Valparaiso and Grandad Simpson 1906

[Sally 11.3.16] We're making a beeline for Valparaiso. It's on the pacific coast about 1000kms north and we decide to ride it over 4 days, riding every day. Anything above 300km we just find too much and couldn't do it every day for a few days. I've got a toothache top right which is persisting, so we plan to stay in Valparaiso for 4 days so I can get it sorted.

Our first stopover is in Concepción. We choose a bit of motorway, Panamerica Sur / Ruta 5, and then turn off for back roads and a road following the Biobio River into the city. We ride through logging country and pass through some lovely forests, but it comes at a price of course - we're riding along with quite a few logging trucks which spoils the fun of twisties up and over mountains. We come into the city over a bridge over the Biobio and its the first big city we've been in for a few weeks. We're not too keen on staying in big cities but it's convenient for one night and we've got a nice hotel booked at 50% off - they even have bacon at breakfast - what a treat :)

Next stop Constitución. We take all back roads, still in logging country, but it's better than motorway. I do a few spot checks on google street view to make sure we're not going to hit any ripio. Approaching the city we pass a couple of industrial sites, giving a taste of the city to come.

Hotel Boutique Las Azucenas in Constitución.

We're booked into cheapish boutique hotel, but google maps and Navmii navigator are a bit confused where it is. We park up and I wander around the street asking a few people where it is. We find it on the next street. It's a really nice boutique hotel and we're the only ones there, so get special attention for dinner and breakfast. It's 7pm when we arrive  and we're happy to have dinner in. We're treated a bit like royalty by the owner's son at breakfast with donuts, fresh fruit platter, fruit juice, coffee, fresh bread, scrambled eggs, cakes. We try our best, but we can't eat it all. I take a little doggie bag for a snack for us later on.

After brekkie, the owner's son encourages us to see one of the sites of Constitución, as we were just going to head straight out. It's just a small detour along the coast, and after checking with him there was no ripio, we take a ride out to see the Elephant rock. Hmmmmm, well at least there's a little more to this town than the industrial sites!

I've found a suitable location for us to stay tonight, half way between Constitución and Valparaiso - there's a few places with cabins around Lago Rapel near Las Cabras but I can't book on-line and talking on the phone is near impossible for me, but I've found a good priced one on the lake and I'm looking forward to riding up and having a cabin for the night. Its 250kms and I'm sure we'll there in good time to get a cabin - it's Sunday night and out of season, I think. This time is a nice ride along Ruta 66 aka Ruta de la Fruta as the road is lined with vineyards, apple orchards and olive groves. We arrive at the cabin place, but it's fully booked - huh? is it school holidays or something? We try up the road to another place, but they are too expensive. I find a hotel across the lake, Hotel Jardin del Lago, and can book on-line. I set the navigator - it's 12 kms around, but Navmii gets confused again and sends us down some dirt track which ends up in a deep gravel driveway to a farmstead. A young boy comes out of the house but he won't come close enough to me to ask him where the hotel is, and I'm not riding an further on this gravel. Eventually his Dad comes out and tells us (waving his arms) we need to go back and up the road a bit. There's a steep sharp left turn on gravel to get back on the main road and I nearly drop my bike, but hang on for dear life and stay up right - phew!

Gardens of Hotel Jardin del Lago

We have to switch to google maps to navigate and after a couple of missed turns, and a bit of stress as we're tired, we finally get there down their sandy dirt track. It's in a lovely location right on the lake, the room is pretty average, and the dinner is appalling - the worst dinner we've had yet - some tough old boots for beef, soggy chips and cold veggies. It's so bad we leave most of it - even Jeff, and it's got to be really bad for him to leave food.

Next day it's a short ride to Valparaiso, 150km, and bit more on Ruta de la Fruta. We approach Valparaiso, heavy traffic building up, motorway entering the city. Then it just gets crazy. We thought the ripio was challenging, but Valparaiso employs town planners from hell - the roads are ridiculously steep and full of sharp turns. The last turn is so sharp and steep I get stuck on the corner.

Our apartment is great - a one bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, lounge and a fab view.

