El Camino de Los Huasos: A Ride Through the Central Chilean Andes – Ryan Wilson

El Camino de Los Huasos: A Ride Through the Central Chilean Andes
Photos and words by Ryan Wilson

More than anything else, I’ve learned two things in my time in Northern Argentina and Chile. First and foremost, never trust a zipper. Little known fact: over 8.9 million zippers have been destroyed in Argentina’s desert in 2018 alone. OK, so maybe I made that up, but if I owned 8.9 million zippers that would definitely be true. The second lesson? Avoid shipping here at all costs, but if you must, you’d better have it planned out well in advance. Unfortunately, after damaging my derailleur and a number of other pieces of equipment in the harsh northern desert, planning and shipping in advance were not really on the table, so upon arriving in the sprawling urban center of Chile known as Santiago, my trip was in the notoriously slow hands of the Chilean customs offices and postal system.

In the end, the package with my precious parts sat in the Santiago airport for almost 6 weeks before they magically showed up one day at random. In that period of time, my shot at riding to the southern tip of South America before winter the way I had planned was wiped out and a decision regarding the rest of my trip had to be made… Eventually, I decided rather than rushing to Patagonia on a bus to hit the “highlights” of the south, I’d ignore the changing seasons and make my way down like I’ve got all the time in the world. Zig-zagging across the Andes with every opportunity. When winter comes? I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

There are certainly benefits to this approach, and in this area, it is particularly helpful to have time, as most of the best riding requires routing that isn’t exactly time-efficient for those traveling north-south. Timing is also key. During the summer, locals flock from Chilean and Argentinian cities to enjoy the many national parks filled with lakes, waterfalls, forests, and volcanoes. However, once school kicks off at the end of summer, these places empty out, making fall a prime time to enjoy quiet Chilean mountain roads dotted with small, smokey villages.

While I would consider myself a desert person by nature, after months in the dry and high altitude mountains of the north, I was really looking forward to this part of the Andes, as water (and oxygen!) are slowly re-introduced into the equation. By this point, it really felt like I hadn’t seen a proper forest in years, so this place suddenly felt very exotic and new to me. The sound of the water cascading down the cliffside around seemingly every corner. The scent of the trees. They were familiar, but only from places that felt like a distant memory.

Central Chile had one other quirk to throw into the works of my normal routine… Fences. They sure love their fences down here! Often times these seem to be fencing nothing in particular in-or-out, but needless to say, they become a major pain in the ass when trying to find a campsite. It is particularly jarring after the free-for-all camping that can be found in places like Peru and Bolivia. If I had to guess, I probably end up stealth camping behind fenced in “private property” around half of the time since entering this part of the country. It isn’t ideal, but despite the added complication, the people are generally pretty lenient on someone riding through with their entire life strapped to their bike. If you get spotted, they probably won’t come by aiming a shotgun at your tent like they might back in The States.

This was also my introduction to the famed Chilean cowboys known locally as “Huasos”. Often they’re seen roaming the countryside, herding animals, or simply click-clacking their way through the streets of the town square. Occasionally, they come from darkness. Sauntering out of a tunnel of trees on horseback along a foot-trail in the middle of nowhere, just after nightfall. Barely giving my half-setup campsite a brief side-glance, I freeze. They fix their eyes on the trail ahead, dip their head in acknowledgment, and casually disappear into the forest once again, like a ghost.

I think to myself… Damn, I wish I was that cool.

My Route is on Ride with GPS.

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Follow Ryan on Instagram and at his Tumblr.

  • Ryan

    I can and can’t wait for you to make it down to the only area I know, Torres del Paine NP and south. It will be bittersweet as you run out of land. Still expecting a multi-volume, hard bound set of books from this journey. Glad you’ve chosen to take the time despite the weather or plans, what a real adventure.

    • Yes, it is bittersweet for me too thinking about the end, as much as I look forward to those areas. It’s not far now! A month or two at most from TDP.

      • Ryan

        The winds rival the views in my memories. Ear plugs saved my sanity. I wouldn’t wish it any other way though.

        • Yeah, the winds in basically all of Argentina can be very tough. I’m sure they only get stronger and more constant in the south of Patagonia. Just 2 nights ago I was fighting with them trying to flatten my tent.

  • OMG the freaking dog photo. Had me rolling!!!!

    • Pascal K

      such a great photo!

  • Jordan Muller

    Valdidvia and Niebla are lovely towns, I highly recommend.

    • I wish I was able to spend some more time near the coast! Most of the roads there have more traffic, so I tend to stick to the Cordillera whenever possible.

  • Ramiro Mercado

    Aguante Chile, aguante Latinoamérica!

  • Man…. that’s one part of the world I’d love to get to on a bike. I’ve been to Peru, Bolivia and northern Chile and it gave me a taste of life there. Thanks for sharing. Plus one on the great dog pic.

    • It’s a really nice area. Much different than the areas to the North, but a great place to ride, especially if you can time the seasons well!

  • Pascal K

    Aw man, so good Ryan!!! Always looking forward to the next one!

  • Matthew Crompton

    This is a preposterously strong photo set. You’ve just put this route on the list for when I’m in SA next year. =)

    • Thanks! There’s a lot more on the way. I’ve gone more in-depth on this part of Chile and Argentina than any other in South America. Let me know when you get closer and I can send you a “Best of” GPS track for the area.

  • DamagedSurfer

    Ryan, as I think I post on everything you write, thanks for sharing. No idea what life will bring for you or any of us, but so often we think there is always another big trip around the corner. And another. And another. And then all of a sudden you realize you haven’t been on a big trip in way too long (me in this case). Cheers on your big trip. Hope it’s been all you hoped for, and more!

    • Thanks man, I always appreciate the comments!

  • Daniel Rietz

    So, Ryan, the world wants to know – how are your Civic undies holding up?

    • They’re doing better than my smartwools for sure, but I can see they’re wearing thin in the usual spots, so the end is inevitable. Socks and underwear are an endless problem. I go through them so fast and everything is so hard to find (and expensive when you do) down here.

  • Steven Kraft

    Ryan, yet again these leave me feeling inspired and intrigued. Your attitude of not rushing to get to your destination is the way to do it. Yes.

    Looking forward to an email if you get some decent internet access sometime.

    Enjoy these roads and that meandering pace.

    _S