Friday, February 23, 2007

Going south of the South

a bike travel essay by Marcelo Miranda Sk.

Here we have to descend slowly, LOTS OF BRAKE”, I half shouted, so that my wife Caroline would hear me through the helmets and the noise of both bikes. We were facing a long downhill straight with loose stones and mud from the ongoing rain. At the end we could see the beach of Caulín and the sea from the Chacao channel, at the north of Chiloe island, in the south of Chile.

Somehow the fact that we didn’t see the hotel in this beautiful picture didn’t ring a bell.

The loose gravel road wouldn’t have been much of a challenge for two bikes, except this were road bikes, a VFR 750 and a Buell Thunderbolt, with street tires, and with a weight of about 400 pounds each, and loaded like camels. When I started descending on the Buell I realized “lots of brake” wasn’t the method as my bike started moving with both wheels sliding and not too much control. I released the brakes so the wheels would start rolling again, I made sure I was in first gear, and dodged a couple of falls, I was on the beach in thirty long seconds.

One minute later Caroline was on the edge of the beach, also with a couple of very close calls (read near-falls) on her back.

The hotel was now in sight, it was at the southern end of a 600 feet beach. Again, lot’s of fun for an enduro bike, but a bat idea for these fat bikes loaded up to their teeth, the fact that it was raining and the tide was rising didn’t help either.

Caroline’s face said it all … “I’m walking!” she added anyway. So I volunteered to ride both bikes in the loose sand.

We arrived at the hotel just with the last light of dusk. This was the first night of our nine days vacation to Chiloe. After storing the bikes in a barn (it was raining like a revenge from something our ancestors did to someone really connected up there), reward came in the forms of a dry beachfront cabin with a hot fireplace, a hot shower, dry clothes (garbage bags in the saddlebags you know?) and a two generous glasses of pisco sour (think of a strong margarita but with the flavor of a grape distillate) we had bought a few miles back.

We would later recall the two previous days of our journey as we told them to other guests and out host Innes, in a hot tub of salty sea water under the rain right on the beach, with a lot more Pisco Sour and cabernet wine in our blood streams.

We had started the journey a couple of days earlier out of Santiago, where we live. We rode to my in-laws’ farm, about 250 miles south and spent the night there. The farm is close to the highway, so the next morning we were up early, and in two minutes we were on the highway, heading south, facing a 500 mile day, quite a bit for Caroline who had only one previous overnight trip experience the previous year. But she managed all right, we stopped every 150 miles to refuel the bikes, get some coffee and adjust clothing according to the weather.

We stopped in Valdivia for the night, a medium sized city with decent lodging and meals. Once we parked the bikes, unpacked and changed into civilian clothes we decided to walk the 2 miles that separated us from downtown to eat something, mainly because we feared if we didn’t walk we wouldn’t climb on the bikes the next day, and we had a whole week ahead of us.

After a good night sleep both of the bike saddles had been erased form our anatomies and we were ready to go again, this time we faced two challenges: extremely probable rain and wind and the ferry crossing, which in stormy weather I recalled was quite ugly because you had to hold the bike instead of being on the upper deck, where the people that don’t want to get seasick go.

Neither of the two menaces materialized and we had a pleasant trip up to the ferry, with little rain, and we arrived last onboard, so we crossed as soon as the bikes were up. Once we got to the hotel by the already described loose gravel and mud road and the rainy beach, we went on to have dinner, a wonderful Chilean salmon and a great wine, and after dinner a couple more pisco sours. This is the national cocktail, and it rules!

We went on to meet our wonderful guest who runs the Hotel de la Colorina (The redhead’s hotel – yeah, guess the color of her hair), and some of her local friends who were dining and partying there that night.

After a few hours chat we ended about 10 of us in a hot tub (all with swimsuits in case you were wondering), and drinking more red wine under a starry sky with the roar of the rising tide as background.

We slept like babies (like drunk babies probably) and the next morning after a good breakfast we reluctantly left the place under a postcard perfect sunny day, and rode 100 feet to discover the beautiful pavement road that arrived from the south to our hotel and that would conduct us to the rest of the island.

After 8 years of not riding in the area some of the roads were improved (this was a good example), and others were still in construction, as we found out later. But overall the riding was good and for this southern region the weather was superb.

We were headed to check out a piece of land by a lake I had bought a decade earlier in the middle of Chiloe island, 800 miles south from home. You’ll have to trust me, this purchase did made a lot of sense at the time. We had one more day to go first, to get a 4 wheel drive vehicle and check out if we could drive up to the place or boat was still the only way to get there.

To be continued?

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