(November 3 – written by Dave)
Today Ruta 5 got everything right. No heavy truck traffic like we saw on Wednesday. No crazy holiday travel traffic like we saw on Thursday. No rain like we saw on yesterday. We had nothing but a calm, quiet, dry road all day. It was so quiet that we could actually have a conversation while riding. The only thing we missed was the tailwind. Our first two days we had the traffic tailwind. Yesterday we had the storm tailwind. Today we had mostly flat wind from the west, just off to our right. Overall, it was a nice day riding.
Ruta 5 is a great road for making progress but not a great road for scenery. We had fog for the first 35k which didn’t help. We were ready for morning tea and almost on cue, a highway Shell service centre came into view. We are both really enjoying the Shell servos – they are just a little bit nicer than the Copec version. The Shell stations have really tasty medialunas – small croissants that they warm and drizzle with a light sugar syrup. Plus they make a nice cafe cortado. Today we had six of the medialunas, three of each – ok, ok, I know what you are thinking – heck we rode over 100k today, we deserve it (and they are really small)! We only have probably 4 or 5 days left riding on Ruta 5 – not all back to back – but for sure we’ll be hitting every Shell we pass along the way.
After morning tea, we rode and rode and rode. There was little to stop for and the mostly smooth road meant that we could cruise faster than 20kph most of the time. Some days are like that. We wanted to stop for lunch probably around 12:00 but there were no stores, rest stops or even interesting places to stop. Finally around 1PM we just gave up and pulled over on the verge and ate muffins that we had purchased at the Shell station. After lunch the random farm land turned mostly into pine tree plantations, plus a couple mills. I suspect that we’d have more log truck traffic if it wasn’t a weekend.
We pulled off the highway just at the 100k mark. We were targeting Salto del Laja where we’d seen a number of camping areas and a good number of cabanas. We didn’t really know why everything was clustered here (more on that later). We stopped at the main village area, pulling up when a nice young man waved and offered us a deal on a cabana. They had a restaurant as well so we decided to have a look. I walked back to the cabanas with the owner’s daughter and even got the price lower by the time I got back to the restaurant – sold. And the food was good as well.
I asked the gal helping me why everything was here and she simply asked “have you been to the bridge?” Well, we hadn’t been to the bridge but I figured we go there after eating and getting cleaned up. It was all of 100 yards past the restaurant so I felt a little silly about the whole question.
Up at the bridge, we discovered a wonderful view up to Salto del Laja falls – one of the biggest falls that we’ve seen on this trip. The scene was as beautiful as it was chaotic. There were heaps of people all milling around, eating ice creams and buying the really tacky tourist gifts that were on offer. We lingered over one of the very nice burn wood clock/wall decorations before agreeing that we’d simply no room to carry it (I wonder if they ship?).
We walked from the bridge up to the base of the falls and then up to the top of the falls. Nearly the entire path was lined with more wood shacks selling tacky tourist stuff. We passed several more wood burn clocks and managed to get a few photos of the falls, making our way through all of the people with selfie sticks. Being the Saturday afternoon of a long weekend, it was easy to see why there were so many people visiting. I still, however, don’t get why so many people hang around in the obvious photo areas staring down at the smartphones – they aren’t taking pictures, posing for pictures or enjoying the falls. I don’t really care what they are doing on their phones but they should really move to the side to do it!
We are now back in our cabana, thinking about dinner. We had so much food at our late lunch, we may not make much of a meal this evening. Nancy exchanged a peck on the cheek for a bag of mandarins from a car park fruit seller so for sure we’ll be getting stuck into them (you’ll have to ask her about the peck) (Senior editor’s note – I offered to pay but he wouldn’t take any money from me. When I said thanks he went in for the cheek kiss, so what else could I do but return the favour?). The skies outside are threatening making us happy that we are inside tonight. Tomorrow is another day out on Ruta 5 but being Sunday of a four day weekend, we are expecting more traffic. We are hoping that most traffic will be heading north on the highway, back towards Santiago. There could be some rain as well so it could be an interesting day.