Autumn Amongst the Araucarias – Ryan Wilson

Autumn Amongst the Araucarias
Photos and words by Ryan Wilson

After committing to spending another winter cruising around South America, I figured I might as well go all-in. With no focus on getting much further south where the weather would be turning toward ‘unpleasant for bike touring’ even sooner, I instead looked to embrace the short window of perfect Autumn riding that was dropped in front of me, and go over Chile’s mountainous Araucanía region with a fine-tooth comb.

This area is often overlooked by folks making a bee-line for Southern Patagonia, but it is a favorite amongst the local Chileans looking to escape the city during the summer, highlighted by a seemingly endless string of volcanoes, lakes, and forests filled with Araucaria trees. These tall and spiky evergreens, sometimes referred to as “monkey puzzle trees” give the region its name, and are often considered sacred to the natives of this area who are known as the Mapuche.

Being able to focus in on one area and thoroughly discover all of the little nooks and crannies it has to offer without having to pass up interesting places just because of time restrictions is one of my favorite parts about traveling this way by bike. Circling back to a small town for a 2nd or 3rd time almost makes it feel like a home away from home. You stop by the same stores or restaurants and see a few familiar faces hanging around the town square. Often these faces are giving that “Ohh.. you’re still here?” look of surprise that you haven’t simply passed through like the other handfuls of foreigners that come through the area at this point in the year.

Typically, this is when the locals let their guard down a bit and might even be willing to spill the lentejas on a nice little road or trail that is unlikely to show up on any map, often leading to some of the most rewarding riding in the area… “When you get to the red house, tell them I said hello, they’ll unlock the gate for you, and point you in the right direction!” (…If you’re looking, these won’t show up on my gpx track at the bottom of this article, so you’ll have to head to Lonquimay for a couple weeks and chat up some folks near the plaza ;)

All of this meandering comes at a cost of course. First in time, having eaten up 98% of my 90 day Chilean visa, I was tasked with heading to the nearest Argentinian border crossing, needing to make re-entering the next day just a stone’s throw to the south seem totally natural (not that I was going for the often frowned upon visa “reset”!). The second cost being the rapidly escalating price of living that comes with these Patagonia-adjacent regions. Long gone are the days of $1.50 meals in menu del día restaurants, rock-bottom prices in the village market, and $5-7 for a night in basic accommodation. Now, when you’re in desperate need of a warm shower and a (literal) battery recharge, it’s probably going to set you back three times that or more.

It may not seem like a lot, but when you’re on the “multi-year leisure cruise” budget, $20 a night feels a bit like you’re dropping a down-payment on a house. Suddenly, the strategy has to change a bit. No more rolling into a town and finding a bed at 8pm just for convenience. Now you’re left to master the art of strategically camping just before entering a town and heading in early the next morning to handle all of the ‘chores’ that come with the rest day, while only having to pay for one night in the hotel…

7:00am: Wake up and fumble together your last scraps of food (who says yesterday’s leftover rice and some peanut butter isn’t breakfast?!)
7:30am: Pack up the tent and sneak out of the private property you camped on last night.
8:30am: Ride into town.
9:00am: Start prowling around the plaza asking where the cheapest “alojamiento” is.
9:15am: Have that place tell you that you have to leave the bike outside overnight. “It’s totally safe here, trust us”.
9:16am: Go somewhere else
9:30am: Settle on the first accommodation with a legit spot to keep the bike.
9:35am: The best shower of your life (since the last one, a week or two ago… you can’t remember)
9:50am: Lay on the bed and contemplate never moving again, ever.
10:30am: Remember that if you don’t clean your clothes now it will set off a chain of events that will ruin your week.
11:00am: Eventually slosh your dirtiest clothes around in a bucket filled with water for a while until it becomes a thick brown texture that is nearing the consistency of a chocolate milkshake.
12:00pm: Plug in the 95 batteries you have that need charging.
12:30pm: Lunch!
1:30pm: Swipe around on your phone a bit until you realize the internet doesn’t work here.
1:35pm: The always important South American “siesta” (aka nap time)
2:45pm: Put on the still-damp clothes you cleaned earlier (close enough!) and wash the others.
3:30pm: 2nd Lunch because why not?
4:30pm: Grocery shopping time (usually means patrolling every shop in town looking for more peanut butter)
7:00pm Dinner
8:00pm: [swipes around on phone again]… “Still no internet…” (That’s for folks staying at the fancier hotels)
9:30pm: Coma

