Los Lagos

This time last year, I was cycling around the lake district, Los Lagos, in Chilean Patagonia. I was there with Computer Aid International, who refurbish old office computers and send them to schools, hospitals, and development projects around the world, including the small city of Osorno in Los Lagos. Below are a selection of out-of-context and out-of-order extracts and photographs from my record of the week. All profits from sales of Chile prints go to Computer Aid.

There is a crazy old lady in the aisle seat beside my window seat. She speaks no English; I speak no Spanish. In attempting to establish that, yes, I do wish to access my seat, and, oh, right, you’re just going to sit there and invite me to push past then, we each continue to happily speak our own languages at each-other. Once settled in, we compromise on German, since, between us, we don’t quite have enough to hold a conversation. She spreads her elbows and proceeds to snore through the take-off, waking once we’re airborne in-order to poke excitedly at the airline magazine. By some coincidence, this month’s magazine includes a feature on our ultimate destination, the Chilean lake district, which explains in English roughly what she had been attempting to tell me in German — that the region has a fascinating and noble history of German immigration and the harbouring of Nazi war criminals. We’re given a dish of pink meat product and damp potato slices, which I poke at. The crazy lady points at each item on my tray in turn, looks at me hopefully, before taking them, starting with the desert. She disappears, not to return until breakfast, and I fall asleep.

After lunch we are given the choice to continue up the one in ten climb to the Raihuen crater. Half of us continue, two turns up, one slide back, on the soft black volcanic sand of the zig-zag hill, under and back-under the creaking ski-lift. Christine, who has been telling us that the secret to good speed and stamina is “cadance” and the “correct use of the gears”, walks to the summit. This is, of course, not actually the summit of the volcano, but it is the summit of the road, which ends in a pile of black grit, a snow plow, some sparse brown alpine vegetation and a mud splattered portaloo. Rodrigo (our guide) decides that the location is so delightful that there really isn’t any need to continue along the frozen path to the crater, and that there will be no better spot for a photo opportunity. There is indeed a spectacular view south along the cordillera, taking in the volcanoes Puntiagudo and Osorno, and west down the valley and over Lago Rupanco. But a glance at Google Earth tells us that the real reason we’re not continuing is that Rodrigo has taken a wrong turning, and is quite lost. The road to the crater was three miles back.

From the river, the dirt road climbs a short hill and turns a corner before running in a perfectly straight line through conifer plantation for five miles or more. With heads down into the strengthening wind, we all begin to string out again. I accidentally find myself some way out to the front, with miles of empty road ahead, and the only source of any sound behind, downwind. So one of the now filled fish trucks stealthily creeps up on me at a speed that I estimate to be “too fast for this track”. The driver doesn’t seem to know how to deal with cyclists on the road, and, I learn later, has been swerving in and out to overtake everybody one-by-one — despite there being no oncoming traffic to keep out of the way of. As he swerves left to pass, the truck tips a little, and all of the water flows to the left, spilling out on the far side. As it is passing, the wave bounces back to the right, spilling out on the near side. Somehow, all the fish get lucky: avoiding finding themselves under our wheels.

More photos can be found in the Chile gallery.

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