8th till 14th of September 2019.
Is the dynamic of a group different to only travelling with your partner? What is defined by a group? When do you say dynamics are different?
I always have dreaded biking together with others or staying in one bedroom with more people. Had enough with taking care of myself, being together with Frank. This journey is slowly changing my mind, my insight, myself, my competitive drive (is it 😊?).
Meeting other bikers, spending a few miles on the road, eating together, sharing stories. During the GDMBR, or on Baja with Annie and Cindy, brief other encounters. Followed by biking together for a few days as with Niels. And now already spending more than a week together with Gaetan. Now having two silent guys to bike with. Me being the slowest but both adjusting to my pace. I am no longer stressed, sometimes pushing myself more than I would when only together with Frank, but no longer over-pushing. It is fun, biking together, looking for shelter, food, cooking but also giving each other enough space. Self-time. No expectations or meeting expectations.
After having spent an unexpected extra day in Uspallata because the pass was closed due to heavy snowfall, we start our journey to Chile on this bright Sunday morning.
After last week’s beautiful remote road 149, Route National 7 is a shock. Spectacular landscape with incredible heavy traffic of container truck after trailer truck. On an asphalt road which is just wide enough for one up- and one oncoming truck. No shoulder. First 20 kilometers it is doable as the road meanders through the valley shaped by Rio Mendoza. With a mild tail wind we don’t complain. There is sufficient space to get off the road if two trucks would pass each other and trucks have sufficient space and view to pass us when there is no up-coming traffic. I do wonder what we are up-to when we have a “dress-down” stop and one of the passing truck drivers makes a cut-throat gesture.
Can’t get there from here.
Winding higher we are getting a heavy headwind. And the road makes sharper curves. Resulting in no vista of upcoming trucks and you don’t hear the oncoming trucks as the wind is mind blowing. The wind is luckily 80% headwind and 20% from the left side. At least not pushing us into traffic, but making it difficult to keep the bikes upright. The combination of incline, blasting wind and draft from passing trucks makes it become dangerous.
Almost at the same moment we all stop where it is safe, have a discussion on how to proceed and decide to try it till the next curve. Again we are almost pushed from the road and at the next safe place to stop we try to hitchhike. We try for more than an hour and the wind is even getting worse.
Trucks indicate they are not allowed to take people. One pickup stops but let us know he is not allowed to take us as he only has one passenger seat which is taken and it is prohibited to have people in the back. He could take the bikes but none of us. We kindly decline. No other pickup stops. Where has the kindness gone? We are even willing to pay but as nobody stops we can’t even offer. We recognize our defeat and decide to bike to the next village where we hope to camp or find transport. Polvaredas is tiny and was built around 1950 for the railroad people. Use of the railroad has ceased.
People do still live in the village and an old couple with a small shop that is barricaded by an iron gate (to prevent robberies as they explain) shows us a place where we could camp behind a house. Frank and Gaetan both agree it could be an emergency shelter but nothing more as the place to camp is in view of the road and we don’t feel so safe as they mentioned robberies.
As we still have 2 hours daylight Gaetan suggests to try to find a pickup and pay to get to the next village where we know there will be a hostal. We agree to do this straight away and not to wait for the bus. Fun chat with the artisan bakery owner who is so sweet to call the owner of the only restaurant who has a pickup. Restaurant owner Alex also offers a cabana, so now we suddenly have two options. Evaluating cost/weather/traffic we decide to go for the transport. Next 45 kilometers of the road has a shoulder so it could have been doable, but if wind would have the same force as today it would still be dangerous. Alex is so sweet to stop at Puenta Del Inca, a natural spa which is out of service, resulting in a ghost town.
Quick stop to view the highest mountain in the America’s and outside Asia, the Aconcagua of 6,960 meter high! Gaetan, being Swiss, loves hiking and ski touring, so this is a challenge to long for. But not this time.
In Las Curvas, we find a rest place: living room with fireplace, kitchen (without any facilities) and a dorm (4 beds but only for the 3 of us). Could be we would have to share the rest of the facilities. Frank breaks the cold setting a lovely fire in the fireplace. The water pipes in the bathroom are solidly frozen. Yes we are at 3,100 meter high and it is cold! Water in the sink and toilet needs to run day and night to prevent freezing (inside!).
