RSF - The Off Road Cycling Club

The Adventure Starts Here

Where's That Bridge?

by Pat Matthews

broken bridge near ChoshuencoThis tour was done in January 1994. It had been a long flight to Santiago de Chile, via Madrid and Buenos Aries, and then an internal flight to Temuco.

We had been told that we’d need good tyres and strong wheels but that mountain bikes wouldn’t be necessary. Maps had not been easy to get hold of and most of us picked these up in Temuco from Shell petrol stations or paper stalls.

We’d hardly done any cycling so far and we were raring to get going next morning. I slapped lots of factor 20 sun cream on as I’d read about the hole in the ozone layer in this part of the world. I still put a long sleeved shirt over my T-shirt after lunch though.

We had to get onto the Pan American Highway for a few miles, which had quite a few lorries on it but wasn’t very busy. Just before we turned off it we were waved down by armed police and wondered if we shouldn’t have been riding along there or there was some other problem. However, they were only interested in where we came from and where we were going to so we were soon happily on our way.

Most of us got to Villarica at 3.00pm and Peter, our tour leader, went off to look for accommodation as we weren’t booked into anywhere. He got us fixed up in three different houses and my group went off to buy food to fix our own breakfasts next day.

We hadn’t seen Brian and Steve since Temuco and Beryl, Brian’s wife, was getting a little worried. They eventually turned up about 6.30pm. They’d missed a right turn and ended up doing some horrendous rocky rough stuff, which they had to walk a lot of. They managed to flag down a lorry for the last 20 miles. It must have been rough as Brian is a very keen rough stuffer.

We knew we had some rough roads next day but we had tarmac to Pucon, where we had 11’s. Most of us decided to climb the rough road towards volcano Villarica. It was mostly rideable, packed sand and stones, but cars threw up dust as they went by, although most of them slowed down. I had to mend a puncture after our picnic so Julie, who waited with me, and I were behind the others. Reg and two Johns got to the refuge and said they could see wisps of smoke coming from the crater of the volcano. The rest of us managed to get to a bridge, with a good view, 4¼ miles up the track, before returning to the junction as we didn’t have time to get all the way to the refuge and back.

We had tarmac for longer than expected but 4 miles after we turned off the Argentinian border road we hit some serious rough stuff. It was very loose as the machines were there scraping it all up. Perhaps they were getting ready to tarmac some more of it, but it was too late for us. After 3¼ miles we turned off for Termas de Palguin and had almost 7 miles more of bumpy dirt and loose stones. We were now into forest and quite close to a rushing river at times. We also saw a lady with two yoked oxen coming down the road. We saw several of these later in the holiday.

The hotel was at the end of the road. It has thermal baths and people visit for the day just to visit these. There is a swimming pool, and close by there are several waterfalls that are worth visiting.

There had been talk of going to the Argentinian Border next day, which was a rest day, but as this would have entailed going back down the 10 miles of rough road and back up it again on returning not even Peter Crofts fancied it! After all there could have been even more rough road we didn’t know about. Some had booked a coach trip to the volcano but this was cancelled due to low cloud. It rained off and on all day so most of us had herbal baths, swam and went to look at waterfalls.

We were going to Lican Ray next day and the original route had us returning the way we’d come, but somebody had a map showing a thin black line going over to Cônaripe. We were told we could go over this rough track and then there would be a nice smooth dirt road to Lincan Ray.

This was a beautiful route, up through the National Park, and a lot had to be walked. There were varying surfaces including sand, rocks, wetness and tree roots. We went through some forestry that was interspersed with monkey trees. In places broken, dead tree trunks stuck up through the undergrowth and we understood that this was due to an eruption of the volcano. It last erupted in 1985. We saw tree orchids and, while dropping down one section, there was a tunnel of bamboo hanging down from the trees. We were able to watch a woodpecker chipping away above our heads and from time to time, on open areas, saw small hawks searching for prey.

It was 7 miles to the summit but the route was up and down on both sides and the last bit down to Cônaripe was very stony and it was a case of bouncing from stone to stone, with brakes full on. We’d done 22.7 miles from the hotel and I’d taken 6 hours 10 minutes. We had our picnic lunch in a park at about 4.00pm. We then had 12 miles of “nice smooth road” which turned out to be terrible! Most of it was “corrugated” with deep, loose stones at the side. If the corrugations didn’t shake you to bits the loose stones tried to drag you off your bike. We crossed one area of volcanic dust where lava had obviously flowed, probably in 1967 when Cônaripe was buried by the lava.

