Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Quellón


The waterfront at Quellón, Chiloé, Chile


Woke at 9:30. It was quite warm in the tent. Learned that the end of the Pan-American Highway is just down the road, so I figured I had to see it. Packed up, not comfortable with leaving my tent set up here, though I intended to return tonight.

The monument was not much to look at. The flags of Chile, Quellón and Alaska flying. The American flag was there too, but all tangled up.

Conversed with a docent in a little tourism office. He said that during the night, some people "with a different way of thinking" came and tied up the American flag. We talked about how beautiful the land is here, and he said I must visit the islands nearby.

I told him I was going to see Pumalin Park and he said he thinks it's quite a good thing that Doug Tompkins has done, creating such a preserve. In contrast to what former Presidential candidate Pinero is doing, buying up large tracts of land in Chiloé for real estate development.

Then the conversation took a strange turn. Out on the islands, he said is a good place to see flying saucers. He has seen them numerous times. And then he drew pictures of various-shaped spacecraft he has seen! A friend of his arrived and joined us.

Without knowing what we had been discussing, the friend said he had a question for me. He started to talk about some land he owns outside town, and I thought perhaps he was looking to sell it. But then he spoke of seeing objects in the heavens, "en el cielo".

Suddenly, I was in a hurry to get to town. "I’ve got to buy my ferry ticket before the office closes at 1:00." A convenient excuse.

Went to the "Naviera Austral" office on the waterfront. They operate the region’s ferries. The ferry to Chaiten cost 24,000 Pesos for me and the bike – about $48. A lot, in my mind.

Over to “Cyber Zoan”. Crammed into a corner cubicle. My laptop had to be configured for their particular “high speed” connection (involves assigning different "IP" and "DNS" addresses). I can never figure out why some locations require manual assignment, while my computer automatically connects in other environments (if there are any techs reading this, I’d appreciate being enlightened.)

The "high speed" comes and goes, it seems with the amount of users in a café. I’m really impressed how popular internet cafés are. They’re becoming an essential part of everyday life. It’s funny to see and hear young people “chatting” and video-conferencing over the internet. The faces light up as the communiqués are exchanged.

Over the course of eight hours, I think I only managed to get a couple entries completed. Too much trouble to leave, I just snacked. A (nice) supermarket next door provided a quick source of junk food. As the sun began to set, I closed up shop and hurried back to the campground to secure my site for the night. There were a few families there already.

Asked the campground manager for a dinner recommendation and he said if he were going out, he’d choose “El Chico Leo”, on the waterfront.

I went there and ordered the curanto, the traditional Chiloe dish “cooked in a hole in the ground”: mussels, clams, salmon, chicken, sausage, pork, broth, potato, dumplings (at first I feared these were some unknown seafood), salsa. A huge plate of food. "Cerveza Austral" to wash it down.

During the meal, the restaurant's TV lost power and there was almost complete, and uncomfortable, silence. "What do we do now?" TV is a big attraction in many restaurants. What a relief when the staff was able to restore power!

The weather has been amazingly good in Chile. It has made traveling so much easier and pleasant.

Quellón, Chiloé, Chile

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 1:30 p.m.

The "Ciber Zoán" internet café

Though I have about fifteen journal entries to finish, I'll start with the latest first, so you'll at least know I'm alive and well(-fed).

Quellón is at the end of the road, literally, on Chiloé island, south of Puerto Montt, Chile.

At a windy point just across the bay from here, the Pan American Highway ends, after a 22,000-kilometer run from Anchorage, Alaska. Late last night, I found a pleasant campground a short distance from the monument.

This is a gritty fishing town. The wealth seen elsewhere in Chile hasn't quite trickled down here. But I have a day to get to know the place a little better. Thus far, all the people I've met here have been very kind and helpful.

I'm waiting for a ferry that runs to Chaiten on the mainland, where I'll visit "Parque Pumalin", then pick up the "Carretera Austral", the highway that will take me another 500 or 600 miles south in Chile, before I cross back to Argentina. The ferry only runs to Chaiten on Wednesday and Friday.

The farther I get from the big cities, the more difficult to find good internet connections. Though called "high speed", many internet cafés have tediously-slow service, and posting blog entries becomes quite a task. The "Ciber Zoán" is not bad though, and I'm almost afraid to leave it! The next big cities are Punta Arenas and Ushuaia, probably a week off.

***


The end of the Pan-American Highway outside Quellón, Chile. The flags of Chile, Quellón and Alaska are flying. The American flag is there too, but tied up!

A docent at the tourism office here said that during the night, some people "with a different way of thinking" came and tied up the American flag. I came back later to "free" our flag, but it had been removed!

Puerto Veras to Quellón, Chiloé (Part 2)

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 About 1:00 a.m

I’m at a campground right at the end of the Pan American Highway (Highway 5 in Chile). I arrived here about half an hour ago, after a bizarre little side-trip.

Just north of Quellón, is a cluster of small towns, including Conco and Santa Rosa. A sign on the highway indicated camping off on this side road. It was gravel (and it was night, 10:00 p.m.) About six miles out, following the shore of an inlet, I think, the road suddenly turned up a little canyon and before I realized, I was committed. It was narrow, steep and there was no room to turn around.

And the off-camber path was filled with round cobbles and soft dirt. I came to a halt in a rut and couldn’t progress any further. The bike started sliding backward and the brakes weren’t holding. Gaining momentum, there was nothing I could do but let it fall under me.

The bike was at such an angle I was able to lift it up again and get back on, but I still needed to get it pointed back down hill; fully-loaded I wasn't going to get any further up the hill. Using a technique of turning the front wheel from side to side, while trying to keep the rear wheel in place, the front wheel slipped downhill an inch or so at a time.

Working it this way, I nearly had the front coming around to the downhill side, when the shoulder started to give way and I was now sliding forward, into a ditch. The bike went over again, this time on the left side (with the engine - and weight -uphill), breaking the front turn signal. (I’m now accustomed to the sound of crunching turn signals.) If the bike fell into this small ravine, there would be no way to get it out without help.

