Bienvenidos a Chile
The woman rapped out the hotel information at the pace of a firing machine gun.
"What the hell did she say?" asked Grant
"I don't know," replied Jules "I can't understand a single word she said!"
We are accustomed to arriving in a new country and the inevitable differences in words and accent. It, generally, takes a day or two to adjust, however we floundered our way around Chile for two weeks asking ourselves "¿Commo?" ("What?)
1 of 12 Volcanos - Ruta 27
Paso de Jama (Argentina)
This is a very high (4,400 metres) and remote border crossing, currently in make-shift offices whilst the new complex is being constructed.
* Check in with the Gendamarie;
* Go to Migration and fill in Tourist Card and have your passport stamped out;
* Return the bike papers to Customs;
* Ride 160kms into Chile through the high desert of the Andes.
San Pedro de Atacama (Chile)
* Fill in Tourist Card and Quarantine declaration;
* Have passports stamped at Migration;
* Complete paperwork at Aduana for the bike;
* Clear Quarantine - you are not allowed to bring any fruit, vegetable, honey, meat or dairy products into Chile.
Salt Lake - Ruta 27
From Paso de Jama we continued to climb high into the Andes and the scenery continued to astound us. Colourful mountain ranges, lakes and stream tinted in all shades of the spectrum, unusual rock formations and sandy plains, past enormous volcanoes and sweeping vistas.
Mountain Range - Ruta 27
From a distance we could see the flamingos feeding on the lake. We were only at an altitude of 4,200 meters and it appeared to be a short walk across a grassy paddock to the waters edge and a close up look a the flaming pink birds. WRONG!!
As we stumbled across the salt encrusted grass lands the ground became a sodden, slippery and muddy mess. It was all we could do to remain upright. The flamingoes fled! Great idea Jules, and no physical evidence of our adventure apart from white salty boots and muddy trousers.
Deceptively Soft Sand
The road dramatically drops 2,000 meters down the mountain side, like a slippery dip, straight to the plains of the Atacama Desert and the tourist mecca of San Pedro de Atacama.
San Pedro de Atacama
We squandered a few days, enjoying the festive atmosphere of this oasis in the desert, until a very drunk local tried to pick a fight with Grant in the street, yelling and swinging punches like a mad man. This left us with a very unsavoury taste, an uncomfortable feeling about the town and a desire to get out quick.
A side visit to the strange salt covered landscape of Valle de Luna (Moon Valley), early on a Sunday morning was engaging, quiet, mysterious and very eerie. (No tourists are in the park during the morning and most organised tours are for sunset.)
Valle de Luna
Our route to the Pacific Coast of Chile continued across the Atacama Desert through a rabbit warren of dis-used mines and ghost towns and past Calama, home to the worlds largest open cut copper mine, before ariving at the port city of Antofagasta.
Camping on the warm sandy beach we met Daniel and Catherine from Belgium, travelling in a Land Rover with their four children. We spent the evening talking, swapping tips and enjoying the company of fellow travellers over a bottle of wine.
The long and tedious road continued endlessly, the most interesting thing about this road is that occasionally it is corregated!
After a particularly cold, miserable mind numbing day we stopped in the small fishing village of Pichandingue, 200kms north of Santiago where we hired a cabaña at Cabañas Margarita for a few days to thaw out and play house.
The small kitchen was utilised extensively to make Tuna Patties, Rissoles, big pots of Spag Bol and soup. After Peru and Bolivia, where we found gastronomic variety limited and providing sustanance not pleasure, it was a treat to have warm nourishing food and we experienced some difficulty getting back on the road.
Chileno Workshop - Pichandingue
Yet another Andean pass and back to Argentina, via the prosperous fruit and wine districts around Santiago.
Ice and Snow - Road to Argentina
Chilenos told us of the terrible condition of the road and how the Argentines do not maintain it. Argentines told us too of the roads poor state and how the Chilenos do not maintain it. Sounded, to us, like political hand washing!
More Ice and Snow
We, however, found the road exciting. This feat of engineering passes through 25 hair pin bends, 18 tunnels carved into the Andes, and many snow covers, which allow the skiiers to pass over the road allowing the traffic to continue freely during the winter months.
Ski Resort during summer
At the midway point in the longest tunnel, 3.5kms, a small flag on the wall of the tunnel alerts the traveller that they are now entering Argentine lands.
