And then there were three!

20 km from Osorno, Chile, due west towards Argentina, while stretching on the side of the road, we spotted him.

“Hey, look at that,” Andrew said.

“Ha! He has bags too!” I responded, standing up to watch the ladened bicycle approaching.

He stopped. We exchanged introductions and rapidly questioned each other’s missions, directions, and such.

It is an exciting thing to encounter another person travelling on a bicycle, and we felt automatically connected to this stranger.  Since we all had kilometres to cover and things to discuss, we cycled together for a while.

the rolling hills near Osorno

Toni, aka The Panamerican Guy (his facebook page), started in Alaska. He weighed 120 kilograms and was a complete bicycle novice.  For 15 months he has been making his way south, firstly through North America, then South America.  Now, he is just one third of a country away from his destination: Ushuaia.

Toni, the Panamerican Guy

A bit of extra company on the road is always interesting and since we were all heading in the same direction, we kept going together. For four days together we glided through beautiful landscapes, vivid and bold, and crept our way up the seemly endless hills then mountains, up towards Argentina.

As if cycling through a year’s seasons, slowly and dramatically the landscape changed: the bright boundless green springtime fields gave way to bizarre summer forests, with towering trees, bamboo and tropical shrubs. Then autumn came. Ash covered the ground like snow, the trees stood stark, burnt reminders of the lush landscape before the volcano. Grey. Suddenly, we were in winter. And then the rain started, icy icy driving rain that burnt our faces, froze our tired muscles that begged for rest, but we dared not stop for fear of the cold. Around us, snow covered the ash that covered the ground.the views were spectacular!

tree skeletons and ash!

Deceptive curve after deceptive curve wound us slowly up and through the Andes, ever higher through the no-man’s land between Chile and Argentina. We decided to claim it, to simply stay there and make it our own new country. We toyed with names for our land. This provided some amusement and distracted us for a while, but ultimately we reached the consensus that the weather was off-putting and we fancied somewhere warmer.

We moved on. Onwards and upwards.

Thanks Mom! your waterproof booties were great... not stylish, but great!

And then we were at and through the border control, in Argentina.  We camped on volcanic rock next to an exquisite Andean lake and sighed the kind of sigh you can only sigh after having crossed the Andes through epic weather and are finally sitting in front of a bonfire, full and exhausted and thoroughly content.

view of the lake where we camped

beginnning the descent! cold but happy

Hitchhiking: Strategies on Success Optimisation

Here is a brief “how to” hitchhiking guide based on our experiences over the past few months:

  • Establish your hitchhiking stance in an area with enough space alongside the road for the vehicle to pull over
  • Select an area outside of the city. The further removed you are the better. Sympathy points for the ‘stranded’.
  • Try to find an area where traffic is forced to move slowly. For example, a turning circle, an area with hazard cones, police stops, or – first prize – a toll gate.
  • Look interesting and harmless. This may necessitate such adjustments as removing helmets, sunglasses and putting on some shorts over your cycling tights.
  • Engage the driver and co-passengers in eye-contact.
  • Utilize the international thumb signal for ‘hitchhike’
  • If you are really desperate, use both hands.
  • If you are really, really desperate, dance a bit.
  • If you are desperate and want to spice things up a bit, spell out the letters of your destination. It helps to make up a song to accompany the dance. (song and dance = lifelong friends)
  • If all else fails, find a sandstorm and stand in the middle of it.
  • Rain helps too.




"A donde van?" "AL SUR!"

Entonces (one of my new favourite words, which means then or next) we hopped, skipped and hitchhiked our way down to Osorno.

It was a colourful journey, a fascinating series of a rapid passing through of the country’s midrift.  It provided an excellent opportunity for us to practice our Spanish. It also proved a prime time for us to develop and embellish our Theories on Strategic Hitchhiking.  To our fairly established list of Successful Strategies (SEE NEXT POST), we added Dance, Song and Spelling out our Destination.

