Adopted Again

On one of the ferry rides I’d met this guy named Walter. He told me he lived in Petrohue and I should come visit once I finished the Carretera. At the time, this wasn’t on my itinerary, and by the time I realized I’d have time after all, I’d lost the card he gave me.

Literally within ten seconds of arriving, however, I heard someone call my name. I turned, and there was Walter.

His grandfather acquired a chunk of land some seventy years ago, and now around fifteen different families have built their houses there, all of them related. Some, like Walter, live there year-round and work in tourism, while others have jobs in Puerto Montt or Santiago, but come back in summer so the children can run around like crazy people and play. It seems like a pretty sweet life. Plus, there are always tourists passing through and camping there, which is how several of Walter’s sisters and cousins and other relatives met their spouses.
I stayed for three days; Walter’s family basically adopted me. They even had me out selling “kuchen” (cake, a German word that has stuck in Southern Chile). It went within five minutes. I tried to imagine doing that at home — baking something, putting it on a plate, going outside and shouting, “Cake! Cake for sale!” I just don’t think that would work in the city.


Petrohue is gorgeous. Some day I want to climb the volcano there. Walter says he has a friend who’s a guide and who would give me a discount — you need a guide for the ice-climbing at the top.

There is no question that I want to go back to Chile; the only question is when. Perhaps Amy and Brian, the friends who initially proposed the trip, will come with me next time. We shall see. And I’d like to do other bike trips, though I don’t know where yet.

In the meantime, I am preparing — I came home and got a part-time job as a bike mechanic.

Adjusting to Urban Life

Lago Llanquihue

Puerto Varas is undeniably beautiful, but being there was a bit of a culture shock. Everything screams, “Hey, tourists! Come in here and give us your money!” There are hotels everywhere, restaurants with menus in English, and a massive casino. The campsite I stayed at cost more than twice as much as any other place I camped, but was about a tenth as friendly. The owners (managers more likely; the owner could live in Miami for all I know) never told me their names, and the only guest who talked to me was a four year old girl (“What are you doing? What’s your name? Who did you marry?”) and then later on, her parents.

I can’t really fault the place; after all, I normally don’t expect to meet people when I stay at hotels, and I certainly don’t resent being asked for my passport and entry papers or having to fill out forms. I had simply gotten used to a different kind of traveling, and a very different kind of environment.

Towns like Puyuhuapi, according to the tiny museum they have there, were formed when the Chilean government offered free land to anyone who was willing to settle in the middle of nowhere. In Puyuhuapi’s case, some young German guys took advantage of this offer and immigrated in the 1930s. The place was completely isolated and only reachable by water; there’s a picture of the first Jeep coming over with its front tires in one small boat and its back tires in another. When the Carretera was constructed, local residents pushed to have it routed through Puyuhuapi, finally giving them road access to the rest of Chile. And the road is still largely dirt and rock, often without services of any kind for miles and miles.

What this means is, people help each other. I told Marilyn I was astounded by her generosity, that I could never be as nice as her family, but when a bus broke down in front of me and the driver asked me for rope, I didn’t hesitate. Not because I’m nice, but because we are in the middle of nowhere and other people have saved my ass repeatedly and I instinctively feel that it is in my own self-interest to promote a culture where people help each other. If the same thing had happened in Puerto Varas, I would have probably looked at that same $4 strap I gave him and thought, buy your own damn rope. Find a mechanic; call a tow-truck; this is not my problem.

That might be my favorite thing about the Carretera — the sense that everyone is in this together. And, though I was always grateful to arrive at sections that were paved, I do wonder if the road improvements currently underway will change that culture. Hopefully not.

A wacky museum in Puerto Varas stuffed with art and random old things.

Across the street from the museum.

Ferry Day


It was a 24-hour ferry ride from Puerto Chacabuco back to Puerto Montt. Most of the time it was a smooth ride, but breakfast was challenging; the room kept leaning first to one side and then to the other, and it was hard to walk in a straight line.

Meals were prepared for us in a big cafeteria and served in shifts; first they called everyone in odd-numbered cabins and then even. I didn’t understand what they were talking about until they did the English translation, because I didn’t know the words for even and odd, but they are par and impar, meaning pair or non-pair. I love language.

Anyway. Here is where I slept:


The employees live on the ship for three months at a time, and then they get one month off. The two that I spent a lot of time talking to are both moving on to other jobs soon — one got a job at Disneyworld (or “at Mickey Mouse,” as he put it) and the other, who speaks five languages, including Russian, is moving to Germany to work as a translator.

Sometimes I think working in tourism would be a great way to travel, but then I remember that you have to smile at snobby, unreasonable assholes and be nice to them even when they are so rude you want to punch them in the face.