Hasta Luego Chile
Piggy with Lupins - Carretera Austral
Increasingly our Suzuki failed to start first thing in the morning, and so after much searching, without success, for a battery charger or new battery in Los Antiguos (Argentina), a night of vino and Ming's confidence inspiring pep-talk we ventured on, although with some trepidation, along the Carretera Austral and north into the Chilean Andes.
The road leaving Chile Chico hugged the side of Lago General Carretera like a roller-coaster with steep climbs that plummeted down the other side, tight curves and frightening cliff drop offs.
Lago General Carretera - Carretera Austral
Every plant flowers profusely knowing it has but a short window of opportunity to reproduce before the fleeting summer disappears for a long cold snow draped winter. Wild roses give off thier distinctly sweet perfume, brightly coloured lupins paint the landscape and tiny fuschias entice bees to their nectar.
Which came first? The shed or the rock?
Breathtaking panoramic views of craggy mountains covered in snow, glaciers melting producing spectacular waterfalls, fjords, lakes, rivers and streams surprise us at every corner.
Tributaries of glacial melt
Our journey is slow stopping frequently to admire and appreciate what the Carretera Austral has to offer including the delicious fresh salmon lunches on offer at every small restaurant.
Lago General Carretera
We meet Mary & Mattias, a German couple, whom we first met in Ushuaia travelling in the opposite direction before coming upon the small village of Puerto Tranquillo.
Our glorious sunny day turned into a cold damp ride and the three of us decided to take a cabin with a log fire for the night as the tent did not appeal one bit.
Peering longingly through the butchers window at the lamb carcas hanging on display. The loin chops, fat and tender, were waiting for us to turn them into a lamb stew.
Hearing us knock on the butchers door, the old man next door poked his head out of his window into the drizzle.
'The Butcher, he is out' he yelled into the wind
'Thank you Sir, do you know when he will be back?'
'When you see the pick-up in the driveway, then he is back' came the reply.
With this sort of precision timing we decided lamb stew was off the menu!
Pee stop in the wind
Our trusty guide book described Puhuhuapi as an idillic town nestled at the end of the fjord of the same name and famous for the hand woven carpets of the founding Hopperditzel family. Whilst the scenery was beautiful it was cold, damp, swampy place full of mold... and the weaving houses were closed for holidays! So, once again, off we go north, though not before re-inflating our rear tyre and push starting Piggy.
Ming & Grant at Puhuhuapi Fjord - Photo courtesy of Ming
The Carretera Austral is kept in far better condition than Argentina's Ruta 40, with fewer sections of heavy ball bearing type gravel and with the big Suzuki feeling just so good in these conditions, we made good time and soon the town of Coihaique appeared where the three of us shared a comfortable hotel room, though in the somewhat faded Hotel Lebanon, placed high upon metal beam stumps. With every passing of a fast moving heavy vehicle the whole building would sway precariously and quiver as if an earthquake was occuring.
Road to Coihaique
Jules whipped up a feast of Mexican Nachos for we three on our trusty trangia, and with sumptuous creamy chocolate for sweets we had the best sleep in several days. Maybe helped along by our swinging hotel!
Glacial Waterfall - Parque Nacional Quelat
Global warming is in stark evidence as we continued to follow the Rio Cinses north. Huge tracks of forest laying in low lying land have recently been covered by glacial melt. Here many of the trees are dead or dying leaving only a ghostly skeleton of bare timber within the fast flowing waters and is a testament to the fragility of our planet.
The Carretera Austral is a truely stunning ride. We picnicked on the edge of a lake on our last day in Chile and with an ominous warning, for the first time, Miss Piggy would not start after a half days ride.
With Ming's assistance, we easily push started the loaded bike and headed for the border at Futaleufu and Grant did not dare to turn off the engine in fear of not being able to re-start at all. Jules explained to the amiable border officials that Grant was not present as we were unable to shut off the engine. This was readily accepted!
Filling the Marvelous Ming's Magical Oiler - Photo courtesy of Ming
By this time, the battery is in a death roll and all manner of wierd happenings were occuring with the electronics. The digital readouts would constantly zero whilst the speedo and tacho behaved as if under demonic possesion.
Glacier in distance
All in all we had travelled 1600kms (1000 miles) of ripio from Tierra del Fuego, in that time we developed three punctures in the rear tyre, leaking fork seals, one stuffed battery and steering head bearings in need of replacement, however, none of it stopped us from continuing our journey and enjoying the experience immensely.
Quick check of the bikes
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- Canada West: Aug 20-23
- USA California: Sep 24-27
- Aus Queensland: Sep 24-27
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- Germany: Oct 22-25
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