Our initial conversations with potential lifters were amusing, both to us and them.

“A donde van?”                –              “Where are you going?”

“Al sur!”                               –              “South!”

Such vagueness perplexed some, intrigued others and annoyed the rest.  For us, it was a glorious sense of freedom to have no other destination other than the general direction of South.

A few highlights along the way :

–          A young fellow, friends with the driver of one of our first lifts, offered his mother’s campo (farm) for our camping needs. She offered us a bed, a traditional meal, a bucketbath and a unique window into the lives of a lonely divorcee.

Luz's house... very pink

–          Our classiest lift yet and an interesting conversation with the husband of the owner of Remingtons Arms Company, one of the world’s biggest gun manufacturers. Chilean-borne, US-raised, married a Texan, this fat-cat was full of surprising opinions and bigoted statements. One quote (although there were many): “I love Chile but the biggest problem with this country is that it’s full of Chileans”.

–         A wonderful couple who picked us up decided to give us a brief tour of Tandil their hometown. This tour included a stop at a cafe to taste Mote con Huesillos, a traditional Chilean desert and sweet treat. What is Mote con Huesillos? Whole wheat grains soaked in syrupy sweet water, topped with a rehydrated dried peach. Oddly enjoyable.

Mote con Huesillos

–          A freecamp in the ruins of an antiquated and dilapidated church, coupled with an amusing conversation with two men who were sneakily consuming a box of cheap wine before heading home, justifying it with “it’s voting day!”  They were horrified to discover that we had no bread, scolded us, impressed upon us that bread is essential with every meal, and presented us with three bread rolls , before jovially heading home (on their bicycles).

Camping in the overgrown ruins of a church

Gifts presented by the little lady who lives next door to the church ruins

–          Our first ‘accident’: a slicing open of my shin (consequence of an attempted stabilisation of my fatty bike).  This necessitated an urgent hitchhike, a 3hour long wait in the Osorno hospital, 9 injections into and around my open wound and 7 stitches.

Sliced leg...

Well, at least we were in Osorno, where we would begin our cycling back over the Andes.


the SiZEABLE Santiago

Departing Vina del Mar = Five kilometres of solid uphill. This got our legs and lungs burning and was one of the notable memories on the journey to Santiago. That, and the puncture we got on the hill. And the night we spent sleeping on a scrappy sort of sports field in a little village.

Stupidly, we decided to try and cycle in to Santiago. We knew it was a big city, but thought we would just ‘gun it’.

Sooner than we thought we were pressed against the pavement, desperately trying to hitchhike (on the 5-lane ring-road of Chile’s capital city?!) and not get killed by the frenzied cars and trucks. How we managed still makes me take a quick breath in and tensely exhale with eyebrows and shoulders lifted in disbelief.  It was madness.

Fortunately, about a minute after sticking out our thumbs in desperation, a small flatbed truck stopped a few meters in front of us, breaking a few road rules but excusing himself with his hazard lights.  We quite literally threw our bags and bikes on his truck and dived into the front, glad to be marginally removed from the very real risk of being mowed down by an inattentive Santiago motorist.

Santiago is enormous.  To be in an area useful enough to see the parts we wanted to see, we needed to stay in a hostel. And so we did, for a night. It was grand and we utilised it thoroughly, delighted by the luxuries of a fully equipped kitchen, a sink in which to wash dishes (imagine!) and showers.

 this man was determined to have a photo taken of his octopus...

Street market supermodel

A scupture in the Plaza de Armas

We walked by night, we walked by day, visited art galleries, found a wonderful market where we bought a kilo of strawberries. These we ate sitting on a bench near an intersection, amusingly watching two  street acts alternating with the changing traffic lights.

