January 02, 2006 GMT

The reason for the existence of the tourist town of Calafate is the Perito Moreno glacier. So I spent two nights there and took the time to enjoy the glacier unhurriedly and wait for a greater piece breaking off - just to take some fotos of it. Some people spend days there with the camera ready to shoot but miss the crucial moment.

I waited for maybe an hour and then told a couple next to me that I was going to leave now and therefore of course something spectacular was about to happen (when I was gone). The glacier seems to have heard this, since fifteen minutes later a huge double break-up ocurred, with great chunks of ice crashing into the water, causing impressive noise, waves and spume, much more than you would expect. However I had outsmarted the glacier since I was still waiting with the camera in my hands, just on a different platform - so I succeeded in taking a series of nice action pics. You can see the best of them on my photo site. A few minutes before that event there was a tourist boat at some distance from the glacier and I had wondered why it stayed so far away from the glacier - now I do understand. Already 32 persons died while watching a break-up of Perito Moreno at too little distance.

I had lunch at the recommended Pasta restaurant "La Cocina" in Calafate and had a long talk with the restaurant's cashier, Erwin Walter, who despite his very german name does not speak a word of German. He had crossed South America - including the brazilian jungle - twice with different motorbikes (one of them a Honda Africa Twin) and now was planning to do the same on a tiny 250 cc bike. Obviously he loves challenges and motorbikes. And he was very helpful, recommending me the only motorcycle mechanic in town to repair my oil-leaking fork. Unfortunately Mono, the mechanic did not have the time to repair them but told me that there shouldn't be a problem to continue the journey without repair, just adding a little fork oil every once in a while. He even told me where to get some fork oil at a good price.

Since I had some time left in Calafate - and my lower neck had been very tense and steadily hurting after 16000 km of almost contiuous riding - I decided to get a massage. In a luxury hotel close to my own budget one I got a very good massage for a very good price (less than 20 EUR). It turned out to be a complete body massage, so I was happy that it was a man who did this, so I did not get too excited ;-) And it did really help. However it looks like I am getting old, with a hurting neck, blood circulation problems in one arm while driving, preferring a cosy hotel room to a tent ... let's see what comes next ;-)

Apart from the Perito Moreno the Glaciers National Park offers several other glaciers, some of which you can visit on an all-day boat trip which had been recommended to me. But don't all glaciers look the same? I had seen my first one a few years ago in Norway and was deeply impressed. Perito Moreno is also impressive but the effect was already not as deep as the first time. Any other glacier would just be any other glacier, I'm afraid.

Posted by Winne Lichtblau at 10:15 PM GMT
Torres del Paine

"Nothing prepares you for the spectacular beauty of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine", sais my guidebook "South American Handbook". Bullshit.

It's nice and beautiful but the author should see the "Tre Cime" in Italy's Dolomiti mountains. They are embedded in much more spectacular surroundings and give a lot more beautiful views - in my opinion. But maybe when you do one of the multi-day trekking tours with all the necessary tents, food and equipment, then you might find out what's so spectacular (which I doubt). I just did a one-day hike to a lookout point from where you have a great view of the (okay: impressive) huge tower-like rocks. But I have seen more interesting mountain scenery in my life.

The Torres del Paine national park is situated in the souternmost part of Chile, which is actually cut off the Chilenean mainland, so all Chileneans who want to get there have to take the boat or plane or have to pass through Argentina. On my way there I met a group of two couples from Colombia on two BMW motorbikes. They were doing a 7 weeks ride from the north to the south of the continent (return by flight/ship) and were perfectly equipped with new bikes, matching suits, intercom and a Garmin navigation system. We met several more times on our parallel way to Ushuaia and - what a surprise - they were really nice.

