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the forest foray


After a few fruitless (and undocumented) days of aimlessly wandering forestry projects in search of roads hinted at on paper but un-discernible on the ground, Jacob - a young Colombia that I encountered* at the Argentinian border post at the beginning of this foray into Chile - suddenly reappears just when I am ready to abandon the place in favour of a return to the Argentinian desert. Jacob is a mountain bike racer and took part in a competition in this area last year. Equipped with a GPS and some inside knowledge, he provides me with the missing piece that I need to join two of the non-contiguous lines on my map in a move that will allow me to stay far far away from Ruta 5. He is heading in the opposite direction (now that I am not going to Argentina) to a national park on the border but will retrace his steps to follow the same route as me in a day or two.

OK, OK, so Chile's not that bad, once you get off the highway...

...with abundant birds of prey screaming high above blue lakes...

...and colourful fuchsias in lush forest lining the road.

But there are still way too many locked gates and private property signs.

Jacob pops up again on the footbridge that provides the link across an otherwise impassable torrent.

The way up the over side is a little steep and we end up helping each other push up the rough footpath until we reach a road theoretically passable by vehicular traffic...

... although there is minimal evidence that any motor vehicle does pass this way.


The road skirts the edge of an enormous hydro-dam.


More locked gates - this one barring entrance our route through a National Nature Reserve. Over or under, where there is a will, there is a way.

In the Reserve, at higher altitudes, I come across Monkey puzzle trees, or araucana, sacred to the local indigenous people and Chile's national tree.




Jacob and I don't exactly ride together - he is 28 and a mountain bike racer, I am teetering ungracefully on the far edge of middle age - but we discuss camping possibilities and end up meeting to eat and talk together at the end of each day before setting off again at our own pace the following morning.

Morning mist.



The area reminds me increasingly of the Nis'ga Valley in British Colombia, Canada, with it's high rainfall, lush forest, abundant lakes, and volcanoes.

For the first time I get stuck without a source of alcohol to burn in my Trangia - it was far easier to find in Peru and Bolivia where people routinely drink ethanol or in Argentina where it serves to ignite the all important asada. Still, firewood isn't a real problem here.


Wooden buildings...

... and evidence of an industrial past - Chile has a distinctly European feel.


Volcan Villarrica



And then the fine weather ends and rain buckets down, day and night. A bus shelter provides a sheltered spot for first, a break, then, a cup of tea, and, finally, a place to camp for the night. Not very comfortable, or dry.

Next day leads to another mountain road.

The sign reads: Mr.(sic**) Tourist, the road is in very bad condition. Do not continue to Conaripe!

I do continue to Conaripe.


From Conaripe I head back across the Andes into Argentina in relentless rain...

... with only momentary respite in front of a warm stove.

A flash of sunlight in the afternoon.

Morning visitor.

An unexpected encounter leads to lunch with Raul, a fellow traveller, already met in Tumbaco and Mendoza.

This is Patagonia: waterfalls,...

...and lakes... every shade of blue...

... and green.

* “When I was younger, I was a stock trader…,” was his somewhat unpromising opening gambit. Always remember: never make assumptions, Anna.

** In a mountain bike shop in Pucon, I take part in the following conversation:


“How can I help you?”

“I need an inner tube.”

“What size?”

“26” x 2.15.”

The young man looks utterly disbelieving. He raises himself a few inches from his chair behind the counter and peers out the window at my bike.


Irritation rises.

“I’ve been riding this bike for four years. Do you think I don’t know what size tryes are on it?”

He hands me the requested tube without comment. We haven’t got off to a particularly good start. I have the urge to leave but I want some information about a road ahead. I get out my map.

“Do you know this track?”

He glances at the map.

“You can’t do that!”

“Oh, why not?”

“It’s upaved.”

I look around the shop at the mountain bikes.


“It’s steep. You need to be strong.”

“Ah, OK. And so, why can’t I do it?

He looks at me blankly. He obviously wishes I would go away.

{ 18 } Comments

  1. Steve Tober | February 9, 2014 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    try a drug store for Alcohol….or a hardware store “alcohol industrial”

    well…the scenery sure has changed….where will you end up this winter with 3,000km to ushia? you won’t make it this season will you?

    Your photos inspire my dreams……

  2. Kurt | February 9, 2014 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful! All that lush greenery! Im crunching across Mars. A.k.a. North Chilean Atacama. Still hope to have that coffe and maybe a few Km shared down there somewhere. Safe Travels and fun dirt routes

  3. karin and marten | February 9, 2014 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    thanks for your beautiful update

  4. Neil | February 10, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Looks like you managed to find a few nice out of the way routes there! Are you sure it’s wise to ignore all the ‘not for girls’ warnings and signs though…you really could get yourself into some difficulties…!