On the right, a pair of traditionally-clad girls softly stepped a simple dance, handkerchiefs waving and the occasional shake of their skirts, and then they were off, quickly down the line of cars waiting at the red light. Then, on the left, a bulbous man stepped out before his audience, large drum on his back, large belly balancing it out.  He beat out a simple rhythm,  moved quickly into his finale – spinning in circles, then suddenly stopping with a cymbal crash – and then he was off, hat in hand, to take his collection before the light changed to green.

“You’d think he would have developed a bit more skill after doing the same thing so many times,” Andrew commented as we finished our strawberries and headed off to meet up with Trui.

Trui brought with her good news: her friend Emiko had place at her house for us to stay for the night.  Wonderful! We were not quite ready to take on the epic exit of the city and staying with a local family always brings new insights into the city.

a Santiago street

City of glass?

A leisurely afternoon of exploring, a delicious dinner, a heavenly rest, and a perfect breakfast with Emiko and Alvero, one couldn’t really ask for much more. Except maybe a lift out of that traffic-crazed city…

We didn’t ask. Alvero offered. On his tiny white car, on his roof racks, our bikes were driven out of Santiago, sufficiently far to be removed from the madness, perfectly positioned for our impending hitchhike mission.

Breakfast of Champions!


To the Coast and Back Again

A somewhat embittered Russian man we encountered in Mendoza, who provoked us and everyone he spoke to, recommended that if there is one place in Chile that we visit it must be Valparaiso.  He was an intriguing individual and we were suitably intrigued.

Pato, our 18 year old  ‘waiter’, had invited us to stay in his flat in Viňa del Mar, the neighbouring seaside city.  Andrew warned our slang slingingwannabe-American that “it’s a dangerous thing to make an offer like that to two people who spend a large percentage of their nights unshowered in a tent”.

“Listen, bro, come and stay.  My brother and sister are there, and they’re cool, bro, we always having people to stay.”  And with that, he locked Andrew into a handshake-hug, “bro”. “Sister,” it was my turn.  “See you in two days.”

And so we did. In two days.

Besides cycling, those two day involved a great deal of foraging and a wonderful freecamp on an avo farm.  Six avo-farm children immediately took delight in the unexpected visit and sixteen hands erected our tent.  The remaining light of the glorious October afternoon was spent exploring all of the childrens’ favourite hideouts and secret places.  Each place came with its snacks: fennel stalks at the canal, lemon peels in the orchards, pig-food carrots in the pigpen.

Farmers children took us on a tour of all of their secret places and ate carrots in the plumtree

Each of our little hosts beamed with personality: one the mischief- maker, one the fact-giver, one the silent one who guided with his eyes, one inquisitive and chatty, one shy and happy to simply walk with the group.  It was a magical afternoon, and a moving farewell the following morning when we were presented with a bunch of beautiful flowers (me) and a fluffy rabbit (Andrew).

Gifts from the little ones


And with a fair whack of cycling and a short hitch to escape wind and an impending storm, we were in Viňa del Mar. The heavy sky split a few moments after we had brewed up a celebratory arrival-coffee in the plaza.  Retreating under a tree, we drained our cups and tried to outwait the thunderstorm.  A pair of opportunistic gypsies pounced on us, chanted a few meaningless predictions and tried to pry some coins out of our pockets.  Denying them such luck, they left, spitting sour curses as they shuffled off to try and nab their next victim.

We embraced the rain and sourced Pato’s flat.  It was a wonderful welcome we received.  Not only Pato but his two older siblings all spent a year in a family home in USA.  Subsequently numerous foreigners and their friends have been hosted by their family.  They loved visitors, we were told and shown.

Viňa del Mar

We spent three nights there. Pato took us for a walk along the chic Viňa del Mar promenade.  Iggi, his more ‘alternative’ sister, took us to explore the enchanting maze of Valparaiso.  In between, we shared meals, music, stories and laughter, and finally contact details before we packed our bags and began our journey inland towards Santiago.

