Valparaiso

Valparaiso, essentially Chile’s second city, is both a struggle and a joy for the touring cyclist. While the main business and shopping areas of the city are located in a flat expanse known as the El Plan, the residential areas and many things of touristic interest are spread over several dozen hills. The streets going up these hills have ridiculously steep inclines and not only is it impossible to cycle up them, but even pushing a loaded touring bike requires that one stop every few steps for a breather. Once we safely stored our bikes at our lodgings, we hoped moving around would be easier, but even on foot Valparaiso is a brutal place. A series of funiculars (ascensores) links El Plan with the hills, but these were built a century ago when settlement had not yet spread so far up.A funicular at the top end of the line, with its counterpart far below, and a panorama of the surrounding city. Today, people are living much higher along the hills, and even after one has paid 200 pesos to ride a funicular several dozen meters up, there is still a lot of grueling walking left to be done. Continue reading Valparaiso

South along the Chilean coast: La Serena to Valparaiso

In Vicuña we experienced an earthquake, only the first of many during our time in Chile. The locals went about their business completely unperturbed, and explained that this was no terremoto (‘earthquake’ as the sort of cataclysmic event that razes cities and brings tsunamis), but rather a mere temblor (‘earthquake’ as only a brief shaking of the ground and all the loose items in the house). For us, not used to making such a distinction, it was still a foreboding introduction to this part of the world.

A half-day’s cycling from Vicuña brought us to Chile’s Pacific coast at the city of La Serena.Stretch of sandy beach with coastal developments and mountains in the background. We were surprised to find an almost perfect simulacrum of southern California: sprawl, car culture, row homes, a dry landscape, and plenty of conspicuous consumption. As mentioned before, we too were in consumption mode, so happy to have left Argentina with its import-substitution policy and low-quality products, and here the supermarkets were bigger than in Vicuña. We stayed with some local cyclists in the neighbouring port city of Coquimbo, which does feel a little like the poorer cousin of La Serena, but the “bad neighbourhoods” there are on top of the hill where no visitors need go, and generally the coastal and other low-lying areas are just quiet residential districts like in any other developed country. There was nothing of especial touristic interest in these two cities themselves, but during the days we stayed here, we cycled back and forth between Coquimbo and La Serena several times along the long seafront promenade, which was a relaxing place to be in late December, still the low season. On a clear day, you can turn away from the sea to a view of a snow-covered Andean peak. Continue reading South along the Chilean coast: La Serena to Valparaiso

Cycling the Paso Agua Negra from Argentina to Chile: a cautionary tale

The Paso Agua Negra (‘Blackwater Pass’) is one of many crossings from Argentina to Chile over the Andes. This pass reaches an altitude of 4770 meters, with a good-quality unpaved road but very little traffic, so it has become increasingly popular with cyclists. I read several stories of crossing here (like the excellent description at Andes By Bike) that described it as a smooth journey, so I expected that it would go equally smoothly for us in mid-December 2015. Things were more complicated, however. Continue reading Cycling the Paso Agua Negra from Argentina to Chile: a cautionary tale