Loops on gravel: discovering Chile’s backcountry

CaptureAs we said in the last post, riding through the gentle farmland and along the pretty lakes was just a bit too… easy.  For this reason we looked at the maps to see what we could do to spice things up a bit.  There were a couple dashed lines around and through some national parks in the mountains, so that’s where we decided to go.  There were more direct (and more paved!) routes through this area, but none of them called to us in the same way.  Into the mountains we went!

We set off from the tourist town of Pucon.  You may have heard of this town because it’s been in the news recently.  One of the big, iconic volcanoes we rode past erupted just a few days after we were out of the area, and all the town’s residents were evacuated.  Here is a picture (that we didn’t take) of the dramatic eruption:


The same volcano a few days earlier.

The same volcano a few days earlier.

So we set off from Pucon heading due East, towards the Chile-Argentina border.  There is a town there that is mostly composed of Mapuche people: the original inhabitants of the area.  It was a really lively town, with tons of Argentine tourists and a lovely plaza.  When we stopped to ask for directions the folks at the municipal building warned us that we would need a four-wheel drive vehicle.  They laughed when I told them we were on bicycles.


Jason on the bridge over a deep ravine.

Jason on the bridge over a deep ravine.

After the pavement ended we began to climb up a steep river valley.  At times the river was a deep canyon, and various bridges crossed it to connect small farmsteads.  We ventured out onto the most impressive of these bridges, and it was terrifying.  We didn’t even make it halfway across before we were too scared to continue and gingerly made our way back to firm land again.

A section of incredibly steep road.

A section of incredibly steep road.





That night we found a great camping spot: in a cow field next to the river.  As we cooked dinner various cows and horses wandered by to check us out, but nothing bothered us.  It was one of the quietest nights we’ve had in a long time, in spite of the little dog that barked at our tent around 2 am!  We were grateful to the dog though, since when we went out to chase it off we saw the most spectacular stars.

View of the river at our wild campsite.

View of the river at our wild campsite.

Feb27_005The next day we climbed up and up into the mountains.  We went three hours without seeing a car, and it felt like our own private nature preserve.  I (Daisy) found an insane beetle stuck on its back in the middle of the road.  Once I flipped it over I could not believe how awkward it’s giant mandibles made it.  We later learned it is called a ‘ciervo volante’, or stag-beetle.  Jason found a Chilean tarantula just down the road.  Around here they call them ‘little chicken spiders’ because they are known to be calm and friendly.

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This little lizard was about half the size of the spider!

The lizard was half the size of the spider!







Here are some of the more macro vistas we saw on this day:


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Ominous clouds as we start into the national park.

Ominous clouds as we start into the national park.

After this great loop in the mountains we spent a day on pavement to get to our next gravel road.  This one ran through a national park containing a massive volcano and its lava flows.  It was only a day’s worth of riding, but it was beautiful.  It was surreal to climb up black lava dunes, eat lunch overlooking a green lagoon, and ride through a high forest of Araucana trees.


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Mar01_019We reached the top of the climb and began to descend.  At this point the road surface deteriorated and it was full of loose rocks and corrugations.  When a car came to pass us I moved over to give it some space, but I hit a loose spot and fell down while moving quite quickly.  Luckily I didn’t fall into the truck, but I did fall on top of a sharp rock that dug a deep gash into my knee.  It was only about a centimeter long, but it was full of little volcanic rocks.  The cleaning process was awful!  We had to use our water filter to squirt clean water in as we attempted to flush out the rocks.  When that didn’t work all the way I resorted to picking the rocks out with tweezers.  Yuck.

In retrospect, I am insanely lucky that this is the worst injury I’ve had on this entire trip.  Jason’s worst was the sting ray.  In both cases, we had less than a day’s worth of pain / discomfort before being back on the bikes at full strength.  Now, you probably need cheering up, so here’s some pictures of a couple more puppies we met this week!




Since the volcanic road we have been on pavement, climbing over hills and mountains on our way to the coast.  Not too much exciting has happened – we are just trying to put in the miles to get to another family visit and then on to Northern Chile.  Oh!  One more milestone to mention: 11,000 miles!


4 thoughts on “Loops on gravel: discovering Chile’s backcountry

  1. Aunt Kaye

    Glad the volcano was behind you. Daisy, hope your knee heals quickly. Love the pics of the dogs. Thanks for letting us share your adventures.
    Love and Prayers,
    Aunt Kaye

  2. Kendra Smith

    Jason and Daisy, thanks for the update and the cool pictures … not liking the spiders tho … ugh … hope your knee heals ok … ouch … so glad we can keep in touch along your way … be safe …

    Cousin Kendra Smith from Indiana

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