Despite being early February there was a touch of spring in the air as we rode to Bangor station for the 11:07 train, changing at Chester for a Virgin Voyager to Euston where the capital city was cold and grey. Despite recent investment in cycling infrastructure we still find London stressful to navigate by bike, this time we had to ride to Paddington station for the Heathrow Express. At the airport we had plenty of time before our flight left at 22:00 so we ate at Carlucci’s then set to work preparing the bikes. I had a scare since my pedals were stuck and it took a huge effort to remove them.
We checked in and took the bikes to Excess Baggage where I had to remove the front wheel and repackage the bike to get it through the scanner. I resolved to remove it in advance in future since every scanner has trouble with mine. With still lots of spare time after passing through security we had the unappealing choice of brexit supporting Wetherspoons or tax dodging Starbucks for a drink, we chose the latter.
The flight was full as we set back our watches by three hours and spent a long night upright. We should have landed at 09:40 but were delayed by a headwind and then further when staff encountered difficulty attaching the land bridge so we didn’t disembark until 10:40. We shuffled along in the queue for passport control then collected our bikes and bags. We didn’t assemble them since we would be staying the night near the airport and taking an internal flight the next day. Next we had to drag everything to the long queue for Customs where we were astonished to be asked for the serial numbers of our bikes. They were entered on a form, stamped with the date and we were told we’d have to hand it in when crossing into Argentina where we’d be issued with their version, and vice-versa when re-entering Chile. When we returned to Santiago for our flight home we’d have to bring it to door 4 of the Customs office so it could be cancelled.
We shrugged off the dodgy characters claiming to work for TransVip, the taxi firm contracted to provide free transport to the hotel and went to their desk. They delivered us to the hotel where we ordered cheese empanadas for lunch and went for a short walk, it was too hot to be out for long. I slept for a couple of hours while Christine swam in the pool, then it was time for dinner followed by an early night.
We slept well and had plenty of time to make the most of the breakfast selection of fruit, cereals, steamed vegetables, bread and pastries. After four coffees I was fully awake and ready for the taxi back to Santiago airport and the LATAM flight to Balmaceda, enjoying views of vast lakes and snow capped volcanoes.
After landing, we made our way to the airport bus, difficult as the wind caught our bikes, still wrapped in their plastic flight bags. A taxi driver offered to take us for 40,000 pesos, around £50, which we declined, but then the bus driver said there was no room. A second taxi driver offered us a ride to the hostel in Coyhaique for 20,000 pesos which seemed reasonable so we accepted.
We went straight out in search of camping gas for our stove but failed, then we stocked up at the supermarket for the next couple of nights. Coyhaique is the largest town we’d see for a couple of weeks so we were shocked at the poor quality of the fruit and vegetables. The hostel didn’t have a kitchen so we went out again in search of dinner. The only place that appealed was packed full so we returned to the supermarket to buy some snacks.
Tomorrow the cycling would begin.