I think it’s safe to say that this trip is as much about rest and relaxation as it is bicycling. So we find ourselves in Chillan, Chile after five days of cycling south. We are back with our great friends from Valparaiso. Romi’s father is on vacation which leaves plenty of room and no one for us to bother with all our stuff here at the house. Today we are headed west to the beach near Concepcion to swim, eat fresh seafood and stay at Romi’s friends beach house!
So where have we been? Well like we said in the last post we have been riding through what is known as the central valley. Almost the entirety of the land in this area is agriculture. There are probably hundreds of different vegetables and fruits grown in this region but for the most part it’s comprised of vineyards, apple trees and kiwis. We didn’t know they were kiwis and were surprised to find out when we wondered underneath some of the plants. They grow on large vines which are strung up to create this massive mat of vegetation that stretches for acres and almost no sunlight reaches the ground below. Unfortunetly the kiwis aren’t ripe yet.
So on Saturday we managed to make it about fifty miles before we called it a day and began looking for a camp site. That night we found an area on the edge of a wheat field. It was a fine spot except for that all night there were these birds that never stopped squawking. A few old men rode by on bicycles in the morning and gave us quite quizzical looks. I don’t think it’s often that anyone in these towns see gringos, nevermind on the side of a field on your way to the farm.
Sunday we had what was probably the most enjoyable day of riding yet. A lot of quiet rural roads that were for the most part flat made cycling easygoing and we made about eighty miles. In San Javier we stopped to pick up supplies for dinner and breakfast. That night it would be rice with a soup mix, pan, tuna and Backpackers Pantry Chicken Fettucini Alfredo (thanks Amie). We also decided that we deserved some beer and local wine that night. In pretty much every town there is at least one local who is interested in talking to us. San Javier was no different and we received our first invitation to “onces” from a couple. Unfortunately there house was too far in the wrong direction so we had to decline the invitation. Confusing directions and a wrong turn put us into Villa Alegre, a tiny but prosperous town in the area known for it’s wineries. Fortunately for us the main street was lined with orange trees. After a few minutes of tree climbing we were enjoying the juiciest and best tasting oranges I’ve possibly ever had. Refreshed by the oranges we turned around and headed back in the right direction. Eventually we arrived at a river at the bottom of a climb and decided that was a great spot to camp. Rivers are great sites because we can swim to cool down, bathe, and it makes meal clean up easier.
The next morning we awoke to several horses browsing near our tents. Some breakfast, packing up camp and we were on the road. Dan was feeling a bit under the weather and so at about ten miles in he opted to take the more direct route to Chillan where he knew we’d be meeting our friends. Derek went with Dan and Anthony Ted and myself continued along our planned route. The riding was nice in a pretty remote area and we were able to make good time in the morning. We stopped in Cauquenes for empanadas and cola and took some rest in the shade. Empanadas have become our lunch almost every day. They are quick, delicious, easy to find and cheap. They typically cost 500 or 600 pesos (about $1.50) and consist of dough wrapped around a filling. In this part of Chile the traditional Empanadas de Horno contains beef, onion, exactly one olive and one piece of hardboiled egg all in a light gravy type sauce. While there we met a native Chilean woman who has lived in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada for the last 23 years. Coincidentally she knew about the town in Ontario where Teds family had a cottage for many years.
The riding after lunch took a different turn. Here the sun reaches it’s peak around three or four and lasts until about six. Soon after leaving Cauquenes we encountered a moderate but steady headwind, near 90 degree heat and a series of rolling hills for 30+ miles. Originally our plan was to ride to Chillan but once we arrived in Quirihue having already rode 80 miles we quickly changed our minds. We tried to hitch a ride but weren’t having much luck. We decided that perhaps taking the bus was a better option. The next bus arrived and I asked if we could ride to Chillan with our bikes. The driver said yes but there was only room for two. Not wanting to leave one person behind Anthony took the first bus alone and Ted and I stayed to wait for the next bus. Well the next bus came and it was full to the brim. No room for us… So we waited and waited some more and yet no more buses had come. It was now nearly dark and neither Ted nor I were excited about having to camp out for the night. Finally a bus rolled into the stop. However this was not a bus specifically destined for Chillan. We had seen it coming the opposite direction into town about forty minutes earlier. Through broken Spanish I was able to ascertain that he would take us to Chillan. Since there was no one on the bus we loaded our bikes right into the aisle. The driver insisted that we sit in the two shotgun seats next to him. What followed was by far the most exhilarating bus ride I’ve taken. The bus was an old Mercedes Benz with a diesel engine so loud it was dificult for Ted and I to talk sitting next to eachother. If there was a speed limit the driver certainly ignored it. Not that he could have known how fast he was driving since the dash lights didn’t work. Nor did the engine work very well. Any time we approached a hill, and there were several, he’d pin the throttle so we could make it up. That also meant no stopping for traffic and at one point we passed two stopped buses and a van in the oncoming lane at about 50 mph. All said we made it to Chillan right in the center of town at around ten pm. As it turns out the driver was just on his way home for the night, had seen us waiting for the bus and was giving us a free ride. We gave him 3000 pesos as a thank you and waited in the Plaza de Armas to meet up with the rest of the gang.
As it turns out Dan and Derek had been in Chillan since five o’clock. Because Dan wasn’t feeling well they ended up hitching a ride from a produce truck driver. He must have taken pity on them because in addition to the hitch he gave Dan and Derek money for “soda and ice cream”.
Well I think I smell breakfast… Until next time…