Days 589 - 605: Up and Over the Andes...yet again

The next day was clearer

Mendoza, Argentina to Pichilemu, Chile 680 km

December 2 - 19, 2013

It has been a fun couple of weeks, first we met up with my dad in Mendoza, then climbed up and over the Andes for the fourth time, and finally made it to our old friend the Pacific Ocean.  After the long, flat, and hot stretch before Mendoza...this stretch has been amazing! 

Central Chile: Part One

Relaxing and wining in Mendoza:
After my dad arrived by bus from Mendoza, we spent another few days in the city.  Part of the reason was that we decided to get tested for parasites (yet again!).  We had both been feeling low energy, upset stomach-y, and some of the other usual offerings of parasites.  Despite this we were able to explore the city and area at a slow pace.  We did some biking with my dad, visiting some local wineries and the city.  It turns out that Mendoza is another one of those meeting points for cyclists, and the night before we left we got together with eight other cyclists that we had met on the road!  Mendoza is a beautiful city, but it is also not the best place to rest up.... The late-night Argentinian culture, combined with the heat and a possible bedbug infestation at the hostel we were staying at, all combined to make us feel a little more tired upon departure.

But as it turned out, it was nothing that a little cool mountain air couldn't cure...

Up and Over the Andes - Mendoza, Argentina to Los Andes, Chile: 

For our four day ride from Mendoza to Los Andes, my dad joined us by taking local buses to each of our daily destinations.  It worked out pretty well, but may have been a little boring for him at times!  On the first day we rode to Potrerillos.  We took city streets for the first 30 km or so, and then ended up on the main highway... We later found out that there was another road we could have taken..which would have likely been much more relaxing as the trucks and buses passing us seemed homicidal.  There was no shoulder on this dead straight highway that led into the mountains, and the traffic was moving fast.  It the main border crossing between Argentina and Chile, so we shouldn't have been too surprised by the traffic.  Normally buses and trucks are reasonably respectful if we make it clear that we need to be given wide clearance by occupying just enough of the lane to make it impossible for them to pass.  It was not the case along this road...they seemed to just lean on the horn and pass us with only inches to spare.   I became so frustrated, that I ended up throwing my bike on the side of the road and yelling profanities at the vehicles.... I won't go into more details.  Once I gathered myself, we took off again continuing our gradual climb of about 900 m, finally we reached a top of sorts and got a view of the Laguna Potrerillos, and began a 200 m descent to the 'town'... Turns out there is not much of a town at all, just a vague region.   This made finding my dad, who had taken the bus, rather difficult.... But in the end we found him at a restaurant with a bottle of beer.  He had rented a cabana nearby, which we were not allowed to occupy until 8pm... So we hung out until then...and then crashed! 

The next day we rode to Upsallata, a much shorter ride and it became more and more beautiful!   The traffic seemed lighter as well, not sure why, perhaps everyone was just moving a little slower because of all the curves.  We were climbing all day, but had a strong tailwind, which made for some fast riding!  One of the highlights of the day was seeing three Condors, one of them even landed on a rock cliff about 30 meters overhead, so we had a very close look.  They are HUGE, and kind of look like vultures.  We arrived in Upsallata early afternoon and found my dad much more easily.  We all went for a hike to a nearby mirador and saw some more Condors!  It was another early evening.

More climbing up into the beautiful mountains, this time to the town of Puente del Inca.  The morning was fast, we enjoyed more tailwinds...but then after lunch it switched entirely and was fiercely in our faces.... The last 20 km took us about four hours to complete!   We finally reached the town of Puente del Inca...I was little worried that my dad would be wondering what was taking us so long...but he had noticed the ferocity of the wind, and was actually surprised that we had made it, he was thinking we might have just given up and set up camp somewhere!   We stayed at a cute little hostel,..which turned out to be the only place to stay in town.  We also met another cyclist, Max from Alaska, he had been biking with a group but was currently riding solo and is also on his way down south.   

