South America Blog Posts

Weeks 7 & 8 – Bikepacking Chile. The difficulties of bikepacking when you can’t ride and the joys of partying in the desert.

In my last blog post I talked about the wonderfully kind family that we stayed with while Huong was healing. What I didn’t get into was how difficult it was to leave. Not only because of how welcome they made us feel there, but also because we had all our stuff in boxes. Huong had healed enough that she didn’t need to go back to the clinic anymore. She bought some medical supplies and was able to clean and dress her knee on her own. Unfortunately, she wasn’t healed enough to ride yet and we were now way behind schedule. Actually, it’s not that we had a schedule, but we only have visas for 3 months and the border to Bolivia is a long way north.

From Bikepacking to Packing our Bikes

I don’t really class myself as a cyclist and I didn’t really class myself as a motorcyclist when I was travelling by motorbike either. I see myself more as a traveller. I just want to get to places and experience things. So I don’t mind if I take my bike on a truck or train, or even pack it on a bus to get where I am going. But the big problem with doing this, is all the boxes. When you ride the bike, all your bags are attached to it and it’s fairly easy to get around. But when the bike goes into a box, all your bags also need to go into boxes. It’s a real hassle. So I spent a bit of time on google and saw that a lot of people who cycled in Chile would take their bikes on the bus. They said it was simple. Just pack the bike in a box and book the bus ticket, then pay a small extra fee to the driver. This sounded so easy, but the reality was much different. During weeks 7 & 8 we took two bus journeys with the bikes. Both times we contacted the bus company, told them we had bicycles and booked our tickets. But on the morning that we were supposed to leave, the bus drivers rejected us and we couldn’t take the bus.

Our First Rejection

The first journey was as we left our wonderful host family in Cachagua. Maria-Jesus offered to drive us to the nearest city so that we could take the bus from La Ligua to La Serena. we had booked the tickets online after speaking to customer services. When we got to the station they actually loaded the bikes onto the bus. But then the driver came and told them to take the bikes off, then he just got on the bus and left us there. As I’m sure you can imagine, this was quite stressful in the moment. But Maria-Jesus helped us again. She spoke to a guy in the station who sells snacks. He told her that there is a place on the highway where buses stop to buy snacks from a friend of his. So we drove out onto the highway and waited with the snack seller. It didn’t take long for a bus to arrive. We spoke to the driver and he was happy to take us and the bicycles for payment in cash. We were so relieved and, as sad as I was to leave Cote and her family behind, it was nice to be moving again.

Working in La Serena

We arrived in La Serena and I spent some time working on my website and YouTube channel. I had accidentally left the charger for my new laptop at home when I took my flight to Chile. My parents helped by sending it to me. It was a 5-7 day delivery service, but when the package arrived in Santiago de Chile, it was delayed there for a month by customs. Luckily Byron, my first Couchsurfing host, helped me to pick it up and he shipped it to La Ligua. So I had just gotten it back before we got to La Serena. That is the reason that my blog and vlog posts have been delayed and I’m covering 2 weeks each week for now. La Ligua is a nice enough beach city, it has an old quarter that’s more inland and lots of hotels and restaurants by the beach. Their famous landmark is their lighthouse. After getting some work done in La Serena it was time to continue north.

Rejected Again

In La Serena we faced the same issue again. This time we booked with a different bus company and actually went to the station to buy the tickets. When we got there in the morning to take the bus, we were rejected again. We tried to replicate our last experience so we headed to the highway, but this time to a service station. We hung around for an hour or so, trying to thumb a lift with any truck that passed. We weren’t the only people hanging around the service station. There were immigrants who were trying to get to other cities and a guy who was selling USB drives full of music to passing drivers. Huong spoke to the music seller while I was attempting to thumb a lift. This actually turned out to be the solution to our situation. While he was walking around speaking to drivers, he found a guy who was driving an empty bus to the same city that we were heading to, Copiapo. We loaded the boxes into this old bus and headed north. From Copiapo we headed to the coast to a beach which is known as one of the most beautiful beaches in Chile, Bahia Inglesa.