200 meter further down the road the owners live and have a small restaurant where there is still bean soup available. Luckily WIFI. Early night and early morning. No shower as it is way too cold. We have not heard any traffic during the night. Sliding open the curtains we discover the reason as the world is covered with a 10 cm pristine layer of snow.
At breakfast our lovely (not) waitress confirms what we have been dreading: the tunnel is closed.
Morning is slipping through our fingers with checking e-mails and working on the blog. Just before noon Gaetan & I decide to check if we could bike through the tunnel (as there is no traffic) or bike the pass, while Frank fixes his tire. First we try part of the pass, in the snow, FUN!
But checking with the police they indicate the dirt road pass is closed too due to too high snowdrift at the top and at the other side of the pass. As insurance would not cover if something would go wrong we try to persuade the police to let us bike through the tunnel, but tunnel will open in an hour so no way they let us through.
While Frank has fixed his tire we had our share of snow biking and are satisfied to spend the remainder of the afternoon in the small room of the restaurant and later at our place where we cook with everything fresh we still have. You are not allowed to take any vegetables, fruits, nuts across the border. One more reason for Frank to make his renowned oatmeal in the morning, complementing the meager breakfast at the restaurant. But first a lovely evening with our feet on the small table looking into the fire. Mind at zero, small chats, no singing even if Gaetan sings in a band.
That’s a good idea.
Morning has Gaetan right awake with the idea of chartering the owner of the restaurant, Lucas, to take us through the tunnel. Saves us the uncertainty of hitchhiking at the entrance of the tunnel especially after the negative experience of two days ago when nobody stopped. A prearranged paid transport is more appealing and if you can share it, it is even the best solution. Driving through the tunnel we understand why it is forbidden to bike here. Zero space for bikers. Unforgiving speeding traffic.
Just passed the tunnel he drops us off and we speed downhill to customs.
One of the more profound customs operations, where you first have to register your bike, have your bags x-rayed and dog sniffed to ensure you don’t bring any forbidden items into Chile, leaving the bike registration form at the 4th control post. Everything fixed within an freezing cold hour. Very friendly and helpful people!
We start our 14th country with an amazing descend and in great company.
First visiting the small ski resort Ski Portillo. Too small to be tempted to spend a night here. Seems that until 2 days ago everything was only artificial snow. Now at least we can admire the snow-capped mountains. Also here they see and feel the effect of climate change. At the Argentinean side they could not open the ski slopes for the last two years as it even was too warm for artificial snow.
Then the most spectacular switchback road starts, Frank goes faster than the trucks. Gliding down from snow-capped mountains to pine-covered forests. Stopping at a restaurant which could have been located in Switzerland. Road is not in the best shape but this is understandable due to all this mega heavy traffic and frost. Vertical descent from 3,200 to 800 m. From -5 to + 18.
Arriving in Los Andes, big town, we follow Lucas’ suggestion and find Los Nonos, a great hostal located in the old home of the grandparents of Katy, immigrated from Italy. The only room left has 3 beds and because they have a tiny kitchen, cozy living room and great terrace we decide to not spend any more time looking for something different. One block away we really discover that we are no longer in a developing country. A super big super market with lovely old cheeses, amazing wines, mushrooms, cream, you name it, they have it. OK it sometimes takes some time for me to express myself in such a way they understand what I am looking for but in the end we do walk home with everything to make my signature dish: pasta with mushroom, in bacon cream sauce. Lots of everything for breakfast and lunch. We arrived in a different country! We don’t see anything from Los Andes as it is too good to spend time together cooking and eating.
Today we want to reach Santiago. Aim is to follow the highway as we have done this in other countries and it always turned out good with enough space for bicycles. We even see that only a long detour would give us a secondary road possibility. No other roads available. We ignore the first two “no-bicycles allowed” signs. Nobody is giving any sign we should not do this. We even talk with a local who says it is OK to bike on the highway.
