We had a great dinner last night, beside our tent – back to our tuna and chips and it was delicious. Sitting outside, under a starry sky is one of my greatest pleasures – I am happy. Tomorrow will be a longish day, with a border crossing, so we had better get some sleep…
Sleep? What sleep?!… It is the last week of the summer holidays and the partying at the beach beside our Rucahue campground goes on until 4am… Bad choice on my part…
Today as we leave Coñaripe, it is partly cloudy so we think it will be a perfect riding temperature for us on our way to San Martin de los Andes, 250kms away. We head back towards Villarrica and Pucon, by which time the sky cleared. Once again I admire the lush variety of trees and foliage and the hydrangeas that line the road. It is the end of the season for hydrangeas here but we are lucky to still see massive hedges of them. Another treat is that Villarrica volcano is gently smoking today.
As we head towards the border along route 199CH, the Pucon-Curarrehue road, the traffic gradually dies out. I am amazed how every single little bridge in Chile is named. Our road runs along the snaky Rio Trancura and leads us to the Mamuil Mamal national park. We pass some interesting looking churches – you could be in Austria or Germany. We have definitely felt the German influence in Villarrica and Pucon, from the numerous German immigrants. From the local Chilean beer advertisements on the roadside billboards with ladies dressed in lederhosen to restaurants selling bratwurst and spetzle. Apparently, Patagonia resisted Spanish and then Chilean and Argentinian settlement but national pride and competition between Chile and Argentinia in the mid 19th century fuelled immigration push from Welsh and Scottish settlers for their sheep and wool in Argentinia, and from Europeans, mostly German settlers in Chile.
After 2.5 hours, we get to the dirt road I had been expecting as I had seen photos of this stretch of road taken back in December, then suddenly a newly tarred section. This is glorious and totally unexpected. Then back to dirt and road works. They have very kindly wet the road to keep the amount of dust down. The scenery is stunning and I am loving this gorgeous ride.
Then the biggest surprise, the road is tarred again. We are now in the vicinity of Lanin Volcano. The sight of the monkey puzzle trees and the snow clad volcano is magical. We stop to enjoy it – the photos do not do justice to the area but the sight and feel of the area will remain with me.
The Chilean border post is built to cater for snowy conditions. We park under cover and proceed to the customs and immigration counters inside this large building. In the queue, we meet our first biker, Heindrich from Munich who has just started a 12 month tour of South America on his own and like us is headed for San Martin de los Andes today. The border process is easy and very quick considering there are 30 people in front of us.
An hour later and we are off and greeted with a welcome sign and gravel road. The forest of monkey puzzle trees is fantastic. After a 10′ ride, we arrive at the Argentinian border post. A very different set up, small building, a couple of counters to go to for immigration and bike papers and we are good to go. We went through the 2 border posts in under 2 hours.
It is about 120kms to San Martin de los Andes, via Junin de los Andes. Shortly after leaving the border post, we get our first taste of ripio, corrugated gravel road. It is a little unnerving at first but thankfully only lasts about 20kms. I will have to build up my confidence on this surface though…(the photo I take while riding is on the smoother part)
After we leave the Lanin national park and its monkey puzzle trees, the scenery changes dramatically. We are still surrounded by mountains, but gentle, rounded and imposing mountain ranges. It is farmland here and a really enjoyable ride on Ruta 40.
An hour and 3/4 later, we are in San Martin de los Andes. We stop at the first hotel we see in town, but it is ridiculously expensive. We continue our ride around town, spot and try another and it will do for the night. It also has underground parking which perfect, albeit down an extremely steep short ramp to a gravel floor cellar. On our ride looking for a hotel, I spot an Argentinian steak house, just 2 blocks away. We are ready for a good feed tonight!! We choose a small 350g steak with malbec jus. Delicious.
San Martin de los Andes is a very pleasant little town, on the edge of Lake Lácar. A road sign with distances to various cities around the world reminds us how far we are from family and friends but also how far we have travelled.