When the Levee breaks

A big hug sends AC off after a great trip around the Paine Massif while I head back down into town and await the arrival of a new atm card.  My time in Puerto Natales has been a test of Western impatience and Latin American tranquility, culminating with Willie hilariously offering me not one but three cigarettes to help take the edge off yet another "it will delivered tonight" messages. Thanks, Willie not my thing. 

Days are spent walking the streets,

watching artists along the waterfront sculpt stone and weather cold afternoon winds,

and enjoying the local BMX contingent boost away.

A thirty-hour inhalation of bus-air erases three months of southern progress and deposits me back in Bariloche.  While Mathias and crew at EVO Sports work their magic on the colonel and gets things "aj squared away," I lounge by the lake soaking up the heat, watch the city come and go over coffee, and pay nightly visits to my favorite vegetarian restaurant.  

It feels like ages since I was first in Bariloche and somewhat strange but good to push-off in the early morning hours after nearly a month off the bike.  La Ruta de los Siete Lagos Route pulls me north under cloudy skies along the white line linking one tranquil lago after another up to San Martin de los Andes.

With Paso Carirrine closed this year, I arrive in San Martin de los Andes and construct a small loop through Parque Nacional Lanin with a sendero connection to link back to Lago Huechulafquen. Park headquarters sends me off with an "it's definitely doable by bike, buen viaje..."

Spectacular sandy, volcanic ripio with hardly a car in sight draws me in and out of a Lanin's densely canopied forest 

with occasional breaks to stop and take in a few more pristine lagos.

At Sendero Escorial before the border, I hook an early morning right into a volcanic wonderland

that drops me onto a promising stretch of single track along Lago Epulafquen until I run into a shocked park ranger who in no-uncertain terms tells me the trail is "muerto" and forces me to turn around. Apparently his tan suited henchmen who gave me the "abierto" thumbs up three KM's earlier missed the news...   

Lago Epulafquen offers up a perfect lunch and swim spot to wash away communication challenges before I retrace my knard squiggles from the day before. 

After a night listening to the lapping waters of Lago Lolog, I ease back into S.M de los Andes and spend the day trying to address an apartment untethering in SF. The following morning I get a new set of stamps at Paso Hua Hum and share some ripio time with a great group of cyclists from Uruguay touring for a few weeks.

A series of quiet back roads drop me into Conaripe, where I enjoy many laughs and four last-calls of piscola with two Chilean vacationing families that take me under their wings for the evening.  Foggy headed, I inch towards Pucon the following morning with a stop at Termas Geometricas to soak it up in the early morning silence.

Beyond the last Terma, the cars disappear and I nose into P.N. Villarrica and ride amongst stands of the Mapuche sacred Araucaria trees.

The backside of the park offers up one of the best downhill sections thus far with ear-to-ear grinning around each corner.

After a long drop in elevation, I clear off the Jones bars and lay down a short stretch of pavement into Pucon with just enough time to line up climbing Volcan Villarrica the next morning.  Guide Osiel from Patagonia Experience has spent the last five years with clients five days a week with a smile every time. "Not a bad office, hunh," he says with a chuckle.

On the glacier we snake our way upwards with other trekking agencies in front and behind us.

Topping out at just under 3000m, we take some time to look into the crater of Villarrica as it spewed a constant cloud of sulphur.  It is considered one of the most historically active volcanoes in South America with its last eruption occurring on March 03, 2015.  Osiel joked about watching an ash plume six to eight kilometers high and a vertical geyser of lava 1.5 kilometers high with beer in hand from the front room of his apartment.

We enjoy a pretty damn nice lunchtime view of Volcan Lanin in the distance as afternoon clouds settle in around us.

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The morning's climb is quickly erased as we strap on plastic sleds and toboggan down close to 1500m in the blink of an eye. A round of beers back in town with the guides (Francis, Blas, Osiel and Christian) wrap up a wonderful day on the mountain as we chat about distinctions between volcanoes, Mapuche culture, stories about past clients and our own perfect day.

Out of Pucon, I follow a tranquil section of ripio that passes through Curarrehue and then up along the border before turning back on itself along the tops of Lago Caburgua and Lago Colico.  Pigs, chickens, and sheep wander back and forth across the road and big hearty waves are standard issue from passing porches.  As I get closer to the center of Chile, the city vibe is increasingly more palpable with people wavelessly dust-cloud by in their brand new luxury 4x4's racing to the next mirador or lakeside spot for lunch.  It was nice to find an area within striking distance to Pucon and Temuco that still operates on a slower seasonal time.  

After a Sugimoto morning at the foot of Lago Caburgua, I get a bit greedy and wander up a signed logging road towards Curacalco that gets better and better with each turn. 

Rounding a corner, Sebastian kindly calls off his dogs and tells me there is no way to connect to Melipeuco without shouldering my bike and climbing over the ridge he points out well above our heads.  At least that's what I understand after the third time he answers my "pero, es possible?" pleas.  I finally resign to coast back down to the main road and we share a few laughs over the fact that I am the first gringo to ride up to his place.

I shut it down for the evening alongside a river just outside of Melipeuco enjoying the last rays of light on Volcan Llaima. 

Into P.N. Conguillio the following morning, Volcan Lliama holds court in style with dune riding and plenty of sandy ripio to gobble up.  Its last eruption in 2008 has left a slowly recovering lunar landscape ringing its base 

with a few beautiful lagos

and stands of Araucaria trees along the outskirts that remained untouched.

A densely forested section with some of my favorite Chilean grades to make sure us cyclists don't get too soft on the other side of the fence rounds out the day before a steady drop over twenty miles deposits me in Curacuatin.  A squiggly path north for sure, but one that has offered up one great little park after another.

ROUTE NOTES:

Bariloche - Siete Lagos - San Martin de los Andes - National Parque Lanin - San Martin de los Andes - Paso Hua Hum - Conaripe - Parque Nacional Villarica - Pucon - Curarrehue - Playa Negra- Melipeuco - Parque Nacional Conguillio - Curacautin

On a side note, I stocked up on extra parts for my bike before leaving the States and the extra weight and volume were definitely worth it as I handed over the necessary pieces to EVO Sports.  The best bikeshop I've seen in South America by far, they happily got their hands wet with the Rohloff and trouble shot a few things I didn't realize needed to be repaired. Thanks again Matias.