Friday, March 4, 2011

Thursday 3 March : to Santiago, and then some

The bus journey to Santiago was a success - two Things and one Dobbin arrived safe and well. Although we managed some sleep on the bus, we were both still rather tired however so abandoned any plan of trying to cycle to Los Andes, and decided to just try to get out of town. Like any large city you are not familiar with, Santiago is difficult to enter/exit when riding a bike, especially as all the roads shown on our map exiting the city are motorways, and any others would be dirt tracks! We had read on a webpage that a good way to exit was to use the Piedra Roja Pass, which starts in a posh suburb in the north east of the city and is not a motorway. Navigating to the suburb is also fairly straightforward, and uses the main road (avenue liberator Bernard O Higgins), through the centre of the city. There was even an off road bike path for some of it. We stopped a couple of times for late breakfasts, finding a cafe near the map shop recommended in our guidebook where we wanted to get some more detailed maps of the city and borders. By 11 it still wasn't looking like it might open though, so we carried on and then had lunch at a cafe next to a bike shop on the east side of town. The shop owner was very helpful, lending us a track pump and spending some time searching for the slightly unusual European style inner tubes we use (MTB size tyres with presta valves: while performing the maintenance in Temuco, we realised that we had managed to bring a spare tube which wouldn't work with these rims as the valve is too large). On the bus overnight I'd noticed the outside temperature steadily climbing, with it reaching 20 degrees before dawn on the outskirts of the city. It's definitely a bit warmer here than further south!  Shortly after lunch we had our first navigational issue, as the bridge we wanted to use to cross the river is a restricted access road. We could see the road we wanted to take on the other side of the river, but there was no way to reach it. The detour involved a small climb which gave a good, but very hazy view of the city, and we eventually found the pass. Unfortunately, for no good reason we could see this road was also restricted access - no bikes, lorries, buses or horse drawn vehicles. We decided to ignore the signs and carry on as the only other option was to return to the centre and try and hitch (the short distance buses are too small for a tandem). There were a number of exclusive new developments on the road, and we thought the signs were possibly like those sometimes found in the US - more socially oriented than for safety. We certainly saw a few posh road bikes on the road, and it remained safe and wide for it's entire length. The views descending the far side were great, but again, very hazy. Having reached Colina and ruta 57, we noted the motorway feel of the road and the the 'cycling prohibited' signs. While people do cycle on this road, we really didn't want to, and with no obvious accommodation nearby we decided to try and hitch a lift to Los Andes. The first Dobbin sized vehicle stopped (a small enclosed lorry), and the luggage was quickly loaded into the back, with us in the front. We had difficulty understanding where the driver was going to drop us off, but understood that he was taking a load of tomatoes to Argentina. We were dropped at the toll booths prior to the motorway tunnel where our driver was taking a dirt road to collect his load, and made our way to the other side. There were many more vehicles here than our previous hitching point. A recovery truck soon stopped and after strapping Dobbin and luggage on the back we made it to Los Andes, and the end of the motorway (for now). It was a useful day as we got to do a bit of climbing in the heat, and also confirmed that hitching with the bike is quite possible. We are planning to have an easy day tomorrow and cycle the first (valley) part of the climb to Mendoza, leaving the main climb (switchbacks) for the following morning.


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