Sunday, November 14, 2010

Santiago De Chile

Santiago, what can I say. Is it a city of dreams or the centre of the Chilean universe? The latter I think is true.  We leave Valparaiso and drive towards the city. Everywhere around you can see that the economy has been focused around this city. The beautiful mountains ahead are covered in snow after heavy rains the day before. The city sits at 500m above sea level, the mountains a further 3000m up. At first we think this is a permanent feature, but we are told that generally this time of the year the snow has all melted, evidenced by the Mapocho River at full-bore with the run-off.
The drive to the hostel through the city proves easy enough and we settle in to well run digs at the international hostel off Moneda, conveniently situated around all major sites. It is a striking place and very businesslike, but all we knew about Chile was about to change. No late mornings or excuses for breakfast and short comings and yet it still has an air of innocence about it. Chilean people, I have come to realize, are extremely shy but will do their best to offer help. We contact Esteban and Lesley our Chilean- American couple. Esteban meets us at the metro Los Heroes and we are unaware of the treat that he has in store for us. We get taken to all the sites and little did we know that as an architectural student he was compelled to study all the buildings. Boy was he a good student! We meander through the city and soon feel indebted as he pulls no stops and unselfishly offloads his city’s pride. Later we meet Lesley and we are shown both the old and most contemporary. This all happens on our first day! Then off to a Peruvian restaurant to drink Inca Cola and wait for it…..LLAMA! And was it good. It does not end here; these guys are intent on wearing us out. We are off to a local hang out called  La Piojera and it is here that we experience an earthquake (terremoto) in the heart of Santiago. Don’t go rushing for CNN or the newspapers thinking you are missing something- it’s a local drink made up of white wine (knikkels), ice-cream and pineapple concentrate. One was definitely my limit and if that was not enough there is something called the “replica” or aftershock, I am too scared to try that one. The conversation is good and intense and we head for a coffee bar and nightcap, we crawl into our hostel bunk at 2 am, feeling like naughty teenagers up to no good! Our friends really treated us so well and took all the time and care to do so.
The following day we are off to find the market that Esteban had pointed out, but with all the weaving through the city we become disoriented. It is 30 degrees plus, and we are hot. I give up my male pride and go over to ask a carabinero (policeman) sitting in a car for directions. Nada espanol on my side and niks English on his, the conversation soon becomes animated. He decides this is no good and motions for us to climb into the back of the police car. What is this I think? Not sure what to make of this, we just sit there in amazement. They take us straight to the market and while driving make sure that windows are opened to ventilate the hot weather away. If they could have taken us any closer they would have had to pay our market bills as well. This was so unusual and the courtesy of the guys was just amazing, with handshakes and greetings to match. A small crowd of onlookers must have thought we were VIP’s or something, but with our limited wardrobe, I doubted that. Our whole experience throughout our travels in Chile is only complimentary of these guys. It has to be said that our police force at home can sure learn a lesson or two. It puzzles us as to why they carry their job with such pride and absolute devotion; surely it is not the highest paying job? Then we heard that the name carabineros is the same as in Italian which means military police. So they do their training in the military and any wrong foot put forward gets nailed and they are out. What a pleasant bunch; we salute them.

Papudo to Valparaiso (90km)

Curt: It is our final day on the road! The past 4 weeks have seen us come through some pretty daunting terrain. We have survived. To all the doubters, don’t feel bad, I had my doubts too, but not for Eugene’s ability. This man just doesn't give up. I reckon he is good for another thousand kms at least. Well, as usual, breakfast is not ready at 8:30 so we promptly help ourselves to hot water and at 9am we leave - what’s new? I had anticipated a pleasant coastal ride and a shorter distance. Next town along the coast is Zapellar which is very trendy and a playground for the rich, with private roads and beaches - wow! As I drive further along the rural Chile fades into the distance. I approach Con Con and see joggers, skateboarders, cyclist and weekenders strutting their stuff on their Harleys and 4x4 vehicles. No holding back here, this is serious materialism.
Well, my concern is for Eugene who has to wade through all of this, and it becomes more and more difficult the closer we get to Valparaiso. I cannot find the hostel we were aiming for and get stuck in traffic. What is this, I say to myself - I have hardly moved and I know Eugene is fast catching up as I am not going much faster than he is. I spot him on the other side of the road and manage to flag him down. We are both dumbstruck and hit a bit of an anticlimax. We try another hostel across the city and I see poor Eugene’s (now chicken legs) whizzing round and round in my rear-view mirror.
lifts of valparaiso
We eventually find the historic old town area of Alegre y Conception and book into the first hostel. At last we can catch our breath. This side of town looks pretty suspect but we figure it is better than sleeping by the roadside. After collecting our thoughts and thinking more rationally we come to realize that we have found a gem within the city.
This area is where the old money was created and spent in 1920’s, ornate buildings clinging to the side of the mountain. Some walls are covered in graffiti and others crying out for paint. I don’t know what to make of this - a hodgepodge, mix and match, but what is clear is that it’s got soul. Photos here are a pleasure with musicians and artists all throwing their talent together. The vibrancy in the town square draws one in. The biggest factor for me is that even in this decaying part of town, one did not feel unsafe-just FUNKY! We decide to spend another night and that speaks for itself.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Los Villos to Papudo (90.7km)

