(October 22 – written by Dave)
Today was all about getting chores done, while still trying to have a normal riding day – always a challenge. The morning started great as Berta let us use her normal kitchen to cook up some eggs. Today was a holiday so no one in Berta’s house was up. In fact, we only saw Berta as we were getting ready to leave around 8AM.
As we were leaving, Nancy came up with the brilliant idea of offering to buy Berta’s power adapter – thereby ticking off one item on our chore list. This may seem odd as who would want to sell something from their house. But hear me out, it’s not so strange to make such an offer to an inn keeper – they probably have lots of extra adapters accidently left by previous guests. Berta not only agreed but then she wouldn’t even take any money for it. Adapters are pretty cheap but finding the right shop and possibly a shop worker who spoke English could have taken us hours, a real hassle. So if you’re reading this Berta – thanks heaps!
We had a pretty fast 18k ride down to the larger town Los Andes where we hoped to take on the phone and ATM challenges. Once we found Plaza de Armas, we quickly found a handful of banks and ATMs. Chile lets you withdraw more than Argentina and the fees are only about 2% so we were pretty happy with the results. Our only hassle now is figuring out the prices of things. A coffee costs about $1000 pesos or $1.40 USD. It’s not a lot, but getting over paying $1000 for a coffee will take some adjusting. Every purchase will have sticker shock for a few days.
Getting a phone SIM was a little harder. Based on phone coverage maps Patagonia, we decided to go with the carrier Movistar. There are two Movistar shops on the Plaza but both of them only sold plans, neither sold pre-paid SIMS. There were a number of shops on the plaza that had “buy pre-paid Movistar SIM” signs but none of them opened until 10AM and it was only 9:20. So I wandered the streets until I found an early bird shopkeeper and purchased a $3 USD 1 week SIM. It seemed to work when I inserted in the phone so we think that task was successful.
By the time all of that was sorted, it was time for morning tea so we settled into a plaza-side cafe ordered coffees and baked treats. Other than the sticker shock, there was also the coffee shock – take a look at the photos below and tell if that looks like a cortado. More research is required as the cafe we were at was a little frilly but I don’t thing that is a proper cortado!
After tea we hopped back out onto Ruta 60 and made our way around the larger town of San Felipe and through the fruit/grape growing areas of the Aconcagua River Valley. The road surface was a little rough but the shoulder was paved (unlike Argentina) and actually smoother than the traffic lane. We stopped at one of the many fruit stands for lunch, getting cold drinks and also replenishing our nut and raisin supply.
After lunch we continued on Ruta 60 until to where it joined up with Ruta 60 Autopista. The latter was a great road with nice wide smooth shoulders and it had almost no traffic. The only issue was that we had to ride past bicycles/pedestrians/horses prohibited signs just to get on it. There would have been alternative routes about 15k back up the valley but there were no alternatives here. A sign 15k up the valley might have been a good idea but there wasn’t one (that we saw). So with no choice we hopped on the autopista and rode.
We were honked at by highway workers going the other way – we think telling us to get off, but maybe they were just saying hi. But we were also passed by a number of other semi-official looking cars and didn’t get a second look. We exited at the town of Llay-llay but after riding 1.5k a local stopped us and told us that we were on a dead-end road and that the autopista was the only option. So back we went.
Ruta 60 eventually merged with Ruta 5 (and even more official looking autopista). Ruta 5 had more no bike signs but we had no other choice once again. The side of the road was full of fruit stands and there were lots of people milling about and even some folks on bikes riding the wrong way so we figured we’d be fine. More official cars passed us without issue.
Then we reached a tunnel – woops. The tunnel looked really long and dark so we pulled over at a blocked road that crossed some train tracks. A couple workers motioned to us to go that way so we walked over the tracks and found a pretty good dirt road that skirted the tunnel. The dirt lasted a few K, before turning into a nice smooth service road that took us around the tunnel. We were feeling a little lucky at this point.
Once on the other side of the tunnel we found surface roads that took us to the town of Hijuelas where we thought we might spend the night. Not knowing where to start looking, we pulled up a food truck and had “completos”, that is hotdogs with the works. They had heaps of fresh tomatoes and avocado and tasted great (nothing like the ones from Mr Dog in Mendoza!). The woman running the place even took our photo and gave us free ice creams once she heard our story. Nice.
There was a hospedaje right next to the food truck but it was not very nice and pretty expensive so we decided to ride on to the next town of La Calera. In La Calera we found our target hostel and decided that it was too “crack house like” so we moved onto our third and final option. We’ve ended up in the Oasis Hotel in La Calera for the night. It is very basic and quite expensive for what we are used to from Argentina. I think Chile is going to be more expensive with regard to accommodation. We want to camp more and may have to just so as not to blow out the budget.
We had hamburgers around the corner then went to a phone shop to see why our SIM wasn’t really working like it should. Two lovely women there helped us get everything sorted and taught us how to recharge it. They were very helpful except they had no idea if we need to register our phone – we’ve heard that you have to register an international handset here in Chile but can’t seem to find anyone who’s heard of such a requirement – even the folks at the Movistar store in Los Andes seemed to have no idea what I was talking about (though maybe that was just my poor Spanish).
So that’s it, chores done and day one complete in Chile. It feels a lot different than Argentina but at least they still speak Spanish, so we’ll figure it all out eventually. Tomorrow we are heading to the beach town of Valparaiso where we’ll take rest day to gather our thoughts before moving further south…