Day 1573 Wednesday 4th February
Punta Arenas was a nice town to walk around, still had a flock of stray dogs that did not see or heed the line that divided the ‘tourist’ area from the rest of down-town Arenas, where we lived. The posh, enormous twenty storied smoked glass and painted steel hotel looked like it had been taken from London or Sydney and planted on the water side.
A cruise ship lay a few hundred meters off shore waiting patiently for its cargo to be safely ferried back. Maybe they did not take the time and courage to walk around town and purchase some lovely fruit that the locals sold on the side walks. The trestle tables laid with perfect peaches, red and green grapes, with seeds in, the way there supposed to be, and stunningly ruby-red cherries, all smelling sweet and warm in the sunshine.
Next to the hotel a few old buildings had been modernised into smart (expensive) restaurants and bars with equally smart (and hard looking) men stood at the door to keep away the stray dogs and poor people (us) from looking through the glass into another world.
On our way back we failed to resist the cherries and took a bag back for washing and devouring.
Day 1574 Thursday 5th February
The local cemetery was billed as must not miss attraction. And in a strange way they were correct. The mausoleums were modest for most families of six to ten caskets, grand and imposing for the wealthy, maybe eight to eighteen or twenty caskets and hugely impressive the monuments for the lost souls that never made it back to land when their sailing merchant ships came to grief on the inhospitable coast line one or two hundred years ago. Wondering around in the light rain only added atmosphere, the immensely cultivated beds of beautiful flowers adding pleasure to a sombre place. We mingled amongst curious tourists, and descendants tending their decease loved ones.
Day 1575 Friday 6th February
Woke to an early alarm to taxi for a mid morning plane.
As loading (sorry boarding) started a call over the P.A. System for Diane shook us to our senses, they wanted us in the baggage hall immediately!!!
We rushed out the departure lounge down the first flight of stairs only to find ourselves back at the check in desks. Without thinking we hot-footed back up and went to the final personal check, being shown a quick way through we soon were back at check in. A lady escorted us backstage to where a solitary guy sat at an x-ray machine, my bag lay alone and awaiting me to open the offending baggage. Both of us had plastic wrapped our gear in Sydney to avoid the possibility of gear/stuff being planted in our packs, this was not available here and we thought this could be IT. We had been unwitting mules for contraband. I noticed that only us, the stewardess and x-ray man were present, if it was bad I thought a couple of police would be on hand. The lady informed me that am aerosol can was present and should not be. So we opened the pack and pulled out the cans of insect repellent, shaving foam and the inverter. No these were not the wrong cans so the bag was re x-rayed with no problem. I think it was the inverter, maybe it looked like a bomb but he was okay with that….. bag repacked thanked them and ran back to the boarding hall. Later it dawned on me that had we used the stairs again we would be back air-side without going through the metal detectors!!!! How bad it that???
With no maps available we used my phone maps to get a bearing, with the ocean as a guide to left and right, taking the correct way to our hostel we passed the turn off and walked an extra two ka’s through the plethora of tourist shops that ran both sides of the busy street. Upon realising we were in the very wrong place we asked a couple of coach drivers if they knew the way. They were out-of-towners so they asked a shop keeper who told them. The guys the flagged down a local bus and TOLD them to put us off at the correct stop, all in Spanish of course, so we had no idea. We were set down with instruction and ten minuets later we stood in our new room. WOW what a day.
Walking out later the food in the shops was not cheap enough to buy to cook so we ATE OUT! At a great local café, great Chilean food at less than buying it price. And I mean a frozen shop pizza for the same money as two plates of hot authentic food, bread and chilli sauce AND a cheap beer.
Day 1576 Saturday 7th February
Slow morning researching where to head to next, after large breakfast.
We ate at bargain café again where some of the town watched the big football match on Television. Much chanting, whistling and cheering gave our meal a strange musical complement. A local guy offered the owner help with our Spanish made worse by the noise, to what we wanted to eat, we got on well enough yesterday when it was quite. Delicious food and good company made a great Chilean eating experience. Gonna miss that café….
Day 1577 Sunday 8th February
We took and easy amble to town in the promise of drizzle, if not a healthy down pour. As we approached the covered bus bays the rain started.
Another bus station saw us a little amazed as ‘our’ couch pulled into the allotted space, not the twenty seated we expected for a short trip to Ancud on the island of Chiloe. Not even the normal coach we had tolerated on the all day transfers so far, but a ‘semi cama’! And two floors of them. We were upstairs, instead of four seats a row, only three. The last time I saw seat, nay! chairs so posh was in a posh London hotel I walked past many many years ago. Albeit those were leather and these were cloth, but clean pale blue and grey velour with huge head rests, crisp white cotton head covers. A foot rest to bring you aching legs up and a recliner to relax your spine down to peaceful sleep. Bloody shame we were only on it for two hours!!!
Ah well back to reality, all of the way here it rained and walking the twenty minuets to the hostel saw us very wet. After a couple of hundred meters we stopped in a door way of an abandoned tyre shop to fit waterproof covers over our packs. We shared the dry area with a couple of other down and out dogs that showed us pity but displeasure that we were dripping on their dry sleeping area.
After dumping our gear we enjoyed a hot coffee with the owners and a Spanish couple we walked into town now in full sunshine which dried our gear to the point of removing sweatshirts, too hot now!!
We went back to the bus depot to see the young guy that gave us very good direction to our hostel. Thought we would give him the business of booking us a tour to The Pinguinera, to see, well Penguins. It was lucky as a group were just leaving and there were two seats left.
They took a gravel road over some high hills with views to the ocean, the steeply green grassed bathed in summer sun and dotted with large brown cows with big dark ‘come and eat my steak’ eyes. And fluffy white sheep, cleaned by the persistent rain no doubt. Our guide spoke in Spanish but we understood that she spoke of the tsunami that hit this coast in nineteen sixty and wiped the island clean of most of the homes and businesses and a lot of the islanders too. The farm buildings and houses we past gave impression of being there for a couple of hundred years, being constantly patched and repaired. But they were not that old.
The tour took us past three small islands with meter high, seemingly ‘english butler dressed’ fluffy characters. All behaving as they do on the documentaries.
The highlight for me was a show put on by a feeding sea-otter, it was floating on its back beating a shell-fish on a flat rock placed on its belly, then eating it. Nature at its best!!
