(next page: Stranded in Antofagasta)
I spent a little too long in Santiago, but I certainly enjoyed my time there. I had heard a few people give the city some underwhelming reviews so I went there expecting very little, but I was pleasantly surprised. It is a really vibrant city surrounded by mountains with some fantastic vistas. I certainly preferred it to Buenos Aires.
My only real complaint about Santiago is the the drivers. If you want to cycle on the roads then this city sucks, especially the collectivo drivers. If you're not sure what a "collectivo" is, it is essentially a shared taxi that follows a specific route. Anybody can jump in. It's basically a taxi having an identity crisis. It's a little too embarassed by the middle class status of being a taxi, but not quite prepared to stoop so low as to being a bus, so it becomes COLLECTIVO!!!
I had arranged to be hosted by Leonardo, a Colombian guy I met on the couchsurfing website. I had arranged to stay with him from Tuesday onwards, but I arrived in Santiago a day earlier than planned (as detailed in my last post), so I chose to stay in a hostel for one. Somebody recommended that I stay in Bellavista, which is a very lively neighbourhood. Even on a Sunday the streets were heaving. It is certainly not low on action!
On my second day I had a lot of time to kill before meeting Leonardo, so I sniffed out a Korea restaurant and ordered some 오징어 볶음. I can't tell you how much I miss Korean food. This was the first time I've had some since being on this continent, so I was pretty damn excited. It was a little too early for makkoli though (sad face). My only complaint is that the kimchi was fresh. I like that stuff when it's jurassic and becomes all yellow and translucent.
This is the view from Leonardo's apartment. I stayed with him for four nights. He was incredibly laidback and I felt very welcome. I got to meet a bunch of his friends and went out on the town a couple of times. Unfortunately he got quite sick just before I left.
Cerro Santa Lucia
We went to a couchsurfing event at a bar in Bellavista, then onwards to a small nightclub that had some live Colombian style "cumbia" music. Afterwards hunger struck. Hotdogs were on the line. I was getting a little bleary eyed at that point. I remember ordering a hot dog Italiano and thinking that it was rather expensive. The reason why became evident rather quickly. Look at the size of the bloody thing! It was MASSIVE!!!
Despite enjoying Santiago I became eager to get back on the road again. Seeing this guy at the crossing - on his phone doing deals - hammered home just how much I can't be bothered with cities anymore. But this photo tells a lie as he seemed to enjoy the whole thing. I think the photo reflects more the way I feel about his life. It feels good to be a million miles from office culture.
ACAB. You'll find this graffiti all over the world. Universal stuff.
Free Tour of Santiago
The one touristy thing that I would highly recommend doing is the free tour that leave from the Plaza de Armas. It starts at 10am everyday and last about 4 hours. We had a really vivacious guide named Franco. It is a tip based business, so you can just donate whatever you feel is appropriate.
After getting my fix of tourism it was time to get down to business and run some errands. The most pressing issue was my broken Ortlieb panniers. One of the mount attachments snapped off while riding and the pannier ripped as it was being dragged along.
I emailed Ortlieb and they were very swift with their response. They would send out a replacement pannier to me. In theory this is fantastic and I really appreciate it, but in then end I figured it would be simpler for them to send the replacement to England for when I get back. I chose to buy a new set of panniers. I would have spent the same amount of money just hanging around Santiago for a week. I had already been in the city for nearly a week and was eager to get back on the road.
Hilleberg also replied about my tent and they are going to replace my tent poles and fix the material for me. Again, they were willing to post out to South America, but the current poles should just about last the rest of the trip, so I will wait till I get back home.
I also dropped some cash on a Katadyn water filter pump and a new fleece. I lost my old fleece when I was in the Lake District region of Chile. It is bloody hot in Chile where I am at the moment but the nights get chilly. It is only going to get worse. Once I'm up on the Bolivian Altiplano - a plain with an average height of around 3,750 metres - the night temperatures will drop to well below 0ºC. I hope it will be a little forgiving as it is summer. Water is becoming an issue too. In the south it is quite all right to drink the tap water, but I have been told that the quality of tap water in the north is questionable. That is my justification for buying the Katadyn water filter. I will be heading into some really remote areas as well, so I want to be able to drink water from streams safely.
Cerro San Cristobal
Leonardo put me in touch with Tania, one of his friends who is into cycling, so we went for a spin up Cerro San Cristobal which has fantastic panoramic views over the whole city. I enjoyed it so much that I went up again towards sunset on my final night in Santiago.
Once I got all my equipment sorted it was time to leave Santiago. Initially I thought that I would get the bus straight to Antofagasta where I would set off across the Atacama desert, but a quick trip to the bus terminal changed that.
I asked around various companies about taking my bicycle with me on the bus, but none of them were very helpful. I went back to my hostel and asked the Chilean guy who works there to call the bus company. They said that I could take a bike on the bus if it was BOXED!!! This is a little ridiculous. Vijay and I took three separate buses with our bikes and didn't have any such trouble.
In the end I decided just to ride out of Santiago and see what would happen. I really didn't have a plan I dabbled with the idea of having a go at hitch hiking with my bicycle. I saw a few good spots outside of the city, but it seems that there are a lot of hitchhikers here. The roads were saturated with them, so I just kept pedalling. About 118km later I rolled into La Calera, a small town on the bus route. I knew this bus terminal wouldn't be so busy and I might be able to get the bus from there.
There was one seat left for the 1am bus to Antofagasta, so I bought it. I had to wait around for about five hours for the bus to arrive. When it did, the driver said that they wouldn't be able to take the bike. The lady who works for Tur-Bus kindly arranged for my bicycle to be brought up to Antofagasta on a cargo bus the next day. It was better than nothing. Right now I am bicycle-less but it is expected to arrive in the morning. Fingers crossed!
Another road shrine.
The landscape becomes much drier north of Santiago. Cacti popping up all over the place.
This was dinner. A chorillana for two, in bed! Antofagasta seems to be a pretty bleak town where the desert meets the sea. It's mostly mining up here, so it has a strange vibe. I haven't had a moment to explore, but I don't really plan to. As soon as I get my bicycle I will go shopping for provisions then set off the following morning. I am eager to get cycling again. I am dying to spend a night camping under the desert skies.
It's about 300km to San Pedro de Atacama and I imagine that it will take about 3 days, but it depends on the wind. I have been told that it is a slow gradual climb up to 2,407 meters, so that shouldn't be too difficult. The same person told me that I should have tailwinds assisting me for the first stretch to Calama, but I'm not going to get my hopes up about that. Everything is up in the air.
Watch this space.
(next page: Stranded in Antofagasta)