We last left you off as we were on our way to the west coast to the quiet little surf town of Pichilemu. The town was eerily empty, with almost everything closed, including restaurants, shops, hostels and campgrounds. The latter we found out first hand as we rode around to every campsite in town hoping to find one still open for the off season. We were starting to get desperate as the day got later, the temperature much colder and the street dogs watching us ever closer. Thankfully we did succeed; at the far end of town we found a larger campsite that came with hot showers, electricity and wifi! Not what we were expecting to find in Chile. The wifi helped us overcome the gloomy overcast sky that had been with us since descending a mountain range back to sea level on the way to Pichilemu.
The next day we were greeted with the same gloom as the night before, but on the upside, the night was much warmer than in the National Park. Ciaran and I took ourselves on a little walking tour of the town as the sun slowly thinned the clouds. We both came to a similar conclusion: the town would be a great place to be – in summer. There is ample accommodation everywhere that looks to be aimed at young people and heaps of (closed) street food in a very relaxed setting. We were a bit unsure about the black sand beaches however.
The last stop on our little trial run was the incredibly vibrant city of Valparaiso and the affluent Viña del Mar. We discovered a quirk of Maps.Me during our ride to Valparaiso, instead of providing the fastest route between two points, Maps.Me gives you the shortest route. This might seem fine as you’re riding down narrow village streets side by side with farms, walls and animals. In fact, it’s a great way to see more of the country compared to sitting on a long boring highway. The downside is when the narrow street through the village turns into a dirt track wherein you pass a man on a horse and find yourself on a very bad condition logging trail. This section of dirt and rocks was by far the most difficult Ciaran and I had encountered before and coupled with our fully loaded bikes, made for a very challenging uphill ride into the pine forests.
The dirt continued for a while, slowly getting better in quality before we hit the highway again for the last leg into Valparaiso. I had my first fuck up of the trip just after leaving the highway – it would seem I am not at all used to the lack of a fuel gauge on the DRZ as I came to an unexpected stop on the side of the road. I was running through all the possible reasons why the bike would suddenly stop, but a quick look in the fuel tank and my worries disappeared. Ciaran went off to fetch me some fuel while I waved on the few concerned passers-by.
Arriving in Valparaiso wasn’t the most pleasant of first experiences in a city. The highway began a long downhill stretch of road with cars and trucks passing us at incredible speed. That combined with the traffic, confusing one-way streets and noise left us feeling a little salty after the relaxing days away from the busy cities. No matter though, we made it to the hostel, parked our bikes and hauled our gear up far too many stairs to our warm room and comfortable beds. The hostel in Valparaiso was our first chance to stay at a hostel that Ciaran and I are both used to from Europe – large dorms, couches and a rooftop terrace with backpackers to drink with. Our first night at La Hoya we met a few Canadians and Australians (of course) and a handful of various Europeans. After a couple rounds of beer pong, I retired to bed to nurse my man flu, while Ciaran geared up to head out with the guys. It wasn’t until the next morning I discovered he passed out on a beanbag instead. (Un)surprisingly, he did it again the next night and was perplexed when I told him we had already been out and back by the time he woke up.
Ciaran’s normal behaviour aside, Valparaiso lived up to the hype we had been told about. The city is covered in spectacular street art depicting values close to Chilean and South American life. It was inspiring listening to the meaning behind the artwork described to us by the walking tour guide. The tour was also our first taste of how good a fried empanada can be. After the tour of Valparaiso, we continued on a self-guided tour of Viña del Mar, a beach front town akin to the centre of Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. We wandered the streets for a couple of hours taking in the sudden wealth change of the city, before resting on the beach watching the sun descend.
