If in a journey an unavoidable/unexpected detour should present itself, itīs best to accept the detour as part of the trip and enjoy it as best one can. I know those words are true, I just didnīt think I would have to live them so early.
Normally, the first thing I think about in the planning stage is what great scenery Iīm going to see, the activities about to be undertaken, and maybe even how lovely the weather will be. What isnīt on my short list is how la gente, the people, will be a critical part of the journey, other than giving overnite shelter or directions to the next destination perhaps. In all my preparations for this trip, I did not consider the first leg would be all about the detour and la gente and little else.
But in the photo above are three of the most important people on my unexpected detour (AKA 26 Days With Sciatica). Ramon, who drove us to hospitals, therapists, drug and grocery stores; Anita, his wife, who provided english-spanish translation over the phone to various health care providers; and of course, Joyce, who takes such good care of me rain or shine.
Two other Chileans stand out like no other as well. Claudio Guzman, a Shiatzo massage therapist (not sure what that means but he did help me heal). Senor Positivo - if there ever was a man alive that fits the description, Claudioīs it. He gives us a delicious bottle of vino dulce when say goodbye. We enjoy his most thoughtful gift for 4 nights on the road.
And the equally skillful, compassionate and knowledgeable physiotherapist, Consuelo Jaegar. Literally, I couldnīt have been in better hands. If the beginning of the journey meant spending time on an unexpected detour, well then thank God it was in Chile. I am so obliged to the la gente here.
Incredibly, Consuelo arranges for a tour of the historic 4 masted sailing ship, Esmeralda. This is the ship all Chilean sailors must train on. Consueloīs friend, Francisco, a lieutenant in the navy, instructed cadets for 8 months on a trans Pacific voyage to New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan. The tour is incredible and a true highlight of our time in Valparaiso. Thanks again to the lovely Consuelo.
Finally on February 18th we are ready to leave Valpo. Ramon and Ube drive us to Vina del Mar where our bikes have been awaiting us, safely stored in the basement of the Hotel Ankara. Hugs all around, almost tears. Ramon presents Murray with a beautiful Alpaca wool toque. One last photo of Ube astride the Bumble Bee and we off ... destination 1136 km South, Puerto Montt and the Navimag Ferry to Patagonia.
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, weīre off.
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 "Bobīs your uncle" weīre 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, donīt 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.
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: itīs 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!
Today itīs 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 itīs 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.
We spend a couple of too-brief days in the scenic Lakes District of Villarrica, Pucon and Panguipulli. Thereīs 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, Joyceīs bike wonīt start. We have 3 hours to go 25 kms but weīve got to get the Bumblebee fired up. Push starting doesnīt work. Doesnīt 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; heīs 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.
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.
Joyce roams the deck, makes friends with the 200 plus on board, including the shipīs 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 3īs. 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 Iīve got good drugs and all the rockinī and rollinīin our dark little cabin doesnīt bother me.
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 weīre 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.
Hey, this is great! Iīm back on two wheels! Too bad itīs a wheelchair and not Katie, but itīs a beginning. So itīs training wheels for the next few weeks. But at least now I can get around. For amusement I can worry the locals and stray dogs gangs. After being confined to quarters for the last weeks itīs great to be outdoors again. Note I am sporting my alpaca toque (the thoughtful and very useful gift from Ramon), I have my baston - my cane - handy when we have to 4x4 it, and a baseball cap from the Evangelistas ferry. What all well dressed dudes wear here if they are anybody.
My new wheels are the result of Joyce walking around town (population 20,000) searching to rent a wheelchair. The local hospital said, sure, take one for free and just bring it back when your merido is feeling better. What kindness! But thatīs Chileans for you, especially here in Patagonia.
The good folks know they could live elsewhere, but chose to live at the fin del mundo because they like living in semi-isolated communities. The hardness of the landscape and the weather encourage folks to stick together, to share, where family, friends, and even strangers are important.
