February 01, 2006 GMT
Farewell SouthAmerica

After finishing the motorcycle maintenance and other stuff that I had planned to do in Santiago, I had a little more than a week left and did not want to spend this time in Santiago. It's not really that much a thrilling city (although it's certainly not too bad either). So I decided to go to Valparaiso, Santiago's famous harbour.

It took me less than 2 hours to get there and to find my accomodation (pre-booked since it's high season), the Villa Kunterbunt with a large portrait of Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Langstrumpf covering the entrance gate. The Villa Kunterbunt is owned by a chilean-german couple Enzo and Martina, who are living there with their 3 children. Enzo claims himself to be a Punk - although without the looks. I had a long discussion with him and he turned out to have his very own definition of Punk which I would rather call conservatism, to be somewhat euphemistic. However both are nice, friendly and helpful people who have quite a notion of customer service (despite him being chilean ;-)). They are keen to have motorcylist guests and offer their help to motorcyclists all over Chile.

Valparaiso itself has the usual charm of a harbour city, i.e. a little run-down and busy (it reminded me somewhat of Bremen). The city center is surrounded by hills that are mostly covered with nice and colourful buildings and can be reached by a number of funiculars. The most impressive building however is the nacional congress, which is so enourmous and ugly that it must be designed by a socialist government architect. I also explored the coastline south of Valparaiso which has a few nice beaches (usually covered in mist until afternoon), some good twisted new roads and is largely covered by coniferous woodland (finally no Eucalyptus).

After two nights I left Valparaiso heading north, looking for some nice virgin beach to spend some days, enjoying sun and water. There are a lot of more or less nice beaches - with sand and rocks - north of Valparaiso, but they are far from being virgin. The entire coastline consists of resorts and holiday villages - which surprised me since even in high summer (the equivalent of July in Europe), the climate is rather cool and the sun usually does not dissolve the typical mist of the pacific coast before afternoon. Once the sun comes out, it is so very strong that you won't spend a long time under it. I spent only one night in the small town of Papudo, enjoying the quite populated town beach and the sun.

Continuing northbound, heading for the famous town of "La Serena", I left the coast and took the overland road through a hot and mostly arid landscape of mountains and valleys. Proceeding further north, the lower parts of the dry brown hills were increasingly covered by green geometrically looking spots: Vinyards. They got bigger and more dominating the further I approached La Serena. Anywhere where water is available, it seems to be pumped up the hills to feed the vinyards, converting the brown, arid landscape at least partly into a green and fruitful - although oppressively hot - region.

La Serena is a surprisingly nice and calm town with a couple of beautiful colonial buildings. The town is situated a few km apart from the beach and therefore not too much affected by tourism. The beach itself is of course completely spoilt by dozens of high-rise hotels and apartment complexes. However, I didn't want to spend too much time on the beach since most of the time the sky was grey and it was max some 20 degrees, with a cool breeze from the sea. Nevertheless the beach was full of obviously much-tougher-than-me chilean families, with a couple of people refreshing themselves in the icy cold pacific ocean. I also had a look at the close-by habour town of Coquimbo, which was not particularly interesting but dominated by a very ugly huge and accessible concrete cross that was built on top of the "cerro" above the city.

I realized that I had still some time left and had to decide what to do. A look at the map and the decision was done: Some two hundred km eastwards from La Serena, there is the well-known Paso Agua Negra to Argentina, which I wanted to take already at the beginning of my stay but couldn't, since due to its high altitude of 4700m it's only open in high summer. The only insecurity was the fuel again: I had given away my extra can after leaving the Carretera Austral, some 3 weeks ago - and I did not know how much fuel the bike would consume at that altitude - neither did I know the exact distance between the last service station in Chile and the first in Argentina. However, there was no problem at all to cover what turned out to be a distance of just 270 km - and I arrived tired and sweating but without any problems at the Argentine border post (and the close-by filling station). I was really happy when I found a spa hotel nearby, which was exactly what my tired bones and muscles needed after this ride.

I had planned to continue the ride to Mendoza - but chatting with some Mendocinos at the hotel these warned me of 40 degrees at day- and 30 at nighttime. So I decided to stay at this altitude and take the road the led some two or three hundred km southwards alongside the Cordillera Andina, heading for Uspallata on the main road from Mendoza to Chile. Uspallata was not as bad as I expected - for just a little roadside town. It has friendly people, at least two or three decent hotels, an internet cafe with perfect opening times (until 2 a.m.), a big service station, a variety of restaurants and all kinds of shops. On saturday night there is quite some movement - much more than e.g. in Paraguay's capital Asunción - but with a very relaxed atmosphere.

In Uspallata I met a biker couple from Bavaria and another from England: Lisa and Thomas. Thomas had just recovered from an incredible accident somewhere in Brazil, when a small bridge broke under the weight of his bike. He had broke his neck but managed continue riding his bike for 23 days until he got to Sao Paulo and finally entered a hospital. He was operated and needed 2 months of recovery (Actually they wanted to keep him longer but he just wanted to ride again...) (see their website 2ridetheworld.com).

From Uspallata I took the road back to Chile, via the "Paso de los Libertadores". With its huge rocks and colourful mountains and the "Puente del Inca" (a natural bridge over a stream) it's one of the most impressive passes between Chile and Argentina. On the way I met Paúl from Bilbao on his very old and torn Yamaha FJ 1100. He is an ex-teacher who has become a painter a few years ago - but still can afford such a journey... lucky guy! :-) (see his website euskalnet.net/saituapaul/ and euskalnet.net/gametxogoikoa).

Being back to Santiago, I just had to do the final preparations: Make an appointment with the forwarding agency, have the bike cleaned, bring the bike to the airport and strap it to the skid. The last part turned out not to be that easy: Some two weeks before, I had sent an e-mail to my travel agency, asking whether or not the skid was still there. The answer was "Everything fine." Well, bullshit, the skid was gone - somebody did like my strong self-made 200x75 cm skid and had taken it away. As you can imagine, I was rather pissed - but then I told myself that it's just south America - what did I expect?

Hector, the guy from the forwarding agency who had been looking for the skid together with me, got a 2nd hand skid 200x100cm from somewhere and took it and me to his father's place, where we adapted it to my needs. Hector's father is a kind of carpenter and worked hard in the afternoon heat - doing everything manually without electric powered tools. I only had to say what to do and give a hand once in a while. In the end the skid was almost as good as my own one and served perfectly fine. I had still enough time to strap the bike to the skid (with a dismantled front wheel, mud flap, windscreen and handlebars) and finally Hector even brought me in his car to the next metro station, so I could return to the Hotel quickly. So in the end everything worked out fine - why getting upset? :-)

Posted by Winne Lichtblau at February 01, 2006 04:33 PM GMT

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