The Andes and Aftershocks

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.

Pehenche Pass
Pehenche Pass
  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.

Descending to Argentina
Descending to Argentina
  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!


Mendoza Vinyard
Mendoza Vinyard
 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.

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posting from Mexico
March 3rd, 2010 2:53 pm

hey malena, good to hear from you and very good to know that you are safe.

i was looking at your country list–31 countries visited since you started your travels. that’s approximately 16% of the world’s independent nations (195 according to

happy peddling.

posting from United States
March 3rd, 2010 3:04 pm

I’m glad your safe! How are you liking Mendoza? My brother lived in Mendoza for a few years and really enjoyed his time there. I think it’s great that you’ve been able to bike around the world… Not sure I could do it but it does sound like an amazing adventure.

posting from Argentina
March 3rd, 2010 6:44 pm

Hi Malena! Daniel and I were thinking about you, particularly when we got wind of the earthquake in Chile. I figured you had already crossed back into Argentina by that point. I’m glad to hear that you’re safe and sound.

I’m heading down to Bariloche with my stepdad and sister at the end of this month and then over to Puerto Montt in Chile. I’ll be imagining you on your bike when we cross the Andes (with much less effort than you!).

posting from United States
March 4th, 2010 6:33 am

We’re relieved to know you and Kate have been safe through this very horrible tragedy. I’m glad your timing has been so keen. We love hearing more about your travels.

posting from United States
March 4th, 2010 6:33 am

We’re relieved to know you and Kate have been safe through this very horrible tragedy. I’m glad your timing has been so keen. We love hearing more about your travels.

roxana paola olivera ubal
posting from Chile
May 10th, 2010 3:48 pm

soy paola de talca una de las persona de la cual tu te refieres en tu comentario y con la que compartiste en nuestra carpa soy la esposa de cristian.espero que estes bien junto a tu familia gracias a dios a nosotros no los paso nada para el gusto como te referiste hacia nosotro x que te acojimos ese dia y despues en el baile lo pasamos super bien contigo por lo que me di cuenta llegastes bien a argentina nosotros nos demoramos hartas horas en llegar a nuestra ciudad por el problema que habia mucho taco de vehiculo y la lluvia y nieve pero gracias a dios llegamos bien chao saludo y cuidate espero que tu novio no alla estado enojado cuando llegastes.

posting from Chile
May 10th, 2010 7:56 pm

hola maria elena nos gustaria verte de nuevo somos matias y su mama paola de talca chile, es muy bonita tu pagina te escribimos en español espero que lo puedas traducir sufrimosel terremoto fue muy dificil estuvimos sin agua y sin luz por casi 2 semanas el correo de mi mama es y yo tengo un blog sobre un juego que me gusta mucho llamado club penguin el url de mi blog es repondenos el comentario adios

posting from China
May 19th, 2010 5:29 am

Glad to know that you are returned safely from Chile, there is a Chinese proverb says “The one who escapes a disaster may have big luck soon” wish you too:)

posting from Great Britain (UK)
May 22nd, 2010 12:22 am

What an amazing trip! Hope the cycling is still going well for you. Your photos are fantastic, really like the sound of wine touring in Mendoza, probably more my speed than peddling over the Andes too!

posting from India
September 15th, 2010 9:56 am

good to know you are safe.

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