Day 13: 10.1.2009

Victoria – Curacautin (Andenrose)

        Like Germany but with volcanoes

        “Hay 5 mas de estas hasta Curacautin”, these are the motivating words of the 50 year old local ex road bike racer who is cycling with me up this relatively short but very steep climb. 5 more ! And I do already struggle to not fall off the bike due to a lack of momentum on this first one here. Well, maybe (hopefully) the other ones will be a bit easier. I have actually made the observation that the  people at the coast were playing down the difficulty of climbs and the height of mountains when they gave me directions and advise. They were still talking of a road mainly being “plano” when there were some significant climbs included on the way while the people here closer to the real Andes already talk about very hilly roads when it is still quite acceptable. I think I can hear and sense that it is because they are proud of their mountains here and hence would rather exaggerate than play low. Anyway, my ride today is promising because it does lead away from the highway and the central valley into the mountains. More correct, into the volcano region. I am going east today and I do get closer to the volcanoes with every pedal turn. Behind every corner I hope to get a good view of these perfectly cone shaped mountains which still carry a bit of snow around their tops. They are all around 3.000 meters high. And there we go, the first one does appear right between the trees and above the street when I descend from one of the hills. Wonderful. Gorgeous. What a view. This is breathtaking. They are still quite far away but I get closer with every turn. And they get bigger every time. Today I stop so many times to take pictures or to just enjoy the wonderful view that my relatively short 70 km ride takes me almost all day. But it is worth it. I regret in these moments that I do only carry my small and lightweight digicam (the bigger camera got victim of the last weight reduction loop) . I could make good use of a real good camera now that the volcanoes are still quite far away. But then I would never be as good as a professional photographer anyway so why should I bother ? My pictures are for me and for real good pictures of the volcanoes here I can go on the nternet. My strengths lie somewhere else. The region I am going through now is called the Chilean Switzerland. And for a reason. The whole area appears pretty much like Switzerland, or even more like Southern Germany.The yellow corn fields surrounded by green trees, the rolling hills. Sometimes when I turn my head to watch to the side from the street and when then a whole opens up in the otherwise closed tree line I feel as if I would watch into a window called Germany. It feels very familiar. At least until the next volcano appears in the picture. They do help to remind me that this is not Germany. My location for the night is the hostal “Andenrose”, run by a German (or better: Bavarian), Hans with his family and a few other Germans to support him (cook etc.).  “Shall I really jump into this river?” This is how I read the face of the Canadian guest before he dares the dive. For the Andenrose guys it is already a normal daily activity. But it is indeed pretty cold in this river ! A perfectly refreshing activity. Bathing in this natural, clean and fresh  water feels great. The limbs do almost freeze and once you are out again (which happens fairly quickly) you need to make sure the aggressive Chilean sun does not burn your skin. But you want it to warm you up after the shock frosting. Rafting is also possible in this river but ufortunately there is not enough water anymore this summer. It is too late. Pity, I would have liked to try. With dinner I have my first Weissbier on this trip. It is supposed to be brewed in Chile, but by a German brewery. Or at least with a German heritage. PROST. Not all that bad. Doesn’t live up to German standards but tastes good. And the food is certainly very good. Well done by the German chef Sascha. On top of the Canadian couple there is also the couple from Argentina here. He is an expert in Argentinean places and can tell us a lot about special people and special places in the far ends of Argentina. E.g. why the Perito Moreno glacier brakes very big time every other year (because it blocks the natural flow of the water at the place where its end connects to a land-tongue and breaks and is being swept away in huge pieces ) or why the people living in the extreme deserts of the high Andes dress so colourful (because living in a very monotonous low colour natural environment this is almost the only bit of colour they see in their whole lifes). He has also been hitchhiking the Carreterra Austral, this wild Patagonian road that I intend to go along as well. The Canadians explained how to live with a few meters of snow every year (how to best build the tunnel to your front door and windows) and I tell them how to make petfood. More in detail why we have adopted software programs from the feed industry to optimize our dogfood recipes (one of the customers of the Canadian guy works in the feed industry, which is how we made the connection). Interesting evening. Good night.

Day 14: 11.1.2009

 Curacautin (Andenrose)

        Relaxation again      

        I am still not  relaxed enough. Mentally, I mean. I still plan too much, am too time driven still. E.g. I try to be early in the Termas (hot springs) because they are outside and I will enjoy the hot pools more when the air is still fresh and crisp. I do plan my first volcano climb for tomorrow in detail and also the following two days with overnight stay in the huge Conguillo national park are not left as a surprise. Stretching my legs in this 38 °C hot natural pool I do feel relaxed and recovered physically but mentally I am not there yet. I wonder how long it will take me to not be so driven an determined in what I do anymore. To fully go with the flow. When will I reach the state of mental independence from time and planning ? Will I ever ? Maybe I cannot because I am just not the type of person that can and wants to do so. Maybe I need a certain amount of planning and objective setting to feel good. My Lominger (personality) profile certainly would suggest so. But can I overcome it ? Do I want to ? Simply being able to plan so freely and completely independently is already the biggest luxury you can have in life. Why would I want to get rid of this when it helps me feel good and accomplish my mission to go South to the end of the world by bike? Is this a mission or a holiday ? Or a combination of both ? A sabbatical mission ? I am not sure. The next weeks will probably generate the answer. Certainly there is enough time to get to it. And it is an interesting question for me to answer.

        Leaving the Termas and going uphill on my bike I see another biker with all the gear like myself. The guy is fully packed, I can even see the spare tire on his rear panniers. And he has a bent handlebar, probably to help against the winds here. Before I realise that I should stop him to find out  where he is going to he is gone. Stupid ! That was an ultra-slow reaction. Must be the hot water of the Termas that has slowed my mind down. Anyway I am happy to have had that encounter, gives me the good feeling that there should be more of those to follow. Especially when I will come to the area of Villarica and Pucon. This is where the outdoor adventurers seem to gather for a while to exchange impressions. And if I begin to feel lonely by then I can probably join some other people. Lets see if I want to.

