Well, I do have a serious problem with the bike: the wheel is busted. It happened the evening before, when I pulled off the road into a farm's path to ask for directions. I had skidded and something had popped. I only realized when I had pulled into the campsite, that the wheel was wobbly and I knew I would have to take a closer look the next morning. Now, in the daylight, I see a spoke is broken and the rim is pulled into a bulge. No big deal, right? I have tools and spare spokes and will fix it. Wrong! the spoke is on the rear wheel, on the right side where the cogs are, and the cogs will have to be removed. For that, you need a special tool and I don't have that. Also, I have never before balanced a wheel, and I can imagine that this might be tricky.
So, I need to work according to plan #2: I remove the wheel and with it, I hitchhike back to Entre Lagos, catch a bus to Osorno, find a bike repair shop, leave the wheel with them to pick it up at 4 pm (in the mean time I visit the local museum), catch a bus back to Entre Lagos and hitchhike again to the campground. I am back at 7:30 pm, proudly carrying the wheel with me, all repaired and true balanced. Think of the uncertainty of a round trip of 180 km by means not familiar to your average North American, into a place that I was barely familiar with, looking for a specialty shop in a language that I hardly knew and it worked! It did not take any magical skills on my part nor particularly good luck, and rather illustrates a key point of travel:
The point is that you can work it out, in a place where prices are reasonable and people are friendly. There are actually benefits from such an experience, such as:
OK, back to my trip. I am camped in Anticura, at the foot of Volcano Puyehue, located in the lush valley of Rio Gol Gol. Anticura is part of a National Park, but seems to have a somewhat tentative status: As after two days no one has bothered to check the occupancy of my campsite, I decide to go to the office and register. Also, most of the buildings on the park grounds (cabins and restaurant) have been taken over by Ingecol, a company doing highway construction. This is a blessing in disguise: here I have the best and cheapest meals on the whole trip. The crew is friendly and they tolerate well this older chap travelling by, of all things, a bicicleta...
The next day, I decide to walk up to the volcano. I expect to only reach the
refugio (hut/shelter) and return the same day to my base camp in the valley.
Travelling with a bike, I cannot easily hike into the mountains for an overnight stay as
none of my packs is large enough to hold all my camping gear.
The gradient gets steeper and the worn path exposes the slope's history. Underneath a thin layer of humus is a foot or so of pumice, put down by the most recent eruption. A few days ago, cows were herded down this path and trampled the path into a mess, so that I slide backwards with each step. Later, coming down the same path, the loose pumice provides for hilarious "skiing" and a quick descent. As I rest at a creek, four hikers come down the path and I know two of them: Ken and Alison Clarke from Invergordon, Scotland. I had met them on the ferry and then again in Puerto Montt a few days later. We are eager to swap stories about what happened to each of us in the mean time. They are on the way back from a three-day hike beyond the volcano and advise me that I have set my sights too low: I should go further than the refugio and either walk for an hour or so towards the hot baths to get a view of the volcanic plateau . I could even try to ascend the volcano itself.
I continue and reach the refugio after a total of 3 hours. The refugio is a hut with bunk beds and a wood-burning stove. This is an unfortunate combination, as some lazy folks have used most of the boards that cover the bed frame for firewood and only two beds are usable. I leave and walk the 150 m beyond the hut and locate the spring to refill my water bottle. The ground with its layers of pumice is permeable and water will not stay on top; water is not as easy to find as one would think. Fortunately, Ken had told me where it was (walk up the dry stream bed and take the left branch where it forks: after about 15 m there is a bit of a gully and there,in a hollow, water collects). As I have lunch, I survey the hills and mountains around me: it's so beautiful and I could stay here for hours. But I want to get further and I decide to go for the volcano. If I should not make it and should need to turn back, I still will be able to survey the plateau.
Finding the way up the volcano is easy because one can see the summit and the bare
slopes leading up to it. Walking on it is more difficult because the material (pumice,
slag and volcanic glass) keeps sliding as one steps on it. It's amazing how vegetation is
starting, just a plant here and there, but since each plant collects soil that is carried
by the wind, it soon becomes the centre of an island of vegetation. There are footsteps,
probably Ken and Alison, and at some places there have been rocks piled into small cairns.
I have to cross some steeply cut gullies and eventually I walk up a snow field. I can see
the summit and think I'll make it to the top, but will be disappointed. As I come over
what I thought would be the summit, I realize that there is another rise further on. It's
3 :20 pm now and have set a 3:30 pm hard stop for myself. A weather system is approaching,
the haze over the valley is starting to collect into small clouds. I must leave the area
above the tree line before the clouds obscure the path, and I must be down before it gets
dark. Also, I am not dressed for weather above the tree line, nor did I have experience
enough to gage the time it will take to return: walking downhill is faster than going
uphill. I figure it might take at least another 20 minutes to reach the top and thus must
turn back. I mark where I stand with an X on the map, and look around:
I take pictures until the film is finished and then begin the descent, sliding and skiing downwards. At the spring, I fill up the bottle again and push on. Later on, a lone hiker comes up the path, expressing this is the most tiring ascent he's ever done. We blame it on the cows.... I have no problems reaching the valley before the light fades. A bit of a surprise awaits me: at the El Caulle, I am stopped by the farmer and asked to pay a fee for passing through his property. I find out later that it's legitimate, but he is not very tactful in collecting and tends to affront people. So it's a headache for him. It would help if he charged a bit less (I think it was about US$10) and posted something that clarifies the charge.
At 7 pm, I am at the tent and have dinner with Ken and Alison. We have a good talk, but the next morning they will leave for Osorno and then take a bus to the north of Chile. I will miss their company
The next morning, I see them off:; it's hilarious how loaded-up they are, just two
backpacks with legs...
Austral Parakeet or Cachaña (from Birds of Argentina & Uruguay. An excellent book, similar to the Peterson Guide, and it's in English)
Continuation of the Loop: