Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Enders on the PanAmericana.

For those in the know: Coast road through Vina del Mar ~ ConCon, Autopista CH5 ~ Los Vilos ~ CH47 ~ Illapel ~ Combarbala ~ Ovalle ~ La Serena. Date 15th.~ 20th. Nov. '14.

End to Enders. We've met a few, those on a mission. The Round the World, be it the horizontally recognised route of Europe, near Asia, Far East, Australasia, or the 'Tour de Pacific': Americas, Africa, Euroscandanavian circumnavigation. Big visions that probably need a certain mind set. One that keeps the end picture in focus. I have a great respect for them. In part because I find our goals becoming shorter and more immediate with each journey. Our travel projects getting shortened down to a series of linked adventures. Most of them conceived at short notice. When mapped, more the image of the double helix. Which is a long handed way of saying "we don't do planning very well". Respect for the 'ender', because their route through the Americas invariably takes them along the PanAmericana. The road that goes from Ushuaia, Cape Horn to Dead Horse, Alaska. We've riden parts in the Peruvian Atacama, it's stunning landscape. But it also takes in what we started to cycle just north of Valparaiso.

Valparaiso, port city to the conquering Spanish, a city of forty-seven hills, a place of old colonial houses, trolley buses and street art, a place where the dead hand of the town planner never took root. Mapped, the streets look like a warren for grubs in a tree trunk. To escape to the north we have the inviting opportunity to use a Costanera, scored for pedestrians and bicyclists, only it's the other side of the tracks. The wrong side of a six lane motorway and a metro system. Access is via a two, read at rush hour, four lane slip road. We elect to pavement run, and of course this will inevitably decease behind a crash barrier and a lighting column. It has to be the hump-backed stairway. If we have issues, consider the wheelchair or baby buggy user. There always somebody worse of than I. A thought I use, as I castigate the local government for a lack of joined up thinking. Another city emasculated by a coast-grabbing highway, albeit one that is mitigated by a new mass transit metro system.

We head north, and into the resort Costas that commence with Vina del Mar. Described as old fishing villages. Only they've been gutted of their smelly parts, bits like fish and fishermen. Under a discouraged grey sky, these canyons of condominiums gaze down on this morning's empty strands and the horse drawn traps awaiting custom. The road wynds around headlands, sweeps round bays, passing through ever increasing bands of exclusivity. Cascades of villas tumble down the steep hillsides, that then segue into the architects' creative dream, discrete designer creations of smoked glass and burnished steel. From there into the inevitable land of "plots for sale". What is noticeable throughout this passage is the distinct lack of food retail. Not even a spade and bucket shop. Does everybody eat out or do they haul in from the mega-malls in town? It has the distinct feel of a Las Vegas, that place where all the services and their support workers are housed over a hill, out of sight, fifty kilometres away. Each lamp post becomes an advertising location. A flickering succession of endearments, entreaties, enthusiasms. A land of wishful hopes. There will be a swimming pool populated by pale blond happy families, there will be a tennis court for the beautiful professional, there will be a cycle path for that elegant third age couple. All of whom will be North European, or so I'm led to believe. But first you'll have to buy your piece of windswept sand dune. I find it depressing, in part because the shoreline has been privatised, created exclusive to these redundant plots. A place shorn of tree and bush, carved up with barbed wire, padlocked gates and posted with peeling notice boards advertising a telephone number. A vacant lunarscape.

There's a pattern starting to emerge, we've seen this all before; out of season pleasure palaces, vacant parking lots, stacked picnic tables. With these negative thoughts we try to track down a mythical campground, end up finding one that's closed and are turned away from a third. Turned away...it has only happened twice before....I can with utter authority state it would not happen on the other side of the Andes. That neighbour will always squeeze in another camper. Our eventual camping site is inevitably an overpriced, dry dusty spot under my least favourite shade tree. Eucalyptuses shedding twigs and bark at an interesting rate. We're collecting mood swings that remind me of that autumn on the North American east coast.

Less than enthused with these feelings we head onto a motorway. It's the only road for the next seventy kilometres. There are no restrictions on cycling, a fact confirmed as two carabineros ignore our presence. Travelling north, we're on the landward side, but there's some interesting possibilities for a wild camp over toward the shore. Only between there and I, is a 'Beecher's Brook' of two waist high crash barriers and a cement moat for a central reservation, followed by a ten strand barbed wire fence. An obstruction that will run north for the next two hundred and fifty kilometres, totally unbroken. Pity the occasional householder who might wish to gain the other side of the road. They will have to drive to the next underpass, a round trip of fifty kilometres, just to gain a mere 5 metres. We're imprisoned in a sterile zoo. The specimen countryside, those inviting tors, that silver sand, sadly beyond our reach. Are there dangerous animals out here, or are we the problem? And yet this road, by any European standard would be considered quiet.

We have a choice. Ride out the next 250km with a tailwind, the only social contact being a gas station tomorrow night or take to the hills. Considerably longer with a lot more climbing, but it takes little persuasion. Within the first few moments we start chatting again, and I realise just what an effect that road was having. Cycling in a sterile bubble. Now there is something positive to talk about. The prison fence has gone, the verged wildflowers return, even the fifteen kilometres of climbing, much of it at 10%, couldn't dampen our spirits. We're back amongst places where people live and work. A diversion that will double in time, but the rewards are immense.

There's a simple moral to this tale. Now I understand those comments from that lone 'ender' last year, who bitterly complained that there was nothing to see. We were standing in front of the Nazca lines, the world's highest sand dune to rear at the time. Stay resolute to you goal and you might just end up missing some interesting places, some curious curiosities. Like this vertical wall of advertising vegetation.