Day 15: 12.1.2009

 Lonquimay Volcano (Andenrose)

        On top of the volcano !!!

        Why again am I doing this ? What is the reason for climbing up this volcano although it is not really made for it and even seems to make our life on our way up extra difficult on purpose. This is so demotivating to do one step ahead and then half a step or even more back. The volcano ash and  gravel just don’t allow for another movement ratio. This whole 2800 Meter high volcano called Lonquimay is nothing else than a huge pile of lava sand and lava gravel. It is not exactly technically difficult to climb, you need no gear, but it is just so incredibly strenuous. And now, about 7 hours after we left our hostal by bike we are not yet at the ridge of the crater on the volcano top.  I met Tim from Bottrop / Germany last evening in the hostal. He does cycle through Chile and Argentina as well but is now, after 2,5 months of his journey, only 14 days short of finishing in Santiago. So pretty much the opposite to me as I do still have the major chunk of my journey ahead of me. Now that we are only 150-200 meters short of the peak of the volcano, I am glad that he decided to join me on the volcano tour. I am not sure if I would have made it all the way up all alone. It is a mental challenge that is much easier to master together with somebody else. You just don’t think about not getting to the top because the presence of the other person just does not allow it. And the conversations make the whole day much less boring. We have been cycling for almost three hours to cover the first 1200 meters of altitude, first on a paved road, then on a fire road, then on a volcano sand road. The last 2 kms, being completely surrounded by dark sand, feel awkward. Like on the Moon I guess (without having been there yet though). It is just all so dead, just the dark stuff that used to be hidden somewhere in the earth not too long ago. Actually the youngest side crater of the Lonquimay volcano has only been created on the 25th December 1988, hence the name: Crater Navidad. Just around the corner another volcano has erupted last year and a few hundred kilometers further south one complete village on the carretera austral has been deleted from the surface of the earth because the neighbouring volcano had decided to swipe it away with hot lava. Given this knowledge (I should not have asked for the detaisl of volcano activity in the region!) I sense a bit of a strange feeling, one of respect and cautiousness, to be prepared just in case. As if running away would help a lot when the volcano erupts. But still I could take some pictures before it is all over. But who would find the camera and would the pictures be safe ? Rather not. These are also part of the strange thoughts I have when making my way up. Tim and I got on this lava sand part of the dirt road  right after we have met Marc and Anke. The two are German as well. They made their way up in the car as far as was possible. And Marc did not only give me some water but also a nice “Wimpel” of  my hometown-soccer team, Borussia Mönchengladbach. Because this is where he works. By now I do not ask myself any more questions about why those special encounters happen all the time. I have simply accepted them and do sincerely enjoy every single one. I will fix the “Wimpel” to my bike somehow to make me a real missionary for my Borussia. I feel proud to play that extra role for the rest of my journey now. Thank you, Marc. Back on the volcano now we do almost three hours of  climbing (effective movement time) to reach the  top. Add many breaks to it and you will have the total time needed, which is much more of course. The view from the top does pay back for all the pain though. And much more. I can see more than 10 volcanoes around us. They just sit in the neighborhood like sugar cones with their more or less white tops. Amazing to see. Absolutely impressive ! The crater itself has a diameter of 700 meters and is filled with snow. The edges are so rough, irregular and sharp that you can really imagine how the explosion and the lava fountains must have looked like. Also when you follow the cold and crystallized flow of the magma from the last eruption, it gives you a feeling how the lava would roll into the valleys, of course being observed and photographed by interested people like me all the time. A fantastic experience.

 

Day 16: 13.1.2009

Curacautin (Andenrose) – Lago Conguillio

        Riding the volcano !

        This is really amazing. I am sitting here, right at the Laguna Conguillio, watching the sun sending its last rays of light to the mountains on the other side of the lake, and them responding with a turn of  their colour into deep red at the very top. Wonderful. And my tent is right next to me at the lakefront so that I can observe the stars over the lake and mountains at night and the sun rising in the morning as well (if I should be able to get up so early). I have earned this though. Lets go back to the beginning of the day: I wonder where this bloody dirt road is best to ride at, which lane, which side, where on the road ? Anywhere I try it is a disaster. In the middle it looks cleanest and hardest but also the holes and waves are deepest. I guess this is because cars in both directions are helping to dig them deeper. Sometimes it is best to go at the very side of the road, where it appears to be too sandy and deep at first. At second sight though there are fewer holes and waves and it works pretty well. Until it gets too deep and I get stuck. So, back to the middle. But this is so rough there. I am not coming to a conclusive answer in my two hours of dirt-road-science My simple conclusion after two is: This is all bullshit. Stop searching for the best line in the dirt. Just accept that it shakes you all the time anyway. Plan  some more time and relax your brain.

        OK. Lets take a break first to set a sign for my brain. Oh, who are they? Two bikers heavily loaded are coming my way. Interesting. They are from England. They have gone northwards exactly the route that I plan to go southwards. They started early November and do only tell nice things about their experience so far. They have taken the idea further though. Their end goal is Alaska. They have quit their jobs, sold everything and are now out there on their bikes with pretty much all they have. Nothing for me. I have used the first two weeks to make up my mind  on one point: I will not stay in South America to open a bike hostal. Nor will I do this anywhere else. For everybody who might have been concerned that this could happen, be ensured, it will not. It is just not my piece of cake. I do rather prefer travelling the nice places on earth during holidays (or sabbaticals), take in the experience, use what I learn and go on with my life. Through the exchange with people here I have added some countries to my “still to visit” list. E.g. Costa Rica, and Hawaii. This is where you can see hot lava moving. But now lets do this one here first, I have some more kilometers to go and enjoy. You also need to be a certain kind of personality. Of course I have met some of them in the hostals. I would not want to do that. I cannot and do not want to cook, to start with. I do not want to be the entertainer for people who come and visit all the time. Especially not if I am telling and showing them the same things all the time ! For years, over and over again. No, not me. I guess you could do it differently, but still. Not me. I am happy to have confirmed myself in this view.

