Dale Says

November 26, 2007

High Praise from Ernesto

Filed under: Travel — Dale @ 2:22 pm

We just got home from a terrific bicycle adventure in Chile’s Lake District, an inexpensive and beautiful alternative to Europe, which offers everything an adventure cyclist can ask for. Chile is relatively easy to get to (flights to Santiago then Tumuco via several U.S. airlines and airports) and only few time zones away.

The tour was organized to maximize the views of Chile’s stunning lakes, waterfalls, and snow-capped volcanoes, and each day seemed even more gorgeous than the one before. Rolling hills, crisp mornings, sunny afternoons, and friendly people who respect cyclists made this an exhilarating and affordable cycling destination. The tour guides (www.amitytours.cl) rode with us, arrange our meals and lodging, and helped with the language.

It was spring in Chile so we were treated to green pastures, flowers in bloom, and baby lambs and calves. At one point we rode past new-born twin calves, and we sat on our bikes and watched them get on their legs for the first time.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the trip turned out to be our bike guide. His name is Ernesto Araneda (a.k.a. “The Machine”). He’s a 28-year-old competitive (former country champion) mountain bike racer, who is studying to be an adventure travel tour guide. I admit I was intimidated by Ernesto at first; he’s half my age, has legs like the grandson on “Triplets of Belleview,” and he literally rode circles around us for a week. Each day, he rode back-and-forth between us, offering advice and information and patiently answering our questions. At the end of each day when we were worn out from 4-5 hours on the rolling hills (they call them “chorizos” after their shape), Ernesto would go off by himself and ride up a volcano, or around a nearby lake.

Ernesto wanted to practice his English (he learned most of it from watching cable TV), and he soaked up everything we told him about North American culture and what other tour groups might like. In return, he wound up teaching us a lot — about the history and culture of Chile, and the different kinds of plants and wildlife we rode past. He knows a lot about trees, and he showed us a grove of ancient araucana trees, which are revered by the indigenous Mapuches, and we ate the large pine nuts produced by the trees. And he told us about colihue, a type of bamboo that flowers every nine years in such profusion it’s often accompanied by an outbreak of rodents, who feast on the blossoms.

My best moment of the trip came after Ernesto had talked me up a long, steep hill to our hotel for the night — he rode with me to the entrance and quietly told me he thought I was a “very good rider.” Coming from Ernesto, that was high praise.

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