BACK TO BUSINESS

Emerging from the foothills, I soon discover how much of the land is privately-owned and, therefore, fenced off in this part of Chile.  Much of it, however, is used for forestry and inevitably the odd gate is left open, leaving me with the chance of a wonderfully peaceful, if a little creepy, forest campsite…

The next day I’m pushing on over fairly rough forestry roads towards the town of Ralco, doing my best to avoid the local fauna as they cross the road…

It’s a beautiful clear day and the ripio soon gives way to pavement…

Finally in Ralco, I find a hospedaje to clean up and relax for the night, before setting off on the ‘Monkey Puzzle Trail‘, a fun route that has become something of a mini-classic.  The ‘Monkey Puzzle’ name refers to the Araucaria araucana trees that grow in these parts and are classified as ‘living fossils’ (they can live to over 1300 years old). [Note to self: insert parent joke here]

The first day’s riding, to get to the true start of the trail, catches me somewhat by surprise – a rolling road past many lakes with some savage short hills and I decide to camp before tackling what promises to be a testing section of uphill singletrack.

The next morning, I ride a few kilometres down the road and then head off on a small track…

It’s a tough but thoroughly enjoyable morning, in complete solitude and with lovely scenery.

After several kilometres of rarely-used doubletrack, I’m back on the ripio and heading up some more steep, sharp climbs.  Even out here, in relatively remote parts, many areas are fenced off and so I push on, by now with rain starting to fall, and eventually find a small forest to pitch up in.

With the rain intermittent the next morning, I pack away my damp tent and head off…

After reaching a mirador (viewpoint) near the pass and stopping for some photos, I head off to cover the last few hundred metres and start the descent.  My timing, however, couldn’t be worse.  A squall is passing through just as I cross over the exposed ‘shoulder’ of the mountain.  I find myself being battered by rain/sleet/hail, propelled by a ferocious wind.  I try to ride on but it’s stinging my face so badly that I have little option other than to stop.  With nowhere to shelter, I resort to laying my bike down beside the road and huddling into a ball with my back to the onslaught!  Somewhat amused by the situation I got myself into, I wait it out for a few minutes and then push the bike a hundred metres or so to the end of the pass.  As the sun pokes through between the clouds, it warms up the black slopes of the volcano and steam rises all around me, making for an extraordinary sight…

After a chilly descent, with half an hour or so spent sheltering from the rain next to a ranger’s cabin, I start climbing again on ripio, the sun thankfully occasionally warming things up a little…

With the climb over, I head down into the town of Lonquimay and find a hospedaje, where I can get out my soaking tent to dry in the late evening sun!

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