The next day we finally reached the top and Chile!   There were no buses that went over the border from the village of Puente del Inca, so dad decided to try and hitch a ride, he was lucky to get picked up by a trucker just as we were leaving and ended up getting a ride to the outskirts of Los Andes.  We had another 20 km or so of climbing...which we slowly chipped away at.  Several km before the top there is a tunnel of about 500 meters in length, the hotel owner had told us that there was a dirt track that went over the tunnel, which would be safer for us to take.   We decided to give it a go, it was quite lovely ...but required a good deal of walking!   Then we reached the 'top'....and now for our admission of 'cheating'.  The top, is in fact a 3.5 km tunnel and guards at the top will not let cyclists through, but will give them a ride for free.  So we got a ride through the tunnel.  There is another option, a dirt track that takes you up another 1000 m, over the tunnel, but apparently this was also closed because of snow, and I don't think there would have been any local buses for dad to meet us up there anyways!  Several kilometres down from the tunnel we crossed through immigration and customs.  It was a fairly simple crossing, we just had to have our bags checked to make sure we did not have any honey, fruit or nuts...good thing we are not raw foodists!   We did sneak in some garlic and sesame seeds. The ride down to Los Andes was windy and wild.  The most impressive part was likely going down 29 switchbacks, that were under construction.  We were lucky that the road workers  held the traffic on both sides to let us pass, but it was still a little intense with rough  patches and no guardrails!   It was also the perfect location for the debut of my Cycling the Andes classic....Switchy-Back:


We carried on down, and it got hotter and hotter again.  We finally reached Los Andes and met up with my dad, and exchanged our tails of crossing the border.  That night we discovered that Chile is expensive....shockingly so.  It will take some getting used so, and we will likely need to camp almost all the time.  We were able to find a used bike for my dad that night, also probably overpriced...but it would do the trick for his ride with us down to the coast. 

Down to the Pacific - Los Andes to Valparaiso: 

It was fantastic to ride with my dad for a few days... We had a very mixed sort of ride, we were on highways and dirt tracks...we had head winds and hills...all in all very fun!  We left Los Andes and rode along quickly, enjoying a small downhill grade.   But, in the afternoon, a very strong headwind picked up...likely coming from the ocean that we were approaching. It was slow slow riding.  We were also trying to stay off the highway, which did have a shoulder, but was unpleasantly busy.  As a result we ended up on some gravel roads and such. Luckily, the day ended on a great paved side road with very little traffic winding its way through forests and villages, which helped to protect us from the wind a bit.   We finally landed in the town of La Calera, and found out that the hotel prices were (again!) shockingly high.  We decided to have some dinner and then settle on a place to stay.  We got talking to the restaurant owner, who had lived in Montreal for some time, and when he asked where we were staying we said that we didn't know....and everything was a little pricey.  He then proceeded to call up his friend Tommy, who, it turned out liked to help out 'gringos'... Before we even knew it, we were at Tommy's house and he and his partner Marita were telling us that they were going away for the night, but that their house was ours !  They gave us a key, told us we could use and eat anything, and then were on their way!  Amazing, the things that happen when you arrive in a small town on your bike! 

After a restful night in Tommy's house, we were on our way again.  We decided to take a small secondary road that paralleled the highway, which was lovely, but turned out to be quite hilly, making our progress rather slow.   We ended up stopping about 30 km short of the city of Valparaiso, in the oceanside town of Concon.  The next morning we rode the coastal route to the city of Valparaiso, the ride took us along a foggy coastline and many many condo developments. Finally we reached the colourful and funky city of 'Valpo', and found it is full of impossibly steep roads, incredible urban art, and overpriced hostels.  We settled on a hostel that seemed quite nice, and spent the rest of the day wandering up and down the narrow little streets.   Unfortunately that night, some of our fellow hostel guests decided to have a party and since the hostel was not staffed at night... It seemed there was not much we could do to keep the noise down... And the search for a good nights sleep continues in Chile.   My dad's flight out of Santaigo was the next evening, so we spent the morning switching hostel's and enjoying our last hours with my dad.  It was super fun hanging out with him, and we were sad to see him go! 

Valparaiso to Pichilemu:

Our vacation from camping was over, and it was back to the poor cyclists reality after my dad left.  Our attempt to pedal alongside the Pacific Ocean is a bit of an experiment, as we could not find a lot of information about what the route would be like... But we have been pleasantly surprised! 

We also hit yet another milestone, 24242!

Turns out there are beautiful, quiet paved roads that pass through gorgeous countryside and we have always been able to find free camp spots! It has been fun to be able to do some actual navigating again, as there are a number of roads and routes to choose from.  The climate is quite lovely, it does not get much hotter than 25 degrees in the day and the mornings and evenings are nice and cool.  This, combined with long days (it gets dark around 9pm), has allowed us to fall back into an old familiar routine of waking up around 8:00 am, taking off around 10 and riding until 6:00 pm or so.  

The terrain has been very hilly, as we are riding through the "coastal mountains", and sometimes they are quite steep! But, they are only several hundred meters at a time ....which is a lot easier to manage than a couple thousand! After four days of riding we arrived in the surf town of Pichilemu...apparently the best surf in the world. We were amazed to find a cheap hostel here, and have decided to stay a day or two to wash up and rest up a little.  

From here we will carry on along the coast, and hopefully find a nice place to spend Christmas!