Thursday, January 1, 2009

Feliz Año Nuevo!

Feliz Año Nuevo! Today is New Year's day, and once again we're in a foreign land. To celebrate the end of 2008, we returned to Pucon (Chile) to attempt to climb the active volcano Villarica, high above the city and still covered in snow. The past 10 days have been interesting and challenging...

Jan 21st in the southern hemisphere is the longest day of the year (solstice), meaning the sun rises earlier and sets later than any other day. It also marked the day we would stop traveling south and start our return north.

We departed in the rain, on our way to the ferry (60 miles). Ahead of schedule and half-way there, we got a flat. Normally a 1 hour challenge, however we discovered not only was there a hole in the inner tube, but the attacker was wire-cored from the tire itself. Yes, the inside of the tire was ruptured. I made a roadside repair, but we would miss the ferry.
We found a semi-abandoned work camp where we would seek shelter from the rain for 5 hours, and the caretaker scrounged up some food. After the ferry, it was another 2.5 hour ride to Cochrane in the cold rain, and we arrived at 10:25pm, just after darkness settled in.
In the morning, I took the bike to a local gomeria (puncture repair shop) to see how my handiwork was doing. The repair was holding, but we discovered 11 more breaches where the metal strands were poking into the tube. They were "professionally" repaired by the local expert, although neither of us were confident if the tire would hold. We left just after eating lunch and the first 22 miles north of Cochrane is covered in some of the worst corrugation we have ever seen. With only a couple of miles to the end of the really rough part, total failure.

I think it was all my fault – as we were bouncing along I was trying to get my mind off the negative vibes/fears and onto something more positive. I settled on “what differentiates us in business”, and quickly concluded the answer is problem solving. We excel at it. Well soon after coming up with clever ways to market this ability, the tire went flat, probably just the world’s way of keeping me in grounded, so to speak…

It took several hours on a road with few vehicles, but we got a small truck to bring us slowly back to Cochrane, around 7pm. To be honest, it kind of fun to travel in the back of the small truck and absorb all the sights and sounds.

A bit later, while trying to figure out our next move, Erin found a big truck heading north to the city of Coyhaigue, 200 miles to the north. While we couldn’t find a tire in Coyhaigue that would fit, it was the only real city along the 1,200km Carretera Austral. We finished loading the bike in the dark around 11pm, dragged our belongings to a local guest houses, then found a restaurant open at midnight for dinner. We were filthy and tired, and the meal was delicious!

Against all odds, our friend Santi who owns Las Salamandras guest house in Coyhaigue found a used tire that would fit our bike. Getting a new tire down to Chile’s outback during the holidays would have been very expensive and taken well over a week.

Dec 24, Christmas Eve, and I went to the truck depot to meet the truck. While the bike didn’t fall off the trailer as I had imagined, it had nearly fallen over and was marked up from where the truckers had to re-attach the straps. It was a rough ride for our KTM. The used tire we got is the same style as we were using, with even more tread on it, so we should be able to finish the trip without any more tire problems.

In town, locals are getting ready for the big event!

Everything was looking great, the sun was out again, we were with a great group of people in the guest house, and there was a feast planned for the evening. There were 5 "kids" from New Zealand, Adventure Racers (ubber athletes), a solo female Scottish bicyclist who rode 90 miles (mostly gravel) that day, a German backpacker, and an older NZ couple on 2 motorcycles. The night was proceeding well enough on its own, then Santi broke out a fresh bottle of Tequila and it was 3am when we turned in for the night.
Rather than continue riding up through places we’ve seen several times in the past, we opted to catch an overnight ferry from Pto. Chacabuco (1 hour from Coyhaique) up to Pto. Montt. It was a good trip with some friends, and very relaxing.

The German-owned guest house we stayed at in Pto Varas, just 20 minutes north of Pto. Montt was very efficient, with signs everywhere! This one was in the bathroom and Erin couldn't resist a photo:
We spent a couple of nights in the very European-feeling Pto Varas, then returned to Pucon to climb the active Volcano Villarica.

Wednesday, Jan 31st and then end of 2008. It’s been a great year and a great trip. The challenges of adventure travel help us appreciate how lucky we are. We woke early, got our equipment, and headed up to the volcano. The van dropped us off below the chair lift, and the first hour we spent hiking up through the volcanic debris to the station at the top of the chair lift. From there we donned are more serious equipment and stepped into the snow. We hiked for hours, one small step at a time, zigzagging our way up the mountain.

As we were climbing, we appreciated why the climbers on TV are always moving so slowly. Personally, I think I would go mad from the monotony. The views, however, were incredible - high above our surroundings, standing in the snow and looking at the lush green mountains below. The good news is they gave us new equipment to use; the bad news, new equipment. We were near the top when Erin’s open blisters became unbearable and we opted to start heading down. This in itself would be an adventure as we got to slide down the steep slopes on our butts. While the assent took more than 3-hours, the decent was only about an hour. The hike down the ski mountain almost as tough as the assent.

At midnight there was a fireworks display at the beach, just down the road. We watched it from our bedroom window, and were fast asleep shortly after.

To help ensure this trip is a proper write-off, we occassionaly stop in at real estate offices - see the reflection in the window?: