Trembling on the last steps

Before we could realize what was happening, we found ourselves on the sandy beach of Viña del Mar, and nostalgia gripped us tightly. Our minds were flooded with memories of the innumerable experiences of the last weeks and we were unable to grasp that we had arrived at our final destination. The Vuelta ended as it had begun: with a splash of ocean water, but this time, it was our front wheel that made the acquaintance of the Pacific Ocean.

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We were in Valparaíso before we realized what was going on.

After our departure from La Calera, we came through a heavily urbanized area. Small towns lined up along the road like pearls on a necklace. Somehow, I did not feel ready for what seemed like the last stage of the voyage, and so we stopped for a second breakfast on a lively town square. A few pieces of cake helped me to summon up the courage to keep cycling.

The road had been going down ever since the Andes, but our destination, Valparaíso, was surrounded by hills. A last climb was inevitable, and when it started, we were grateful that we had to put some effort into getting to the Pacific Ocean. Otherwise, reaching Valparaíso would have felt even more unreal.

And just when some sweat began to form on our brows, a city appeared before us, sprawling across the hills to our south. A moment later, we laid eyes on the Pacific for the first time during the Vuelta. It was a breathtaking sight, and some excitement mixed into the heavy thoughts in our heads.

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It seems to be a South American habit to clutter beautiful beaches with ugly highrise buildings. Just like in Punta del Este, we preferred to turn our backs to them and enjoy the ocean view.

Traffic was suffocating, and the drivers showed zero respect for us. They almost hit us when overtaking and they cut into our lane before us just to brake sharply, forcing us to brake on the steep descent. We were more than glad when we could finally leave the highway behind and approach the shore. We had arrived at Viña del Mar, a popular holiday destination. For a second, it felt like we had stumbled into a wormhole and traveled back in space and time. The tall skyscrapers lining up on the beach promenade looked just like Punta del Este, but we were standing on the other side of the continent and before a different ocean. We sat down on a wall separating the beach from the paved surface of the promenade and agreed that this did not feel like the end of our journey at all.

After contemplating the waves and the golden sand for a while, we reluctantly climbed back into the saddle. For once, I felt almost grateful for the terrible drivers as they allowed me to divert my attention to the traffic and postpone the realization that we had come to our final destination.

The road into Valparaíso was incredibly busy and the traffic signs rather confusing, making our ride unnecessarily annoying. As we tried to make our way into town on smaller roads, we found a great hostel in a classical building dating from 1908. It became immediately clear where we would rest our weary legs, but it was not yet time to call it a day and enjoy Valparaíso. There was one more thing we had to do: just like we had dipped our rear wheel into the salty floods of the Atlantic at Ipanema, we felt that the Pacific was calling out for our front wheel.

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We were in no mood to enjoy Valparaíso, even though what we saw was beautiful enough.

Catching a first glimpse of town was exciting, but we could hardly concentrate on our surroundings: our heads were still filled with memories as we inevitably recaptured what had happened during the last months once and again. Even though Valparaíso has a long coastline, beaches are scarce and hard to find. We got lost more than once and when we found ourselves on the busy coastal road again, we agreed to clench our teeth and follow it to a small beach located just behind the harbor area. This time, the beach crowd failed to pay much attention to the lycra-clad men pushing their bikes across the sand toward the ocean. Little kids launched rocks into the water and obese couples cuddled on the beach, but we stood and watched the waves, unable to take the last steps.

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I went in first, unable to grasp that this should be the end of the Vuelta.

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With his front wheel in the waves, Ben looked out onto the Pacific for a long moment before turning around.

After the deed was done, we sat down in the soft sand, not minding the wet shoes. A long moment of silence ensued as we both were unable to find the adequate words to express what was on our minds. After a while, we finally got up and found our way back to the hostel, almost oblivious to the traffic around us.

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It was time to put the bikes aside: our journey was over.

One thought on “Trembling on the last steps

  1. Pingback: 5288,3 km – la vuelta sudamericana

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