but not in it, it will continue to burn slowly just from the heat.)
Each of us blamed ourselves, and went to find the caretaker to apologize,
but he couldn't be found, so like Mr. Bean after one of his debacles we
went on our merry way.
We went out to Route 5 to the town of Freire then north for a very short
distance before turning east again to the town of Curacatin. That night
I told Ewa we better camp in the tent and not have a camp fire. She agreed.
One night we camped in a field where in the morning inside the tent we heard
the sound of heavy breathing and it wasn't coming from us(IM sad to say).
We also heard foot steps so with great apprehension we unzipped the tent.
What a surprise to be completely surrounded by cows. One brave bovine stuck
his head right in the tent, worried that she might inadvertently tear it, I
stood up and tried to scare them off. They didn't budge. At home you can't
get near cows here you can't get away from them. They held their ground till
they realized there wasn't much food to be had, then some dogs came about
and the cows scattered. Thinking back to the fire and this minor situation
when one is under pressure, you either focus or fold. Very simple but sound
advice. A symptom of peace is to think and act spontaneously and not to
obsess about tomorrow. Traveling puts you in situations that you might
otherwise never encounter.
Just outside of Curacatin we met a white haired man who invited us to camp
on his front lawn. He asked us in for tea and to see all his momentous from
the war. I wish I had more of the language to understand some of his history.
We didn't stay long for we were both very tired. In the morning instead of
cows we were awakened by a family of pigs, eight little ones walking behind mama.
There were apple trees everywhere so we stuffed our bags, and fed a good
helping to our( soon to be bacon), visitors. Our whited haired host was no
where to be found so with a note of thanks on the door, we figured it was OK
to just head out and close the gate behind us.
Curacatin a rather large town with little to offer, but a place to store up
groceries. We planed to cycle north to the hot springs but met another family
and they talked us out of it for the roads were bad and the springs
disappointing. They also invited us to camp under the roof of a
decapitated house next door. In the morning the young girl was trying
to talk to us in English, saying how she was studying it in school. She
brought us fresh home made empanadas and crispies. So in exchange I gave her
one of my Spanish dictionaries. She was so happy!! We decided to continue
east to see the three waterfalls along the newly paved road towards the
boarder with Argentina.
This entire stretch of road is lined on both sides with blackberry bushes.
So everyday its blackberries with cream, blackberries with porridge, and
the forever purple tongue. The first water fall we came to actually had
a sign announcing its presence unlike the other two. As we hiked down the
trail the lushness of the vegetation gradually thickened. And down by the
falls it looked like tropical jungle, from the perpetual mist. We spent
several hours here drinking mate and eating fantastic Chilean chocolate.
Their chocolate is made by Nestle, a Swiss company, but its not the same
chocolate that Nestle sells in the States, Same company though. The United
States has by far the worst chocolate in the world by my opinion, with the
lowest amount of cocoa. Nestle makes it to sell in the States in the standard
that we are used to. Same reason people actually enjoy the chemical liquid
called American beer. Any way not since I was in Switzerland have I enjoyed
such good almond chocolate.
Back out on the road, a car passed us stopped, and backed up to where we
were. It was a Swiss couple( third Swiss couple) who just moved here, bought
some land, and planned on cultivating some trails to the near by volcanoes
and opening a Hostel for travelers. It will be the first in this area.
After a short chat, they gave us directions to the other falls, both worth
a visit, and directions to their house with an invitation to stay with them,
minimum stay a week, so they said. The directions sounded confusing so they
took my helmet ( bright yellow ) and put it on the fence post at the end
of their long driveway. That turned out to be a great idea, for the road
started to climb, our pace started to slow and when we arrived it was well
after dark. But we found the helmet no problem, without of which we would
of never found their house.
Naturally when we arrived, the wood stove was lit ,dinner was ready,
and the wine was poured. A wonderful ending to just another day at the office.
They had no electricity, no heat, and no running water, my kind of place.
