Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tuesday March 22, 2016 -- San Javier to Santiago Airport, Chile

Well, I am safely checked in and this adventure is rapidly drawing to a close. I should have just about enough time to finish this post before boarding.

We left the Gillmore Winery this morning, and headed north for the airport on the PanAmerican Highway and had a fast, smooth ride to our lunch stop -- the Miguel Torres winery. Unlike the others that we have visited, which were all small operations with limited production, this is one of the large producers. Although they grow grapes in several regions of Chile, all of their processing is done in this one central location (except for the Pisco, which, by law, must be produced in a certain region to carry that name).

The highlight was the luncheon, possibly the best meal that we have had in Chile. We had four courses, each paired with the appropriate wine. The  first course was a fish ball (oddly colored purple) made with grouper. Then came a salad with several pieces of chicken in an excellent teriyaki sauce. The entree was a fetuccini (black in color) which we saw them making on the premises, with lots of clams, mussels, shrimp, and a piece of excellent fish. Dessert, was actually three desserts -- a fruit cup of some sort, a panacota  of sopapillas, and vanilla ice cream.  These words don't do it justice, so I will let the pictures speak for the meal.

Possibly runner up for best meal was last night's dinner, a pastel de choclo. After salad, we had this main dish which was served in a bowl -- the base was similar to the filling of a beef empanada, and the crust was based on corn meal.  Again, the words don't do it justice, but, trust me, it was excellent.

We resumed our journey to the airport, anticipating a 4pm arrival. We had a monster traffic jam and only moved about a mile in an hour. It appears that the only reason for the tie-up was the toll booth. After that, it was smooth sailing to the airport and we arrived before six. Plenty of time for an 8:45 departure. Check in and security were a breeze, and I should be in the air in just about an hour.

Adios from Chile. See you again in 2017, destination to be determined.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016 -- San Javier to Santiago Airport, Chile

March 21, 2016 – Pelluhue to San Javier, Chile

We started this morning with a fairly long shuttle ride to the small and bustling city of Cauquenes where we stopped just long enough to use the rest rooms and ATMs, in order of need. This city was the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake, but they seem to have done a remarkably good job of restoration.

It was quite cool at the ocean when we got up this morning, but it quickly warmed up as we went inland. By the time we started cycling at 11 am, just outside of Cauquenes, it was near 80 degrees, and got even hotter as the day wore on. We had a few long hills which, fortunately, were quite gradual in slope. The paved surface was excellent and it was a good ride.

We made a lunch stop at a small farmhouse, where our hostess was preparing chicken empanadas in an oven which had charcoal both below and above the empanadas. We have had both baked and fried empanadas on this trip. I tend to prefer the fried (wonder why?), but they have all been excellent. While we were waiting for the empanadas, we sampled their homemade “vino chicha,” the local wine that seemed to be for sale at every farmhouse that we passed. This was really the juice of recently harvested grapes – thick and syrupy. It had not yet undergone the fermentation process necessary to turn it into wine.
Throughout this trip, we have seen many signs proclaiming that charcoal is for sale. At our lunch stop today we saw this oven in which charcoal is made.

The next stop was a recommended ice cream store. The ice cream was served soft, and was much like gelato in texture and appearance. It was excellent, and was the perfect fuel to prepare us for the last 5 miles to the hotel.

Our hotel tonight is located on the grounds of the Gillmore Winery. The rooms are by far the largest and most modern of any on this trip. We will be having a tour of the winery before our last dinner together tonight. Adjacent to the hotel building is a small fenced area with 3 ostriches, and two members of the world's smallest species of deer (whose name I have forgotten).

The only drawback is that there is no WiFi in the hotel, and the WiFi in the winery office is so slow that I decided to compose today's blog offline and post it tomorrow, probably at the airport.