Wearing my headlamp, and walking all around, I studied the situation for a while. First, everything would have to come off (except the left pannier, which was trapped underneath.) I could then try to pivot the bike around on its left cylinder head and pannier (damaging both). I didn't like that option, though it would be the easiest. Or I could first lift it upright while attempting to prevent it from rolling off into the ditch. (Reverse would be nice to have at a time like this.) Then I would try to lift the front end back onto the road.

It was a humbling experience, as a series of poor decisions (or reactions) brought me to this point. It was foolish to be out here, in the middle of the night, to have kept driving rather than stop to ask for help (finding a campsite).

There was no use in becoming angry, or feeling sorry for myself. It was just one of those situations you have to patiently work through. (A part of me felt like laying down and going to sleep right there.)

Carefully removed each piece of gear; I couldn't afford having the bike slide any further off the road. Climbed down the embankment, and grabbed the front wheel, lifting it slightly, making sure the bike wouldn’t tip, then resting. Then repeating. Eventually, I had it back up on the road, but I still had to get it down out of this rubble.

Maneuvered gingerly another 50 yards down the road, to a point where I felt it could safely be re-loaded. Perhaps most annoying was that everything I had so carefully cleaned in Bariloche was pretty much a dusty mess again. (But, to my surprise, this whole episode felt like only a minor annoyance.)

Back on the road to Quellón, looked for some vacant space where I could camp. But fence lines restricted access beyond the road. The cold wind, which earlier had me very anxious to find a refuge, now, after a little exertion, felt refreshing. I was no longer in a hurry.

In town, I "broke down" and inquired after a room at the "Hotel Suizza", but they were full. The manager told me there is a campground at the end of the highway, three kilometers away (why didn’t I ask before?) and mentioned another nearby hotel.

Before looking into the campground, I stopped at a hotel along the waterfront. They had space, but $40 was far too much for what you get. So, I continued driving. Things were looking a bit dismal at this point.

Then I found the turn-off for the campground, and drove down the dirt road. A woman met me as I arrived. She said there were plenty of sites, and the cost was 2,000 Pesos, about $4. When I asked if she sells drinks, she said they don't but invited me into their house, where her husband was busy cleaning up after dinner.

She offered me some pineapple soda and typical bread (something like a cross between a shortbread and a muffin: about 3 or 4" diameter, very dry and no sweetness.) It was a welcome gesture capping an otherwise trying night.

The campsites are spread around the perimeter of a grassy field, each site with covered picnic table, light and electrical hook-up. It felt luxurious!

Puerto Veras to Quellón - Part 1


Kris McDivitt Tompkins, partner in the creation of "Pumalin Park", a privately-owned 742,000-acre natural preserve in southern Chile. With their team, Kris and Doug Tompkins are currently developing a similar project in Argentina.


This morning, a gray sky, the low clouds moving swiftly over the landscape. I went down the hall for breakfast, but it looked very different from yesterday. Nothing was set up. The staff wasn't ready to serve. I returned to the room to give them some more time. With about a fifteen-day back-log of journal entries, it's hard to break away and move down the road, farther from good connections.

While loading up the motorcycle, another guest came over to chat. He was from Santiago and said he also has a BMW R1200GS. With only 12,000 kilometers on his bike, he too has had many problems.

Into Puerto Montt, I quickly found the office for “Proyecta Pumalin”. Parque Pumalin is an enormous 742,000-acre private preserve southeast of Puerto Montt, created by Doug and Kris Tompkins and their "Conservation Land Trust". (Brother Drew has worked with Kris in the past, and provided the inspiration to visit the park. My daughter, Jessica further encouraged me to come here after hearing a report on Pumalin Park in school.)

The office is a large old house surrounded by a walled garden. Very secluded, in the midst of the city. Inside the entry, on the right is a wall with the lower half filled with cubbies, containing shoes. A sign nearby states “sin zapatos”. No shoes. There are pristine wood floors throughout.

As I entered, Kris McDivitt Tompkins, walked past then stopped back to briefly greet me. She was preparing to leave for Santiago, but arranged for an assistant to provide information about visiting Pumalin Park. The offices were bustling with activity.

I asked the assistant if I might take a photo of Kris before she left. Kris had gone into a meeting, but she would check. Wandered the lush gardens and read about the Park.



Fuchsias in the garden of "Proyecto Pumalin's" office in Puerto Montt


After about 45 minutes, Kris was available, and I asked her to step outside the entry where the lighting was a little better (I felt even a few minutes was quite an imposition, in view of the monumental tasks she has undertaken.) Kris said she spends half her time in Pumalin and half in Argentina, where they now have a similar project underway.

(Click on this link for a 2007 ABC News Nightline story on Doug and Kris Tompkins and Parque Pumalin.)

My next mission was to find some cash. I had no idea how much ferries would be costing, and no idea where the next bank would be. Tried a couple of ATMs, but my card failed to work. I still don’t quite know what to look for in a bank! The third one succeeded, but limited the withdrawal to $200, so I had to make two transactions instead of one (for which I’ll be charged $10 each. Talk about piracy!)

Refueled and topped up my tires with air. Drove around the waterfront at Puerto Montt. The downtown district was busy with cars and pedestrians. Where do they all come from? I thought this was almost the end of the Earth! An intense wind comes over the western hills and across the bay. The water in Puerto Montt's harbor is quite choppy.

Left town and drove toward Pargua, and the ferry to Chiloé. It took two hours to reach the ferry and make the crossing. The line for the ferry was over a mile long, but I just drove past it, hoping I was invisible. I’ve heard you can do this on a motorcycle! No one reprimanded me.



The ferry from Pargua to Chacao, on the island of Chiloe. Four of these tanker trucks will squeeze aboard.



Tucked away, and off they go...


I thought I’d be first aboard, but the first ferry was loaded with four gasoline tankers, then sent on its way. The next ferry with tour buses, then it too pulled away. When the third one arrived, I was directed to move aside, but the officer assured me I’d get aboard. The service is fairly rapid, with only twenty minutes or so between ferries.






It’s a short crossing, but the channel is rough. I strapped the bike down, though the crew didn’t seem concerned.


