The last time I checked into this blog, I was hanging out in Talca - a small, slightly boring city in the center of Chile from which I could visit wineries or take weekend (bus) trips to Valparaiso. I admit, the cycling in South America was getting a little… frustrating. Wind, rain, sun, mountains, long stretches of boring nothingness made me long for a bike of the motored variety, and of course the absolute lack of sugarcane juice, sticky rice, and Thai curries didn’t help matters.Now, of course, Talca may be a familiar name in the Western press, as the enormous earthquake that hit Chile was centered about 100km to the west. When I was there, it was mostly just a relaxed place to destress and gather energy for my next ride: to cross the Andes. My path followed the Maule river, and was reputedly a beautiful way to cross the Andes. Unfortunately… did I mention it involved CROSSING THE ANDES? Ouch, and having not done much cycling since before Christmas my legs were much less prepared than I realized.Of course, luck was with me and it turned out there was an enormous fiesta at the highest point of the crossing, with plenty of traffic, including many Chileans with empty pick-up trucks more than willing to carry me and my bike to the top of the pass, thus excluding the majority of the climbing. The views out the window were spectacular, and the Laguna de Maule (pictured at top) is probably one of the most stunning natural beauties I have seen on this trip. I tried to explain my impression of the lake to the man who had given me a ride: “una laguna sin tiempo” or a lake without time. I think my description, influenced by a few too many dinosaur movies as a kid, confused him. The utter lack of any habition at the lake, the crystal blue-green waters, and the empty mountains surrounding it felt primordial, as though this was the place life had begun.
Fortunately, I was zooming by it in a truck rather than on my bike, or I’d have been contemplating the lake for days rather than hours.
At the top, the fiesta was already in full-swing when I arrived. Thousands of tents and vehicles stood below Paso Pahuenche, with both Argentineans and Chileans barbecuing meat, drinking beer, and listening to traditional music. I pitched my tent by a family from Talca and they watched out for me and my stuff, fed me, and accompanied me to the concert that night that started a bit earlier than 2AM (like my previous fiesta in Argentina!)
Of course, it didn’t end until after 4AM, by which time I was already huddled in my sleeping back, trying unsuccessfully to avoid the bitterly cold wind and hoping to catch some sleep before my long ride the following day into Argentina (and, eventually, Mendoza to meet up with my friend, Kate, who will be cycling with me the next few months.) I failed on the sleep count (thousands of other party-goers ensured lots of noise well into the morning) but I did manage to wake up early… as the wind worsened and around 7AM it started to snow, which meant every single one of those ten thousand people starting rushing to get up, pack up the tents, and escape the pass before the snow started collecting.By the way, this was in mid-February… the height of summer here in the Southern hemisphere. With the snowy winds whistling at my back (or my side, or my face, depending on the whim of the wind gods) I left early and dropped altitude as quickly as possible. The day started poorly with the snow, and continued to degenerate when my camera broke. Ah well, I had made it into Argentina, had cycled at least partway through the Andes, had spent 5 days camping out of range of internet, and was now at last nearing in on civilization again. Best of all… this was Argentina so civilization meant ice cream!
***I got back in touch with my family, met up with Kate in Mendoza, and did more winery tours than I deserved. Fortunately, I also managed to get my camera repaired without too much effort. We decided to head out to a small town near the Andes (this time from the Argentinean side) and ride back down them before heading to the deserts further north. It was there, in Barreal, this past Saturday that I was woken by the earth shaking. After two separate quakes (the second far stronger than the first) Kate and I decided to head out and figure out what was going on… along with everyone else in our hostel. The Argentineans mostly decided to spend the night out on hammocks, underneath trees, or in lounge chairs right next to enormous glass windows. I could be wrong, but isn’t that not the smartest place to be in an earthquake??
Anyway, eventually someone turned the news on and we were able to figure out the earthquake had hit Chile in the Maule region (the area I had traveled through) and the devastation there looks quite bad (although, thankfully, Chile is a largely industrialized country with good building codes.) The area I was in (northwest of Mendoza) was shook up a little, but Kate and I are both fine and there were no reports of collapsed buildings or anything that would put us in any danger.