Back in town we ate out again as it still cheaper that buying and cooking, and you meet the locals, great fun in trying to communicate.
Day 1578 Monday 9th February
Taking a bus south to Castro was in order, heaps of settler churches made from wood, some with pegs and not nails, build by Spanish invaders five hundred years ago.
In some places the invaders failed in over coming the locals, so they retreated, only to return twenty to forty years later to find smallpox, measles and common colds had decimated the population. As has happened in many places countless times before.
Well the cathedral in the main square was tribute to carpenters of a by gone age for sure. The simple joinery made exquisite by the accuracy of the workmanship. In some of the structural joints no nails were used but instead large wooden pegs. We were told some of the fifteen or so churches on the island had no metal nails in the building al all. Kinda makes sense when you think of the process to make, or even buy in iron nails.
The lady at tourismo told us a short three click walk would take us to another glorious church as ‘grande’ as this one. So off we went, after one and a half hours we asked advise and as no person had heard of the village let alone the church we headed back to buy supper.
Day 1579 Tuesday 10th February
Woke to an alarm, again. Creaked my way downstairs to a dark and lonely kitchen to make coffee and our rolls for the journey.
The walk in chilly morning air was welcoming as our packs were weighed down with the food that we bought but, could not cook last night.
The kitchen, and hostel was a family one. While they tried to open the doors to the homeless in need of a bed and brekkie, they were very reluctant to let guests use the stove. I can relate to that, but maybe another area to cook in??
Managing to get to the bus hub and moving on to Villarrica, we were chuffed but exhausted.
The road into Villarrica was undergoing extensive resurfacing, the speed limit was forty k/p/h, our bus and all the rest of the traffic thought sixty plus was better. Thirty ka’s from our bed saw us stuck at the road side behind a small tipper truck that had left the road and now rested a forty degree angle down the soft verge. We thought he had slipped into the sand trying to pass the tar laying machinery. Although he was not in the ditch he was close to it. So we sat and sat and waited to be let pass on the new tar road that they were still rolling. The truck, in my mind could have been pulled off and out from the verge, but not to these guys. Maybe not wanting to cause damage and being liable. Who knows. After an hour or so we rumbled past, onto the toilet I very much desired, after an extra two hours on the road.
Day 1580 Wednesday 11th February
As is the backpacker way we spent the early afternoon finding a bus out of town to Santiago. Where we need to make contact with the second shipping agent and pick up paperwork from our first hostel. With bus booked, we had a siesta due to lack of sleep from a family of eight children and two mothers, who saw fit to arrive at midnight. The latter thinking it was ok for their off-spring to play chase on the wooden floors and stairs while they laughed and joked about the day. At half twelve I went out for a fight, and found one with a short but attractive Latin Americana mother of lots. Who proceeded to tell me ‘how was it her fault her children were so alive and full of spirit?’. Almost speechless I told her, as she slammed the door in my face, leaving two howling eight year olds, to the beast in a towel with bloodshot, sleep deprived eyes. Being a nice person I went to bed instead of………..
Day 1581 Thursday 12th February
On hearing the neighbouring town of Pucon was a not to be missed tourist spot we booked a local service bus and enjoyed a pleasant hour long trip through densely wooded hillside, randomly dotted with attractive wooden homes. Some with fenced areas holding chicken, sheep and even cows from wondering to far from the home. They looked a bit small to keep cows in though.
Ten km out from town the traffic slowed to a crawl as we joined the slow procession into the town centre. Reminded me of holiday towns in the south west of England!!!
Pucon indeed was the typical tourist town, selling everything from must have leather and wooded keepsakes with ‘Pucon’ inscribed with a sharp blade or hot iron, to adventure days. White water rafting, hiking and mountain (ney, volcano) climbing. Wandering the streets people watching was more in our budget and life style, turning corners into a new street every now and again the volcano stood snow capped and huge. A true monolith, we fancied that there was a light smoke wafting from the cone, but it could have been cloud. Although it is still very active. We were all up for the guided hike to the top where you could look into the bubbling molten rock. It was an eight hour walk/hike up and back which seemed ok, the provided all the gear too. As we did little tourist stuff due to cost we were all for this chance to do something wild. Our dreams were dashed when we were asked for our mountaineering tickets of competence, as it was a skilled ascent. Bugger. So we went for a beer to cheer ourselves up.
Not wanting to travel in the day and spend unnecessary cash on a room we booked an overnight sleeper bus to Santiago. The idea did not excite us but it did save us money. Surprisingly we slept well and only woke at the outskirts of the city.
Day 1582 Friday 13th February
Feeling grubby, hungry and wobbly legs (due to all the bus travel) we stood dazed in the grey smoggy dawn of Santiago.
Knowing if we went to our hotel we would not get to meet our shipping agent and we certainly did not wish to wait till Monday. So sensibly we jumped on the metro and sped effortlessly across town, packed into the train with all the sweet smelling, groomed city office workers on their daily commute. Thought he carriage was full we did have a noticeable space around us, must really need a shower!!
At the end of our short walk we were greeted by a very cheery, helpful lobby reception guy with a bad sense of smell. He shook our hands and showed us where we needed to be without so much as a wrinkled nose.
Our man, Jose, fully explained the formalities of collecting the bikes and it was very helpful that all the formalities could be completed in Valparaiso. So no need to come back to the city. It was also a real bonus that we went then as he was on vacation for three weeks, starting at close of work that day.
The Metro was fairly deserted on our return to the centre which made us feel less grubby.
A rarity for us, we went out at late evening and walked the main streets. We were amazed at the volume of folks that were out enjoying the street markets, jugglers and musical shows that were around every corner. More on the street than day time. It also sadly showed the amount of people sleeping out, with no place to call home. Wondering past restaurants and cafe where we saw plates of food being cleared from tables, from those who did not really need to eat. To see it obviously going in the bin when so many around us would have appreciated a good feed. Instead the hungry homeless rooted in the bins for whatever they could find. We saw quite a few collecting drink cans and stamping them flat, probably to sell for a few Pesos. Counting our blessing we continued with our privileged journey.
Day 1583 Saturday 14th February
We walked a leisurely two km to the central bus depot where our Valparaiso bound vehicle waited. Being dropped off our hostel was a mere two minute walk. It was another building that had seen much better days, once it must have been very grand now it was beyond economic repair looking very forlorn.
