(91) From blue seas to night skies
After writing the last post it took a while to re focus and write this one as it was on the road. Thinking of the days out there and the people we met, don’t let what happened to me stop any of you living your dreams !!
Having had an amazing time in Santiago with a family that was so welcoming and loving, helping us recharge our batteries and fix all our kit it was time to move on and head up the coast to La Sarena. It would be hard to say goodbye but with the time ticking away we had to push on, It had been a while since we had seen the sea so riding beside it for the next week was going to be a nice change.The only thing that wasn’t in our favour was winter was on our backs and the pass we were heading to which crossed back into Argentina was renowned for heavy snow fall giving it the protental of being tramped high in the mountains, we had to cross the pass as soon as possible but once across we could relax a little as we wouldn’t cross again for several hundred miles.
Monday 9th March
We woke in Valparaiso after what felt like one of our worst night’s sleep of the entire trip with our double bed being more like a slightly wider yet shorter single and a party going on below, Tim opted to find a bed in a dorm only to be terrorised by a starving mozzie in a room of sleeping guests. After several failed slaps and Sharon going down stars to ask the staff to keep the noise down we finally got a few hours sleep. Like all mornings that start like this everything felt like a battle. We didn’t have to rush which was great but we did have to get out of the city to find somewhere safe to camp. We checked out the flights we had looked at the night before and with a bit of working out we finally booked them. They weren’t as straight forward as the ones we had missed as there were 2 connections but it didn´t matter – we were going home! After a few phone calls and a bit of juggling they were booked but the thought of actually going home for 3 weeks would take a while to sink in. We loaded the bikes and rolled out of this amazing city at 2.30pm. It was a very late start but with our flights booked but it was worth it. The highway was busy but the car drivers were polite giving us plenty of room as we rode out past the harbour to the endless number of beaches. It didn’t take long to reach Vena del Mar which had a more relaxed feel with nice cycle lanes that ran along in front of the ocean. Listening to the waves crashing on the rocks gave a kind of peace and we smiled as we meandered along the edge of this giant ocean.
After seeing movement on a small island we stopped to look at a load of large birds on the rocks only to discover some of them were sea lions. They were amazing to watch as they waddled up on to a warm place in the sun, roll over and stretch.
The view across the bay looked amazing with the sun shimmering like diamonds off the water and the many colours of Valparaiso reflecting back from its steep amphitheater like stance as it rose from the sea making us pleased to have chosen this route.
The road continued inland past huge sand dunes and onto more small sea side towns. Our progress was slow but we had time to stop for a drink and a delicious hot empanada.
As the light faded from another day on the road it was hard to imagine how many times we have looked for a camp spot on this journey, checked if it was out of sight, seen if it was flat enough, established if it was clean enough and thought would we be woken in the night by passers by. But our tent was our home and where ever we put it once we were in we relaxed. It was always a time we looked forward to. Once the tent was pitched and our tea cooked and a few jobs done it would a be a good time to chat about our day and relax ready to catch up on that well needed sleep.
Tuesday 10th March
It seemed to take a while to sleep with the constant pounding of trucks passing the other side of the hedge but once asleep it was hard to wake. With the alarm set for 7.30 we lay still until 9 and sat and had breakfast. We were both tired but we knew we would wake up once on the bike. Being only 15 miles away from the next town we soon arrived in a very pretty and expensive looking town of Zapallar. All the houses were stunning with well kept gardens and a stunning beach to add.
We picked up a drink and sat by the water and chatted to a lifeguard who was keen to learn English and happy to teach us Spanish. With our break over we said goodbye and headed on to the next beach. With it being lunch time we found a nice bench overlooking a pretty beach with good surf.
It was so tempting just to stop and hang out but we needed to keep going. We had to put in some long days to get our legs back to form ready for the next big climb at paso Aqua Negra at 4,779 metres. We also had to be in La Serena as we had arranged to stay with hosts and so giving us a day to aim for. We rode on heading inland towards La Laguna where we stopped for a short break before we would turn left back to the ocean.
The place we stopped for a short break was great and were given a free sweet pastry to try. Tim was in heaven and if it wasn’t for trying to save the last of our Chilean pesos until La Serena he would have bought the lot.
