Villarrica to Valparaiso is 700km as the crow flies but realistically it is closer to 900 when you factor in the terrain and road network. It was one of the more difficult parts of the route to plan for because there is very little online about how to cycle it. We have heard of people getting the bus or hitchhiking their way between the two because it is “boring” or takes too long. Alestair rode to the coast to make his way north but this requires more navigation because some roads are dead ends, detour around estuaries or are incredibly hilly. One guy’s blog we read detailed how he rode Chile’s main highway, the Ruta 5 (the Pan-American Highway that started on Chiloé), all the way to Santiago in 5 days but it sounded fairly dull. We even considered going north on the Ruta 40 in Argentina if it was quicker but the elevation is so much higher on that side of the Andes than Chile we dismissed that quite early on as it would take much longer than even the coastal route in Chile. Steph drew all of these options on MapOut and after looking at the wiggling mass of red lines we decided which route we would take North: The Ruta 5.
Villarrica was a good place to stock up and buy enough food for the next few days of highway riding as we didn’t know what the options would be to buy food en route. Ben also needed to buy some new gloves because he had accidentally dropped his in Villa La Angostura and hadn’t had chance to look for any new ones in the meantime. After looking in the city’s bike shops he didn’t see any adequate replacements and was about to give up when he saw a guy with a nice mountain bike coming out of the bank. Ben asked him if there were any bike shops around, just incase he had missed a good one, but he only knew of the same ones that Ben had already visited. They had a chat in Spanish and he was actually only here on holiday from Santiago and the bike was his son’s anyway. Disappointed, Ben met me back outside the supermarket and we were about to leave when this guy pulled up beside us waving a pair of gloves around. He had gone to a sports shop, bought some gloves for Ben and wouldn’t take any money for them. Wishing us well on our trip he said “Adios” and was gone! Ben had some new gloves, albeit fingerless ones when he wanted full fingered ones, but when you are bought a new pair of gloves by a stranger that liked hearing about your trip you can’t really complain about that! (They have also turned out to be super comfy and I can now use my phone without removing my gloves, so I’ll eat my previous opinions – Ben)
We met up with Liam in Villarrica and with the group back together the four of us rode north for the first day out of the city. It was nice hearing how Liam’s ride went and being all together again. We joined the Ruta 5 towards the end of the day then wild camped on a river bank just a few km from the highway but after only half an hour of riding the 5 we were all glad to be off of it.
The riding on Ruta 5 wasn’t very much to write home about to be honest. There were dozens of kilometres with very little to look at and lots of slip roads joining and leaving the highway meaning you had to keep your head on a swivel looking for traffic from all angles. It had a few quirks though such as on the second day of riding we saw stalls selling cheese every 50 metres, the next day we saw lots of lorries transporting tons of wood and then on the third day we saw all of the sawmills/wood processing plants. It also gave us the opportunity to camp in some interesting places such as behind Copec fuel stations and in a pine forest plantation. These are definitely off the tourist trail!
We chose to ride the Ruta 5 because it would be the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to travel north, and it was definitely that. We didn’t hang around much and ensured that we made good progress each day with 110km or more days becoming the norm. Visible progress was made too as our bike computer ticked over the next 1000 km mark and we have now cycled over 4000 km in South America.
Our tyres weren’t liking the boring riding almost as much as us. Both Ben and I have small holes in the sidewalls of our rear tyres which have been repaired with a small rubber plug (we are using tubeless tyres) but with the heat of the road and running higher pressures they decided to burst out and then deflate. Superglue and Gorilla tape did the job for a while but Ben’s was having none of it. Noticing a small bulge on the bead of the tyre Ben discovered that air was escaping from here too so it was time to put a tube in to keep rolling.
Leaving the 5 at San Rafael after 4 days riding we had 150 km heading northwest towards the coast and the landscape was changing. From coigue, ñires and arrayanes trees to fruit trees, shrubs and cactuses. We were passing plantations on all sides and even collected a handful of fresh peaches that had fallen off one of the trees to take with us.
After the first day out of Villarrica we were back to being a group of three again as Jake went on ahead of us to maximise his time in Pichilemu. He flies home in early March so he had more incentive to get the dull section of riding done. We later found out that he did the whole way to Pichilemu, 600 km away, in three days! We arrived in Pichilemu three days after him and managed to find an awesome hostel for a few days of rest, showers and eating!