On the northwestern tip of Chiloé island is the Pinguinera Puñihuil, penguin nesting area. I decided to have a look. The gravel road out to the sanctuary was freshly-graded. As I’ve said before, graders are not my friends!

Approaching the site, a young man wearing an orange life vest was stopping traffic. “You want to see the penguins?” He then began to list prices, but I realized his services were merely optional. I started to drive past him. He indicated he could ride with me, but I waved him off.

A couple more miles in to the beach, all freshly-graded and at places, tricky. Then across a stream and out onto the beach. The sand was firm: no trouble riding on it. Lots of tire tracks led down the beach to boats, rafts and restaurants. There are three islands off shore. I was approached by a tour guide. He would take me out to the islands by raft for about $5 or $6, but for some reason, I didn’t want to bother.



One of three islands that comprise the Pinguinera Islotas de Punihuil, a breeding sanctuary for Humboldt and Magellan penguins. Beyond the boats, the island shore is crowded with penguins. I opted to stay ashore and not hire a boat to go see the colony. I figure I'll be seeing many more down south. (Though I later read the Humboldt penguin is extremely endangered, and their population is quite small.) Their future is precarious, as fishing, harvesting guano and tourism all threaten the penguins.



After reading about the threats to the penguins, I realized my presence wasn't helping matters! Vehicles are free to drive on the beach near the sanctuary, and quite a few people apparently make their living taking tourists out around the islands in small inflatable boats.


Two fellows came over to look at the bike. They were from Copenhagen, Denmark. We chatted for a while, then went up the beach to a new restaurant. Sat down to a generous serving of local Corvina, mashed potatoes and salad.



On the beach at Puñihuil, I met Glenn Roholte and Anders Schroll Andersen, from the area around Copenhagen, Denmark. We sat down together for lunch at a small beachfront restaurant. The two are driving around Chile, camping, fishing and trekking. (Glenn's a "Moto Guzzi" rider!)



On the road out, there is a short-cut to the south. Taking this option, after a few miles riding the gravel, I stopped to ask someone walking along the road “este direccione Castro?” (Is this the way to Castro?)

"No! Castro’s back the other way. This road’s very bad," he said. Being cautious, I followed his direction. Eventually, it became clear that he was simply directing me back to the main highway, a round-about trip that I was trying to avoid.

Every day, there are many reminders that motorcycling requires attention: on this particular road, an “unannounced” s-curve caught me off guard coming and going. I hit the brakes when I realized I was going far too fast, but that took me on a straight line into the curve, which forced me into the oncoming lane. Twice. Not good.

My friends from Copenhagen stayed at Castro last night and recommended it as the best town they had seen on Chiloé, so I targeted that city as my destination. Lots of campgrounds and cabañas in the north of the island.

Castro looked more run-down than I expected, though I did find a nice-looking hotel along the quay. It turned out to be “El Unicorno Azul” that the Danes had stayed at. However the $60 price was far too much for me.

Tried two more hotels, but the price was over $30, and they were pretty run-down. I’d rather camp than pay so much for a marginal hotel. So I continued south, though it was now past sunset. Quellón was still an hour to an hour and a half drive.

On the outskirts of Castro there were a few cluttered, unappealing campgrounds, then nothing. I had entered farming and fishing country, not recreation country. The smell along some of the inlets where salmon were being factory-farmed was pretty disgusting. Apparently, this is a big industry for Chiloé.

Drove all the way into Quellón, but I only saw one hotel, the “Suizza”, on a busy downtown corner. (To be continued...)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Puerto Veras and La Valle de los Volcanes


Volcan Osorno's summit (with the ski lift skirting across the lower left)


At 11:30 p.m., while working on the computer, I hear children's songs playing on the hotel's stereo: "Go Tell Aunt Rosie", "Do You Know the Muffin Man", "Old McDonald's Farm", "Little Brown Jug", "On Top of Spaghetti", and others.

Took a drive eastward today, into the Valle de los Volcanes.



Volcan Osorno, near Puerto Varas, Chile, viewed from across Lago Llanquihue ("yankee-way"), Chile's largest lake



Germans Rudolf Miller and Raimund Haaf


At Lago Todos los Santos, I met German riders Rudolf Miller and Raimund Haaf. They had shipped their BMW motorcycles from Hamburg to Valparaiso. They're from the Freiburg region in southwestern Germany. Currently on a visit 6 to 8 weeks in length, Rudolf intends to leave his motorcycle in Chile and eventually return to continue his travels. Over time, he hopes to ride the entire Pan-American Highway from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. We walked out to the lake shore, then these crazy Germans actually stripped down to their bathing suits and went in the frigid waters!



Looking east across Lago Todos los Santos toward Argentina. From here, San Carlos de Bariloche is only about 75 miles by water (but the boats that travel the lakes are too small to carry vehicles.) It took me most of a day to travel the 250 miles around by road.


Cars are permitted to drive on the beach, and we watched as one became hopelessly stuck in the sand, the driver burning up his clutch as he sunk his car deeper and deeper. It finally took a group of us spectators to push the clown out.

Paid a visit to the nearby Saltos de Petrohué. There is a small fee (1,200 Pesos, about $2.50) to enter this park and view the falls, or cascades. There's a small bin by the exit where you can deposit your spent camera batteries for recycling. A novel idea!



The Saltos (Cascades) del Petrohué


I found this was not an "original" idea to come here; there was lots of company. I had to work hard to make the photographs look like a remote, undiscovered paradise! There, in the crowd, I met Lenka, a young lady from Holland. She's on her way to work for a couple months in Torres del Paine. So many people, far from home!



The Saltos del Petrohué and Volcan Osorno






My map showed a road that climbs Osorno, but gave no indication of the type of road, so I was a bit surprised to find a smooth, narrow and winding asphalt road leading up through the heavily-forested slopes. After a few miles, the pavement ended, and the road continued, a rather rough and rocky (though apparently still well-traveled) trail. The trees gave way to rock- and boulder-strewn open slopes providing a broad panorama.

I had to laugh when I finally realized this road led directly to a large ski resort, that, even in this summer season, is a popular drive for many. So much for "adventure riding"! The ski lift was operational, but $10 for a ride part-way up the slope seemed exorbitant. I sat down with a soda at the coffee shop, and enjoyed the view.





