My Cycling Tour in Chile, Day 1

March 8 Wednesday, Concepción to Coelemu

Day 1 map

Day 1 elevation profile
47 miles, 2805 feet of climb, 1053 ft max

Getting my fully-loaded 68-cm bicycle down the tiny lift in the Hotel Maquehue was an adventure. It just barely fit, standing vertically on the rear wheel. For some reason I got out on the third floor and had to wrassle the bike back inside to get to street level. As I was getting ready to ride away I realized (thank God!) that I had left my wallet in my "civilian" pants inside the bike box which the hotel is storing for me until the end of the trip. So I wrassled the bike back into the elevator, wrassled it out at the top, got my wallet, wrassled the bike back into the elevator... etc.

My original plan today was to ride to Chillán. Via the highway it is only 112 km (69 miles), but it's much longer by the back roads. On my walks yesterday I had figured out the correct way out of town. There was lots of traffic on the highway as you head north to the town of Tomé but less after turning east toward Chillán.

A sign on the outskirts of Penco said it was founded in 1550. It was the original site of Concepción, which is why people from the city are called "Penquistas". Today Penco is just a dusty little village.

Beach in Tomé I think this happened in Tomé. I was looking for lunch but couldn't find any likely-looking restaurants so I stopped in a grocery store and bought some bread, ham, and cheese to make sandwiches. I walked over to the riverbank, found a park bench, and sat down to eat. There was a beat-up minivan parked nearby. Shortly its owner returned and came over to talk. I think he lives in the van - he retrieved a badly-worn sleeping bag out of it to sit on.

Ramon's proudest achievement is that he fought in Vietnam with a unit of Chilean commandos. To prove it, he pulled down the collar of his shirt and showed me his scars. He described several times how he sailed on a big ship and fought in Vietnam in the "Arma de Chile". However when I got home I could find no mention on the Internet of Chilean forces ever fighting in Vietnam.

I offered him some of my food which he accepted willingly. Fortunately I had extra bread and ham. He gave me a hospital admission slip so I'd know how to spell his name. I think he may be illiterate. Later he wrote out his name in crude block letters on a piece of paper. Chile has about the same literacy rate as the US, so those without reading and writing are probably just as much outcasts here as at home. As I was getting ready to leave, a friend of his wandered over and asked for "monedas". So I divided up my change between the two of them. Ramon and I shook hands and parted amigos.

Vista overlooking the beach in Tomé The road to Chillán goes quite far north before it heads back south-east. I ended up spending the night in the town of Colemu. I stopped at a hostería on the way into town, a few blocks from the plaza. When I inquired in the dining room out front if rooms were available, the lady led me around to the back, ducking under the laundry on the clothesline, to a low building with perhaps half a dozen rooms opening to the back yard. My room is quite plain and just barely big enough to fit my bike into, but it is clean and has a private bathroom with hot water. I think I paid 7000 pesos (less than $14) including continental breakfast.

I should mention that I am one of those folks with absolutely no sense of direction. Before dinner I walked down to the plaza to look around and took the wrong street back, going off at 90 degrees from the correct direction. After a few blocks I noticed nothing looked familiar and eventually found my way back. I should have taken along my GPS.

I saw a good-looking empanada restaurant on my walk, but I decided to eat at the hostería just for the experience. It turned out to be a set meal starting with a stuffed tomato and bread followed by a main course of a melt-in-your-mouth-tender quarter chicken roasted in a wonderful buttery sauce with a big pile of potatoes cooked in the same sauce. With a Coke I think it set me back a little over 3000 pesos ($6). You'd pay more than that at McDonalds back home.

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