April 13, 2009 GMT
Chile Two Laners

Marlen and Maritza, bless their little hearts, tell us not to come back to the Aquaterra Hotel until after 9:30 PM. Itīs our last night in Puerto Natales. When we do come in, chilled from the cold night, we are truly warmed by their "surprise". We are surrounded by sixteen candles, welcoming points of soft yellow light in a darked lounge. Otherwise, only the southern stars and moon light the room. By a black leather loveseat, made comfy with white sheepskins, sits a wee coffee table. On this mesa, catching the candlelight, sits two wine glasses. And a bottle of white wine, cold trickles of sweat still running down the sides. And what else, my God a variety of yummy cheeses and other delectable hors dīoeuvres. Our hearts, and our tummies are warmed indeed by the kindness of these ladies. Of course, Loreto and Rosita were in on it too. What hospitality and genuine thoughtfulness.

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On March 30, it is time to head north to warmer climes. We board the Navimag ferry for the four day journey north.

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It is with mixed feelings when we chug away from Puerto Natales. It has been home for the last month and it has been a very good one. Lots of friends helped me heal. As Marlen said so insightfully one day, sometimes it is better to have friends than money.

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The Navimag ferry, in spite of two 2000 HP engines, still must idle carefully through many narrow passages, this one a mere 80 metres wide. All passengers and hands are on deck to watch us pass through. To make it interesting, the incoming tide adds a current to the proceedings. I find all this quite interesting as I missed all this excitement on the way down, what with being confined to quarters by Captain Sciatica.

Out on deck I can smell damp salt that is the ocean air, the anorak penetrating, recently-from-the-South Pole wind, the diesel from the big engines, and cattle and sheep. The farm smell occasionally backdrafts to the fantail on the upper deck because there are three trailors of tightly packed critters parked on the open stern deck. They are so jammed they cannot turn more than their heads. How do they manage the 7 to 8 meter swells in the Gulf of Penas? I take seasick pills for the Gulf, and 3 squares a day to keep me amused; they donīt even get food or water for 4 days. Hope I donīt come back in my next life as a cow.

We dock in Puerto Montt at 7 PM, four days later. Still, we have to wait til 10 PM for our turn to unload. There is a heart stopping moment when it looks like Katieīs battery isnīt strong enough to start the engine, but, with jumper cables at the standby, Katieīs pride wonīt abide a deckhandīs help. Disembarking, we roll down the steel ramp, made glisteningly slick by a misting but steady drizzle, but make land without incident. Then itīs half an hour threading our way through the puzzle that is Puerto Monttīs civic plan and then out onto the highway. In the black that is the rain, the night and the highway, we ride, staring ahead like weīre driving inside a cow. Luckily, Walter is looking over us and we get to Puerto Varas and Hostel Compass del Sur safe and sound. A hot shower, a small bottle of wine, and a dry warm bed are the rewards for living another interesting day.

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As we head north we zag off the main arterial route of Chile, Ruta 5, to go into the Lakes District once more. Lovely, winding pastorial two laners take us through farm land, with towering araucaria, eucalyptus, pine and columnar poplars shading the pavement. The summerfallowed fields show dark soil, with an earthy aroma we can smell through open helmets. Very fertile, there is no doubt they can grow anything they want here. In valleys where the sun is limited, autumn grows here as well, for the leaves of the popular and other deciduous are turning orange and yellow. Dry, crinkled leaves swirl off the pavement as we wisk by.

Then, a mere 40 kms from us, we spot another column stretching into the sky. This one is black and rises straight up into the troposphere, before streaming downwards in a giant plume with the upper winds. We see it is rising from a monster volcano, the cone a solid white except for thin streaks running down its sides like black tears. Without much effort we can see from the mouth dull orange flames flashing against the backdrop of white steam and the black column of smoke and, we guess, ash. We spend the night perhaps a little closer to Volcan LLaime than Iīd like, but the residents of Curacautin say it just started today, and anyways it erupted like this last year. Not much comfort to a guy whoīs never seen an erupting volcano before, let alone slept by one. But Joyce loves it and isnīt the least fazed. Just like on the Navimag ferry in the big waves a few days ago: sheīs up there drinking coffee on the bridge with the captain while Iīm in my bunk in the near-death, fetal position. A matter of attitude.

IMG_1180 Plaza de Armas Chillan.11.JPG

Too few days of two laners later, think of Highway 1 and 101 in Oregon and California, we are in the small but lovely city of Chillan. With a Mediterranean climate, everything grows nearby, and evenings are made for strolling in shirtsleeves, even now in early fall. The Plaza de Armas, shaded and inviting, beckons to the vendadora and the compradora with all the trinkets for sale. As is typical for Chillean cities, the old and young enjoy the heart of their city, and of their culture. On a hill near or in town, usually there is a towering figure in white of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. I find it an interesting statement of our times, of where traditional meets technological, for now the revered statutes to Christianity are surrounded by microwave and cell towers.