This evening, I drove into Puerto Varas, intending to find Rudolf and Raimund at their hostel "La Casa Azul". I thought it would be no problem.

I had told them I'd be there at 8:00. But it was soon clear, my directions were inadequate. I found a hotel in what I thought was the general vicinity and inquired at reception. They said I was very close and gave me directions to the place, a few hundred yards away.

I found an old blue Victorian and rang the bell. Close, but this was the "Canales del Sur". The woman told me "La Casa Azul" is on Avenida Imperial, where the church is. I found the church but it was not on Avenida Imperial. Asked a man there. He said I was close, and pointed me to a street not far way. I found Imperial and drove up and down. No obvious "La Casa Azul". Stopped at another hotel on Imperial and asked if they could help. They didn't recognize the name, nor could they find it in the phone book.

So, with that, I gave up and figured I'd be dining solo. Wandering the downtown district on my bike, I found a very interesting seafood restaurant at the end of a cul-de-sac. Went inside and found it filled with perhaps 50 German tourists (just not the two I was looking for.) The waiter from my hotel spotted me. He works here as well.

The owner said I should come back in half an hour. It would be quieter then. Found a great little internet café and art gallery: the Puerto Café. Ordered a coffee and checked e-mail, then returned to the restaurant. The group was still dining, enjoying their wine. The owner suggested another half an hour.

Walked to a square where a free concert was underway. Walked past the Casino Puerta Varas and window-shopped along the main street. Returned to the restaurant. There was live entertainment now: a musical group was singing for the Germans and everyone was having a great time. They would not be leaving soon.

I rode around a bit more before deciding to go the the local Lider supermarket. Bought a couple empanadas and some snack foods.

***

Note to self: I have to be careful, as my cynicism often parades in the guise of "honesty"!

Borde de Lago Hotel

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Whoa! The day (and the month of January) is slipping away. Slept until 9:30. Another hotel that's just too comfortable!

Coastal fog giving way to breezy blue skies. I hope to take a ride into the "Valle de los Volcanes" later.

In the second-floor restaurant, just down the hall from my room, an "American-style" breakfast is served: coffee, tea, juice, fruit, cereals, breads, eggs, ham, pepperoni, "dulce de leche" (a caramel-like sauce to spoon over bread), and "kuchen", a fluffy custard and berry cake.

Sat down next to the managers. The hotel has only been open a week, and there are few guests.

The music playing is decidedly American: Counting Crows, REM, Eagles, Madonna. In fact, I've heard several Chileans say they learn English as much through songs as through school.

Yarelli, the receptionist, has been a tour guide in Chiloé and at Volcan Osorno and had suggestions about what to see today.

(Sometimes it feels like the stream of names and places is just too difficult to keep up with!)

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Bariloche, Argentina to Puerto Veras, Chile


It is easy to understand how Germans, Swiss and Italians fell in love with the San Carlos de Bariloche region. It is reminiscent of the Alps.


At 6:00 a.m., it was still dark. Savored the early morning: it's so nice by the lakeshore. Though the highway goes right by this hotel, the building's configuration shields the rooms on the lakeside from the noise. Mostly, you just hear the water.

After checking out, I wanted to travel the “Circuito Chico” loop out to Llao Llao Parque Nacional. I had been told it's a beautiful drive, and not very far. I had come close the other day, but at the time didn't realize the road I was on made a loop. I turned around. It is amazing how like Italy's lakes region this is!



The Llao Llao Hotel and Resort, outside of San Carlos de Bariloche





Returning to town, fueled up and left Bariloche, bound for Chile once again. Another perfect day for riding. It's a bit over an hour's drive to the frontier, all on excellent highway.



San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina spreads out beneath the Cordillera de los Andes. In the foreground, "California" poppies!


There is a marked contrast between Chilean and Argentine checkpoints. The Chilean office, a model of organization and efficiency, the Argentine office...well, not. My timing was bad: I arrived just after a large tour bus had unloaded. It took probably an hour to get through.

The pass to Chile is fairly low. The Andes are "shrinking" the farther south I go. No longer the intimidating rampart they presented to the north. In the mountains, big “horse flies” attack the flesh. It is common to see tourists flailing away, trying to repel the onslaught of these hungry insects.



Along the Chilean-Argentine border, stands Cerro Pantojo, the basalt plug or core of an ancient volcano. The mountain has eroded away.


Along the western slopes of the Andes, the landscape is dramatically different: forests and green fields, rich farmlands, and an orderliness and perfection that makes me think of Germany. There are raspberry farms, and wild berry bushes growing along the highway shoulders. The air is fragrant from grasses and wildflowers. It's a beautiful countryside.

Approaching Osorno, I chuckled at the chainsaw billboards, so common in southern Chile. (I can't recall seeing such billboards anywhere else in my travels.) And hot dog (salsicha) billboards!

Made a brief foray into Puerto Montt, where I found hotels to be expensive, and the city to be not particularly appealing. Then I remembered nearby Puerto Veras: the manager at "Hotel Patagonia" in Bariloche recommended it as a nice town to visit. Drove ten miles north out of Puerto Montt, and found the "casino town" of Puerto Veras.

On the outskirts, along Lago Llanquihue, I came upon the "Borde de Lago Hotel". The small hotel appeared still under construction, but a man working outside waved me in. They had rooms available, and it looked very nice, but when I learned the price, $70, I almost choked. "Sorry, too much!"

But I took a look, nevertheless, wondering what $70 buys you here. The rooms and furnishings looked brand new.

Then he offered "how about $40?"

I shrugged.

"$35?"

"Okay, I'll take it."

It was a clean, very peaceful setting, with only a five-mile drive to town.

***

Tonight, it appeared the kitchen staff was working solely for me. A fish (congrio) dinner was quite nice, if not spectacular. Tried the “Royal Guard” cerveza. Forget it!