But it gave us a clean bed in the centre of town, the open market just down the street. Walking its stalls, once again as in Cairo we were amazed at the display of fruits and vegetables laid out in attractive displays. Huge tomatoes, cobs of corn, beans in shells and all types of chillies, some pickled the rest in wooden cask’s. All very tempting but with no kitchen at the hostel we only bought pickled chillies to snack on, to the amusement of a few stall holders we walked by. Never seen a gringo eat chillies like that then?!
Some not so tempting items on offer, was by a very wrinkled old lady with a table displaying half a dozen light brown, slimy looking cylindrical objects that gave the appearance like they had been at the bottom of the ocean for quite a while. A couple of middle aged guys saw me looking and said something in Spanish. The only word I could make out was ‘Viagra’! This was possibly a important Chilean male sex aid! As we could not communicate but at a basic male level we all laughed and made suitable hand gestures, thankfully Diane had wandered on. As yet have not found out what they once adorned, not sure I wish to know.
A few days ago we had posted on a few bike travel web sites we were passing through the area and would folks like to catch up. One lady wrote would we like to dog sit as her current sitter was moving on. Needing to desperately stop spending on accommodation we jumped at that chance, and said we would jump on a bus tomorrow or Monday.
Day 1584 Sunday 15th February
Waking very late we skipped our breakfast and went in search of our next hostel in the famed graffiti district of town. Walking with the back packs is no fun and up the hills to our hostel was even less enjoyable by the fact we could not find it, the streets were lined with dog poo and I was grumpy. I reckoned the Santiago beasts came here to poo. Giving up on the illusive hostel we headed back to the bus terminal.
The bus station was hectic, after visiting all of the companies that went north they all told me the same thing ‘it’s the office on the second floor, blue curtains’, alas the were closed for three hours, siesta. We were a bit concerned as it would be mid afternoon when they reopened, it may be too late when we got off. Our cabin by the ocean, we were told is not findable by most that know of its whereabouts, let alone those who have no idea at all! Especially in the dark.
Well the office opened and tickets were bought for the three twenty service, which meant we should get off the bus at the one hundred and seventy eight km marker with ample light left in the day. We almost begged the conductor to make sure the driver stopped for us, as the next official stop was two km further up the road. Not far, but far enough with a carry pack to bear. Stop he did and the directions were perfect. Soon we were taking in the dramatic front door scenery of a wild thundering Pacific ocean crashing on the rocks below. This could be home for the next three weeks or so. Very different from the slow, lazy wash of the Indian that lapped Samson’s hot white sands. Yes your right, I do miss it!
Day 1585 Monday 16th February
We were warned of the mice and rats that may be around so keep food all in the fridge, so we did. Three am saw us wide eyed and listening to the wild life running about the room, in boots it sounded like. With the light on we lay vigilante, waiting to catch a glimpse of them. Not long before we saw the (single) offending rodent, Climbing the curtain, on the inside. So at the top the large round eared beast popped over the curtain top looking at us with more surprise than us. So much so it fell back wards landing on the floor with an ungainly thump! The next two and a half hours we watched and waited with the door open to ensure it really had left. Exhausted we finally slept till ten.
Spent our day washing us, the cabin towels and mats and our gear. Staring out to the ocean when we passed the window.
Day 1586 Tuesday 17th February
Waking at an agreeable hour, mid morning, we lay in bed watching the dark grey ocean rolling toward us, away from a light grey sky. When we arrived everything was blue, now it is decidedly British. But never the less very pleasant to be here in off the beaten track La Ballena. As eleven O’clock approached and we considered getting up the mirror started to vibrate against the wall, our tea mugs chinked together, the curtains quivered, (enough to shake the rats out out of them), and then the patio doors started to vibrate.. We leapt out of bed, both saying “shite that’s an earthquake”! We dressed watching the ocean like a pair of ejuts for the tsunami to wash up the short beach to our cabin. But nothing, talking with locals later they said “oh yeah, that. There is usually one a day”. Normal for them, scary for us.
(We found out a few days later the’ quake epicentre was only twenty four km to the north and five point five on the Richter Scale of earth scares)
Now we were up we thought it best to carry out some jobs for our unknown host. The gas water had failed in our cabin, so not having a great deal of practical experience with them I set about dismantling it. With the possibility (probability) of blowing the wall and me out of the plant room on relighting it.
Checking the thermocouple was easy, just remove it and put in the fire till it clicks. But as the pilot did not light I reckoned the fault lay else where. Checking the jet, it was blocked so careful poking with a sewing needle got me nowhere. Ramming the needle in with pliers gave me the one mil (plus) hole that was stamped on the jet. When it was lit the pilot jet was only a bit smaller that the main burner!!! But it worked.
Walking to ‘town’ we commented on how it felt like a cross between communal Wickham and villages we had experienced in Africa. We liked the vibe very much. The food was reasonably priced too. Buying out of small privately run ‘shops’. (once again, like northern Africa only one was like ‘a proper shop’ the rest were made from plastic sheeting and pallets, or what could be found to hand)’ was great. They all sold the same things, more or less so we shopped in three of them ‘to spread the western wealth around’!
Day 1587 Wednesday 18th February
Raising an eye lid at our now normal hour the ocean sparkled blue, reflecting the colour of the sky. Breakfast done we summoned the dogs and set out to walk our ‘back garden’. Getting to almost the highway we turned south and walked around the back of the eucalyptus wood. The owner of the cabins has said she has plans to build a Yurt for another accommodation unit. Here lay around was an ample supply of wood, though I’m not sure how flexible semi seasoned eucalyptus is. But I’m sure I’ll find out. Also a heap of suitable fire wood as I reckon it is not that warm here late evening.
As we curved west toward the ocean I paused to take a few pictures through the trees, the silhouette giving a real contrast to the water beyond. One of the dogs promptly lay down in the shadow of a large rock, panting a little too heavily I thought. We had only been out for half an hour and it was not that warm. Presently we arrived at the water again when I stopped for a short while the dog was on a bed of bright green ground cover, in the shade looking grumpy! On we walked, now north back toward the cabins, as we passed by the dogs took the steep slope toward them, while we carried on toward the shop. They both sat down and looked at us mournfully. We whistled and kept going, they soon galloped back to us and made it to the store where sadly there was a sign stating “No perro con personas”. And no water outside the forbidden walls, quickly we bought our breakfast and hotfooted back so they could drink. Filling the bowel with clean cooler water they had a little and lay down, maybe just not used to a longish walk??