Between "go-for" missions to get drugs, groceries, emails, etc, for her crippled partner, Miss P finds time to capture her impressions of this part of the world. Besides diary notes, her journal is full of maps, brochure clippings, rubbings, sketches, watercolours and colorful postal stamps. Itīs a true work of art, unique and very interesting. But thatīs my partner: sheīs happiest when sheīs creating something.
What she sees in part is this. Puerto Natales sits on a small, flat plain just meters above the sea. The surrounding terrain is windswept, grass covered, with low hedges but without trees. Houses, typically made from brick and corrogated tin, sit huddled together and close the ground, like the hedges that seem to shrink from the cold west wind. A semicircle of mountains forms the horizon, most rising 2000 meters above our little town. On a clear day, we can look 80 kms up a fiord to the northwest and see the 3000 meter Cerro Paine Grande with a shining white glacier draped from its shoulders. I should mention most days usually have clear periods - the air, fresh and pure, is the breath of Antarctica. The weather changes more rapidly and often than a Kananaskis spring day.
Days can have warm sun, bracing rain then calm all within a couple of hours. Quite often at night, we are lulled to sleep by the drumming of rain magnified on corrogated steel roofs. As I lie in my cosy warm bed in the Aquaterra Hotel, in the dark early hours, I ask myself again, why would anyone want to ride a motorcycle down here? Travellers tell us of 100 km crosswinds while riding the gravelled Ruta 40, out in the exposed rainshadow part of Argentina, some 2 hours east from here. There is a good reason why some roads are less travelled, voices say. Then I fall asleep and quit listening to the 3 a.m. worry-gremlins.
Puerto Natales used to supply cattle and sheep estancias and act as main port of entry in this region. Some of the ranches served were quite literally the size of small countries. For example, these grand-scale cattle operations helped feed the soldiers of World War I. Like so many one-industry towns of old, the town had to remake its raison dīetre; nowadays, the main business is tourism (Torres del Paine National Park is an hour away).
The superb staff at our adopted home at Aquaterra Hotel take exceptional care of us. A jug of water with a leaf of garden fresh mint brought to our room unexpectedly, our dinners made with thoughtful, extra touches, countless phone calls made on our behalf to help us, and always a cheery "buenos dias" each day. Rosita, far left, keeps our room spotless, Loreto, far right, does double duty as receptionist and phone call maker. Annie and Jackie, below, are true chefs and create incredible meals.
Marlen, far left, also sets the gold standard for customer service as receptionist and restaurant hostess. It should be mentioned too, that in 2003, Marlen climbed Aconcagua. Thatīs the highest mountain in South America, with a summit near 7000 meters.
The lady that has the most impact on our lives is Maritza, far right. No ordinary massage therapist, Maritza has the same skill, infectiously positive attitude and compassion as Claudio, our massage therapist friend in Valparaiso. Slowly, day after day, week after week, she works the knotted muscles, stretches the inflammed sciatica nerve fibres and releases the burning pain from my right leg. This damned enfermedad is reluctant to release its grip but has no choice under her strong, healing hands. I must admit though, never has any woman caused me so much physical pain. But itīs the only way, so I just turn up my PDA so that the MP3 music hopefully drowns out my whimpering & crying.
But because of her encouragement to positively visualize the future, I now see a new picture. Joyce and the mardarin yellow Bumblebee are leading on some wickedly scenic gravel road, the grand Los Andes off to our left. Katie and I are following. Iīm standing on the peg with my right leg, left leg stuck out behind like a circus performer. And we ride off as a welcoming sun rises, illuminating our dust a pastel rose as it curls up behind us.
It is time to take a one-day bus tour of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. Why? I`ve got a bad case of cabin fever, having been confined to quarters so long with this damn sciatica. As a kind of trial, we load the wheelchair and ourselves onto the Comapa TurBus and head off. Not surprisingly, we thoroughly enjoy the 12 hours looking out the window, walking around a bit and seeing wilderness, glaciers, real mountains and critters up close and personal once again.
