Mini-Motorcycle Diaries, from a male perspective. Keep ’em coming, Tom!
Galloping down the edge of a highlighter blue lake, I wondered how I went from brushing my teeth and preparing for bed to this most unexpected and joyous ride. One minute I was heading to bed and admiring a black horse in the campground, and the next I was holding the reins to Noche Negra. Throwing my leg over the saddle, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I rode a horse. Pushing hesitation aside, I sank into the sheepskin saddle and nudged Noche Negra forward. Manuel’s 9 year old grandson followed me down the dirt path and along the sandy beach, chatting happily while giving me riding advice. Within minutes I was galloping wildly down the shore of the lake, feeling like I had just stepped into a dream. Or maybe the Wild West.
In early February we spent a night camping in Rio Tranquilo to see the Marble Caves along the Carretera Austral. Manuel, the proprietor of the lowest budget tour boat company and campground was in his mid 70’s and still full of energy; the life of the party in his tiny little cabin. He had very little, but offered it up anyway, charging only half the normal price to camp in his expansive yard. He shared his home and kept his large wood stove piping hot for the cold and wet campers to warm up around. Being set loose at twilight on Noche Negra was one of the highlights of the trip so far. The experience marked the end of our Carretera Austral adventures. Although we all missed the sunshine and warmth of the more northern latitudes, it was time to head deeper into Patagonia via the Argentina Ruta 40. We loved the Carretera and our little bikes did much better than expected, save for one hiccup: Along the Carretera just outside of Rio Tranquilo, Kath took a corner into deep gravel, sending motorcycle and rider careening down the road until control was lost. Wheels slipped out, and the motorcycle Rob dubbed “Crash Bandicoot” lived up to its name. With her right foot caught between Crash and the gravel, Kath was pulled down the road a couple meters before coming to a rest battered and bruised.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, I had no chocolate to offer Kath and we were resigned to drink instant Nescafe while Rob patched Crash up as best he could, straightened a foot peg, fixed a brake, and took note of what needed to be repaired that evening. Kath being the trooper that she is, within an hour we were back on the road heading for Chile Chico, and then into Argentina.
(I did suggestion we rename the bikes something like “Serenity”, “Tranquility” and “Joy”, instead of Crash Bandicoot, Tumbles and Sally Sideways…)
A photo update of the last few days through the Lakes Region of Chile, between Pucon and the Termas Geometricas (thermal pools) near Lican Ray. We’re now in Puerto Montt after a long stint on the Panamerican Ruta 5 highway. The scenery changed from arid land and pines to rolling yellow and green fields and forest covered hills, with views of the Andes peaks to the east. We’re here for two nights preparing for the next leg of the adventure: Patagonia via the legendary Carretera Austral! 1000km of dirt roads!
The Gang of 84 (so dubbed by a good friend) has just completed their first day ride on three shiny new CGL125 motorcycles.
We began the morning in Santiago at the crack of dawn (9am), and arrived 240km and a handful of hours later in the seaside beach town of Pichilemu, Chile. The bikes, although tiny, handle surprisingly well and easily sit on 80km/h, or 50mph, fully loaded. Going up hill is a bit slow, but we’ll manage.
We were all relieved to finally leave the smog of Santiago. Although it was a nice city, a city’s a city almost anywhere you go, and the rest of the country beckoned. I assumed getting out of the metropolitan area would be difficult, but it was surprisingly quick, minus getting separated repeatedly by yellow lights. Being the only one with a map, Rob led the way, sometimes driving down the wrong side of the road.
Eventually the city opened up to hilly arid land, dotted with houses, debris, roadside mini marts, stray dogs and low lying patches of cactus. As we progressed, the hills became covered in dry yellow grass, and finally a mix of coniferous forests and tall, slender cactus, before opening up to blue ocean and crashing waves.
So far the roads here are better than at home, without the rain to undermine the foundation. It’s still strange, and even a little sad, to not have to search for kangaroos on the side of the road.
What’s my plan here? Still not sure. I can’t wait to get to the tree covered mountains and glaciers of Patagonia, but for now, that’s my ultimate destination. We’ll see what happens once I reach the southern tip of South America.
More soon- TravelBug
Walking down the clean streets of Santiago felt more like being in Europe than Latin America. The New Year’s Eve confetti and trash littering every inch of road and sidewalk had been removed by what must have been an army of nighttime cleaners. The streets and buildings sparkled in the morning sun. Every now and then I’d cross a neglected street carpeted with tiny pieces of colored paper, still strewn with bright banners, silly string, cardboard, firecrackers and the odd festive hat.
We continued on our mission until we came across a parade of Carabineros de Chile, the national police force, in full uniform atop tall sleek horses. Each mounted officer held a staff and flag, others on the ground blew trumpets or just stomped around in shiny black knee-high boots. A large stray dog lay sleeping amongst the noise and hooves, totally oblivious to the bustle.
Continuing on, we eventually found the Servicio de Impuestos Internos building where we succeeded in getting our RUT. This string of numbers allows foreigners to buy motorcycles registered to their name with semi-made up “residential” addresses. With the blessings of the RUT people and excitement building, we paid the $18 dollar taxi ride to Avenida Vitacura where we visited several motorcycle stores. On the shopping list were the Honda xr125 or similar Yamaha, a Chinese Euromot 200 motard, and a Honda CGL125. After some inspection (bouncing on the seat to check for comfort) and a lunch meeting to discuss our options, we decided on the CGL125, the very cheapest new bike we could find and a $1,000USD less than the others. This little beauty cost less than $1,300USD, with a body style straight from the ’70s. Kath and I liked it purely based on aesthetic reasons, but Rob assured us the engine was just as good as the Honda xr or Yamaha. We’d just pay a greater discomfort price when off-roading with less suspension, but the savings (and the bright red color) were hopefully going to be worth it. We decided to pick them up the next day, cash in hand.
We returned to the Landay Hostel, jetlagged and sweaty from the 6 hour mission around the city, and tried desperately to stay awake for another few hours. Rob succumbed to a nap while Kath and I had coffee at a little round table near a large open window, the sounds of the city streaming in.
It’s still strange being here. Just a few short weeks ago I was in Australia, planning a totally different adventure. The adjustment hasn’t been an easy one, but I am very glad for the company of these two friends. The reader may remember them from a previous blog post where I mention meeting them at a Horizons Unlimited event in Cavendish in October, 2013, and staying at their house a few weeks later while heading back to Canberra.
We’re all school teachers and rode the same motorcycles when we met (KL250 and a KLR650). Kath turns 30 tomorrow, I turn 30 in February, and Rob turns 30 in March. What better way to celebrate our new decade than with shiny new bikes at the foot of the Andes mountains? It is a bit daunting, but nevertheless off we go, three nearly 30 year olds on a serious adventure.
Welcome to 2014 and happy 30th birthday, Kath! We’re right behind you!