Day 1588 Thursday 19th February
Did not a lot at all, watched the ocean and drank tea. Not even a walk!
Day 1589 Friday 20th February
As the previous dog sitter was still here, still being very vague as to when he wanted to move on. We decided yesterday to head to La Ligua, the nearest big town to change money and have a look about. Setting an alarm that we slept through, but waking at a reasonable time to get there and back. We told our fellow sitter we were off for the day. He replied that that he needed to go so we stayed put. Missing our day out somewhat. The dogs follow you out of the gate whenever you leave so it’s gonna not be easy if we need to go out of town for any reason.
Day 1590 Saturday 21st February
Most days since we arrived have been very overcast, the sun not breaking through the cloud till late afternoon, usually giving us a sundown worth watching. Valparaiso last Saturday was the last time we experienced a hot day with full sun. I considered the irony of washing my short pants yesterday as they would take a couple of days to dry. Now as we made our way to the highway in full sunshine at ten am, in long jean pants, typical!
Looking north for a micro, or tour bus to flag down a vehicle bounced its way up the dirt round from our village. As we were on a four lane road with a central divide it could only head south, what the hell I thought, its got to worth asking for a lift, they can only say no. Well two minutes later we were heading to town in the back seats of a four by four that felt like all the steering joints were well past their use by date, and the shockies had went that way a long time before. Still made for an exciting ride. Our good Samaritans. I think told us they were not going to La Ligua but they would take us there anyway. It was a twenty km round detour for them so it was a very kind gesture.
Letting us out at the Plaza we were struck at what a nice looking town it was, with a pure white painted wooden church with a very tall slender spire topped with a dazzling golden cross that literally shone in the bright sunlight. There were the normal amount of stray dogs milling up and down the streets, some sleeping in the shade, unperturbed by the passers by. The side walks, once again very clean, all things considered. Having obtained our much needed money we sought out Paula, a friend of our host. She was a wealth of info and very interesting to listen to on her thoughts on Chilean Spanish, as spoken here. She to said it was not easy to talk to or be understood as a foreigner, and she was a local! We needed an address for Selwyn to send the KTM parts to and this kind lady readily agreed to this, she said it had occurred in the past so all would be good. A few hours of wandering soon saw us well stocked with unattainable food stuff from the village and time to head back. It was surprisingly easy to find a micro bus to take us back without changing as our fellow dog sitter had warned of the perils of local buses. Not for us well seasoned, bus hardened travellers….
Day 1594 Wednesday 25th February
Previous dog sitter finally left so we de-contaminated kitchen, could not face under sink. Much rat poo and chewed up cleaning cloth, like a nest….
Day 1595 Thursday 26th February
Second big cleaning day. I took on beneath kitchen sink. As I removed the filth something the size of a small brown kitten rushed up the pipework and hid behind the basin. The owner of the nest was still at home! So the next hour or so we rat hunted around the kitchen. Pursuing the errant rodent from one safe haven to the next. I was too slow in trying to kill it with the broom, so we thought just get it outside alive. Under the fridge was its favourite hiding, but soon as it was behind the cooker my move was pick up the stove and take it outside with ratus maximus naughtius still in it and get it out in the open. I set the stove on some wood, at a steep angle to help him slide out as I beat the metal work with my hands. Diane stood ready with the broom, one last chance to nail this beast into the decking. Amongst a pile of poo falling out our man, sorry, rat, made a dash for freedom, straight at Diane Her legs moved so fast her body could not keep up, she fell to the deck missing our rat and he disappeared under the cabin, never to be seen again. But no doubt still living under our feet with his many friends and family. As I carried the now cleaner stove back in, Diane watch the bruises appear. With the vision of her legs and arms wind milling I tried, and failed to hide my smiles.
Day 1602 Thursday 5th March
We had a guest arrive at night fall, not a real guest, as he had come to wait a day or so for his buddy to catchup with him. In return would do some rubbing down of woodwork. They were both from the states. Phil who arrived first rode the same model bike as I have. He bought his in Argentina, while the previous owner had ridden it with blind faith with no problems, the subsequent owner was picking up the repair bills, some self inflicted some just the same old run of the mill KTM problems. It was reassuring to talk with him in a strange way due to our common ground of bike repairs! He even had a small car battery strapped to the crash bar as his standard one was failing.
Day 1603 Friday 6th March
Ben turned up mid afternoon and they got stuck into some light wood work prep. Our evening spent sat fire gazing swapping ‘must see’ destinations.
Day 1604 Saturday 7th March
As ‘our’ half of the town was somehow ‘private’ it was behind locked gates, we went with Phil and Ben to open said barrier, We watched with envy as they rode off in the early morning, free on their bikes. Walking back from the gate we talked of how soon it would be our turn.
Day 1606 Monday 9th March
The bikes were due in on Wednesday, so we thought a visit to Valparaiso to check with the shipping agent to see if all was still ok with the anticipated arrival date.
The dogs had the habit of following you when ever one left the property. Even if they had just come back from a walk. could be baking hot, they still followed.
So to outsmart them we woke early and took them for a walk, I split from Diane and went to wait at the shop, she took the hounds back to feed them then make a hasty exit as they ate. That worked but unfortunately they caught up with here after two hundred meters. Back at the cabin she hid in the kitchen till they settled down. Climbing out of the window she climbed/fell the two meters to the scrub, which broke her fall, just. Climbing silently over two barbed wire fences she took a long detour away from the house to meet me at the shop. By now it was very light and we had wasted almost two hours. As we now had to wait and flag down a passing bus to get to the city it was going to be a long day. Luckily Pedro the shop owner came out and offered us a lift to La Ligua to take a bus to the city, swifter than trying to flag one down. As we got out of Pedro’s van a micro bus to the city was flagged and soon we were on our way. These buses were half the cost of an intercity bus so that was a bonus! What was not a bonus was that it took three hours to cover the one hundred and twenty km!!!
So after waking at five am, by midday we arrived at the shipping office….
Feeling tired, grubby and hungry we stood in front of these immaculately dressed people asking all our questions, all was ok.