Torres del Paine contains very little vegetation taller than a hiker. At itīs leisure, El Viento blows up to 120 kms/hr. and can strike down all but the hardiest trekkers mid-stride. We strike one of the handful of days per year when El Viento decides to give it a rest. The park is calm - almost as unheard of as winning the lottery.
There are two hiking circuits, complete with well appointed refugios (staffed mountain hostels). The five day "W" circuit can be hiked with only a daypack, the wealthy can chose comfort each night with a warm bed, hot shower and 3 squares - the lunch packed to go, just like they do in the Lakes District in the UK.
For those with hormones, not money, to burn, there is the more rugged 7 - 10 day "complete circuit" around the perimeter of the park, staying each night in designated but user-friendly campsites. Only the pumas (mountain lions) and the fierce winds and/or storms can be unfriendly.
Besides the National Geo. picture perfect mountain peaks of the three Torres (towers), further along the chain are the three Cuernos (horns); equally difficult to climb, by the way. The horns are light colored with a black top. The geological explanation we get is the sedimentary rock was there first. Then igneous rock formed when lava flowed up fault lines within the sedimentary. Weathering and glaciers left the present two-tone design. It was either that or PFM: two colors of rock and no one knows why. Geologists, like lawyers, never agree on these "which came first" kinds of things. But really, the Cuernos look cool and thatīs all we tourists really care about.
Poor olīKatie and Bumblebee. Ignored for weeks in the backyard of the hotel, the battery on Katie decides to have its own enfermedad. After charging the gel battery at a local shop, we get the bikes fired up and ride īem north of Puerto Natales for a "battery-charging" run. The open air feels glorious. Fresh, with a scent of sage and dry grass. There is little mistaking that smell of clean but bracing mountain air as the crosswind buffets our bikes. That kind of recently-frigid air that slides off glaciers and flows like invisible liquid across neighbouring grasslands. I feel it like an icecube across the back of my neck, in the gap between collar and helmet.
Later, while refueling back in town, the attendant, a jovial senora, jokes that Joyceīs bike should be called "Chicatita". Joyce agrees immediately. Bumblebeeīs Latino AKA may stick: she does look like a "cute little girl".
Having successfully passed the first test, we decide to strike out further. Ushuaia beckons like the sirens calling to Ulysses in the Odyssey. The decision to rent a car for a week and do the Patagonia/Tierra del Fuego/Fin del Mondo circuit makes sense, given our options. Summer has ebbed faster than my sciatica. We either go by ignoble auto or not at all.
We rent a superb little Samsung SM3 (thatīs a CAR, not a TV, and itīs built by Nissan). On the bright side, it is a peppy little five speed, has a CD player - and a heater. And as our friend Michelle Malmberg reassures in her email, "youīre still travelling on a total of four wheels and youīll arrive with better hair".
Three hours and two Sarah Brightman CDīs later and weīre in Punta Arenas, population 156,000. By contrast, Puerto Natales, our home for the last 3 weeks, entertains a modest 15,500 honest and friendly folk. So we are in the Big City now, muchachos! Like its shoreline, The City has the ebb and surge look of one too many economic changes in tide. Once a mandatory stop for ships transiting the Straits of Magellan on the way to Points East/West, Punta Arenas dearly felt the blow of the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. The Big Ditch made a big difference to the lads with the Captain Sparrow earrings driving the square riggers and early steamers. "New York to San Fran, take yer pick, me hearties : will she be 22,500 km* by the Straits, or 9,500 km* by that new fangled Panama Canal?" (*Ed note: nautical miles have been expressed in kilometers for the benefit of the distance-conversion challenged).
OK, so since then, what with wars, the vagaries of fortune with cattle and sheep estancias, the discovery of petroleum, advance of ecotourism, ya ya ya, Punta Arenasīs fortunes have been up and down like the proverbial drawers of a ..... never mind, there could be young innocent minds like Luc Brown reading this..
