February 12, 2006 GMT
7th February 2006 - Curacautin via Villaricca - Coelemu

370 kms

We were greeted with grey skies and a very little light mizzle that luckily never turned into anything, and at least it was considerably cooler, in fact only 10 degs when we left, but soon rose.

We travelled from the fruit basket area to the forestry zone today, very reminiscent of the wooded areas of Germany and also Portugal once into Eucalyptus woods.

We hit the doldrums today. We seem to be riding rather than travelling. I guess it has to happen at some point, but it was almost getting boring. We travelled out to the coast at Concepcion and it has some very long bridges over the river and to one of Chile's main ports, so not too exciting, and it's the third largest city so we wanted to avoid going into it which we did.

What we didn't manage to do was pick up a small road we wanted to continue on.

We got in Tome and spent a long and fruitless time trying to get out. It was a shambolic places spread over hillsides above a popular beach and bay. There was no end of road works causing chaos and with the intermittent intercom we struggled to get out. The sad fact of travelling as two is when you have an argument it is the worst possible situation. So we hit a bit of a low point as we argued rather than pulled together. It can't all be plain sailing though and we did manage to resolve our difficulties all round.

From that point on we just wanted to call it a day and find some accommodation, but we had lost a lot of time and so never found anywhere until about 7 which is far too late to unwind after a hectic and rather warm day.

The place we found was fine from a room perspective as it was quiet and we had a bathroom for a fiver each, but the woman running it was the wrong person. She had the air of 'whatever' to any of our questions, and it was only the maid / cook that made the place more cheerful.

We decided to eat in and met a local guy as we walked in. I thought he actually was German as he spoke to us in German and his accent was so think. Turned out he was second generation Chilean but still a lot German. It's a real surprise how German Chile is when you're out and about. there was an abstract sight today when we pulled up at the peage and I noticed the guy driving the car in font of us was wearing an SS camouflage jacket and a genuine WWII Nazi helmet....what the hell was all that about ?

Anyway our 'friend' was certainly not of that type, but it was very hard work with him speaking German, and some English, and me trying to remember my German. By the end of the evening we were both worn out. It's interesting talking to folk, but you know what it's like when someone has had a few drinks and you just think 'We'd like some space now' but you can't get it as nowhere to go. A strange and tiring evening indeed.

We did at least get some insights to Chile from him. Their new government has a female head and is socialist which may swing things too far left for the countries old masters, but generally people are in favour. Even though the era of Pinochet brought dictatorship and thousands of deaths a lot of folk don't think it was that bad and want to let sleeping dogs lie.

The contrasts in wealth are extreme here, I can't remember what he said, but they are very extreme.

Wednesday 8th February 2006

Coelemu - Paine (south of Santiago)

Say 540 kms

Well we got a bit out of our Doldrums todayís, but then the end of the day brought a return before an 'unexpected twist', more later.

We started on the heavy forestry front as we ended last night, couldn't see the wood for the trees, very Finnish if it werenít for the hills and the twisty roads.

Barring the memory of coming across a wagon that had overrun a bend and crashed into the other side spilling it's cargo of gas bottles all around the road the road would have been very sporting. It was a little like some of those in the south of France near the coast were the bends come so thick and fast you can't believe it and have to really be on the ball. So anyway it was cautious bend swinging that led very quickly to two subsequence changes of scenery quite rapidly.

Following the heavily wooded landscape was a heavily depleted landscape with new Eucalyptus saplings all a round. Hardly used to that we were suddenly upon harsh arid baked lands with the distant Andean peaks on the horizon, almost spectacular, but I think they we grow in magnificence a they grow in height further up the chain (hope so !)


Andes in distance

The area was again extremely poor with the local populace clearly having a hard time of it, it was arid scrub and all the affluence was passing through. Looking back on our trip up the Careterra Austral that was what it was too, the richer folk from Santiago going on their holidays.

We d skipped breakfast this morning due to not wanting to get up early - good choice as we didn't sleep that well anyway, think ours minds were so tired after our entertaining host. We were on the look out for a cake and coffee shop, but that was a hopeless task as we really were in a poor rural area. We stopped in one reasonable size town and went to a 'cafe'. It looked pretty dire and the young lass serving looked terrified of us when we walked in (soon realised we were nothing to fear I'm pleased to say). Needless to say there were no cakes - in fact haven't seen any cakes in Chile, just bread in shops - and the coffee was finest (not) powdered Nescafe.

We got some bananas and water further down the road by way of sustenance. We were then into some of the vineyards for a further scenery change, but it wasn't too stunning...boredom was setting in again!

Now we have passed the main arable areas it is obvious that there are some large production plants and the like and you can see where the wealth is coming from. However you can also see the other side, which is the people having a very hard time of it indeed.

Hit the Pan Am after quite a bit of back road travelling (and hurrah, no tolls until the Pan Am) to get well up near Santiago so we can bypass it tomorrow, big cities are not our thing, and a bit pointless on a motorcycle holiday anyway.

On the basis of big road, little road we aimed for a little place near Rancagua (bad water ?!) up in the mountains, in fact Colon or Sewell. There was one major snag!

