Hurtling down steep cobbled streets and stairways, the world’s best mountain bike racers will compete for the Redbull Valparaíso Cerro Abajo this Sunday 11th February, leaping over obstacles in their race against the clock.
We faced the problem of climbing the 20-25% gradient up those very same streets with our fully loaded touring bikes. Of course we cheated and found a very nice taxi with a bike rack.
This made for a very pleasant 70km cycling day down the coast to the small seaside town of El Quisco.
Refreshed from a fish supper straight out of the sea, we cruised through several more seaside towns the next day, watching families enjoy all the traditional activities. With cool air temperatures from the cold sea and a rocky coastline it felt a bit like Whitby!
From the port of San Antonio we climbed slowly up the brilliantly named Ruta de la Fruta (Fruit Road) which brings a procession of fruit trucks from the interior to the ports laden with all our winter strawberries and blueberries.
These trucks are huge. Fortunately we could hear them coming from a long way off, roaring like dragons until they showered us with dust as they whooshed past. After an hour we were glad to turn off onto a side road and head back to the coast.
I’d warned Clare that this would be a long and winding 100km day. I hadn’t warned her about the sting in the tail … mainly because I didn’t have a clue it was coming.
Needing to recharge for the final 20km, we stopped for peaches, bananas and yoga in a shady bus stop. There are lots of these in Chile, all identical and they are fast becoming our favourite picnic spots. As Clare completed her sun salutations to help ease her back, I studied the map and elevation charts … and almost choked on my lemon soda!
Ahead of us were 7 … SEVEN!!! … Bath sized hills to climb before we got to our destination, the surf village of Matanzas.
I decided to soften the blow a little so told her there were “just a few small hills” ahead. At the bottom of the second hill I then pretended to look hard at the map before announcing there might be a “few more”. I only admitted to the full horror of the situation at the 5th peak.
To be fair, Clare was an absolute trooper even as we pushed our bikes up the 10% gradient into a strong headwind on the last climb … well and truly knackered.
Looking again at the map that evening it seemed that the terrain for the rest of the coastroad was going to be much the same … lots and lots of ups and downs. Time for a) an unscheduled rest day and b) a new plan.
After a very pleasant day on this strange, wild, foggy coast we decided to head inland through what looked like wide undulating valleys. The only problem was that there were hardly any hotels or casas on the way … so the daily mileage was still going to be big.
Passing lots of signs for rodeos, we were clearly in cowboy country as we wound our way past small wooden homesteads each with a tiny field overflowing with produce.
The smooth paved road then abruptly ended and we had our first taste of the legendary Camino de Ripio (gravel roads) that criss-cross Chile. These become corrugated on the flat, loose and sandy uphill so they are not at all the ideal cycle path. Not bad on a mountain bike, impossible on a road bike they were just about manageable on our touring bikes.
Two hours and 30km later, we were very relieved to get back to a normal road at Litueche.
“As God looked at the world he had created in seven days, he realised that there were still some things left over: volcanoes, virgin forests, deserts, fjords, rivers and ice. So he ordered the angels to dump all these things behind a long mountain range. The mountains were the Andes and so Chile was born. The most diversified country in the world!”
From Litueche the cycling was magnificent as we swept through the wide Colchagua Valley on the smoothest of roads. This is big, beautiful, earthy country with wide horizons across farms and scrubland dotted with rocky outcrops.
It seems that Chile is adopting all the best trees from across the world. Australian eucalypts, American giant cacti, Scandinavian pine, Caribbean palms, European poplars make for an eclectic mix. We often looked out at beautifully nurtured vineyards on one side of the road, acacia bushes on the other. France to the left, Africa to the right.
One night we stayed in an old Jesuit Hacienda (estate) at Marchigue. The next in a glamping pod set high above vineyards south of the old colonial village of Lolol. Both were the only accommodation within a 50 mile radius, both lovely in very different ways.
Now we’re further inland the days are hotter. On the day we reached Talca, we both drank seven litres of water … and it was still a long time until we needed to pee!
Perhaps it was heat and dehydration, perhaps it was the last steep hill or perhaps it was the stress of having to use the main highway to cross two rivers … but we were both very, very tired when we staggered into the city. Consecutive days of 90km across hill country had proved too much for us.
Fortunately we found a lovely German oasis, Casa Chueca (the wobbly house), set in beautiful grounds with many quirky features that include an outdoor bath, a go karting track and an arboretum. A bell is rung at 7pm each night for delicious vegetarian meals that are served at a communal table.
“I don’t want to leave” says Clare, “I’m not ready to get back on my bike.”
Perhaps we’ll stay an extra night … or two?
Our route so far …