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  • Writer's pictureSteve

Heavy and slow. Part 2

Chaiten - Villa Santa Lucia - Puyuhuapi

We rode mostly tarmac to Villa Santa Lucia, however the gravel sections were really bad with rough, wash-boarded surfaces that shook our bodies uncontrollably. I worried about the nuts and bolts holding our bikes together as we tried to find the smoothest line to ride. After packing up our wet tents in the morning, we had set off in the rain, but it didn’t last long, and we clocked up amazing time. I pushed Karen along for a while with a stick I found, which provided me with 40 minutes of entertainment and meant we rode together, chatting the miles away.  We past our first glacier, far far away in the distance - it wasn’t even worthy of stopping for a photo. As we continued on, I was hoping there would be many more on this adventure south. The final climb of the day tested not only the legs and arms of the team, but their mental state. It was relentless, and carried on for many a hidden corner. The surface was terrible, the rain fell as we ground up the winding climb past heavy lorries and bulldozers, hoping that each corner would reveal the summit. The descent started as rough gravel, but turned into smooth fresh tarmac as we swept our way into Villa Santa Lucia, where we came across a lovely, basic small two bedroom cabana, with a wood burning stove. Hungry as thieves, we headed onto the streets to find some much needed scram before we returned to our fire-warmed cabana. We cooked food and drank beer and I had my first hot/cold shower.It was pure luxury.

We had a slow start leaving the cabana, which was not surprising with all that luxury. We rolled around to the local shop-come-hardware-store, and searched the randomly stocked shelves for the supplies we needed. Hot chocolate is my morning and late evening drink of choice, and we found it in the form of Milo. This takes me back to my childhood growing up in New Zealand. Stocked up, we hit the road with differing opinions from locals about what lay ahead regarding the gravel quality. We are told it’s half gravel (or ripio in Spanish) and half tarmac, but it’s the variations in opinions on the state of the gravel that worries us. We have found that what Chileans class as good gravel for their cars is horrible to ride. The road is built using river stones, which are smooth pebbles, between the size of grapes and golf balls, with the odd mango-sized rock to keep you on the look out!  This can make the surface very loose and hard to gain traction on the hills. Karen needs a lot of help on these inclines, which slows the pace to what seems like a painful crawl. It must be very frustrating for someone so strong. However, we find that this stretch of road is hard packed with very little loose gravel, the only downside being that the potholes are much harder to see. For the visually impaired of this world, it makes it hard going, and involves a lot of concentration. However the day is a success, and we cover a distance of 60 kms without too much trouble. 60kms for us is the standard day - we need to ride this distance on average if we are to make the final destination of Villa O’Higgins. At this point I’ve realised that our final destination will be dictated to us not by our will to get there, but by the surface of the roads. I know it doesn’t sound very far to cover in a day, a mere 60 kms or 40 miles. However when your bike weighs a crazy amount, and the terrain is like West Yorkshire back roads, but gravel, and one of the team is pedalling with their arms, they are far from easy miles.

We find ourselves without a suitable place to camp by the road, so we head into a farm to ask if we can camp in their paddock. The women looks worried by our appearance, similar to a travelling circus of misfits, but kindly agrees to let us sleep in her field. She shows as a tap ,hanging on a fence next to a barn for water. As we set up camp, it’s hard to find any flat ground so we make do with what we have. None of us complain as we think back a few days, to when we camped in a gravel layby right next to the road, when our tired limbs refused to take us any further. Compared to that, this is pretty nice, but a long way from the Cabana, warmed through by a raging wood burner. Caroline and Jaco return from water filling duties, with news the water from the tap probably isn’t drinkable. We have drunk straight from rivers on the journey so far, so I was happy to drink it, until they showed me the live earwigs, having a great time swimming around in the bottle! This meant Jaco and I had to jump on our bikes and ride back to find the last stream we crossed and fill every bottle we had. While we did this, Caroline and Karen cooked what had become our standard evening meal: pasta and tuna in tomato sauce. Sometimes we managed to find fresh veg in the village shop-come-hardware-stores, next to the drums of dried dog food or bags of roofing nails, and often we didn’t. But food is food, and it was much-needed after a day of grinding up loose ripio.