View overlooking Valparaiso from our first apartment.

We've booked the apartment through AirBnB for 4 days so I have time to see a dentist, and no time like the present I get to it. I manage to see a dentist at 6pm the day we arrive.


It's in a spooky little room in an ancient office block down town. The dentist can’t speak any English but I’ve come prepared with google translations on my symptoms and he can understand - which is great as google translate does it a bit odd sometimes. He takes an x-ray - one of the smallest in history and it can fit onto a postage stamp. He asks if I want to keep my tooth or have it removed - acting it out with charades, depicting scenes of dental torture. I opt for what I think is the easy option and “say” I’d like to keep it, por favor. He refers me to the central dental centre to see a qualified endodontist the next day. I take my postage stamp x-ray along with me. 

The endodontist can speak a tiny bit English (about as much as my Spanish) and she says I need root canal treatment. Aaah, the penny drops, so the dental torture charades wasn’t that of removing my tooth after all... it was for the “easy” option. She has a form in front of her and I catch on she wants to know my medical history - you know, the standard list with the check boxes; she acts out heavy breathing -> any breathing difficulties?, clutches her heart -> any heart problems? and so on. I try to tell her I had yellow jaundice when I was a kid but here is a fine example of the subtleties of the Spanish language  - I find the word for yellow jaundice from google and I’m pretty confident I can say “when I was seven years old”. She chuckles and points to her behind and apparently what I’ve told her is that I had it “when I had 7 bottoms" - the difference between año and ano.

Of course I’m worried about the cost of the treatment, as you can bet your 7-bottoms-dollar the medical insurance will wriggle out of it and it only covers A$1000 anyway. I start thinking we might have to leave the bikes here and take a side trip to the UK for a few weeks, but thankfully the total cost is an acceptable A$350, which I have to pay upfront for treatment to start tomorrow, and finish next week. This means staying here for 2 weeks in total … but it’s gotta be done.

Back at dental-torture-central for the first part of treatment and out come the needles, drills and smoking teeth. It’s pretty horrid and feel quite wretched afterwards. It’s enough for this week, and I'm to return next week for the more sessions.


I try to get a taxi back (no-one in their right mind walks back up the hills) - but the first taxi I ask just shakes his head and says no when I show him my scrap of paper I’m clinging onto, with Cerro Alegre written on it. I don't understand. A woman helps me and points to go over the road over there. I do, it’s a bus stop I think. Buses and taxis come and go pretty rapidly and I’m walking up and down, quite confused. Taxis stop and people climb in and I can see there’s taxi sharing going on. OK, I think I know - I try to get in one taxi with people in, but again the driver says no. What’s wrong with me? Is my mouth droopy from my dental treatment? He points down the road, speaks rapid fire Spanish at me, but I catch the word “Plaza”. I walk down to the Plaza and see some taxis with “Cº Alegre” on their roof top sign. Ah-ha, now I think I’ve cracked it. A taxi has just pulled up, I ask him, and I can't believe it, he says “no” too, and points to the taxis in front. OK - sorry I’ve made a mistake and gone to the taxi at the back instead of the front. I walk to the front, and find the same taxi driver has just driven to the front, and now he points behind him. 
I JUST WANT TO GET HOME!! I’ve just had some root canal treatment, you know.
I get in the cab behind and he indicates yes he can take me up the hill Cerro Alegre, but doesn’t drive off. I’m pretty sure I’ve got this right and google translate quickly “are you waiting for other passengers?”, “Si”. How much for just me? CLP1600, A$3.20 - yes, it’s worth it, please take me home.

I’ve just learnt the hard way about Colectivos in Valparaiso - taxi sharing where taxis have fixed routes serving the different hills. This is a quote from a tourism website on how to get around Valparaiso by Colectivo “….. , but it can take some luck to crack the code of where to catch a Colectivo and where it will take you.”! No kidding!


Our first impression of Valparaiso isn't so great, but I think we've just been unlucky the way we walked into town the first time.

Grandad Simpson 1906

Now, for the main reason we have visited Valparaiso (not for my teeth, as you may have been led to believe), but now we have time to do a few touristy things.

