The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through
A Book by Bob
"Only one thing keeps you from doing the things you really want to do,
and that one thing is
your own SELF DOUBT."
North From Santiago
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Because of geography and roads it took 4 months to cycle the southern half
of Chile and will only take one month to cycle the northern half.
One of my least favorite things is leaving or entering a large city.
Fortunately I was granted this 10 times in Santiago,( one of which
was by bus.) Sometimes it takes a full day of cycling just to get into or
out of a large city, not only due to its size but the heavy traffic as well.
I was spoiled in the south with a traffic density of one car per hour, but
I'm making up for it now with 3 cars per second. By after noon it thinned out
a little, to about one car a minute which is not too bad, but still more than
What a strange feeling to cycle through the very same tunnel
I had the crash on the motorcycle in. This time its not slippery, besides
feel much more comfortable on a bicycle. It was just after dark when
I arrived at Eric's place, sure is nice to go someplace where someone is
expecting you, and to see a familiar face at the end of a long cycling day. A
whole new concept. I think that's the most difficult part of traveling is
long periods of time without seeing a familiar face. But this is traded for
seeing new faces everyday. Also staying with Eric, was Christian, a very
industrious 18 year old from Ecuador who cycled from Quito to Ushuaia solo.
He was hitch-hiking his way back home. He invited me to come to visit him
when I get to Quito, he said his whole family cycles and also take in fellow
cyclists. Also staying with Eric was Ian a British Economist on an extensive
around the world tour, cycling bits and pieces of it. The three of us cooked
up dinner and shared a liter of Guinness, yes they have Guinness in Chile.
Having been forced to turn back twice from going over the pass from Los
Andes because of weather, I determined to try a third time. There was
were still reports of lots of snow on the roads and icy in places, but I
really wanted to see this pass, so I hitched up. The first ride took me
up to about where we went with the motorcycle. The second lift was with a
guy who played guitar for a living. I happen to ask if I could hear some of
his music. With a big smile he took out a cassette and popped it in. I was
very impressed and I told him so. The ride was relatively short but every little
bit helps. When we got to his turnoff, he hit the eject button and
handed it to me. I couldn't believe it, it seems everyone I meet in this
country feels the need to give me something, or do something really nice
for me. These people are amazing and genuine.
I waited about an hour when a Mercedes stopped. A nice older couple on their
way to the boarder, just for a look. When they asked me where I was going I
said the boarder, just for a look. They had Classical music playing that
was perfectly tuned to the setting of jagged mountains, the snow and
colorful canyons. I couldn't believe I was riding in such comfort, so this
is how the other half lives. Turned out to be such a beautiful day, they
asked me if I, wanted to go through customs and visit Argentina? Why not?
The final assault to the top of the pass was a series of 30 some very
steep switchbacks then at the top was a ski resort. And off into the distance
we could see the summit of Mt ACONCAGUA, the tallest peak in the Americas at
6960 meters, and if my math is correct 23768 feet. Very impressive, one day
I would like to climb it, but the climbing season is short only January and
February so it won't be the year. First we go our exit stamp from Chile than
the road forked with the choice of two tunnels. Not sure which way to go we
took the tunnel to the right, which turned out to be the one the
train used to go through. This explains all the small stalagmites
of ice we had to dodge. The police asked why we drove through there? We asked
why don't you have a gate or a sign up indicating which one is which or that
the one to the right is closed? They didn't respond, as if it really doesn't
matter which tunnel you take. Then we went to customs on the Argentine side.
Customs is much more difficult when you pass by car. On a bike they look
at your passport, ask how long you'll stay, stamp it and off you go,
5 minutes. We were there over 90 minutes. The driver had to fill out forms,
report to several different offices, it looked rather stressy. All I
could think of is Imagine there's no countries.
The drive down the Argentine side of this pass, is one of those things you
must put on your must see list. More impressive than the grand canyon. Colors
canyons, rivers, waterfalls, and with all the leaves turning, I think that
if god were to live here on earth this is where he would live. We stopped
at the first small town we came to for lunch. Afterwards they asked if I
would be interested in going to Mendoza? As if its up to me, I'm thinking
while its your car, but Why not?
Just before we leave the restaurant, I start thinking to myself hey my Argentine
friends, the ones Ewa and I met in Chile Chico and traveled with for two
days, live in San Luis, which is not too far from Mendoza. So I call them up
and never have I experienced a voice so eager to see me. We only knew each
other a couple of days, wow ,people here are so friendly. At $2 a minute
even for a domestic call we kept the conversation very brief.