We were told the road north was flat with lots of pampa. Most people would be disappointed but a nice flat road with pampa on one side and the ocean on the other was just what we needed. True to form the advice we were given was by someone who had probably only travelled the road by car. As the road climbed 100 metres then descended to the base of the next climb which made it for tough going. The scenery however didn’t disappoint with massive pacific waves rolling and crashing on the beaches with the sound of thunder was just great. We passed small town after small town all with stunning views of the ocean and we finally reached the town of Pichidangui where we stopped at a Copec garage to get water. The guys were very nice and let us use the bathroom to have a wash. With the sun an hour away from setting we rode out of town looking for a good spot to camp. With the ocean to our left separated by 2 barriers and a fence on our right the chance of camping with a view would have to wait so after crossing an old railway bridge we spotted some woods where we put all our things over the fence and found a good spot to camp. We had made good progress despite a slow start and were happy to be off the road and out of sight. With another day over we set camp once again and rapped up warm as the sea flog rolled in to cool the air.
Wednesday 11th March
Waking up to a misty sky the tent felt cold without the fly sheet; it would however make packing up quicker not needing to dry anything. The mist soon cleared leaving a cool fresh day and a long road of climbs and descents along the Pan American highway. Once we had passed our things over the fence and were back on our bikes we set off along a much less populated area. We made good progress and by lunch we had reached a beach that Rafael had recommended to us for camping. Too early to stop for the day it did make a great lunch stop. While Sharon prepared lunch Tim ventured into the sea to see how cold it was. It was freezing which probably explained the constant wall of sea fog that hovered out at sea.
With the scenery still beautiful but not really changing much we put our headphones in and listened to our favourite tunes while tapping the miles away. We stopped a couple times for a break and got shouted at by the lady in the toll both as we passed by but waving with a smile and riding on as fast as we could seemed to do the trick. We passed a huge wind farm and reached 65 miles so stopped at what looked like an abandoned house to find it was a trucker´s cafe. We brought a coffee and asked if we could camp. Without battering an eyelid the lady pointed to the back of the massive truck park to which we made a bee-line for and were soon eating our tea tucked away between some bushes.
Although it had been a less interesting day we had done the miles we needed and hoped we could do the same the following day.
Thursday 12th March
We woke to another day with the sea mist rolling in making the tent wet and the morning cool. We had both slept well but as always with a long day ahead neither of us really wanted to get up. We did get going by 10 but it was slow going with the hills getting longer and higher.
We were both sweating buckets which was strange as the temperature was around 22 degrees with a nice cool breeze coming off the sea. The sun however was intense making sure any uncovered skin would burn instantly.
We passed many wind farms that towered above us all turning in unison. We reached a large number that weren’t turning and noticed people working.
We stopped on a climb to have some lunch in a cafe when a load of workers arrived. They were working on the installation of 50 new ones that were in the process of being installed. It was good to see this bland landscape being used for something useful rather then large power stations using up already depleted fuels. We rode on and after a few more climbs descended into a deep valley that took us almost down to sea level. Knowing there was a garage and needing fuel for the stove we stopped to fill our bottles. Tim noticed that in the bathroom was some very nice showers and not wanting to miss the opportunity he jumped in. Sharon went next and after feeling totally refreshed we started the next climb only to be covered in sweat once again. Getting closer to La Serena we rode to within 55 miles and called it a day after leaving the highway and finding a good spot behind a fence. Withn thorn trees everywhere we had to be so careful not to put holes in our tent termarests or tyres.
We had managed another 60 miles and were happy to stop. With long days on the road they all start to merge into one but it was good to be moving forward.
Thursday 13th March
Still with a long day ahead to La Serena, we got up and shook the worst of the water off the tent which would normally be easy but with so many thorn bushes around it had to be done with care. Being at the bottom of a hill meant we would have a short climb but with the sea mist keeping the air temperature cool it would give us chance to warm up slowly and not start sweating from the off.
The tail wind from the day before had turned into a light headwind making our progress slower. With or iPods in and singing away to our favourite tunes we got into a good rhythm and seemed to pass the miles more easily once we got going. With the worst of the bigger climbs out the way we knew we were getting close. We climbed another small hill and were presented with quite a shock at the top. The big city of La Serena covered the valley in front of us and after having no view other than pampas and sea for the past few days it took a while for our eyes to adjust.
