To Chillan

Chillan in the distance

[Two notes: First, this is out of order, and there should be a preceding but unwritten post about riding south along the coast. Second, for those new to or unfamiliar with the site, I will be periodically updating the Andes by Bike map as I go. This map also shows my first South American tour, in the northern winter of 2019-2020. — ed.]

The first reasonable peak for me to break up the long ride from Santiago to Osorno was Nevado Chillan, the highest of three similarly-named volcanoes east of the city of Chillan. Nevado seems dormant enough to have a small glacier and ice-lake in its crater, and the hot spot has moved on from Viejo Volcan, but Nuevo Volcan between them is still supposedly active. While I did not see any gases from the summit, I did smell the hot springs at its base, and see some vents as I slogged by.

My first task was to reach the closest town to the peak, which required leaving the cost and crossing the unpleasantly populous part of Chile along the Panamericana. The coast had finally become pleasantly quiet the day before, so I slightly regretted leaving it, but I needed to do something besides pedaling. After the night of shouting drunk people, I was slow to get started. I slept as much as I could, ate breakfast, then spent some time communicating poorly with a very fit-looking guy in town for a mountain bike race the next day, bid farewell to Felix, then ground out the 2000-foot climb out of Cobquecura. There is a minor coastal range here, so I crossed its crest, passing through yet more tree farms, then dropped 1000 feet or so to Quirihue, where I stopped for groceries and lunch. The climbing and lack of sleep were not helping my cough, so I took a short nap on a park bench before continuing.

San Nicolas permanente

Chile’s center seems to be a dry trough, so I continued slowly losing elevation as I rode south and east, the wind actually helping me for a change. Unfortunately it was also hot and not particularly scenic, making the miles drag, and it gradually became busier as I approached the main highway. I turned off south at San Nicolas, whose giant statue of their patron saint (“Protector of the People”) was coming into its own this time of year. After the jog south I headed straight for what I hoped was a bike shop in Chillan, to replace my frame pump, whose rubber gasket had begun leaking. Unfortunately the shop had either closed or moved, so I continued placing faith in my sealant. However there was a grocery store nearby, so I could stock up for the next few days, which I thought to spend away from cities.

Camping for free in an out-of-the-way place seemed impossible here, and I was too tired to continue to some place where I could, so I stopped at the first campground out of town. This one was more like what I would expect in Chile: mostly a water park for city families, but with water, power, and WiFi for about $9/night. I was too tired to do much more than set up camp, plug everything in, eat dinner, then mindlessly surf the web a bit before falling asleep.

Well, at least trying. The next group over decided around 9:00 to start blasting some particularly awful music loudly enough to hurt my ears in my tent. What I could understand of the lyrics was mindless filler, the main beat was around 60 BPM, the chord progression was extremely repetitive, and the vocals were heavily auto-tuned. Maybe it was cumbia? I might actually appreciate it while grinding up a volcano, but it was far from a lullaby. The fact that they also unpredictably turned it down or off, then turned it right back to the original ear-splitting volume some seconds later, made it even worse. I hate telling people how to live in their own countries, but I decided to say something if it continued past midnight. Fortunately it seems to have stopped around 11:00, so I was able to get some sleep and not be a jerk.

Poor kitty…

I at least had some quiet time the next morning, to sit near the wireless modem and finally take care of computer things that had been building up during the past few days. I even had a visit from the campground cat, who was pathetically trying to drink from a near-empty cup just a bit smaller than its head. Unfortunately by the time I refilled the cup to the brim, the cat had moved on. The day’s ride was short, so I took my time in what I thought might be my last civilization for a few days. This would make the climb toward Nevado Chillan hot, but I needed the non-saddle time, and would have plenty of water along the way.

A dangerous game…

This was also the day of the world cup final, Argentina versus France, which I hoped to at least partly watch. Between heat, fatigue, and steady climbing, I had not been paying much attention to the time, so I was extremely lucky when I stopped into a mini-mercado for food and water to see that it had a TV and the game had gone into overtime, tied 2-2. Not five minutes after I arrived, and with only a few minutes remaining, Argentina scored a dazzling goal to pull ahead, and I thought the game was over. France’s subsequent penalty kick just after that off a hand ball was a shock. I don’t like how that rule works — a French player drilled a ball right at an Argentine one, and it happened to hit his elbow instead of his chest or thigh in a way that seemed unavoidable. But I suppose adding the word “deliberate” to the rules on hand balls would open up a whole drum of worms. The Chileans coming and going to the shop seemed slightly engaged and on Argentina’s side, but not really invested. I could not have predicted this, but it was just another thing making me wish more of this trip could have been done on the good side of the Andes.

Christmas Araucaria

After that excitement, I continued toward the ski area at Volcan Chillan’s base. As instructed by multiple signs, I dutifully checked in with the gendarmeria, but didn’t try to dissuade me. However, he informed me that there was no camping higher up. I found the next day that there were plenty of stealthy options, but after being busted my first night in what seemed like an out-of-the-way spot, I was a bit paranoid. I also wanted somewhere safe to leave most of my stuff while climbing the peak the next day. As it turns out, there are also no campgrounds in the last main village, so I reluctantly paid for an overpriced hotel. It turned out to be a nice one, so I tried to take as much advantage as possible, with a shower, shave, laundry, and internet-stuff. However, with a real bed and no loud neighbors, I was unable to stay awake beyond 8:00 PM. I took a nap, then decided to sleep and pack in the morning.

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