A huge chess board on the top deck.

Coyhaique Photos


I posted that last entry from my phone so I couldn’t include photos, but now I finally have strong enough wifi…




And here is Matias with his guitar strapped to the back of his bike:

Casa de Ciclistas, Coyhaique

I’d heard rumors of a Casa de Ciclistas in Villa Mañihuales — a free place for cyclists to crash — but no one had ever been there, and, as the cycling trio pointed out, even if it did exist, there probably wouldn’t be any space left. I asked about it at the tourist office when I got to Mañihuales, and I was told, no, it’s gone now.

So I was skeptical when, halfway in between Mañihuales and Coyhaique, I met some cyclists who had stayed at such a house, not in Mañihuales, but in Coyhaique. But no, they told me, we just came from there, here, let me give you the number.

Sure enough, I found the house (thank you, Google maps; Coyhaique, like Puerto Montt, does not have an abundance of street signs), and, though the owner is out biking for a couple of months, a friend is looking after the house while he’s gone. It’s a tiny place but there’s a bathroom, a kitchen, and space in the yard for camping. There’s a jar in the corner where you can throw in a bill or two to cover gas and electricity or whatever, but no one’s ever even pointed it out to me; it’s strictly voluntary. And, according to Matias, who was at the table when I came in, there’s a whole network of Casas de Ciclista throughout South America. (He would know; he started in Mexico. He basically travels for years at a time and only goes back to Germany to save up money for his next trip. He also travels with a full-size guitar, which I find impressive.)

When I walked in, Matias was in the house along with another guy, and, since the owner’s friend was still at work, they gave me the layout. I asked if the bathroom was free, and a voice came from inside of it: “Ask if her name is Katherine!”

“How did you know that?” I shouted.

“Because I’m Samuel!” he said — Samuel who I biked with along the coast my second day back on the Carretera. He had recognized my voice.

“Oh my God,” I said, “this is the best day ever.”

Samuel had been traveling with the other two guys for several days, and I was kind of envious — they had all sorts of inside jokes and stories, and seemed to get along really well. Mostly, of course, the jokes were about misadventures — Samuel had once commented that at least no one had broken a spoke or a bike rack, and the next day, both happened. After a similar comment about the great weather, they saw a week of rain.

Most recently, Samuel and one of the others drank from a river without using a filter, and both wound up in the hospital. They were still recovering when I saw them. They left the next morning, and I was the only cyclist left in the house, but at night, two more groups showed up — and one of them was people I had met before (including the guy who made his bike panniers out of recycling bins).

Coyhaique is an actual city, not just a pueblo with four or five streets. I had to run some errands (find a cash machine, look for postcards) so I biked a mile or two to the plaza — but without any of my bags or panniers, which was incredible; my bike felt so light it was almost awkward.

Tomorrow I bike to the coast and then on Friday I catch my ferry, this time a much bigger boat, with beds and everything. It’s a 24-hour trip and I’ve been told that around 3 or 4 in the morning, I should expect some serious rocking.

After that I think I’m going to keep biking; there’s a lake north of Puerto Montt that would take a few days to bike around, and then I can catch a bus north to Santiago and, if I have time, bop over to Valparaiso for a day or two before my flight home.

So that’s the plan. Though today, I must confess, my legs are still sore, even after a rest day; I think I need a rest week.

Four Thousand Words

One of those giant flies I told you about. They seem to be dead now, but there are still regular flies buzzing around. I know at least one person who’s fallen off his bike while trying to swat them away — and I’ve come close.

Some Chilean dude’s homemade panniers, made from recycling bins.

Tan lines. I’m not wearing a white shirt; that’s my skin.

And another beautiful place!

Assorted Moments

Today, Villa Amengual
An old man slowly looks me up and down and tells me I’m in really good shape for an American. Um…

Tuesday, Villa Santa Lucia to La Junta
Going downhill over the ripio, I don’t see the series of holes in front of me until it’s too late. I bump over them at top speed and one of my panniers flies off my bike. The four French cyclists resting in the shade yell at me to stop. The one who speaks English tells me that when I took air, it was spectacular.

January 13, Puerto Montt to La Arena
I see the same bus that took me back to Puerto Montt two days earlier. The driver recognizes me and honks and waves. I wave back.

Wednesday, La Junta
Someone tells me that when I go back to Minnesota and start my next play, he hopes I remember them and this night that we sat outside and drank wine together.

I don’t know, I say. I think we’d have to fight. There needs to be conflict, some kind of problem or obstacle. Just hanging out and drinking wine and being happy — it’s good life, but not good theater.

He smiles in approval and pours more wine.

