Valle de los Artistas
After all that eating and drinking it was about time to get back on the bike and burn some calories as I made my way back out west to return to the coast. I stopped in the quaint and sleepy town of Lolol at a lovely little shop for a cup of tea and one of my first ice creams of the trip. I relaxed in the sun on one of the two seats outside and enjoyed the good morning greetings from people walking by. The town had some beautiful old wooden colonial houses – some lovingly restored and others in a very tumbledown state. The terracotta roof tiles gave it a slightly Italian feel too.
The quaint town of Lolol
Riding south for a while from Lolol, I rode through a deserted road, and past the impressive Valle de los Artistas (picture above). I rounded a corner and exclaimed out loud ‘Oh. My. God’. The road was ridiculously, breathtakingly beautiful. The field was carpeted for miles with yellow and purple flowers and the wooded hills rolled gently in the background. The weather was glorious, and I stopped by a small river that crossed the road to make myself some sandwiches. As always, the minute I started cutting the salami, a random stray dog managed popped out from absolutely nowhere to keep me company.
Lunch by the river
Pictures don’t do justice – but this stretch of road was just stunningly beautiful. Hopefully it gives you at least some idea!
As I rode up and over a hill on my way down to meet the Rio Mataquito, that would eventually lead my all the way to the sea, it became clear the area had suffered from some very serious forest fires in the past. When I reached the town of Hualañé I saw pictures taken of the huge fire at night, with a roaring amber halo lighting up the whole sky line.
Charred trees from the forest fire
I wandered around the small town looking to see if there was a good campsite or hostal to stay at. A guy jumped out of his car and asked me if I wanted to stay in one of his new cabins for a reduced rate as I was on my own. He liked cyclists and drove his car slowly in front of me to lead me the few blocks to get there. Perfect! There was a shop just opposite where I loaded up on fruit, veg and supplies, and I bought my first Chilean beer to enjoy sitting on the porch in the sunshine, before turning in for a good night’s sleep.
The next day I continued alongside the river out west until I met the sea, where I then turned south to ride down to the town of Constitución. From a rolling road hugging the river that switched from forested to agricultural land, I now met the coastal wetlands and a strong and cool wind coming in off the sea. I also started to get my first taste of the Chilean coastal road, with a couple of short but steep climbs and descents starting to put in an appearance. The day was overcast, and I motored on, to reach my destination before the skies opened.
The first rodeo ring I spotted near Hualañé. Chileans, like Argentinians, are accomplished horse riders, and have regular fiestas to compete and show off their horse riding and bull lassoo-ing prowess.
Beautiful muscular horses are often tied up by the side of the road to graze. This one watched me intently as I rode by.
Riding over the estuary mouth and across the wetlands
Another nice spot for a picnic lunch, just opposite this beautiful garden
After all this beautiful riding, Constitución was a very odd place to arrive at. A minor port, it had once been extremely busy with the fishing industry and historically, a popular seaside resort. But following the growth of the wood milling industry in the area (paper and pulp), and after selling off fishing licences to other countries, the town itself has declined significantly. Much of the town was also destroyed in the 2010 earthquake where 350 people are believed to have died in the 15m high tsunami that followed.
Constitución appears as a depressed small port town. If Wikipedia has it right, the Maule region Constitución sits in has the second lowest income per capita in Chile at less than 25% of the national average. For the first time, I saw that the town was also home to a lot of Haitians who have come to Chile to try to find work, as the two countries help each other following their respective devastating earth quakes.
Employment is in forestry and paper. Constitución is home to a huge wood pulp and forestry company called Celulosa Arauco y Constitución – their plant is a huge blot right on the sea front and is apparently allowed by the government to pump waste directly into the sea despite various law suits attempting to stop them. They are one of a handful of companies who have planted huge swathes of this part of Chile with artificial eucalyptus and pinewood forests, which many people (my mother included!) are distressed by as it destroys natural habitats for wildlife and turns the soil acidic and infertile. Some work does still existing in fishing and farming, and you can buy fresh mussel empanadas from shacks just near the water front.
As I reach the start of the wood trail, I start to see more pulp processing plants like this one