We rode into the town and within minutes Sharon had a couple of punctures. It was frustrating to be held up by something like this especially on the edge of a city and being tired but it was all part of the day job. We rode along the seafront getting used to the high-rise buildings and the many people and checked our emails in an internet café. We had arranged to stay with a French couple who were Warm Showers hosts in the city and we couldn’t get hold of them by phone. We checked the number to see if it was right and we tried again. As there was no answer we decided to turn up on her door step a day early than arranged – due to making good progress. Celine was amazing although a little surprised and took us straight in and soon had dinner on the go for all of us. Vincent, Celine’s boyfriend arrived home from his job as an astronomer. He was helping to make an anti-blur device for a deep space telescope that was based in Vicuna. Tim and Vincent immediately got chatting about the sky and we very soon felt at home.
Friday 14th – Sunday 16th March
We spent a lovely weekend with Celine and Vincent. They really understood what we needed – food and rest! and with their amazing company made for a really great time.
Shaz enjoying some time out
We ventured out to a weekend market – it was a colourful array of fruit and vegetables that greeted us. Needless to say we bought lots of goodies to consume with our new friends. La Serena was a nice town which had a strange climate. the mornings would be cool and overcast giving the impression of rain but would always clear by lunch time with a cloudless sky in the afternoon. This was caused by the cool sea temperatures and the warm land.
We were able to catch up with family and the blog, get some rest and stock up on supplies for the bikes. During conversation Celine mentioned that she was learning wood work and was trying to build a table but was a bit stuck. Ah ha – Tim to the rescue! Under Tim’s guiding eye, Celine soon constructed the table and to say she was chuffed was an understatement! It was great to be able to help and she really did a great job.
With a few days rest after a fast ride along the coast and having time to meet yet more great people we were ready to move on and so prepared our things for the long climb over the Andes. before we would reach the main climb we would stop in a town called vicuña where we would go star gazing at one of the many telescopes in the area due the clear skies and the regions climate and position. with an amazing last tea we went to bed ready for another day on the bike.
Saturday 17th march
Being our last night in la Serena we woke to what Tim thought was Sharon shaking the bunk bed, Tim then shook it more to Which Sharon asked “Why are you shaking the bed” Tim replied “because you are ” With a reply of “no I’m not” we came to the conclusion it could only be one thing ‘an earth quake’ being on the 9th floor of a high-rise apartment with the building feeling like jelly wasn’t the most comforting feeling but with Chile being one of the most earthquake prone countries in the world and very developed we could at least relax a little. Once we sorted our things we joined Vincent and Celine for our last breakfast together. It felt great to have had a nice few days relaxing and catching up on a few jobs we never seem to get done. It was sad to say good bye but with a monster pass ahead we had to start sometime. We loaded the bikes and said goodbye and squeezed into the lifts and waved up at the balcony as we headed up in to town and out along the long river heading east.
leaving town with a smile
We climbed gradually passing the many pisco grape orchards which this area was famous for and took in the views with the many vineyards wedged in the tiny gaps between the steep slopes of the fingered combes.
This was gonna be one long climb
We had read the valley this side wasn’t as interesting heading west but heading east we had the rising mountains of the Andes to look at. As we headed away from the coast the mist began to clear and reveal a clear sky. With that temperature rose and so we began to sweat. We stopped in a village just off the highway to buy a coke where the shop keeper gave us some grapes for free. It was very kind and made a nice treat. We continued to slowly climb toward vicuña and approached a large dam wall. We passed through a tunnel and arrived next to the dam only to find maybe 10% of the water was left in the dam. It hadn’t hardly rained for in the area for 5 years and what was a famous windsurfing spot was little more then a puddle . It wasn’t long before we arrived in the stunning small town of vicuna and found the place to book a tour at one of the observatories. They had space that evening so we booked ourselves on and went off to find a campsite.
The pretty town of Vicuna
With one just up the road we pitched the tent relaxed before heading off to look at the stars.
In the 2 hours we were on the tour we learnt so much about the night sky yet only skimmed the surface of what the universe had to offer. We were so happy to have made the effort to go and could have gone a hundred more times. With the moon waning in a few nights time the sky would be even more dark to reveal even more stars but we hoped to be over the pass by then and able to see them in the full glory up high I’m the Andes.
This was taken with our iPod through the telescope
After to chatting to the locals we were told to check the forecast for the next week to make shore we could cross in safety and not end up stranded high up at a border post. only time would tell !!
Thank you for reading x