For many years now my email has carried a signature at the end.
"The internet is a huge and diverse community and not every one is friendly"
After our great experiences with people we have met on this trip via various internet resources: Christine in Virginia, Thomas in Atlanta, Pam and also Wes in Texas, Garry in Mexico, and Norm in Panama, who have all hosted us......
I now really think it is time I finally changed it.
Recently, while using a Chilean motorbike forum, asking questions about where to get tyres and other things we needed for the bikes, I made contact with Juan.
He was a mine of knowledge about where to obtain tyres and what price to expect. He also contacted the Aprilia dealer in Santiago and confirmed they had the part we needed for Jean's bike after her little incident with a railway line.
And when we needed information on the roads in Bolivia, he presented us with the most accurate.
We communicated often, but quickly gave up trying to use my poor Spanish.
We eventually managed to meet up in La Serena when our paths crossed. At Juan's suggestion I telephoned his father (also confusingly called Juan) to see if he would let us stay at his while in Santiago, this was no problem, "just come on over, do you like to eat cow ?".
After spending a day getting new tyres and oil changes we found our way to Juan's (senior) where we treated to home made empanadas and a large piece of roast cow.
Juan loves to meet people, help them out, and enjoys cooking after a long day at the operating table (he is an anaesthetist at the local cardiac hospital).
As we had managed to get all our spares in one day, and I used the next for general maintenance, we intended on staying just the two nights. But due to excessive wine and pisco consumption neither of us were in a fit state to ride.
This was fortunate as the delay meant we had time to sort out our forward planning using Juan's (Senior) knowledge of the country. He also talked us into using the ferry to get to Puerto Natales (by Tierra Del Fuego), as we were thinking time was getting too short to ride all the way south before winter weather sets in.
He has even, hopefully, solved Jean's sea sickness problems.
So, we are now no longer following the Lonely Planet Guide, just Juan's Guide.
This led us to do our first real hike in over six months, a 17 mile trek alongside a volcano, through a monkey puzzle tree forest.
And pointed us at good places to camp, so keeping our costs down.
Not sure about the pigs at the last campsite though.
The further south we get, the more European it gets, from the centre road markings being white and not yellow to the Scandinavian houses. And then anther volcano appears to remind us where we are.
Everyone here seems to be German, Austrian or Swiss.
Both bikes have now passed 50,000km (over 31,000 miles), which means so far we have done more than 18,000 miles.
Rear tyres are now (finally) off road ones.
Both bikes continue to purr along.
While shopping for parts in Santiago we went to the Avienda 10 de Julio, chock full of motorbike shops and then car shops. I know of two people who would love to walk down it, and am sure one already will have done.
When looking ahead to this part of the trip we thought the only choices were
1) Ruta 40 - mainly dirt road and high (very high) winds, tracking the east slopes of the Andes.
2) Ruta 7 - the Carretera Austral, 1200kms of dirt on the very scenic west slopes of the Andes, with ferry crossings, followed by Ruta 40.
3) Cross to Argentina by the Chilean lakes, go to the Atlantic coast and take ruta 3 south, then the same road back north.
Option 1 and 2 and been ruled out a long time ago.
Option 4, did not even exist. Until Santiago.
A cruise. And surprisingly I've not been bored.
Unfortunately, the experiment with the expensive anti-sickness drugs failed for Jean, however I would say she was not as bad as normal.
While waiting for the next ferry to Puerto Natales, which only leaves once a week, we had a diversion via a small ferry to the island of Chiloe, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. This was a bit better than the wooden ferry in Bolivia, it even had WiFi, but my bike didn't like the 1st lurch as we left port and decided to lean against the bulk head.
As one wheel was still on the ground I left it alone, and helped Jean hold hers upright.
It rained on Chiloe, a lot, so we sat around in our hostal with sweeping sea views, talking to other travelers, drinking coffee, eating cake and watching the rain sweep across the bay. The rain fairy has left us now and the clouds are in the ascendancy. It's nearly autumn here, I suppose summer had to end at some point.
We were awoken on the Friday morning with concerned texts from friends because of the tsunami warning for all Pacific coast countries after the massive earthquake had struck Japan. So sensibly we left the island and the coast, and went to a lake next to an active volcano.
It is "Hobson's choice" when in the "ring of fire".
Our ferry to Puerto Natales, near Tierra Del Fuego, was a four day crossing between the coastal islands and fjords of southern Chile with a short 12 hour section in the Pacific.
Boarding was a long drawn out affair, we arrived at 09:30 to be told we had an 8 hour delay due to the tsunami. Once the ship started loading we got to view all the cars and cargo being loaded, then the other passengers via the cargo lift and finally us.