An Awesome Weekend

In Bahia Inglesa we stayed with an awesome Couchsurfing host. Marcelo and his brother Mati are rock climbers and we arrived on a weekend when Marcelo was organising a regional competition. People came from neighbouring cities to take part. But it was open for everyone. Children took part in the morning and through the day there were different stages working their way up to the professionals. It was really fun to hang out there and I took some pictures and also some drone footage for them. But the best part was the evening. A whole load of people drove out to the desert for a party. We were drinking a popular Chilean party drink, Piscola. A mixture of Pisco (a sweet spirit from Chile/Peru) and Coca Cola. Then later in the night we had mulled wine cooked on the campfire. It was a really awesome night. We were actually the first people that Marcelo had ever hosted through Couchsurfing, but he was an awesome host. He and his brother are both really cool guys and I am really happy to have met them. Hopefully we will meet again somewhere down the road.

South America Blog Posts

Weeks 5 & 6 – Bikepacking Chile. Rest and Recuperation with a kind local family in Cachagua.

We spent weeks 5 and 6 staying in Cachagua with the super kind and awesome family who helped us when Huong fell off her bike. We were staying with Cote, she is a teacher in her local school in Cachagua. She teaches History and Geography. Her English is good, so we would spend the evenings cooking together and then eating, drinking wine and talking until late. Cote supports the new constitution, I mentioned in my last blog post, and has been somewhat active politically. We talked about the mass protests and demonstrations that were happening in Chile just before the Covid lockdowns. It sounds like a really exciting time for Chile, they have a young left wing president who is trying to improve the country for everyone. There are still so many policies and systems which are left over from the dictatorship. I was shocked to hear that rivers in Chile can be privately owned. So a company can buy the rights to all the water in a river and use it in their farms. Towns along the river are not allowed to use it for their citizens. This is especially troubling as the northern half of Chile is desert.

Some Regional History

We also talked about the troubled history between Chile and Bolivia. Previously, Bolivia wasn’t landlocked. They had land all the way to the Pacific Ocean. There were many foreign companies based there, mining salt and other minerals. The Bolivian government tried to increase the taxation for these companies and somehow this resulted in Chile and Bolivia going to war in 1879. Unbeknownst to Chile, Peru and Bolivia had signed a mutual protection agreement. This meant that Chile was now at war with Peru as well as Bolivia.

Bolivia’s military wasn’t very advanced at that time and they quickly asked for peace. For some reason, Peru stayed in the fight. Chile continued to take land, bit by bit, until they captured the capital of Peru and then Peru asked for peace. It was at this time that Chile gained the land that Bolivia previously had, with access to the ocean. Leaving Bolivia landlocked and facing difficulties importing and exporting anything. Chile also gained some land that previously belonged to Peru. In the map (above) you can see the modern borders in dark black, with the pre-war borders shown by the coloured areas. I didn’t know any of this history from this region of South America, I’m really glad to be learning about it while I’m here.

Exploring Cachagua and Zapallar

We also explored the area around Cachagua. They have a colony of penguins on a small island off the beach. We went down to see them and I flew the drone to get a closer look. This area of Chile is popular with wealthy Chileans during the holiday times. There are a lot of really nice houses along the coast with views out over the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, even though the beaches are beautiful, the water is cold. But the ocean is so powerful, every evening when the tide is changing the waves smash against the rocks which results in really dramatic sunset views. Every couple of days we drove to the neighbouring town, Zapallar, which is larger than Cachagua, for Huong to have her wounds cleaned and dressed. We took the opportunity to visit the beaches there and eat some ice cream.

Spending Time with the Family

At the beginning of week 6, Cote’s sister Maria-Jesus returned home from a trip to Europe. It was really nice to get to know her and all of the family. We loved playing with their dogs and meeting their younger sister and little nephew Pedro. The weather had been unusually wet in central Chile, which meant rain near the coast and snow in the mountains. So on one of our last days in Cachagua, we drove out into the mountains to see the snow.

I cannot express how welcome we felt while we stayed with Cote and her family. They were all so warm and happy to meet us. We shared so many meals together and tried our best to share stories even when there was a language barrier. It truly renews my faith in humanity to have experiences like this as I travel around the world.

