Heading South to the End of the World.
Due to a bout of gastrointestinal distress, I hadn’t felt much like writing an update for our blog until a few days ago. Not sure what caused my problems, but it probably was the result of something I ate or drank. When you are riding motorcycles as much as we are, you don’t feel like doing much of anything when you are not 100%. When we got to Santiago I made a commitment to see a doctor the next day, but by morning I had turned a corner and felt much better.
So, here is my update on Chile and part of Argentina.
When it comes to climate zones and geography, Chile literally has it all. In the north, the Atacama desert extends from the border with Peru south for over a thousand miles. The landscape in this region of Chile is nothing but sand dunes and coastal mountains that follow the shoreline. It hardly ever rains in this part of Chile and without a water source nothing grows; no trees, no bushes, not even a blade of grass. In some sections of the PanAmerican Highway in northern Chile you can ride 20 miles or more and not see a single living thing. It looks a lot like the surface of Mars. I thought the Arizona desert was sparse, but the Atacama is in a league of its own.
Once we crossed the border into Chile we noticed a couple of things that distinguish it from Peru. First, there was no trash dumped along the sides of the road like we saw in Peru. In Peru people had dumped bags of trash in the desert regions, which really degraded the remarkable coastal landscape. By contrast, the Chilean roadsides are very clean and the government has workers walking along the road picking up what little trash is there. The clean roads allow you to see the raw beauty of the Atacama, which is remarkable.
Another dramatic difference was the condition of the roads. Although the roads in Peru are generally good, the ones in Chile are exceptional. They are smooth, have shoulders along the edges, and have great signage. As a result, Omar and I were able to average 70 miles an hour or more on most of the ride to Santiago, Chile. We hadn’t consistently ridden that fast since we left the States.
Much of the actual coastline in northern Chile is just long stretches of isolated sandy beaches. Every now and again, the isolation was broken by a small fishing village or seaside community, but for the most part it is just sand and surf. This parched desert landscape continued unabated until we approached Santiago where increased rainfall resulted in more natural vegetation.
Santiago is a modern city with a beautiful skyline nudged up against the Andes. During our short stay, we came to understand that unlike many other cities we visited this one has a large middle class. It also has good roads and many shopping areas that reminded us of similar-sized cities in the States.
After Santiago we headed south to Puerto Varas. On the way we stopped at a German restaurant and saw first hand the results of the fires that passed through the part of Chile two weeks before we arrived. At the end of the parking lot you can see a bunch of brunt trees. That is how close the fire came to the restaurant.
The little vacation town of Puerto Varas was located on a large lake that has several volcanos nearby. The most spectacular of these volcanos was the snowcapped Osorno Volcano located at the opposite end of the lake. The lake, forest and volcano made a dramatic postcard perfect setting. Puerto Varas was one of those town where we could have easily spent a week or more, but we had already booked lodging in a town in Argentina the following day. So, the next day we left Puerto Varas and rode over the Andes to Argentina.
Because Suri (new dog) is now part of the crew, there have been a few additional steps Omar must complete to cross the borders. In the case of Argentina, there was a special certificate Omar had to get from a Chilean agency. Since Omar needed a few additional hours to get this certificate before he could leave for the border, I decided to head out by myself and meet Omar at our next stop in Bariloche, Argentina. The ride to the border was nothing short of spectacular. I passed by several beautiful mountain lakes and through dense forest to arrive at the crossing. On the Chilean side, the process was super simple and fast. I was done in record time and completed the entire process within 15 minutes. The Argentinian side was also very straightforward, but it took longer to complete.
The ride from the border to Bariloche was just as spectacular as the Chilean side with stunning mountain views, lots of lakes and vast forests. One downside to the roads in both Chile and Argentina is the lack of spots where you could safely pull over to take photos. As a result, I only got a few shots of the area, but hopefully they will give you an idea of what this part of the world looks like.
After Bariloche we headed south on Route 40 to our next stop in a little town called Sarmiento that was 450 miles away. This was a long ride, but we really didn’t have any viable options since there are very few towns in this part of Argentina. The towns in this part of Argentina are separated by 100 miles or more with nothing in between but high desert and the Andes off in the distance. If you have every driven through Wyoming, it looks a lot like that.
It was on the ride to Sarmiento that I had my crash. Fortunately, I was not hurt and the bike was not damaged. I just ripped one of my side cases off. Four strangers stopped to help me get the bike up, and reattach the side case with sturdy wire. I had read that the people of Argentina were very friendly to bikers, and this experience made a believer out of me. Although I thanked them, I didn’t get a picture or their names.
In my next post, I will describe our last couple of stops in Argentina before our ride into Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego. We are almost there!!