Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Santiago and Valparaiso

Santiago, Chile's capital is the largest city in the country with a population of over 6 million people in the greater metropolitan area. I was keen to spend a few days here to have a look around, get my bike checked out and repair a few things. Local couple Daniel and Maeva who I stayed with during my time there were an absolutely lovely couple who made me very welcome and did a great job of showing me around. With Daniel's love of history and Maeva's love of art they made for great tour guides and brought me on a few bike tours of this stylish city. Daniel was also a keen cook so I was treated to several very tasty home cooked meals. In fact such was the amazing effort they went to, Daniel checked the internet for some traditional Irish meals so one evening we had a lovely bangers, mash and stew combo and another evening a shepard's pie meets a local Chilean meat and potatoe dish which was fantastic. A different night when I cooked for them Daniel was mysteriously sick with a pain in his stomach the next morning..?!

La Moneda - the presidential palace in central Santiago which was bombed by the
Chilean air force during the coup in 1973.

More Botero, this time outside the museum of fine art in Santiago
The incredible Maeva and Daniel with the incredible bangers
and mash and stew...mmm!!
During my first day out with Daniel and Maeva we headed off to the local Irish pub where I got to see Ireland's rugby match in the Six Nations against France which was the first match I'd seen in a year and a half. My time in the city also coincided with Saint Patrick's day so we spent a great night out in the same "Dublin" Irish pub. The place was packed unlike the other day for the match. As well as lots of Chileans there were seemed to be plenty of tourists but it took until later in the night two run into (not literally) the only two Irish girls in the place. It turns out one of them was from Booterstown not a million miles away from where I grew up. They were nice girls, one of whom was studying in Santiago and they brought me out later with their student pals.

All those glasses on the table are not ours..
While in Santiago I got a pleasant surprise when it turned out that my uncle happened to be arriving in town the following day as part of an organised tour of Chile and Argentina. The following evening my uncle Colin treated me to an extremely good meal followed by a few beers. It had been a few years since I had seen him so it was a fantastic catch up.

The gang at "All is Pussy" bike shop
During the previous weeks cycling before arriving in Santiago I had been experiencing a few issues with my back wheel and I had thought that it just needed to be properly trued. Luckily Daniel's good friend Tomas ran a bike shop called "All is Pussy". It turned out that my bike wheel was beyond repair with a large five inch crack running along the rim that could only be seen on the inside when you took the tyre, tube and covering off. If that hadn't been discovered in Santiago and further down the road I could have been in real trouble. I guess I was paying the price for being so heavily loaded riding some very bumpy dirt roads for too long. Or maybe after more than 23,000 kilometres it had just come to the end of it's life. Either way I was extremely grateful to Tomas and his friends at All is Pussy for all the help and time they gave me in replacing my wheel and getting my bike properly road worthy again.
Cracked wheel rim that needed replacing

Some sealions along the coast between Papudo and Valparaiso
Mural of Valparaiso

After a longer than planned stop over it was time to leave Santiago. I got the bus out of the city and back to the coastal town of Papudo where we had stopped on the bike when Jack and Michael had visited. It felt strange getting off the bike on my own in the village where I had been with the lads. I spent a lovely day cycling along the coast from there to the port city of Valparaiso. I had another few days off here planned as it is famous for the striking colourful houses built up along it's many hills and has some great street art. Valparaiso has more of a run down or bohemian feel to it than most of the neighborhoods of Santiago that I saw. There are several large universities in the city so has a significant student population.

Valparaiso in the distance at nightfall

Cerro Alegre

Valparaiso is a large port city
Tsunami warning to evacuate the coast

I was in Valparaiso when a sizable earthquarke struck off the northern coast of Chile. I didn't feel any tremors but it was interesting to watch things unfold on the local news channel. There was a tsunami warning and the television showed various coastal cities such as Antofagasta where I had passed getting evacuated to higher ground. I am pretty sure that my friends at the firestation where I stayed in Antofagasta would have had a busy night. Despite being on the coast in Valparaiso we were fine as I was staying well up one of the hills. A few days later we did get a little tremor however.

I was slightly shook after experiencing my first ever tremor but some of my
friends did their best to reassure me.

I was staying with a bunch of guys who are were all on CouchSurfing (the website that puts travellers and locals in touch) in a house known as "El Headquarter"! They were a great social bunch who were big into the couch surfing thing so there were always plenty of people coming and going as well as their big gang of local friends. They sure knew how to throw a party or more accurately parties. It was of bermuda triangle kinda place where night turns into day and like many's the couch surfer before me I got sucked into El Headquarter and ended up staying more than a week. I lost count of the number of days that I had planned to hit the road. Good times.

