Cycling south from Vallenar, the desert grows less severe, though the midday temperature is rather higher. There are posadas and other sources of supplies far more frequently, so it is no longer necessary to carry so much water.

The steepest and highest I had to climb was only to around 1200m, though with the temperature approaching 40ºC, this was a little harder than I’ve become accustomed to. I chatted to a passing road maintenance crew at the bottom of the hill -they were sympathetic to someone else also being out in the sun all day- who gave me some of their water, and told me to drop past their shack at the top for some more. (It made a huge difference being able to drink what I had and know some more awaited me).

I camped one night on a broad dry riverbed – the scattered but relatively tall vegetation hiding me well, to the point that a desert fox approaching from downwind all but blundered into my tent. I don’t know which one of us got more of a fright. I also discovered that my stove pump had begun to leak petrol copiously. The twigs and leaf litter made for an effective if not pleasantly fragrant fire. I chose better the following nights and sought eucalyptus to burn. It’s fun cooking with a fire, but makes camping discreetly almost impossible.

Once more there were roadside stalls with good local produce- Avocado (‘Palta’ in Chile), papaya, and cheese, amongst other things.

I had planned to skirt round the sprawl of Santiago to the west – but the stove leak and the fact that one of my brakes needed attention – necessitated a visit to Chile’s largest city. (While clearing dust from a jammed brake piston, I managed to allow a good quantity of fluid out and air in to the brake line- not easily fixable at the roadside)

The last few days to Santiago were along a fairly straight road- many short climbs and descents along the coast, before turning inland and crossing the last of the low hills before the capital. A short section at the top is still under construction – or rather the second carriageway is. As a result of the works, for around 5km the road southward is barely two lanes wide- scarcely room for the overtaking competition in constant progress, and certainly no room for me.
Being the weekend, there were only security staff on site- they allowed me to proceed up the unfinished side as far as it went. As the sun went down, there was little option – the security crew were welcoming- fed me, let me use their shower (the plastic tank of water more than adequately heated by the sun) and let me string up my hammock outside their cabin. The following morning the crew-change truck gave me a lift the short distance to the end of the roadworks.

Descending into the large flat plain that accommodates Santiago, another shift is evident – it’s still hot, but enormously greener. Gone are the cacti and thorny bushes- replaced by fields of cereals, mature trees, and viniculture.

I stayed rather longer in Santiago than planned- resting, sampling a cross section of Chileno wines (and a certain amount of rum) – and getting my mechanical woes corrected. The boys and girls at Una Velocidad were full of useful advice about the road south, and my rear brake was restored to working order by one of the Chileno national MTB team mechanics at Dr Bike. I also met Bruce – the only other Scot I’ve so far met in South America; you can follow his adventures at teapotone.com.

Thus with difficulties culinary and hydraulic behind me, I ran out of excuses and headed south.

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