21 January 2015

Santiago and Valparaiso: a city break from the bikes

Taking the beautiful Paso San Francisco through the Puna had its drawbacks... We ended up in the mining town of Copiapo, where basically, you either take the dusty and dry coastal paths, or you put your life in the hands of some nut drivers on the route 5 (the Panamerican highway). There's also other options, like heading back to Argentina via the more remote Paso Pircas Negras, or further South on Aguas Negras. But the clock was ticking for us if we wanted to reach Patagonia in the good season...so opted for the fastest alternative of all: a bus down to Santiago.

Arriving in Santiago for New Years wasn't really our initial plan, but it all panned out OK. Our great warmshowers host met us in the centre of town, and directed us on the busy Santiago roads to her house, where we based ourselves for a few days of rest, good eating (and wine drinking, this is Chile after all, and wine is cheaper than most other stuff here) and route planning. We also managed to sneak in a visit to Valparaiso, which surprised us with its impressive street art. It also helped that we had great hosts there, who showed us around the most interesting and often less-visited sights. So this blog post is to say muuuchas gracias to Grimme (our host in Santiago) and Meagan and Jaime (in Viña/Valparaiso).

Arriving early in Santiago on New Years eve, we take a stroll until our host can meet us

Then head over to the barrio Paris/Londres and pretend to be back at home (as in London, UK)

On one of the days, an old friend of Lucy´s takes us up to cerro San Cristóbal, a must-do in Santiago, which offers great views of this manic city

Eleven years after they were in high school together, Sergio picks us up and shows us around Santiago for the day.

Both our host Grimme and her mom Maria Olivia are keen urban cyclists. Maria Olivia takes us on a cultural (40 km!) trip around Santiago, learning about the history of the city along the way. Muchas gracias and for that huge pint of Austral at the end too!

We keep seeing similarities between Chile and the UK. This was confirmed once again when we had two egg baps with black tea, for just a luca (1000 pesos chilenos, or 1.6 USD)
With Maria Olivia on some of the quieter streets of Ñuñoa
Santiaguinos are rapidly adopting the bike for urban commuting, yet a lot of work has to be done: the city is crazy busy with traffic, and there´s plenty of fast "highways" everywhere you go. There are plenty of cycle lanes, but they don´t connect in any kind of network, which makes them impractical to use. Definitely one of the worst cities for cycling we´ve seen... We´ve not seen bikes with an engine since Colombia!

Santiago is also known for its Mercado Central, serving cheap seafood. Not the best but at 5 USD a plate one can´t complain!

It was so hot sometimes, that we seek refuge in the old railway near the centre - Chile had some good train infrastructure back in the day. Unfortunately, like most of the other South American countries, this was replaced by the private car...

As market suckers that we are, we could not leave Santiago without going to its main food feria in Barrio Brasil. Yummy fruit for half the price of what you would normally pay!

Veg in a bag

A visit to the centre of Chile isn´t complete with one to Valparaiso so there we went

We started the tour with a walk through its famous steep hills. Meagan, left, was our superb guide and host! Cheers for that!

Then moved on to street art...

Street art merges with chatotic steep streets

We loved the varied architecture of Valpo too.

The street art came with all types of styles and subjects. An art lover´s paradise. 

Near the above monument to the toilet we found some USD toilet paper.

We are always pleased when bicycles pop up in the street art!

One of the famous ascensores to get people up the hills

This one is Alberto´s favourite: Blessed are the obedient herd

On the other side of the above mural

More bicycles

We loved this mural depicting Valpo in all its glory.

Check out those stairs!

It´s been a long time since we last saw tall bikes!

We also went to the dunes next to Concón, near Viña del Mar, and enjoyed great views of the Pacific. 

Then tried to be a bit creative playing with the sand, and Alberto´s tan lines (it wasn´t dirt, mom, I promise)
After a good week or so in the Santiago and Valparaíso area, we still didn´t really have any good options for riding south quickly. So, onto another bus to get us to Chillan, just above the Chilean lakes district, where we could finally get to riding again and hopefully pick up some lost momentum.

We were warned that getting our bikes onto busses in Chile was more complicated than in other countries in South America. The usual custom is to negotiate with the drivers about the fee they want to charge you for taking them. This can be stressful but in the end it worked out ok for us.  In our case, on both bus trips we were able to negotiate down to CHP 5,000 for the two of them.

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