I said Ill take a bus from Mendoza and meet you at the station at midnight!
So we drove to Mendoza, but the last couple of hours we got into some thick
fog and some bad road which slowed the pace a bit. As we arrived in Mendoza,
a big city, they ask where I should be dropped off, I looked around and saw
what looked like the bus station, so I shouted here is good. I didn't want
to take them out of their way, they have already been too kind. I was a bit
disappointed that they didn't offer to drive me to San Luis.
The 3 hour bus ride to San Luis cost $15 about 5 times what it would Bolibia
Peru or Ecuador. I guess the difference being that the dinner they served
didn't contain a Marshmallow surprise, instead we got stuck with a chicken
curry, I like when they serve dinner on buses and planes. So often people
don't eat it, I guess because of motion sickness, so I often get two dinners,
three which is usually just enough. One isn't even an appetizer.
Susanna and her husband were waiting for me at the station, and we drove to
Alexandria and Raul's house about 10 miles north of the city. I still couldn't
believe how happy they were to see me, what a great feeling. I was also
ecstatic about meeting good friends again. The next day Alexandria took me
all through the area. There are a lot of charming hills for hiking in this
semi-arid climate. Unfortunately Argentina was having some of its worst
flooding in history and even here its unusually cold and wet for this time
of year. This is where all the rain is, consequently keeping the normally wet
regions of Chile dry. Susanna teaches English in San Luis and wanted me to
stay another week to speak to her class about my travels, but for some
strange reason something was pulling me northward. I was anxious to get
cycling again. After 4 days its time to get on the road again. It always
seems I leave the company of good friends far before they are ready for me
to go, yet it so often seems to me that I've already stayed too long. I've
had people angry at me for leaving after 2 weeks, they say where are you
going already? Traveling restores ones faith in human kindness and reassures
us of the one thing we all need to survive, each other!
On the morning of the fifth day Alexandria brought me to a truck stop and
asked one of the drivers where he was going, and I he could take a passenger.
With a big hug and a kiss, I was off back to Chile. He dropped me off just
before Mendoza, where I stuck my thumb out for about an hour. Finally I ran
up to stopped truck and asked for a lift, nothing doing. So I walked away
and after about 20 minutes, I gave him a second chance to correct an obvious
mistake. I asked him where he was going, he responded with Porque? why?
So I told him exactly what I was doing and where I was going , He still
said no. So I told him that it was imperative that we go now so as to see
the beautiful canyon during the daylight. Muy importante nosotros vamos ahora
mirra muy bonita geographria por favor! He just looked at me then waved me
in! We talked the whole way in Spanish of course. Its amazing how much you
can communicate with just the basics of a language. This only works because
the South American people are very patient with my very poor grammar and
even poorer pronunciation. On the way I was looking for my hat, when I
realized I left it in San Luis. He asked me what I was looking for so I
said what happened. My favorite hat which I found at the end of the road in
Southern Chile. It said Puerto Yungay on the front with a picture of a deer
on it. I said no worries, Ill just get another in Los Andes, which turned
out to be exactly where he was going.
This was one of those new gigantic rigs with the fancy shamcy shock
absorber seats to alleviate the stress of bumpy roads. I felt sorry for
all the truckers at customs, they often have such a hard time with so much
paper work. There was about 80 trucks in front of us at the boarder. A New
York City type lineup which lead to a Disneyland type parking lot full of
large transports. We were there over 4 hours, but later we found out that
some of the earlier trucks were there 12 hours. Once again I thought to myself
Imagine there's no countries.
Coming down all those switchbacks at night was quite the experience.
He wouldn't tell me what he was hauling but he did say there was
80,000 pounds of it and I could feel the weight behind us as we inched
our way down. Almost all the trucks run the pass at night, I guess because its
safer but I don't know for sure. Its was like bumper to bumper trucks almost
all the way down into Los Andes. The best part was the thick London style fog,
only made up of diesel exhaust instead of water droplets. He stopped only
two streets from Eric's place, I thought to myself the least he could do
is take me right to the door, how rude to make me walk these two blocks. As
I was about to get out he took his hat off the one with all the flags of
South America on it, and put it on my head and thanked me for the company
for being persistent enough to get a ride with him, its something he would
ordinarily not do. I thanked him with a strong firm handshake and long eye
contact, before climbing down from the rig. It seems everyone I meet down
here, within a few hours develop a good friendship with.