Suzi delivers a good night’s sleep. It will be my last night on the road and a third day running without a good shower. By 5h30 we are wrenched out of our sleep. I will leave only when there is sufficient light on the road. The weather is perfect and accompanied by a slight breeze. I’m rolling down the slope when I hear a clicking sound coming from one of my tyres. It’s an all too familiar sound and I stop to investigate. My tyre had picked up a steel pin which is lodged firmly in the tyre. I use a pliers to pull it out and loud whoosh sound accompanies it. Off come the panniers as I have to repair the puncture. I am just finished the operation when Curt arrives and we have something to eat.
I continue with my journey and from this point the road becomes a bit difficult with long rolling hills. Every town one passes has a river crossing which is always accompanied by a steep incline out of the valley. The 92km stretch along this part of the coast is quite fascinating with little bays and quays that jut out into the ocean. Some areas along here are built up while others have sparse housing. I pass sweet smelling blue gum trees which is indigenous around here, the once scrub land is now replaced with bush. My love affair with the Pan American Highway and home for last 3 weeks  comes to an end as I head along the coast on the F30E, a minor road, to the small hamlet of Papudo. This is where we plan to stay for the night. Papudo is a little resort town that comes alive in the high summer season. It is a quaint place with a beautiful beach stretching all along the coast with lots of birds and pelicans that just hang out.

Posada along the M5 to Los Vilos (77.9km)

Our stop for the night is not far from a roadside restaurant. I drape my wet clothing  over the bicycle where the wind can dry it. The mist has lifted to give the cold sun a chance to come out to play. I take refuge in the car and immediately I fall asleep. An hour later I am now ready to have some food. So off we go to the road side restaurant, a glorified truck stop where we tuck into soup (carbonara mariscos) - what a pleasure and oh! so tasty. This is topped up with coffee. We sit for a while before we retire to our little suzie and watch some of the video footage Curt has shot and have a good old laugh. The wind continues to howl and at times pounds the car continuing through the entire night.
The following morning nothing has changed and by 7o'clock I am on the road with the wind at full strength, the road the same as before. Curt catches up with me and we have something to eat. Not long and a toll plaza comes up and as usual bicycles are not allowed to go through; however, provision is made to use a side road, a little detour of sorts and once again I am back on the road where I continue my journey.
After 40km I stop at a road side café garage and have something to drink and feed my worms (stomach). From here I continue my journey and just up ahead I can see a dreaded construction sign. This is not a welcome site. So I have to time my entry perfectly as only one lane is in operation, that means I will be holding up the traffic all the way to the top of the hill. Truck drivers are impatient here and have no qualms pushing you off the road. Others will hoot and not even slow down regardless of roads signs warning trucks and buses to slow down. You do get some very good truckers who are patient and give you enough room before they pass you; I tend to acknowledge them with a courtesy wave. 
As I’m struggling uphill I hear a car coming from behind and just as it passes a window is rolled down  and the person calls out "hello Eugene, how are you doing?” I look to see who it is, a little bit shocked, of course its Suesie and Dave on their way back from San Pedro De Atacama heading for Valparaiso. They stop further down the road clear of the construction which is by now behind me.  Its good to make contact with them and not long after Curt joins us and all the… rarara. Once they all leave, I have not far to go now and just 5km outside Los Villos we stop and set up camp for the night. So for one more night suzie is happy to provide us with lodging.
Curt: Eugene is a few kms behind me so I pull into this old disused road section which offers a view across the bay to Los Vilos. All is quiet except for the birds and the snoring of an old man sleeping in his car, oblivious to the new arrivals. Quite a strange fella, who spends the whole afternoon in and around this area. When Eugene arrives he immediately enquires as to what “POPS” is up to. We settle in with binoculars and cameras to investigate a rather different visitor as opposed to what we have experienced over the last few weeks. Our piece of paradise! So our attention is diverted back to pops who is now awake and strutting his stuff, pacing up and down the walkways, pensive and focused on the field before us. He seems concerned about our presence and almost irritated. Stuff him, we murmur to ourselves, we will take this space and not let him get in the way. After a while we come to realize what he is up to. Snares were placed in the veld to catch rabbits. We walk over to a fence and see buck droppings, this is what he is after! Well eventually he decides to leave and we have supper, the old familiar ham and cheese.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Peñablanco to Posada on the M5 (46.5km)

