After 4 months of yo-yoing between Ecuador and Peru we finally made our way to Chile, one of the main reasons we decided to embark on a South American adventure in the first place. Having successfully navigated the world’s deepest canyon, or second deepest, or third or fifth or tenth deepest (depending on your Google skills), we left Arequipa and made our way across the Chilean border to Arica.
In order to avoid another 40 hour bus ride we split up the trip to Santiago and stopped over in the coastal town of Iquique, known for its massive sand dune Cerro Dragon, and for being the site of a critical naval battle between Peru and Chile. Although after reading about it, it sounded more like a few wooden ships circling each other in the bay and missing each other with cannonballs for a few days, eventually just crashing into each other and sinking. Long live the Esmeralda.
The differences between Chile and Peru jumped out at us immediately. Cookie cutter communities, condo buildings and big chain stores definitely gave it a more modern feel. Plenty of things that reminded us of back home, unfortunately this included the prices we saw in the grocery stores.
We only had a day before the second leg of our bus trip south so we made good use of it by getting some much needed time sitting on our butts on the beach.
The following day was Valentine’s Day and we celebrated in grand style, aboard a 24hr bus to Santiago. We were treated to an exquisite 3 course meal; juice box appetizer, whiter than white ham sandwich, finished with an Oreo cookie dessert.
Finally in Santiago we killed two days exploring the city and enjoying the feeling of being in a new country. It had been over two months since we had last climbed so we began searching for local crags as soon as we arrived. We found a spot called Lo Curro that we could reach by public transit, and headed off to get a lesson in how quickly you can lose your climbing skills.
After a few days of being in the city we took the advice of a local at our hostel who told us “the best thing to do in Santiago is to leave Santiago”. So we did as the locals do and headed to Valparaiso for the weekend.
“Valpo”, as the cool kids say, is a bohemian beach side town known for its numerous hills, colourful buildings and tasteful street art. It’s steep streets are also the site of an annual Red Bull mountain bike race which just so happened to be the same weekend we were there.
Walking the maze of steep streets and countless hidden stairways to check out various neighbourhoods and view points ate up almost an entire day on its own, and we finished it with beers at what turned out to be the most popular picture taking point in town.
We thought our timing was perfect when we found out there was a futbol match between two of Chile’s top clubs the day before the Red Bull Cerro Abajo race. This was quickly turning into an event filled weekend, yay sports! So we caught a bus to the local stadium and joined the hordes of fans clad in green on their way in. It was at this point we learned that, for security reasons, not only do they not sell tickets on the day of the event, they don’t even sell them at the stadium and you need a Chilean ID number to buy them. A very polite security guard in riot gear explained this to us, and by polite I mean he at least attempted to hide his “are you guys bleeping kidding me?” facial expression. Bless his soul. So off to the beach we went and then back to our beer drinking/people watching spot. By the way the home team won 3-0, it was a beautifully sunny day, and every one in attendance had a really bad time so I don’t even care that we missed the match.
Like most of the global population, I’m sure many of you didn’t know that urban downhill biking is a thing. But according to Red Bull it is, and Valparaiso is a great place for it. So for 15 years they have been hosting a race called Cerro Abajo on a course that makes its way from a hilltop neighbourhood down to the main plaza, passing over rooftops, through houses, over busses and down staircases along the way. I don’t think anyone cheering the riders on has a clue who is doing well or not but at the very least it makes for a good street party.
As I mentioned Valparaiso and the neighbouring resort town of Viña del Mar are hugely popular weekend getaways for Santiagoans, one thing we forgot to consider was transportation back to the city on Sunday night. Upon turning up at the bus station we received the same facial expression we got from the stadium security guard a day earlier at every ticket office window. Not a single company had a seat available until after midnight. Outside the station, someone either saw the looks on our faces or overheard a few choice words we let fly and ushered us around the corner to a small city bus packed with other ticketless chumps and just like that we were off.
Eager to redeem ourselves after our pathetic display of climbing at Lo Curro, we spent only a night in Santiago before catching another bus out of town, this time headed east into the mountainous Cajon Del Maipo region. Less than an hour from Santiago this area has most things any adventure enthusiast could want. Hiking, climbing, and whitewater rafting in the summer, skiing in the winter. After taking public transit as far as possible we headed up Estero Manzana to a popular camping area that has climbing right beside the creek, called Las Manzanas.
We spent one day climbing on these routes under sunny skies and scorching temperatures and then our attention turned to bigger walls high up above the valley bottom in an area known as Las Torrecillas. According to some climbing guides we found online the massive rock slabs had many routes on them including a 5 pitch, 250m route called El Tubo that we figured we could tackle.
The only thing our online info didn’t have was a good description of how to get there. “From the parking, follow the trail up to the base of the main wall, then go left” wasn’t all that helpful regardless of what language it was in. So our first attempt ended up becoming a reconnaissance mission to find the actual trail. Did I mention this place sees a lot of traffic from hikers and campers and has trails going off in every direction? We spent 4 hours following trails that were heading in the right direction but always seemed to either just end in a forest of cactuses, or result in bushwacking up steep hillsides. Finally we found the right trail and some old climber campsites but decided it was far too hot and late to start a big climb so returned to the routes beside our camp.
After climbing each day we had a great routine of cooling off in the river, mixing in a shower, then lazing by the water until it cooled off at which point we’d grab our fishing rod and head back to our swimming holes to see if any of the trout still had their appetites after Roxy washed her feet in their living rooms.
We got up extra early on our last day and headed off for a second crack at the Las Torrecillas wall. I’d love to tell you that it was a huge success but it was quite the opposite. The approach was steep and long, longer than anticipated, but at least we were on the right trail. And then we weren’t. Somehow within a kilometre or so of the wall, just before we exited the trees we chose the wrong direction at a fork in the trail and ended up on a ridge with an incredible view of the valley, but with a near vertical cliff separating us from where we needed to be. By the time we had retraced our steps and reached the base of the wall it was again too late to start a big climb. So we called it a picnic and headed back down with our tails between our legs to pack up camp and return to Santiago.
While we spent a good chunk of our time at Cajon del Maipo lamenting and avoiding the insane heat we should have considered ourselves lucky because a few days after we left the valley was hit with serious rains, causing massive floods, landslides and ultimately contaminating the water supply to a large part of Santiago. Of course we were oblivious to all this as we had immediately headed south from Santiago for a week of camping and climbing in Valle de Los Condores, one of the most incredible places we’ve found in South America so far. But we’ll save that for our next post.
Gracias por leyendo. ¡Hasta luego!