Date: 26 January 2011
We arrived in Chile about five days earlier than we had planned, because our idea to hire bikes and cycle around the seven lakes area of Patagonia came unstuck. ‘Why’, asked the numerous cycle shops that we enquired in, ‘would we loan you our hire bikes for more than a day? Why would we rent you a tent?’. Well, because it’s a good idea, they’ve got the equipment and they could make money from it of course. But the short-sighted bike shops of Bariloche and Villa La Angostura in Argentina just couldn’t make sense of our apparently bizarre request, and we were two very frustrated cycle tourers stuck without two wheels in an area crying out to be explored by bike.
Fast forward four days though and we found ourselves on the absolutely beautiful island of Chiloé, which is about two-thirds of the way down skinny old Chile.
Chiloé is beautiful. My guidebook informs me it’s 250km long, 50km wide and has thick forests covering most of its western side. About 116,000 people live on the island, and most of them on the eastern side, where it’s a bit drier – although not much, if the verdant green hillsides are anything to go by. This is a landscape that reminded me, in turns, of the Caribbean, parts of New Zealand, and England. All countries with undulating countryside that are well acquainted with rain. In other words, perfect bike riding country.
Luckily for us, the gorgeous stilt-house style hostel we stayed at had a friendly bike rental place practically next door – Chiloétnico – http://www.chiloetnico.cl – run by the super helpful and enthusiastic Pablo. An experienced bike tour guide and mechanic, Pablo loaded us and the bikes into his truck and drove us to the nearby town of Chonchi. He advises people to start the ride from there so you miss out on the busier road (very quiet by London standards, but everything’s relative…) and can head quickly into the really, really pretty bit – as opposed to just the pretty bit.
Our destination was Chiloé’s national park, which you otherwise get to by bus (yawn…). The park itself was lovely, with miles of forests and wild, windswept beaches squaring up against the Pacific Ocean. But as is usually the case when you’re cycling or walking, the journey was the thing. And it was wonderful – hilly, but the kind where you can get your power up going down the last one, so it’s not too hard getting up the next. Plant leaves bigger than umbrellas, views that make you whoop and a varied menu of weather that offered us rain, mist, wind and sunshine, all in the space of a three hour ride.
If you’re in any way thinking of heading to South America, go to Chiloé. It’s kind of been discovered – it’s in the guidebooks, people know it’s there, and talk about going, but then most don’t make it. This will change, so go soon – and when you go, get in touch with Pablo. He’s nearly finished planning a two day, self-guided Chiloé ride, and I’m sure it won’t be long before he comes up with more. It’s the perfect place to go cycle touring for a week or so – oh, and if you like seafood, it’s absolutely out of this world!