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Published: January 4th 2010
South of Santiago you are into vineyard country - mile after mile of vines and a lot of familiar names, its like browsing the shelves in the local supermarket. Gradually the vines give way to pasture land and yellow flowers and then to water as we enter the Lake District. Its all on one long straight road, the Pan-American Highway, heading due south - but then I suppose Chile is a long straight country. Its not boring though as running parallel to us are the Andes off in the distance but clearly visible. Every now and then one lone volcano will stand proud with its perfect volcano shape and snow covered top.
We stop in Salto de Laja where we have our own personal waterfall as a backdrop from our hotel room veranda and Osorno where the bike gets a full set of knobbly tyres - there are rough roads ahead, its the first time we have had knobblies front and rear. Osorno is known for its traditional wooden buildings mostly built by German settlers in 1876. The nicest row, with all their UNESCO signs, are practically impossible to see due to all the wires and cables running in front
Salto de Lajas
the view from our veranda
of them - its electric cables Latin American style, every now and then Chile demonstrates that its not quite as western European as it appears on the surface.
Up to now the weather has been incredibly kind to us but that is about to change. We are about to head over the Paso Cardinal Samore into Argentina and two days ago it was closed due to heavy snow fall!!! It shouldn't be snowing at this time of year. We set off wondering how its looking today. The first few miles are through green, open, countryside with cows grazing in the fields and its overcast - its like we are back in the UK. As we start climbing the fir trees up ahead definitely look like they have a sprinkling of snow on them. At the Argentine border post there's a yellow flag meaning proceed with caution, snow on the road - there are 2 worse categories (dangerous, snow with ice and road closed) so we feel reasonably confident it will be ok. At first its really pretty with all the trees covered in snow. As we climb higher we get piles of snow at the side of the road.
old wooden houses and 'modern' wiring
Higher still and we get snowflakes falling on us as the temperature drops to minus 1.5. Finally we have 2-3inches of snow on the road and its still falling. Its like riding into a Christmas card and really is incredibly beautiful if a little tricky to negotiate - at least we've got our knobbly tyres on. At the border proper the signs announcing the end of Chile and the start of Argentina are only just protruding above the piles of snow and the viewpoint car parks are under several feet of snow. We have this for approx 30 miles until we drop back down to the Argentine border post and are low enough to be on snow free roads.
Once in Argentina we head off to ride the Seven Lakes Circuit, mostly on dirt roads. I'm sure we go past more than 7 lakes. A lot of the time we are in forest or between mountains, then you emerge to get great views of a deep blue lake with snowy mountains in the distance - all very scenic. Our overnight stop at San Martin de Los Andes is exciting as Che Guevara spent the night here as well. The
UK or Chile?
on the road from Osorno to Paso Cardinal Samore. There are volconos hiding behind the clouds, they would make it look less like the UK
little barn, as described in The Motorcycle Diaries, is still there and is now a museum. For the second day on the Seven Lakes Circuit we have clear blue skies so we get to see the place at its dramatic best with broody skies and in brilliant sunshine which really brings out the blue colour of the lakes. We get to ride across the big bridge over Rio Correntosos which at 250m long is one of the shortest rivers in existence. We take a boat trip out on Lake.Nahuel Huapi, from Bariloche, and go to see the Arrayanes forest. They are a type of myrtle tree and have wonderful twisty trunks with flaky cinnamon coloured paper like bark - its a real fairy tale forest. Bariloche is the chocolate capital of Argentine and has a real Swiss chalet feel to it helped enormously by all the St Bernard dogs loitering round waiting to be photographed.
Our next challenge is to ride the Carretera Austral but to get there we have to cross the Andes again to Futaleufu. There is a tarmac road that goes most of the way but we head off an an expedition on the dirt road
Paso Cardinal Samore
its a yellow flag day - proceed with caution snow on the road
to find Butch Cassidy's house. It takes a lot of finding. We fail to find it following the guide book instructions so we have to ask the locals. They all seem to know where it is and after ½ hour and 4 or 5 locals we home in on it - about 50m from the road we originally rode down. To get to the house we have to jump a fence and stomp across a field - but the locals don't seem to mind and tell us this is what we should do. Its a small wooden house and interestingly each of the 5 rooms has at least one door to the outside - was this the style of houses hereabouts or was it for a quick get away?
Riding via the dirt road route means we travel along a wonderful lake strewn valley then climb up to the Parque Nacional Los Alerces where the dirt road undulates along the lake shore dipping in and out of the forest. Its every bit as beautiful as the much touted 7 Lakes Road - you never knew what was going to be round the next corner but it was sure to
Paso Cardinal Samore
all looks very pretty with the snow on the trees
elicit another “wow”. The alerce trees are a bit like Californian redwoods growing up to 60m tall and 3m in diameter - they only grow at a rate of 1mm a year so that makes them pretty old, the oldest known specimen is 4000 years. They grow in Valdivian temperate rainforest which only occur in a few places down in this part of the world - there used to be more alerce forests but the European settlers found the wood made jolly good insect resistant houses and furniture.
From here its an easy run up to the tiny Argentine border post at Rio Futaleufu. The 3 officials find it amusing that we are so far behind the other bikes but we are used to it - we always role in last along with Andy, our partner in off-route exploration, to find the others have been installed in the bar for the last 2 hours. At least there are 3 pisco sours lined up on the bar waiting for us.
Tot: 0.392s; Tpl: 0.021s; cc: 20; qc: 79; dbt: 0.0381s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.5mb