Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tuesday and Wednesday 1 & 2 Mar: northward bound

How better to end our ripio journey than with a spot of motorway cycling!
The gradual downhill trend continued Tuesday morning for the final 10km into Freire, continuing down the eastward Andes to Pacific slope, so we reached the town before it was even time for midmorning snack. At Freire we faced something of a decision point. To continue to Temuco, transport hub for the southern quarter of Chile, one must go north for 30km. The central nervous system of Chile's transport network is the ruta 5, or panamerican, autopista, which we had just hit. This cuts right through the middle of towns and suburbs with controlled access freeway, seemingly replacing any other paved roads that predated it and meaning one must detour for miles and take numerous unpaved roads to proceed if you are not in a motorway-going vehicle. Such as a bike.
Our other option was to try and hitch a ride north, possibly skipping Temuco completely and working our way towards Santiago that way.
But stopped at the autopista entrance, we came to realize this was no European style Autobahn. The slip road has houses alongside. The highway has pull-ins for bus stops. We could see pedestrians walking up and duown the shoulder and even crossing the two lanes and central barrier. Shortly, we picked up enough courage to do the Latino thing, and set off north along the freeway shoulder.
From riding a tandem I'm used to receiving long stares, so tried to convince myself these were normal tandem stares we were receiving, not special bike on a motorway looks. This became easier after we passed a few other cycles doing the same as us, and even one contraflowing back down the shoulder!
Before too long we eased into a good cycling rhythm, the sort we've rarely found since leaving the uk. The shoulder being over 2m wide gives plenty of space to ride, well away from the wind wash of even the largest truck thundering past. A few times the road narrowed for a river crossing, but we negotiated these without a problem with our above average number of eyes (for a bike). After 10k we left the fine mist that had descended on us in the night, and were back in clear blue skies once more so started to warm right up. It was turning out to be a fine day of cycling on the autopista!
There are many trucker's cafe shacks perched right there on dirt pullouts from shoulder edge along the way. No sooner had we decided to pull up at the next on for second breakfast than we hit the exit for Temuco and saw no more.
Once in the town, we decided to push through to the bus station and try our luck at purchasing tickets to Santiago. It took a bit of effort to get through the center of town to the north side where the long distance bus terminal is, in which time we still didn't find a cafe that might promise internet access, so ended up pulling into a petrol station just by the bus terminal, and bought hot dogs and updated Sunday's blog.
Eventually we got to the bus station. With a lot more confidence than our last attempt in Buenos Aires, and aided by a ground floor concourse making it easy to point and gesture at Dobbin, we managed to express our requirements to the Pullman bus representative, and to our surprise after a couple phone calls she said si, we can take the tandem, but with a surcharge and only on the 22:10 night bus, the next of which with seats wasn't until the following day. The price wasn't an issue, as the tickets were a tenth of the price of our (much longer) previous journey. Waiting a day wasn't ideal, but gave us chance to catch-up on tasks and was perhaps for the best.
It turned out that our new amigo from Saturday night's camping lived in town, and with a short phone call we discovered he was in a cafe a block from us so we met up for a coffee. He seemed keen to show us about town, and then proposed dinner at his house. A fine evening was then set into motion, with fine BBQ meats and wine and of course a bit more whisky too. It was soon past the midnight lockout time of the hostel we'd impulsively arranged ourselves, so we ended up sleeping over at Omar's house rather than in the bed we'd already paid for!
This morning we returned to make use of the hostel's fine breakfast and showers, and then after clearing out of the roon used their garage area to hide away from rain showers and treat Dobbin to several hour's worth of well earned bike maintenance. It turned out that there were many things to do, including loose and warn brakes, a loose cassette on the rear hub, and bulging sidewalls on the rear tyre looking as if it might fail at any moment. And of course layers and layers of ripio dust in the chains and everywhere.
New tyres and brakeblocks fitted (both carried from home) we left the bike at the hostel for a few more hours, and went and met up with Omar one last time. Over coffee we shared photos from previous days and got to see some of his brothers nearby farm, which Emma in particular found interesting. Then I asked about the monument hill, Cerrro Niliol(?) just north of thee center, and he kindly offered to drive us up there and we spent a great final hour walking around the Mapuche monument, viewing and city from a surprisingly high vantage point, and checking out the gardens.
We left ourselves plenty of time to get to the bus station, in which we planned to eat and fret. As before our bus was late arriving so we had extra time to worry we'd either missed it or what was going to happen when we attempted to load Dobbin on board. When it finally did pull in it was a relief to see it is in effect a double decker with the lower floor entirely given over to luggage space. So a quick bit of dinero changing hands and Dobbin jumped right on board and nestled in with another bike already in the hold, to a glorious sound of pedal against wheel-spoke. Hopefully we'll be able to unknit them 6am tomorrow morning when we pull into Santiago!
Despite being cheaper, the bus we're traveling in is in a different class to the one in Argentina, with blankets, pillows and seats which stay in the position you set them! It also has electronic readouts for the (internal and external) temperature and taco (showing speed, name of driver and how long they've been driving).

map (1 Mar)

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