My Cycling Tour in Chile, Day 7

March 15 Wednesday, Curacautín to Melipeuco

Day 7 map

Day 7 elevation profile
45 miles, 3173 feet of climb, 4380 ft max

Today was the ride through Conguillío National Park. So far on this trip I have been spoiled by riding on almost all paved roads. Today I was on a very rough dirt road the whole day. The gravel was loose in most places, forcing me to walk the numerous steep hills because the rear wheel kept slipping out. On the flat parts, frequent heavy washboarding made it impossible to go fast. My average speed for the day was 6.5 mph.

The road to Conguillio park I got a late start this morning, partly due to going to bed late after the long ride the day before. Besides, looking at the map, I figured the ride today can't be much over 40 miles. Even if there's lots of climbing it shouldn't take me long. In fact I didn't make it to Melipeuco until about an hour before sundown.

Park entrance sign The road is unpaved right from the edge of town. After an hour or two of riding I came to an intersection with a well-graded gravel road heading off to the right. A large sign with a map showed the "Ruta de los Lagos" going in that direction. It now connects through to Refugio Llaima and Cherquenco, even though my paper map shows no connection. I decided to keep to the park road since I knew there is lodging available at the other end in Melipeuco.

Volcán Llaima Not only was the road difficult to ride, but for the first few hours there wasn't much reward in the way of scenery. Then I suddenly came around a curve and there was majestic Llaima Volcano with its head in the clouds directly in front of me. The road got less steep and less gravelly at this point as I proceeded onto the lava field heading toward the ranger station near the top of the pass.

Beach with mountain in background When I got to the ranger station there was nobody around. So I sat down at a picnic table and made myself a lunch of bread and jam. As I was eating, the ranger rode up on his motorcycle, probably returning from lunch. We exchanged "hola" and he disappeared into the ranger cabin. In a few minutes he came back out and we had a fairly long conversation. I was able to understand him quite well. I've found that I can understand some folks pretty well and others hardly at all.

Lake Acoiris I showed him my GPS. I was never able to find a detail GPS map for Chile so I have been using the Magellan worldwide base map. It only shows the main highways but it does have topographic data. By zooming out you could see the volcano very clearly. He wanted to know the elevation of the ranger station so I paged to the menu where it shows current elevation in meters. I asked him if it's all downhill from here and he said yes, except for the next couple kilometers.

Volcano with lava field in foreground The next couple kilometers turned out to be the steepest part. I would have had to walk part of it even if it were paved. Compared to the known 18% grade on the road I am accustomed to commuting on at home, I estimate this was around 22-25%.

Road through lava field After that it really was nearly all downhill or flat. However, the riding was not much easier because of the road surface. In places there was heavy washboarding combined with thick loose gravel which made forward progress extremely difficult. Apparently it is difficult even for the cars because there were tracks that cars had worn in the lava field parallel to the official road despite the signs prohibiting that. Several miles before Melipeuco, the road finally improved to "normal dirt road" status and I was able to speed up to 8 or 9 mph.

Mountains Just as I was entering town, I noticed a long line of horsemen riding in a big field to my left. Some were carrying flags on long poles and a bugle was sounding out the march. It looked like some kind of historical reenactment. Cool! I quickly stopped and snapped several photos then put the camera away as I continued to watch. At that point two riders came galloping over to the fence where I was standing. One of them gave me a severe look and in a stern voice said, "No photos!" I mumbled that I was sorry and he repeated, "No photos!" I said "OK" (which is Spanish for "OK") and we went through a couple more rounds of "No photos!" and "OK!"

Stream I was a little surprised, for two reasons. One is that I didn't think they would even notice me way over on the other side of a large field. The other is that this was obviously a public demonstration with crowds watching so I couldn't figure out why they even cared if I took photos. Later the lady at the hospedaje told me that it was a Mapuche Indian ceremony. That makes more sense. I've read that the indigenous people do not like to be photographed. The Mapuche have a long and proud history. The Spanish were never able to assert control over the area south of the Bio Bio River and it was not until near the end of the 19th century that the Chilean army finally conquered them. Even today they have a considerable degree of autonomy. They seem to have been treated more humanely than other indigenous peoples in the New World. That's probably because they were able to avoid conquest long enough until white people became more civilized.

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