After a difficult overnight ride (the driver refused to take my bike on the bus for a while and then violently manhandled it into the luggage compartment, the guy sitting next to me snoring with a vengeance) I arrive at Temuco with heavy eyelids. The weather is just plain bad: serious rain and serious winds. It is cold and I am shivering. Is this what I dreamed of? Certainly not. I resist the urge to delve into the local micro brewing scene and instead decide to put on every last scrap of clothing I have brought with me. My next destination is Vilcún, halfway to Conguillio National Park.
With only 35 kms down after more than two hours, I am way slower than I expected. The weather is infernal, with constant headwinds battering me at every moment. The rain never stops. A clumsy maneuver makes my stem twist out of place, evoking unpleasant memories of the disastrous ride across Ilha Grande. It takes my numb fingers several tries to get it straight again. I stop for a humble brunch at a supermarket. The shopkeeper tells me that this is precisely the kind of weather one would expect at this time of year. When I ask if there is hope that the rain will stop she just smiles and says nothing. My departure is delayed for almost two hours as I sit in front of a gas heater and watch the steam rise from my clothes. Just like on top of the Andes, I wrap my feet in plastic bags to protect them from getting wet and continue towards Conguillio.
My clothes are dry and the wind has settled. Finally, I am making up for the slow going earlier. In my haste, I do not even stop at the town of Cherquenco, but continue straight towards the National Park. I manage to keep up a satisfactory pace even when the road turns into a rocky dirt path. The road climbs up and I am surprised when the Garmin tells me that I am at roughly 600 meters above sea level, already more than 500 meters higher than this morning. Finally, morale is rising again.
An oncoming car flashes its lights at me to get my attention on the way up. The driver tells me that Conguillio is closed because of heavy snowfall. He recommends me to turn around, travel south to the town of Melipeuco and try to enter the Park from the lower entrance tomorrow. He tells me he regularly organizes bike trips for Brazilian tourists and offers to help me work out a good route for the next days if I make it to Melipeuco. I believe his words, but cannot resist the urge to visit the nearby Laguna Quenque. One thing I was particularly eager to see on this trip are the gorgeous mountain lakes in this region, and having come so close to the first one on the list, I want to see it before turning around. The climb to almost 1000 meters would make me sweat if it were just a little bit warmer. In the end, I lose hours skidding and sliding through deep puddles of mud and do not even see the lake.
The way back to Cherquenco takes away my last ounce of strength. After my unsuccessful expedition into Conguillio I am in a hurry to get back into civilization. A quick stop to warm up at a small cafeteria becomes longer and longer as I just cannot stop shivering. Standing there drenched in cold rainwater and mud, I soon realize that I need to stop and rest to avoid catching a cold. A modest hostel becomes my base for the night and I spend most of the evening hanging my clothes and equipment up to dry next to the wood stove, watching the atrocious Transformers movie with a silent bunch of local woodworkers. The forecast for tomorrow is just as bad and I begin to doubt if coming to Patagonia at this time of year was a good idea.
Go on to Day Two.