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An Idiot Abroad!

Stop Press! We have moved 20 kilometres to another lake. I should by now be in Bolivia so it is very slow progress but one has to cling to every ray of hope. We have “borrowed” the bikes. I have a chat with security and ask if we can use the bikes for another week. “Oh, yes!” he says. The only minor detail I fail to mention was that we will not be in residence at the gated community.

Jason and I ride the bikes to Caburgua where we have rented a cabin with a log fire in the wooded hills above the lake. Super Man does it in an hour and it takes me five hours but I go the back route. Well that’s my excuse! Messages coming through on the Pucón Princess Group Chat suggest there are issues. Jason may have been fast but he books us in to the wrong cabin which is the size of a dolls’ house! Christine and Heather struggle to get an Uber but call Oscar who we have used in the past and he comes to the rescue. By the time I turn up every thing is sorted out, well apart from the fact that it promised WiFi but the WiFi is not working.

I go out on some wonderful bike rides, if you can call them that. This lake is concertinaed in amongst steep mountains and lacks the wide glaciated valleys of Pucón so bike rides become push up the hill and whizz down, or the other way round. It’s very exhilarating to fly down a long hill but one has to be careful of the pot holes, ridges, thick sand and mad drivers. To be fair, most drivers slow down but there are a few who don’t which leads to big swirls of dust on the dirt roads.

I must look pretty pathetic pushing my bike up the steep mountain because drivers have started to take pity on me. On my way up to the Huerquehue National Park, two women in a pick up stop and ask me if I’d like a ride. There is a man in a van behind and he puts my bike in the back and I climb in too.

The next day, I whizz down a long hill making great progress but have that sinking feeling that what goes down must go back up. On my way back up, two young lads in a Toyota Yaris take pity on me. They open the boot to see if the bike will fit in there but even if it didn’t contain the crate of beer it would have been pushing it. They then try the back seat and about ten minutes of pushing and pulling ensues. I am just getting to the stage where I think that, in spite of their good intentions, I will be back to pushing the bike up the mountain when they manage it. One jumps in the back with my bike and I get in the front with the driver who looks about twelve but do I care at this stage? Absolutely not! It could have been a toddler driving! I manage to chat to them in my pigeon Spanish but the only English they know is “What the Fuck!” which we all say numerous times and have a good laugh. They drop me at the top of the hill and save me a long and hard slog up the mountain. I have warm and fuzzy feelings towards the Chileans and the kindness of strangers.

At the Huerquehue National Park, I manage to evade capture at the border post and slip my way in to this idyllic paradise. I make my way down to the small lake, well small compared to others in the area, and soak in the views of craggy mountain tops and wooded slopes that plunge in to the lake, creating beautiful reflections. There is evidence of autumn as some mountain tops are going red. In addition, on the ridges you can see the araucaria or monkey puzzle trees that were around at the time of the dinosaurs and can live to 1,000 years old. I have my picnic lunch sat in a red rowing boat and watch trout catching flies on the surface of the water and dragonflies. As the park is closed owing to Coronavirus I have the place to myself. What’s not to like! On my way out, I stop to take a photo of the park information and a park ranger comes out to tell me the park is closed. “Oh dear, I say! Such a shame!” Thank goodness he was messaging his girlfriend when I slipped in to the National Park!

The next day I use my Idiot Abroad routine to get into ‘The Three Waterfalls’. I’ve just pushed my bike up a one kilometre mountain so I’m not going to be put off easily. Luckily, although there is a locked gate, there is plenty of room to slip round the side of the gate. Off I set but I am approached by an elderly lady who lives in a house on the sight. “Sorry, I say, I’m English, I don’t understand. This way? Oh thanks!” Off I set and much to my relief, no one follows. After all, there are no signs in English and how am I supposed to know what “prohibido entrar” means? I spend the next hour and a half exploring the three waterfalls which involves climbing up the hillside to enjoy not just the waterfalls but also views over the surrounding area, including the ever present Villarrica Volcano. As I clamber over rocks etc, it occurs to me that if I am swept over the precipice, I may never been seen again as there would be no witnesses!

