The Bicycle Diaries of a Day in San Martin de los Andes

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the Specialized mountain bikes we rented to ride up ChapelcoA beautiful day in one of my favorite Argentina destinations, San Martin de los Andes, can be spent in any number of ways. First impressions may leave you thinking that the ins and outs of this small town can be discovered in one day. But don’t judge too quickly, because the longer you are there, the more you will find…Especially when you spend the day on bike.

Along my travels, I discovered San Martin de los Andes along the 7 lake crossing and was intrigued by the quaint town and its surroundings. Here the rugged mountain men meet the classy city retreaters. I had been living out of a backpack with my bed permanently attached to my back, and was definitely more of the former than the latter. Most of my time was spent wandering through the forests, in search of water falls, hot springs, and hidden native villages. But the conveniences of the city were nice to return to when I decided to splurge on a nice dinner or had a sudden urge to window shop.

San Martin de Los Andes

One particular spring morning I woke to the beams of light filtering through the windows of my Puma Hostel dormitorio and was fully charged by the sunny day. While sharing a mate with a friend and admiring the mountains that frame the town, I pointed to the top of the nearby mountain range and chose Cerro Chapelco as our destination. In this season, skiing was out; but the view from the top of the ski resort and the back country roads that would lead us there was more than enough reason to go.

The friendly and extremely helpful front desk staff provided us with a map and bike rental locations. An hour later we were cruising through the town streets with our bright bikes and even brighter spirits. The parks, people, buildings, and beaches of Lake Lacar flew by until we arrived at the base of the mountain and the beginning of our uphill journey. Seven kilometers up the dirt road we arrived at Mirador Arrayanes. A beautiful look out spot and a great excuse to take a breather and remove our extra layers. This was one of the last views of the town we saw before pedaling into the backroads and wild mountain scenery.

One of the many great views of the AndesThe peace within the forests was incredible and the isolation of the dirt paths was so profound that for a moment I wondered whether we had taken a wrong turn. The only man whose path we crossed was a local Argentinean on horse who assured us that our natural instincts were correct and leading us in the right direction. A few minutes later we heard the buzz of a car and our secret fantasy land came to a screeching halt where it connected with the highway. However, only a few kilometers were spent on this paved road and we soon arrived at the turnoff for Cerro Chapelco.

Biking in San Martin de Los AndesThe remainder of the trip was straight up. Whether we needed a breather or not, stopping was a must to fully appreciate the views. The forests were lush and greenery covered the landscape. In certain spots we could see the snow capped tip of Volcano Lanin. And the clouds speckled in the sky provided the perfect contrast to the various shades of blue that lightened as our eyes approached the horizon.

Finally we arrived at the abandoned ski resort. The slopes leading to the chair lifts were covered in grass and made a perfect picnic ground. Here we restored our expended energy from the our 20km climb while eating our packed lunch and admiring nature’s wonders.

Cerro Chapelco in the summer, by San Martin de Los Andes

Then it was time for the descent. Luckily we had soaked in many of the views on the way up because gazing out at the landscape would have meant trouble on this extreme down hill ride. My eyes were glued on the bumpy dirt road and it was so exciting that I didn’t even notice my clenched white knuckles until I had reached the bottom. I’m sure I ate a few bugs along the way because as the mountains whipped by I couldn’t control the big smile that was plastered on my face.

When we pulled into town, we were exhausted and exhilirated all at the same time. We headed straight to the beach. A little relaxation was in order and a small siesta was well deserved.

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