In eight days of cycling, we have pedaled 340 miles and done 12,437 vertical feet of climbing.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday, March 20, 2016 -- Playa el Cable to Pelluhue, Chile

Last evening, we had a surprise before dinner. Our guides had arranged for a special poolside performance by a group of indigenous dancers who perform as part of their efforts to preserve their heritage. There were four teenage dancers, with the older generation providing the music (which included a percussion insturment made of a horse's jaw.) We greatly enjoyed watching them while savoring appetizers of ceviche, tiny mushroom empanadas, a seasoned crab dish, and of course, the usual pisco sours, wine, and fruit juices. I solved my photography problem (the memory card was corrupted, so I reformatted it -- losing only about six photos that had not been backed up) and took well over 300 photos of the dancers. The one below is selected pretty much at random, since I have not had time to review them carefully.
Today's ride was 46 miles with about 2800 feet of climbing. It was mostly rolling hills along the coast and through the coastal pine forests, but we had a couple of challenging, but short, climbs. We veered off the main route to a small coastal fishing village, Loanco, where we had lunch at a tiny restaurant. Jata was getting gas for the van, and Pablito was still riding sweep, so we managed to order using our limited Spanish, since the waitress spoke no English and there was no printed menu. She offered a variety of empanadas, most of which we had  tried before so we knew the names, but she also offered one with "macha." We couldn't figure that out, so she brought out a small plate of them for us to taste. They were small shellfish, with a taste and texture similar to clams. Most of us stuck to the tried and true queso and mariscos (cheese and shrimp) or plain cheese. We also shared a few large plates of salad.
Me at today's lunch stop

For several days we have been riding through pine forests, and being passed on the highway by large trucks with freshly harvested trees. These are grown to support the paper production industry which is very important here. We have also seen eucalyptus trees, which are also harvested, primarily for construction.

Speaking of construction -- most of the coastal area in which we have been riding was devastated by the major earthquake in 2010 and the tsunami which followed. (Apparently, there were a lot of needless deaths from the tsunami because the all clear was given too early.) Our hotel last night, for example, was completely destroyed in the earthquake/tsunami, and was rebuilt from scratch.

We have encountered large numbers of dogs in our travels. The vast majority of them are very sleepy and docile, hardly raising their heads as we pedaled by. I was only chased once, and it was really only a half-hearted attempt.

As we approached our destination today, we passed a number of strawberry field, with the fruit destined for US markets. I saw only one roadside stand selling strawberries. We have had lots of fresh fruit on this trip, especially at breakfast. Peaches, pears, pineapple, bananas, grapes, etc -- but no berries (although as I mentioned in an earlier post, raspberry juice was available at breakfast in Santiago.)

One of the things that has rally surprised me on this trip is that we have seen no banks or ATMs since we left Santa Cruz. I am sure that our guides will remedy that situation before we all take our leave. :)

Our lodging arrangements tonight are really interesting. Again,we are on the ocean (our last night on the water), and each of us has a separate "cabana.' These are fully furnished vacation units. Mine has two bedrooms, one with a double bed, one with a bunk bed and a twin, and an extra twin in the living area.
Our guides are preparing a special dinner tonight -- and we are invited to help them. So, today's rambling blog comes to an end.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Saturday, March 19, 2016 -- Duao to Playa el Cable, Chile

The only reason that I know what day of the week it is, is that I look at my watch as I write the title for each day's blog.  Unfortuantely, as I count down the days, I see that this wonderful vacation is coming to an end. We have only two days of cycling left.

I wish that all cycling days could be like today. We started out on the beach with bright sun and about 60 degrees. We retraced yesterday's route along right along the oceanfront for about ten miles, and then followed the coast a little further inland next to a lot of dunes. There was one hill, which briefly maxed out at 9%, but averaged only 6-8%. It wasn't very long, and after yesterday, I hardly felt like calling this one a hill. That was about halfway into the ride, and not long thereafter, we gathered for a group picnic under a grape arbor at a small hostel in the little town of Putu. We had some wonderful, freshly-baked empanadas (beef and onion or vegetarian), some cheese made this morning with milk from the famiily cow, and a wonderful banana pie.
Gwen and Andy enjoying the picnic
I usually prepare these blog posts in the afternoon before our dinner, so I have not done much writing about our wonderful meals. Our dinner two nights ago will provide insight into why I gain weight on these tours. We had our evening meeting (where we discuss the next day's ride) on the terrace, where we were served a delicious ceviche, some cheese and seafood empanadas, mushrooms in a special sauce, along with choice of pisco sours (the national drink of Chile), wine, or fruit juices. This would have sufficed for dinner, but that was only the preview. Dinner itself consisted of a generous portion of steak, a variety of potato options, salad and a very rich dessert.