The server, “Francisco” (also known as "Poncho", the common nickname for Franciscos throughout Latin America), spoke some English and told me he's studying journalism. When he learned of my travels, he said he wanted to do a story about me. I later sent him my photo and link to the website.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Bariloche

Up at 8:30, not having slept well. Maybe four hours’ rest

I went to the “Cyber Café” for five or six hours today. There, a tall fellow introduced himself: Steven Sohrakoff from Newport, Oregon. He's riding a KLR, on his way back to Oregon from Tierra del Fuego. He said he’d never go there again. "Cold and boring." Torres del Paine, he said was "like Disneyland"; Fitz Roy is a much better destination.

Upon closer "inspection", I found the busy "restaurant" across the street is in fact “Abuela Goye Chocolates”, one of two chocolate shops my server recommended last night (the other being “Mamucka”- sp?) Of course, I couldn't leave without a purchase.

Took a three-hour nap in the afternoon. Afterwards, I felt "drugged". (Any connection to that chocolate?)

***

Dinner at “A Los Bifes” tonight, another parrilla restaurant. Here, you receive a tiny cup of raspberry wine as a greeting.

Chose the vacio al asador, a kind of beef roast. But it's a stringy meat, not much to my liking. A great chimichuri salsa brings some life to it though. The vegetales a las brasas, grilled vegetables, were rather dried-out. Tried a 375ml bottle of “Trapiche” 2005 Malbec. (Young! A light simple wine, some strawberry fruit, but not much character. I suspect it’s this well-known winery's lower-tier product.) It was warm, so I asked the server to put it on ice “como Champagne”.

The drinking age is apparently 18 here (at least, that’s what the wine labels imply!)

***

I don't think I've ever seen as many hitch-hikers as in this region. It's a common and accepted mode of travel for teenagers, single women, families, backpackers. locals and foreigners alike. It must be fairly safe.

***

About 140 days since leaving Texas. That’s about how much time I have until Jessica’s graduation!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hanging out in Bariloche


The view from my hotel window in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina


Went out looking for a place to wash the bike, but the one shop people directed me to is on a dirt road. That doesn't make sense!

Worked at the "Cyber Cafe" until 7:30. For lunch, I "dined in": they offer good empanadas! Coffee and "Coke" kept me caffeinated.

Dinner at "La Machaza Parrilla Patagonica" recommended by the hotel clerk. It's located at "Bustillo Kilometer 7.966." I was told the "locals go there." A family-oriented restaurant, with a play area for the kids.
The same family I dined next to last night, came in and we waved to each other. Guess we're on the same mission, to compare parrillas in Bariloche.

Filet mignon, cuoso (medium rare): at least one pound for 24 Pesos (about $8). Bodega Del Fin del Mundo 2003 Malbec (46 Pesos, a little over $15), bottled water 67 cents, potatoes, $1.75. Total: 77 Pesos (about $26). An expensive meal by Argentine standards, yet a bargain to me. (And beef goes together with red wine so much better than does lamb!)

As is often the case, I had to ask for la cuenta, the bill. The fact that you've finished your meal, the table is cleared and you're "twiddling your thumbs" doesn't send a sufficient signal. Curious. Perhaps it's the standard, for the server to wait for your request, rather than "imposing" the the bill on the diner.

Again, I stuffed the remaining half-bottle of wine inside my jacket for the ride back to the hotel. (Don't know what I'm going to do with all this wine!)


***

Reminder: anything that's annoying or irritating - if possible, get rid of it. Its effect is cumulative. The sooner the stimulus is removed, the better the result.

Too quiet?

I apologize if you've been checking the website and seeing nothing new for a while! I've been a bit disconnected from the World Wide Web since leaving Santiago.

But I've come to San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, "chocolate capital of the Southern Hemisphere", in search of inspiration. Stay tuned for a caffeine and sugar-induced writing frenzy! (Either that, or I'll slip into a caffeine and sugar-induced coma.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

San Martin de los Andes to San Carlos de Bariloche

Near Villa La Angostura, you pick up pavement again and it's a refreshingly smooth (and dust-free) ride to Bariloche. Just north of Bariloche, the road descends from the mountains into the starkly-contrasting, barren pampas. But only for a short time. It skirts around Lago Nahuel Huapi, and returns westward towards the Andes. There, tucked up against the mountains, is Bariloche, in a setting reminiscent of northern Italy. You can understand why Swiss, German and Italian immigrants chose this as the place to recreate a bit of their homeland.

I was arriving at a reasonable hour, so I anticipated better luck in finding a hotel. But it was soon apparent this is high season in the popular city. One of the first hotels I tried, the "Hotel Patagonia" had a room, but at nearly $40 it was expensive (I thought) and "too easy". No character!

So I said "I'll think about it" and went off to explore other options. Another hour or more of searching, and visits to about ten hostels, hotels and campgrounds convinced me options were few. I'd be foolish to pass up that first room. I returned and checked in.

I think of the $40 price, but then consider "I'm an expensive guest": because all my gear is coming in, it's going to get torn down and everything's going to be washed in the sink and bathtub, then hung to dry. It will be a mess!

Laundered my riding suit, boots, clothes, panniers, waterproof bags. Just about everything.

***

Following the hotel manager's recommendation for a typical Argentinean parrilla dinner, I drove out to "El Patacón", at "Kilometer 7" on the highway. (Trivia: the Patacón was the first coin of Argentina.)

I was instructed to try the cordero al asador, lamb roasted over an open wood fire "a la cruz", on a steel cross.

Just inside the door, I was greeted with a "welcome drink": vermouth, lemon and pomello (grapefruit) juice, plus sugar. The restaurant is large, but tonight not particularly busy. My server says it's busier in winter, when the city is snow-covered. (I didn't picture this as a place that would receive snow. It was so warm today!)

On my barber's advice (no jokes), ordered a bottle of wine from "Bodega Del Fin Del Mundo": their 2003 Merlot. (I was told I didn't have to finish it; you can take partial bottles home in Argentina.) The winery is in Neuquen, the Rio Negro region of Patagonia. (It's so strange to think I'm actually in Patagonia! But then Patagonia is a big place, stretching nearly half the length of Argentina.)

The wine is served with nice big crystal glass (the kind that can hold a half-bottle or more.) Plenty of room to swirl, sniff and spit. Not spit. DRINK!

