02 February 2011

CYCLING CHILI - Puerto Montt to Los Libertadores Border

3 January - Puerto Montt – Puerto Veras - 20km

At last I felt that we could give the cycling a try and we cycled the short distance to picturesque Puerto Veras with its strong German influence. What a touristy place it was, I guess that picturesque places like that will always come with the hordes of backpackers, fancy hotels and pricy restaurants. Unfortunately it was overcast and drizzling so we did not see the famed volcanoes from across the lake.

At least my ankles held out and I felt a bit more confidant to continue north. Walking was still causing a lot of discomfort but at least it appeared that I could cycle.

4 January - Puerto Varas – Frutillar - 43km

We cycled along to the next village along the lake, looking for a campsite on the lake, but could not find any. We did however find a lovely campsite in someone’s garden and camped under a cherry tree. I was happy that a second day on the road went well without any aches or pains.

5 January - Frutillar – Osorno - 70km

I could not wish for a better start to my recovery cycle. The road was excellent, with a wide shoulder, a tailwind and it was a beautiful sunny day. For the first time in a very long while I could cycle with short sleeves, and could appreciate the countryside. Needless to say I was very happy.

We even found excellent accommodation in Osorno. Right in the town centre and with ground floor, outside rooms, TV and hot showers. I could not ask for more.

6 January - Osorno – Los Lagos - 95km

It was another perfect day on the road as we followed the Pan-American Highway North. The weather was warm, a slight tailwind and excellent scenery past forested areas. We turned off the highway to the small and very un-touristy village of Los Lagos. We found some rickety accommodation in centre of the village, more a homestay than a guesthouse.

7 January - Osorno – Loncoche - 84km

One of the best days one can have on a bike. The weather was warm; the road was good, gently undulating, past forestry areas and all this with a gentle tailwind. I was truly happy to be out on the road. We stopped at a roadside stall to pick up some cheese, something that seems to be quite popular around here. We pulled into the small village of Loncoche and found an excellent room in town (outside & ground floor). Ernest went off to the supermarket and came back with a bag full of salad stuff. He then proceeded to make an awesome noodle salad and I stuffed myself before crawling into bed.

8/9 January - Loncoche – Temuco - 88km

I could not believe my luck as it was another perfect day - clear skies, sunshine and no head wind. I knew my bad luck had to change some time. We pedalled along at leisure until we reached Temuco, quite a large town. After looking around a bit, we again found an outside ground floor room, something that I always prefer to being cooped up in a 3rd floor room with no outside windows.

We also stayed the following day, did some laundry and some internet. A walk to the interesting local market brought us again to the cheese sellers, fruit, fish, and meat vendors, and also to the local horse butcheries - something that appears to be quite popular around here.

10 January - Temuco – Collipulli - 102km

It was another excellent day on the road, although we had a bit of a head wind in the afternoon. We had to use a lot of sunscreen cream as the time in the cold South has clearly softened us up. It was so nice to be in hot weather without a howling wind. We pulled into the fairly small town of Collipulli. I just love these small villages where people go about their lives without the tourist influence. Each town has a park/plaza in the town centre, and colorful wooden houses. We found a room in the centre at a very reasonable price and just chilled out for the rest of the evening.

11 January - Collipulli – Los Angles - 77km

Blue skies abound and the sun was out as we biked along the Pan Americana highway (Route 5) north. As in the previous days there were plenty of small stalls along the road, mostly frequented by the truck drivers. There were a few hilly sections, as we crossed a number of large rivers along the way.

Soon we reached Los Angeles and turned off the highway to inspect. Not to be confused with the Los Angeles in USA, this is an agricultural town, but also close to a National Park and therefore a jumping board for those wanting to visit the park. This region was hard hit by the severe earthquake a year ago, and the town is still busy recovering from the disaster – rebuilding is in the progress, and many buildings are still in ruins. We found a room, and could pick up BBC on TV – I don’t seem to have missed a lot, in fact it is sometimes amusing to see what is considered to be World News!

12/13 January 2011
Los Angeles – Chillan

We made some sandwiches for the road and set off at 11h00, nothing unusual in this part of the world as people go to bed rather late and only get going at around 10h00. Ernest spotted a welding shop on our way out of town and quickly had his bike’s front rack repaired – it broke along the infamous Ruta 40 when he was being blown over on the gravel roads. It was nice to cycle in warm weather for a change and we even looked for shade when we wanted to rest.

Chillan was interesting as it had an old city with cobblestone roads and is also the birthplace of Bernardo O’Higgins who is regarded as the liberator of Chile.

We found Chillan rather interesting with many squares and parks; in fact it was so nice that we even stayed the next day. The town had a nice Town Centre with a mall and plenty of shops and interesting roadside cafes. There are also some very interesting churches near the town centre.

Chillan was partially destroyed by earthquakes in 1742 and 1928, and sits near the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake (magnitude 8.8) which again caused severe damage. The damage is still quite visible and our accommodation was slanting at such a degree that we thought we might just roll out the door.

14 January 2011
Chillan – Linares

Again we only left after 11h00, heading north on the Pan American highway. We turned off for Linares and found a little cycle path between the two lanes heading in and out of the town. Again the town surprised me with all its old buildings; unfortunately most are still off limits due to the earthquake of Feb 2010. Close to the town square is the Cathedral Church of San Ambrosio de Linares, one of the nicest buildings in town.

We found some nice affordable accommodation (with cable TV), we could store the bikes in a spare room and, as usual, Ernest lit his petrol stove and cooked some pasta in the bathroom.

