(April 18 – written by Dave)
First a quick note about dinner last night. We decided to try one of the restaurants on the main square, right next to our hotel. We were about half way through dinner and Nancy spotted two touring cyclists in front of the restaurant. We both hopped up and made introductions to Guy and Clarie from the UK. They started in Ushuaia in December. They are on a more limited timeline and have taken a few buses and planes to get this far north in 4 months.
They grabbed a hotel room and quick shower, then joined us for dinner. We were just about thrown out of the restaurant – being the last customers – but it was great hanging out and talking with them. They gave us some good tips for the road ahead and we shared what we could about their route. Thanks for stopping guys!
Around midnight last night it started raining, with lots of lighting flashes – hard enough to wake both of us and giving us somewhat fitfull sleep the rest of the night. By morning the rain had not really let up so we kind of went slow getting ready. Around 7AM we got tired of waiting and just got on with the ride. It was not raining all that hard but the road was wet – clearly it rained very hard overnight.
We had rain and few photo stops for the first couple hours of riding. We stopped in Puerto Valdivia for morning tea and by then rain had virtually stopped. Until Puerto Valdivia it was mostly flat riding along the swollen Cauca River. There were many places where very brown streams joined the still somewhat green river – more evidence of the heavy rains.
After Puerto Valdivia we had about 20k to ride, but this section also included 1000 metres of climbing. We crossed the river and started climbing right away. We are in the Andes proper now and they are steep. There were a fair number of big trucks on the road but they all gave us plenty of room. There was no shoulder but we could hear trucks coming down and going up long before they reached us – we slow or speed up as needed to be in a safe spot for passing.
Funny thing on this climb was the kids on BMX bikes hitching rides by hanging onto the tail end of the big trucks. We saw several kids go up and then come zooming back down, only to see them getting another ride back up. It reminded me of skiing except these kids were pretty crazy as often they had one hand on the truck, one hand on a phone and no hands on the handle bars. They’d also often get a slower truck that would eventually get faster trucks backing up behind it – one slip of the hand and you got a flat kid and BMX bike. Kind of a crazy way to get your thrills if you ask me but some people think we are nuts as well – to each their own. No idea how the truck drivers feel about this whole operation.
I stopped at one point to get a photo of a kid hanging on and ripping down the other side of the road was another touring cyclist – meet Francie from Brazil. She stopped and came over for a quick chat. Nice gal – didn’t speak much English but her Spanish was pretty good. She gave us more tips and ideas for the days ahead. Nice to meet other cyclists.
The climb was slow but only granny gear hard a few sections. We had lovely views of the Andes and a bunch of new roadside plants to distract us. We took a good 2.5 hours to ride the 20k but there was no more rain and we had a couple water breaks as well. We have more of the same climbing tomorrow and I’m sure we’ll enjoy the views even more in the morning light (if it’s not raining).
We reached Valdivia about 1:30 and found an OK hotel up on the main square. We debated staying at a gas station hotel down on the highway but decided to come up into town. The road up was the steepest climb we had all day – we both had to walk the last 50 meters. (as did one of the local BMXers who bombed pasted us on the bottom of the ride into town – haha).
Our room in the Las Vegas Hotel is very small and the bikes are in the hallway. The room has all the things we need and a few we don’t – like a leaking shower and one of those knees hit the wall toilets. It turned out that the whole town was out of power when we arrived, so we didn’t spend too much time in the room after getting cleaned up as it was pretty stuffy.
We were glad we came up into town as later we met two lovely young ladies who are doing an internship with the local mayor’s office here as part of their college studies. Natalia offered her assistance as we were trying to order milkshakes in the local ice cream shop. With no power they couldn’t use a blender but I wanted to convince them that if they could just put some milk and ice cream in a mug we would mix it ourselves. Natalia spent a year in the US on an exchange program and her English is quite good. She was with her colleague Jennifer, who also speaks English.
After finishing our ice cream I asked the girls where they would recommend for a good dinner. Since the power was still out and they didn’t really have anything to do at the office they walked us over to their favourite lunch spot and even took us up and introduced us to the cook/owner. Our meal was great. And what luck we had running into Natalia and Jennifer.
After dinner we walked back to our hotel and started getting organized for the day tomorrow. I started working on the blog sitting on the balcony. I got about ¾ finished writing as it was getting dark and happened to glance up the town square – just as another touring cyclist pulled up. I dropped everything and ran out to say hi, meeting Hannah from the UK. She’s been travelling for a year or so, starting in Vancouver. She is headed to the bottom of South America as well. We re-jigged our evening plans and met her for dinner, drink and story swapping session. It is always nice to meet like minded travellers and we’ll probably meet up with Hannah down the road.
Tomorrow we have a good 5,000 feet of climbing to get deep into the Andes. It really is uphill most of the day from what we can read. We are only planning on riding about 40k but with every k being uphill, well, it could be a long day. There is some rain forecast overnight but it is supposed to be clearer during the day. Fingers crossed as I really hope we get to see more of the fabulous Andes without too many clouds about.