One of the things I fret about in a nice restaurant is not dribbling red wine down the outside of my nice crystal glass. It's so disgusting! By sheer accident I discovered that if you barely touch your lip to the glass, it works much better. (I wonder if Martha knows that? I better write her.)

Caesar salad, excellent lamb (though it's not my favorite meat) and mashed potatoes. Too much food!

I think I lingered three hours over this meal, finishing with "Cabrales" coffee (of Buenos Aires - very good.)

Slow food, indeed!

Looking around, I again notice there are so many pregnant women! Argentina's at it too!

***

With a little time to reflect, and that philosophical perspective that a little wine draws out, I began to think about this journey. Many have remarked that it must be "life changing". I don't know; at least not at this point.

There are many lessons, to be sure. The most unmistakable one: you can't run from your weaknesses. The only way to overcome them is to face them head-on. Time and again (because they will always be with us!) Through practice, overcoming weakness becomes a routine exercise. The converse is also true. Let a weakness dominate, and soon it is habitual.

At the same time, living alongside these thoughts of resolve, confrontation and struggle, there's a softer side, another lesson that's almost as difficult to learn: enjoy yourself. Don't be so serious!

***

I was also thinking about Argentina's windy, gravelly Ruta 40 (to Tierra del Fuego), and what one person on the "Adventure Rider" site said while I was planning this trip: "why would you go that way, when a (better) alternate route (the paved Ruta 3) exists?"

Why batter the bike more than necessary? What is to be gained? It seems most "adventurers" (and I almost hate that term) are compelled to ride Ruta 40. Why?

***

Back at the hotel. I've had difficulty bending my elbows for over a week. The combination of riding long distances and "typing long distances" (computer keyboards) doesn't seem a particularly healthy one!

This has to be the smallest hotel bed yet.

Outside my window, the waves lapping at the shore below is such an incredibly-soothing lullaby.

Puerto Fuy, Chile to San Martin de los Andes, Argentina


The BEST chocolate-raspberry torte ever!


Awoke at 6:45 to cold, damp and windy conditions on the beach. My pocket weather station showed it was in the 50s, but the wind chill felt substantial. "If I'm this uncomfortable now, it doesn't bode well for Tierra del Fuego and the Salar de Uyuni!" There was a slight sense of panic.

Under these conditions, it's easy for organization and discipline to break down. Fairly simple things, such as packing up gear, become much more difficult.

The ferry departs Puerto Fuy at 8:00 a.m. and sails to Puerto Pirihueico on the far end of Lago Pirihueico. From there, it's a short drive to the Argentine border.

This morning, including mine, there were eight vehicles, three with trailers, lined up for the ferry. Signs tell you to call a number for reservations, but last night the folks at the restaurant said "just show up. No problem." After boarding, I paid the 4,000-Peso ($8) fee for me and the motorcycle.


Aboard the ferry that will take me across Lago Pirihueico toward the Argentine border



Into the early morning sun, the ferry winds its way along the narrow Lago Pirihueico. On board, typical campers: cars and trucks stuffed with camping gear, with roof racks or maybe a modest camper trailer. Motorhomes are a rarity.


A very pleasant cruise, slowly winding through the narrow passages of this unspoiled lake. Except for the ferry, and an occasional navigational marker, there were no signs of human activity along the way!



Over the course of an hour and a half, it was so strange to travel pristine waters, the lake shores showing no human trace, except for an occasional navigational marker.


At Puerto Pirihueico, I was first off the boat and down the dirt road. (It was like a race though with cars sliding to a halt right behind me at the checkpoint parking area.) By 10:30, I was through Argentine customs. Easy. No waiting. Dirt all the way to San Martin de los Andes ("SMAndes"). It's a busy road and dust is a big problem, especially heading into the sun (as I was doing this morning and yesterday evening.)

San Martin de los Andes is like so many resort towns: flooded with outdoor gear stores and upscale boutiqes. Façades of golden pine, like ski resorts worldwide. A very nice aesthetic, but the moment I see it, I want to move on.

I have to struggle with this negative reaction to resorts and development. Certainly it can't all be bad? And, of course, I realize this is true: "there must be a good coffee shop in this town!"



In San Martin de los Andes, Argentina, an outstanding bakery !


I found it in "Unser Traum" ("Our Dream"), an outstanding bakery and cafeteria. I sat down to a table along the sidewalk. A couple seated nearby, a bit younger than me, introduced themselves. They're riding through "the Lakes District" on bicycle. They came over from Chile yesterday. And they had ridden around Volcan Villarrica, following the same road I had attempted. I was impressed!

Ordered a tostada (toasted sandwich) as price of admission to the pastry case. The chocolate ganache with fresh raspberries was one of the best desserts in memory! And, as in Pucón, you're served a glass of sparkling water with your expresso or cappuccino. A nice touch! ("Should I just stay here?")



Inside "Unser Traum" ("Our Dream")


A Buenos Aires family that sat down later said I must take "route of the seven lakes" (which, as it turns out, was my intended route to Bariloche, though I didn't know it was called that.)

The bill was 26 Pesos, "cash only". Fortunately, I had 30. "Must be fate!"

Walked downtown and found an ATM, but it would only permit a $100 withdrawal. While standing before a series off pictures representing the four seasons, it seemed to me in Latin America people really only talk of two seasons: invierno (winter) and verano (summer), not of otoño (autumn) and primavera (spring). I couldn't imagine a world without Spring and Fall!

I had walked past a barber earlier, trimming a customer's hair, and decided to go back. "It's time." (Okay, no follicly-challenged jokes.) This barber happened to be a wine lover, and recommended I try such brands as Norton, Fin del Mundo, Bianchi, Lopez, and the Cabernet Sauvignon of Umberto Canali (from Rio Negro). He also said I should go to "Crucetta" restaurant" in Bariloche.

The haircut was only $5, a bargain. (No jokes, please.)

Without really stopping to relax here, I wanted to get a sense of this town, so I spent some time wandering on the motorcycle.