I also met Germans on the way - like all over the journey: Some youngsters in their twenties, other (less youngsters) in their fifties. Strangely the youngsters were really uncool, using the formal "Sie" instead of the more personal and relaxed "Du". On the contrary almost all the German travellers, that I met on the road - 30, 40, 50 or 60 years old - quite naturally used the "Du". So either young Germans have a strong tendency to uncoolness or I really do look that old... :-)

Everything (accomodation, admission, food) in the Torres del Paine park is extremely expensive, since CONAF, Chiles governmental nature conservation organization, uses the money from this park to also foster other parks and projects. So I decided to finally justify the heaps of camping equipment (tent, matress, sleeping bag, cooking set etc) that I had been carrying around for the last 3 months without using it. Sorry, I prefer a real bed in a real room. However the evening of 23rd was really nice since I quickly made friends with German (the latino equivalent to Hermann) and Panchi, both chilenean trekking guides and with Luis, who was working on the campsite. We spent the evening at the campfire, chatting and drinking until early morning, together with a funny american-australian girl group of four young child carers / teachers.

Contrary to that evening the 24th was rather quiet with some really awful self-cooked noodles and reading. A young german couple who had recently arrived asked me for the cooking equipment, which I borrowed them, so they were really grateful. But not grateful enough to have the idea to have at least a beer together. This is one of the great differences between the latinos (above all the argentinos) and the Germans. A latino would invite you to have dinner with him and you would end up with a booze-up or at least spend half night drinking and chatting. A (typical?) German does not even have the idea - or is too distant to put it to reality. This is one of the conclusions to which I came due to my experience with a bunch of different people in South America - and this is something I love about the South Americans. On 25th I set off for Ushuaia, the world's southernmost city.

Posted by Winne Lichtblau at 10:53 PM GMT
January 03, 2006 GMT

Ushuaia is just like the North Cape - nothing of beauty, you just have to be there once, because it's the world's southernmost city. Wrong. Well, only partly right. Ushuaia itself is not interesting. Just another tourist town. However, the scenery of the surrounding mountains, the Beagle channel and the (almost) arctic skies is beautiful and worth a one-day-visit at least.

During Christmas on Ushuaia's 'Rio Pipo' campground motorcycle travellers from all over the world meet and celebrate. I arrived two days late for this - and it was cold and raining when I arrived - so I had some good reasons not to camp :-)

Ushuaia's mountain scenery and the beautiful view over the Beagle channel come really surprising. So does the great new asphalt road that winds its way through the beautiful landscape of mountains and lakes towards Ushuaia - since some 90 percent of the maybe 700 km from Torres del Paine to Ushuaia are very boring, flat and straightforward. After having passed several days through Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego one is rather fed up with flat and featureless landscapes. So I was quite happy and grateful for the beautiful landscapes around Ushuaia.

In Ushuaia I tried to add some fork oil. Unfortunately I had to find out that during the last inspection the brazilian BMW mechanic had fixed the fork's screws so hard that it was impossible to release them without destroying them. So I have to go ahead losing fork oil without refilling it until I find a mechanic on my way to Santiago. I asked for advice in the horizonsunlimited.com bulletin board and everybody told me that I could go ahead even completely without fork oil - the bike would just get a little worse in handling but nothing would be destroyed. So this is what I did - for several thousand km - without any obvious problems.

After one night I left Ushuaia, spending a night just before the border crossing to Chile, in a run-down but cheap 70ies style hotel, which would have been really nice (lots of brown and orange colours and typical late 70ies/early 80ies interior) if not quite neglected. So to compensate for this, I spent the next night in quite a luxurious place in Puerto San Julian, a few hundred km further north. I got there taking the Ruta 3, which is perfectly asphalted and allowed me to cover a large distance at some 120 kph. I had seen enough of Patagonia and was fed up with Patagonia's gravel roads - so I wanted to get into Chile's south and on the famous Carretera Austral (Southern Highway) as soon as possible.

When I arrived at the hotel I noticed that I was almost deaf: At a continuous speed of 120 kph the wind was so loud that I had my auditory buzzing the entire evening and still the next morning. So I decided to use my (almost) brand new silicone ear plugs. I heard about people (mainly female) who have this substance implanted into their breasts to look sexier. I understand that, I looked already a lot sexier with that stuff in my ears. However.. I would not like to have it implanted in whatever part of my body...

The funny thing about the small town of Puerto San Julian in the middle of nowhere was that in the evenings the youngsters had nothing better to do than drive the town's only Avenida up and down, apparently for hours and hours. Incredible, isn't it? However it seems to be a kind common mental disease in the South Argeninian countryside (maybe a follow-up of mad-cow-desease?), since the next evening I saw the same ritual happening in Perito Moreno town as well. Poor guys, so bored and no better ideas what to do...

