My Cycling Tour in Chile, Day 2

March 9-10 Thursday-Friday, Coelemu to Chillán

Day 2 map

Day 2 elevation profile
66 miles, 1650 feet of climb, 863 ft max

Road with volcano in the distance It was mostly a pleasant ride today on quiet, scenic back roads with little traffic. Today's 66 miles were easier than yesterday's (much hillier) 47.

Bus stop with Bachelet graffiti One thing you can't help but notice is the amount of Bachelet graffiti. Painted on the road surface, on walls and fences, and on almost every one of the numerous bus stops, you see "Bachelet + 2" or "Bachelet + 8". Or just "B+2" or "B+8". Michelle Bachelet has just been elected the new President of Chile. She apparently is very popular around here. I'm not sure what the numbers mean. They have just changed from a 6-year to a 4-year term so perhaps it has something to do with that.

Statue of Arturo Prat in Ninhue I noticed on the map that I would be going right by the little town of Ninhue, the birthplace of Arturo Prat, Chile's national hero. He's the naval officer who died in 1879 trying to sink a Peruvian iron-clad warship single-handedly, armed only with his sword. Every town in Chile has a street and/or plaza named after him. My guidebook says there is a very good naval museum in town so I turned off the highway and rode the kilometer or two to town to try to find it. I stopped and bought a Coke at a little store from a fellow who said the museum is "over there" as he vaguely waved his hand. So I vaguely headed off in that direction but never did find the museum. I stopped in at the police station, but when I went inside I couldn't find anyone around. Then I realized that it was 2:00 in the afternoon and in Chile everything typically shuts down between 1:00 and 3:00, probably including the museum. I didn't feel like waiting around for an hour so I rode on. I did get a photo of the statue in the plaza of Captain Prat, sword at his side.

Typical roadsign shrines I see lots of those little shrines next to the highway to commemorate a person who died in a traffic accident. They seem more permanent and tasteful than many of the ones you see by the roadways back home in northern California. Most are quite elaborate, often made out of poured concrete, with fences around them etc. Apparently Hispanic culture places special importance on the location that someone died.

The last several miles of today's ride were on Ruta 5, the busy north-south freeway that is part of the Pan-American Highway. It has wide shoulders so it's not particularly difficult or dangerous to ride on, but it is noisy and hardly scenic.

Statue of Bernardo O'Higgins in Chillán The other big national hero is Bernardo O'Higgins, the George Washington of Chile, who was born in Chillán. There's a statue of him in the Plaza.

As I was preparing to lock up my bike outside the Hotel Javiera Carrera, a fellow came out and asked, in English, if I wished to stay at the hotel. He let me stash my bike in the locked garage as he showed me the room. This is the nicest lodging so far. It's a very nice room with good bathroom and even candy bars on the pillows. The owner is Swiss and has had the place for 4 years, I think he said. It was so nice I decided to stay two days to see the town even though I wasn't really ready for a rest day just yet.

That night I ate at the Club Español. Without the guidebook I never would have found it. It is immediately adjacent to the cathedral - it looks like part of the same building. There is no sign to indicate it's a restaurant. I would have assumed it is some kind of cultural center.

I think this is the first time I had "lomo a lo pobre", a big steak with onions and two fried eggs, served with a huge pile of french fries. Just the ticket after a hard day's ride. I accidentally under-tipped the waiter, 500 pesos for a bill of over 6000 pesos. (10% is standard here.) Unlike in the US where they leave the bill and walk away, he stood there waiting while I got out my money. I felt rushed and miscalculated. I had intended to leave a good tip since the waiter was very friendly and attentive. I hate it when I do stuff like that.

Scenes from the Feria de Chillán

The next morning I checked out the Feria de Chillán, an exuberant open-air market, nationally famous for its crafts, especially knitwear, leather items, and ceramics. I bought a couple items. I would have bought more but I didn't fancy carrying it in my panniers for almost three weeks. The place was packed. The guidebook says it is even bigger on Saturdays.

The cathedral in Chillán The cathedral is striking in appearance. It's an earthquake-resistant design, built to replace the old one that was destroyed in the devastating 1939 earthquake.

As I was riding into town Thursday I had seen a sign pointing to the Chillán campuses of the Universities of Concepción and Bio Bio. I decided not to check them out. It looked like they were far enough away that I'd have to get my bike out or take a bus, and university campuses look pretty much alike anyway.

Street sign with one-way arrow Almost all the streets in Chilean cities and towns seem to be one-way. And there are no "One-Way Do Not Enter" signs anywhere. You are supposed to look at the street sign which has a single-headed arrow if the street is one-way and a double-headed arrow otherwise. It's actually a pretty efficient system, but it takes some getting used to. And of course some intersections don't have street signs. I guess you are just supposed to know.

Mural 'Muerte al Invasor' in Escuela Mexico In the afternoon I visited the Escuela Mexico, donated by Mexico after the 1939 earthquake. Its claim to fame is two murals in the library painted by famous Mexican artists of scenes from Mexican and Chilean history. The Mexican mural is titled "Muerte al Invasor" (Death to the Invader) and depicts the battle between the Aztecs and Spaniards. Although this is a functioning elementary school, visitors are welcome to come view the murals. There's no charge and I didn't see a donation box.

Religious artifacts in Museo Franciscano Then I went through the Convent of Saint Francisco which includes a museum of religious artifacts, musical instruments, furniture, and military items collected by members of the Franciscan order. It's worth the price of admission. (600 pesos)

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