        Okay, lunch is taken, mind is clear, the English couple is on its way again, lets go as well then. Into the heart of another volcano range. This one (Llaima) has erupted last year (1.1.2008) and I am now cycling through the remainders of the lava stream. This is truly impressive. Just a year ago this huge chimney  right next to me has pushed a lot of  hot lava out to the surface. The whole area has been evacuated at that time. And now, just a year later, I am riding (well, actually I am pushing more than riding) my bike through the cooled down lava fields. I feel like an ant,  by the size and vulnerability of it. Stay cool, brother. It is good enough if you erupt again when I am gone from here. How about in a few days?

        My good god, does this road never get flat again ?  I will fall off the bike at some point of time if this keeps going as it does for much longer. Steep, deep sand, deep holes, hot sun, but at least there are very few cars that leave me in the dust. Yes, lets see the positive side of things. For example that I can see the entrance gate to the National Park now! How wonderful. And the ranger does already await me. Or is he simply bored? Anyway, he welcomes me, registers me (in Chile registrations on a piece of paper are very important), cashes in the entrance fee and is very talkative. Is it much  more uphill ? No, not at all. We are here at 1270 meters and the peak of the road is at 1340 meters. Then it goes down to 1100 meters, which is where the lake is at. 6 more kilometers to go. Good news. The bad news is that the 70 meters of  altitude that are coming now are steepest of the day. With a distance. I struggle to even push my bike up there. This lake and National Park have to be really beautiful if they hide it so well. I am disrupted in my thoughts when I suddenly enter a marvelous forest. It looks like in a movie, maybe lord of the rings. There are very old and huge mountains as far as my eye can see into the woods. The road is sidelined by a 2-3 meter high earth wall which makes the impression even more astonishing. Many of these trees are the famous Araucaciaea. Trees that do only grow naturally at an altitude above 1100 meters. This National park here is famous for them. They get this typical umbrella shape when they get older than a few hundred years. In young ages they have pretty normal shapes. In between young and old they look like hybrids. Funny. Now the road goes down as well. I need to break to not pass by the beauty too quickly. I do stop over and over again to watch. What a reward for the pain to get here. And now that I come to the lake I will get my next reward: I will jump right into it, with all my stuff on, it needs some washing anyway. Oh is this water nicely refreshing. Not too cold either, although the lake is more than 1000 meters high and surrounded by mountains that still carry some snow. Marvelous.  I put my tent up right there next to the lake. And the cooking happens at the beach, in the evening sun. The rice and tuna taste great, I never had such a perfect location for my dinner. Here even I do enjoy the cooking. Now the sun is gone. It is getting dark and I am lying in the tent to finish these lines. Soon I will be sitting at the lakeside again to observe the stars in the clear night sky. Certainly there are no lights around me that could spoil this. A good night !

 

Day 17: 14.1.2009

 Lago Conguillio - Cunco

        Triathlon in Conguillio National Park

        Watch out ! There must be a rattlesnake somewhere close. Oh my god, now I am feeling much at unease, to say the least. The sound is typical and loud and is getting closer second by second. But where could it be? There is all forest and dense trees and bushes around me. Shall I run away? Get my swiss army knife out? I thought there were no rattlesnakes in South America. The sound is getting closer again and it seems to be up in the air rather than on the ground now that it is really close. Can snakes fly or jump ? Here we go, I am surprised and relived at the same time. My heartbeat goes back to normal but still I do hardly believe what I see (and hear). There is a huge black beetle flying across my way at an impressively low speed (I am surprised he is not falling down at that speed). The sound of the wings is exactly like a rattlesnake, the wings look like propellers on a very old plane. No surprise this is more noisy than efficient. This species, if it has not yet been discovered, will get the name “rattlesnake-beetle”.  I have more animal encounters to report on today. Up there in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the Conguillio National Park I have seen several Condors. Wonderful birds, big and with many single feathers at the end of their wings, they look almost like fingers. Fantastic to see how they move with the winds without even moving their wings (at least to my sight). They can survive for 40 days without food  and fly up to 8000 meters high. More than  a helicopter, and sure they need a lot of fuel. Mother nature is not to be beaten in some cases. I have also seen some Lamas on my way, behind fences though, not in the wild yet. I am sure this will still come.

       

        Now that the second part of my Congiullio National  Park Triathlon has been finished successfully (the morning hike on one of the trails has been fantastic, swimming in the lake I did already last night) I am getting on my bike to make my way out of the park. I didn’t know by then yet how frustrating an experience that should become on the bike today.  The map shows me the next 30 kms to go mainly downhill, out of the park and then towards the next town, Melipeuco. But what I do here now is to go at ca. 10 km/h on the worst gravel road I have ever seen. The road has been rebuilt through the kilometer long lava field after  the volcano erupted last year, it is a natural beauty to go on the white track in the midst of an all black lava environment. It is not suited for bike riding though. I am even going downhill but have to pedal. The head wind doesn’t help either. Maybe I should have done this whole tour by bus or rental car ? Seeing the other tourists passing by and cheerfully waving hands makes me feel that they might enjoy their journey as well. Without being on the bike every day. So why can’t I do this as well ? What is wrong with me ? I hope I will find out soon. This first  village after the National park exit will have to have a supermarket, otherwise I will simply stop and hitchhike to the next town. I am hungry and can’t eat no more oatmeal with water and milkpowder. Enough is enough. Good, there is a supermarket. Fruit, bread and cheese make up a nice lunch. I feel better to make the last 40 kms of the day as well now. If just the weather wouldn’t look so bad. I am heading right into a front of very dark clouds. And into an immense head wind of course. As most of the time until now. My legs are soon getting back to the weak status they had from the first minute on the bike today. I assume the volcano and the super heavy climbs into the National Park ask for their tribute today. Well well, what can I do? Go slower and accept it. If just this head wind would cease a bit ! Oh, it does ! As if I would have been heard. It slows down, nice. Thank you. Ah, this is why. It changed places with the rain. Not so nice. Maybe I should have asked for the wind to stay. Now I am riding through the rain for the first time of my trip.  Good. I have crossed that line as well.