Many of San Martin de Los Andes' streets are lined with orange-berried cassis and grand Araucaria trees


Young families everywhere. The world now belongs to them. My generation, which had so long commanded the spotlight is now being marginalized. We are becoming invisible. It will be humbling for the "Boomers", a generation that "had everything" to yield the stage.



Thistles along the shore of Lago Traful


Continued down the highway. The "route of the seven lakes" runs from "SMAndes" to Bariloche, and it's about 120 miles in length. With stunning scenery, it is hugely popular, much like America's Yellowstone or Yosemite National Parks. The images are of snow-capped craggy mountains, ancient forests, sparkling clear waters, and that pure, deep blue sky.



Looking west to the Andes, across Lago Nahuel Huapi


But it's an insane place too. Crossed by dirt roads, there is a pall of dust that hangs low over the forests, lakes and rivers. If there were ever an argument for paving, this might be it. This must be choking not only humans, but plant and wildlife as well.

The road is hell for bicyclists and pedestrians, and there are so many back-packers trying to hitch rides. They're clearly miserable as the cars roll past, sending successive waves of dust their way. My face shield required frequent cleaning as it quickly clouded up with dust. There was just no escaping it (unless you were to hike far from the road.)

The road "features" sand, dirt, gravel and washboard but it's easily manageable.

***

Something I was never prepared for is my whole instinct for direction being turned upside down in the Southern Hemisphere. When my brain is saying "we're heading north-northwest" and it's afternoon, I must think in opposites. "If this were morning, which direction would it be?" "South-southeast". "that's the direction we're going." And checking the compass shows this "reorientation" is correct. But since I don't have GPS, and rarely use the compass, I don't often challenge the perception, so I'm repeatedly surprised when things turn out "not as they seem". (If you didn't follow this discussion, don't worry. I'm confused too.)

***

At 4:40 p.m. the odometer turned over to 40,000 miles. For some reason that seemed significant!

Pucón to Puerto Fuy, Chile


Amidst just another boring Andes landscape, Volcan Choshuenco


Driving down Pucón's main street this morning, a bicyclist came alongside and, noticing my license plate, said

"Long ride, eh?"

"Si."

"I used to live in Tahoe."

Figuring he must be a skier, I asked "do you know Jimmy from Valle Nevado?"

"He's a good friend. I work for him!"

"Where's the best coffee?"

"Here. Shall we get a cup?"

That’s how I met Carlos Garcia Schlie. He has a business, “Captura Fotos y Videos”, here in Pucón. Interestingly, he knows Max as well, as they are both in the same field (action photography).



Volcan Villarrica looms behind the resort town of Pucón


For one of the best views of the volcano, Carlos recommended a ride around Volcan Villarrica on a road that runs through the National Park and emerges near Coñaripe. He leads motorcycle (trail bike) tours of the area, and often goes this way.

After coffee (which he insisted on paying for), we went a few blocks to his shop, where he showed me photos on his computer of a recent trip to Punta Arenas and Tierra del Fuego. There I also met Philipp Galluccio of Ardmore, PA, who had come here to run a "half-ironman". Carlos photographed the race and invited runners to come by the studio if they wanted to purchase the photos.

I went off to see the volcano. The road Carlos recommended starts as gravel, but just inside the park boundary, it suddenly started a steep, rocky climb that with a loaded bike seemed unwise. Even turning around in the narrow path, I nearly dropped the bike in the rocky debris. As I was working my way out of this little dilemma, I met two young ladies, one jogger, the other on horseback. The jogger, "Lauren" from Chicago was incredibly beautiful! Her friend, the equestrian, was Australian and lives on her family's ranch back down the road.



The active volcano Villarrica in Chile's "Lakes District"


Defeated in my little venture, I returned to Pucón. Lunch at "Condor Italia Pizza". They make an excellent lasagna. Checked on e-mail: Geoff and Nina, who are just south of here, need a new sleeping pad, and asked if one's available, could I could bring it with me? Checked a few stores (there are a number of outfitting shops here), but the "Pro-Lite" they want was not available in town. But, I could bring them a simple foam pad.

Replied to their query, and waited for an answer, but time was running out. By 6:30, I needed to leave if I were to reach Puerto Fuy today. Drove west to Villarrica, then south toward Lican Ray, reaching Coñaripe the long way around. Just beyond town, the pavement ends, and the dirt road that winds around the eastern shore of Lago Calafquen is a dusty one, with lots of traffic.

A beautiful landscape reminiscent of Germany's southern hill country. But in the late afternoon, I was more preoccupied with all the dust I was breathing and with the poor visibility driving into the sun. "This sucks!" An on-coming truck came barreling along with clouds of dust behind. I motioned for him to slow down, but he just raced by.



Evening, Lago Panguipulli, Chile


Inexplicably, there is a twenty-mile stretch of perfect highway along Lago Panguipulli's eastern shore. Few homes and businesses. Hard to explain why it was paved, when the previous stretch of dirt appeared to serve so many more people.

Then came 20 miles of gravel, and in areas it was pretty deep and "squirrely". (Nina later told me it was just graded today. "You should have tried it when it was all washboard!")

In the dark, I passed the almost non-existent town of Neltume, where Nina and Geoff were staying (at someone's house, I believe). There's a campground nearby, but the price is 8,000 Pesos (about $16) and it looked bad.

Driving the deep gravel in the dark was no fun; definitely not a brilliant idea. And there was a pick-up pulling a jet ski on a trailer that would occasionally pass and create so much dust in the still evening, it made driving even more difficult. After a bit of leap-frogging, I pulled ahead and stayed there.

Breathed a sigh of relief reaching Puerto Fuy. That is, until I saw the town. It looked like a pretty poor and miserable place, despite an apparently idyllic mountain setting.

The ferry was just pulling away from the shore. I had arrived only minutes too late. Just behind me, the pick-up arrived to the same disappointing view. Now we were competitors for a room. They beat me to the only decent-looking hospedaje in town. It didn't look that good anyway...

Slowly drove around the few dirt streets of this dismal place, then returned to the ferry landing where a small restaurant seemed to offer the only source of comfort. I asked a fellow outside if there were a campground in town. He simply said "en la playa." On the beach, about fifty feet away. "You can camp there, no problem?" "Si!"

