Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Onward at the speed of, um, something slow.

I had three days to enjoy Hornopiren. First day I went for a ride with a German woman from my hospidaje. She was on vacation from teaching biology in Peru. She rented a bike and we rode back the way I´d hitched in, plus some coastal road. The best part was more views of the common Chile farm in these parts. Cows, geese, pigs, chickens and a big garden. Plus the ocean right there for fish. Very self reliant folks.

Next day I did almost nothing. Mostly sat in the Plaza de Armes (any town that´s a town has one) and watched the world revolve around me. A tiny kid happily riding his bike off the curbs, which, size for size, were bigger than most things I jump off. A man with a large woodsman´s axe sat at a nearby bench with his wife. Men walked with what they needed for the day. Oars. Shovels. Power brick saw. Hammers. If it was too much, they used a wheelbarrow. But not a car or truck.

The town was in a bit of a mess, since they´re paving all the rough dusty streets with paving bricks. Meanwhile it´s torn up and messy in places.

Dogs live in all the cities and towns I´ve been in. Just happily lolling around. Seem healthy. Don´t interract with people much. But I watched a couple of them vanish quickly when an old woman bent to pick up a rock. Speculation, but I suppose around here you are too old when you can no longer bend over to pick up a rock. Then the dogs eat you.

My last idle day in Hornopiren, I rode out to the National Park. It´s a large reserve containing two volcanoes and much more. With almost no, um, anything. There´s one marked trail. I got there and ran into Molly, an English teacher in Santiago, originally from Atlanta, Georgia. I was only going to hike in a little way, since I was wearing my bike shoes. But with her company, good conversation, and no problem with my feet, I hiked in 3 hours on the muddy and/or rough trail to a large lake, surrounded by lava rocks and black beach sand. The forest along the way and river along part of the way were quite nice. Less of a nothing-but-trees-to-see than the last trail I hiked. And more hiking (6 hours! I´m a cyclist, dang it!) than I´ve done for years.

Next day I got onto the ferry and headed to the town that was destroyed by a volcano in May. The boat trip started out foggy with drizzle, but became bright and sunny. Clouds on shore hid the tops of the mountains, but allowed a view of the coast. We had a tail wind which almost matched our speed, so being up on deck was very pleasant. And no one that I noticed fell off, despite a lack of what the U.S. would call safety features. Forested hills rolled onward and onward down the coast for the full 8 hours. Green humps of islands, and one odd square-topped island rock that probably had birds all over it, but was a bit too far to see.

Chaiten looked alright from the ferry landing. But the paved road into town ended upbruptly at a pile of grey ash that looked like it challenged regular cars. The town itself was covered in ash and still emerging. Some places, that is, were emerged. Others looked like they´d given up the ghost and moved on. The Chilean government has said the town will be shut down, but the people who live there and have always lived there want to dig out and live there. Biggest problem during the eruption was that the ash diverted the river which ran straight through town and flooded much of it, burying what it didn´t wash away in cement-like ash. There was one store open along the way. I got a couple things and hit the road. Passing and re-passing groups of hitchhikers I´d met on the ferry, as they scrambled for the few rides available.

Fast road out of town. Pavement at first, and the tailwind from the ferry continued to blow me on my way. Passing and re-passing groups of hitchhikers I´d met on the ferry, as they scrambled for the few rides available. I made it to a large suspension bridge over the outlet of Lago Yelcho and camped in some trees next to the bridge, near some other campers who were under the bridge. I washed off in the river while bats whirled right past me, eating the mosquitoes that were eating me. My fourth night of camping, I put up my tent. Drizzle and blood-suckers safely outside.

By morning it was clearing. Sun came out just before I left, so I stopped leaving and dried everything out quickly. Beautiful bright sunny day. For two hours. I rode along and past the lake. Passed the first real glacier, a frozen blue tongue snaking down a steep valley. Onward and upward through the thick forest. Thick forest: let´s call it like it is: Rain forest. Temperate rain forest, which like the forests of the north Pacific coast of the US, require rain.

The rain started as I finished climbing up a steep valley onto higher land. Hard rain at first, then drizzle, then a persistent and constant rain. The gravel road began to run with water. I became soggy and covered with road grit, as did the bike, which began to have a few problems. Here´s another thing I might have thought of before I left: My bike was weatherized (such as it was) for the semi-desert where I live. I might have made a few changes -- like lube on the cables -- if I´d thought about what riding in a temperate rain forest might be like. Then, I might have been able to shift down into my small chainring at the start of the steep stretches. Instead of having to get off the bike and manually shift, before getting back on and trying to climb. And maybe both brakes would have worked.

About halfway through what I had hoped would be a long day, I saw a sign that said "Snack" like that, in English. Sounded good to me. A soda for sugar as I stood dripping on the senora´s floor. But they also offered a room in a house for pretty cheap. And I decided to stay the night, get clean, dry, and work on the bike.

It rained all the next day. I walked under my umbrella takaing photos, as the river rose and the rain came down. Seven houses make up Villa Vanguardia, including the one I had all to myself and two other empty holiday rentals. Lumpy yards between the houses were pastures for chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, sheep, cows and horses. None of them, nor the local folks, seemed at all bothered about the rain. Just sweatshirts. Maybe a hat. A few with woolen ponchos.

Rio Frio was carring a fair amount of lumber downstream by the end of the day. Not out of its banks, but up into the green vegitation. Inside, I got some writing done, and some good idling. The second night - last night - a couple from Santiago and their one-and-a-half-year-old child joined me, and brought noise to the place, besides the cries of ibis in the dark, and frogs in the yard/swamp, rain against the window panes.

This morning it was clearing. I had dried my clothes around the wood-fired kitchen stove. Bike was back in functional condition. I packed up and rode off. A big 40km -- only half a day -- brought me back to rainy weather. And to La Junta, where I hope to catch a bus tomorrow, heading south. Making up some distance that doesn´t really need to be made up for. But there´s some scenery further south that I´d like to see. And I already feel like I´m running out of time. If it´s taken me this long to get south, how long will it take to get back to Santiago in time for my flight?

Stay tuned! And thanks for checking in!

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