When Knocked on the gate at Eric's place, Christian answered, apparently he
was spending some time working for Eric to earn a few extra bucks for his
trip back home. Eric said your just in time to sample a Chilean favorite,
Pastel De Choclo its very tasty, like a cornmeal casserole. Sure is nice
to have your own private cook. That evening Christian and I stayed up
most of the night talking of our cycle trip through South America and what
I could expect the rest of the way. Basically if you stay along the coast
you'll have a tail wind and if you choose the mountain route you will have
a head wind, more work but more beauty.
In the morning Eric noticed that one of my tires had a small tear in the side
so he gave me a spare, he had several hanging on the wall. I told him
what a gift he has been to me, and I'm sure other cyclists as well, that he
has renewed my strength and that I was ready to head towards the desert.
My Argentine friends took a video of their trip and the two days Ewa and I
were with them, and gave me a copy. Christen said he would like to see it, so
I asked him if he would hold onto it, and bring it with him when goes home.
We can watch it together with his family. So I left it with him along with a
couple of maps. The mail service is not too reliable and very expensive. the
rule is if it weighs more than 1 once, its cheaper to throw it away and
buy another when you get home than to mail it. Someone told me that When you
have stuff sent here from the states, you must pay a 100 percent tax. Well
that seems fair. With more good bye hugs and one last wave I was off to
The road back out to the coast , the same one Ewa and I came in on with the
motorcycle runs right along the river valley, very green, flat and good
pavement. It took about 5 days to cover the 350 miles to La Sarena. The winds
were light but from the south, excellent paved road, rolling hills. There was
one section where the whole valley was washed out apparently a flash flood,
even the bridge which was over 80 feet above the river below, was gone.
A lot of earth was moved, and instead of replacing the bridge they added about
a mile of road, that went up the valley but down down down to the river than
back up again. I felt they did an excellent job considering the devastation.
Remembering of course this is the only road that runs across the country.
All other roads run into the mountains or to the short distance to the
After all that kind hospitality its good to get back to camping , and cooking
my own food. Through this whole area there were many good quiet spots for
camping well away from the road. Its the first of May, cloudy cool days and
frosty nights but as for fall colors I'm into the sub-desert region of Chile,
mostly sage or scrub bushes. My first day in La Sarena I saw a local newspaper
and of course the only thing that interests me the weather page, there was
a front sweeping in from the ocean. Warm fronts come down from the northwest,
and usually bring rain. Cold fronts come from the southwest and usually
bring dry cold air. But La Sarena is about where the precipitation stops.
North of here it rarely rains and I could see in the sky south of here was
cloudy and to the north only high cirrus. North of Copiapo there is never
even a weather front, its like a moonscape.
While sitting in a Cafe looking through my address book I realized that the
group of school teachers who I met in Chile Chico, are from Coquimbo, the
sister town to La Sarena. So after three futile attempts to call them using
three different numbers, I thought to myself why not just surprise them.
Took me about an hour to get there and another hour to find the street, for
it wasn't a street but a path, they were currently in the process of putting in
So I'm walking my bike down the path, and who is coming toward me no other
than the one women who gave me her address with the insistence I come for
a visit. We met with big smiles and a hug, she couldn't wait to bring me
into the house to meet her husband. They were both school teachers mid fifties
in age, who thought what I was doing was the most incredible thing. I told
them I was just out for a bike ride, no big deal.
She cooked up a huge dinner, with wine and dessert and afterward we went by
car to the house of a friend way up on top of the hill over looking the whole
city and the pacific ocean. She must of telephoned everyone well in advance
for when we arrived all 20 teachers, who I met in Chile Chico were there to
greet me. On this trip, wherever I go especially in Chile I feel like a
superstar, or a movie actor or even the president. So much respect, honor and
generosity. Again they offered more food and sweets. Its interesting to note
that the popularity of mate is dwindling. Only about 1 in 5 drink mate here
and further north its not drunk at all. Only two of us drank it this night,
for now I've grown accustomed to its taste and prefer it. They had a million
questions for me, about my trip and what I thought about Chile and Pinochet.
Every time I meet people I must go through the same interview process, and with
a group this large I feel like I'm on stage. They all listened like I
was a doctor about to announce whether its a boy or a girl. I found it
fascinating that there was more interest here about my trip from strangers
than there was from family and friends when I got home. Sadly I find
that North Americans have very little interest in what exists outside their
country. I also find them to be among the least educated in the world
in geography. I've never been able to fathom the reason for our lack of
interest in the planet earth.
After a very pleasant reunion with wonderful people we went back to my friends
house for the night and I set off early the next morning for points north.