Having your bank account survive Southern Chile and Argentina is a bit more difficult than some of the countries to the north, but the snow-capped volcanoes, quiet villages, and the narrow forest roads that connect them make a few sacrifices and tweaks to the routine a small price to pay. Without a doubt, fall in the Araucanía region offers some of the finest times on two wheels that South America has to offer.

(Most of) My Route is on Ride with GPS.

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Follow Ryan on Instagram and at his Tumblr.

  • Bryce Dillon

    As always, holy f**k!

    • Thanks! This is definitely one of my favorite places in Chile!

  • Pascal K

    Beautiful as always! And please keep the dog pictures coming!

    • Thanks! Dogs are omnipresent in South America, so I think it would be impossible for me to not include at least a couple in each gallery :D

      • Pascal K

        That’s very good to know:D

    • Yeah! That’s my fav theme too!

  • Ryan Le Garrec

    WOW!!!

  • Davin Dahl

    So unbelievably beautiful! Your photos are amazing.

  • The hits keep coming as always. This time, the colors of fall really make this set stand out. That, contrasted against the volcanic region…so good!

    • Fall is definitely the best time to visit this area! So quiet and the colors are amazing!

  • recurrecur

    I’d love to have a sense of your general route, for future reference. Do you have a shareable map?

    • Hi! There’s a link to the map on Ride With GPS at the bottom of each story.

      • recurrecur

        That’s awesome – and relatively obvious (my bad).

        Thanks for the vicarious joy.

  • spencer harding

    this has been my favorite post of yours in awhile! love the colors and the memory inducing daily timeline. Really digging the reality checks that come with such a trip. Im jealous and in awe!

  • Alan

    Great set of images.

  • nilteixido

    That photos tho!

  • Jim

    Stunning photos – I really like 66, 67, and 68, and 10, and 19… well, all of them really. Very interesting to read about your day to day experiences and I liked the humour in the break down of your day :-)

  • Ryan

    Outstanding as always, Ryan. When we flew in/out of Puerto Montt en route to Punta Arenas, I left a faceprint and drool spot on my window. You’re approaching that area as my excitement builds for your southern Chilean adventures and images and stories and captions…keep them coming!

    By the way, anyone else’s eyes/mind see a barn on the left edge of #28? I can’t unsee it.

    • Thanks for the kind words (as always!), Ryan. I am indeed in the thick of it now. El Chaltén is only a couple weeks away from where I am now!

    • Jim

      I see what you mean re. the barn :-)

  • debineko

    Sounds like you could write a whole post about the dilemmas of keeping all your social media outlets running on a leisure cruise budget with no internet connection. Thanks for another super set.

    • Luckily, pre-paid cellphone plans are quite cheap down here compared to the US. It’s a bit slow, but it works for the basics. Still, I find myself without internet for weeks at a time sometimes.

      It’s definitely trickier when I go to upload photos for these galleries. Dropbox is nice since you can just let it run in the background and pause it as much as you want, but finding good WiFi is tricky. Especially in Argentina.

      Would definitely like to do a piece on the day-to-day aspects of touring down here. Maybe once I run out of land!

  • M.R.

    Some of the best stuff on the web, IMO. Thank you.

  • Shreddy Krueger

    What planet is this on?

  • Nick Paglia

    What a stunning set of photos! Beautiful work, Ryan.

  • Froste

    Everything looks so darn steep!

    • Chile loves steep and punchy climbs. This area in particular!

  • Andrey Popov

    This looks amazing. Ryan, are you just posting stuff ridiculously late or did the fall in that area started in Jan? This can’t be, right, this must be from the last year?