It felt like we were part of a Thunderbirds epsiode as the lift slowly raised us and the bikes to the upper decks.
On the 2nd night we had to leave the shelter of the islands and enter the Pacific for twelve hours, Jean took her pills and assumed her usual position at sea lying on a bench. Later I found her curled up dozing on the cabin floor because "It was nearer the bathroom".
On board the crew entertained us with lectures of what to look out for: whales, seals, dolphins and penguins. Yes, at last, penguins.
We have now seen a large number of penguins swimming past the boat. But apparently this did not constitute the "seeing penguins in the wild" which would trigger a return home as it appears we have to be ''stood next to them" and "they have to walk up to us".
The captain decided we had all been good passengers, so he detoured and took the ship right next to a glacier as a treat.
I enjoyed being able to shout "ICEBERG!'' as some small ones floated past.
The ship is more freight than cruise ship, but carries a few passengers. Of all the vehicles on board only 4 belonged to passengers, the rest were driven on by dock hands.
One of the ship's tasks is to supply the town of Puerto Eden, isolated on an island. There are no roads in or out.
As we approached and dropped anchor, a small flotilla of boats came out and clustered around the back of the ship. The rear doors were opened and an exchange of goods and passengers followed.
The cruise between islands and channels was one long scenic session as we watched the Andes slowly get lower until finally we turned and passed the end of the range we had been following for so long.
As we approached Puerto Natales the channels got thinner, and everyone on board watched carefully as we neared the narrowest. Especially as the larger ship in the line had been damaged 3 weeks earlier when they managed to hit an island.
We got through unscathed.
Something we don't have a lot of, except I have more than I started with.
In Charlotte, USA, my friend Jason gave me two T-shirts.
In El Salvador, Jean made me buy a cotton shirt, to wear in mosquito zones.
Before getting on the ferry I bought a nice pair of woolly socks.
Then to make matters worse, I unpacked a bag I had carried all the way round believing it had warm clothes in it. On opening it I found 2 T-shirts, 1 sleeping bag inner, my (thankfully) warm winter hat and another hoodie. Jean is quite jealous of my copious wardrobe.
View from the Puerto Natales ferry, rounding the base of the Peninsula Roca on the southern coast of Chile.
In contrast to their sudden rise to great height in Columbia, here the Andes slowly dwindle away to mountains of 2000m, then islands of 1000m. They finally dip, almost apologetically, below the sea south of Tierra Del Fuego to continue for a while as an underwater ridge. But not before a final blaze of glory in southern Patagonia with a series of spectacular granite towers and huge glaciers.
I've wanted to see the Andes since I was a child. I think I have now 'seen' them. And I'm not disappointed. Wonder what the Himalayas look like.........?
West of the Parque Nacional Bernardo O'Higgins on the coast of southern Chile. Pengy finally got to see lots of relatives (the Magellanic family branch) swimming past. Unfortunately they were a bit camera shy and kept diving for fish instead of posing properly for photographs.
So here's a picture of seals performing properly for the camera instead. They can do sychronised jumping without being trained by humans! Amazing. It could make all the animal trainers redundant....
It's been over six months, somewhere around 19,000 miles with more highs than lows.
We set out with a target of Patagonia, and even though technically we have been in the region since the Chilean "Lake District" just north of Puerto Montt, we didn't feel we had truly arrived until we got to Torres Del Paine National Park.
We managed to get the two Pegasos here as well.
We spent two nights in the park camping and walking. What we did not do was one of the prescribed routes that most people who visit take, they are known as the "W" and the "Circuit" taking 4 and 8 days respectively, while carrying tents and food. We really are getting soft in our older age.
The road in and out of the park is "ripio", hard packed gravel that is a step up from sand and soil.
This is good "ripio"
Unfortunately a single road can be like the above, or often they may be repairing sections of it, which means they pile a lot of soil up on the surface. And when you add rain it becomes what Jean now refers to as "Sh*tio".
As we slipped and slithered across it we were both glad that we now had "off road" tyres on the rear. On a few occasions I had to resist the urge to congratulate Jean on " a good recovery" so as not to tempt fate again.
A broken Peg
The ripio has taken its toll, it may look smooth but it is corrugated with many bumps and pot holes. As we returned to Puerto Natales Jean mentioned that it felt different on the speed bumps, so I looked at her bike and noticed the rear shock was not at the right angle.
We may now have a small delay to the trip while we get the required part delivered to a man who can fix this for us. Fortunately for Jean we are near lots of penguin colonies, so this is not a hardship (for her!).
Seno Otway penguinera, near Punta Arenas, Chile.
