Glancing at a map of this region is like looking a green jigsaw puzzle, it is marked with national park after national reserve, many of them linked together. In my mind there were two potential reasons for this, either Chile just hands out these statuses freely, or it is an especially beautiful region. Arriving at the Pino Hachado border crossing before Christmas and spinning past the monkey puzzle trees and lush greens in Reserva Alto Bio Bio, wooden houses and fertile farm land, I realised it was the latter. This is an incredible place that I was aching to ride through. The name here for monkey puzzle trees is la Araucania, so distinct to this area of Chile that it gave the region it’s name. The name itself makes you want to come and explore and that is what I have wanted to do since I first heard the name back in the Casa de Ciclistas back in La Paz, with instructions to check out Skyler’s blog for inspiration.
We have now moved so far from the equator that we are again in a land with four distinct seasons. This is summer in the southern hemisphere and at times we can draw comparisons to British summer – bramble bushes, long nights and rained off days. Of course so much else is completely different – volcanos, the flowers, and trees all of which you can see I photographed to death, clearly reflecting how much I loved this route. I have now been on this bike tour for 1 year and 8 months and it felt revitalising to be in a landscape so different from what has come before.
Over Christmas we rested, slept in beds, ate a lot of cheese and even climbed a volcano. It was now time to get back in the saddle, for a festive feast of Chilean national parks and reserves.
29th December – Liucura to camp
We started riding in the late afternoon. It was several kilometres on the paved road before we took a turn off onto the ripio. The road was pretty undulating and some short, sharp climbs felt tough after the Christmas rest. Plenty of pines around here, is it too early to pick out next years Christmas tree?
Most of the land was fenced off so finding a camping spot was not as straight forward as usual. We stopped at one of the several homes along the route and asked if we could camp. We were welcomed to pitch our tent.
30th December – camp to camp
We continued along the tracks through the Reserva Nacional Lago Gualletue.
… waving at the animals we passed…
… and then arriving at Guallatue lake in the late morning, we continued along the ripio leaving the lake behind.
The threat of rain was pretty real all day and this abandoned shack seemed appealing but it was too early to camp. After lunch we took a turn off up hill on a dirt road. This area is marked on our map as Communidad Quienquen, the indiginous Mapuche people seem to have recognised land rights here.
Can you see her?
There was a sense of openess that you do not usually find in forests.
We fill our bottles at a stream, it begins to rain so we make like trolls and hide under the bridge.
Sat under the bridge I notice this bobbing mass, it is only when we view it from above that we realise it is some intestines, which had us joking about murder theories.
I don´t think I have ever ridden in a place like this.
There are lots of ups and downs to keep things interesting…
…as well as colours….
…. and numerous stream crossings. This was the biggest.
I have a camera full of monkey puzzle photos.
We set up camp in a forest clearing. The clouds finally break that evening and the rain does not stop all night.
31st December – camp to Melipeuco
That morning we lay in our damp and dripping tent waiting for the rain to stop, but it was relentless. We realised we would just have to get on with packing up in the rain, and then eating our breakfast under a tree before making the shivering 20km descent through Reserva Nacional China Muerta.
Once out of the forest we glimpsed Parque Nacional Conguillio for the first time.
Able to feel my fingers again we happily rode into the village of Melipeuc. We had planned just to stock up here and head straight to Congullio but the day was rained off. We trumped for a guest house, dried all our stuff on the wood stove and saw the new year in with a cheap carton of wine and some skype calls, not camping under the stars as we had hoped.
1st January – Melipeuco – Conguillio – Melipeuco
What a difference a day makes. It was a glorious morning, we were treated to great views of Llaima Volcano from the outskirts of Melipeuco. Our plan was to leave our bags in the village so that we could head off for a day ride into the Conguillio National Park, then return and camp that evening.
Logging provides work and fuel here.
These scenes made my heart sing. I wish there was a way to bottle the scents that day, of fresh grass, pine and eucalyptus.
