Friday, May 6, 2011

La Serena

Chilean Sunday
We hoped to spend the following day in the internet, writing some updates and maybe find information on how is it to cycle the Atacama desert ahead. Unfortunately, it was Sunday. We couldn't believe it, but all the internet places were closed for the day. So we decided to pack and leave our cheap residence. While Shoham was packing, Amit was fixing our stove, and chatting with the other residents. They were all road workers, a part of 300 people (!), assigned to the task of paving 14 km of an existing road for a copper mining company. This project costs about 2,000,000 US$ per kilometer of road. They unsuccessfully tried to justify why so many people and so much machinery (about 50 bulldozers, tractors and trucks) are needed to pave such a small piece of road. We went to eat in the residence's restaurant, and had a nice Cazuela (a typical soup with vegetables and a piece of meat) with goat meat - the same goat that we saw being slaughtered in the garden. 


Amit defined the goat meat taste as something between beef and sheep meat. We also had an excellent seafood soup. Our original plan was to elongate the way and pass through the religious fiesta called "la Virgen de la Piedra " which excited the whole town. Its a catholic-pagan festivity, and every year about 20,000 people arrive from far away to participate. But as we left quite late, we abandoned this idea and took the easy paved road. After passing the junction that leads to the fiesta, the road became full of cars and buses bringing people back home from the fiesta. Many people were riding horses instead, singing happily and wearing funny Sombrero hats they got at the fiesta. 


We were really glad to see so many drunks on horses in contrast to all the drunks in cars.  It made the road a bit less crowded and much safer. Finding a place to camp between villages and cactus was not an easy task, but we manged to find a quiet hidden camp on some hill.


Wineyard valley
The road from there was quite flat and went through a beautiful valley, where grapes are grown and dried for making raisins. 



We lunched in a very cheap restaurant in Monte Patria. The food wasn't of very high quality, but we couldn't complain as we got a salad, Cazuela soup, a chicken schnitzel with rise and a frightening dessert of orange colored jelly. and all that for only 1,900 CH$. 


We rode for a while along a the lake, and this was a nice view variation in this arid valley.


Later we did some shopping in Ovalle, and slept a few kilometers away from this busy city. 

Hostel Search
We got up very early and after just a few kilometers on Ruta 43, we saw a camping and regretted not having ridden a bit more the previous night. It was nice and sunny, until at some point we saw a cloud blanket below us. 


A few minutes later we were under it and had to dress heavily against the cold. We passed many closed restaurants, as all Chileans lunch between 1 and 1:30 PM with no exception. We somehow survived riding until that time, and then entered the first open restaurant, "El Esfuerzo" at Pan the Azùcar village. 


We ate a good but a bit overcooked bean soup, and of course Cazuela soup, as well as grilled chicken accompanied by rice or pure and tomatoes. The food was great and quite cheap (2,500 CH$ for each of us), and the women there were extremely nice. The waitress and chef were both very interested in our trip, and we enjoyed chatting with them. 


After riding a bit more, we reached La Serena. To our regret, we couldn't find a CS host, as we reached there one day earlier than planned, so we took the cheapest hostel we could find, that was still quite expensive (6,000 CH$ per person after some bargaining). Nevertheless, we enjoyed very much our stay at Hostal Vergara


We spent the following morning preparing a lemon spongecake as dessert for the lunch they served (2,000 CH$ per person). A big table was set for the hostel´s guests together with the owner and chef. We enjoyed speaking some English with a couple of Chilean tourists who have been living in the US for the past 50 years. We had great chicken Cazuela, and Chilean bread (which is the most boring bread one could imagine, but Chileans love it) with amazing homemade mayonnaise, and Aji Pebre (hot peppers paste). Of course our cake was a success. 


In the evening we rode to our current CS host, Cristian Araya. It was easy to find his street, but the house itself was more of a problem, due to illogical numbering of the houses on this street. He lives in a huge mansion he inherited from his grandparents. Cristian spent 10 years studying in Arizona (U.S.A.), and therefore speaks perfect English. He works as a translator for a Canadian company in a copper mine near Calama. We hope to get there in about a month of riding. As it is so far away (more than 1,000 km), he flies to work there every second week. In the spare week he enjoys surfing various beaches of La Serena and any other extreme sport: snowboarding, skateboarding, BMX bicycle racing and probably many others. That's how he recently broke his knee. We plan to spend 2 more days here, hopefully we will get to see a bit of the city, when we are not on the internet. We will then continue riding north, into the desert, and along the coast.


                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle

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