 

        Now I know what the Chile travel guides mean when saying that the Chilean men are machos. This picture I am just seeing here would have been in the top three of these “macho-picture-powerpoint-presentations”.   The ones where women carry the beer while men do carry nothing. In Chile this looks as follows: The young man (ca. 20 years) does sit on his bike at the side of the road. Very relaxed, waiting for something. It is one of those bikes with three wheels which has a bigger space in the back between the two rear wheels for loading bulky stuff. Ca. 30 meters away from him on a forest road I see an older woman (minimum 50 years, I suppose this is his mother) carrying a huge piece of wood towards him and the bike. It is the trunk of a smaller  tree, obviously heavy because the old lady does not walk easily at all. I am sure the young man feels great because he offers his service and bike to transport the tree back home once his mother  has gotten it out of the forest and onto the back of the bike (alone of course). Nice fellow. This is a picture  which I will never forget, unfortunately I did not dare stop and take a picture of the scene. In hindsight,  I should have helped the old lady but I was too puzzled to even think about it. Shame on me !

        The bus is a very important means of public transportation  in Chile. I do frequently observe buses passing by while I ride. Also there are loads of bus stops at the side of the road, each one with a small rain cover. The newer ones made of stone, the older ones of wood. Even individual houses have a small “bus stop waiting shed” at the side of the entrance gate to the estate. The house is normally nowhere to be seen as the properties are so huge here but what people do is to walk to the street and wait for the bus right in front of their house / property. Frequently I observe whole families getting off  the bus from the next bigger town, being heavily loaded with food and drinks supply. Often they are then being picked up by somebody (male and young) with a pick up truck to take them home. I guess this is then the son who is so kind to pick the women of the family up at the bus stop after they have spent all day to get to town and back, to do the shopping and transportation of the stuff to the nearest bus stop. A nice move of the young Chilean macho. He could have staied in front of the TV all together as well.  If they keep stretching themselves like this the Chile tourist  guides will soon have to erase all lines about Chilean men being too macho.

 

        Anyway. I am now here in my campground and have just finished a great conversation with the campground owner, his wife, daughter and a  friend about the Chilean educational system. Let me just say so much: The four seemed to be realistic in assessing that there are equal chances for everybody to assume a university career after school with better chances for those who could afford one of the better private schools to prepare them for the necessary and tough university entry test.

Day 18: 15.1.2009

Cunco - Villarica

        No easy days on the bike in Chile

        This is an amazing contrast. I leave this wonderful campground after having checked my e-mails in the sunshine in front of my tent. And my tent is in the most remote part of the relatively big  place (which also includes an outdoor pool). The whole campground has got wireless internet connection ! My only concern now is that having spent the last 18 hours within reach of this radiation I might have lost a few hours or days or weeks of my life. A pity, I hope the mails I have sent were worth it. This I will know later. The contrast appears though when first of all the paved road turns into gravel again after only a few hundred meters. The next contrast appears when I see an army of workers cleaning the side of the road from grass and small plants and trees. And they do all this manually only with a shovel each. Not exactly the best equipment to do this kind of work. And this road is long. I wonder how long it will take them. The side by side of high technology on the one hand and super-manual low cost labour work on the other hand does amaze me. Sure there are machines that could do the plant cleaning job better than the army of workers. The government seems to push technological development for rural areas while keeping employment rates high through the generation of high demands of simple labour at the same time. I have seen some roadwork construction sites by now as well, when they pave a road. There are almost as many people standing around the construction sites as in China (which I think is hard to beat in this category).

        The old guy with hat and sunglasses looks a bit like the old Frank Sinatra. He walks with a bent back and slowly. When he approaches the bus stop shed which I am sitting in to eat my lunch of course I do clean my things to the side to open up a space for him to sit down. He accepts and sits down. When we begin to talk I feel embarrassed because he doesn’t seem to understand a word of what I am saying. And I do speak as clearly as possible. In this case I am sure that my German accent does rather help the clarity of my words than work against it. But still he doesn’t understand what I say, at least he doesn’t react or answer to it. He does lean forward to me every time when I speak though. And he looks concentrated and interested. I conclude that his hearing is not good anymore and speak up significantly. It helps but doesn’t solve the problem. His ears must be really bad. He is 82 years old. And talks about everything and nothing. When it is my part I literally shout to him and he does mostly pick  up the right subject, but not all the time. Doesn’t matter, he has enough subjects to share with me anyway. First I learn that Chile is a wonderful country, much better than any other one in South America or the world. This is because there is no war in Chile, there are many natural resources (e.g.copper), there are very nice people and a wonderful nature. I do agree.  Then I learn that Israel has bombarded the UN headquarters and that they are completely crazy. For the old Frank here this is like bombarding Chile straight away, as the UN does represent Chile as well. I do agree in principle but not entirely. Without speaking though, just with a slight nod  and “hmh”. A car stops, windows go down and a lady asks for the way to Villarica. I do only point into the right direction (right and then straight) and do feel like a local, because she could not have told from the encounter that I am a foreigner.  For her I was just a Chilean cyclist, sitting there chatting with the old man and responding to her question promptly. Cool feeling.

