Route: San Martin de Los Andes – Junin de los Andes – Pucon – Saintiago (bus) – Lima – Fort Lauderdale – Denver (plane)
We spent two days in San Martin de los Andes killing some time until Billy, our southern Irish cyclist friend we first bumped into in Cusco, met up with us in the next town only 20 odd miles north. We passed the time in a hostel making ourselves delicious steak sandwiches, drinking red wine and trying the El Bolson Raspberry beer, which was delicious and surprisingly not overly sweet.
After cycling a short distance out of San Martin to save money on accommodation we set up camp in a field just off the road where a fence had been conveniently cut – not by us I might add. We had almost finished setting up the tent when we heard the sound of a 4×4 approaching. Olivia and I dived into the tent like a couple of school kids that had just been caught up to no good. The truck was a couple of hundred meters away from us on the road that ran adjacent to the field and could clearly see us through a gap in the trees. After an anxious 10 minutes that seemed to last forever with lots of comments like: “did he see us??” “should we pack up?” They thankfully drove off. Needless to say we got out of there as quickly as possible and luckily found a beautiful spot beside a river only a few miles away to enjoy a delicious dinner of fillet mignon steaks.
Arriving in Junin we checked into a hostel, e-mailed Billy to let him know where to meet us and started to work making pizzas for dinner. Billy arrived just in the nick of time to enjoy the 6 pizzas we had prepared – along with some great Argentinian Melbec wine. What ensued over the course of the next 36 hours was nothing short of extreme gluttony. One large shepherds pie (approx 3kg), banoffee pie, 6 large pizzas, two bottles of wine and six pastries were all consumed between the three of us – the shepherds pie was gone in one sitting! (Olivia: Simon and Billy can take most of the credit on that one!)
We set off on the bikes again feeling slightly ill (all the food we had eaten was enough to choke a donkey) with resolutions to amend our portion sizes when we stopped cycling again. From Junin, we had the intention of reaching Pucon in 2-3 days of riding. The first 60KM was nice tarmac, but after that it turned to gravel and horrible rippio. We camped in a small national park and for the second time on our trip we were invaded by mice. Well that is a slight exaggeration, but I didn’t get a good nights sleep from the noise they were making and when we got up in the morning they had eaten a hole in Olivia’s pannier! What bad luck on our last night camping in South America.
Before we set off to cross the border back into Chile it started to rain and unfortunately for us it didn’t stop all day. The only respite we got was in the border crossing buildings we had to go in to get our passports stamped.
We were also offered some mate beside a warm fire when we got to the bottom of a long downhill that had us chilled to the bone. (Olivia: I was literally thinking my hands might fall off…) The Chileans sure are friendly! The perfect example of just how friendly they are came only a short time later. We were nearly 20 miles away from Pucon and were completely soaked through with darkness rapidly approaching. We took refuge from the rain in a bus stop to have a snack and recharge our batteries. A small truck which was going the opposite direction from us randomly stopped and started to turn around. Before we knew it we were in the back of this cheese truck with a flashlight handed to us by the kind gentleman that took pity on us and drove us into the centre of Pucon. As Olivia would say “That’s good old fashioned southern hospitality for you!”
We spent a couple of days in Pucon, which admittedly was extremely unproductive apart from having the best burgers we have had on our trip just before jumping on a bus to Santiago. We had a few beers with our dinner and by the time the bus arrived we were slightly tipsy – pair of lightweights thanks to all this cycling! It was a good thing too because the bus driver was not going to let us on with our bikes, despite having plenty of space to take them. We laughed it off and eventually he relented – when we repeatedly said “we will pay” in our broken Spanish!
We stayed in warm showers in Santiago (accommodation with locals for free for touring cyclists) with Monse, her brother Felipe and their dog Simon for a week while we sorted out bicycle boxes – we needed that amount of time as well because the bike shops kept telling us to come back later. We passed our time by cooking some delicious food, taking daily excursions to the bike shops, packing our bikes and a hiking up the beautiful San Cristobal Hill.
Our flights back to the US were a little bit stressful to say the least. We booked flights from Santiago to Lima (12 hour layover) and then a different airline from Lima to Denver (via a 14 hour layover in Fort Lauderdale) because it was by far the cheapest way to get back ($600 per person). Before catching our flights I checked in with the airlines about the costs for our bicycles. The first flight to Lima seemed straightforward, but the second flight from Lima to Denver had a baggage restriction and they told me that they didn’t take bicycles! Panic stations!
As it turned out after our mammoth two day journey back to Denver it was the first flight with Avianca that cost the most ($130 per bicycle). Spirit charged us $106 for the two bicycles and we needn’t have worried about them not taking the bikes at all because they were helpful and friendly. I must admit that I did stress and lose a little sleep over it. Public transport is the bane of my existence and has a tendency of stressing me out.
We arrived in Denver a little dazed and tired from our journey. We were extremely grateful that Sherry (Olivia’s step mum) and Ron picked us up from the airport and put us up for a few days in their beautiful home.
We tried not to advertise our return to the States, because Olivia wanted to surprise her sister. (Olivia: I peered into her office window and tapped. When she finally processed what she was seeing, she jumped up and started screaming and laughing. Priceless!)
We have about six weeks in the states before catching a flight to London and then N.Ireland where we begin our cycle around the Emerald Isle. Here’s hoping for some decent weather!