Those beanbags were comfy af and I regret nothing. So we finished up our week test ride by smashing straight back to Santiago. The morning started rough, our deathly hangovers aside, we had to deal with horrific Valparaiso traffic on a morbidly miserable day. After our GPS directions took us the wrong way, an hour of feathering the clutch later we returned to the front of the hostel. Not even kidding. Getting onto the highway and into some sunlight was a huge relief, and it seemed to suddenly cure the pernicious toxins and pessimism that was coursing through our veins. Something about vitamin D being good for you. 1km from our glorious return to Hostal Casa Matte and Nathan’s bike cracked the shits, riding rough as guts. It sounded like it has been out on the piss with us as well. Nath coasted ol’ Jumbolove back and said mañana mañana, we’ll sort her out in the morning. Throwing our gear down in the dorm, we headed to the roof for an excellent asado with Cristian and some of his family and friends. That greasy charred meat was pure heaven in my ravenous state.
We ended up spending another 5 nights in Santiago, trying to deal with all the shit that kept arising. Two of those days were spent purely on the bikes, replacing worn parts like chains, sprockets and tyres. Nathan solved his rough as guts issue by replacing his stator. Fortunately for him, Brent had carried a spare from the US with him his entire trip, and it came with the bike. I was sent on a mission to find him a new rear disc brake as the one he had brought from Australia didn’t fit. As I had just picked up a new tyre, I spent a couple hours lugging it up and down Lira St in search of the damned thing. Noone seemed to have one in the right size and always directed me to another random shop. Eventually I found one that was close enough, Nathan just had to grind away the inner edges a wee bit. Talking about replacement parts, I had ordered a new phone battery online before leaving as I had a feeling it might die at some point in the journey. Well the battery never arrived. So of course 2 weeks after arriving in South America it died on me. That was another couple hours wasted running around like a headless chook. I also discovered that my bank cards weren’t working in any ATMs. After a number of long and frivolous phone calls to Australia with the intention of sending me new cards, I decided to try a different bank. Lo and behold it worked, it just seems that Banco Estado hates me, even though Nathan has zero issues with the exact same card.
Besides all the fuckery, we had some nice moments too, we went on another walking tour, learning some of the history and culture of the city we had spent so long in. We also checked out Barrio Italia, or as I call it, Little Italy. We found a nice pub where after the football they had stand-up. Despite it being all in Spanish, the comedians tried their hardest to get us involved. I feel like there were a lot of jokes about the two gringos in the crowd who didn’t understand a thing. I even got up and did a short bit in English with some translation from the host. It went over better than I expected for my first time. But maybe that was the beer. I may have accidentally insulted a member of the audience who looked like she wanted to fight me. Everyone else thought it was hilarious though and the show went on. Editor’s note: he called her a vagina.
We had our goodbyes in Santiago and headed north to Illapel. This was it. We were officially beginning our adventure. And what a beginning it was. We took a precarious dirt road winding north through pitch black one-way tunnels. These were somewhat terrifying, especially when you saw car headlights coming towards you. We had to grope the wall to squeeze past on the three occasions it occurred. One of the tunnels also went around a large curve. I’m just glad Nathan rode first to take the brunt of the hit if a car was coming through. In Illapel we stayed at Sherpa Hostel with Sherpa Erick. He had been involved in the Dakar in 2016 and was super enthusiastic to show us pictures and videos of the experience. The next morning as Nathan’s rear tyre looked extremely flat, he took us to a local mechanic to sort it all out. He will definitely be remembered, even more so as he was the first person to give us some stickers for our naked bikes. They look so much better covered up just a bit.
Sherpa recommended a road north that was a bit more off the beaten track than we had experienced to date. The roads weren’t even documented fully on any of our mapping apps. The loose dirt had my bike take a couple of naps, one of which twisted my handlebars quite significantly. It was a hell of a time adjusting to the new positioning. Eventually we arrived at the point Sherpa had been raving about, ‘El tunel’. A 3 km stretch of abandoned train track through a 150 year old carving in the mountainous rockface. It was one bumpy ride. Sketchy as anything but what an experience. After that the road seemed trivial. It spat us out back on the highway and we rode through Monte Patria to the edge of Embalse la Paloma, a giant reservoir surrounded by golden fields in the setting sun. Camping nearby, I spent the evening gazing at the Milky Way, untouched from the light pollution normally so prevalent. From here we rode west to Tongoy, and the highlight of our trip to date.