Cycling Chile I Atacama & Central

2,626 km of cycling - as part of a bicycle world trip - from the Bolivian border across Atacama Desert via Panamericana to the capital Santiago de Chile, quick side trip to the Pacific coast to Valparaiso and then further south to volcano Pucón at Villarica and to the Argentinean border.



10 October - 9 November 2006 / 31 days

2,626 km

20,906 metres in altitude

Highest cycled point: 4,509 m


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Bicycle Travelling Report

After a couple of kilometres of sandy dirt track on which I had climbed the last pass of 4,509 m above sea level, I finally got a paved road under my tires again, for the first time in a long while! Having spent so much time at around 4,000 m above sea level, it was now getting substantially warmer when I cycled down to more than 2,000 m lower San Pedro de Atacama.


Three days later in the first big city on the way I found myself in the first seriously huge supermarket since I had left Australia! It was one of those in that you can run around for hours with pushing a big trolley through countless shelfs with a mind-boggling variety of products. And so I did, trying to control myself by staying underneath the imaginary 20-cm-cap inside of my trolley. But I had no chance. I went back to my hostal, heavily overloaded, starting to figure out how to get all that stuff in my bags. First part of the solution: I started to eat...


The following days I cycled more than 1,200 km on the Panamerican Highway across the world's driest desert, the Atacama. With just a few towns and no water I often had to carry food and water for several days. I camped right next to the Panamericana, mostly on open land, as there was virtually nothing to camp behind for hundreds of kilometres. Strong winds blowing almost every day slowed me down to an often ridiculously low pace.


Having passed La Serena, the Panamerican Highway turned into a motorway and a little more than two weeks after I had speed down from Bolivia's Altiplano into the Chilean desert I reached the capital Santiago de Chile.

I was looking forward to meet Ivan again! Six days I stayed at his place. We had met before on Easter Island. It was great to get the chance, to stay again in a real appartement with an own clean bed, a bathroom, a kitchen with a fridge and a balcony. All this appeared to be in the 10th floor right in downtown Santiago and between the other buildings the white Andean peaks peeked out.

But it got even better: Ivan invited me to upmarket Spa Bathus and so I ended up in stretching my legs in the swimming pool, the whirlpool, the steam bath and the sauna. What a luxury! And as Ivan was a dentist, he gave my teeth a complete check-up, but very fortunately he could'nt find anything wrong!

Unfortunately I could'nt tell something similar about my eyes as I still got the conjunctivitis supposed in that 6-Dollar-treatment in Peru. And so I went to Santiago's probably best hospital for those kind of medical conditions and there they found out, not conjunctivitis, but sunburned white parts of my eyes were my problem. It did'nt hurt or disturb in any way, but it was a permanent damage.

Next day I went with Javier, who I had met before on Easter Island as well, to his family's estancia. A beautiful and huge, horseshoe-shaped building, even with an own church nearby! I could very well imagine to live there... The rest of the day we spent with asado (barbecue) and piscola (pisco mixed with a glug of cola...) with Javier's brother's family at their place. It was a very nice and long evening...

I went with Ivan to coastal Viña del Mar and to Valparaiso with its beautiful colored houses and narrow lanes in which I could have spent hours with just strolling around. And so we did, before heading back to Santiago's Barrio Bellavista for dinner.


Ivan had to fly to Chile's south for a couple of teeth implants and so I decided to leave before I would have got used to this wonderful non-travelling-life...

Having left downtown's traffic behind me and cycling south on the motorway, I felt lonely, for the very first time on this trip. It was hard to say goodbye this time, as well as at it had been some other times before. This was the downside of long-term travelling: You always have to say goodbye, even to those who became good friends.


Apparently it was time for some decent action and so I went to Pucón and its nearby Volcano Villarica, which I had planned to climb. All the other people climbing it, usually walk it down afterwards. But not so us! The first day we had to turn back at the volcano's bottom because of too strong and stormy winds, although there was a clear blue sky. But the following day we were lucky! Together with Steven from France, Stephen and Sunny from England and three guides we started walking through the snow, packed with ski and snowboards. Six and a half hours later we eventually reached the top and found ourselves staying in deep snow in front of a huge smoking, rumbling and lava spewing crater, an uncredible sight! We walked a couple of steps into the crater, but one or two more and we would have fallen into the red bubbling lava.

We prepared ourselves for the trip's best part: The descent by ski and snowboard on an active lava spewing volcano! Possible nowhere else in the world! Fairly steep in the beginning and quite easy later on we went through partly harsh and deep snow. I left a few drops of blood on the volcano when remarkably crashing in the snow, but about one hour later we reached the bottom. What the hell of a ride! We finished this unforgettable day with a couple of beers, before I hit the road again and started heading east to Argentina the next day.


Driving and pushing the bike on a bad steep and rough dirt track brought me over the pass close to the Argentinean border, where I pitched my tent right in front of snowcapped Volcano Lanin. Tomorrow I would be in Argentina!

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