We were staying in cabanos (cabins) at Lican Ray and went into town to eat. We’d done 34.9 miles of unsurfaced and 5 miles of tarmac today.

None of us really wanted to return along that rough road to Cônaripe but all but two did. It seemed slightly better going back.

It was all rough road today. Four of us went straight on at a cross roads after Cônaripe and found the rough surface very good. Unfortunately after 1½ miles we came to a large river with no bridge. We’d come the wrong way and had to go back.

We picnicked before climbing over to Lago Pellaifa. It was up and down to Carriringue which seemed to take a lot longer to get to than the map indicated. We stopped here to photograph a sow and piglets. While John Negus was doing this a cat climbed onto his bike and ripped open the rubbish bag he was carrying, to get at the sardine tins. He ended up with sardine oil all over his panniers.

We turned right shortly after this and after crossing a river had a stiff climb on a very rough road. I think everybody walked some of it, which delighted the photographers who were able to take photos of the “hard men” walking. We were able to see Volcano Villarica before cloud covered it. I stayed back with Julie and shared my “bonk” ration of dates and we had bananas. Julie’s eyesight is very bad on rough stuff and she had to walk a lot of what I rode so we got quite a long way behind. It started raining just before we climbed away from Lago Neltuma. When we got to the turn for Choshuenco our road was all large loose stones. We walked some and then rode on the left, right and middle of the road. Wherever was best. Luckily there wasn’t a lot of traffic so we didn’t have to pull over too often.

track by Lago Rinihue We got in at 8.25pm, 5 minutes before dinner and had done 46.8 miles on rough roads. Paul and Kate, who had taken the other route, had come along part of the way we were to take next day, and had found it very sandy. There was a road marked on the map to the south of the lake but Peter’s book said it was impassable. However, Paul and Kate had enquired at the local police station and were told we could get through with bikes. This was good news.

The sun was out again when we left, It was a nice track with varying surfaces but mostly rideable. At Enco John Negus decided to detour up to the refuge but the rest of us didn’t think we had the time. Soon after this we could see a large timber laying across the road ahead of us. When we got there we could see what was left of a bridge leaning down into the river. As we didn’t want to go back there was no argument about what we should do next. Off with the luggage and we hauled bikes and luggage up onto the end of the bridge, passing everything along a chain, and then down the slope and into the water, that was thigh deep in places.

The river was quite fast flowing but Reg had a large pole that some of us used to get across, before helping to ferry bikes and luggage along a small path to the main track. It had become a fun part of the tour and all this while being dive bombed by “tavanas” (horse flies) that were the size of bumble bees but looked like hover flies. They could bite and draw blood but didn’t sting. They didn’t leave an itchy bump either. We had been told that they would disappear after 21 January but unfortunately this didn’t happen. It was a normal sight to see somebody hurtling along a rough track flapping a hat or hanky in the air.

After this the track was like a river bed for a while and we had to walk. I stayed with Julie again. There were lots of ups and downs and we gradually swung round to Lago Riñihue. It was soon obvious that it was going to be more than the 20 miles indicated by the map to the end of the lake as we could see it stretching way ahead of us. We eventually got to Riñihue, and tarmac, at 6.30pm having done 29.3 miles. We had our “lunch” break in a nearby cafe and then had another 38 km to our hotel at Los Lagas. We climbed up from the lake and then got onto Peter’s back wheel and did the journey in 1 hour 35 minutes arriving just as the rain came down.

John Negus had passed us in a van en route. John Wilson had waited 2 hours for him at the fallen bridge but soon after crossing he’d cut a tyre and later managed to get a lift. He got a replacement next day for only £3.50.

It was back to the Pan American for a short distance before turning off near Reumen and we had tarmac as far as Futrono, where we had our picnic.

It was now 11.6 miles of rough road to Huequecara Cabanas, near Llifen. This is a lovely spot, on Lago Ranco. We were in cabins along the lake and ate in the main building, where we saw a lovely sunset. We carried on to the south of Lago Ranco next day. Although still dirt the surface was a lot better and we were able to get up a bit of speed at times. At Puñirre we had to cross the river by ferry. This was like a piece of bridge that was held by a wire hawser, punted across by the ferry man and helped by the current. We surprised a family of white goats on the other side and they didn’t know which way to go.