As we were climbing up what they termed the Careterra Cobra there were an alarming number of new coaches coming down, not a few, stacks, more than for a football game, even international. What was going on?

I had a clue as there was a road to a mine shown, but I hoped I was wrong as we intended heading to the hills for the night to escape the heat. In the morning it was perfect blue sky and really comfortable at 25 degs so OK on the bike with trouser liners out and jacket ones in, but by say 3pm things are warming up considerably and it's linings out and vents open but still you are starting to sweat at 35. A night in the mountains would give us a chill which would be good.

So, by nearly 5 we got to a junction that had the place on we wanted and as we turned left there was a sentry gate. Thought I'd ask, but the guys in hard hats with lamps on told us what I feared, no public access. This must be one huge mine I'd guess, or maybe a big construction job, but I'd put money on a mine..

Bugger, tried the next village but it was obviously a mining town clinging to the steep hillside, and no accommodation was forthcoming. The only other possibility was a thermal baths on map, but it was 35 quid each with breakfast so we ruled that out.

We returned to Ruta 5 and Rancagua but managed not to find anything immediately there and it was too big for our preference. To cut a boring story short we tried some other small places, asked a few people and ended up at a Motel on side of road at Paine.

Now I sat Motel, as that is what it says in big letters outside. There is a word missing in front, that word is 'Love', and that word makes all the difference I can assure you.

When we pulled up I asked the lady watering the garden how much it was and she gave me a price per hour......that's when we realised it was a Love Motel and not the normal sort. I asked for a price per night and she said 10,000 for 12 hrs. Very specific. So we have to leave by 8.30 in morning, unusual.

We were well knackered by time we arrived there at 8 and thought 'what the...' we'll take it. In actual fact you get A LOT of privacy, very secure and discreet parking and your own bathroom, so for the price it's not bad. Even the drinks are reasonable price even thought brought to a serving hatch in the wall.

Best to overlook how many people have been through here, but letís face it, a lot of folk go through old hotels too. It is clean and tidy, so I guess little different. Still it does have the overtones of sleaze, the mirrored wall is a little unusual for a hotel, but at least it's not a round bed. By staying twelve hours I'm sure we'll impress the locals!!!

We are far from the first motorcycle travellers to have ended up in one of these places, and we won't be the last.

Thursday 9th February 2006

Paine (south of Santiago) - Ovalle

450 kms

Well as our allocated slot at the Love Motel ended after 12 hrs we were forced into our first 'early' start for a while, that being 08.30, your heart bleeds eh !

We nipped back to a petrol station for breakfast as none was included in our 'motel'. It's a sad day when you say the coffee at the petrol station is the best you can get, but it's true, the machine was better than all the coffees we've had for breakfast in Chile. Sad but true.


Biscuits for the Hein Gericke wearer

The plan was to get past Santiago, but as loose as that. Bev had suggested Ovalle as a destination, but I'd said "that's far too far". Well, that's the wonder of being on dual carriageway roads again I guess!

Santiago was actually passed rather more easily than I thought. Not much in the way of suicide merchants, but you did have to pay attention, not that much worse than any UK major ring road.

The one thing (Okay, okay, there's loads I know) that bugs me with the Chilean drivers is their 'goldfish' mentality. Howís that I hear you say. Well, watch the toilet habits of your average bowl habiting goldfish and it will all be explained, it works like this. The goldfish is swimming around his bowl. "I'll have a poo" he says, so he starts, then he thinks 'what was I doing ?' swims a bit, and thinks 'I'll have a poo', swims a bit thinks 'what was I doing', etc , etc , etc. you get the idea. Thatís why goldfish swim around with a length of poo half the time; their attention span is that short they forget what they're doing.

So what's the connection then ?

Well, a standard manoeuvre here is a car will be behind you on the Pan Am for a way, then overtake, then slow, so you re-overtake, etc etc. Consistent speed just evades them (not all of course) and after a while it really bugs me. Especially when there is so little traffic compared to UK.

And that's saying nothing of the other thing that really bleeps me off, and will be recognisable to most UK cyclists. The ...ahem..... folk that overtake you then immediately turn off. That is actually really dangerous in towns were it's prevalent all round SA so far, but here it's popular on the Pan Am, must be some sad Latino Machismo thing going on. Anyway they soon get the message from us as they're going down the slip.

None of this is to be mistaken with the car that overtakes, slows, you overtake and then they pass again with their digital cameras out, quite common

Lots of odd things happened on the road today, no, not showers of frogs or the like, but strange things in themselves that you can't capture but in words or you memories.

As you head north you leave the obviously more habited and prosperous areas where there are big concerns and lots of affluent local traffic, and you start heading through the hills that become more and more arid the further you go.

There are a few oases, where there are huge tracts of greenery due to irrigation. The amount of stalls at the roadside prove the success. Huge mounds of fruit like oranges, melons, and the like. Watermelon, Sundias (I think thatís right) are huge and fantastic here, but no good buying on bike even at 70p for one the size of a pannier. The sellers are at the roadside (imagine that on the M1) or on short lengths of service road so provided. This so far all quite 'normal'.