We pick fifteen stones - no, make that "Carefully Select" 15 stones from the very historic Estrecho de Magallanes. Why? Ferdinand Magellan (his mom called him Fernão de Magalhães), a Portuguese sailor in service to the Spanish King, became the first European to navigate the strait in 1520, during his global circumnavigation voyage. The South American spanish call him Fernando Magallanes. Luckily no one thought, that lived anyway, to call him "Chicatita".
I digress. Nearly 500 years ago, the big M sailed through these very waters with five ships and 237 men. After three years, in 1522, the remains of one ship and 18 men arrived back in Spain - Fred wasnīt one of them, sorry to say. Sounds like my kind of odds. Anyway, the significance of all this, dear reader, is that those stones I have chosen probably were present when history sailed by. If presented to friends as a historic reminder of all that brave exploration means, then each stone represents all that is good about mankind. Iīm thinking of engraving "E de M" on the face of each stone. And Michelleīs young son Lucas gets the first one.
After a quick couple of days in Sandy Point, as the Limies used to call it, we leave Punta Arenas for the ferry across Estrecho de Magallanes. El Viento blows gayly across the hood of our TV cum CAR at a popular 70 to 80 kms per hour. Hey, same speed as us. We stop along the side of the highway so I can hop out for a whiz. Bad idea. Makes me think of Roger Millerīs lyrics of "the hitchhikerīs pant legs go whooptie-whoop as the semiīs go drivinī by". My pant legs and jacket arms flap just as crazily in the Patagonia breeze. I have to lean into the wind so Joyce can take a photo with the Straits of Magellan in the background.
We cross the Straits of Magellan at the first narrows at the east end of the strait. The ferry, similar in size to ones on Kootenay Lake, BC, powers our three-dozen-vehicles cargo across the wind-raked Estrecho with little regard for the weather. Wave spray crashes over the 10 meter high bow. Those of us foolish enough to stand out in the elements get a wet surprise. My hotdog suddenly tastes salty. My sunglasses have streaks of agua de Magdallanes which trickles onto my jacket. To a person, we retreat to the enclosed passenger "lounge" onboard. For the next 20 minutes, to hell with history.
We cross the Straits of Magellan in a long 20 minutes and bounce ashore onto dry land. Dry land, what an understatement - there is more moisture in popcorn. Dry, flat and arid in the north, Tierra del Fuego, more than twice the size of Vancouver Island, has mountains, sub-antarctic forests of beech and low ground cover in the extreme south. Our little Samsung TVcumCAR rattles over the gravel road as we head south to Rio Grande, Argentina (ownership of the island is divided between Chile and Argentina).
For roadside company, we have small herds of guanacos to wave at as we pass, and nandus, half size ostriches. Neither can be domesticated so they run free over the landscape. Foxes show their faces occasionally. The most notable birds are the black condors circling overhead. Also there are small gaggles of geese here and there, but dressed in mottled grey, and looking a little lost. Unrestricted, the wind blows here too with relentless abandon. Neither feather nor fur seems to notice.
In Rio Grande we stay the Yawar Hospedaje, the best bargain mini-hotel yet for $50 Cdn. Not only new and fully equipped but we are the only guests. We stay two nights.
Heading south, we hit pavement all the way to Ushuaia. Thatīs new. Less than 3 years ago it was still ripio (gravel). Garibaldi Pass marks the divide where, to the south, old forests live in the mountain valleys. The old beech trees have pale green moss hanging from the branches like silk scarves. Two adventure bikers pass by on BMW Dakars heading north. Itīs spitting rain and canīt be more than 11 C. I pretend not to notice but inside I feel my ego twinge a little.
Ushuaia, another hour later, has the air of a frontier town that has found ecotourism and saved itself from a slow death. Cruise ships depart for Antarctic tours here. Even Charles Darwin stopped here with his ship the Beagle in 1832.
