January 23, 2006 GMT
Santiago again

For the 700 km from Temuco to Santiago the information in my guidebook was rather sparse. Since I did not want to do the entire trip on the motorway (which would have been possible in one day), I asked in Temuco's tourist office for the most interesting route. The answers I got were little satisfying, since of course they only had information for their small region and didn't know anything (not even from private excoursions) about the roads and landscapes beyond.
What the young lady told me was that in Collipulli, some 100 km north of Temuco, there is a famous bridge - the largest of its kind in Chile - built by the famous Mr. Eiffel, the guy who built the Eiffel Tower.

So I went for it - and it turned out to be a rather unspectecular rotten railway bridge. From Collipulli I headed West via Cañete towards the pacific coast. The the green hilly landscape could have been beautiful if it didn't almost exclusively consist of Eucalyptus monoculture plantations. These dominate central Chile and are almost entirely owned by large companies. So the vast majority of vehicles that crossed my way were wood transports, carrying Eucaliptus wood to one of the numerous sawmills and ill-smelling cellulose factories. Apart from the large number of trucks that crawl uphill and speed downhill, the roads are very good for motorcyling: Good tarmac and lots of perfect curves. Just the "forests" (plantations) are sooo boring.

"Chile is home to the world’s most expansive tree farms, 3.2 million acres of non-native pine and eucalyptus that have replaced the native and precious “evergreen” forests. Unfortunately, Chile's wood exports reached record levels in the 1990's, particularly to its primary market in the U.S., causing the Chilean government to ignore calls for legislation to protect these unique forests. The result has been a transformation from a vibrant, biologically diverse region into millions of acres of monoculture—a country of non-native tree farms that are a drain on precious water resources and are choked with pesticides and fertilizers that have sent many local residents to the hospital." [www.forestethics.org] Luckily there are people like the US-american Douglas Tompkins, who spent his money in saving large chunks of native forests from this stupid destruction. (see parquepumalin.cl).

Approaching the city of Concepción I passed along the seashore with views of several beaches. Although it was rather cold (an estimated 20 degrees centigrade with a cool breeze from the sea), there were several people enjoying the beach, having a sunbath or swimming. The Chileans must be really tough - I hadn't even put a toe in the water, which is supposed to have some 10-12 degrees.

Concepción is Chile's third biggest city with some 800.000 inhabitants. It's not really special - and for me it was just a place to spend the night - although I was quite impressed by the fact that there was even some not-so-bad live music in a bar round the corner of the Hotel "Cecil" where I stayed. What also struck me, was another chapter of the "Smoking Chileans" story. I believe that every Chilean (male or female) above 15 smokes. Everywhere. They have never heard about smoke disturbing people who are eating or smoke disturbing non-smokers in general. The best was the Hotel Cecil's concierge. Smoking was forbidden in the breakfeast room, there was a sign indicating this. However when the next morning I came to have my (rather poor) breakfast, the concierge was sitting in there, having a smoke. Even when I was eating, he lit another cigarrette. This is just normal here. It's the same for example in internet cafés, with clear non-smoking signs - just nobody cares - nobody but me. Bad times for militant non-smokers. ;-)

From Concepción I went further north through the Eucalyptus plantations along the pacific coastline. The road was mostly perfect for motorcycling - I did not have to bother about looking at the monotonous landscape and therefore could fully concentrate on enjoying the bike and the curves. Finally I entered the motorway near Curico and drove the last 180 km to Santiago on the motorway.

I arrived in Santiago's city center at 9 but did not reach the Hotel Paris before 10, although this is also situated in the center. I just hadn't anticipated the Chilean's reaction to the results of the presidential elections that had taken place that day: The socialist candidate Michelle Bachelet had won (first ever female President in South America) and the entire city center was blocked by thousands of people partying hilariously and hundreds of cars full of people happily waving Chilean and "Bachelet" flags. With the help of my city map and some friendly policemen (who didn't actually know a lot more than me about the traffic situation) I tried out various alternatives and finally and very slowly arrived at the hotel in the middle of the friendly chaos. The moment I got off my bike, a woman stopped and asked me from which newspaper I was. Hu?? Newspaper?? Do journalists recently show up on motorcycles??? Very weird.

First thing I did in Santiago was to bring my bike for inspecion to the "Bimota" service, which had been recommended as expensive but very good. Well, at least "expensive" was right - they wanted to charge me some 1000 EUR for inspection plus change of fork seals - approx double what it would cost me at home in Germany - and this although the hourly rate for the mechanic was approx 1/3rd of what they usually charge in Germany. So how could I find an alternative? Easy, just Google for something like "workshop recommend* santiago" and only let it search chilean sites - by this means I found some independent recommendations of Johnny's workshop. He did good work, is quite a nice guy and charged me less than half of what the others offered. The internet is really a great invention!

It seems I already spent too much time in Chile - I'm finding out things that bother me, like the Chileans perception of Client Service and their ability to drive. The latter is virtually non-existent. I have come to the conclusion that apart from the long-distance Bus drivers, they are completely incapable of driving. They are eihter speeding like crazy (very few) or (the vast majority) wobbling around the central line of the road without realizing what is happening outside, at least 20 kph below the allowed speed, turning off suddenly and without warning in any direction, stopping in the middle of the road without apparent reason, overtaking you and then slowing down on motorways, overtaking trucks at the truck's speed plus 0,05 kph etc. I think they are the worst drivers in South America - and this includes the Taxi drivers who are usually among the best drivers - but not in Chile. Actually during my tour up to now, when I was new to a country, I always thought that there were the worst drivers. But looking back I must say that the Chileans actually are. ;-)

Their perception of Cient Service is equally bad. Want a cheeseburger at McDo at 12 noon? "Sorry, we have only breakfast at this hour." No way to get a burger. Want a hotel reservation in Santiago? Well, you must arrive before six. Need a rest somewhere on a 200 km gravel stretch of Carretera Austral? Not a single roadside Café or restaurant available! Internet access on a Sunday in a tourist town like Coyhaique? Forget it! Taking a foto of the sunset over the city of Santiago from Cerro Santa Lucia? Forget it, no access after 8 pm! Order a book that is not available in the largest bookshop of Santiago? Are you kidding? etc. Well, no country is perfect... oviously. ;-)

Posted by Winne Lichtblau at January 23, 2006 12:00 AM GMT

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