WHAT A DAY! Well, it starts out all calm with heavy mist showing its presence on the car and the bicycle. They are covered with huge drops and everything is wet. Looked liked it rained heavily. When I eventually leave the road continues where I had left off the previous day.  The undulation is beginning to turn out more like rolling hill hell. The mist makes it more of a misery as it continues its strangle hold on the terrain. Due to the moisture in the air my clothes did not get a chance to dry out and wet clothes  and wind just makes my journey more uncomfortable as the cold sets in. I stop to put on a third layer of clothing. It’s not the mist that's my concern but the wind - a stiff breeze hits me square in the face and continues to taunt me like a boxer feigning and jabbing as it spars with me.  There are more up hills than down hills at this point as wind continues.
My journey passes a wind farm believe it or not; it is then I realize hmmmm….. The wind will always be a constant here. I’m reduced to a paltry 7km/h and I’m doing my best . I eventually meet up with Curt and we have a bite to eat and hand in my gloves. I’m done for the day, lost the battle but not the war. Tomorrow will be another day.

La Serena to Peñablanco (112.0km)

Curt , Hendrietta and I have breakfast . We are to continue our journey while she still has one or more days left before heading onto San Pedro De Atacama.  After all the necessary greeting I am ready to tackle the road. The city of La Serena by 8 am is quite bustling with city traffic. Cars, buses and trucks collect in streams and move in unison as they head off in variouss directions. I stay on the M5 for now and will be accompanied by the heavy trucks and long distance bus volume leaving the city.  Once out of the city one starts to climb. It is from this point where one gets a good sense of the beautiful beaches that stretch for miles along the coast.  It is here that the desert  eventually loses its grip and gives way to the rolling green bushes and the cacti as they suck on the moisture of the mist that begins its cycle of rolling in over the coast.  It is also here in La Serena where The Pan American Highway opens to a freeway with dual carriageways that will hug the coast for now and will end up in Santiago. 
The road along this stretch is very hilly. It is only my second time that I encounter the rolling mist and it is a very thick mist almost like a light rain. I have to wear a raincoat  which I brought along just for in case and it was a good decision. The jacket works well to keep the moister at bay but everything begins to get wet and I suffer the cold that the wind brings along with it. Half way through my journey the sun eventually burns off the mist and there is a slight reprieve. We find a place along the road just beyond the small hamlet of Peñablanco

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Incahusi to La Serena (96.32km)

Home Suzuki is becoming just a bit uncomfortable for me. However, for Curt he just loves it. Why? I wish I knew. I don’t wait for alarm anymore as my body aches with laying in one position for a long period at a time. By 6h30 all the nodige are done and this morning it is a bit cold so I put on another jacket to keep warm. The road continues where it left off with a slow downhill spiral and by the 40km mark Curt’s caught up with me. From here the road condition turns out to be a bit nasty with no road run off. Trucks are posing a bit of a problem here and this will continue all the way into La Serena. Once past the town of El Horno the road will begin the roller coaster ride with every hill looking twice as bad as Suiker Bossie for the next 50km or so.  I meet up with Curt just outside the main turn off in the town of La Serena. I am glad to have survived this part of the journey.  Just beyond the main drag it not far to go before the Hostal El Punto. We plan to stay for two nights.
Curt: as the none cyclist it was as though someone had drawn the curtain and exposed a new world. A police checkpoint, which is none other than a few traffic cones is the dividing line between the society of the north and a new world south. Maybe I am just desert hardened and happy to see something fresh, all the conveniences and fresh coffee! This town greets you with the university complex and all its nuances and a society with all the trendiness to go with it. The opulence is almost palpable but we keep an open mind. When you have been deprived of so many basic things like water, showers and food choices, this all seems like too much.
Well El Punto is home for 2 days to recharge and catch up. The instant coffee we bought in Antofogusta is a crowd stopper. It invites immediate conversations and this time I offer a Dutch HR consultant a cuppa and both Eugene and I give our views on work environments and such. She invites us for dinner the following night…but that is another story.