The road continued in excellent condition, paved, flat, and a 15 knot
tailwind. My average speed is up to 12 miles per hour, a far cry from
the months of 2 mph average in Patagonia. Funny the days are flying by
but not much interesting is happening. The weather is good, sunny, each day
a little warmer and the terrain a little drier. Exciting stuff only happens
during times of adversity and when I meet up with people. Now the days
are lonely, long, singing to myself and studying my Spanish. I miss Ewa and
wish she was still with me. The 120 miles to Vallenar flew by in an easy
My plans were to just keep going north when I met Vladimair.
A very industrious misplaced Russian living here in Chile. He had a small
pickup truck with 25 queen size mattresses pilled sky high. I counted 3
times just to be sure. Only in South America, in the states one would
surely be pulled over and not permitted to proceed with such a load. His
truck was dwarfed by his mountainous cargo. Vladimir buys in Santiago whatever
he thinks he can sell, then drives up to remote mountain villages and
literally goes door to door asking what they need. He said he makes a good
profit but its a lot of work. He has a little store house in the town of
Alto del Carmen, about an hour east of here, half way up the pass to Argentina.
Although there are no roads that cross the Andes at this point. He asked
me if I would go with him for a day or 2 to help out and to see the beautiful
remote canyons. I told him I would like that very much.
I just watched incredulously as he drives up to the side of the gas station,
climbs up onto the roof of the building, then using ropes, hoists my bike onto
the roof. From there he shuttles it on top of the 25 mattresses he has stacked
on the bed of this small pick-up truck. Then he tied it all down and we were
off. This still can't believe this load, how is it balanced? I guess there
is always room for one more item. Never say never. It took about an hour to
get up the canyon to his store house where we unloaded my bicycle and spent
the night. The next day we went way up into the hills, over some very bad
road. There were two very small villages up here, say 1000 people along with
various small one house farms. And much to my surprise, despite being very
dusty,he sold all 25. Its very difficult for these people to get down to the
larger cities and return with such large cargo, and there's not enough
population to merit a shopping center closer. Most people are too poor to
buy with any regularity, so they pay a good price. Vladimir makes a good
profit and everyone is happy.
Some of the people were expecting him, but most were not, he is basically a
door to door self employed traveling salesman. Almost everyone had us in
for tea or something to eat, a completely different reception than he would
get if he did the same job in the states. I told Vladimir that he should
start his own home shopping network, he said as soon as everyone gets a
television and an income.
That night we returned to his store house, where he wanted to pay me for
my company, which I outright refused. I assured him that just being there
and sharing in this experience was more than enough payment for me.
He took me out to dinner none the less and requested that I stay in touch
after I return home. I told him I most certainly would and that he must
come to visit me in the states one day.
In the morning he was leaving to return to the city and asked if I wanted
a ride back down to where he met me. I turned it down, preferring to cycle
down the canyon and along the lake. One of Chile's largest dams is here,
I would like to see that and enjoy the quiet road. So off he went in his
little truck to restock his inventory and head up another valley.
As I'm standing here looking at this hydro project I'm thinking to my self
the importance of believing in your ideas. Vladimire had an idea and is
making a living off it. Long time ago someone looked at a water fall and
had an idea. Unfortunately most people are like vines on a tree, afraid of
originality and new thinking, so they cling to the familiar, and will try to
choke your ideas.
As I was sitting here a couple came by and asked me who I was and where I
was headed, then brought out a spread of food. Chicken leg and thighs, fruit,
hot tea, a coke, green beans, and boiled potatoes and a bag of chips. They
just spread it out on the bench with table cloth and everything. Once again I
feel like a king. Everyday its another experience of red carpet treatment.
After my feast, they gave me their address in the town of Huasco, on the
coast, where this river meets the ocean, and said come down for dinner.
took me all day but by 8:30 PM I arrived. Only about 60 miles. They too
had servants and a private chef. They also owned a series of condos on the
beach to rent out during the season. We went to a separate building for
dinner, and talk about royal treatment, they served stuffed hen, broccoli
with cheese, potato. salad and soup all served with several bottles of
Cabernet Sauvignon. Oh lord what did I do to deserve such first class trip,
to be guided into the company of such marvelous people? Everyday is
thanksgiving for me.
Hector was an engineer in the iron mine located just down the coast. He offered
me a tour the next day, only it was not very visually impressive. That night
I had my own condo, with a family room, bathroom, and queen size bed.
They told me to stay as long as I like, Breakfast is served at 8:30 am,
Lunch at 1pm and dinner we all have together at 8:30pm. They spoke English
so our conversations were somewhat in depth. It sure felt great to talk and
articulate deep thoughts once again. I spoke of my ideas about
corporations being non profit, understanding that I'm not against capitalism.
