What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down
("When the musicīs over" - The Doors)
Fences, fences, fences... a beautiful land cut up and tied down with fences. So much lush wilderness rendered inaccessible, unlovable, behind private fences. But Iīm getting ahead of myself.
Looking back to our short stint in Bolivia I just wanted to say this: We are in no way athletes or even particularly good cyclists. But we were psyched up to make the 500km stretch of more or less brutal offroad. We were prepared and determined - which made it far easier than we expected. I am still impressed by how we plowed through the lagoon route to Salar de Uyuni and attribute 90% of it to the awesome strength of the human mind.
Onwards with the story:
After replacing our broken tent zips with brand new ones kindly FedExed to us by Hilleberg USA
and freeing Ping from the urban cage she was doomed to endlessly cycle around in
we feel ready to leave Santiago.
I was cycling along a secondary road just south of Santiago when I noticed a chap on a wheelchair on the pavement - he seemed to be tending to a stand, selling something or other to passers-by. But when he saw me his face lit up - he raised his arm in greeting and with a great smile said "Good travels!" (in Spanish)
Such a simple & powerful gesture. He really meant it. He really hoped he was there cycling with us. And he was really happy to see people enjoying the simple things he could not enjoy.
I smiled and waved back, said "Gracias" or something equally uninspired. What more was there to say?
We head south, certain that as before we will be able to get a lift on a truck heading to Valdivia or beyond, saving us from the agony of cycling hundreds of miles when we are running out of time and have not even seen Patagonia yet...
Unfortunately it was not to be.
Falling in ditches next to the Ruta 5 does not stop us.
Neither does selecting the right cuppa.
The problem is that we are too close to Santiago, there is too much traffic and nobody will take us. We attempt to thumb a ride for hours but cars, 4x4s and even our trusty old companions on the Ruta 5, the truckers, ignore us. Feeling slightly insulted we freecamp in a field and attempt to find a bus to take us south the next day.
Turns out that most bus companies donīt want to talk to us because transporting bikes is "muy complicado"... We find a company that consistently says "no problem" for the bikes and get a ticket for their next bus to Valdivia, a few hundred kilometers to the south.
After waiting for 8 hours for the bus to arrive (we mustīve just missed the previous one...) we are told there is no room for our bikes but not to worry - another bus also heading south does have room and can take them. So we leave Rancagua on one bus, with the bikes and all our luggage in another bus. Quite disconcerting so far...
After a few hours we reach Temuco, the intermediary station where we are supposed to get our bikes and stuff from the other bus. We do, and are relieved to see everything there, only to be told that our bus still has no space and by the way they are already late with all these shenanigans and need to go.
So we are left outside the Temuco bus terminal, with 10 pieces of luggage on the tarmac and two bikes, watching the back of our bus disappear towards Valdivia.
After a quick and easy partial refund we do the rounds of all bus companies to be told consistently that our case is a complicated one and they cannot really take us. We ride to the train station to be told there are no passenger trains from Temuco. Just as we were getting slightly desperate the security guards of the train station tell us about an "other" bus terminal, operated solely by JAC buses. "They will take you", they say. Indeed, we find the terminal and the JAC people donīt bat an eyelid when we ask for tickets for our bikes, this time to Puerto Montt - further south than Valdivia. The reason for this change in plans is that we realise bussing it from A to B is hard and we will go as south as possible now that we have the chance.
So, as if by magic, within 72 hours of leaving Santiago we disembark from our JAC bus in Puerto Montt. The landscape has changed completely. Gone are the arid flats of the desert, with its grey golden colours dominating. Here, lush green forests dominate the landscape. Itīs a lovely sunny day. We stock up on provisions from the nearest grocery store, strike up a random conversation with a (probably) Croatian elderly lady who embarks on a ramble (probably) about Communism and then are off! Back on the bikes again, we head SW and soon reach the island of Chiloe.
Over the following days we explore Chiloe, kindly hosted by locals who donīt mind us camping on their land at all.
But, the keeping up with the Jonesī phenomenon ensures there is fierce competition for the most imaginative decoration.
Most secondary roads of Chiloe are loose gravel which makes cycling hard work:
But the beauty of the place cannot be disputed, even when youīve been pushing the bike uphill and are swimming in your own sweat.
We get lost in the many little roads of Chiloe, mostly following the coastline from north to south, stopping for fresh bread and yummy cake, visiting lonesome beaches and having lunch next to itchy horses.