Last night, we started off with a demonstration of the art of making pisco sours, which, naturally, included samples. We then adjourned to dinner with ceviche and various accompaniments to whet our appetites while the Chilean Sea Bass was grilled to perfection. Again, we had a variety of  potato options (the french fries were excellent) and a dessert that appeared to be a butterscotch mousse with nuts sprinkled on top.
Making Pisco Sours

After today's lunch, we had an easy ride to the City of Constitucion. We had to thread through the outskirts with some moderate traffic, until we hit the coastal road. It traversed a nature sanctuary where we could see these huge rocks just off the shore with thousands of birds.We rode a total of 47 miles today.

The beaches in this region all have black sand. I did see a few people bathing in the ocean, but I suspect it is pretty cold at this time of year. I am content just to look at it -- which I can do directly from my hotel room. Tomorrow we shuttle out of this beautiful place before starting our ride, so the bikes are already on the van.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday, March 18, 2016 -- Vichuquen to Duao, Chile

We started off with bright sunshine for the first time, and pleasantly cool temperatures. We shuttled away from the hotel on the dirt road, and then started out in the village of Vichequen, with its statue of a witch. I think she was an omen of what was to come.
We had been forewarned that the ride would start with a killer hill, and a treacherous descent. Six of us attempted it; the rest took the van over the hill. I quickly realized that I had met my match and that taking the van might have been the better part of valor. The first four kilometers were all at a 13 to 18% grade. And my bike did not have a third chain ring for the extra low gears. It wasn't long before I was walking (and my bike was extra heavy because I was carrying my big camera and an extra telephoto lens!). Our guide, Santi, who was riding sweep, caught up with me fairly soon and he suggested that we switch bikes. His had a triple. This helped a little, but I was soon walking again. After a few more on-and-off stretches, we reached the first "summit." By this point, there were three of us, plus poor Santi, doing the ride/walk dance. (I later learned that five out of the six of us did some walking.)

I took my own bike back, and the next few miles were rolling hills. The descents provided enough momentum that the following climbs were easy. But then came the extremely steep and curvy descent. I had to ride the brakes all the way.

Once at the bottom, I felt like I had done a full day's riding. But, of course, we had the remaining two thirds of the route to cover. ALL FLAT!!! Initially, the scenery was uninspiring, but as we got to the coast, it became beautiful, and the last third of the ride was right along the ocean, with a tailwind. It doesn't come any better than that.

We all stopped for lunch en route. I didn't feel hungry, so I ordered only one cheese empanada, but quickly ordered a second. Appropriately fueled, I really enjoyed the last few miles along the coast to our hotel.

We are right on the beach and I have a wonderful view of the ocean from my room. The last of us arrived around 2pm, so we have lots of time to relax and curse the very temperamental WiFi. the WiFi is only available in the hotel restaurant area and at times it is impossible to connect; at other times connection speeds seem reasonable.

I am carrying two cameras on this trip, plus my iPhone. For some reason, my card reader will no longer read the pictures from my "big" camera, so I am limited in the pictures that I can transfer to the computer and include in this blog.

Our hotel/restaurant is known as "Donde Gilberto."  I have noticed several restaurants with names starting with "donde" (the Spanish word for "where") followed by a proper name. I had not noticed that before this trip. Translated literally, "Donde Gilberto" would be "where Gilberto is," but the sense of this naming convention is "Gilberto's place."

Today is the end of the "short tour," so three of our group will be leaving us in the morning. The rest of us have three more cycling days. Which means that the last washing of my cycling clothes is now drying on the balcony in front of my room.