The night is a long one, as dogs howl around our tents, and a close-by tree is full of birds that seem happy to sing us their song for most of the night. I can only describe their call as a cross between a high pitched chicken and a duck, and it cuts right through the earplugs I’ve rammed deep into my sunburnt ears. However, I wake early, feeling like I got some sleep. Jaco on the other hand, is ready to have singing birds for breakfast, instead of the porridge on offer. My legs feel heavy for the first time since we started as it’s day 7, and we have ridden every day so far. Today will be no different. Our goal today is to make Puyuhuapi, a small village sitting in a beautiful location at the top of a fiord. It is not only the situation that attracts us, but we plan to have our first rest day here. Puyuhuapi also offers hot thermal springs - just what our tired muscles need -  a good soak in hot healing natural waters. However, it’s going to be a tough day, according to local information. The guide we have is pretty hit and miss due to the amount of work being invested in the Carretera by the government at the moment. The terrain could end up being anything, however we know it won’t be down hill or easy all the way. We ride across some stretches, expecting them to be gravel, only to find fresh tarmac extending to the horizon like a flowing black ribbon, which is of great relief for tired legs and arms, making progress fast. We face half-paved and half-gravel conditions, and we chew up the early miles making surprisingly good time, before a lake side lunch stop, which Jaco sniffs out of nowhere after disappearing off down and a small gravel drive on the side of the road. The rest of us were looking at the bus shelter, resigned to yet again another road side lunch stop with the traffic, however Jaco returned after a short time, with a smile on his face saying ‘follow me’. He led us to a soft grassy spot next to a lake, surrounded by mountains covered in trees. It’s perfect, and really nice to be away from the regular dusty roadside breaks. After lunch, it’s a short 18 kms to Puyuhuapi on gravel, with one hill to mange. We manage it no problem, with the ripio proving not too bad.

We roll down a fresh tarmac descent, and into the small fiord side village at 5:30pm. With great teamwork, we had Karen over the hill without too much hassle. It’s great to arrive here knowing we are a day ahead of our plan. We all can have a full day off to relax and recover from the washboarded gravel terrain, which shakes our bones each day. The village is colourful, with one main road that is smooth cobbles, buried under the dust. It’s in a narrow valley, and the wind travels through at quite a rate, but we find a small sheltered campsite for £4 per person. The hot shower is tested by Caroline, then confirmed by Jaco. It’s scolding hot, and then runs icy cold. This makes for an interesting shower dance, they tell us. You put your left leg in, you pull your left leg out…….There’s no dancing for Karen and I, we stick to what has served us well thus far, a bowl of heated water. It’s not perfect, and i’m sure if we were to walk through Manchester looking as we currently do, people would think we were homeless. I feel clean once the small pan is empty, and pull on my evening set of clothes. These haven’t been washed since the start of the journey, but I don’t care -  I love this simple lifestyle. I only open my laptop to write or download the footage of film and photos of the trip. The reason I’ve come here is to get away from the normal internet-instant world.

We agree we need a change from pasta and tuna, and eat out. In a small basic room, in the front of a house. It holds four small tables, covered by red and white checkered table cloths, each surrounded by four chairs. Everything is basic but practical, with no need for fancy things to impress customers. As I guessed, the food does the talking. There is only one choice, and no menu. A massive slab of white fish, freshly caught hours before appears in front of me on a plate. It’s surrounded by a pile of golden fries, and a huge bowl of green leafy salad is delivered to our table. Jaco’s eye’s light up when the owner reveals a bottle of ketchup. We all go silent as the food is transferred from plate to stomach. We finish off the meal with herbal tea. A small cute china tea set comes to the table, with a bunch of dried leaves on a plate with hot water. When held to the nose, the crispy leaves give off a lovely lemony fragrance. We drink the surprisingly good clear lemony liquid, before an evening stroll back along the fiord side to our campsite. After a nightcap of Milo, we lay on the dirt to sleep.

As always a massive thanks to the companies that support me: BioCare and Dirty Dog Eyewear.



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