THE MONKEY PUZZLE

Still exhausted from our Huilo Huilo bike-packing adventure, which had involved carrying heavy bikes up hills and across rivers, we re-examined our next bike-packing route “monkey puzzle” to find out whether it was possible with our heavy bikes. We were happy to find comments underneath the description stating that this route was possible with a heavier setup, and decided to start peddling towards Melipeuco.. the starting point, nestled beneath one of the seemingly endless string of epic volcanoes sprinkled all across the south of Chile.  

We bought food for three days, petrol for the cooker, and set off in to the setting sun. We hit the dirt after half an hour, and left a couple of cookies at a small shrine beside the track to bring us a bit of good luck. It seemed to kick in straight away. Ten minutes later we found ourself standing in front of a spectacular green waterfall. It’s roaring green torrents poured from the rocks with impressive force, but watching the birds fly by as if it were not there, and in the setting sunlight, it seemed at once fierce and peaceful. Pia was obviously taken aback and so was I. We had a strong feeling we were cycling in to something special.. and we wouldn’t be disappointed.

We set up camp five minutes down the road by the roaring river, cooked a simple dinner, and crawled in to our sleeping bags.

We awoke to find our first layer of frost on the tent. Unperturbed, we made our morning coffee and tea respectively, downed some oats (oatmeal to you american lot) and jumped on our bikes curious as to what would abound.  

The ride began in what seemed like a bit of a dull forest. The kind they plant for harvesting. But by the time we stopped for lunch, our surroundings had become a pleasantly unusual mix of unfamiliar birdsong and flora. Extremely noticeable however, were the black burnt trees beginning to pop up in between, and the further we climbed, the more abundant the burnt trees, and the more obvious it became that we were passing through the aftermath of a forest fire.

It got to the point where the burnt trees outnumbered the living ones ten to one. It was completely surreal. All the way down the mountain to the river below lay the charred corpses of countless trees. Every gully and stream was lined with pitch black trunks lying on top of each other.  We began to look further to the horizon, to the mountains far away. On the other side of the vast valley the forest had also burnt, right up to the tree line. It had the eerie feel of a memorial to some sort of massacre, but at the same time, it had a certain beauty to it. There was so much black, that it had the serene simplicity of a snowscape.

A man rode by on a horse, and I stopped him to ask if he could tell me what had happened. He told me the fire had happened a year ago, that it had ripped through 8000 hectares of forest, and killed a huge amount of the Araucania trees (Monkey Puzzle trees in English) that called this park home. When asked if the forest would recover, he told me yes, but many of the monkey puzzle trees were over a thousand years old, and it would take a hell of a long time until the forest would reach its former splendour. He told me that as a park ranger, he considered it a complete disaster, as these trees only grow in this region, and such a large amount had been destroyed.  

I thanked him, and Pia I set up camp.. not sure if we were awake or dreaming.

The next morning, it was only a few kilometers to the top of the hill. Reaching the pass was like stepping in to another world. Where the last forest was black and burnt, this one was on fire with autumn colours. Bushes of all the colours of the rainbow lined the path, between them, towering above them and outshining them, majestic Monkey Puzzle trees covered the mountains and lined the hills, alive, well, and so plentiful on some mountain faces, that they rendered the other trees invisible. They looked ancient and magnificent, dappled in the morning sun and the shadows of sporadic clouds.

We were in for one of the best cycling days imaginable. The autumn colours and sheer epicness of the Monkey puzzle trees made us feel like we were riding through a Japanese landscape painting, expecting a dinosaur to run across our path any minute. The surface beneath us was a hard sand, which gave good grip and a slight cushion, a pleasant change from the rocky pebbly surfaces we have otherwise encountered in Chile. The uphills were many but short, and we spent most of the time losing altitude, being rewarded for the previous day's hard work. We spent the day flying through a psychedelic dream, seeing the whole spectrum in a mild earthy palatte. Glorious!! It would be worth going back to Chile, just to spend a day in Autumn, re-living that ride. Thanks to whoever put it on our map.

As the colours began to darken, we happened upon a group of Indigenous Latin Americans from the Mapuche tribe, who were walking back along the road from work harvesting seeds from the Monkey Puzzle trees. I asked them if they would answer a few questions for my camera, and they obliged... One thing I love about making films, is that it gives you an extra motivation and excuse to find out more about strangers, and I had been wanting to learn more about the Mapuche, but had not yet had the chance. We interviewed them, thanked them, and headed off to begin looking for a camping spot... 

We could have camped anywhere out in the beautiful open, but just as the light was disappearing, we happened upon an empty wooden shack.. I guess we just wanted a theatrical end to a surreal day, so we decided not to do the sensible thing and camp in the gorgeous nature, but to squat a house used soley by cows on wet days. We strung up our fly-sheet to further waterproof the rickety ceiling, and stole a branch off a bush outside to clear the floor of dust and a bit of dry cow-poop. It seemed like an awesome idea at the time... but the house made a lot of weird noises, and I had to get up once to make sure it was the house that was making the noises... and then we slept.

Nicholas Walsh

MY-WAY Kitchen, London, United Kingdom