        The cool feeling disappears quickly when I am back on the bike. The road is not only a disaster from a quality point of view. Also the topography is a disaster for me. It is full of short and very steep climbs. And these are the hardest for me and my heavily loaded bike. Climbs are ok  by now if they are not too steep. They can even be pretty long. The short and very steep ones are killing me though.  I do think about the term “pothole”, which I believe is the English term for these holes in the road. I conclude that the person who invented this term has either had a really big pot or never been on the roads here. My idea is to add two new words to the term tomake it more applicable to the local conditions. Potholes are valid until max. 50 cm diameter (this is already a generously big pot). Pondholes describe the holes between 50 cm and 1 meter and poolholes describe any hole with a diameter more than 1 meter (which is what a decent pool should at least have, if not more). Will my brain still work normally when I come back from the trip and into my job ? I am sure that these are not really the kind of thoughts and brainworks that will be expected of me but the task here doesn’t generate anything better today. Scary… If I would have waited another 6 months many of today’s route would have already been paved, construction works have just started. I am glad I did still enjoy the original version of that road. In hindsight it makes me feel much better. Only because I do have my beer and steak in front of me now though. Cheers.

Day 19: 16.1.2009

Villarica

        Termas Geometricas

        “Does anybody want to join us for visiting the Termas Geometricas” today ?  Christine (German) and Les (Canadian) have a rental car and plan to visit the best hot springs of the region today. My plan for today is to do a rest day after four exhausting days on the bike. And to update my internet page. So why not recover in the hot springs ? Sounds like a perfect fit. I happily accept the invitation and join in. As does Brett, an American traveler from Texas who I meet in this hostel “torresuiza” here in Villarica as well. The hostel is pretty popular among backpackers and bikers because it is run by a swiss couple who have been travelling the world by bike for 2,5 years before they decided here in Chile that it was enough. They bought the house and now offer to travelers what they were looking for during their own journey: A bed, a shower, information, contact to other travelers, cleaning service, a huge breakfast and low prices. And the breakfast truly is great. Homemade dark bread, fruit jam, müsli, fruit, and plenty of it all. A wonderful opposite to the normal breakfast you get in Chilean hostels: One small bun, a bit of butter, half a slice of cheese or ham. I usually end up stealing from the other tables around me whatever I can. This is not necessary in Torre suiza. Good.

        The four of us head off to the hot springs. It  is a bit more than an hour ride, which we extend by ca. 45 minutes because we get on the wrong road and only find out after ca. 15 kms on rough and rocky terrain. No problem in the car, on the bike it would have been more annoying. We finally reach the Termas after we do the last 17 kms on a very steep and hilly dirt road. Chilean travel guides claim that this road is being well maintained. I do understand again this  is to a very different standard than what we know. The 4WD Honda helps, we even see one “normal”  car at the side of the road, fixing a tire defect.

        These Termas are the most beautiful hot springs resort I have ever seen ! They are built into a narrow valley, canyon  almost, and naturally integrated into the mountain shapes. There is a long wooden walkway that leads up the valley and passes by more than 20 hot pools of different temperatures. Some of the pools are ice-cold because they are filled up through small waterfalls that are coming down the the mountain. In the end of the valley, which is at least 150-200 meters into the canyon, is a huge waterfall and a supercold pond. Amazing. And everything left so natural. We are all very impressed ! On top of the natural beauty we are lucky with the weather because it rains lightly. A perfect day for a hot spring visit!

        Les is an interesting guy. He is 62 years old and a real Canadian outdoor man. He does look like it, too. Not a gram of fat on his body. Every fibre seems to be prepared for survival in nature. He climbed some mountains in the northern parts of South America before coming here to the South. The most amazing story is the one he shares about having been face to face with a feeding grizzly bear in the Canadian wilderness. Alone. Just him and the bear. Only meters apart, both scanning the opponent. Him trying to impress the bear with loud noises and by waving his mini tent to appear bigger. The bear trying to understand what kind of animal that is that does make those strange sounds and movements. Finally both of them drag their respective pieces (Les his tent and the bear his piece of fresh prey he had with him) away into opposite directions and walk their own ways. Unbelievable. I need to go on one of those Canadian boat tours down a river in one of my next holidays. This seems to be one of the most natural experiences to have. Maybe in summer when I am back home. Christine is German and has done her lot of bike travelling already. Canada, Alaska, New Zealand etc. She worked in Dubai for the last few years and is now on her way back to Germany.

        Returning to Villarica we have a good dinner in the restaurant “Kiel”. Brett and I will go to Pucon tomorrow  where we have rented a two bed room in a hostel together. This reduces costs and helps to get a room there at all. Pucon is fully booked because of the great triathlon there on Sunday. We will go check that out. I will maybe meet my encounters from Lago Vichuquen again as well. There we also want to do some other outdoor stuff. Climb volcano Villarica, maybe rafting, swimming or canoeing in the lake. We will see. Brett travels by bus. He does backpacking, but we are on the same route, so we join forces for now. Lets see.Day 20: 17.1.2009

Villarica-Pucon

        Short ride with big insights

        It is only a 25 km transfer bike ride to get from the more humble town of Villarica to posh Pucon. Both towns are directly located at the lago villarica, but Pucon is the better place to start our planned outdoor activities from. It is closer to the action and all the event agencies are there. We, this is now a group of five: Myself, the American Brad, who I  will share a room with in Pucon, and three Swiss, who will come to Pucon a day later than Brad and myself. We plan to climb the volcano Villarica (you can supposedly still see and smell the lava in the crater from the top), do some rafting, maybe rent a mini sailing boat or such kind of things. I will certainly take a few days rest from biking in Pucon with these guys and relax a bit.

