Leaving the very down-to-earth Santiago (a bizarre introduction to Chile indeed)...
we took the road NW from Pedro's place to avoid central Santiago. Instead, we took the road via the mountains, through Chicureo, Lampa and Tiltil.
Iīll attempt to let the photos tell the story here.
One of the advantages of mountain roads is that after the uphills (that invariably make us suffer on our 30+ kg bikes), there are smashing downhills:
The road was mostly flat for most of the day, but by late afternoon-ish I got a polite reminder by Ping that sheīs rather had enough. "I am stopping HERE!" or something to that effect. We were in the middle of a mountain road, after having enquired in Tiltil and was told there was nowhere to stay (hotel, campsites etc). So what was I to do?
I approached a farm house that was nearby and with my extensive Spanish (and wild gesticulation) I asked the kind farmer if we could use his land to camp for one night. He said yes and opened the gate.
And thus we camped at Seņor Manuelīs:
He was extremely attentive to us, introduced us to his dogs, brought out a broom and cleaned up the space we would camp on, brought out chairs and a table for us to use, he even helped me wash the dishes after the meal we prepared and shared with him.
The simplicity of opening his house to us, bringing us hot water in the morning, hanging out with us even though we had no common language, grinning to us with his almost toothless smile and his sparking eyes, reminded me of the beauty of travelling and mellowed me to Chile. Big cities are not the reason I travel. This is the reason:
The next morning we left Seņor Manuelīs farm and carried on slogging it up the mountain. It was cold and a little bit damp, and the uphill seemed endless, until we arrived to the sunny region of Valparaiso.
From there on, a massive 15km downhill started that almost was the end of me... too steep, too fast, the brakes on our Surlys are too crap to deal with this (cantilevers for simplicity? I so wish I had disk brakes... try stopping a 30kg Long Haul Trucker - with me on it - zipping down the mountain for 15 minutes in cold/damp weather...)
By the bottom of the mountain we were both cold and exhausted, so we jumped in the first restaurant we found open (this is off-season after all). A helpful local kindly suggested we order the pork, so we asked for a portion of that, plus a couple of hot teas.
We were pleasantly surprised by the quantity and quality of the food:
...which didnīt stop us trying to refill our salt supplies while we were at it.
You can tell we were super-happy to be somewhere warm, eating great food. We were laughing like kids!
Less than 15km away was Parque Nacional La Campana, where after an uphill offroad slog we pitched our tent for the night, being the sole visitors of the park.
It had a picnic table and toilets & showers with cold water. It was a good outdoors experience and we spent many relaxing hours reading, walking the trails of the park and conversing with the dog that attached itself to us for the two days we spent there.
Ping leaving P.N. La Campana
That morning was also a bit chilly so we didnīt think twice before stopping for a quick freshly-baked meat empanada. They bake them in such outdoors brick stoves - these things are seriously yummy and I suspect will form the basis of our Chilean diet for the months to come!
By the end of the day we had descended from the mountain onto the coast and were feeling the breeze of the Pacific on our faces for the first time since we landed in Chile 10 days ago... we had reached Viņa del Mar and were on our way slightly south, to the buzzing cultural capital of the country, colourful Valparaiso.
Valparaiso is characterised by the many hills itīs built on. Each hill creates a district, and each district has its own character. There are many funicular-type lifts moving people up and down the steep hills:
Unfortunately ever since they were privatised, only a handful of lifts (the most profitable ones) remain operational.
In Valparaiso we were hosted by Emanuele, an Italian professor of criminal law and the inaugural member and president of our by now extensive fan club. We shall refer to him from now on as El Presidente or El Profesor.
Emanuele took us in at less than 12 hoursī notice and provided shelter, warmth and excellent company for the three days we spent in Valparaiso.
El Profesor with Ping, during our stroll through Valpoīs barrios (neighbourhoods):
One of the many rusty buildings of Valpo:
Colourful walls in Valpo:
Ping outside colourful shops - most of the city is painted like this.
Valpo rusty house and beautiful blue skies after a spell of torrential downpour which we luckily spent indoors:
During packing, I once more shed a tear for the extra bulk I carry... my synthetic sleeping bag on the left, Pingīs down sleeping bag on the right:
With El Profesor during (proper Italian) dinner:
If you donīt like dogs, South America is really *not* the place to be...
...and that was that for Valparaiso. We bid a hearty farewell to El Presidente and started skirting the coast. Destination? Anywhere north.
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