My Cycling Tour in Chile, Day 17

March 26 Sunday, Coronel to Concepción

Day 17 map

Day 17 elevation profile
18 miles, 125 feet of climb, 167 ft max

Since I had such a short distance to go today, my plan was to hang around the room reading the Isabel Allende novel I had bought a couple days ago until 10:00 am or so. Right at 9:00 a loud electronic beeper somewhere in the vicinity of the phone beside the bed played through "It's a Small World" twice. I wasn't sure if this was an automatic alarm clock that had been set by a previous guest or if it was the motel's unsubtle way of telling me to leave so they can clean the room. Anyway, I finished packing and got on the road about 9:30. I rode slowly, trying to kill time. Traffic seemed lighter than on the highway last night.

Bio Bio River One reason for not pushing on to Concepción yesterday was that I was not sure how to enter the city. My guidebook maps only show the downtown area, not the approaches. I didn't want to be trying to figure that out as dusk was falling. However it turned out to be easy. At some point I noticed a bike path to the right of the highway. I followed a group of 10 or 12 cyclists obviously out for a recreational ride. One guy was dressed in brightly-colored jersey and lycra pants but most had on more normal clothes. It looked like a typical Santa Rosa Cycling Club "A" (beginner) ride.

Puente Viejo The bike path led directly onto the "Puente Viejo", the "old bridge" that looked on the map like the low-stress way to cross the Bio Bio River into the city. After crossing the bridge I turned right and rode along the path by the river for a bit, then turned left on a street that came out right by the Parque Ecuador at the southern end of the central business district.

There were booths set up in the park selling "Permisos de Circulación". I stopped and chatted for a few minutes with a policeman. He confirmed that everyone, even tourists, have to buy permits to drive in the city. I had seen signs advertising these permits in other cities as well. Apparently travelers are expected to buy a fistful of these permits as they drive around the country. He gave me a free book of city maps published by Visa. I wish I had had the book earlier in the trip because the maps show the approaches to the cities, unlike the maps in the guidebooks which typically only show the city center.

I found a park bench and sat reading my novel for awhile. I didn't want to arrive at the hotel too early. I had a leisurely lunch at a Chinese restaurant down the street from the hotel and finally checked in about 1:00. The room was ready for me. I had plenty of time to disassemble and pack my bike, do some reading, and edit and update my diary on the computer.

I'm not sure exactly how far I rode today since the bicycle computer stopped working for a bit, but I'm sure it was less than 20 miles. I could have kept on going yesterday instead of staying in Coronel if I had known.

In the evening I checked with the hotel receptionist about transportation to the airport tomorrow. I had noticed that there is always a line of taxis just around the corner but I wanted to know the price and transit time. She offered to call for me and find out. I heard her making me a reservation on the shuttle van for 1:00. I told her I thought that was cutting it too close for a 2:10 flight and I would prefer to leave around 10:00 am. I assumed she would call and cancel my reservation but apparently she called and changed my reservation to 10:00.

So I was surprised the next morning when I wandered back to the hotel from a little shopping trip about 10:05 to find a rather excited gentleman in front of the hotel informing me that I was late. I told him it would take me 5 minutes to get my stuff and he insisted I not take more than 5 minutes. So I rushed upstairs, threw the last couple items into my bags and brought them back down the 7 floors to the street. It turned out that in the rush I had left something in the room. As I was loading my luggage into the van, the hotel receptionist came running out with my passport! Actually I was leaving early enough that I probably would have had time to come back from the airport to retrieve it and still not miss my plane, but I'm really, really glad I didn't have to do that.

I won't bore you with the details, but due to the airline computer losing my seat reservation and some misinformation I received from the LAN Chile ticket agent in Concepción, I had a big hassle with my boarding passes and luggage at the airport in Santiago. Suffice it to say that I was very glad to be able to speak enough Spanish to get it sorted out.

On the flight from Santiago to Dallas I had an interesting conversation with the fellow sitting next to me. Juan was born in Chile 26 years ago and was abandoned at age 3 by his mother who apparently had mental problems. He bounced around from one foster home to another until he was finally adopted by an American family at age 10 and spent the next 16 years living with his nine adopted brothers and sisters in California.

He recently found out his mother's name and, thanks to the gift of some frequent flyer miles from a friend, was able to return to Chile to search out his roots. He had reserved a room, but as soon as his extended Chilean family found out he was there they got very excited and insisted he stay in their homes. He discovered dozens of cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. he never knew he had. He met his mother - he said she still has problems. Although he hadn't spoken his native tongue for 16 years, he said his Spanish came back fairly quickly. Now he wants to study Spanish to improve his reading/writing skills so he can come back to Chile and work as a translator.

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