March 05, 2009 GMT
Get The Ferryitis

Our first day on the road with Katie and the Bumblebee is like freedom incarnate. Finally, after 38 (!) days of waiting - either for the bikes to arrive or my sciatica to depart, we´re off.

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The bikes sing their contented one-note song as we cruise along the highway, the Chilean sun is glorious, the countryside welcoming, the horizons generously distant. Ramon had helped map out a route that threaded through the vineyards of Casablanca south to Melipilla. It is a good one, for it is a narrow, two-laner, more interested in having the traveller see everything than get somewhere in a hurry.

On the outskirts of Melipilla, while pulled over and studing the map for a clue on how to get through town and find (unmarked) Ruta 66, up pulls Gabriel Peralta. Gabriel owns a fruit exportation business with offices in Chile and California. We immediately accept his offer to lead us through the maze and before you can say "Bob´s your uncle" we´re out the other side and on the road to Lago Rapel.

Now I ask you, when was the last time you did that for some stranger in your own country? It seems Chileans naturally greet strangers with arms outstretched ready to hug; we in North America greet strangers with arm outstretched as if to say "halt, don´t come any closer".

After an afternoon of cruising 70 to 80 km/hr through the rolling hills, surrounded by vineyards, orchards, pastures and farms, we arrive at Lago Rapel. A quiet cabana awaits among the eucalyptus. Outdoor swimming pool. Beer outside our room on the shaded veranda. Supper in the restaurant mere steps away.

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Next day we work our way south, as we will over the next few days, always conscious we have 1136 kms to go to get to the Navimag ferry in Puerto Montt - by 09:30 Monday morning.

Get-The-Ferryitis I hate, for it plagues us with its incessant ghost whisperings to make the miles. We try not to listen: we want to truly enjoy the moment, or to sidetrack, which as my friends know, is one of my favorite weaknesses.

After joining the highly efficient Autopista Ruta Cinco Sur, we rip along at interstate speeds, stopping only at toll booths to pay a buck each for the privilege of using a super highway. At a modern service station cum outdoor patio coffee shop, we visit with young motorcyclist Fernando. We join forces and he leads for the rest of the day to Los Angeles. Dark clouds build as we motor south. By 5 PM a cold south headwind is driving rain right at us. We are warm behind windshields and Gortex clothes; Fernando, with his jeans and thin leather jacket, sits exposed on his naked Honda 250. Still, he pulls off at the L.A. exit, and with blue, trembling fingers, kindly points out our path into town. Then our hypothermic friend climbs aboard his little bike and makes off towards a dark horizon, with still 100 kms to go before dark. We smile and wave goodby, but silently worry for his safety.

An hour of confusion in Los Angeles and we finally have the bikes and ourselves safely settled for the night.

In the morning, a warm shower is not to be had: it´s cold water or nothing. Joyce just washs her face. Smart. I grit my teeth and go for the agua frio ducha. Bloody hell, it takes me an hour to warm up!

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Today it´s backroads day, and we wind along narrow two-laners again, paved and totally charming. Golden stubble fields, cattle ranches and clear cut forests roll by in the morning. In the afternoon it´s lush green sheep pastures, wooden, german style homes, blue mountain lakes, and distant snow-capped volcanoes. The narrow roads, while fun to ride, leave no opportunity to pull off and capture the many "National Geographic" photo ops.

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We spend a couple of too-brief days in the scenic Lakes District of Villarrica, Pucon and Panguipulli. There´s something for everyone here: extreme sports for the 20 something crowd; thermal hot springs, fine dining and wood cabins with lakeside views for the antigua crowd. Blooming roses line the boulevards in town. Generous spashs of colour from fresh fruit, flower and vegetable stands add to the summer palette. The happy sounds of music from verano festivals drift though the evening streets.

We arrive in Puerto Varas the day before we need to be on the ferry. Compass del Sur is a fine little hospedaje, with parking in the back for our motos. But things are going too well. I fix that by twisting my back Sunday afternoon. The dreaded sciatica comes roaring back. Monday morning, as we pack to ride to the ferry, Joyce´s bike won´t start. We have 3 hours to go 25 kms but we´ve got to get the Bumblebee fired up. Push starting doesn´t work. Doesn´t help my back either. Now we really have Get The Ferryitis!!

Then Joyce spots a Mercedes Benz shop and goes for help. The owner comes out, tells us he loves motorcycles and immediately takes command. Back to his shop we wheel the BMW; he´s all over it like hair on an ape. Turns out we left the "Park Lights" on (why would BMW think that was a useful option?) and killed the new battery stone dead. While the mechanicing is going on, I hobble back to the hospedaje and phone Navimag to beg for more time to book in. They give us til 1 PM.

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Needless to say, it is a true ClusterF... but we make the boat. We sail at 4 PM and I spend the next four days and three nights confined to our cabin. Thank God there are only two of us in a four person cabin: a VW Bug has more room.

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Joyce roams the deck, makes friends with the 200 plus on board, including the ship´s captain and has the time of her life. We get four days of great weather and the scenery is magical. The "Inside Passage" allows grand views of islands a mere 9 iron away. I look out the porthole from time to time and entertain myself with some Tylenol 3´s. On Night Two, the dreaded crossing in open sea through the Gulf of Penas goes well as the seas are only three metres (last crossing they were eight metres apparently). Still, in the middle of the night I can feel the bow shudder as it re-enters the water on its downward plunge. Luckily for this land lubber I´ve got good drugs and all the rockin´ and rollin´in our dark little cabin doesn´t bother me.

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The sailing has saved us riding 2400 kms on paved and gravel roads, and avoided the dreaded Patagonia cross winds. We arrive in Puerto Natales at 5 PM. By 7:30 PM, the bikes are released from the tiedown chains and we´re free to disembark.

A cool ocean breeze greets us as we roll ashore. Welcome to Puerto Natales, Patagonia and 13 Celsius. Need a place to stay, a doctor and some drugs, in that order. Puerto Natales becomes our home for the next few weeks while I try to recover one more time.

Posted by Murray Castle at March 05, 2009 04:29 PM GMT

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