Valparaiso, Chile, is a maze of colour, artistic expression and a wonderful place to explore on foot

Looking down over Valparaiso

More Foraging News

What we discovered upon visiting our first Chilean supermarket is that food is expensive.  What we didn’t know at the time was that we were working with an incorrect exchange rate and that we had found the classier of supermarkets.  Nonetheless we shifted into ‘simple food’ mode and mulled things over while eating the loquats we had shamelessly gathered as we cycled into Los Andes in Chile.

The next few days proved extremely successful on the foraging front. Here is a list of our earnings:

1x big bag of prickly pears (gathered from various different unclaimed roadside sources, such as the alongside railway tracks)

prinkly pears...mmmm

1x bag of mulberries (collected shamelessly from street trees, much to the amusement of the locals)

mulberry and prickly pear porrige

2x bags of loquats (likewise, shamelessly collected from a tree outside the magistrate’s court of a small town we passed through)

4x large carrots (intended to feed to cows but given to us by the wonderful children of an avo farmer who let us camp in his field)

2x lemons (also given to us by the children, one in particular who consumed about 5 lemons in the few hours we spent with him)

5x stalks of fennel  (it was growing all over the place)

10x small, hard avocardos (picked from an unclaimed tree)

15x large onions (collected off the side of the freeway… a fallen sack from a truck… good fortune for us!)

free onions!

These wonderful finds kept our wallets a little plusher and our bags a little heavier, and provided a delightful sense of triumph.

But what?!

No camping in Los Andes?

The round-cheeked gentleman in the tourist office flapped his hand at us. “Mira, mira mira,” he consoled and scruffled around in the dusty piles of brochures on his desk. We waited. He had welcomed us with such enthusiasm that it was not difficult to believe that we were the first tourists to walk into his little office in months. Excitedly, he extracted the desired paper, made a phonecall and directed us to the home of his friend, who owned an Eventos y Restaurante.

It was going to cost us money.  Not a lot for a room, a shower, a kitchen. We equated it to an expensive campsite in South Africa, justified it with ‘we will make sure we free camp for the next week’ and moved in, ready to rest.  The reduced rate came at a cost: there was an event there that night, and there would be loud music, dancing. We went into the agreement knowing this.

After a snack (white bread dipped in salt and pepper, and foraged loquats), we showered and napped deeply for 2 hours. We needed to be ready for the night ahead.

Then we donned our smartest and least stained clothes (so as not to look too scruffy when we passed through the party on the way to the kitchen) and made our way down the olde style stairway into the party.

We were greeted heartily by our boisterous host, handed a cocktail glass of pisco and engaged in festive conversation as we nibbled on a personal plate of starter snacks. After being introduced to all sorts of passers by, we made our way into the kitchen.

Our attempt at making dinner there was, however, unsuccessful.  We managed to get our vegetables and chicken chopped and our rice in a pot, but then our host arrived and after a surveying our measly supper (to us, a feast), announced that we would be eating rice tomorrow. Tonight we would eat courtesy of them. With that, his 18year old son Pato– who had been filling our pisco glasses with a twinkle in his eye – led us through to the restaurant, sat us down and performed the role of high-end waiter.

And so ensued a three course meal, each coupled with a drink – pisco, coke, wine, coffee. With each newly delivered dish, we joked with Pato, who seemed to be enjoying the change of guest.  And as he cleared our desertplates, refusing our offers of helping, he turned to us suddenly and said “Do you want to help behind the bar?”

“Sure, sure, of course,” we were grateful for any opportunity to return a favour.

We spent the next hour or two washing glasses behind the bar, Pato pouring the occasional piscola (pisco and coke) for us, himself and for whoever ordered one.  It was getting towards that time, the meal was over, the employees of the large company there to celebrate its 50 years were well warmed on the dance floor and plenty of glasses down.  The bar was busy, and we were tired.

Duty done, we excused ourselves, graciously declining offers of ‘another piscola?’, and slept oblivious to the festivities that banged on into the wee (and then not so wee) hours of the morning.