We all took turns throughout the week fetching water by the bucket full
from a stream that flowed into a small hut through a pipe into a trough,
along the trough and out of the hut into the stream again. This required
walk of about 100 yards each way, personally I prefer this kind of workout
to going to the gym everyday. We also took turns going out to find wood for
the stove to cook and heat the place. They owned 50 acres of well forested
land so that was no problem, besides the stove was small and used very small
amounts of little pieces of wood. We stayed up late into the night talking
about life and the difficulties of relocating in a foreign country. Ewa and
I slept on the floor in one corner, and they slept on the floor in another.
Each morning we woke to a heavy frost, although the days still warmed to
a pleasant 70 degrees. That first day Ewa and I cycled down to near by
hot springs, which turned out to be very disappointing, a hotel that had
a swimming pool filled with hot water. In addition to that they wanted to
charge 10 dollars to soak. My idea of hot springs, is a mile long path
through the woods to a river near a vent in the earth. Find a deep spot
in the river, and set your naked butt down into the soft mud. I found many
of these in California, Idaho, and British Columbia in Canada, but very
few in Chile. There were many nice hot springs but almost all were
commercial. So we snuck in, soaked for about 10 minutes then got kicked
out when they asked us to pay. How rude of them to confiscate such a natural
piece of earth, it should be illegal to own such places. On the way back
to the house, we picked about 5 pounds of berries, to make ho'made jam with.
Thomas and his Ewa made the jam, while my Ewa and I cooked dinner and kept
the fire going.
The next day, Ewa and I decided to cycle up to the border, after about 7
miles the pavement ended but they were in the process of paving it to the
tunnel. We got to the tunnel which was over 1 mile long with no lights.
We both determined that the narrow one lane abyss would be too dangerous
without lights, this time my lighter would not be of help. So we returned
to the small town ( not on the map ) then took a detour up one of the
trails when I got my second puncture. Naturally I forgot to bring a patch
kit, so I rode Ewa's bike with her on the back, leaving mine in town, to
the house. After lunch with patch kit in hand we returned to my bike, made
the repair in front of the old train station, now derelict. Virtually no
trains in South America anymore. We cycled up a fantastic trail only getting
lost 3 or 4 times before not making it to the top before dark. Ewa was
angry with me because I would get off the trail and when she passed, I would
continue on and catch up to her, often startling her. If Ewa wasn't angry
at me or complaining about something she simply just wasn't happy. So this
was my way of keeping her happy.
The terrain here is very flat but just west of here the road drops about
800 feet, so at sunset the sun was still shining but just below the level
I was standing. This made for the tallest shadow I've ever seen. I'm 6 feet
tall and my shadow was so less than 80 yards. On my way back from a solo
walk I kept careful analysis of all the different shadows, what a strange
On the sixth day we disappointed our friends by telling them that we had
to leave. Ewa has to fly back to Austria in a few weeks and its time to get
cycling again. So with more painful good-byes and hugs off we went. They gave
us a big jar of jam to take with us, along with a fresh loaf of ho'made
bread. I told them with this kind of hospitality they will make perfect
Because of the good road, mostly down hill, we covered 70 miles, and by the
next day we were back on route 5 in the town of Victoria. The further north
you travel in Chile the more arid the land becomes. Just north of here
the great forest of Alceres ends, and north of Santiago the desert begins.
Also this part of Chile is where almost all the people live. North of
the town of Talca route 5 is a 4 lane divided interstate. To me the most
uninteresting part of cycling is riding into and out of large cities. The
El Salto Del Laja near Los Angeles Chile merits a visit albeit very popular
with tourist and locals. From here I'm not ashamed to say we took a night
bus into Santiago. Ewa made all the arrangements and packed and unpacked
the bikes, for I've had my share of buses and was fed up with the politics
of trying to get a bike on the bus. When a women does things everything
seems to go so much smoother.
When you align yourself with the divine plan and understand the joy and woe
are woven of the same cloth, an effortless existence is possible. All
life is work, but to the enlightened one it will seem easy, even enjoyable.
To pass judgment is to limit gods reality to your ego dominated human
understanding. Pity those caught so much in thinking about their fate.