South America Blog Posts

Weeks 3 & 4 – Bikepacking Chile. Leaving Vina del Mar heading north, a fall, injury and the kindness of strangers.

We left Valparaiso and cycled north around the bay to the tip of Vina del Mar, where we stayed with another Couchsurfing host. Gaby is a German immigrant who has lived in Chile since she was a teenager. We stayed with her for just one night as we were heading north. She lives in a beautiful area which is popular for local tourism during the summer months. This part of the bay used to have a large colony of sealions along the coast. But as hotels and restaurants spread along the bay, the sealions have become fewer and fewer. They now have one small rocky island where they breed.

Chile’s Troubled Past

From Vina Del Mar we cycled north, unfortunately we hadn’t planned ahead properly and we ran out of water. We assumed that there would be plenty of small shops along the road. But when we left Vina del Mar, the road was quite remote. This meant that we couldn’t camp at some of the beautiful spots we saw on the way. We headed into a town called Ventanas to buy some water, eat some food and possibly camp on the beach there. In the restaurant we were told it isn’t safe to camp in that town, so I looked for an official campsite close by. I just finished a call with the owner of the campsite, when a woman came over to our table and asked if I spoke English. Of course, I said yes. She then offered to help us with any translation. I thanked her but explained that I was just speaking to the campsite owner to find a place to stay. She looked at her husband and asked if she could invite us. He agreed and then they invited us to stay in their place.

That evening we talked with this couple and found out the interesting history of their lives and of Chile’s politics. They met when they were teenagers, through an organised church group. They would have meetings to raise money and help the less fortunate members of their community. Unfortunately, it was during the dictatorship of General Pinochet. At that time the government was very suspicious of any public gatherings and would arrest people. Some people would disappear and have never been found to this day. So this couple were arrested and it took a while for them to be released. After they were released they managed to go to Australia as refugees. They have lived in Australia ever since.

Chile is going through an interesting time politically. The country will soon vote on a new constitution. This is a big moment in their history as the current constitution was made during the dictatorship. It has been really interesting talking to the different people we have met and asking their opinions about it. Most people seem to support the ideas of the new constitution, however, some people are concerned about how it will be implemented. There are some groups who are saying that the new constitution is communist and that it will ruin Chile. However, as with other countries, communism is often used as a scary thing to scare people away from voting for real change. The couple we stayed with had only returned to Chile because of the new constitution. They see it as a new era in Chile’s history and they want to be here to see it. They plan to open a small farmstay and help homeless people to get back on their feet.

Disaster Strikes

We left Las Ventanas and continued cycling north. The weather was pretty bad, wind and rain. But not for too long. Then we were cycling towards a small town called Cachagua when disaster struck. I was cycling behind Huong, heading down a long hill, when I saw her front wheel swerving from side to side as she started to lose control. She went down and slid a little before coming to a stop. I cycled to her and jumped off my bike to see how she was. I moved her stuff out of the road and got out my first aid kit. She had a cut on her chin, her hand and a pretty bad cut on her left knee. But luckily nothing was broken. A few cars stopped and asked if we were ok. But then a guy in a truck stopped and asked if we needed help. He offered to take us to a hospital, but we just asked if there were any cheap hotels where we could rest. We got the bikes into the truck and drove into Cachagua. He pulled up next to the hospital and his daughter, Cote, just happened to be walking in the street there. She spoke English and we explained that we were looking for a cheap place to rest. She thought for a moment and then offered to let us stay in her house with her.

The Kindness of Strangers

We were blown away with the kindness of this family. We went to their house and rested. The next day we took Huong to a local clinic where they cleaned and dressed the wounds but they told her she would need to rest for a few weeks until she could start cycling again. Cote said we could stay with her as long as we needed. Huong spent some time resting around the house and working online. I would also stay in the house, but also explore Cachagua a little. The town is a really beautiful little coastal town with two beaches and a penguin colony.

We were so lucky that Huong wasn’t hurt more seriously and that we met such a generous and welcoming family. These kinds of things never seem to happen when I’m living my normal life living in one place. But out on the road I am always surprised by how wonderful people can be.