Posted by Winne Lichtblau at 01:39 AM GMT
January 05, 2006 GMT
Towards Carretera Austral

Heading further north on the Ruta 3, I took a short 100 km gravel road detour (who would do this in Europe?) for one of the famous "Bosques Petrificados" (petrified forests).

The naming "bosque" is quite an exaggeration since it's about a few (in this park maybe less than 10) extremely old (150 Mio years) but reckognizable tree trunks, lying around in a complete desert. However, it's amazing - these trees have actually turned to stone but you can still reckognize the annual rings (Jahresringe) and knotholes (Astloecher). Some of the trunks are still 30 m long. Anyway, it's rather interesting for (Hobby-) Archeologists than for the common (philistine) public like me.

After this excursion I stopped in a small kind-of restaurant by the roadside, asking for a sandwich and some coffee to recover forces. However, first thing I had to do was to pose for a couple of photos in front of my "immense" motorbike together with the entire family and then with different family members. Once again I felt like a martian - but this is still better than being robbed, isn't it?

After changing from my direction from northbound (Ruta 3) to westbound (Ruta 43), I had to pass through a short 60 km strech of gravel road and then through the towns of Pico Truncado y Las Heras. These towns usually don't appear on tourist maps, and now I know why. They are situated in a flat and ugly landscape of oil fields with the typical pumps and surrunded by an amazing amount of trash. The soil around these small towns is covered by tiny bushes and there is not a single bush at a 2 km diameter around these towns, that is not covered with plastic bags or other trash. Luckily when having passed these towns, also the oilfields soon end, and you are alone again on the perfect new asphalt highway, heading towards the setting sun. Only once in a while your contemplation is disrupted be a truck moving in the opposite direction.

I was very lucky with respect to the wind. During the preparations for the trip I heard and read a lot of horror stories of people being pushed off the road by the storm or having to stay in the middle of nowhere due to the wind being too strong to drive. I did not experience any of this. Even during my journey towards the West, when the wind should have been blowing directly into my face, it came just from behind and actually pushed me towards the Andes.

Posted by Winne Lichtblau at 10:47 PM GMT
Careterra Austral (1) New Year's Eve

Finally I left Argentina (probably for the last time during this journey) and entered Chile. After all the Patagonian flatlands I was really happy to enter the south chilenan landscape of huge forests, mountains and lakes. The weather was changing (worsening) and thick clouds were hanging over the immense and beautifully situated tourquoise-coloured Lago General Carreras, which gave it a particularly impressive aspect.

After being rather spoilt by the perfect asphalt road during the last two days and for maybe 1400 km, the chilenean road along the lake was rather shocking: Very rough gravel, partly not allowing more than 20 kph. But some 50 km after the border it got better and I could risk to catch a glimpse of the marvellous landscape without stopping or falling into the lake.

On my way I met a BMW Enduro training group: 7 men in their 50ies+, without time but with loads of money, riding on gravel roads on their new big BMW enduros from Bariloche to Ushuaia in approx 2 weeks. They carried no luggage but had a support vehicle behind (not a BMW X model !), a trainer, brand new equipment and probably loads of fun. They did in one day what I did in three... well I really took my time to enjoy and take loads of photos - I assume they could not. But maybe they had digital cams fixed to the bikes and to the escort car. ;-) The trainer, wearing a red BMW overall, was the youngest of all - and recommended a motorcycle repair shop on the way, where I could get my front suspension fixed.

On 31st, new year's eve, a german couple, Tanja and Martin, on Honda African Queens ;-) overtook me, we stopped and had a chat. They turned out to be on the road for 21 months, having crossed Canada, Alaska, California and several national parks in the US, Mexico, Central America, great parts of South America and now approaching the end of their impressive journey in Buenos Aires. They seemed to be really tough (especially Katja) and much better gravel road drivers than me. They slept most of the time in tents and Tanja, despite being significantly smaller than me, drove a bike at least 50 kg heavier than mine, significantly higher than mine and heavily packed. She had impressed quite some people on the road with her driving skills but however was dreaming of a less heavy bike.

