Friday, May 6, 2011


Chilean Coast
The coastal road that we took went up and down through the mountains, and through the rich towns there. 


Farther on, the road got empty, and it finally went on the beach in a town called Papudo, so we could enjoy walking on sand and watching the big Pelecaniformes birds. 


There we ate an expensive lunch in a bad restaurant, and continued towards the highway, as this was our only option for the way north. 


We expected the highway to be at least easy to ride on, but instead it went up and down against wind. It was getting late, so eventually we had to ride 3 km back and forth to fill in water at the nearest village. Surprisingly, there were no fences in that area, so we could camp between the trees far away from the road.      

Los Vilos
We spent the whole morning riding on the highway in hope of finding some restaurant, and as there was none, we ate late lunch in a cheap Chinese restaurant (6 spring rolls - 1,000 CH$, beef with sprouts - 2,200 CH$) in Los Vilos, another beach town. 


We left town despite the late hour and despite numerous cheap hotels there, through a nice flat road leading away from the highway and into the mountains. We rode fast until Amit had another flat tire. After fixing it there was not enough light to continue cycling and there were fences everywhere, so we had to camp in the bushes next to the road. Because of the noise from the road we didn´t sleep too well. 

Getting High
The following day stated by a climb that became steeper and steeper. Just when it became sunny and the sky cleared completely, we went through the last and hardest 5 km.


The big trucks that went up through that road were all escorted by a car, to avoid accidents. This is apparently easier than making the road wider and safer. We got to Illapel in the late afternoon, did quick shopping and left towards the nearby national park, where there was supposed to be a camping. We didn´t think we could make it to there, so instead we camped in a nice open area away from the road.


Ironically, it was easy and fast to get to Las Chinchillas national reserve. Despite the early hour, we decided to camp there and try to relax a bit. The name of the reserve comes from the fact that it protects a colony of a few thousands wild chinchillas. This is one of the only two such colonies in Chile. We had a pleasant day there, we heard some interesting explanation from the rangers regarding the endemic animals and plants of this area, and about different traps that were used to catch chinchillas, from the caveman´s rock&stick to the modern cages. 


We played with some rats, who live in a pit near the reserve entrance and come out whenever someone throws a stone there, hoping its food. 


In the zoological exhibition we had a close look on some chinchillas and other nocturnal animals. As the chinchillas are only active during night, we waited for the evening to do a short hike, as the rangers of the reserve suggested. It was very impressive to hike there in the mountains, away from the road and from other people. 


Cactus and birds were abounded and a we even noticed one rat, but unfortunately we saw no chinchillas. 


When we came back to the tent, there was a fox that was interested in what food it could find there. The rangers explained that foxes come to eat from the Carob trees planted there. The end of our good day was a bit unfortunate. As it was too cold and windy to cook outside, as usual we cooked in the tent. Our weak stove could not handle the massive pressure we pumped that night and - fire in the tent!!!. We didn´t get hurt, but our tent did... Luckily the tent´s rain cover wasn't damaged, but now the tent had new windows, or air-conditioning for that night, if you will. 

Cheap Lodging
The following day started with an endless moderate climb, in-which the curving road, gave us the false illusion we were nearing the top. After going down we tried for the first time a Completo in a small meaningless village. 


That is the national Chilean sandwich, which is basically a hot dog with plenty of avocado and tomato. We liked it a lot but we think it would be better to save us the cheap hot dog. On full stomach, we had a shorter climb followed by a long descent to Combarbala. 


We decided to stop there for more than a night, mainly because of the touristic star observatory that is situated on a nearby hill. Thank to the local drunk, we quickly found the cheapest lodging so far for this trip. It was a cabin that wasn't actually ready yet for residents, so we had to clean it ourselves and we carried beds in there. At least we had an apartment with a private bathroom for only 3,000 CH$ per person. We got permission to use the owners restaurant's kitchen, and we cooked dinner there.

Amit didn't sleep too well because of the bended beds, so in the morning we removed the beds and kept just the mattresses. 


We spent most of the day walking around town: booked places for the 8 PM tour in the star observatory, ate lunch in a Chinese restaurant, went to the internet to look for CS (CouchSurfing) hosts in La Serena and left our tent to be fixed. We brought with us a strong cloth we found in the trash, and convinced the shoemaker that he could fix the tent using our fabric. The owner promised us earlier that we could use her laundry machine to do our laundry. It turned out to be just a huge tank that we had to first empty from dirty water and then fill it with fresh water. So basically, we did laundry by hand. When Shoham went back to hang  the clothes in the garden, the goat that was previously standing there quietly, was now being slaughtered. Two guys were holding it and one was cutting its throat and spilling its blood into a plate. 


After this lovely experience, we took our bicycles, picked up our newly fixed tent, and rode towards the observatory. 


During our way up on the unpaved road we had a marvelous view of the sunset over town. Unfortunately we were in a rush up so didn't have time to try and take a photo of it. The people in the observatory were super nice and welcomed us to the waiting room where we could learn (in Spanish) about our solar system, the sun, Earth and other planets of our system. 


When all other people who booked the tour arrived, they presented the introduction movie titled: "Chile - a Window to the Sky". The English subtitles were a bit dubious, but it was easy enough to understand the didactic Spanish. Chile is claimed to have very clear skies, which is apparently the reason for its numerous observatories - touristic as well as scientific. This one is called: "Cruz del Sur" (, or in English: "The Southern Cross", after the star constellation consisting of 4 stars resembling a cross, which can be used to find the south. 


Most of you probably haven't seen it in your life as it is not visible from the northern hemisphere! The observatory has 4 telescopes, placed like the 4 stars consisting the Cruz del Sur constellation. Then we went out to the freezing night to hear explanations about this constellation, and the Greek myth of the Orion and Scorpion constellations. Amit was very impressed by the laser pointers. It looked like they were so powerful that they could  actually reach the stars. Finally we went to the highlight of the tour - the telescopes. 


We saw different sky objects, 900 times bigger than what you see with the naked eye: star accumulations, a nebula, and most impressively, the Saturn planet, often called "Lord of the Rings".


After this fun educational tour we had to ride back to the village in the dark, but now it was much easier to navigate at this clear starry night.


                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle

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