Chile, where on earth are you?
I’m sick and tired of this!
Chile, come here right now!
I am sure everybody has heard similar phrases in their youth. If I had a £1 for every time I heard similar words come out of my mothers mouth, well I wouldn’t be needing to go back to work anytime soon that’s for sure. They say we all turn into our parents and this is the phrase that sprang to mind as we finally climbed the last 350m from the Argentinian border. We’d been stamped out of Argentina, had resumed climbing amidst the snow and headwinds but still that imaginary line failed to materialise. For Ever!
Ok, not really forever, we did make it. Eventually. Country number 17! The last new country on this trip, it felt a little bit epic.
Posing for pictures and putting on all our clothes it was an absolutely freezing descent down to passport control. It was magically beautiful, but theres only so much of that you can appreciate when you’re pooping your pants that you may slide on black ice any second. By the time we got down to immigration we were completely frozen, not knowing where we had to queue and not wanting to wait outside any longer than absolutely necessary we just wheeled our bikes straight inside, then were quickly made to turn round again. Passport stamping was easy enough but having to put every single piece of baggage through scanners to make sure we weren’t smuggling in any fresh produce was a little tiresome. We got chatting to the guards.
‘Do you get many bikes at this border?’ I asked
‘Yes’ came the reply ‘But in winter it’s only the crazy ones.’ Hmmmm. We were the crazies.
It was a great roll down into the closest town where there was warmth and lunch to be found. Firstly though we had to find some money. The ‘casa de cambio’ confirmed that the nearest ATM was 130km away. This wasn’t a promising start.
Then Chile came to a little rescue. Everywhere accepts card. Even when you go to the tiniest little tin shed of a shop to buy some tomatoes it’s possible to pay by card. At first I felt guilty always handing over plastic, but then I realised everyone does it. It makes sense. Who is going to drive over 100km to get some cash out just in case you run out of milk? For the first time in months we were back to chip and pin. Hello first world!
Bellies full of lunch it was time to swing a left and head south once again. More ripio, obviously. Even though there’s only a few pesky mountains separating Chile from Argentina the landscape couldn’t be more different. Chile is green, it looks a bit like Ireland. If Ireland had huge snow capped mountains. Even though a lot of the roads were ripio it felt like ‘ok’ ripio. Perfectly cyclible with no sand and we could still reach the break neck speed of 16kph. We were heading for Icalma and oh my goodness it was beautiful. A glass cut lake surrounded by forests and snow capped mountains with little wooden cabanas nestling the shore. Pedalling in with our jaws on the handlebars, heads swivelling like owls just trying to take it all in.
Pedalling into town a local shouted over to us ‘Cabaña?’. This local was called Paulo who was trotting towards us across a field. A field he lived in, inside an awesome looking wooden cabin with a smaller one he rented out next to it. He offered us a descent price and normally we would have accepted there and then. One thing we love is the business minds of locals, if Paulo sees two cyclists headed into town not long before dusk, runs out of his house and across a field to try and get business we’d normally happily give it to him. A* for effort! Unfortunately though we had a plastic situation. Apologising for our disorganisation, we were directed to the local supermarket and a couple of other businesses where we may be able to find accommodation on plastic money. The supermarket had both and before long we’re inside having hot showers and precariously hanging the days wet kit out to dry above the wood burner.
From here we begin to plan the next part of our route and decide it’s going to be a short stay in Chile. The next few days will be spent heading towards Pucon, a touristy backpacker meets ski resort meets active volcano town where we’ll spend a few days off doing exciting things like eating and laundry.
We head out early the next day, keen to make it to Pucon in as little time as possible. We’re back onto Chilean aka ‘posh’ ripio and the mornings riding is once again absolutely stunning. We follow a never ending trail of mirrored lakes and snowy mountains until something pops into my head.
‘Sh*t, the tent!’ I yell while simultaneously pulling hard on my brakes. Herbie, who was cycling not far off my back wheel and taking in the surroundings (not looking where he was going) wasn’t prepared for my sudden stop and careers into the back of me.
‘What the fu*k are you doing?!’ he yells
Now, I confess. We’ve been cycling together for the best part of 20,000km. In this entire time we don’t often sit on each other back wheel, mainly because things like this have happened before. I have crashed into the back of Herbie because he’s slammed on the brakes for a snake and various dogs. The same has happened to him when I’ve slammed the brakes for people talking to us on the roadside. You’d have thought we’d have the hang of it by now, but no. A time trial team we are not.
Anyway, I pulled my brakes on and got the obvious initial outrage while he’s trying not to fall off. Me, being the perfectly reasonable young woman that I am. Burst out crying and scream at a pitch I think only dogs may be able to hear.
‘Why the fu*k were you on my wheel you fu*king fu*ktard?!’ Eloquent, right?!
Obviously this went down about as well a pint of WKD when he’s asked for Guinness.
I pulled out my phone to set a reminder to dry the tent out later that day. We hadn’t used it for two days and it had been slightly damp the last time we packed it away. Being in charge of tent packing (Herbie is in charge of kitchen packing) it was down to me to remember these things, and I really didn’t want a mouldy tent.
‘Will you stop looking at the bloody profile, just cycle!’