Pengy spotted his relatives returning home from the sea, after a long day fishing. When they had finished resting and 'socialising' they all waddled back to their burrows making a lot of noise and stopping from time to time for some beak rubbing and flipper waving.
Pengy then found a salubrious looking burrow and took up residence for a short holiday.
The penguins even have their own newspaper (the daily one in Punta Arenas) and a local radio station, Radio Penguino.
(for the Higgins family)
Bernardo O'Higgins, one of the main players in the independence of Chile, has tributes all over the country. There are main streets named after him, a national park, town squares, and numerous monuments.
This statue in Punta Arenas is one of our favourites. It's location is particularly inspiring, with Bernardo grandly pointing across the Straits of Magellan towards Tierra Del Fuego. He was one of the instigators in encouraging the Chilean government of the time to stake its claim to the current southern end of Chile, and the strategically important Straits.
At Fuerte Bulnes, a re-creation of the fort set up in 1843 when Chile staked its claim for the Straits, Bernardo has a lighthouse named after him.
We have been very lucky on this trip, except for the actual breakdown.
A rapid search on the internet located Gonzalo at Motoescar in Punta Arenas who agreed to look at Jean's shock absorber if we could get it to him (240k away).
He then rang back to say he had a friend in Puerto Natales, with a truck, who was going to Punta Arenas the next morning.
Bright and early on Sunday morning we had to use a lot of muscle and ingenuity to load Jean's bike on, especially as it did not fit and the rear sat on the tail board.
All strapped down, we followed Nicklaus, Gonzalo's friend, and his truck to Punta Arenas. There we had the luxury of using a proper ramp to unload the bike into the garage, before dumping some gear and going our separate ways. Us to find a hostel, and Nicklaus to go watch some dirt bike racing.
When we returned to the garage the next day to meet Gonzalo and find out the verdict, prepared for the worst, he was happy to let us know it was not as bad as we first feared and he could repair it.
Talking to Gonzalo, we began to realise we were in the home of a Chilean motorbike suspension expert. More good luck.
After he had disassembled the shock, he did have one question for me. "Why did they fit such a cheap shock absorber on this bike?".
And our luck was still holding out as the repair would only be about £100, it would have cost over £500 to get a new one shipped out to us, with a 10-14 day delay.
Being stranded for a few days meant we could research into penguiness opportunities for Jean, and we had two. One involved a boat, and one didn't. There was a small reserve on the other side of the peninsula that still had 'end of season' penguins reachable by bus.
So Jean has now seen penguins in the wild. I have the photograph, and as soon as we have the bike we can start the journey north back to Europe.
More importantly we can head back to warmer weather. It's starting to get frosty down here.
The end of the road
From the shores of Punta Arenas, Tierra Del Fuego can be seen. It is usual for people who do a similar trip to us to go there and ultimately Ushuia for 'the end of the road' and to visit the 'most southerly city in the world'.
But neither of us really had the urge to go there, after all it is not the mainland (so 'the road' has already ended), and it is now definitely on the tourist route. Also there is another city/town (Puerto Williams) on a Chilean island that is further south which many regard as the most southerly city. Sometimes it is easier not to go with the hype.
Instead we took the time to go to the end of the paved road on the mainland South American continent.
We felt it was fitting that the one bike to make the trip was the "pre-unloved" last minute purchase that had, up to now, given the most trouble. At one stage I didn't think it was going to make out of Mexico.
Then the final 10kms of 'ripio' to a rebuilt outpost, Fort Bulnes, and the 'End of the continent' sign.
For energetic souls, there is a hike to Cabo Forward to stand at the tip of the American continent. Or a boat. But we were happy to stop on the beach and watch ships sail up the Straits of Magellan.
Cerro de la Cruz, Punta Arenas.
There's the route home, via Buenos Aires and Madrid. I just need a way of getting there!
An enterprising resident has used big poles in their garden to set up signposts to cities around the world. For the equivalent of $40 we could have ordered one for St Helens. However, we'd sooner spend the money on food, beer and getting my bike fixed.
I think I did, once, but I got away with it.
Yes, we are now in the home of beef and claimants to British sovereign territory.
Jean's bike is finally fixed, last adjustments made at 10.00 this morning and then we high tailed it out of Chile. 9 days in Punta Arenas was enough for us. There are just so many times you can walk up and down the same promenade.
With out the aid of Gonzalos at Motoescar we would have been there much longer. His final fix was to get a friend to fabricate a new seal.
Yes, we did sing *that* song as we crossed the border. Our final land border, and the speediest, all done in in about 30 minutes.
A few days of north, with heavy winds are ahead of us.
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