Yesterday we passed areas that had carved stone emporiums and wicker ware and the like, only for a few miles, then nothing, then something completely unrelated.

Today we had some real weirdies. Firstly ladies (and some gents) in white aprons and hats stood or sat by the roadside with hampers but wildly waving sticks with white plastic bags as tassels to garner attention. Quite flamboyance at times in their routines. But we have no idea what it was they were selling. It said 'dulces' on a tourist sign for the town, which I think is sweet, but other than that we're lost. Don't think it was honey as seen that before and more obvious, the jars give it away.

Much, much further up, in the arid hills were there is little habitation, and less vegetation, we came across signs saying goat, or kid, which helps a lot, but at one point it all got a lot stranger. A guy at the side of the road lifted up the cloth he had hung over his arm to expose a kid with the rack of ribs splayed outwards in a disturbing way. It was like he was showing you some illegal item, or something you shouldn't see. What a way to make a living. This is nothing, and I mean nothing, like the lives of the prosperous 4x4s speeding past to their holidays (or flash foreigners on their hideous motorcycles either).

So that was weird. Another thing that is hard for your average softie westerner to appreciate, luckily I'm not soft like that, is the animals here. Dogs, as mentioned previously, are not pets in 99% of times, and are obviously beaten into submission as they rarely approach you in small villages and will cower. (Weíll ignore the bike chasing, which I'm trying too, but I can't resist the opportunity for an upward stroke with my foot generally). You see dogs in packs, after bitches on heat - the only thing that seems to make them forget to chase us, and thatís a pretty poor sight generally, but you often see dogs limping around hat have obviously survived horrendous incidents, missing feet or legs that even I feel sorry for.

But the worst was today. At a petrol station there was a cat that I guess had been run-over, and one half its back end was blackened and matted with flies swarming around it. It had obviously been like that a little while, but was limping and dragging itself along to the tables outside the cafe. Even the locals looked appalled, but that's what you see here - imagine it at home. Not a chance, someone would take it home and to a vet or something, but not here. And this is Chile, not even a country I'd guess was too bad, I expect it further up in Peru or Bolivia, but not here. Probably worst sight we've seen when travelling, animal wise that is, I'm afraid it pales into insignificance with the hardships of some of the people.

Anyway, the Pan Am stretches right through Chile and in many of the northern sections it is the only tarmac road there isn't a lot of route choice for the majority of our day now. Itís well surfaced and pretty new so far, a two lane blacktop stretching forever and climbing some drags that has trucks down to 15 or 20mph on crests, and it places close to out of control on descents. Amazingly we haven't seen a foreign plate in days, I'd think we'd see the odd Arg plate, or even Peru, but on the Pan Am everything to date has been Chilean, surprising to me.


The Pan America

The other thing is post mid-day we were up to where the road follows closely the sea. The first sights of the Pacific (sounds nice that does !) breaking against rugged rock headlands and sending spray 10's of feet into the air are impressive indeed.

We went into Los Villos briefly, a real ramshackle seaside resort that was heaving with this being the peak holiday season and only a couple of hours from the capitol. We were star attraction briefly as I guess not many foreign tourists visit - can you imagine Skeggie being over-run with Chileans: exactly!

The scenery really got arid as we moved further north as most of the vegetation was replaced by succulents and cacti, some of those large cartoon type ones which were starting to flower spectacularly. They were even laid out in lines to create prickly hedges which were impressive.


Cacti scenery


Flowering cacti


Detail of flower

The funny thing all the while was it was quite sunny but as soon as we headed over the hills from Santiago the sea breeze blew in, and by the coast it commanded the weather, making actually quite nippy, even the odd shiver. When you stopped though, it felt warm, very odd.

Leaving the relative coolness of the coast to travel 33kms inland to Ovalle you certainly felt the difference, boy did it warm up! Ovalle sits in a valley that is obviously very well irrigated, and like the fertile valleys of Ladakh in India, comes as a shock being verdant green amongst the parched yellow stark surrounding land.

It isn't a pretty town, and all those western looking faces of the Lake District area are long gone. We stand out like a saw thumb, and once again have developed second if not third heads. Still, rough it may be, but there are plenty of diamonds.

Our accommodation is a little past sell by date, but has a charming host, and the bike resides in the courtyard after a very tight entry up the pavement and down the corridor. At least the place cools at night, but it's bloody hot during the day I guess. Weíll find out as we will be here a couple of nights to catch up on one or two bits and pieces.

On the bike front we now have a spreading oil leak but at the moment it's not losing enough to drip, just being absorbed by all the dust matting the bike head to foot. The master cylinder is still leaking and being routinely filled up, but perhaps I will have to strip it down yet. The exhaust blows a bit on the left pot, and a couple of minor bits have fallen off, but otherwise fine, we just take it easy and cruise at 100 - 110 kph. The old girl has done well......and the bike too !

Posted by Simon McCarthy at February 12, 2006 06:02 PM GMT

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