    We’re going to put a post about this issue on our blog soon. The number of times we’ve had the following convo in Chile/Arg;
    Latino male: Wow! En bici! Where have you come from?
    Pike: So and so sandy road.
    Latino male: (Points at Haz) Even her?
    Pike: Yes, even her…

  5. anna | February 10, 2014 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Steve, alcohol is available in a lot of places – just not all places. Where I got stuck was in pretty tiny settlements which do almost all their trade with summer holiday-makers. They sold gas canisters – but not alcohol.

  6. anna | February 10, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I’m waiting for you to catch up, Kurt, so that I can have a cup of coffee. I’m not carrying any on of my own at the moment. It’s hard to get any here in Argentina that does have sugar in it and I’d rather drink no coffee than bad coffee. But I imagine you will find a way to get your fix!

  7. anna | February 10, 2014 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    The Latino Male thing is really quite tiresome. I’m sure Haz could trounce pretty much all Latino Males very soundly. It’s not like most of them are exactly fit and svelte themselves.

  8. Pari Kemmick | February 11, 2014 at 4:25 am | Permalink

    My name is Pari. I am a 23 year old girl from Montana. My friend katie and I are doing Mexico City to Panama on our bicycles, we leave March 2oth. I am curious on your thoughts on safety of just two girls. I keep getting so much concern from everyone. I feel pretty safe and confident about it, but I would love any tips, advice and encouragement you may have.
    Thank you thank you!

  9. Cass | February 11, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Lovely! I shall be attempting at least, to recreate this when I head north. Obnoxious gates and all.

  10. Gasmo | February 11, 2014 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Fabulous stuff. You bamboozled me with your first sentence but then made up for it by bamboozling me more with wonderful photos and your understated commentary. Keep on bamboozlin’!

  11. anna | February 13, 2014 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    And I’m busy scouring While Out Riding for any handy hints about detours from the Carretera Austral mainline! You make it all look fabulous, Cass, of course.

  12. anna | February 13, 2014 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    Hi Pari, I sent you an email with some comments and ideas about the risk and women question but the main points are:

    1/. I think you should be fine.

    2/. As a woman, no matter where you are in the world and no matter what you are doing you run a certain risk just by virtue of being a woman. But there isn’t anything you can do about that so you may as well do what you want.

    3/. That said, use common sense, be cautious, keep alert.

    4/. 23 years is young (I am a lot older than that) and statistically young women are at higher risk (of sexual violence), as are old women, and physically or mentally disadvantaged women. Physical attractiveness has nothing to do it – it is perceived and/or real vulnerability. So keep that in mind, too. Work out strategies for what you would do in situations that go wrong. Think about the worst that can happen and how you would deal with it.

    5/. The more Spanish you speak the better.

    Read this post for more thoughts on the whole risk thing:

  13. Kurt | February 16, 2014 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Yea, I’d probably drink battery acid if it taste like coffee. All the best out there…

  14. anna | February 17, 2014 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    Well, I drink it if it tastes like coffee…

    Have you crunched your way across Mars yet and hit the green zone? I have to say, I’d forgotten about trees and all that.

    Hope to see you some time soon.

  15. Alan | February 19, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Hi Anna, it’s been quite some time since I have visited your site and I have to say your latest pictures are beautifully saturated, well done. The shot of the Fuchsias is superb. Is there any post done on it? Is it a HDR?
    I must be honest, I haven’t looked back through the posts at the other shots.
    Keep it up.

  16. tim joe comstock | February 25, 2014 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    The dream continues. The far side of middle age is a cool place. I know. I have been there.


  17. anna | March 2, 2014 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    It occurred to me later, tj, that which edge is the far side depends on where you are standing at the time and so that statement was quite ambiguous.

    I’m hoping that if drag out middle age for as long as I managed to drag out my misspent youth then I’ll skip old age completely….

  18. Will Kemp | June 20, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    That’s a great photo of the Araucaria araucana (monkey puzzle tree) – i’ve seen several photos of them, but never one that showed its form so well. The domed shape of its crown is very similar to its close Australian relative, the bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii). I have heard that pine trees with dome shaped tops produce edible nuts and that seems to be supported by the fact that both the bunya and the monkey puzzle tree do. If you get a chance to try the araucana nuts (if you haven’t already), i’d be interested to know what they’re like.

{ 2 } Trackbacks

  1. […] volcanoes and long summer days, I’ve been lusting after this area since Anna’s ‘forest foray‘ last year. I arrived in the region with high hopes, expectations that I would find […]

  2. […] The jewel in the crown of this ride is definitely the ride up through Villarrica National Park over to Conaripe. The road up the south side of the peak is generally in good condition until the final few kilometres (after the sign in my photo). From there it is likely you’ll have to push a little, but not much. The road down the other side is in good condition. It may be the case that if you enter the National Park from the Conaripe side you’ll have to pay an entrance fee. Possibly not though and the park staff leave at 18:00. Thanks to Anna for putting me onto this road. […]

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