So we walked the four hundred metres to the customs building, (purchasing a bag of chilli peanuts for breakfast / lunch on the way), to get our temporary import document. Where all was not ok.
A very smiley and helpful man who spoke good English took us to a desk where he explained that they were unable to issue it as most of the details were wrong on our Bill of Lading. Back at agent we are assured ‘no problem, when container here, issue amended document’.
To us that was a problem as the B. of L. was issued in Australia, if the amended one had to come from there it would be another two or three weeks maybe.
Chile demanded the original not a printed e-mail. Although I had been sent three original documents and three copies. In the elevator I joked with Diane that they would just write on our B. of L. in crayon and stamp it.
Next door to the shippers was a car rental. On our collection day we would have to be in the city at nine am, so dog fun and games and local bus were not going to be an option for us. So as it was only for two days we hired a very compact roller skate kind of a car. This rental car would give us freedom from having to avoid outrunning dogs and flagging down a bus at day break.
Feeling flat, defeated and let down we cheered ourselves up by going to the mall, to buy battery booster cables. I was convinced that they would be discharged and probably scrap on their arrival. Our American guests said he needed a battery for his KTM and after waiting four weeks it cost close to three hundred bucks (USD not ASD). So cables seemed a softer option to our dwindling funds, for the short term at least.
Day 1608 Wednesday 11th March
Had email, no bikes till Friday, maybe. As we had no email or phone contact for car rental we took a drive back to town to agree another two days, getting expensive now….
Day 1609 Thursday 12th March
Had email from agent to offer us ‘safe passage’ to the warehouse, we had to take some petrol with us. Diane said ‘I bet he owns a big posh Mercedes and wont want stinky fuel in his car’.
Day 1610 Friday 13th March
As we left at day break, Diane said “I would not want to ride this rough bumpy soft sand track to our cabin in the dark”.
We should to get to office by nine, to get a start on the day.
Horrendous traffic en-route, dropped off car, looked like it had won the Dakar race, so had to pay a cleaning fee, fair enough it was bad. All the roads where we are staying are sand, and dirty, dusty sand at that!
So knocking on agents door at nine fifteen to get rectified Bill of Lading and warehouse certificate to take to customs house.
I asked if the corrected Bill was ready, our man smiled and said “I just do it now please come, I’ll show you”. So I stood in his office and watched him crossing out and correcting our paper with an ink pen and rubber stamp….
On being handed the paper I asked ”this ok for customs?” Si Si, bien!
The guys at customs house recognised us with a huge smile and thumbs up. I handed over our papers with anticipation, “excelento” was his answer. “Now we can help you!” Twenty minutes later we left with as many Pesos as we entered the building with, and our paperwork.
Back to agent to show him our temporary import document. He handled them like the Dead Sea Scrolls, looked at them impressed, like he did not believe we would be successful.
Then we are shown from office with a young man to take us to the warehouse, not by Merc but by micro bus. So with our six litres of fuel we were carried out of town by hopefully our last public transport vehicle, and we had our fares paid by kind shipping man.
One pm at the warehouse all was good, till the lady said you must wait for Adunas, ‘for a short time’. Short time me arse it was siesta, our man left at twelve thirty and returned as a lady two hours later. (When Diane had to deal with paper work later she said she was no lady. Maybe a lady clash of, well lady things, Diane says ‘never put a woman in charge, its gonna be bad!!’).
All the warehouse workers were great, helping us build our bikes and ask heaps of questions. The boss kept saying to me “take your time, no rush”. Very nice of him but we had lost two hours plus. And I knew how much time my bike would take to re-build.
We stopped for a slug of water and watched thick brown smoke fill the sky to the north west, so much so it blocked out the sun, turning it dark red, just as the dust had done in Egypt years back when we left Cairo.
We had no clock but I guess by five pm when we were starting the bikes. Mine surprisingly started and ran for a couple of minutes, then stopped. Diane’s was not so keen. When the booster cables arrived the Honda fired up and purred, like ten weeks idle had not existed. My KTM refused and merely turned on the starter. Feeling that sinking feeling I was hot, bothered and helpless. The time was marching on, these guys went home at six. Where to start looking to get it running? It’s a great bike but has had issues, I know they all do. But that does not help at times like these. I thought at worse we could take Diane’s home and come back on Monday. One of the guys said helpfully ‘maybe gasolina?” “No senor” I said and showed him our empty can. But thought fuel? Yes! I had turned off the tap as requested when crating in Perth. Thirty seconds later the mighty orange one sat thumping away as good as always…..
Hands washed, gear on we thanked all our friends, shook many hands and rode out of the gate while security waited to shut it behind us, it was ten to six. We filled or tanks and headed the wrong way down the highway, to Santiago, thanks to our gas attendant not understanding our bad Spanish. Turning round after fifteen km detour we headed north west, home, straight into hectic traffic being diverted due to the fire!! Not keeping to many speed limits on the highway, we rode the rough bumpy soft sand track to our cabin as the last light faded from the western sky. Fourteen hours later we were back.
Day 1611 Saturday 14th March
My Australian replacement credit card has arrived with Paula. It never worked in ATM’s since I washed it with our clothes a while back…..
Alas my bike spares from Selwyn in the UK have not. A week overdue.
So we are going to wait till Wednesday, and ride out the next day, regardless. If they arrive hopefully they can be forwarded.
Day 1616 Thursday 19th March
Yesterday had an email from Paula, parts were in from the UK.
Leaving day, we had mostly packed so, were riding out by ten. Stopping at the shop we said our farewells to Pedro and Maria, all a bit emotional really, they misunderstood and did not realise we were off today, we tried to tell them a few days ago. Hugs and hand shaken done we back tracked to La Ligua, for the KTM parts.
Once we had awaken them, we finally headed north.
We rode through rolling rocky barren hills that swooped down to the ocean, laid out beneath us. The many bays gave the ocean places to disperse the rollers out on the beaches. Where the road flattened out we saw the valleys filled with mist off the ocean.
Soon we arrived at the three hundred and seventy km marker, where the Termas de Socos hot pools were to be found. The gravel track lead us to a grand archway where to the right was the hotel and the left, camping and a swimming pool, hot tubs and a camp ground of peace and silence. After a swim, food and a hot bath where the grime of the last month was soaked out of our skin by cleansing mineral water, we went to bed under a clear sky of many stars. In our tent!! At last.
