Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Continuing south for Argentina

Back to the camping
Between Santiago and Valparaiso I had spent a few weeks mostly off the bike which was a lot longer than planned. Several bike issues were some of the reasons for the longer stays but these weren't entirely to blame!  As has sometimes been the case getting back on the bike after a lay off I was in mixed emotions. Definitely a bit sad to be saying goodbye to lots of good people and when I thought about it, this was the first time that I was going to be back on my own in nearly a month as Jack and Michael had been over for the week before my stops in Santiago and Valparaiso. Sometimes it can take a day to change the mindset to get back into the solo bike ridding. That said I was definitely relieved and happy to be back on the open road on a lovely sunny afternoon.

Some pretty chilled surf towns along the coast south of Valparaiso
I wasn't cycling right by the coast for very long but I did tend to
 keep half an eye on the water after the tsunami
warnings a few weeks previous.
Autumn in the air
Despite the long lay off I was exhausted the day I left and knew I would need a night or two of good rest before I would be fully back in action. Being a hilly city I had to crawl up into the hills on my way out of town. Normally when I am on the road I try to get up at a decent time but on my first night I was going to allow myself a good sleep on. That first night back on the road I slept from 10 pm until 12 noon the next day pretty much straight through. I needed it.
What I didn't need was to be getting up late and still only doing shortish distances several days later. It wasn't long after I had left Valparaiso that I heard about the terrible wild fires that killed several people and destroyed homes making several thousand families homeless in the hills. While in Valparaiso the wind would get very strong in the afternoons especially higher up the hills and presumably made it very easy for a fire to spread.

It didn't take long back on the road to receive more incredible hospitality
from strangers. This lovely couple invited me to lunch. - delicious fish.
It was almost a week before I got a decent days cycling under my belt and that was because I had a specific target. The town of Constitution was where I was headed as I reckoned it would hopefully have a Bomberos (Fire station) where I might be able to get my first shower since getting back on the road. Having had a few hot days and cycled some very dusty tracks by the time I arrived into Constitution I don't think I've ever looked in more of a state. Of course I only realised this when I saw myself in the mirror after the Bomberos had kindly let my stay. There was a lot of dust stuck to my face and I looked like a chimney cleaner, a chimney cleaner in cycling gear.

Josue cycled with me for about 20 km into Chillan to show me where the Bomberos was.
I was finally back into doing proper distances the days after Constitution as I gradually made my way away from the coast and did a few days on the main north-south highway 5. Despite all the bike repairs in the previous weeks my rear gears were not running smoothly and the cable eventually snapped about 25km outside the town of Victoria where I was hoping to make that evening. I was stuck in a high gear (for going fast) and thankfully the hills weren't too bad on the main road which meant that I flew the last stretch at about 23 km per hour as it was like cycling a single speed. I decided to replace both gear cables in the local bike shop the next morning hoping that this would finally be the end of the bike issues.

No prizes for guessing who the patron saint in the town of San Nicolas was

Arriving into the lakeside tourist town of Pucon in Chile's lake district
A day later I was off the main highway making my way east towards the Andes and Argentina, passing into the beautiful lakes district of Chile. After I left the picturesque lake side tourist town of Pucon I was back up into the mountains where there was a more notable sense of autumn being in the air with lots of the trees changing colours as they started losing their leaves. For about a week after leaving Valparaiso I was in sandals and short sleeves with the hot weather but things were definitely changing quickly as I got further south and deeper into autumn.

For the birdwatchers... pretty bird.

 It was a step climb on gravel for the last 20 km out of Chile to the border crossing of Mamuil Malal. I crossed into Argentina in the late afternoon with 70 km still to do to get to the first town of Junin de los Andes. I would probably have camped if it wasn't for the fact that I had arranged to meet my old cycling buddies Simon and Olivia who were making their way north at this stage. They had said that they were going to prepare a feast to celebrate our brief reunion so there was no way I was going to miss that!

I've been telling people for a long time that I am cycling from Alaska
to Argentina so it was strange to finally cross into Argentina.

With a gradual downhill and a slight tail wind I managed to fly the 70 km to Junin and made it to the hostel where the guys were shortly after night fall. It was fantastic to get the team back together and they certainly hadn't lied when they said they were going to prepare a feast. Six delicious homemade pizzas no less and a chocolate mouse for desert. Thanks Simon and Olivia!

This is the sight that greeted me on a trip to my first Argentinan supermarket.
No wonder they are good at football if you can practice your headers while
popping in to pick up the milk and dribble your way round to the bread section.

"Now Billy I don't think you've eaten enough since you got to Junin so I
am filling your snack box full of banana bread and corn bread"
Thanks Olivia..!!

I took the following day off to hang out with the guys and that night we ate another ridiculous amount of food. A cottage pie large enough to satisfy at least 6 healthy adult appetites was polished off by the three hungry cyclists. As if that wasn't enough there was some banoffi, corn bread and banana bread that needed a home. By the time I rolled out of Junin I had probably consummed enough calories for a week's cycling!

Onto the famous "Ruta 40" that runs almost the length of Argentina

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!