Fat Bikes Around Santiago, Chile

We arrived in Santiago, Chile, with our bikes, about a week ago and after a bit of a rest to get over the jetlag and the “ground hog day” moment of having two Fridays after crossing the date line coming from Australia, we plunged straight into a brain crushing, intensive, spanish course.

Going back to school is not all bad, this Spanish class came with a meal attached!

I had been a bit nervous about cycling into the centre of the city from the airport, especially after 24 hours without sleep, but as it turned out traffic on Friday afternoons is very light as so many people head for the coast at weekends to get away from the air pollution.

On our first Sunday we set out for a bit of an exploration of Providencia, the area where we were staying. Its quite near the historic centre but it’s full of large trees and looks strangely like Putney or Hampstead in London.

We found that one side of the dual carriageway along the river was shut to cars as they organise what they call a “Ciclorecrovia” along about 15 km of central city roads every Sunday.  We went back to get our bikes and had a pleasant morning along with about 40,000 other men, women and children who were enjoying the centre of their city in peace.

The dual carriageway wonderfully free of traffic on Sundays
This is what the traffic in this area of the city usually looks like!
The Ciclorecrovia, with its closed roads is wonderful for families. This is a typical road in this affluent part of Santiago. There are trees and small parks everywhere.

We have booked into four weeks of a Spanish class and at our age going back to school is quite a shock. Having to sit down, inside all day while complex grammar is explained in rapid spanish is very hard. We also get hours of homework.  I am embarrassed to admit that I never did my homework when I was at school so this is also a novelty for me.

So we needed a break. Most of Santiago is pancake flat, but there are some high and very steep hills here and there.  It is also surrounded, closely, by mountains.  One evening after school we set of up the nearest steep hill, La Cena de San Crystobal, along with a multitude of road cyclists and runners. It was about 30 degrees C at the bottom but as we climbed it got a little fresher.

The view from halfway up San Crystobal towards the mountains

We got to the summit just as the sun was setting and had an amazing view over Santiago.

Watching the sunset over Santiago from the top of the San Crystobal hill along with about 100 other cyclists (all roadies!)

As the city warmed up, it was getting hotter daily, the very dry air got dirtier, so on Friday we set off for the mountains to camp at a National Park called Yerba Loca. This was only a cycle of 48 km but was a climb of 1350 m and most of the climb was in the last 10 km so it was steep.  We have also got a bit unfit during the last month and it was very hot. Excuses, excuses I know, but I was on my last legs by the time we got to the Park and we still had a 4 km climb, off road, from there up to the camp site. Digging deep has nothing on this.

Our first good view of the mountains outside Santiago
When we stopped for a rest on the way up this little Chilean Fox came off the hillside to take a good look at our bikes.
Looking down on some of the switchbacks as we cycled up the mountain to the Yerba Loca park. These went on for 8 km, after that the road just went up!
Putting a brave face on it. I was exhausted, covered in dust, it was getting dark and it had just gone from 30 degrees to about 10 degrees C. Not surprisingly shortly after this I got bad cramp in both legs. Nice sunset though!
The final 1 km to the campsite was the worst. I think Bernie was wondering why I had stopped as, uncharacteristically, I was too tired to grumble.

We arrived at the campsite just as it was getting dark and had to push our loaded bikes through tiny, steep paths in a dark wood to find a spot to camp, which was next to a deafening, fast flowing river.

This was the view down the valley early the next morning. Lovely, but I was glad we were not in it.
An early morning view of the glacier La Paloma from the campsite.
Heading for the campsite toilet block I found this horse and foal waiting patiently for their cowboy, complete with leather chaps and spurs, to emerge.

 

We had heard a lot of shouting and music as we emerged from our tent. Around the corner we found about 300 huasos (cowboys) and all their families. They had rounded up all the cattle and wild horses off the mountainside, and about 100 vets were checking the livestock and their calves and foals over.
One of the cowboys separating the cattle. After a while there was so much dust in the air you could no longer see them.
Watching Los Huasos (cowboys) sorting the cattle and wild horses.

We had 2 days of great hiking
Here we are hiking at about 2300 m
I know these Icelandic poppies are not indigenous but they looked great. Only about 20% of the vegetation in these mountains is indigenous.
The day after the round up all the horses were let back out on the slopes. This one was enjoying it’s freedom
Bernie waiting patiently while I photograph yet another wonderful plant
I had been delighted to find Berberis here until we lost our track and had to push through its long spines
Although it was still sunny you can see warning signs of the mist returning. We decided to head back
Coming back down was so much easier!
Heading back into the pollution of Santiago after a great weekend. The cycle paths here put any in Europe to shame. As Santiago is so flat there are a lot of cyclists here. It’s quite intimidating when you first join them, they are quite a force to be reckoned with and they seem to have priority over cars and pedestrians. You don’t find pedestrians here walking about without looking where they are going!

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