I was on my own on a nice smooth stretch of this road later on when I caught sight of a lump of tree hurtling towards my front wheel. It disappeared behind my bar bag and I was expecting to get thrown off, but it must have just missed because I heard a thump on the road and that was it. I carried on for a while before stopping to look back but saw no sign of anybody. I don’t know why anybody should have done that as we’d had nothing but friendliness and kindness so far.

Soon after, I caught Reg up and was with him for a few miles but I lost him when I got another puncture. We’d done 29.3 miles. When we got to the town of Lago Ranco, and tarmac, at 3.00pm we ate and then had two more short stretches of rough road, totalling 1.5 miles, before Rio Bueno, our stop for the night.

We had 23 miles of Pan American Highway next day and turned off at Osorno. We picnicked at Entre Lagos by Lago Puyehue. We followed the lake along to Termas de Puyehue and right to Aguas Calientet, where we ran out of tarmac again. It was a long haul up to Antillanca. The track was narrow and at times we got pushed off into the gravel by cars. It was a mix of loose stones, corrugations, sand, volcanic rock and dust. It took 2 hours 45 minutes to do the 11.1 miles to Club Andino Osorno Y Hotel Antillanca, arriving at 8.15pm. This is a popular ski resort in the winter and is very luxurious.

Like nearly everywhere else it was made of timber. Most places we’d been to had timber clad walls inside the buildings, which saves wall papering and painting!

It was the highest mileage today at 82.7 miles and some, who’d taken a wrong turn, did over 90 miles. We had another rest day and all walked up to the volcano crater. This wasn’t quite what I expected and looked more like a field in a dip. We had lovely views all round though, with snow covered volcanoes and mountains, Lago Puyehue in the distance and the Argentinian border. We also saw some unusual flowers along the way so the cameras were clicking like mad.

Most of us spent some time in the pool later and some of us had a massage, given by one of our group. It took 1 hour 35 minutes to get back down the track and we were off the tarmac again at Entre Lagos. Unfortunately I hit a stone and fell off, damaging my ribs. We picnicked a little way along and I had a very painful ride, along a very bumpy track, for 26.8 miles to Nachaco. There was a stretch of a mile that was all loose, large, newly laid stones and everyone walked. I was really relieved when I arrived at Puetro Octay only to find that we weren’t staying in the town after all and had to go another 6 kms of which 3 kms was rough road. I could have cried!

Next day was a choice of either more rough road and only 45 miles or mostly tarmac but about 71 miles. Because of my ribs I opted for the tarmac and there were nine of us in all. We had a good fast run and still time for photos. We picnicked at Puetro Varas, beside Lago Llanguihue. We followed the southern side of the lake (the rough stuff was on the north side) and we met up with the others at the other end, near Ensenada, which was quite a coincidence. We then had 4 miles of rough on volcanic dust and rock. I walked a lot as I was afraid of falling off again. It was another lovely hotel, made of timber, and even using tree trunks as supporting beams. We were beside Lago Todos Los Santos and it’s possible to get to Argentina by boats and buses from here. I’m not sure if you can take a bike through.

On our last rest day we took the boat ride to Peulla and were really plagued by tavanas. We had been circumnavigating Volcano Osorno for several days now and on the boat trip we passed along the foot of it. More camera clicking.

Next day was the last complete cycling day and we returned to Puetro Varas again for our picnic. Then it was the Pan American all the way into Peutro Montt. Peter and Maurice went off to find digs. We came back into the town later and visited the Mapuche market at Angelmo before eating in a restaurant.

The lady at our digs gave us a fine spread for breakfast and we ended up having to say “No” to more food. Real defeat for cyclists!

We now had to make our way to the airport, which wasn’t marked on our maps. Everybody missed the turning, as it wasn’t signposted once we left the Pan American. Sandra and I only realised because we saw some of the others coming back. While returning we were able to turn others back and we found there was a sign post to it from this side!

We just had the long journey home left now, with another night in Santiago. It had been a lovely holiday. Everyone was friendly (except my stick thrower), the weather had been mostly good, but do take high factor sun cream.

The music was very Westernised, the food was a bit boring. Mostly steak and chips then tinned fruit, and ham omelette or ham salad for vegetarians which seemed a bit strange. However, I don’t think there was anybody who didn’t enjoy themselves, thanks to good company and Peter Crofts’ organisation.

The two crossings I would consider good rough stuff were those from Termas de Palguin to Cônaripe and from Choshuenco, via the broken bridge, to Riñihue.

Pat Matthews
(Tolworth, Surrey)