We arranged to meet and spend the night in the next village, Cerro Castillos. Having arrived there, we had a very well improvised sandwich and some coffee in the village's only and recently opened internet café. The café was actually the owner's family's tiny private house and we had the sandwich in the living room and used their only bathroom. Before we left to pitch our tents on the nearby campground, they invited us for their new year's eve celebration with a Cordero (lamb) roasted the Patagonian way on an open fire. We started at around 9, brought some beer and wine and had a really nice evening with some really great people. Nivaldo - the host and father of the owner of the internet café - and Gerardo - a local who works in Arica, some 3800 km from here - had just returned from a 2-day rescue horse trip in the mountains. They had rescued a young israeli hiker who injured her knee and foot when crossing a glacier. Gerardo was not used to horse riding and his entire body hurt. But he was happy. They don't take any money for this service, just do it out of pure idealism.

Posted by Winne Lichtblau at 11:23 PM GMT
January 06, 2006 GMT
Carretera Austral (2)

On New Year's day - just after one day - we decided to split up again: Katja and Martin wanted to continue the asphalt road northwards while I decided to check the gravel detour recommended by Gerardo. After a few hundred meters on the gravel road I was already fed up: The bike's steering behaved really strange and I presumed that I was finally noting the contiuous loss of fork oil. So I decided to return and take the asphalt road and look for a mechanic in the next town, Coihaique.

It hardly took a kilometer when I came across with Katja and Martin again, who had stopped to talk to another couple of german motoqueros travelling in the opposite direction. Martin had a short look at my bike and told me that I had a flat front tyre. Great. Luckily he offered his help since he knew how to change it and quickly did so - largely without my own intervention. Apparently when the tyre had been changed in Buenos Aires, the mechanic had punctured and patched the tube - but now the patch had peeled off. Great. So now we had to replace the expensive and resistant motocross tube by the cheap Pirelli replacement I had bought in Argentina. However again fortune favoured the fool (ich hatte mehr Glueck als Verstand) and thanks to Martin's attentiveness, knowlege, skills and his electric compressor (and thanks to the fact that they had stopped on the road), the repair was done smoothly.

So we continued together to Coihaique, where we had lunch and then said farewell once again. I stayed in Coihaique to do my laundry, update my blog etc. while they wanted to go straight to the Ventisquero Colgante, the hanging glacier.

Coihaique is not a particularly nice town, but it served as good place for all the little errands I had to do, find a new book, new tube, change money, do laundry, update blog, clean chain from dust etc. I stayed for two nights and then did another 200 km northwards to the little and idyllicly situated village of Puyuhuapi. I spent another two nights in this tiny village in the Casa Ludwig, a huge 4-storey German wood house - and took the time to take a walk to the famous hanging glacier. Although clouds were hanging deep and it kept raining all the time, I was lucky (once again) and cought some beautiful views of this mass of ice hanging between two moutains.

Posted by Winne Lichtblau at 12:47 AM GMT
January 09, 2006 GMT
Carretera Austral (3)

I left Puyuhaipi (or whatever this place was called) during a short rain pause - and arrived 200 km later completely soaked in Chaitén. The last 50 km had been like driving though a very long car wash, just without getting cleaner.

Luckily in Rita's place, a very basic and low-budget but cosy hostel, there was a kind of fireplace where I could dry my stuff.

However there was no point in drying my bike suit since the next day I rode into the Pumalin park to have a walk - and got completely soaked again. Would it ever stop raining?? The worst thing is that always very shortly after it starts raining, I sit in a puddle of lukewarm water (since the seat catches the heat from the engine), which is like sitting in your own pee. How can we be flying to the moon and still not be able to create really waterproof bike suits??

Southern Chile's landscape is extremely green and seems to consist mainly of steep mountains and swamps. So it's not really a place for human beings but rather for frogs. The frogs were even feeling well enough to sing all night on the lawn of Rita's Hostel - right under my window - although it was just a normal lawn, not a real swamp. However due to the incessant rain it had turned into a kind of frog-friendly swamp, just like the entire town. When I complained about this "beautiful" summer to a native, he just answered indifferently "Well, that's what it's like". You really need a tough personality to survive here...

