Monday, February 23, 2009


A momentous occasion. For the first time at Pudu, I actually made it up for breakfast, and found what I'd been missing out on - home-made scones! After some of the badly toasted slices of yesterday's baguette and the like which some places serve up, this was heaven-sent, and almost made me regret the amount of sack time I'd been racking up the previous couple of days. In this case, I ended up chatting over breakfast with Siobhain, the Irish lass in my dorm, and Anke, who's Dutch, and, surprisingly for me, deciding that what I need after the "I think I'm going to die" effects of climbing the hill the previous day was to go cycling for the afternoon. There's a trip, known as the Circuito Chico (little loop), which runs from town out around one of the smaller lakes and alongside the big ones for a total of about 60km, but you can get the bus out and hire bikes from around the 18km mark, which cuts it down to about 25km. Now certain people (I'm looking at you, Mr Porter!) will be laughing at my thinking this quite a bit to do, but I haven't used a bike seriously in years, and that was generally in East Anglia, a very flat and bike-friendly part of the world. But I decided to do it anyway.

So, off we went, we three intrepid musketeers, to the Bike Cordillera office where we were kitted out with bikes, helmets, locks and our maps, which showed (with little arrows) the steep up and down bits. I noticed with concern that, in a manner that Escher would be proud of, there seemed to be more up than down parts. We had about 5.5 hours that afternoon to play with, so had decided to do a couple of short walks as well as the actual cycling, taking us down to the beach at Playa Lago Moreno (well, it had sand and went into the water, so technically it was a beach, but I've never seen a beach with that many plants growing out of the water about a metre offshore before) and over to see Lago Escondido ("hidden lake"). After that, on the suggestion of the lady who rented us the bikes, we were making a detour into Colonia Suiza, a little village in the neighbourhood, because this was apparently "nearly flat" and gave us the chance to pop into a cafe and have a local microbrewed beer. Nice plan, right?

What I perhaps hadn't factored in was (a) how much I hate going uphill, (b) how uncomfortable I get on bike saddles after even about 5 minutes, and rental bikes aren't renowned for extra-comfy saddles and (c) how truly, desperately unfit I am. I managed one reasonable ascent with the bike, but by the time we got to the first of the pretty steep bits I gave up halfway up and got off and walked my bike to the summit. This formed the pattern for much of the day - on the flat, the downhill and the really easy uphill parts I stayed on the bike. When it got going steep uphill, I got off and used shanks' pony instead. This also gave me the chance to rest my aching posterior, which as the afternoon went on got tenderer and tenderer. The Hidden Lake was pretty enough, but Colonia Suiza was a bit of a damp squib - the road into and out of there was unsealed, meaning I got to add aching arms (from serving as shock-absorbers) to my aching leg muscles and overworked lungs, the beer wasn't that special (and was fairly pricey) and the route was anything but flat. And we realised we were running out of time at this point, so had to hurry rather than admiring the scenery as much.

If this makes it sound like an unmitigated disaster, it wasn't. The views were lovely, and the riding on the downhill stretches and the occasional near-flat parts was still fun, it just got subsumed somewhat in the pain factor as time wore on towards our 8pm deadline to be back. It was also fascinating hearing about Anke's travels, as she is a psychologist (not a psychiatrist or psychotherapist) and had done some volunteer work in Cuzco at a psychiatric hospital there. Siobhain, amusingly, works in IT supporting the banking sector, and clapped her hands over her ears and nearly screamed when I uttered the words "go live", which is a sure sign of a kindred spirit. At any rate, we made it back on time in the end, and got onto the bus back to town, where we were overjoyed to have seats, even if there was a certain amount of occasional shifting in place to find the least painful position to sit in (at least for me, I can't speak for the girls). Back at the hostel, I had one of the more relieving showers I can remember in quite some time, and then Anke and I went to a really good Mexican place called Dias de Zapata, where I decided that for once budget be damned and I would have a really nice meal, so stuffed myself on fajitas. On our return, I ended up waiting around in line for ages to get near the computer (normally I'd have just gone and found a 'net cafe, but that was not an option given how I felt at that point) before calling it an early (for Bariloche) night at around 1am.