Day 1617 Friday 20th March
Even though I woke at five and watched the dawn brighten the mountains it was still close to six hours later when we rode out, onto the deserted highway. Before too many meters had passed we were halted at another el peaje booth where we paid our dues for using this lovely highway. We did make a firmer mental note as to keeping off the Pan Americana as much as possible. Made easy now as our plans took us in land to the well documented town of Ovalle. There, on every other day of the week a not to be missed market was held, vegetables, meat and some leather ware, mostly saddle and tack items. Keen to spend an afternoon ambling through the stalls we beat a track over undulating desert plains. Soon we were sweating gently under some eucalypt trees that surrounded a large and pleasant square that looked like it could house our market. There were a few stalls selling run of the mill goods for the more non discerning tourist. As our boat was not afloat Diane went of in search, coming back with bread, an orange, tomato, wine and no news of the market.
So we head out to find a national park that held our fabled petrified tree that have eluded us since we looked in Tanzania for them. Climbing high into the mountains again I was delighted to find such beauty in such barren landscape. Only the goats were a pain as they wandered the roads with as much road sense as a Roo. The hills were crossed with many tracks, from such a distance they could have been animal tracks or yet again haul roads for the huge dump trucks bringing down sand and rock for the construction of the highway. Coming sharply down about four hundred metres we found only an attractive camp ground, restaurant and bar close to where we should turn off, (this was a sign, CAMP HERE it read). No! Well ok then. We headed on to Coquimbo and La Serena where we failed to find any wild camping. The Ruta five was under major widening into a four lane highways subsequently the roadsides were fenced off to stop the goats from getting slaughtered under heavy machinery and us from getting to put our tent up for free. Failing to stop for fuel north of Serena we headed out into the wilds, carving up high into mountain passes opening out into long fast straights of good tar, only a few other vehicles heading the other way to distract our eye from the ever closing horizon. The other item to distract us was the amount of ka’s on the trip meter and the lack of fuel showing on the gauge. As nerve and enthusiasm was running lower than fuel we took an ‘F’ (they only go as small as ‘C’ in the UK), road east to a small town big enough to have a gas station. Where we would be able buy hot salty fries, days old in the Bain Marie, and camp for free out the back. A very tired old gentleman in a dusty store told me that the town had no gasolina and the church was newly painted but was closed during the day. Opting for a pretty young lady coming to buy bread for her many children I asked of the fuel situation, sure she smiled rushing to my side to take my pencil and paper to draw a mappa. But visibly slowing as she came into the radiance of my perfume, my leathers worn long days in hot dusty countries, much sweat and dirt, long weeks packed up in bags in the crate. Now freshly warmed in the sun, with new moisture to start the breeding cycle of God knows what off again. Anyway I soon had good directions of where to go, so off to purchase much needed fuel at twenty five per cent more than pump price, but as there was no pump one smiled and paid, much better than pushing the bikes!! The guy selling the fuel said we could camp anywhere in town, but as we had ridden around it a fair bit looking for fuel there was a growing number of curious children now. Not a problem in its self but later when we were camped up it may be. A bakkie with two road work men stopped and asked of our trip. (I lost the paper he gave with his name on, so sorry mystery man I can’t thank you here). I in turn asked of any camping place near by, he gave us a name and a town twenty ka’s away. Long shot I thought but we gratefully headed off.
It was now close to two hours to sunset and we were bushed.
Pulling off the highway at the said town, I said to Diane ‘there was a bar across the road, it would be a good place to ask of our guy Hugo, also a medical centre, we had good result from caring medics in Africa’, they often let us camp on their land.
Crossing the late afternoon traffic on the Ruta five, we passed behind a football pitch and headed out bush, to see a likely place we could set our tent.
We did, but a young man said no, we should come to the restaurant, no we replied here was good. This went on for a bit, then I showed the paper with the names on, ‘Yes this is Hugo’s place!!!” What a coincidence!!! We had fell upon it by chance. They showed us a cabin, shower, gave us a huge supper and a bigger bed, with feather dunas on it. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
But before I slept Hugo knocked lightly on the door and said “manana breakfast por favor mi amigos “.
How we had crossed the highway, found by accident Hugo’s casa and managed to not be eaten by his many perros we were not sure. Maybe the bibles we still carry and our possible good cama that we exude helps us on our journey!!
Day 1618 Saturday 21st March
We woke at day break and packed our gear, dutifully heading for breakfast with a very full belly from last night supper.
In the morning we talked with Hugo and he explained that he was developing a Cabanas and Restaurant for the workers that were involved on the road building and mineral mining, asked if we would mention it on our blog so as to advertise. Diane said we would put his details in ‘our useful information of South America’ page, his would be the first!!
HUGO HERRERA ‘LAS HERRERA’ Km 550 Pan Americana highway.
Cell 83792188 home 95518381 firstname.lastname@example.org
With much picture taking and exchanging of e-mail we rode out, managing to loose a five litre plastic fuel can I bought in Vio, Tanzania a few years back.
We threaded our way via many a new passages carved from the rocky mountains. When you see it so new and raw with the machinery still in place and the guys bolting together the dividing barriers it makes one appreciate the peaje charge when you are forced upon it. These guys up here for many months working on the road building, maybe for good money, maybe for a living…..
Heading out to a coastal town to buy sea monsters for supper we were duly molested and pestered by a parking attendant who promised to look after our bikes and subsequently showed us pictures of him sat on them. Not good cama! He took more pictures of us with his posh new looking cell phone as we packed, he then explained how poor he was and how much money he ‘deserved’. Giving him the equivalent of a beer we went in search of a camp.
We followed some signs that led us out into an olive grove. At the door the owner did not want to attend. Failing to rouse anyone we headed out bush and wild camped with the horses and goats, that kept their distance. Aside from an occasional train trundling past the place was totally quiet, only later in the evening did a light wind ruffle our tent. But did not ruffle the millions of stars.
Day 1619 Sunday 22nd March
Packing up while eating breaky and much tea we appreciated our surroundings and the solitude of being out camping wild.
The road was passing through what I guess is the southern limits of the Atacama desert, the mountains of rock had now turned into sand dunes. The whole picture from horizon to horizon was coloured in sepia tones, sand many shades of browns and creams, with the underlying rocks a dark chocolate. The sunlight adding more shading to the scene. All this contrasting against a blue sky with high wind blown white cloud.
