The riding since we left Santiago has been absolutely perfect. Finally, we got the terrain we've hoped for every time we start out after a long break. The first few days were completely flat and everyday thereafter got slightly more hilly. Although at first it makes for fairly boring cycling, it was just what was needed for my aching knee, which thankfully is feeling much better.
The scenery has changed dramatically over the last 400 miles. We have cruised through flat lands and rolling hills which seemed to be a cross between the central valley of California and the Midwest; endless fields of corn and wheat, pastures of horses, cows and sheep and orchards of cherries, apples and nectarines. The wildflowers are out in full force as Summer approaches, making the landscape beautiful with color, but at the same time are giving Mike a major bout of allergies. We have just reached the edge of where the hills are starting to last longer than a few minutes, the air is clear, free of city pollution and smells of the sweet conifer forests the highway passes through. On the horizon we can now see towering, snow-covered volcanoes and are excited to be riding amongst them.
Saltos del Laja
Up until this point we have stuck to riding on the Panamerican Highway, the main road running north and south through Chile. It is a superb road with excellent pavement and huge shoulders, but it feels kind of like riding on an Interstate with all of the traffic. It has been difficult finding places to camp as there are fences around virtually every parcel of land, so we have continued living trucker-style, riding from one truck stop/gas station to the next and pitching our tent there. It's convenient because we have a ready supply of water and snacks if our food stash is running low (or if we just have a late-night sweets craving which is usually the case) and if we're really lucky they have showers, but that's only happened once. We typically find a corner in the back so we're out of the way and out of sight, but there have been occasions where we've had to camp right out in front. Imagine a U-shaped floor plan with a small grassy courtyard and 24-hour pumps with blaring bright lights. Now place 2 blonde haired foreigners on bikes and a bright orange tent in the courtyard and imagine the perplexed stares we got. Another interesting campsite was the night we got permission to sleep on the front porch of a quiet, small town mini market. We waited until dark to set up our tent, but it turned out that instead of shutting down, this market came to life at 10 pm. Suddenly all of the lights on the porch and the bright floodlights in the parking lot came on, customers started arriving and sat on the porch eating, drinking and smoking with their children running around the parking lot peeking into our tent. We were ready to sleep, but it was evident we wouldn't be getting any rest for several hours.
Camping on the front porch of a mini-mart
Although we could stay on the Panamerican for quite a while longer, we are ready to get away from the bustling traffic and explore some of the remote, less maintained, quieter roads that climb and wind around the hundreds of lakes, volcanoes and National Parks in eastern Chile and western Argentina. Tomorrow we will turn east, start climbing and soon be riding through the part of South America we've been anxiously awaiting.