Iquique Ride 14 April, 2010
Although the tour groups and the ship described Iquique Chile as having not much to do, we found it an excellent place to ride a bike. The ride along the beach and the restaurants were remarkably good. More below.
The ship docked at 7am but we didn’t exit the ship until 945am and found we couldn’t ride from the ship into town but, instead, had to wait for a shuttle bus to carry us away from the ship. That caused a 20 minute delay because some of the shuttles could not carry the bikes. We were successful with the third shuttle.
The shuttle carried us beyond the port entrance into the center square of town where we saw buildings from the 19th century along with more modern buildings. All of this lay before the dramatic backdrop of steep, high (4500 feet) unvegetated mountains of a unique brown color. The town in the foreground contained arched and columned provincial buildings along with shops, many modern and some older. The history of the town included significant investment in nitrate mining; but, now that is a thing of the past and seen in the form of a historic nitrate district at one end of town and a ghost town around the former mine 20 or more miles beyond the mountains. Three slightly up slanting marked the road up or around the mountain range that is the town backdrop. Slightly in the foreground as the land rises a few hundred feet over several miles lay the broad housing area for this town of several hundred thousand.
Today, the commercial value of Iquique lays in other types of mining and, particularly, in the tourist industry—mostly one for local South Americans, but also the home of one or two cruise ship visits per week in the North American winter. That period was ending as our ship arrived.
At the direction of a local policeman, we headed south and slightly west toward a beach hugging walking and bicycle path. We rode through a few blocks of commercial district with only moderate traffic and then made a detour to the west directly toward the breaking surf we could see 5-6 blocks away. That ride brought us to the Gavina hotel at around 1030am. We decided this would be an excellent opportunity for testing the coffee and the wifi. The desk clerk verified the present of both and we parked the bikes in the adjoining garage at the direction of the security guard. The hotel is nearly new and stands 6-8 stories high with 200 rooms or so.
We took a seat in the empty restaurant, ordered coffee and set up the computer. Shortly, we found the same problem we had found in Valparaiso with connection to the router but no internet connection. The waitress checked with the bartender who checked with the desk clerk who sent in an important well dressed gentleman who both spoke moderately good English and who seemed to know about their system. He tried a few things and then went to our network setup, finding that we had permitted ISP protocol 4 as well as 6. Apparently, Chile uses only protocol 4 and having the second method available is a no-no. He turned off the offending culprit and then shut down the computer, saying this was required because the protocols are determined at boot up. (The restaurant personnel had tried the protocol elimination in Valparaiso but had not rebooted. This was their apparent downfall.) Upon restarting, everything worked fine. We kissed the feet of nearly every employee of the hotel.
We spent the next 90 minutes or so finishing our telephone calls, email evaluation, and other business and drinking the excellent espresso delivered to the table. We were sitting with a view to the south of the waves breaking upon a rocky beach within feet of the window. I spotted a small black object in the rocks and identified it as a small sea lion, perhaps no more than 2 feet long. It braved its way into the surf, surfed through two or three waves, and then disappeared into the surf. A few gulls watched this event with me. Marilyn did also get a chance to see the sea lion too. I asked whether this sea lion lived on the beach here and the bartender said that was not the case, although he saw a sea lion once a week or so. Apparently, the larger sea lion colony lay a mile or so to the north.
Around noon, we left and found the bike path along the beach within 100 yards. The path stretched for 5-8 miles along the beach and made an excellent tide. The rocky beach gave way after a half mile or so to a sandy beach 50-100yrards deep. The temperature was about 73 degrees F and the beaches were being used by several people, some lazing in pools near the rocks, and some playing in the surf. A group of young girls all dressed in the same blue sweat suits began to set up a volleyball game. As the beach opened up, the commercial district fronting the beach also changed into one of tourist attractions and night clubs. The place seemed very attractive as a resort. A few five story beach rental facilities spotted the road too.
The bike path was also interesting in and of itself. The bike path was separate both from the road and from a walking path on the beach side. The walking path was decorated throughout with 5-10 foot long petroglyph designs carved into the marble and cement. Along the bike path were other activities like play areas for children, vegetative displays for the gardeners, bike motocross courses, skateboarding courts, and small food and drink stands. We road for a few miles along the Playa Cavancha beach before the path turned to the right before the point and petered out. We rode through a few streets before deciding to stop for lunch.
This point is the gold coast of Iquique. We chose the Club Nautica for lunch and found the table next to us to be occupied by what I suspect was some kind of celebrity—of an age either to be a rock star or an athlete. The wait staff was very interested in him and his female companion seemed somewhat annoyed. The restaurant lay on the second floor of a modern building and had tables both on the veranda and inside in the dining room. We chose the veranda. The view was magical with sparrows and gulls landing on the roof below us to catch bread pieces and crumbs thrown to them by Marilyn (This place immediately became one of Marilyn’s favorite because of her love of feeding the animals), rocky coral circled ponds in the foreground complete with snorkelers, Jet Ski landings, sunbathers, and singular pelicans. To the right lies a fishing boat area with areas both for fishermen and buyers. A building immediately next door had its roof covered by dozens of lazing pelicans. In the distance lay the long curving beach called Playa Cavancha.
The food matched the view. I had a grilled fish called mulatto and Marilyn ordered a fish soup, especially laden with shrimp. My fish came with capers on top and strips of grilled vegetables laden with olive oil on the bottom. A pile of red colored rice had a lovely olive oil flavor. Marilyn’s soup was mildly spicy and contained clams, mussels, octopus, and whitefish along with the shrimp. Both dishes were exquisitely finished. We coupled this to the suggested Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. This was one of the best meals I’ve had in the past year, but it didn’t come cheap—about $66 for lunch. Nevertheless, the 90 minutes spent at lunch was magical.
After lunch, we continued on around the peninsula and were met by a view of the astounding waves pounding the beach ahead for the next 2-3 miles. This is Playa Brava. Although my map identified it as a surfing beach, I saw no surfers. But the surf seemed to be 4-8 feet high and the sand was churning. We road along the bike path to the turnaround point and headed toward center city at 245pm. The return ride was comfortable.
At the Gavina Hotel, we chose the mall route to the shuttle bus rather than our original street route. The walking mall was 10-15 blocks long with both sides lined with shops and bar/restaurants. Many were nearly empty until we got within a block or two from the main town center. Here, we spied several people we identified as cruise passengers. We parked at the busses and waited for a bus which could carry our bikes. As this bus was filling, we noticed that most of the returnees at this time were ship’s crew. One pair brought a pair of the ship’s bikes to the bus. Apparently, most of the crew had time only for a walk around the town center and a trip for curios. But they seemed pleased.
I heartily recommend Iquique as a bicyclecruising destination. They say it never rains there. There are many level rides and some nearly impossible challenges for the animals among you. The views are great and the food matches it. Try it sometime.