66 miles, 1650 feet of climb, 863 ft max
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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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