We stay in a rather posh (for this tripīs standards) B&B in Tenaun, admiring the fa-nta-stic food served by the lady of the house (esp. the breakfast which she was unwise enough to invite us to share with her family...unwise because after we'd finished with it, the family had to eat plain rolls with little else!) and going "meh" with another UNESCO World Heritage wooden church of Chiloe:
We then move on to Dalcahue, a slightly larger village with a fantastic top-of-the-hill (and impeccably clean) campsite where I have no idea what gets into me and I feel adventurous enough to try the local delicacy: "Curanto".
Do I look unimpressed? I don't do seafood. Another pack of cookies polished off...
Pingīs brain on the other hand is undeterred by classical economics notions like "sunk cost" so she feels she has to polish off the Curranto since "we paid for it!" - the result is a (not wholly unexpected) allergic reaction which gives her a difficult night and a slight Yoda resemblance:
We push on fast enough for Ping to manage to unseat her bikeīs chain (again), thus having the messy task of putting it back on
Typical tea time in a rather stylish campsite in Achao, Isla Quinchao (just off Chiloe):
...and one of our usual yummy meals. I do believe we are quite high in the global gourmet scale of cyclocamping travellers:
Returning to the main island, we visit the largest town, Castro.
We make the mistake - again - of following LonelyPlanetīs recommendation for "good food" and get the most miserable club sandwich Iīve had the misfortune to be served...
As per usual when we are in a largish place we hit the Internet Cafes ("ciber" as they are called in Chile) and are shocked by the state most of them are in... I mean look at this place! They are phone booths converted to "Internet points" in which one can barely breathe!
But enough of this techie stuff, back to the trip:
As I alluded to earlier, Chile has a fencing problem. One sees all this beautiful countryside idly sitting there, and itīs impossible to walk on it, camp on it, enjoy it in any way because it is extensively-to-the-point-of-absurdity fenced!
Our luggage as soon as itīs neatly propped inside our tentīs porch - before we open them and the place starts looking like a looted department store. Yes, we carry all these on the bikes.
We get a ticket for a ferry that will take us all the way to Patagonia straight from the southern tip of Chiloe, which means we have two days to spare - fantastic! We make the best of them by visiting the Chiloe National Park, a rather pretty but not-too-organised-or-maintained area.
We inquire about a two-day hike at the local ranger office and get given vague instructions that mention nothing of having to walk in the Pacific ocean
...or that the refugio is locked and deserted, or that some trails are unmaintained to the point of being dangerous:
So we camp next to the beach at Cole-Cole (luckily the toilets are unlocked so we have only-slightly-saline water which is OK to drink after purification)
...and of course, map the bloominī trail so that the next people who decide to tackle it have the option of getting this information for free on their GPS.
The next day we head back and, already having walked about 20 kilometers, decide to take the bus everyone has been talking about for the last part of the slog back to Cucao. We donīt have proper backpacks and carrying the essentials for a two-day hike in our bicycle-pannier-turned-backpack contraption has been rather unpleasant.
"The bus" turns out to be a packed-to-the-brim pickup truck. The driver creates some space by opening the back flap of the cargo area and having us stand on it, with another guy, while holding on to a piece of string for dear life.
After riding the length of the beach like this and paying twice as much as locals (which always makes me feel welcome as a tourist), we hop on a real bus that takes us back to our campsite, where the bikes and the rest of our gear (including my sleeping bag...) have been waiting for us.
A few hot chocolates later we are ready to hit the road. We enjoy the day drawing to a close as we ride as far south as we can
...and get to Quellon, the port at the southern tip of Chiloe, the next day.
The tsunami signs are artistic as ever:
Our ferry to Puerto Chacabuco in Patagonia is supposed to leave at 22:00 - being prudent about the whole thing we are in Quellon at 17:00. As soon as we get to the port we notice a printed A4 stuck to the inside of the ticket office saying "Boat delayed due to wind, will be here around 1am". (in Spanish, of course)
So we have a few hours to kill... we visit Kilometre Zero of Ruta 5 (part of the Pan-American Highway)
and then seek shelter from the rain and cold in an Internet cafe, the owners of which are kind enough to let us park the bikes inside AND stay until after midnight! It has a working toilet and computers as well - truly the best specimen of Cibers in Chile we have seen so far.
The "Alejandrina" shows up around 1am but loading her is extremely slow for some reason... we end up embarking by 03:30, properly cold and exhausted, which helps us sleep instantly in the jampacked passenger hall (there are no cabins).
This is what the passenger hall looks like after the first stop (12 hours into the trip), where thankfully most people get off.
We carry on for another 30-something hours, picking up yummy fruit and vegetables from a truck on the boat whilst weīre at it
...patiently waiting for the boat to take us, with a small 10-hour delay, to Puerto Chacabuco, Patagonia!
And with that, here we are. Patagonia. Five weeks to explore it. Good luck to us.
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