The Parque Pumalin is a private park, founded and funded by Douglas Tompkins, who is as far as I remember the founder of Esprit and The North Face and therefore a multibillionaire and luckily also an environmentalist. He bought immense estates in this area with the aim to protect the rainforests from commercial exploitation. By this means he virtually cut off southern Chile from the central and northern part, which obviously caused some criticism, especially with Tompkins being a "Yanqui". Some years ago Tompkins donated the Park to a Chilenean Foundation which takes care of it. The park was declared a Nature Sanctuary in August 2005.

After the wet but beautiful walk in the Pumalin Park, I would have liked to pamper myself in the close "Termas", a vulcano-heated natural spa, but the rainstorms got worse again, so I preferred to stay in-house and have a bottle of wine instead (Frustsaufen). The next day - when I was preparing to hit the road (or better: to hit the ferry) again - and to eventually leave the Carretera Austral northwards, the sun finally came out.

Posted by Winne Lichtblau at 09:16 PM GMT
January 17, 2006 GMT
Chiles Lake District

From Chaitén I I took the ferryboat to the island of Chiloe (which turned out to be a nice although not spectacular place) and went more or less straight to Temuco, having short looks at Puerto Varas (small & ok), Puerto Montt (outstandingly ugly and rainy but nice people) and Valdivia (ok so far, with a very friendly and helpful policeman on the central square).

In Temuco there should be two fork seals be waiting for me at Edgardos "Servitren" workshop. However, the seals had not been delivered and Edgardo did not really seem to care at all. He had also forgotten that I wanted an inspection to be done on my bike. Lucky me: I did not remind him, since the looks of the workshop did not really inspire confidence.

However, he recommended a (good) place (MotoMaster, Caupolican 380), where I could get some new tyres - which I did. The bloody Bridgestone TW did not even stand 9000 km, hopefully the brand new Pirelli MT60 will serve a little longer. Anyway, they already feel much better on gravel. No wonder since the Bridgestones had almost no profile left. The mechanic who changed my tyres even managed to loosen the fork screw that I had failed with, so finally I would be able to add some fork oil.

The first evening after having left Chaitén - i.e. after a 10-hours ferry trip and a few hundred km ride - I had realized that I had left my chain lock in Chaitén. It had cost me some 100 EUR, and you don't find such a strong chain lock in all South America. So what could I do? It would be more expensive (and a complete waste of time) to return, so I discussed this with the very helpful concierge of the Chapelco hotel and she recommended "Chilexpress", Chile's national delivery (and money transfer) service. So I sent the key back to Rita's place in Chaiten (4 EUR), sent the money for the package (10 EUR) and Rita (helpful as always) sent me the Chain Lock to Santiago. So when I arrived there later, I could just happily pick it up. Once again, fortune favours the fool :-)

After spending two nights in (fairly ugly) Temuco, in the (fairly nice) Hotel Chapelco, I headed east towards Cunco, the Colico and Caburgua lakes and finally the Andes. On the map I got from the tourist info, there was a very tiny gravel road passing southwards between the andean foothills and the lakes. According to a roadsign the road was called "Carretera Entre Lagos" (The road between lakes). It was really tiny, narrow, partly steep and washed out by the torrential rains but the landscape was absolutely great, green, idyllic and tranquil, with rivers, waterfalls, green hills, snow capped mountains and deep blue lakes.

I spent the night in nice Villarica at the lake of the same name and finally found a good Chile road map, so I could do some more detailed plans for the following days. The next day I went further southeast, passing on mostly good gravel roads along the Calafquen, Pullinque and Panguipulli lakes to Puerto Fuy. On my way I passed by a little accident where a tiny car had crashed into the ditch. A public-transport bus was standing nearby, so were approx. 15 peoble staring at the car. Obviously my help wasn't required (I'm not Samson, neither did I carry a tow rope with me), so I went ahead on the narrow gravel road.

Every half a kilometer there were groups of village people standing at the road, obviously waiting for the bus I had just seen. I got quickly fed up with these chilenean ''country bumpkins'' since they were staring at me like I was green with antennas on my head and riding a spaceship. If the had waved and smiled at me like the Argentines do, it would have been fine - but they just stared like idiots (sorry) and didn't even wave back when I hailed them. By the way: I was used to being hailed by Argentine truckers as well - another thing I rather missed in Chile.