In my yelling / sobbing / swearing spree I hadn’t actually told Herbie the reason I’d stopped and he’d assumed it was so I could check how high the next hill climb was. It was a bit of a sore point between us. I am much slower uphill and I always like knowing exactly how high I have to climb so I can count down the misery to the top. Herbie doesn’t care, he just climbs up whatever is in front of him, pedalling harder until he reaches the top. Because of this, the huge amount of time Herbie often spends waiting for me at the top of climbs is even more exaggerated because I like to check how far I have to go. I cannot cycle no hands like Robocyclist can, so checking elevation, removing layers of clothing or shoving chocolate in my mouth generally means stopping. I also can’t pee standing up.
I know it’s a sore point, I know he gets annoyed at me. But I also know that by the time I reach the top it’s been so long he’s gotten over being annoyed and is just happy I made it – eventually. I never hear a bad, or disgruntled word about my cycling. Well, until he’s sat on my wheel and I slam the brakes on.
So, I’ve pulled my phone out to set a reminder in order to stop the tent going mouldy. He thinks i’m checking the elevation. We’re now both shouting at each other over completely nothing. I do the extremely childish thing and instead of explaining myself or apologising I shout a general ‘fu*k you’ in his direction and pedal off. I’m now furious for various reasons;
How dare he cycle on my back wheel and not pay attention.
How dare he not read my mind and know I stopped for a legitimate reason.
How dare he assume I was stopping to check the elevation profile, again.
AND if he dares to be happy that I’m furious and cycling up a hill…. I always cycle faster when I’m angry and there’s no way I’m stopping to check the profile now. Not with him behind me after I’ve ‘made my exit’.
Now. Crap, why is there a bloody hill. Can’t he just overtake me so I can slow down already? Where is the bloody top? Why do I have to be so frikin childish. No Loz, do not stop! Why is he so far behind? Do not turn round, do not turn round.
Eventually Herb passes me out. I keep my head down to avoid looking at him and he does the same. A little further on he stops to take some pictures, we’re actually cycling through a beautiful forest with snow on the ground. He points the camera in my direction and I keep my head down still, pretending not to notice. As I cycle passed he asks if I’m still angry and what were we arguing about.
Helpfully, I show him my middle finger and keep pedalling not saying a word.
We finally reach the top but I don’t stop to admire the view and carry on straight down the other side. Also being faster at descending than me it isn’t long before Robocyclist overtakes me again. Rounding a corner the forrest suddenly opens up and I’m met with an astounding view of the valley below. Herb has pulled over to one side and is stood in the middle of the road, hands up and palms out like a peace offering. ‘Cafecito?’ He asks.
For a millisecond I think about skirting round him and continuing the descent, but the lure of coffee is too strong. I pull over, tears welling up once again.
‘I’m sorry for shouting but you suddenly stopped in front of me with no warning!’ he says
‘You’re always mad at me for being slow, I wasn’t checking my phone. The tent is wet and has been packed away for three days, I suddenly remembered and wanted to set a reminder so it doesn’t get mouldy’
‘OK, but why didn’t you say that?’
‘Because you assumed I was checking my phone for the profile and you get really angry at me because I’m slower’
‘Loz, you NEED to get over this. I’m a quicker cyclist. I’m stronger. I’m a guy. I’ve done way more cycling than you. I am not angry at you, you are not slow.’
It’s true, whenever we cycle with other tourers I am never the slow one and we tend to do bigger days and cycle faster than pretty much everyone we meet. After fourteen months, I know I am a much stronger cyclist than when we started. Herb doesn’t have to slow down too much for me any more and it’s only really on climbs that the disparity between our speed is evident. But, I HATE that I am not as fast as him. It’s completely my issue. Even if I was a guy too, genetically we are very different. Herb is really strong, he has thighs to rival Chris Hoy and even if I spent the next three years attached to a squat rack I will never be stronger than him.
I apologised too, cried a bit more and we decided to become ’Team Lerbie*’ again before sitting down to have cafecito in on of the most awesomest viewpoints ever.
From there it was pretty awesome riding into Pucon. Team Lerbie was on great form, more hills, more ripio but the sky was blue and we had tremendous views of the volcanos. Plus, when we got to Pucon we ate all of the food, it rained like crazy and we spent 2 days doing absolutely nothing indoors, with wine. It was bliss.
Our last stop before popping back into Argentina was Huilo Huilo. A kind of private national park with a ton of hiking (hiking sounds way more hardcore than walking). Spending one last day off we hiked around the park enjoying a different type of exercise and seeking out spectacular waterfalls.
The park is also home to some fantastic hotels where if you had a bottomless pot of gold it would be rude not to stay there. Well, we don’t so we just had to google the pictures instead.
After googling pictures of the Huilo Huilo hotels and trying to sneak a look over the fence as we cycled passed it was time to head back into Argentina. Our first voyage into Chile had been pretty awesome, for now though it was back to Argentina and seeking out the ‘siete lagos’ which is rumored to be spectacular!
*Lerbie is the name given to us by fellow cyclists. Two names is apparently way too much to handle and considering we’re always together it’s easier for them to say ‘Oh, did you guys meet Lerbie’? It’s a bit like Brangelina, more like Jedward.