Valparaiso, Chile to Puerto Montt, Chile
October 16 2014 – October 31, 2014
A piscina to beholdAs is our wont, we took the scenic route from Valparaiso to Santiago, and found ourselves in Quintay, a dainty little beach town with a sprinkling of restaurants shouldering against one another as they vie for tourists’ business. Restorán Pezcadores won the battle and rewarded us with some delicious salmon. Well fed and feeling strong we continued along the coast to search for the largest swimming pool in the world. We found it in San Alfonso del Mar and chatted with the security guard carefully defending the empty expanse of water. He informed us there was now a new ‘largest pool in the world” in where else but Dubai. No surprise. Still, we were impressed by the size of the second largest pool, especially considering that there was nobody in it. The dazzling blue spectacle shrunk in our rearview mirror as we turned inland towards Santiago.
SantiagoThe capital city is the center of the largest conurbation in Chile and is home to just over 5 million inhabitants. Among them is Johnny Motos, reputable friend and mechanic to the overland crowd. Our good friend Marcia (who saved us with sandwiches and gas in the Atacama) pointed us to Johnny when we said we needed a place to work on our bikes. On top of the regularly scheduled oil and tire changes, we had a few bearings that needed to be replaced. So we showed up outside his nondescript garage and convinced ourselves we were lost, until the creaky door suddenly slid open and we were welcomed with warm handshakes, jovial beers and a promise of a lot of barbecued meat later on.
The following morning was spent scouring the Lira street in Santiago, looking for all the bearings and other spares we needed to prepare the bikes for the last push to the southern tip of the continent. We knew we had to cover almost 5000km after leaving Santiago before getting back up to Bariloche, and the further south we went, the scarcer supplies (and everything else) would become. We wanted to make sure the Wolf- and Zebramobiles were fighting fit and healthy for the harsh conditions ahead, and Johnny provided an ideal space, high quality tools and some good advice to prepare them. True luxury for the Wolf who was by now grudgingly accustomed to wrenching in dusty corners.
A French/Aussie connection
Hauling two full sized bikes through a tiny hostel entrance tends to alert other bikers to your presence, and so it was that we made the acquaintance of Alain Dupuis, a Frenchman who settled in Australia, before landing one of the sought after positions of Adventure Motorcycle tour guide in Patagonia. One might wonder why the position is sought after, since the job entails babysitting riders of all skill levels, who have paid to experience the patagonian adventure on two wheels, but want all the comfort and luxury one might expect with the price tag of several thousand dollars. Not for everyone I suppose, and most definitely not for me! But Alain thoroughly enjoyed his job, and spend a full evening poring over maps with us, giving us a full download on where to go and what to see on the Carretera Austral (the Southern Highway).
Relaxation before the final pushWith the bikes groomed and ready, and a notebook full of routes and places to see, we finally felt ready to relax for a minute and ready ourselves for the much anticipated ride through Patagonia. The fabulous Prochelle family – who we’re connected with through friends in Seattle – were kind enough to host us at their family compound just outside Santiago. A lush piece of land with 3 houses sheltering 3 generations of the family, and a pair of ragged adventure travellers. We indulged in a week of comfort, visiting the local mall to replace the flip-flops we lost up north, catching the latest Marvel movie, and then topped it all off with a good party to celebrate Johnny Moto’s birthday.
Surf’s upOur first stop south of Santiago was at a beach town known for huge, long, rolling waves. Pichilemu is considered by some to be one of the best beaches for surfing in Chile. We arrived in to a beautiful afternoon on the beach, but the water was cold and only the youngest tourists were brave enough to be swimming without a wetsuit. Everyone else was tightly wrapped in black neoprene, either learning to surf close to shore, or braving the breaks further out to sea. Being caught without wetsuits or surfboards, we satisfied ourselves with a brief beach workout with the local beach dogs.