I know the area so well now that I can pick out features 20 kilometres away. Everywhere I go, Villarrica Volcano pops up. You can see it at the end of the Caburgua High Street and when I cycle up the east coast of the lake on a road that looks as it follows the edge of the lake but it winds up and down above cabins that hog the lakeside (that lying map again!) I am able to see it looking back over a beach and the lake.

We have the advantage of Cable T.V. at the cabin. We can get BBC World News or should I say BBC Boris because it seems to feature only Boris in hospital. At one point, I am racing to turn to Fox News, yes Fox, when there is much fawning over the queen who reads out a speech that some flunky had written for her. I know lots of people are going, isn’t she wonderful at 93 years old and all that but I would be more inclined to say this if she knew what it was like to live through this crisis on the national minimum wage and pensioner credit.

Heather and I watch a Discovery Channel programme about a 740 pound woman who reduces her body weight by half. I’m not sure why you would want this gruelling and tragic process filmed but it was strangely compelling viewing. It reminds me of some of the discussions we had about the issue in the English Office!!! Something about taking off the roof of a house to get a very fat person to hospital!

Some of the films are dreadful but we do enjoy ‘Mama Mia’ and the Indian Jones trilogy.

Being a bit of a T.V. snob, I am very glad I have my bike to get out on so I don’t need to endure the America shows that are all the same format. So there’s the teams of men who build cabins in Alaska, the family bakery in New York who make cakes and, the worst of all, the team who make tacky aquariums for rich people with big houses.

Heather and I form a mean foraging team. As soon as we arrive in Pucón, we start to pick blackberries and we make a crumble using porridge. It is a good use for the fifteen boxes of porridge that we have inherited from the Dragoman bus. Now autumn is really kicking in, we extend our menu to include stewed apples which can be combined with blackberries. The first apples we pick are best stewed but then we find a tree full of delicious, juicy, crisp eating apples. And before anyone asks, no it is not scrumping! They are all hanging over on to the road and there are lots rotting on the ground so we are liberating them from a slow death! My biggest find is lots of fresh mint by the road. The beauty of the internet is that I can check it is mint and that I’m not about to make fresh deadly nightshade tea! I am now drinking fresh mint tea that I pay £2.50 for at Ask Italian Restaurants

Heather buys a large 2,000 piece puzzle of Machu Picchu and works on it relentlessly once she arrives at the cabin. The picture on the box is amazing and reminds me that I should be nearly there but as Heather sits for hours completing it, I get the impression it is a form of torture. It is basically blue, green, white and brown pieces that you need to fit together but many pieces are the same shape. Jason gets involved and they end up doing much of it on the reverse side where there is a grid because that is the only way to check it is correct. I head off on an eight hour bike ride and when I return it looks as if nothing has changed so I just have to lie through my teeth as I know they’ve been sitting there for hours, painstakingly putting it together, piece by bloody piece. “Oh, you’ve really made progress!” I say when actually I should be saying, “It looks the same as when I left and just looking at you is giving me a headache.”

Jason the Millennial goes off with his ‘pseudo friend’ again. He claims he’s going hiking but is staying out over night. Yer, right Jason! I’ll believe you, thousands wouldn’t. The next day he sends a message via the Pucón Princess Group Chat to say he’s running late and won’t be back for a second night! I’m on my way back from busting in to the Huerquehue National Park so I post some pictures of my bike and hike and challenge him to post some of his hike- preferably including the ‘pseudo friend’! Did he play the game? No, of course he didn’t!

It is Easter so we celebrate with Chocolate Rocky Road for dessert and hope we will not be celebrating Christmas here!

We decide to stay on for an extra four nights and this gives Heather and Jason a window of opportunity to finish the puzzle. About 48 hours before we leave, they really are making good progress. About 24 hours before we leave they are almost there but Heather is cursing Jason under her breath for not following the pattern on the back of the puzzle, meaning she has to undo quite a bit and redo it. She sorts this out and, of course, there are four pieces missing. A search on the floor locates three pieces. But that means one is still missing and Jason is firmly in the frame. When Heather finds a piece in the toilet (yes, the actual toilet bowl!) I fear for the safety of poor Jason. Luckily, the final piece is ceremoniously placed in to the puzzle (once it has been washed and disinfected, obviously!) and all is forgiven. I take lots of photos to post on the Dragoman 20 Group Chat, which leads to much acclaim!

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