A lava field, to the other side of this mountain was where we had ridden the day before.
I love fox gloves. I always imagine foxes wearing them as mittens and prancing around in them.
The paved road leading up to the national park was lined with trees, small holdings and a number of places offering camping. The paving ends when the national park begins.
Through lava fields, this area is a popular ski destination in winter.
Llaima Volcano, the last erruption for the volcano was in 2008.
Laguna Verde, the green lake that actually looks green.
Summer in the southern hemisphere means blossoming bramble bushes.
A sandy track leads us away from Laguna Verde.
The lake looks so different from each angle.
Then it is along to Laguna Arcoiris, the rainbow lake. This lake was formed when a lava flow blocked a river. The clear blue lake reminded me of Mexican cenotes.
The monkey puzzles are back, and photographing takes on ridiculous levels…
Such praise for these trees.
My two most popular subjects.
What are these called?
Laguna Conguillio comes in to view.
I am told these are called Wolf Lillies.
We rest and eat a packet of Toddys at the lake. There are lots of cars in the car park and families picinicing, making it difficult to take a good picture. It is 33km from Melipeuco to the lake, which is all uphill. We had originally intended to go 6km further to another lake but this seemed like a good place to stop and head back to Melipeuco.
Monkey puzzle fore and background.
Laguna Arcoiris from the other side, the lava field that created the lake and Llaima in view. During the descent I realise my front rim has cracked, which makes us a bit slower arriving back to Melipeuco.
We head back to the tranquil campsite where we had left our belongings with the owner, and make a feast on the stove.
2nd January – Melipueco to Pedregoso
Back on the asphalt we make our way back to Pucon, firstly through farmland and then a section of hilly ripio through a forest.
We stop in the small village of Pedregoso, the sweet lady who owns the shop offers us a place to camp. Her small holding is full of typical farm animals, watching the pigs gives us a lot of laughs. We take pitty on the little runt piglet with the bad leg and feed him our apple cores.
3rd January – Pedregoso to Pucon
Charmian the pig whisperer is followed out of the camp. During the 12km to Villarrica we find an injured dog on the road, I try and get help from the houses that are close by but no one is home, we are with him when he takes his final breaths. The dogs of Latin America evoke all emotions in me.
Villarrica volcano and lake. It is now high season and the road to Pucon is busy, and with no hard shoulder it is a stressful and sweaty 26km, but oh, what a wonderful trip.
Food and water– If you have just come over from Argentina and been stripped of your fresh produce then it’s worth knowing you can find and some sad looking fruit and decent local cheese as well as all the other usual foods in the small village of Liucura. Melipeuco has good shops, the local cheese and honey are well worth sampling. Guallatue might have a shop.
Water- we took water from Liucura but this wasn´t necessary as once on the ripio there were houses en route. When we turned off the ripio on to the dirt (marked S365 on google maps) and we found plenty of streams and rivers.
Accomodation– we saw signs for camp sites in Guallatue.
We stayed at bed and breakfast Icalma in Melipeuco, run by an eccentric and sweet lady, it was a comfortable place to dry and rest.
I would really recommend El Lleuque campsite on the outskirts of Melipeuco, we liked that he turned the campsite lights off when we went to bed and the place was tranquil and green, the owner Pascual is extremely sweet.
There were several camping options in Conguillio national park but, I am not sure if you have to pay.
In Pucon the hostel La Bicicileta is excellent, in part because the owner Jose used to be a bike mechanic and he helped with all sorts of bike issues including helping me re-build my bike wheel.
Conguillio National Park charge foreigners 4500pesos (almost $8US) to enter. This was the beginning of high season and there was quite a lot of tourist traffic in the park. It made for less fun riding but you can see from the photos how beautiful it is and therefore worth a visit.
- Carry on down la cuarenta – life in the low lane, part 2
- No Entry – The Chilean Lake District