So Much for Planning

Leaving Puyuhuapi

Friday was a strange day; almost nothing went the way I expected. The group left Puyuhuapi around seven, but we quickly separated. This is normal; groups don’t usually travel in a pack so much as they cover the same ground at around the same time, but they go half an hour or an hour at their own speeds and then whoever’s ahead stops to wait for the others.

I was ahead. I stopped when I got to a place where the road was down to one lane because of construction, so they had to let traffic through in shifts, one direction at a time. I waited for several shifts and then started to worry. Where were they? Was one of them having problems with their bicycle? Had they somehow passed me without me realizing it? They hadn’t been that far behind me. I started to ask the waiting drivers if they had passed three cyclists, and if so, how long ago, but none of them had seen anyone. Was I going insane?

I waited an hour and a half and then finally gave up. They must have gone back; something must have happened. The next time our lane opened, I went through to the evil road.

The first part of the road was truly evil. It was narrow and full of construction workers and machines; a motorcycle got stuck and held up traffic for several minutes until some guys went over to help him. I walked part of the route, not because it was steep but because it was rocky.

As I went on, the traffic thinned out completely. On either side of the pass, they close the road from 1 to 5pm, so after about 1:30, all the cars had gone through and I was the only person on the road.

It was awesome. The road was a struggle — hours of uphill twists and turns, some over ridable dirt but some over impossible rocks — but the views were stunning.



I did start to run out of water, so that was a problem. It was afternoon and hot and I needed to find something. The water in Chile is all safe to drink, and there were several waterfalls, but the problem was access — they were all too far from the road. Finally I came to a spot where I could reach the falling water to fill my bottles, but only by taking my shoes off and stepping into the small pool of water below.


I got to the second cut off point around 3:30pm, so I had an hour and a half to wait. The cyclist trio showed up at 4:30.

I was super happy to see them. They told me they had stopped to go on a short hike, and that’s why nobody had seen them on the road. I thought that was a little strange, as they had never mentioned this plan, but whatever.

Half an hour later, we were headed downhill, which was in some ways just as awful as the climb, or at least differently awful. You basically have to use the brakes the entire way down, and the road is rocky, so bad in places I wound up walking, and it goes on forever, and my hands were killing me by the end, but I didn’t care because there was PAVEMENT! Blessed pavement! I don’t care what Brian and Amy say; pavement is heaven — and the road is paved from here all the way to my ferry ride.

Not only that, but pavement meant we had reached the end of our planned route, and it was time to look for a campsite. We had done it! We had made it across the mountain pass! Now it was time to rest and make dinner and drink wine!

Or not. We talked briefly, agreeing, I thought, to stop at the first suitable campsite, and then we started peddling.

I was not in front this time, and I was hurting. And hungry. We kept passing spots that looked perfect — flat, a ways from the road, close to water — but no one ever stopped. I became increasingly frustrated and increasingly crabby. What the hell were they doing? What cruel trick was this? The next actual town was twenty or thirty miles away, and we had already been on the road for twelve hours!

I tried to talk to one of the guys when I caught up with him, but the girl in the group was so far ahead by that point that the conversation was useless; even if I convinced him, we would still have to catch up with her. Plus, he said, they wanted a shower.

A shower?! I thought. We’re in the middle of nowhere! I was angry at their insanity and their complete lack of communication, and exhausted past the point of emotional resilience. Eventually I had to pull over and cry a little, and then I let them go. I put on my favorite music and sang along as I pushed myself forward, this time looking for a campsite for one.

Of course there was nothing. The road had veered away from the path of the river, and the land was all fenced off, but I didn’t see any houses or other signs of actual humans I could talk to, and I wasn’t brave enough to try squatting on my own.

And then, after a couple of miles, I saw it: a house! Oh my god, with people! I could see them; they were walking outside! I biked over and asked if I could please just pitch my tent in some corner of their yard and sleep.

Of course, they said. Then they invited me inside and offered me food and use of their bathroom. It was amazing. I was filthy and exhausted and ready to pass out in my clothes after eating nothing more than a hot dog bun, so a shower and an actual meal pretty much felt like a miracle.

It turned out I was not the first person to turn up on their doorstep; they get so many visitors they are planning to set up their own campsite over the next year or two. There’s just nothing around here, they said — nowhere to even buy bread.

I have no idea what happened to the trio of cyclists; I can only assume they kept going to the next town. It doesn’t seem humanly possible, but then again, neither does skipping breakfast, which they did, or not having lunch until they got through the mountain pass at 4:30, which they also did. Maybe they’re robots.