Truck driving man.
Until we see that there is a tunnel and that straight highway is getting very curvy. Trucks don’t see what is behind the next curve and don’t expect slow traffic, combined with NO shoulder we decide to return to a space where we can try to hitchhike. Aim is to pass at least the tunnel. First truck we stick our thumb out to stops and says we can put the bikes on the flatbed truck (behind pallets with boxes of raisins). A very joyful Juan ensures we get in one piece to Santiago. So proud of his country, people and food!
Good we did not bike the tunnel: not allowed and no space. Good we took a ride into town as it gave us enough time to find a place where we can stay a few days as we need to arrange a few things. Strange to have had 3 rides within a week but all related to safety and I have to say in hindsight I don’t mind to have had this ride into a town of 7 million people. The biggest town of Chile and one of the biggest of the Americas. Founded in the 16th century by the Spanish it had time to expand in a beautiful valley, secluded by snow capped mountains. These are visible today since it has rained, during the next days we will loose sight of them due to smog.
Due to coincidence we stop in front of a kind of casa de ciclystas. Frank longs for some private space, they do have a double room available but kitchen and other facilities are is shared. We say goodbye to Gaetan as he will be visiting friends of friends and will follow a different route. Thank you Gaetan for the great time!
We cycle to the region Los Condes as internet indicates the EMS buses going south leave from there. 13 km out of the city center takes us to the new area of Santiago. First time in the Americas we bike through such a bike friendly city.
Meeting Claudio who will start Patagonia going North in a few months! Showing his cool bike! Have fun!
Through google/bookings I found an apartment.
Warm welcome by Blanca and Ronal. I am now a real bag lady.
Located on the 10th floor with afternoon and evening sun. We could not have wished for a better place. Happy to have done grocery shopping before we arrived. Enjoying a well-deserved glass of wine watching the sunset. Cooking dinner. Enjoying the buzz and view of a big city from our own little bubble.
Aim was to leave with the bus on Saturday 14th to Puerto Monte. We calculated without the national festivities which create an exodus of Santiago. September brings spring and the days of celebration of independence from Spain. Technically the independence celebration is on the 18th, also known as the Dieciocho but it all already starts the weekend before. People entering and leaving the city.
We discover this when we try to buy bus tickets. First on-line but being unsuccessful we will need to go down-town, as ALL bus terminals for long distance buses are at the city center. But first we spend one day to arrange a new SIM, a public transport travel card (one card for bus, metro, tram) and very needed rain jackets. Frank has found a Mall which has ONLY sports related shops. 2 levels, a climb wall, skate rim, a surf basis and small boat display (in water). Here we see the mega difference between Frank and me: he has done research on which jacket would be most feasible for our trip, clear goal to look at certain jackets. I just wander in and out stores and look for a nice fit and color. At the end, after coffee and ice cream we choose for the economical Marmot jackets. As we have had now twice leaking high-end jackets we decide for waterproof but less breathable, no disaster if they start leaking after a few months of use.
Get on the bus.
Next day we go into town to find the best bus solution. As everybody is leaving town on Saturday and only a few spots are still available they recommend us to send the bikes separately. You can’t reserve space for your bike and it is the bus driver who decides last minute if your bike can be taken or not. We follow the strategy of booking a ticket for Sunday evening for a premium bus (only bed seat, thus less seats, thus hopefully less luggage) and we see that this bus is still 2/3rd empty. Booked, so time to discover the city.
Lucky for us we can stay one more night at the same apartment.
As we have our little heaven and are so far from all activities we decline all participation in celebrations. We do not want to be in crowds of people now, to have to take a metro 30 minutes back to our home, to be exposed to so much noise. We stay another night in our apartment without going out, even with all the cool Jazz concert suggestions of Claudio.
Find out how our first pre-arranged transport was and why we have taken a bus ride spinningsouth. Stay tuned for the blog of week 100!
Did you know Chile (756,102 km²) is 20 times as big as the Netherlands (37,354 km²). Try out your own country comparison on mapfight.
With 18 million people living here we expect to bike through some underpopulated areas!