IMG_5081 Chillan.11.JPG

We book in at Hotel Las Cardenales, a clean, quiet little jem with covered parking next to our room. Inside the hotel and courtyard everything is shiny & clean, with liberal use of blue and white tile - walkways, walls, hotel room bathrooms. While unpacking, the hotel senora brings us the 4 cold beer we asked for. We sit outside our room, in the cool shade and enjoy our "new" life back on the road. Songbirds chatter away above us. We hear the tink of the bikes cooling off, the faint tarmac & rubber smell of warm tires catches the nose, but the nearby aquamarine swimming pool catches our attention the most. Life after sciatica sure feels sweet.

IMG_1181a Katie gets piston rings.11.JPG

We are in Chillan because this is where the KTMChile dealer is. Katie needs a new battery and the charging system checked but the engine has some troubling symptoms so I ask Alex, the mechanic, to look into that as well. Nelson, having spent time in B.C. can speak English well so nothing is lost in translation.

Turns out Katie needs new piston rings, cam chain tensioner, valves done, complete overall on the carburetors (they think itīs the Peruvian gasoline from my last trip in South America) and lots of other internal stuff, not to mention the gel battery. The Visa card takes a beating but thereīs no denying Katie runs smooth as silk when sheīs back on the road again.

IMG_1181 KTMChile msc Alex Nelson.11.JPG

Alex, middle, is a wizard with the tools, Nelson is the marketing manager and I am the happy owner of a healthy KTM 950 once again. And I get a free KTM Chile hat and decals. One KTMChile decal has to go on the Jessie panniers, of course. In the excitement, even Joyce puts one on the Bumblebeeīs (aka Chicatita) panniers.

IMG_1182 Pelluhue.11.JPG

Then itīs away from 25C to the foggy coast and high teens for the next few days. Black sand greets the Easter Weekend holidayer from Santiago at Pelluhue. We stop at some cabanas for rent but they are full. But the owners say our sister has a cabana across town. Come, follow our car and weīll lead you over there. Fifteen minutes later we are throwing our gear into the bedroom of a cute little cliff-side cottage with a panoramic view of the Pacific, and being served wine and fresh-out-of-the-oven empanadas. Visit Elizabeth Rios or anyone in her family in Pelluhue if you want typical but the ever remarkable Chillean hospitality.

After another day of sweeping curves and smooth pavement two laners, heading north along the coast, we hit the dirt roads near Laguna Torca National Park. What a mistake. Iīve never ridden on dustier road. Bull dust in lingering, blinding clouds on a narrow, winding logging road, the air held still by walls of eucalyptus forest bordering the ditch, made worse by every Chillean auto south of Santiago roaring down the road like on a mission from God. Pat and Sho had written about these roads three years ago - wish Iīd have paid more attention to their advice. Itīs a couple of polvo-white motocyclistas that emerge back onto pavement at the end of the day. Long rays of the afternoon sun encourage us to find a hotel as soon as possible. We stay at a forgettable hotel in Bucalemu. Might have been nice 20 years ago, today itīs as feeble as itīs shower. But the water gurgling out of the shower head does turn our dust into mud then into watery streaks. Eventually we do come clean.

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The next day is another glorious experience on made-for-motorcycle roads. We hit Navidad about lunch time (which is 1 to 3 PM in South America), then out to the coast to the very scenic Boca del Rio. But alas, picture postcard perfect as it it, there is no place to stay in the wee pueblito.

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So itīs on to San Antonio, Chileīs busiest port (Valparaiso is second, according to the San Antonio folks anyway). The Semana Santa (Easter) weekend traffic is bumper to bumper with all the families returning home. An traffic accident on the only bridge into town has cars lined up for miles in the 30C heat. We turn off early and enter Rocas de Santo Domingo, a community of million dollar homes, all with spectacular hillside locations high above the ocean. Gates and walls guard yards with lush green lawns, exotic flowering shrubs, and houses with panorama views through floor-to-ceiling windows. Porche, Mercedes and Volvo sit on decorated tile driveways. This place is so wealthy they donīt even allow Hilton Hotels here.

We idle around a bit but feel dusty and out of place so we make for the older part of Conspicuous-Wealth-Ville. Here we find the one and only, but thatīs because it was here first 70 years ago, Hotel Rocas de Santos Domingo. We negotiate down from 75,000 pesos to 50,000 for a nice suite overlooking the bay. Thatīs $107Cdn for a night - a whole dayīs budget, but given the long weekend traffic jam and everything else, we take it. I rip down to the tiny supermercado and buy a bottle of cold beer while Joyce washes some clothes. At least the beerīs still cheap at $2.00 a litre. Nothing washes the road dust off a parched throat like a cold beer.

Posted by Murray Castle at April 13, 2009 10:40 PM GMT

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