My experience of cycling in Chile was mixed; two sedate self-guided city tours of Santiago and Valparaiso, and a near-death experience near Torres del Paine National Park.
I don't remember much about the city rides other than sunny churches on steep hills in both places. The sea breezes of the second longest country in the world (north to south) made for pleasant riding. 3000 kilometres south of these cities however lies a much wilder place. I attacked the stunning area at the southern tip of the Americas known Patagonia on a bicycles one day, setting off from a wood-cabin hostel early in the morning. Come to think of it, that was the only sweet smelling hostel i've ever stayed in, which now makes me wonder why I was so keen to leave it on a rather chilly and breezy day. The surroundings of this isolated town are not spectacular, mainly scrub verging on heathland, but the sight of monstrous mountain peaks in the distance moved me all morning, through the pangs of diarrhoea and the resulting frequent stops, north-east about 60 kilometres towards the 'Three Towers of Paine'.
The only traffic I saw all morning on the straight and otherwise lonely road were buses of various shapes and sizes moving in the same direction as I was. Some carried farm workers, some carried tourists, but all kicked up massive plumes of red dust. I wore a bandana to avoid the worst of it and felt a bit like an outlaw, a rebel, the only cyclist who would dare come to these lands. So you can imagine how my ego deflated when I realised that I had been stupidly slow all day getting here, and now I would have only a few hours to rush to the glacier lake and get back to the trail head at the car park in time to catch the losers bus back to the hostel. More frequent emergency stops took place, and the ramble up the scree-fields was unforgiving. Thankfully the view I was rewarded with was ridiculous and ranks in the top 5 sights i've seen.
Knowing that I would be heading downhill for the rest of the day made me feel good, but the darkening of the day didn't. This would be one of the top 5 places in the world to not be stranded, I imagine, so I certainly didn't want to miss the 6pm last bus of the day. I was not imagining things when I got back to the car park though, it was real, I was alone. It was nearly 6.30, but I didn't panic, which was a surprise considering my predicament. This happened before smartphones, before map apps, before Uber. I was hours from any town and the overnight low here the previous night was -6c. Oh dear. Hunkering down was not an option, I had nothing to hunker with. There were rather an unsettling number of actual vultures in the vicinity, likely scavenging rubbish left by tossers, so I soon realised that a dark and cold night ride was the only option, at least I would keep warm and be back for breakfast.
I was empty, but had thought to collect water from a river before heading off, so I knew that the ride back was feasible. I then started seeing Snickers bars forming in the dust on the horizon, but they never materialised, thankfully for me, (though not for the dramatic effect of this blog post) a bus did. It had been delayed setting off from the town hours ago, and was only now coming to the trailhead. Unsurprisingly, no tourists had stuck with it by the looks of it, likely none fancied the idea of hiking in the dark. I smiled at the driver as he approached, my bright colours were coming in handy here, he acknowledged me with a casual salute. To my horror, he then proceeded to whizz past me at a rate of knots, peppering me with debris.
I belted out a barrage of obscenities and then got back to it, now I just needed to keep my head down and pedal. Of course, I had not thought it through. The driver soon returned from the empty trailhead and for about 3 seconds I toyed with the idea of dismissing the driver as he pulled up alongside me. Instead I was the polite and gracious Englishman that I am towards him and he waved me onboard, laughing and muttering. He was my saviour no matter what he was saying about me.