Aunty Gwyn told me that in the early 20th century, Grandad Simpson was in the merchant navy and was in Valparaiso in 1906 when a big earthquake struck the city. It was a devastating 8.2 magnitude earthquake which destroyed most of the city, caused a tsunami and killed nearly 4000 people. Marshall law was quickly established and several people were shot for looting. Really? - what is the matter with people in times of crisis? Some silverware and the latest gramophone aren’t going to help you any. There are no museums about the earthquake at all, but we visit the Maritime museum and found a little information about the merchant ships at the time. This one I found could well have been the ship that Grandad was on as it ticks all the boxes, but I’m sure the museum have named it wrongly and it should be Afan Alaw. 

Laundry day has come around, and it’s a big deal when you haven’t got laundry facilities at the apt. We take a trip into town with our bin liner full of dirty clothes - ‘cos we’re stylish like that and ask for a bag wash. Meanwhile we stroll around the harbour - it's a really busy shipping port.

We take our first ride in one of Valparaiso’s famous Ascensores - little iconic rickety carriages on very steep rails travelling up the really steep hills from downtown Valpo. Here's a very short video clip of our ride up the hill. Viewer warning if you suffer from vertigo ...

Riding up on Ascensore Concepción. Built in 1883, it originally ran on steam power

We visit Cerro Concepción which is an old touristy part of town. It’s really colourful with some craft stalls around and some great restaurants.

All’s going hunky dory, but I’ve just had notification from my bank that they’ve put one of my cards on hold as they suspect it has been compromised.  I called them this morning and ended up having 2 of my cards cancelled. We walk into town and Jeff tries to get money out and the ATM withholds his card. So now we're 3 cards down and it's not straight forward to get them replaced as we don't know where we'll be in 3 weeks' time. What a pain in the año.

Walking around Valparaiso old town hills there is lots of street art on the buildings, also some very scruffy graffiti making the place look a mess, but some of the street art is quite impressive.

We have to move apartments for the 2nd week as the first one with the great view is not available. I find another good one just down the road. It's brand new, a bit smaller and no view but it's a bit closer to the good restaurants and cafes.

National strike

It's time for my second session of root canal treatment, so make my way downtown to the dental centre. It's a good 30 minute walk and when I get there the doors are locked with a padlocked gate in front of them. There's a poster pasted on the door and a notice of some sort. I try to translate it but I don't understand what google says. A couple of people turn up, read the notice, mutter something in Spanish and walk off with a purpose. I decide to follow them around the corner to the street at back of the building. There's a back entrance with a security guard checking people in with appointments. Great! I can still have my root canal treatment - what mixed feelings that is :) It goes OK, and I learn from the endodontist that the public health workers are on a national strike. The dentists are free lance workers so are still working today.

It's Good Friday, so we take a day off and go out to the neighbouring town Viña del Mar. We take a bus from outside our apartment and it goes a very long and winding route, taking an hour to cover the 8kms to next door. It's a very different town to Valparaiso, thoroughly modern with lots of high rise apartment blocks on the sea front, and very busy with tourists. We walk up the promenade, have a beer, walk back, and have a great burger at Burgeria GastroBar.

The 607 route in the hills

Now for trying to get home by bus, hmmmm. Google directs us to a bus stop to wait for the 607 which will take us to our front door. But no 607 comes passed. Plenty of other buses going to Valparaiso, but no 607. We give up waiting for one after 30 minutes and get on the next bus going to Valpo - which drop us downtown and we get a Colectivo back home. Google outlines the route of the 607 - most of it's route is on quite straight roads until it gets to the start of the hills in Valparaiso and this happens:

Our AirBnB host, Ana, invites us around for drinks with her husband and son-in-law. They're keen to speak and improve their English. Who are we to argue over a few wines and nibbles? It was a lovely evening - lots of different topics discussed and we learnt a lot more about Chile.  


My teeth are fixed and so we can move on. Tomorrow is Easter Monday and we're heading up the coast - hopefully our bank cards will find us en-route somewhere.

Chau for now.