Arriving in Copiapo, I was surprised to see buildings made from painted concrete and glass, a change from the partial board. The Plazza was immaculate, with tended lawns, statues and courting couples, many benches with older folks taking in the sunshine. We stopped early in our day to visit the mineral museum, we found it was closed Sunday and possibly Monday!! So being hot and sticky we picked a hotel that offered hot showers and secure parking. The lady that Diane bargained with over the room fee said “the water is scarce on Sunday so no laundry today”. One of the cleaning ladies looked surprised, and later on manager shift change, gave us washing soda and showed how to set a wash cycle. What a lovely lady!
Taking a walk into town we made a mental note not to expect anything to be open on a Sunday. We are also putting into practise travelling slower, less km in the day. Tomorrow is a bit of over kill, we plan to free camp on the beach eighty clicks distance! At Hugo’s recommendation we should visit this little slice of paradise.
Day 1620 Monday 23rd March
Riding out passed the museum of mineralogy it was indeed closed to the public on Monday, one of the attendants asked his grumpy boss if we could come in as we were not in town on Tuesday, grumpy boss said no.
So setting our hearts on saving money we headed for the coast to Bahia Inglesa. The town was very sea front and we soon hunted out a suitable tent space. Thinking it was best to make our intention clear the tent was soon up. The only slight disadvantage was we felt it best not to leave it unattended. So we took it in turns to see which shops were opening from a late siesta, and generally lazed about listening to the ocean. Which was considerably quieter than at La Ballina.
Day 1621 Tuesday 24th March
On the road early we set out for camping out at ‘The hand in the Desert’, a man made sculpture from iron and concrete not the stone I thought of many weeks /years ago. Stopping for fuel at Colunpia and then Chanaral, after checking with our gas attendant that fuel was available on the desert highway we headed out onto the Atacama. Climbing up the road we appreciated the colours of coffee, light and dark, changing where the water had passed.
Higher we climbed into the cloud and fog, slowing us down a big heap. We passed by a marker indicating fuel in one hundred metres, the surrounding clay was heavily cracked. Unusual I thought for the worlds driest place, then it wetted into lakes out into the distance. The trucks coming the other way were very muddy, a couple blew their horns and made ‘dip in the road’ gestures. Sure enough, soon we were paddling through thick mud being washed across what used to be the Pan American Highway. Soon we reached our roadhouse. Looking at it as we pulled in, it was like a disaster news reel. I saw that the forecourt was awash with mud two hundred mill deep, with ruts like a ploughed field where the trucks had been. So parking out on the highway verge I spoke with the guys at the pumps, they were friendly enough, cold wet but friendly. No fuel for us though, the underground tanks were water contaminated. They and said of ‘cabinas’ five hundred metres away. So of we rode to find a very smiley but very unhelpful Asian lady saying si to food but no to camping. We thought when begging bucks comes to town pick up the dollars. But not this time. Looking further a field I saw a mining camp, so with nothing to lose walked over and asked of gasolina. The guys were on an ‘off’ day and said sure we have gas, in the RV only we have to syphon it out. After this did not work as the filler neck was two metres long and the hose only one, our man said “we need a pump, to draw it to where the on board gen-set was, sorry. No fuel.” “I have a pump” I said so after chopping off the wiring and rigging up plumbing we were in business. We said we needed to have twenty litres of fuel to get us to Antofagasta. No problem was the reply. Almost two hours later we rode out with our fuel and our Saviour not asking for a Peso for it. So as we don’t have a name he is Hugo Correl. Hugo after Hugo HERRERA. The Correl after the company he worked for.
So we made it to the ‘Hand in the Desert stature’ and camped out as the light faded. Being very choosy as to where to pitch as there was a strong smell of wee about the area.
Although it’s the driest part of the world the fog and rain made us think otherwise.
Day 1622 Wednesday 25th March
Our camp was great, I had seen many pictures of this monument, I never dreamt one day I would see it, let alone camp next to it. We left early to Antofagasta for a camp ground for a reasonable amount of money. Not finding it, but finding the first rain fall in thirty years we dived in to a Holiday Inn for a blow out accommodation. The very helpful guy said they were full because of the computers were down, “so have tea and coffee, put your bike underground in the car park and relax”. So two hours later we left our bikes underground and walked the water swollen streets in search of food and the miniature big Ben clock. That we found and appreciated it’s almost shrill chimes.
On our walk back though the streets of liquefied dog shite we shocked to see literally hundreds of cockroaches washed out onto the pavement drowned in the muddy water. Made us appreciate our cholera shots in Australia.
Arriving back at the hotel our very nice man had left so we asked for a room as the computers were now back on-line, no room at the Inn was the reply from the female grumpy desk clerk. So we made light of the situation, ducked out of sight into the underground parking lot. We laid out our tarp and ate our food, and slept on our mats, avoiding the hundred dollar bill. But taking a huge risk if there was an emergency. For a five star hotel it certainly had a first class parking lot. Warm, dry and quiet. Only down side was when I moved in the night I bashed my head on my bike pannier..
Day 1623 Thursday 26th March
We slunk up to ground level at seven A.M. Saw a huge breakfast table set for the (paying) guests. So looking clean but feeling very grubby and probably very stinky as this was our fourth day without washing, not by choice but by fate and fortune! We helped ourselves to the full platers of hash browns, toast, jams, scrambled eggs, bread buns and scalding hot coffee. Savouring the flavour of food cooked by someone else. A full hotel breaky, always has been a favourite of mine. Being early it was all hot and delicious. We silently thanked the hotel, cleared away our plates, and rode out soon after. We wanted to stay a few more days at these rates, but thought we would get caught out living as moles and rats (cockroaches) under the floor.
The city was awful in the aftermath of such rainfall, the humidity was great and we were happy to get fuel and head into higher climbs and cool off a little. It made me think how fortunate we were at being able to leave the mess behind. Peoples lives and business ruined by nature. Passing through mining landscapes we saw much washed out roads and rail lines.
After a hundred and something or other clicks we arrived at Camen Alta roadhouse with fuel and water but no road out to the north, due to a double accident. So once again the Pan American Highway let us down. We camped up in the desert above the roadhouse and did heaps of bike stuff. Keeping an eye on the traffic, but nothing moved. At least we had a free camp, and food. Thankfully time as well, some folks would fret at this delay eating into their travelling time.