Pichelemu is Chile’s main surf town and it is where everyone that can surf or wants to learn comes to get in the water. It has a big sand bank which means you can stand up to your waist in the sea and catch the smaller waves. The beach is also popular for families and in the small “safe” section (the area with flags and a lifeguard) so many people are crammed in between umbrellas, tents and sand castles. It was the best place to people watch and you see so much random stuff when walking along the beach. We saw a family of five buried up to their necks, larger men standing in the sea to their ankles with their t-shirts pulled up, belly hanging out and so many adults sat looking miserable as though they have to sit on the beach because they’re on holiday and that’s what you do. Hilariously we also saw more adults digging in the sand than children!
Steph went surfing with Jake and Liam and although the waves were tiny it was still a lot of fun. It’s the first time she’s been in the water since having shoulder surgery so it was a good confidence boost for how stable her shoulder is now. However we spent a lot of the time just chilling out and actually having some time off for more than a day at a time. We are terrible for only having a day somewhere and leaving just as tired as before. By the time we’ve restocked food, done laundry and written a blog it’s midnight and we have only a few hours sleep before leaving again. It helps that we had a great hostel to relax in and we would definitely stay at Hostel Rodwald again. It had everything that we needed: new comfy beds, a well-equipped kitchen, a large dining area and most importantly, friendly owners.
We cooked our meals together and we ate so well, replacing all of the calorie deficits that we were running at! Lasagne, shepherds pie, stir fry and avocado pasta were all massive, even by cyclists’ standards. It was Shrove Tuesday when we arrived so we had to have pancakes, probably not as many as what we did have but they were amazing, both savoury and sweet. As we bought the flour we had to use it so we had another round of pancakes the following day plus we baked two vegan sponge cakes!
Pichelemu to Valparaiso was another three day’s cycling but with another three more tyre issues. Less than 20 km out of town Ben’s tyre bulge exploded, tearing a huge chunk out of the tube and requiring urgent attention. After an hour of sewing and booting the tyre we were back rolling again but with being so close to large urban areas there is so much glass on the road and the next day Ben got a puncture. Taking the tyre off again he replaced the tube, patched the old one up later than night ready to have to replace it again the next day when the stitching burst open and destroyed yet another tube.
By this point we were 60 km from Valparaiso so Liam and Jake went on ahead leaving Ben to sew the tyre and Steph tried to hitch us a lift. We were on a quiet road so it wasn’t successful but it was outside the world’s largest swimming pool so at least it was memorable! The tyre did hold out though and we made it to Valparaiso without any further issues.
The riding between Pichilemu and Valparaiso wasn’t bad, being coastal there was a lot of ups and downs but the scenery was nice and the traffic was tolerable. The worst part of the ride was in San Antonio, which we later discovered is Chile’s largest port, but it made Pichelemu seem muy tranquilo in comparison. The beach was rammed! There wasn’t an inch for anyone to breathe either in the water or on the beach and the road was just as bad. We had to weave our way through stationary vehicles to get anywhere and when we did get through it was terrible. We diverted off of the coastal road here, choosing quieter inland routes instead. It’s the last week of the Chilean summer holidays so everyone is making the most of the good weather and having time off but it can’t have been pleasant on that beach. The best part of the ride was when we stopped for lunch at a bus stop and a lady pulled up in a pickup truck and gave us a free giant punnet of strawberries!
The best thing about the cycle to Valparaiso was the night we spent at the Bomberos. After seeing how busy the beach was we didn’t want to camp on a campsite with that many people and wild camping options were slim to none. The Fire Fighters of Isla Negra let us stay in the unfinished extension that is being built on the back of the fire station. We even had our own fireman’s pole! It was a great space to do some yoga and get a comfortable nights sleep, though some mosquitoes did have a bit of a feast on Ben and Liam overnight. It was just so exciting staying at a fire station!
Now for something a bit different. We are going to have a city break in Valparaiso, which is quite a touristy city but it’s somewhere that we want to see so we’re looking forward to it. Valparaiso sounds like it will be interesting and a bit different to the other Chilean cities we have visited so far, plus we have another couchsurfing host to share the experience with which will be really cool.
Steph y Ben