Finally after crossing thick forests and apparently unspoilt lakeshores and swamps I finally reached Puerto Fuy at the shore of the Pirihuelco lake, which is long and narrow like a tube. I had two maps with me, both issued by the Chilean tourist office. One showed a road along the lakeshore, the other didn't. The latter was right: The was no road at all - you had to cross the lake by ferry: Some 90 Minutes ride and I was very close to the border. Just a few minutes more through thick forests on good gravel and I reached the Chilean border post. An hour later I had already passed the Argentine border post and I was in Argentina - San Martin de los Andes - once again.

Actually I did not want to stay in Argentina but cross the border again after a short stop in Villa la Angostura - since it was getting late. Unfortunately in San Martin I had the great idea to finally fill up my fork oil. I did not know how much I had lost - and there was no "MAX" sign visible - so I filled it up completely - rather by accident than willingly since it filled up quickly. This turned out to be a big error. On the first 50km, which was asphalt road, it was fine, the suspension was just a little harder than usually. But then the (rather bad) gravel road started and immediately I ralized that I had commited a big mistake: Actually there was no front suspension left at all: Every pothole caused a severe shock that shook the entire bike so hard that I was afraid something important would break. Great: Winne the mechanic again.

I managed to remove some of the fork oil but did not want to use the oil drain plug, since I was in a national park and everybody knows about the effects of oil in nature. So I had to go VERY slowly, evade every pothole and every stone. Apart from that, in the meantime it had begun to rain, or better: it was pouring down again, so I could double enjoy the trip. The road turned to slippery mud, the potholes filled up quickly and a friendly speeding bus driver managed to get me (and the bike) soaked with mud up to my waist. Actually I had expected it would only be raining on the chilean (western) side of the Andes and be perfect sunshine in Argentina. But: Pustekuchen! (I was wrong.) Once again I was really really drenched when I finally arrived in the small tourist village Villa la Angostura - and of course there was no room left for me in the recommended (i.e. good-value-for-money) places.

So I had to take what was left - the overpriced (50 EUR) but cosy and warm "Pichy Rincón" outside the village. The concierge was a poor idiot. He kept talking to me in english with me talking spanish to him (really, my spanish isn't SO bad ;-)). But the best was when I asked him for a restaurant he described one for which I had to walk half a mile through the rain. I asked him for an umbrella or an alternative solution, which he did not have. When I arrived at the restaurant it turned out that it their main business was food DELIVERY (!!). When I took him to task (zur Rede stellen) when I returned, he just shrugged and shortly apologized: he had forgotten to tell me.

However, the important issue was that my rags dried until the next morning - what they did. The heating was running the entire night, so everything was warm and dry - and the next morning even the sun came out and the road dried quickly. I heavily reduced my fork oil level at the village's service station and headed for Chile again (Entre Lagos/Osorno). I passed through the argentine border post and enjoyed the perfectly paved and perfectly curved mountain road. Finally I had a chance to really use the flanks of my brand new tyres. This was great fun and I realized again that roads like this - which are very rare in South America - are the real "reason for existence" of a motorcyclist like me. ;-)

Chilean border formalities were quick and efficient as always and I soon reached Entre Lagos where I stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant. Two young chilean couples - one of them with a baby - invited me to their table and we had a nice chat and a great meal, finally exchanging e-mail adresses and phone numbers to meet in Santiago. This seems to be the difference between Chilean country and City people. ;-)

From entre Lagos I passed by Lago Rupanco to Puerto Octay in order to drive round lake Llanquihue counterclockwise. This turned out to be a rather spectacular ride, since the famous volcano Osorno had freed itself from clouds and now stood there majestically and incomparably as a perfect sugar-capped cone, dominating the entire landscape, with the big blue shining lake in front of it. I also visited the small but famous village of Petrohué at the lake "Todos los Santos" but just failed to find out what was so special about this place - apart from the thousands of tourists pouring out of hundreds of buses and onto the ferries, crossing the lake on their way to Argentina.

Posted by Winne Lichtblau at 12:00 AM GMT
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 12:00 AM GMT

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