In January we were happy to return to Chile for an extended vacation, this one combining just about everything we love – birding, cycling, traveling with friends, enjoying fine wine – and as a bonus briefly escaped winter (such as it is for us in Arizona) for beautiful summer weather.
The trip revolved around a Bicycle Adventures tour of the lakes and volcanoes district of southern Chile that started in Temuco (a couple hours south of Santiago by plane) and ended in Puerto Varas on the shores of Lake Llanquihue. We book-ended the cycling trip with birding tours with Rodrigo Reyes of Birdwatching Chile. The weather promised to be fine summer weather, as Santiago is basically like Los Angeles, as far south of the equator as LA is north, and as we moved south it was similar to going north from LA to Portland, Oregon. And between the first birding tour and joining the cycling tour, we had a couple days in Santiago to kick around with friends Mark and Joanne Guralnick.
The first birding tour took us back to some areas we had visited – or tried to visit and got lost – two years ago. This time, though, with Rodrigo, we saw much more and didn’t get lost! We stayed first in Viña del Mar, a coastal city northwest of Santiago and not far from the harbor city of Valparaiso. Five days of birding with Rodrigo took us along the rocky coast (penguins! among many others), to nearby wetlands, on a pelagic trip (open ocean) out to the Humboldt Current to look for ocean-going specialties such as albatross, shearwaters and petrels, and finally inland to the impressive Andes east of Santiago for birds that only live there. The pelagic trip was a must for us as we didn’t manage the timing of that right two years ago. And luckily it wasn’t too rough going!
Want to know more birding details? Robert has written a detailed birding account. But here are a few teaser bird photos. Also, click here for the sightings report (pdf format). 154 species and 48 lifers!
Returning to Santiago, we met up with friends Mark and Joanne. Among other things we went on a full day guided wine tour of the Casablanca Valley, where we (as we did two years ago) visited three wineries (including our favorite Kingston) and ended with a full gourmet lunch – paired with wines, of course. We also enjoyed/endured a hot walking tour (summer, remember?) of the city, had lunch at the Mercado Central downtown, and when we petered out in the afternoon we landed at an artisan ice cream shop, Emporio La Rosa, to revive. Last but not least we visited the Museum of Human Rights and learned much about Chile’s 9/11 – the coup in 1973 that ended the presidency of Salvador Allende and brought Augusto Pinochet to power.
From Santiago it was on to Temuco to the south, where we met up with our Bicycle Adventures group. What a trip! Glacier-clear lakes and rivers, snow-capped volcanoes, rolling meadows, national parks. Luxurious accommodations, fine wine, and a *lot* of food (we wound up having to split lunches because the portion sizes were so big).
Advertised as a trip for “energetic beginner to advanced” cyclists (we consider ourselves to be strong intermediate riders), it was fairly challenging, with lots and lots of hills. Sometimes if you were lucky you got enough momentum off a downhill to power over the next hill … but mostly you’re not so lucky. A few grades (that we skipped) topped 20%, but mostly they seemed to either be 7-9% or 13-15%. Robert joked at one point that the “Zona de Descanso” (rest stop) ought to be called the “Zone of Despair”. On the bright side, the roads were quite good, the drivers attentive (by law they have to keep about a 5 ft distance from cyclists), and nearer the end of the trip we enjoyed very nice “class I” bike paths set apart from traffic lanes.
All told, seven days of cycling with two well-placed days off for other activities (hiking, birding, etc.) We ourselves rode 268+ miles with over 23,000 ft of climbing (Robert had a bit more than Liza, and this is with skipping two tough climbs that a couple of our friends did (yay Mark and Sylvia)). And we were considerably stronger at the end of the tour than at the beginning.
You can view the maps from Liza’s Garmin Edge here (click the right arrow to move through the seven days).
When the tour ended in Puerto Varas, we met up again with Rodrigo Reyes of Birdwatching Chile, and spent four days birding in that vicinity. Temperate rain forest, a day on Chiloe Island (penguins!), and coastal wetlands rounded out our birding experience.
One last overnight in Puerto Varas (which we have to say is much preferable to Puerto Montt), and we were traveling home, flying to Santiago, Mexico City, then Los Angeles…and finally back to Arizona.
In case you’re wondering, Buddy Bison was along for the ride, and he made new friends, saw the volcanoes and lakes, and enjoyed the ferry rides. Check out his adventures here.