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Ever the intrepid group o’folks, foreigners have a reputation among Chileans for having seen more of their country than they themselves have had a chance to. In large part, it’s true. We come here with few connections, fewer obligations and generally a bit more wanderlust (and cash) on hand than is the norm in this stringbean of a nation. Emily has seized on this topic and called for a group post on the topic. You don’t want to disappoint Emily, as she has superior balance and is also very good with words. Also, Lola (her dog) would be terribly disappointed, and you wouldn’t want to upset a dog that wears a tiny orange vest when she goes out running, would you?

Ahem. So where was I? Various intrepid gringas have responded to this call for group post, including

the illustrious Abby, of Chimbarongo fame

The never-seen-her-before-but-sure-she-makes-a-wicked-flan Lucie,

far-away-but-not-fogotten Clare,

US-living Annje, whose husband can MacGyver anything, and whose children are stinking cute, and

Valpo-dwelling Lydia who observes and hikes up hills and takes colectivos and otherwise reminds us that Santiago is not the center of the universe.

I’m going to do a bit of a variation on a theme here, and talk about five freaking faraway pedals I was convinced to go on after moving to Chile.

A little background. I’ve always been a cyclist. And by a cyclist, I mean a person who has a bicycle. That’s pretty much the only requirement, as far as I can tell. And yes, I’ve spent many, many hours of my life on that little triangle called a sillín (saddle/bike seat), and worn through many pairs of pants in funny little white moons on the tush, but I never really though of biking as something you do with little to no preparation until I got to Chile.

More background. When I first got to Chile, I bought a junky mountain bike for the equivalent of about $140 US dollars. It weighed somewhere in the range of as much as your four-year-old, and had grips that were made of hard plastic and cut into my hands. It was on this bike that I first rode up Cerro San Cristobal (the bigger of the two hills in Santiago), and at a barbecue there I was invited with a bunch of crazies to ride to the coast the following weekend. I knew that Chile was skinny, so I figured, how far could it be?

And so I present: The five places I’ve ridden my bike to from Santiago that will allow you to know that I am not just run-of-the-mill loopy, but full-on what-is-wrong-with-her and I’m-never-riding-a-bike-with-her mad.

1. Isla Negra (about 90 miles, 2231 feet of vertical climb)

On this bike trip, my first outside of Santiago, I discovered the truth about riding my bike in the dark. I hate it. I mean, nighttime is one thing, but along a pitch black coastal highway in the middle of the night? No thanks. Also, do not surprise a lactating dog, as she will bite you, at least if you are me. But Isla Negra, the site of one of Pablo Neruda’s homes-turned museums is beautiful, and the campsite just up the road is comfy enough, and white bread still makes a lousy breakfast, even if you’re drinking mate. Most normal humans would take the bus here, as it’s a solid 150 km from Santiago, and further the way we went (via San Antonio, for reasons that are still not clear to me). I am still friends with several of the people from this trip, despite the fact that I think I lost five pounds of muscle and common sense on this voyage. And we took the bus back, thank you very much.

The View from Isla Negra

photo-pology, the ocean is not crooked, my photo is. I do not know who the naked legs in the photo belong to, and this photo was taken a long time ago, with a point-and-shoot.

This is the approximate map, approximate because I couldn’t really find Isla Negra on the map (I stopped in El Quisco), and it doesn’t show at what point we were plunged into darkness. We went only one way Also, thanks Mapmyrun, you guys are fun!

2. Yerba Loca (about 50 miles RT, with 5358 feet of climb, up to 14% grade)

The second nutso place I went by bike in this fine country during my first five years was to Yerba Loca. This ride is not nearly as far as the one to the coast, but involves riding to the very end of Avda. Las Condes, past the Terpel (ex YPF) gas station, and up, up, up for another hour of climbing before you reach the hairpin curve zone. The hairpin curves open up towards the top, and the distances lengthen such that between curve 14 and 15, the distance is upward of a kilometer, and you would like to die when you get there. The curves are stacked like a wedding cake. Yerba Loca is a beautiful place to go hiking, but by the time you get up there, you won’t want to. I’ve pedalled up here probably four times, because clearly, I am a glutton for punishment. I’ve also hiked here, and that was spectacular, pretty flowers and glaciers included.

yerba loca.jpg

photo-pology, old camera, poor resolution, had to convert from a .tiff file.