        While I am sitting on my bike to do the 25 kms, I enjoy a nice wind in my back really much for the first time during the tour. I feel great today. I can pass the few little inclines easily and really enjoy the ride. Although I only have a bit more than on this nice lakeside road with good views over the lake I have at least two significant insights:

        Firstly I do feel kind of proud of Mars as my employer. And I feel that I am in a very good, enviable and comfortable situation. This may sound strange but in fact most of the other long time travelers who I talked to on my trip so far have either quit their jobs  completely or are retired. Very few are in a classical sabbatical situation with a plan to return to their old employers like me. Either their employers  did not cooperate or they themselves did not want to return. Both are not exactly good situations to be in from an employee point of view. I feel lucky to be in a company that I like and to have the support from Mars to do what I am doing. Hence I have no hesitation to wear the Mars jerseys and do some positive “selling” of the company here when talk comes to work and employers.

        Secondly I begin to not want to reflect all too much for myself anymore here. I do currently enjoy to be with and interact with people more than in the beginning of my journey. I think also more than during the last years of my life in general. Sounds strange as well because I have met so many people here already but still in the evenings and on my bike I had plenty of time for myself. I have the feeling that I went through a quite intensive self reflection period in my life during the last 2-3 years. With a lot of time for myself and some deep thoughts about what I want to do, what I want to be and where I want to be etc. I certainly haven’t concluded all detailed answers to these questions yet but I feel that the “prework” is done. My mind is set in general (which I will not publicise more in detail here…), the more detailed conclusions will come automatically when the time is there and when decisions need to be taken. That is a good feeling. My MBTI profile (this is an insider for Mars colleagues) might as well move from being a strong “I” back towards being a bit more balanced between “I” and “E” again (which is where I was when I started working in 1998).

        Pucon is a nice town, fully packed with tourists and participants of the big half-Ironman triathlon event tomorrow. A nice atmosphere, good restaurants, many bars and a wonderful big beach the lake. This is where Brett and I find a first line seat in a beach bar and spend almost all afternoon, drinking beer and wine, watching the scene and enjoying life. Wonderful. This is a treat.  In the evening we do even enjoy a bar with good life music. The 95% latino American music is unfortunately disrupted by some amateur karaoke singing now and then but in general the evening is great. To be repeated.

Day 21: 18.1.2009

Pucon

        The smoking volcano

        “I ahora?” “Ahora plata!” The older lady from the hostel is very sympathetic but at the same time makes it very clear to us that before we can get into the room she wants to see some cash. At least for the first two days. What the Spanish call “pasta” the Chileans call “plata”.  This I found out very quickly. We did change the hostel today first thing in the morning because the other one did not really live up to our expectations. In an attempt to do some good for our budget we chose the cheapest one we could find. That was a bad decision. Water was cold, rooms very small, walls only there physically but you had the impression that everybody around you (above, below, at the sides) was sitting in your room with you  when they were talking. And they were talking a lot and rather loud. This one here looks a lot better and the old lady has a point with the money. So we pay in advance. Then we head off to the triathlon start, which is at the beach. There is an international half-Ironman triathlon here today, in a perfect setting. There is a great atmosphere, perfect weather, they use the lake for swimming, I see a very good organization and more than 700 participants. I do even feel tempted to train one full year for a triathlon (mostly swimming of course) and to come back next year just for this event. This is more a dream only of course but it helps to describe how much I like the atmosphere and event. It stimulates the sportsman in me. I do plan to meet Rodrigo here again, the guy at met at Lago Vichuquen who does participate in the event.  The first chance I do have to identify him is when they do the running, there was little chance on the bike with helmet and sunglasses and at relatively high speed. We were a bit late to watch the swimming so the running will have to suffice. They do 4 loops to complete the half marathon in the end. I see him in the second loop for the first time and he even has the breath to greet me properly while I try to push him over the last kilometers. In the third loop I see him again, offer some coke and ask how he feels. His response is without words now, just a handsign that he feels soso.. My interpreatation is that he is at the verge of an “insinking” (this is a more or less complete breakdown).

        Meanwhile Brett and myself decided to go for a little sailing trip on the lake. The sun is strong, the wind likewise and the small two-person sailing boats will surely be  easy to navigate. Brett does know some basics about sailing and I trust his expertise. My only sailing experience in my life so far ended in the rocks of the lakeside road at Lago di Garda in Italy. This was a few years ago and the activity was led by the ingenious and now famous skipper M.V. Well anyway. Should this keep me from trying again ? This boat is much smaller, seems easier to navigate and the skipper seems experienced. So we give it a go. Brett takes control of the sail and I do take control of the steering in the back. We get in the boat and make our way away from the beach with only the normal amount of problems and difficulties. Once in the open water we do pretty well. We pick up speed, I even understand how to use the steering and it is good fun. Then we reach the point for the first turn. Turning with the wind doesn’t work so we try to turn into the wind. The boat is  a bit unstable and hard to balance when the two of us change to the other side of it because it is small and the sail is relatively big. As soon as you get the wind into the sail from the side in an unbalanced situation it attempts to flip. And here we go, it does exactly this when we try to turn. The boat does not fall over but I do. Into the water. Wonderful. At least it is not too cold. The next turn goes a bit better, we are almost done but when are about  to pick up speed again something happens and the whole boat flips over. Without really knowing what happened I find myself in the water again. Brett managed to stay on the boat, although not exactly in the position where he should be. As the boat is now completely flipped over he sits there on the bottom of the boat while I swim around it to check out our options. To our surprise we manage to get the boat turned and upright again without external help. This is cool. We get back into it and continue our journey. Some more turns and we go back towards the beach. Close to the beach, in our final turn I fall off the boat in an attempt to balance it out again. Brett finished the last few meters alone, even managing to finish the boat trip without getting too wet. I do enjoy the swimming back, knowing that we for sure offered some good entertainment for the crowds at the beach.  And I do admit to myself that I was not in my comfort zone out there on the boat at all. Back at the beach I feel much better. The butterflies from my stomach are gone again. At last.

