Monday, June 2, 2008

The Pass of Mahul Muil

Monday 19th

I leave Junin in an optimistic mood. Pucon in Chile is only 120km away and hostel owners confidently inform me the road is easy asphalt the whole way over an easy pass through the Andes. It´s still pouring rain, but it´s warm and I am no longer a fair weather cyclist. I make some good ground.



This is a beautiful view of the Lanin Volcano. You see it? How is it possible to be 4kms away from a 3700m volcano and see only this....



And then I hit ripio some 10kms before the pass and the border crossing as I return to National Park Lanin complete with monkey puzzle tree forests. What happened to "easy asphalt". The wind increases as I start to climb and the rain spikes the eyes as the road turns back to glue.



A river is slowly carrying the road away downstream and I push the bike through 9 inches of water. Someone is going to have to fix that....



I climb to 1500m and the frontera.

Yeah the frontera - I´ve been getting kind of blase about border crossings; and as a cyclist, where carrying food is more important than the risk of prison, I forgot the rule about not carrying any fresh produce. Usually I get a cheery wave and pass through the border unmolested. So It´s a shock when I´m asked to bring all panniers inside where my heart sinks to see an airport style X-ray machine. Gonna get busted for sure! Again.

But the official is a climber and cyclist who wants to practice his English and would rather ask questions about various pieces of equipment than "discover" all the fruit and veg he can see in transparent shades of orange and blue on screen right in front of him...



I ride on with my smuggled contraband after being assured the asphalt returns in just 14kms. The road is under construction and descends on ridiculously steep switch backs, covered in loose stone and rather large construction wagons. It´s a hairy trip of burned brakes and slippery near misses. After 20kms I ask about the asphalt again and am told 12km. After another 12kms, I´m told it´s only 6kms away.... and you get the picture. It´s totally dark now and I´m determined to find that road before I stop for the day.

The pot holes are water filled, deep and invisible in the full dark now, and I hit one hard enough to snap a bungee cord as I rush to the road. My tent, sleeping bag and mat see an opportunity and make a bid for freedom from the back of the bike. I only realise after 500m of thinking "Hmmm - the bike seems awfully light" and regress to search.
Things are wet.

And hard to find.

Finally I reach the road proper after the 14kms turns in to 42. Strange. There´s a town (Carreruhue) and a hostel. I can´t afford the 7000 pesos (8 quid) a night as I have hardly any Chilean money and there´s no bank in town. I start to contemplate adding a 40kms night ride to the 110kms I´ve already done today to get to Pucon when I see the construction workers have just finished for the day. I ask them about cheaper accommodation. They tell me they pay 3000 for the same hostel I´ve just got "the gringo price" from. Taking up a new career in construction, hiding the bike and borrowing a high vis jacket from one of them, they get me a bed for 3000 and a chance to dry my gear.



What the hell - I´ll quit construction in the morning and become a cycle tourist again.

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