15 January 2011
Linares – Talca

For the first time in a long while we had a slight headwind. We felt rather lazy and turned off for Talca. Talca is a university town in a wine region and that sounded pretty good to me. Unfortunately we found Talca to be badly damaged from the Feb 2010 earthquake and all the cheap accommodation in the older areas that we’d heard about was destroyed – there were mostly just empty lots where these hostels had stood. It’s rather shocking to see such devastation.

We took a walk to the local Santa Isabel supermarket (which you get in every town) to get some supplies for supper and for the road the next day.

16 January 2011
Talca – Curico

We left at 10.30 with a nice tail wind, but it was not long before we heard a loud bang, which was Ernest’s back tire having a blowout. He fixed it rather quickly and we were on our way again. This was Wine County and we cycled past many a wine farm which very much resembled those at home in the Western Cape. Once we reached Curico we found the very pleasant Hotel Prat – with a kitchen for guest use, and outside ground floor rooms which is always a convenience as we can park the bikes outside the door.

The town was destroyed by an earthquake in 1928 and rebuilt during the following year. As is the case with the other towns in the area, Curico was once again badly damaged in the February 2010 earthquake. The Plaza de Armas (the main square) is most likely the most visited place because of its trees and plants, as well as the historic bandstand.

In summer around this area the sun only sets after 9pm and it only gets dark at around 10pm, which makes it a fairly long day - no wonder people have such a long siesta in the afternoon. Shops could be closed anything from 12 – 4pm!!

17 January 2011
Curico – Rancangua

As usual we left after 11h00; it was fairly hot with a slight tailwind, what a pleasure! Vineyards stretched as far as the eye could see, always with the ever present Andes to the East. We stopped a few times for a cool drink and soon reached Rancagua. I did not expect much of the town, but was once again pleasantly surprised. Rancagua has a historic section with loads of old houses. It is quite a big and busy place with a very pleasant town square known as Plaza of the Heroes, and is the place where the Battle of Rancagua took place (also referred to as the disaster of Rancagua because O’Higgins and his army had to beat a hasty retreat and hide in the nearby caves).

18/23 January 2011
Rancagua – Santiago

Santiago (population about 6 million) was one of the easiest cities I’ve had to cycle into. Once we got onto the local road, which runs next to the highway, it was straight into the city center. Ernest knew exactly where to go, so we headed straight for the Hostel Chile Inn - where he’d stayed a couple of months earlier before cycling South. It was located in Bario Brazil district close to the City Centre and within easy walking distance of almost everything. Of course, you don’t have to walk because the underground metro railway station was about 100 m from the door and could take you almost anywhere in the city at a fairly cheap rate (we made good use of that).

The hostel was one of the many old 3-storey buildings in the area with high ceilings and large rooms (former grand homes with an upper deck and ground floor courtyard). The staff were really friendly and we even got invited to a free barbeque on the deck (after all, we were like locals as we stayed there a full week). We danced the Macarena till the wee hours of the morning together with the staff and a wild mixture of guests (Italians, Germans, Brasilians, Venesuelans, Mexicans, and of course Chileans from other areas).

We spent a few days wondering around town, enjoying the novelty of taking the underground around the city the funicular up the San Cristobal hill to the statue of the Virgin Mary which offers panoramic views of this vast and pleasant city. My laptop gave endless trouble and I handed it in to be fixed but once I got it back I discovered it was still not working. On the Friday afternoon I took it in to a proper repair shop, and could only get it back on Monday pm, the 24th.

24 January 2011

I finally got my laptop back but then it only spoke Spanish, at least it was working again. I shopped for some essential stuff (i.e. nail varnish) and other stuff and was ready to leave.

25 January 2011
Santiago – Los Andes
81km (+3km through tunnel)

At last we were on our way again. The scenery changed as soon as we left on our way North, and quickly became very desert like. It was boiling hot as we followed the road north to Los Andes via a good old climb up the mountain. After about 55km we reached a tunnel where we were not allowed to pass through on our bikes due to the tunnel being very narrow. The people from the tunnel/highway company quickly loaded us up and took us through the tunnel with their pickup truck. Then it was a pleasant short downhill run to Los Andes valley. We carried on until we saw a small roadside stall with nice lawns, and upon enquiry we found out that they had a campground out back – they also sold homemade bread so that’s where we stayed for the night.

26 January 2011
Los Andes - Road side camping

We packed up at leisure and as could be expected the road was mostly uphill. Our pace was rather slow and we stopped numerous times to take photos and drink some water. We camped up on the hill above an emergency truck stop with good views of the surrounding mountains. The adjacent cascading stream from the snowy mountains provided fresh water. We stopped there a bit early, but we passed the time and Ernest had a wash in the icy cold river (without anything to drink!). While we were having supper a jackal came wandering past, and soon it was pitch dark and a zillion stars lit the sky.

27 January 2011
Road side camp to Puente Del Inca

Three years and 10 months on the bikes! All day long the road zig-zagged up the pass. Although the gradient was acceptable it was still a steep and dreadfully slow 22km climb up the pass from where we’d spent the night. Roadworks along the way also caused more long delays. Eventually we reached the tunnel at the top of the pass and the authorities were kind enough to give us a lift through the 3km long tunnel. Once on the other side it was still 18km to the customs office. We flew downhill past the small settlement of Las Cuevas with just a few timber restaurants and a strong smell of lentil soup. Then it was onto the small touristy village of Puente Del Inca where we found a basic campsite. At least we had a sight of Aconcagua from the road, the highest peak in the America’s (6 960 m). Ernest cooked supper and then it was an early evening for me. Puente Del Inca has the most amazing scenery with high mountains all around which turned all colors of the rainbow at sunset. In addition there was a natural stone bridge across the river which has turned a lovely orange color from the sulfur spring waters running over it. The remains of an old spa were located directly under the bridge and were slowly turning the same color.

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