The nearby Vina del Mar was a lot more sanatised

El Headquarter, el mejor carrete de Valparaiso. Los voy a extranar mucho!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Los tres amigos

Two good friends of mine, Jack and Michael, had expressed an interest a while back that they would like to come out and join me for a weeks cycling. We had settled on Santiago as being the best place for them to fly into and I was going to do my best to get as close to Santiago as I could. As their arrival date approached I knew I wasn't going to get as far south as Santiago so we had agreed on a city a bit further north called La Serena. They were going to hire bikes in Santiago, bus up to La Serena and we would spend the week cycling south.

Church in La Serena
When I finally staggered into La Serena I checked my emails to find that the lads were not going to be arriving in on the bus for another hour or so. I went off and sorted out a hostel near the bus station. After eleven o'clock that night Jack and Michael had found their way to the hostel. It was great to finally see them. It was also kinda weird to see my two pals in some random town in Chile complete with the bikes and panniers. As the lads had hardly eaten all day we immediately went out for a bite to eat and a couple of beers to celebrate Jack's birthday which had been a few days previous.
We unfortunately had to spend a full day in La Serena as it materialised that the lads both had problems with their rented bikes which was frustrating as they only had a week in Chile. I wasn't overly complaining however as it gave me a rest day after some big days on the bike getting to La Serena in time. It was entertaining to observe all the bemused looks as we walked around the fancy shopping centre in our beautiful lycra attire to buy food supplies for the next few days.

Between the kilo plus of Reeses peanut butter cups that Michael brought and
the order I had put in with Jack to bring from home I was not going to be running
low on goodies any time soon. The silver up top is a bit of salvaged Christmas cake
....ooh yeah.

Ready for action

Michael's bike issue was still a bit of a concern with the tyre coming very close to the frame but we decided to hit the road hoping and praying that it would survive for the coming days cycling. It was great to finally hit the road and the lads excitement at doing some bike touring was refreshing for me. For the first day or so we were not likely to have much in the line of towns or villages so we had brought plenty of food and water. It didn't take long for the lads to see how much water you go through as the day got progressively hotter. That night we camped at the back of a field behind a shop we had stopped at.

Our first nights camp spot even had the luxury of a table (aka large slab of concrete)

Guaranteed Irish..
The next few days saw some good cycling as the lads got to experience decent hills, headwinds and a few hot afternoons. I'm not sure if they'll ever look at wind-farms the same way again. I wasn't sure what standard of cycling to expect from them but thankfully they were both properly cycling fit and kept me on my toes (or cycling cleats). They quickly got to appreciate the simple joys of a proper shower after a couple of days of cycling and camping. I approached the week with the attitude of just enjoying the ride and hanging out with good company rather than trying to rush too much. With that in mind we were never on the road overly early but still managed to get some decent distances in most days.

Just what you want on your week off.. to camp in a cattle pen.

Ooh la la..!
Good camp spot in a pine forest

Time flew by and it wasn't long before our last day on the bikes which was more of a half days cycling to the picturesque seaside town of Papudo where we had a nice lunch and a swim in the pacific. The lads needed to catch a bus into Santiago later that afternoon to give themselves enough time to drop back the bike rentals and catch their flights the following day. Not wanting to miss a last night out with the three amigos I also threw my bike on the bus to Santiago with the intention of coming back to Papudo to continue the cycle after I had checked out the big city. It was late by the time we made it to our hostel but that obviously didn't stop us going out to enjoy our last night together.

End of the lads cycling as we arrived the pretty seaside town of Papudo

Fine Art museum Santiago
The following day we bid farewell to Jack after a quick lunch and Michael and I headed for a stroll around the city as his flight wasn't until much later that night. That evening we went for a beer with Daniel and Maeva a local Santiago couple who I knew through the cycling website WarmShowers who had kindly agreed to put me up while I was in Santiago. I said goodbye to Michael as he caught his flight to the airport. I was sad to see the lads go as it had been a very enjoyable week. I was thrilled that some friends from home had made it out and could get a little taste for my bike journey and also a taste for the kilo of Reeses peanut butter cup sweets I was getting through since they arrived. Thanks lads, it was great fun.

Michael and I having a stroll around Santiago