Day 1624 Friday 27th March
We sat and waited for a day to see what would happen on the road. As told we would be heading north in a day or so. While we sat and waited our time was well used carrying out bike maintenance and such. Walking to the nearby redundant nitrate working towns of the forties and sixties was an eye opener. Rows upon rows of small one roomed cabins made from the earth they stood on. Individual bricks of mud baked, then stuck together with wet mud to form a unified wall. Now the wind and relentless sun pushing them back into the ground, some as they never had been. A very Eco way of building we thought.
Day 1625 Saturday 28th March
Having being told by the local police that the road could take four days, we headed out early as the diversion was only a hundred or so km. The road into town was straight forward and picking up fuel was no problem, but heading out, as always was more difficult. An hour later we managed to find the road north. Despite a very kindly old lady telling us of the road out. Apart from being a one way highway the route was spot on. A friendly police man soon set us right, back into town to find the correct route out!!
Finding Ruta five we headed to the worlds most driest place. Surprisingly the rivers there was very wet and the valley full of shrubs and scrub trees. With no fuel we headed on to a roadhouse. Riding for a few hours we came across Quillagua, the worlds driest place. Must be the rain fall, as the river running through it gave the whole valley a many shades of green against the rocks and sand that dwarfed the town with steep sided mountains. Much rain there and the town would stand no chance of survival. The road cut through, over and around enormous valleys kilometres across, up and down hundreds of meters of rise and fall. One of the long passes was literally cut into the mountain side, just hanging there. The wind that blew that day from the ocean slowed us down to low twenties km, pushing across the thankfully deserted road.
At a police check point we bought some strange nice cake roll from a thirteen year old girl at a family run roadside hut. This place was a hundred and fifty km from anywhere, we wondered on her future, and if she even contemplated where we had been that day, or would be the next…
After eating a huge meal with a few beers we camped up out back for a crap night sleeping in the roadhouse shanty hamlet of Victoria.
Day 1626 Sunday 29th March
Waking late we packed up, with the stray dogs looking hopeful at our nothing breakfast. Soon we were riding north in a clear clean cool morning, the sun rising but giving little warmth to our right. Seventy km later in a small town I was playing tag with the local dogs as they raced along side us. While they would not give up the chase I thought I could cut them up a little. So when they showed no sign of backing off I cut into the right hand side a heap, causing the errant hound to think about its surroundings and back off.
By mid day we had found a backpackers in Iquique and moved in.
Day 1627 Monday 30th March
Walked the morning to find the car wash bay to rid our bikes of Atacama mud and see if the fabled “Tax Free Zone” was really that good. The Zofri was good if you were really intent on buying run of the mill tacky goods. The quality gear was still real life price. Failed to find the car wash bay so bikes still look very muddy!
Day 1629 Wednesday 1st April
Having exhausted the delight of this wonderful ocean side town we headed out north to Arica.
The city of Iquique lay at the side of ocean, at the foot of five hundred metre mountains towering above, if the rains came here….
The surrounding hillside in places were covered in Geoglyphs of men in strange poses and I think animals too, but what they were was beyond me.
At Arica we filled up and tried to fill a couple of water bottles for Bolivia as it is said fuel is scarce, they won’t sell to foreigners and very expensive. The attendant would not fill the unauthorised containers so I had to buy one. Only twenty litres was available, so this sat on the pillion of my bike. After failing to pay with two credit cards I was wondering why my so simple life was so frustrating. What would I be like in the real world?? managing to pay and leave after only taking two hours..
The road up and through the mountains to Bolivia was incredibly twisty, where the semi trucks had beaten the surface back to nature there would be holes big enough to hid a small car in. and at one point there was a small car broken down in a two metre deep ditch. The distance from the city to Putre was around one hundred and twenty km, after an hour or so we had covered almost sixty clicks. Just as you made some speed another labouring truck at two km per hour was belching out black smoke around the next bend. Slipping the clutch trying to keep the bike revving to find a straight long enough and clear to accelerate passed. Accelerate that’s a joke, the road was steep, the bike overheating slightly I had to rev much harder than normal to overcome gravity and get past this stinky, smoky obstacle, and keep an eye on the road surface as often you had to back off to roll into and out of another huge crater. One or two of these would be fun, but we probably passed a hundred or more, sometimes duck in and out of half a dozen at a time. Bet they loved us…..
Arriving late at Putre we asked a slightly shocked farmer if we could camp in his Lama paddock, “no” he said “camp over here the grass is much nicer and there is no Lama caca”. Lovely man (again, the world if full of helpful people), soon the pot was boiling our supper and we were swigging hot tea. Sleep could not come fast enough.
Day 1630 Thursday 2nd April
Day break for us in Chile has been around the seven thirty mark, so as the grey dissipated I made tea and we watched the new day approach over the mountain tops. It had got down to five degrees in the night and felt very cold now, not till two hours later was it warm enough to make porridge (thanks Peter and Kay). With the bikes packed we walked the old town of Putre feeling very much like tourists but not like the backpackers that are bought to town by the bus load to haggle over two dollars of grapes with some poor old lady that’s walked the hills to pick them a few days ago. (sorry, ranting).
Now sweating gently in bike gear as the mercury headed to thirty we packed our veggies and rode of into highway maintenance where we sat on a twenty five degree angle in full sun trying to to stare to badly at the young boy holding the ‘Pare’ sign. Never mind we were soon off into the early morning melee of trucks heading to the border.
The sixty km of truck baiting was much more pleasant this time as we were fresh and ready for the day
Stopping off to marvel at and take pictures of the Parinacota Volcano we hoped this one was a little more dormant than its cousin in Villarrica. The snow topped cone was a picture perfect vision of a volcano.
A few km down the track, no road any more was a ridiculously long line of trucks. As we carefully rolled passed them, around, in and out of the craters I realised this was not another miss-hap but the border at last.
Getting out of Chile was straight forward, into Bolivia a little more curvy. Picking up our temporary import forms for the bikes we were shown three hundred metres to another office where a very nice lady (see, there everywhere) soon gave up trying to help us with the Spanish only form and did it for us. Instead then of checking the numbers actually on the bikes she took us back to the first office. Probably locking us in so we could not bother her again. There the forms were put into a computer, more forms, more windows but it all went with a smile and handshake.