For the last minute adventurer shoppers, stores sell everything from nuts to Nikon lenses. A Banff with a maritime flavour, it even has ski hills nearby. Because of the maritime influence, the temperatures here hover, on average, from zero in winter to +10 C in summer. Even though in sunshine the air has a chill, a salty damp feel even, the town itself has a vibrancy that ensures the middle aged adventure tourist, many wearing Tilley and Ex Oficio clothes better suited to African safaris, will not grow cold or unentertained. Because of the eclectic energy, pleasantly surprising to both of us, Joyce feels the locals chose to live here. I think itīs a former harpoon whaler meets hippy enterpreneur meets ecotourism goldmine kind of thing. We think Dave Clark would like it here. But not one damn guitar strap for sale.
After paying 100 pesos ($33 Cdn) at the gate, we enter Parque Nacional de Tierra del Fuego, a park of scenic little lakes, 30 ft beech trees, long fiords and stands of long green grass. We arrive at Lapataia in the early afternoon. Itīs a place, not a town, a place where the road ends. If driving south in South America, one can go no further south than here. It is, in that regard, el Fin del Mondo, the end of the world. OK, so itīs a little theatrical, and untrue, but a charming thought nevertheless. Joyce and I pose by the sign for the obligatory photo, then do a wee walkabout to study the peaceful but hardy flora and fauna. There is a virgin cleanness to the place, a faint scent of green life evident, but carried in the air with a rawness that is familiar. Like camping near the Columbia Icefield in September.
On our return trip to the Yawar Hospedaje, "base camp" for Samsung adventurers like ourselves, we discuss the pros and cons of riding Ruta 40 on our motorcycles. Over the next three days we waffle back and forth. Ego vs logic, health vs climate, the classic struggle continues.
Last on our Gringo Trail list is El Calafate, gateway to the Perito Moreno Glacier. We drive two days north across windswept and empty Patagonia, lonely estancias scattered every couple hundred kilometers apart. It is big country - and did I mention utterly vast and empty?
El Calafate is an Argentinian Canmore. Backpackers, adventure bikers, seniors on luxury bus tours, cripples with sciatica, weīre all here. Wood carved signs, highlights painted in bright primary colors, swing overhead the crowded sidewalks, bushy and bright green pine trees shade the main boulevard.
The Perito Moreno glacier flows into Lago Argentino, apparently one of the few glaciers left still advancing. It enters the water at sixty meters high and 5 km wide, truly an impressive sight. At the viewpoint, visiters can look 11 km up the valley to its origins off the main glacial mantle. Sharp cracks like rifle shots signal another slab calving off and plunging into the ice blue waters below.
On our one-day drive south back to Puerto Natales, we hash out the Ruta Cuarenta option again. I even do a risk analysis on it - likelihood and consequences. Jayson Nelson would be proud. The score comes up with the odds against us. Damn, sometimes I hate logic and science.
We spot a strange object on a fence post. It is our friend zorro but looking a little parched. We wonder if the landowners put up the desicated carcass as a warning to zorroīs relatives. Perhaps they donīt like foxes here anymore than they do at home.
By the time we arrive back in our adopted home of Puerto Natales, we have nearly made up our mind. But then the next day we take another "battery charging" run north. Black clouds, rain slanting in the wind, stalk us from the nearby mountains. Temp mid-day 9 C. All clothes on and after an hour itīs clear Iīm getting cold soaked. Itīs a wonderful spirit-charging experience for us to be on Katie and the Bumblebee again but the signs are obvious, even to my stubborn ego. We book the Navimag ferry for northern climes and start packing for the sailing Monday, March 30. Regretfully, Ruta Cuarenta and the Carretera Austral will have to wait for another time.
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.
On March 30, it is time to head north to warmer climes. We board the Navimag ferry for the four day journey north.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next HU Events
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- Aus Queensland: Oct 3-6
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- Aus VIC: Oct 24-26
- NEW! South Africa: Nov 14-16
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