One of them had warned me the night before that they were amateurs and not professionals like me. Surprised, I laughed and said if I was faster than anyone, it was only because of my 29-inch wheels. And he said no, I mean like planning everything.

I’m still not quite sure what that means, but it does seem that perhaps we were not the most compatible of traveling companions.

They didn’t even laugh at my jokes.

Pack Animals

Puerto Cardenas

I biked about 8 hours on Tuesday. It was hard, but it didn’t kill me. In fact, I felt less exhausted than I had on some of the shorter days earlier in the week.

The reason I biked so long, I realized later, was because there was a group of us. Not an official group, but just a bunch of cyclists all on the road at the same time, passing each other every couple of hours as one or another stopped to rest, to have lunch, to adjust something on their bike, to wait for a friend. We didn’t even know each other’s names for the most part, but we started to recognize each other. Oh, it’s one of those French guys, or, oh, it’s that guy in the bright orange shirt. And we were all suffering together, so that made it okay, and gave me the energy to keep going all the way to the next town.

Sometimes when I’m alone and struggling, I get this idea that it’s only hard for me, that I’m just weak and unprepared while people in better shape are cruising uphill with no problems. But when I see hard-core athletes gulping down water in the shade and saying, damn, that hill nearly killed me, I think, okay, I can do this; we’re all in the same boat.

I’m still not quite sure where all the cyclists came from; I was alone from my side-of-the-road campsite to Villa Santa Lucia, where the Carretera connects to the road from Futaleufu, so some of them may have been joining up there, but today I rode for four hours and saw only one pair of cyclists, who were heading the other direction.

Tomorrow though it looks like I’ll be part of an actual group — I’m setting my alarm for 5:30am to pack up and head out early with a trio from Santiago — a couple I ran into during my eight hour day, plus their friend who was behind that day trying to fix his bike rack. We connected again at a campsite in Puyuhuapi, where I am now.

Apparently tomorrow we will face the worst part of the Carretera in terms of both uphill-ness and road quality, so we want to get an early start, but then once we get to the next town, the road is paved all the way to Coyhaique. I’m getting close to the end, which is sad; part of me wishes I’d planned to do the whole Carretera instead of just the first half.

I bought my ferry ticket for January 30 — a 24-hour ride that will take me from Puerto Chacabuco back to Puerto Montt. Then I have another week before my flight; I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do.

Many more things to tell — and more photos — but they will have to wait for another day.

Camping Alone

Leaving Chaiten

“How far are you going today?” the cyclists always ask each other. The hitchhikers too. In Chaiten my answer was a shrug, followed by, “Hasta que me canse” — “until I get tired.”

In fact, I was hoping to camp with two of the guys I’d met at the hostel/campsite, but I got the impression they were in better shape than me, so I really wasn’t sure I could keep up.

In fact, I could have, but I stopped after just a couple of hours at a swanky (for the region) hotel, where I sat inside, drank a Coke, read a little, charged my devices, and otherwise hid from the hottest part of the day.

I set off again around five. Around 7:30 I texted Antonio and it seemed they were only an hour or so ahead of me, which was totally doable — but 45 minutes later I was doubtful. I had made little progress; everything had been uphill and my knees were killing me.

Then I saw the perfect campsite — a little flat bank off the side of the road, above the river, partially concealed by bushes.

I considered my options. My knees were unhappy, I’d started pushing my bike uphill instead of pedaling, and I had no idea how far I was from reaching the top. If I kept on, I might not find a campsite as convenient and lovely.

So I stopped. It was the thing I’d been most afraid of when I learned I’d be going alone — pitching my tent by myself in the middle of nowhere — but I really didn’t see a better option.

I did have cell reception, so I posted my location on Facebook, and somehow that made me feel better. Like at least if anything happened to me, the police would know where to start looking — not actually that comforting of a scenario if you think about it logically, but comfort is not a logical thing.

Not that I was terrified — it definitely felt much safer than when I’d been worrying about it at home; my biggest concern was that some official would kick me out and tell me it’s illegal to wild camp in national parks, and then what would I do? Pack up and start biking in the middle of the night? I didn’t actually know whether or not I was in a national park; my map was kind of vague.

I waited for the sun to set a bit so I would be less visible. I put my bike under a bush, completely hidden from the road, and locked the wheel to the frame, with the cord running through all of my bags. My tent was a foot away so if anyone messed with anything I would hear them.

The night was peaceful; nothing happened. I couldn’t cook because there was no safe way to get down to the water, but I had bread and ham and cheese, plus that bag of cookies. And I loved drifting off to the sound of the rushing water below.


The next morning I had a rough 20 minutes or so of climbing, and then it was all downhill to Villa Santa Lucia, where the guys were camped, less than an hour away.