It's just a narrow strip of sand on the lakeshore, but a perfect solution. I would be sure to catch tomorrow morning's ferry! Selected a spot, far from the lights of the landing and restaurant, and just below the Chilean Armada (Navy) barracks.

The restaurant was preparing to close, so, before setting up the tent, I slipped in to get something to eat. About all they could offer at this time were empanadas. I ordered three of the ham and cheese turnovers.

A young man joined me out on the patio. Jorge Alarcon speaks English and told me he's a scout leader from the Providencia district in Santiago, near Las Condes.

He said there's a scout camp just up the beach. He had come over to get a burger. I guess the "s'mores" were not quite doing the job. After he left, the server said he didn't pay his bill. I honestly think, distracted by our conversation, he simply forgot. I paid for the burger.

A perfectly clear sky and few lights made this an ideal place for enjoying the heavens. But after a while, the bite of a frigid mountain wind drove me into the tent.

I could hear its engines' low rumble for half an hour or more as the ferry slowly came up the lake. After midnight, it beached at the nearby landing, and shut down for the night.



After midnight, I poked my head out of my tent on the sand at Puerto Fuy. The ferry was just finishing its final run of the day, and beached a hundred yards away.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Luminojos to Villarrica


Perched on a point overlooking the Pacific, Max Mills' "Luminojos" provided a peaceful refuge for a couple days


It is eight months since I left California. I reckon I'm around 2/3 way through this journey.

I'm camped at “Don Santos” campground between Villarrica and Pucon, on the shores of Lago Villarrica. This is the “Lakes District”, the summertime destination of many Chileans. Stopped first at another campground that is actually on the lakeshore. They wanted $24 a night! And the campground was crowded with families. This one, a half mile away, but across the highway from the lake is nearly empty. $4.

***

Driving south on highway 5 earlier, it had been sunny and warm much of the day, but approaching Temuco, I could see ahead some kind of weather system blowing in from the Pacific: cirrus clouds, followed by altocumulus, then some low level-cumulus. It turned cold and very windy. It made me realize how great the weather has been in Chile! I can't complain if that's now coming to an end.

Found the campground just before nightfall. An electrical hook-up allows me to work on the computer inside my tent.

This is the third night in a row I’ve slept in the tent. The last time that happened was in Panama, in the mud! I much prefer this.

***

Began the day at 6:45, with Kristin looking through my tent screen to see if I were awake. Max was taking her and Manuela off to the bus “depot” (a dirt yard with a ticket sales kiosk) in Curanipe. They are on their way to Santiago, northern Chile, Puno, Cusco, La Paz and Buenos Aires (I think). Max was going to then visit the internet café and said he’d be back around 10:30 or 11:00. Barely awake, I wished them farewell from inside my tent, then fell back asleep.

“Lucky” barking woke me around 8:00. I forced myself to get up. A car was parked up the driveway, but no one was around. I had promised I would clean up the dishes from last night. With no running hot water, I had to boil water to wash the dishes. A lengthy process. Then I packed up the bike, took a shower, then finally sat down at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and wrote a note in Max’s "Luminojos" guest book.

It was approaching noon, and there was no sign of Max. I didn’t want to leave without a farewell. I walked up the driveway and looked at the car. It was Max’s. “How did he take them to the bus depot without the car?” Then it occurred to me that maybe he had returned before I woke up.

Went back inside and knocked on his bedroom door. There came a barely-audible, groggy reply. I told him I was about to leave, but would copy last night’s photos to a CD before going. He came out and said his back was bothering him so (from surfing the other day) that he came back from town and went right back to bed.

At 1:00 p.m., he escorted me out, taking me down the road to a man-made mirador, from where you can look back on “Luminojos” perched on the bluff. We took a few more photos, then he led me south across a new bridge and stopped where the pavement ends. For the next twenty miles, it’s a dirt road (though Max said it will be paved in the next couple years – which should bring a real estate boom to this area.)



Max and "Lena"



Max and "Lucky" (Max seems to like the letter "L".)


Once again, I had to get comfortable riding on dirt, gravel, sand and thick powdery dust. I wouldn’t call it “fun”, riding a heavily-loaded bike in this stuff, but one does eventually adjust to it. The access to the coast thus far appears to have been primarily for logging. The forests have all been cleared, and now are replanted in crop-like blocks. For those who have staked out their plots on this quiet stretch of coast, it’s apparent that soon these will be highly-desirable properties. It feels so much like California’s far north coast.



Much like California, Oregon and Washington, Chile's forests have been largely cleared and converted to "agriculture". It looks like a sprawling Christmas tree farm.


Turning inland, the clearing is virtually complete. Much of the land looks like one continuous Christmas tree farm. Off the coast, it grew quite warm, and less like California’s north. Heard a jet overhead, an unusual sound these days. Yesterday, I saw a contrail to the south. A rare sight lately.

The sun’s position almost directly overhead is disorienting. My sense of direction is confounded. I pulled out my compass to get a feel for the directions. The cues were baffling. To my northerner senses, if it seems I’m driving west, I’m in fact going east!

They’ve gone absolutely crazy planting eucalyptus here. It's guaranteed to destroy the soil.

The motorcycle's electronics have been acting up: the speedometer malfunctions, a false EWS signal, a false light failure indicator. It's annoying, as I have to stop to investigate whenever these things come up.

In Chillan, I hooked up with highway 5 once again and turned south. A "beautiful" new highway. They’re still working on interchanges and access points. A speed limit of 120 Kph (about 72 mph). It’s a toll road (since La Serena) and costs about $1 (500 Pesos) every 45 miles for the motorcycle (essentially it’s like paying a dollar extra – over $5 – per gallon of gas!)

I look down the streets of towns I pass. Many are still dirt.

Lots of vacationers on the road, but no motorhomes. Usually a loaded car, and maybe some kind of roof rack or box.

Refueled at a “Copec” station and decided to eat there. Many of their stations feature a “Pronto” cafeteria, a decent fast-food restaurant. A number of the sandwiches include avocados. And they offer wine! The food is served on washable plates with metal flatware. This restaurant even offers wi-fi! Take note McDonald's!