On the way out of Los Andes

Enter: Chile

And then, just like that, we were in Chile. We entered through a tunnel. Halfway, we saw the signs: “Gracias por su visitante” – Argentina, then a few metres on “Bienvenidos a Chile” – Chile. Cycling in the tunnel was forbidden and we were officially transported the 4km in a little border control van and promptly deposited on the other side where there was nothing but ice and black mountains.

Entering Chile

A few kilometres down, we were stamped into Chile (with much confusion – we caused a bit of a stir amongst the border officials).  They confiscated our beans, bamboo sticks, they ‘ummed’ and ‘ahhed’ over our toasted seeds and then, with a smile and a “suerte”, waved us on our way.

The next stretch of road was one of our most enjoyable: the Caracol, a snaking series of hairpin bends which winds its way steeply down the mountain. In 15 minutes we dropped the altitude we had spent four days attaining.  It was a dizzying triumph to overtake five huge trucks in a row, and whizz around corner after corner. Like a ride in a funfare, immediately afterwards I wished I could start from the top again.

Cycling down from the border crossing into Chile, the famed Road of 31 Curves

Despite being predominantly downhill we had to work for our 75km to Los Andes.  The wind was persistent and exhausting.  We were looking forward to a good feed and a nap.


And now for the Foraging News

A recent discovery has added a new and exciting ingredient to our meals.  Lunching in an open gutter on the way up and over the mountains, shortly after Andrew had commented that “this was a surprisingly clean gutter”, I suddenly recognised the numerous green roadside foliage bushes as rocket. Yes, correct, rocket, here known as rucula, that very same herb that supermarkets sell in small bags at extortionist prices.

Spot the rocket...

Well, here was a happy moment! For the first time in months, rocket was on the menu.  There was an excited harvesting of five large bushes and the next 20 km were spent in imaginative meal planning.

the goods

For those of you who find yourselves with an excess of rocket, here are some ideas:

  • Spicy beef and rocket stirfry
  • Open sandwiches with rocket, hard-boiled egg and cheese
  • Split pea and rocket soup
  • Crackers, cheese, quince jam and rocket

And for the adventurous eaters, try this winner for breakfast:

  • Polenta with dulce de leche and rocket

Refuge indeed!

“Go to Las Cuervas, go to Refugio Viento Blanco, and ask for Pelado.”

This was the advice were given by some climbers we encountered briefly, sharing stories and information and sharing mate (ours, this time).   Las Cuervas is the last village before the tunnel crossing from Argentina to Chile in Mendoza Province.  It is a tiny collection of buildings, mostly abandoned, dilapidated, or home to the population of seven.  The setting is dazzling.  Striations of white ice on striking black peaks, jagged against the luminescent blue sky.

A sunrise departure from the little town of Puenta del Inca made for an early and spectacular ride and an early arrival in Las Cuervas.

Hustling for space on the road between Puente del Incas and Las Cuervas

The first building we saw was Refugio Viento Blanco, and its happy flapping flags heralded days of tranquil warmth and a base camp for adventure.

Pelado (or Nesto) warmly welcomed us with “coffee?” The mountain wind was already whipping over the ice and nipping us through our jackets and we were two individuals happy to walk into the refugio with its warm wooden table, hopeful fire-place and cutely-curtained windows looking out over the mountains and glaciers beyond.

Climbing near Las Cuervas

Coffee inside eased into mate on the sunny sheltered step outside the refugio.   One planned night in the refugio eased into two, and could quite happily have eased into three or five.

tomar mate?

Tranquil were the days at Refugio Viento Blanco: blissful days of climbing in the morning, hiking in the afternoon, quite evening in front of the fire, a glass of wine, perhaps, and some good music. What more could you ask for, really?

Karaoke casero? Coming right up.

Cooking on the fire...

Hiking up to find a glacier