        “Jan, oh Jan, me muri en la ultima vuelta”. Rodrigo looks really tired when I pass by the massage tent of the triathlon event after the second failed sailing experience in my life and I see him lying on one of the massage tables. I did not expect to see him there because with his finishing time from last year he would have been gone already since a while. Obviously in the last running-loop he had a serious “insinking”, it almost killed him as he states himself. “The pain goes away, the pride/joy stays”. These were the words that I spotted on a personal support  poster at kilometer 35 of my only marathon in life in 2007. And I remember how they really motivated me to finish although I was in serious pain. I used those same words (in Spanish) with Rodrigo today when I supported him in the second from last running-loop shortly before “it almost killed him”. Obviously it worked out because he specifically thanks me for this, says that helped him to keep going to the finish line. Wonderful. When I share with him my “dream” to come back for the event I receive an invitation to visit him then and do the whole thing from Santiago together with him and his people. Would be great, still only a dream though.

        These Chileans take drinking beer serious. Those five people at the table next to us in the bar / restaurant do enjoy two “beer-craters”, each  one containing 3,5 liters of Kunstmann (German heritage) beer. And they finish them even before we are done with our round of drinks. Michael, Anja, Mirko (all from Switzerland), Brett and myself are impressed. And the Chileans are drunk. The dinner we just had consisted of massive pieces of meat and fish, grilled at on open fire place in one of the many nice restaurants on the restaurant mile of Pucon. We need this after-dinner-drink to help digestion and can observe the Chilean beer-crater-drinking performance at the same time. Impressive, especially because of the five only two were male. We for our part have agreed during dinner to do a guided tour to volcano Villarica and to go rafting together over the next few days. 

        The fire alarm in town goes off in the middle of the night. What is going on ? Does the volcano erupt ? It has been smoking from the top all day (a wonderful picture). Maybe it is time to take a picture and run away ? Lets see. We have a great volcano view from our window but cannot spot any eruption or red lava. Must be something else. Trusting that in case it concerns us we will find out soon anyway we get back to sleep.

Day 22-24: 19-21.1.2009

Pucon

“Wo wir sind ist vorn”

The effort that Mirko, one of the Swiss friends here, has gone through in the supermarket has definitely not been in vain. He ensured us that he has tasted every single one of those cheeses in the cheese counter (except the one which was declared as a Gouda) to find out which one would be most suitable for our fondue tonight. The Swiss delegation (which has been extended to include 21 year old Neli, who is already travelling middle and south America since a few months) has invited over into their hostal for tonight to indulge into a real Swiss cheese fondue. Excellent. I do sincerely enjoy this. The taste is great. Rich cheese with a splash of white wine, just enough maize starch to get it creamy and plenty of big pieces of garlic (prepared by myself). Wow, Cannot be better. Having been supported by a few bottles of white wine we all feel prepared to climb the smoking volcano Villarica tomorrow morning. Start  is at six am.

And an early start it is. At about 6.20 am we finally head off with a group of six people and two tour guides to climb the Villarica volcano, 2850 meters high. We leave at almost sea level in Pucon (200 meters high), get to the ski station at ca. 1400 meters by mini bus and start the walk from there. The early start iss only good news. We are the first “bigger” group that gets to the volcano top at about 11.30 am. The climb was technically not difficult, we had a ggod pace in our group and the sun was not too hot yet, given the early hour. Perfect !. Up on top we are greeted by the volcano with a deep, loud growl from the crater. “That is the liquid lava down there in the crater, moving up and down in waves, which makes that noise”. The group guide informs. Before the group can begin to panic he quickly adds that this is perfectly normal. Thanks, that little addition really helped. The crater that we are looking into now is about 250 meters in diameter and narrows down towards the bottom into a much narrower hole, almost looking like an oven pipe from the top. The smell is a little sulphuric but not too bad today. The smoking of the volcano is not too much, which enables us to walk around the crater. This is  usually  not feasible because you can’t breath well up there in the strong sulphuric air and the tour guides usually minimize the time on the crater ridge. We are lucky. The sounds from the moving lava oversize oven pipe keep coming back. Jjust enough to keep reminding us of the tremendous power that lies there right beneath me. I walk and lean in towards the center as much as possible but unfortunately (or fortunately) can’t get a view of the liquid lava. It is too deep in the volcano to be seen. Some years back the level was 150 meters higher up and could even be seen from the crater ridge. I have seen pictures of that in the agency. Impressive. Being up there, seeing the cylindric massive shape of  the crater, the huge oven pipe that leads down into the heart of the volcano, smelling and hearing the liquid lava gives you a real good chance to figure out how tremendously powerful an eruption would be and why the last one left the volcano crater in a shape as I see it today. Simply awesome.

On the way down we can finally use all the provided equipment that we carried up to the top in our backpacks. We put waterproof pants, jacket and gloves on. We are already wearing a helmet anyway. The most useful addition is a wrap around our hips that enables us to slide down the snowy slopes of the volcano on our bottoms almost all the way to where we started the climb. That is good fun and quick at the same time. The ice axe we have with us serves as a break. Cool.

“I wonder how many of these salesman at the beach there are all together?” This is one of the key questions we ask ourselves while relaxing  at the beach in the afternoon after climbing the volcano. They sell everything, All kind of food and drinks, towels, cheap jewelry, shoes, everything. And they keep walking between the crowds. I guess there are at least ten of them passing by within a 10 minute window. And all of them are announcing their goods properly. Well, you get used to it as a kind of background noise. And after I have bought a cup of freshly squeezed strawberry juice for half a Euro I do actually begin to appreciate their presence.