Snow and rainWe had planned an evening of camping lakeside in the Conguillío National Park. En route we crossed a few menacingly fresh lava fields but the large sign assured us the eruption risk was low, so we kept going. Then we encountered a 4×4 vehicle beached on a large patch of snow with 2 chileans trying furiously to dig themselves out. Once they saw the Wolf was able to ride the bikes around the edge of the snow patch, they implored us to go ahead and let the party head of them know that they were stuck. We proceeded ahead, but I did not particularly enjoy the slithering sensation as we crossed several smaller snow patches in the road. Eventually we were stopped in our tracks by a gently sloping, snow covered uphill. I stopped short and knew this was not possible for me. The Wolf found his wheels spinning 8 meters up the hill. He turned rabid and insisted on trying two more times, resulting in much head shaking from me, and a vertical protest from the Wolfmobile. Finally the Wolf let go, and we consoled ourselves with lunch beside a smaller lake we had passed earlier.
The next couple of days passed in a rain drenched blur. Occasionally the downpour would stop long enough for us to dry out, only making the consequent saturation all the more disagreeable. The surrounding landscapes were gorgeous, based on what we could see through the grey mask of raindrops in motion. The deluge was punctuated by a pleasant stop in Villarica. We ultimately sloshed into Puerto Montt feeling fairly pickled in rainwater. As we dried out in our weird little hostel run by an unpermissive Chilean woman and her outlandish American husband, we felt our bellies grumbling. We set out to find a little Okinawan restaurant The Wolf had spotted on our way into town. Shima Aji is hidden gem and one of our best food stops of the whole trip. Roberto-San and the Wolf bonded over Okinawan history and we discovered he hails from one of the most famous martial arts bloodlines.
In addition to the captivating stories, we were fed the most delicious Okinawan fare, including strawberry sushi, which was truly amazing. After a long, enchanting evening, we headed back to our odd accommodations armed with two bento boxes that Roberto-San insisted on donating to us for the following day’s adventures on Chiloe Island.
The Churches of Chiloè
Our most important investment in Puerto Montt turned out to be our thick, impermeable, yellow fisherman’s suits. They were large enough to wear over the top of our Rev’It gear and fended off quantities of rain that goretex is no match for. Bundled up like two daffodil colored bibendums we boarded the ferry to Chiloé Island, the largest island of the Chiloé Archipelago seperated from the mainland by the Chacao Strait. Apart from being a picturesque, if rainy, island, Chiloè is known for it’s many churches. They are built in the Chilota architecture style and are a unique architectural phenomenon in the Americas. They are made entirely in native timber with extensive use of wood shingles. We enjoyed a tranquil day exploring the island, stopping only to munch on our bento boxes and be invited indoors to escape a cloudburst by a particularly friendly local woman.
Fame and recognition
We found a charming guesthouse in Castro, the island’s capital, and treated ourselves to a fancy dinner. The next morning we had a brush with tragedy as one of the persistently chasing dogs managed to get some teeth into the Wolf’s boot cover and ripped a piece of it off. The boot covers were very cheap, and only a few notches above wearing plastic bags on one’s feet, but we had grown to understand the deep value they had to us in these monsoon conditions. We spent the next hour outside a hardware store repairing the boot with industrial strength ducktape. With the Wolf’s paws fully waterproofed once again, we rode off to explore the rest of the island. During our lunch stop we encountered a fan. It was the most unexpected event. A man approached our table, and said: “You’re Wolf and Zebra, right?”
We stared at him in dumb shock.
“I follow you on ADVrider. (a motorcycle forum) I’m a rider too, but I don’t have a bike at this moment. Anyway, good luck”
After we recovered from our momentary stupor at being internet famous, the Wolf ran after the chap and gave him some stickers.
Penguins and their palsWe ended our day with a visit to the Punihuil penguin colony which is unique because it is the only place where both Magellanic penguins and Humboldt penguins settle for breeding offspring. Our timing was impeccable and we were able to dismount the bikes, and step directly onto the boat, already dressed for the occasion in our fancy fisherman’s suits. The penguins were awkwardly cute, the otters curious and adorable and we encountered our first Fuegian steamer duck. They are peculiar birds that are unable to fly, and instead run along the water, creating a plume of steaming water behind them as they go – hence their name.
With the dramatic evening light scattering rainbows across the landscapes, we started to make our way back to Puerto Montt for a last supper at Shima Aji before hitting the renowned Careterra Austral.