Here the tricky part is that I’m not exactly sure where the 15th curve in the zona de curvas is, but I think I got it about right. You can continue on to Farellones or any of the other ski areas if you are so inclined, which strangely, I never have been.

3. Cajón de Maipo (San Gabriel and back, approx 95 miles, 2635 feet of climb)

Another bike ride to end all bike rides, this one out Avda Tobalaba to Walker Martínez, then La Florida, and then taking the road straight up into the mountains past Puente Alto, the people selling tortilla con rescoldo and pan amasado, up up into what is the most exquisite mountain site never to be declared a national park. I almost passed out from the pretty (or maybe it was the exertion) the first time I went here. And… there are no pictures. But trust me, it’s mountainous and sharp, has clean air and humitas and a little plaza and if you continue on, you can get to Baños Morales or even Embalse de Yeso, both of which are beautiful, but not the point of this post. We stopped in San Gabriel, and then rode back home. San Gabriel is where the paved road stops, and I tried to guess where this was on the mapmyrun map, but there’s not a lot of detail, so it’s hard to say.

4. El Arrayán 27 miles to and from, about 1700 feet of elevation, I know, this is not very hardcore…)

El Arrayán is a nature reserve in El Arrayán (tricky that), follow the directions to the Terpel (ex YPF), and then take the left fork. Follow the main road as it snakes around and keep an eye out for signs, and eventually you’ll make it. I’m a master of directions. This trip is a little far but not that punishing, except that the first time I went it was with someone who then wanted to go mountain biking, and the last time I went, it was covered in snow and mud, and we saw PUMA tracks (so said the veterinarian who was on the trip with us). Also the mud was sticky and would not shed from our tires, and it was darn cold. This is a nice place to go for a picnic with the kiddos if you have some, and there’s a few-day bike ride you can do here (or motorbike) to a lake, but I’m short on details, so I won’t elaborate.

5. Rio Clarillo (about 50 miles RT, only 1000 of vertical climb) I have not included a map here because I can’t see the route from mapmyrun, and I don’t want anyone to get lost on my watch. Go south on Vicuña McKenna until the end, when it turns into Concha y Toro, which later dead ends into another road which you take a right on. After 2 km, the park is signposted, and you’re in Pirque, and it’s nice and barring dogs, it’s a very safe and tranquil ride)

Rio Clarillo is a national park (which doesn’t allow camping, which is annoying, as it means you have to pay to get in and also pay to camp if you choose to camp someplace else), that’s in Pirque, which is kinda sorta part of Santiago. It’s on the other side of Puente Alto, and I’m told the very lovely Metrobus 83 (or 84) goes there from Bellavista de la Florida on the green line metro. So too will your bike take you, if you are not careful. This is mostly uphill the whole way, but only gently, and the way back is a dream on two wheels. You pass the Concha y Toro winery, and once you’re past Puente Alto, it’s pretty much you and the open road and some very fancy lycra-clad speedsters in funny helmets who will dust you, but they usually wave on the way back, which is nice, if still somewhat demoralizing

So those are my top 5 not-so-quick bike daytrips from Santiago that represent some of the first quick trips I took around Santiago. While biking in Santiago can be a bit of a nightmare (and yes, I have been hit, and no I did not enjoy the impact, the great splatting or the months of physical therapy), I am routinely pleased at how (relatively) easy it is to use your bike to get out of dodge. But mostly I’ve learned that if you do this kind of zany stuff enough, it starts to feel so normal that you’ll think you can do it anywhere. Which is how many a lifetime of adventure got started. Watch this space for news of New Zealand. Which has nothing to do with Chile or my first trips here at all, but hey, a girl can pontificate.

Want to post about your trips in Chile? Comment here and I’ll add you to the ever-growing list, or comment on Emily’s blog post, and I’ll be sure to grab you from there. Thanks for sharing, and I’m looking forward to reading stories (as always!)