 

I have already shared that the policemen  in Chile do take their jobs seriously. While I am floating there on the lake in the rented kajak, enjoying the sun, the water around my feet and hands and the spectacular volcano view all at the same time, I do observe another good example of that. On lakes in Chile it is mandatory to wear life vests, even in motor boats (good to know cause we were not doing this back on Lago Vichuquen with Raimundo’s family). Now I do  see a police boat (name is “Armada de Chile”) that has stopped by a yacht and does call all of the sunbathing people on that boat to attention. They do pay a fine, they need to sign loads of paperwork, they put on their life vests and then head back home at an incredibly low speed. Wow. I would not have expected that. Luckily I do wear a life vest in my kajak. I have no money on me to pay for a fine anyway.

“What is going on there at the beach front?” The police boat is back, this time with sirens on and close to the beach. It cleans a part of the swimming and boating area from all people, surfers, boats etc. And when I make my way through the crowd at the waterfront I do see a small figure swimming towards the beach in a wet suit. The crowd does applaud, the police siren gives a salute and when the figure emerges from the water she is greeted by all kinds of people. She walks over to the end of the beach where she is officially welcomed and needs to give interviews. It turns out that  she is a 14 year old Mapuche girl (one of the native Indians of this region) who has just swam across the lake from Villarica to Pucon. I do not know the exact distance but by bike I recorded  about 25 km on the lakeside road. It took her 6,5 hours to get here. Nice surprise. There always seems to be going on something in Pucon in summer. This years’ summer and especially the last weeks and last days have been extraordinarily sunny and hot in the whole lake region, including Pucon. There is more a Santiago climate here this summer than a lake region climate, which would be cooler and include more cloudy and some rainy days.  

While sitting in the beach bar with our second schop of beer Michael (one of the Swiss guys, a banker who quit with UBS before doing this one year South America trip with his partner Anja, who quit her job with Intersport Interrnational as well) and I decide that it is fair to conclude from the life we enjoyed here in Pucon that the motto “Wo wir sind ist vorn!” does indeed apply to our life here. I took this motto from my several activities with Andreas Ronken  in Europe over the last few years. We found that motto perfectly applicable every time we did something together. So we concluded that it is indeed us that have that humble influence on what is going on around us ever since we apply and maintain this attitude. And see, it even comes with me to South America. Andy, I will take good care of our motto over here, as well. It is a good feeling to sit here at this beach bar with nice Swiss people, drink a couple of cold beers, exchange ideas about home beer brewing and home cheese making and to even share thoughts about the nature of cats and why they behave the way they do. Anja and Michael own two cats back home in Switzerland and we all agree that unlike dogs they would probably not be sitting at their mothers doorstep and happily welcoming them back home after a full year of absence. This might rather be a welcome back process that could take between a few days and weeks to complete. Complex personalities those cats. But life here and now is a treat indeed. Wo wir sind ist vorn !

The two person “duckies” look pretty robust and hard to flip over. This is a development from the rafting where you have no instructor in the boat, hence all the responsibility is in your hands, nobody can help. This sounds like an appealing promise to us. The Swiss-German-American connection goes duckying! For Brett and myself it takes about 10 minutes and the second set of rapids until we flip over with the boat for the first time. We are used to that now as of our first sailing experience a few days back. I find myself floating in the rapids searching for the instructor and his kajak to hold on to it until our boat is back in reach. Brett saves himself into one of the Swiss boats. It is good fun because with the wet suite and life vest it is nice and warm in the water and there is just no way you could drown. In the next bigger set of rapids we fall over again. We change positions, I go into the back now (the steering position) and Brett, who is heavier than I am, goes into the front. As of then it goes better, we don’t flip the boat over again.  This is what the two Swiss teams do now. In nearly every rapid one of the boats collapses. We have loads of fun, have chosen exactly the right activity for us. A superb afternoon.

“Buenos Aires is the best city in the world ! We have everything ! Just ask, we have it !” “Okay, let me see. Beaches?” “No.” “Mountains?” “No.” The Argentinean lady that I met at the beach bar while both of us where observing the sun setting behind the Lago Villarica gets a bit embarrassed now. But only for a second really. She does convince me that Buenos Aires is just the best place to live at in the whole wide world. And of course does live there. Fine with me. I can settle with that. “And how did you like the volcano?” I ask  after she told me that she has been up there today like I was a few days ago. Interestingly she hated it. She was scared of falling, damaging her legs or knees and especially it was too strenuous for her. Now this is hard to believe for me as she does look rather fit and in good shape but the response to my inquiry this time is as follows: “You know, I am a professional dancer and hence am scared about damaging my body or health in any way. I have to be extremely cautious.” This I can somehow understand but the reason of lack of fitness I foolishly put aside with a remark that my belief is that dancing (especially professionally) is kind of a sport as well. Oh, wrong answer again. This time I learn all of the reasons why dancing is an art and not a sport. Not to be misunderstood. The whole encounter was really funny and entertaining. I think we both enjoyed it. It is just that, if she was the Argentinean people stereotype (which surely does not exist), the discussion with her told me more about the Argentineans by reading between the lines than by reading the lines themselves. I am looking forward to Argentina !

The evening is a bit of a farewell dinner because as of tomorrow many of our ways will part. We did get used to each other quite a bit and I am sure that there will be a revival in the future, in Switzerland or Germany, we will see. Brett takes the bus to San Martin de los Andes in Argentina, Neli goes to Valdivia, I will make my way into Argentina as well, Michael and Anja stay for another two days until they go north and Mirko will stay for language lessons until the 2nd, then he will go south. Lets see who will meet again  on our journeys. There are some chances at least. We will stay in touch via mail.