I'm only trying to advocate the idea of limiting the cancerous growth that
the corporate world has attained. Historically anything that became too
powerful, became dangerous to the world, Czars, Hitler, Stalin etc... Let's
start with the extreme importance of the medical profession and pharmaceutical
industries being nonprofit. Health care should be about healing people rather
than finding ways to make more money. We should also consider limiting the
insidious growth of industries such as (defense, insurance, health care and
the legal profession. Personally this all falls under the catagory of just
plain common sense.
Than I switched to my own area of specialty, travel. I explained how my
itinerary is guided by instinct and word of mouth. If it wasn't for meeting
you, I would of never visited this enchanting beach village. If I didn't meet
Vladimir I would of never met you and so on. Sadly the character of the
American tourist is quite sensitive and cautious, for they are sheltered from
real life events. They experience vicariously through television. Its in my
opinion that to experience life one must travel, seek out differences, and
expect rather than be affronted by unprecedented behavior. Why do I travel
so much as my parents always ask? To discover new modes of thought which
may cultivate a change of heart and a more understanding perspective of the
human condition. Too often when people leave home they want to take home with
them. This defeats the purpose. To travel is to place oneself in a foreign set
of circumstances. My conclusion so far is that mankind is generally good by
nature, its the exposure to certain aspects of the world that leads evil. Dogs
are by nature good, always happy to see you. But treat them poorly, kick them,
starve them, never show them love, they will become mean and bite. We come
into the world with no knowledge of it, everything we know, we have been
taught by other people and society.
I spent two lovely days here, mostly walking the beach. One night the whole
sky caught fire as I stood there in knee deep water looking at clouds that
resembled Santa clauses suit. It was not possible to cross the river to
walk further north along the beach, too deep, too fast. Also the current
was too strong for a swim and the water still too cold. There were lots
of plants and debris further up the river from a cloud burst way up in the
mountains earlier this year, an El Nino phenomenon. Lots of damage but very
few casualties. As I walked back down the beach towards the lighthouse, I
heard some music coming from the pier. Pink Floyd, my favorite, so I went
over and there was 4 teenagers jamming away and drinking beer. They were
listening to the wall and asked me if I knew the words. Well because its my
favorite and I like to sing when I cycle, I had it memorized. So I translated
about 8 songs for them. If I didn't know the word in Spanish, I would use
a similar word or try too describe it to them. This was good fun and a good
challenge for my language skills. They tried to get me to drink beer and
share some of their sandwiches with them, but I told them I was expected for
dinner and had to get back, but thanked them for the company and the music.
On the way back to the house I met a British couple. Anna was a doctor
working here for six months. She said "I can't believe how difficult life is
here for women. Because I'm British and I assert myself I get some respect but
for most part women are repressed and act repressed, never would a women
speak up here, they are 2nd class citizens and their opinion is not valued."
She said its much better than it was 6 years ago when she was here, but still
along way to go. I guess these types of changes take generations, 50 years
ago we were the same way. Blacks are still repressed heavily in our society.
My last night in Huasco at dinner another friend joined us. He was from
Yugoslavia, Croatia. I told him my grandmother was Croatian, we talked a lot
about politics and of course more about travel. They were telling me many
people in Chile travel, but few leave the continent. I told them that according
to travel statistics I read in the paper that 600 million people travel
from one country to another each year. This creates 230 million jobs and
that tourism is the most profile form of employment after agriculture.
It has one of the biggest growth potentials, its expected to double in
ten years, with an infrastructure of 4 trillion dollars. This is all great
for business but not necessarily for education. People are obsessed with
expectations. They want guaranteed satisfaction, they want the package tour.
Travel should not be a commodity. Proper travel requires an effort beyond
just seeing the sights. It requires spending time in a country and living
the daily life of the people, and taking a sincere interest in their way of
thinking , values and priorities. Some times this can be very uncomfortable
and sometimes you wake up in a queen size bed in a condo overlooking the ocean.
The following morning after breakfast, we shared sad good byes. Another
aspect of travel is you're forever saying goodbye. We promised to keep in
touch and just waved to each other as I cycled up the road. From here it's
about 120 miles north to the mega city of Copiapo with about 100,000 people.
From there the real Atacama desert begins.
DISTANCES OF VARIOUS LEGS OF THE TRIP IN CHILE:
||TOTAL FROM USHUAIA
|P.N. -CHILE CHICO
|C.C. -PUERTO MONTT