Leaving Santiago, with my head still in a fog from the hotel’s grand opening party, next on my agenda was the Lake District of Chile. The roads were going to be major highways (back on the Pan Americana Highway) all the way down. Not very interesting, but I would make good time.
I made it to Pucon on the shore of Lake Villarrica in two easy days. Pucon is a touristy hub town popular for booking nearby excursions, including hikes up the active Volcano Villarrica, which looks over the town.
Entering town, the plan was to find a coffee shop somewhere along the main strip and ask around about a place to stay. I had been chilled since leaving Santiago and hot coffee sounded perfect, plus, I would be arriving early in the afternoon, so there was no hurry to find a place. I slowly made a pass through the commercial district, only about 6-7 blocks, and was ready to make a U-turn to do go up the other side of the street when a white SUV pulled up beside me and motioned me to pull over. (“What did I do now?”) The passenger window lowered. It was a couple in their late 30’s; they welcomed me to town, said something about motorcycles, and asked if I liked asado (grilled meat). “Love it”, I said. I was told to follow them. We arrived at their weekend condo a few blocks away. They had three young sons. I still wasn’t clear what was happening, but within minutes I had a strong Pisco sour in my hand. Tom’s wife, Maggie, was in the kitchen prepping food and making more pitchers of Pisco sours, Tom was pulling out some huge cuts of beef and placing them on the grill’s spit. “Wow, this is a lot of food for three adults and three kids!” Soon enough, five more guys showed up on bikes, primarily BMW’s. It all made sense now. These were all buddies that live an hour north in Temuco, and this was an official outing for their unofficial bike club.
As you can imagine, the afternoon deteriorated, and you could really sense how close these guys were to each other. Men are much more open with their feelings down here (Argentina and Chile). It is common practice in many places to see men embrace (not just a man-hug) and kiss a cheek - even the toughest of skate-punks on the street will pucker up and lay one on a buddy’s cheek. Friendship is important here and nobody is hiding it.
“Lunch” was served and the food seemed to mellow the “raucous” crowd. Ivan (who spoke very good English) offered to help me find a hostel close by. We did, and I collapsed on the bed for a couple of hours, riding in the cold all day, drinking, and the caveman diet had left me exhausted, but very satisfied. I woke, showered, and walked back to Tom’s (I had said that I would be “right back”) -this time with a bottle of rum as a small token of my thanks. When I got there they throwing on another slab of meat for “dinner”!
They really turned out to be a great group of guys, and Ivan and I continue to exchange emails.
Pucon, is a prosperous little tourist town, like you might find in Colorado ski country, but with some Bavarian accents. It was still early into the season, and the weather proved to be persnickety, with cool cloudy days, mixed with rain. I wanted to book a trek up the volcano, but I did not want to do it in the rain. It was an expensive place, and I kept hearing how prices were going to double in another month, when high season hit. I stayed a week but then decided that I was wasting time and money waiting on the weather. For something to do (and out of necessity), I pulled a nail out of my rear tire and plugged it - my first tire repair. I was at the gas station’s air pump when I met an Italian guy on a rented KTM. He was on his way out of town and heading to the Atlantic coast, where the weather was better and the whales were supposed to be running with their calves for another couple of weeks. Sounded nice, but I was determined to continue south, staying in Chile.
I woke to another cloudy day and by the time I had finished my first cup of instant coffee I decided that whales and sun sounded pretty damn good. I packed up and checked out of the hotel.
What I did not realize at the time was how cold it was going to get before it got warm again. I had a day of riding south, before I could turn east towards the border. Much of the ride was in the rain. Near the border while riding through some lush green dairy land, I came across a car museum. Thinking that you cannot pass by something as peculiar as this and not stop, I turned around. Bernardo Eggers is a second generation German immigrant running the family’s dairy farm, but his passion is cars. Over the years, he has amassed an impressive car collection, consisting chiefly of Studebakers from the 1940-50’s.
Southern Chile including the Lake District has long been the home of the Mapuche people. One Spanish missionary once wrote, “There are no people in the world, who love and value the land where they were born.” This proud group were one of the few groups who were able to keep the Spanish out, and spent 300-years doing so. They were then largely successful in keeping out the Chileans. Eventually though, the Chileans forced the Mapuche from their lands and into reservation-like reducciones (meaning reductions). Sound familiar?
Once the Indians were pushed aside, the government had to repopulate the “inhabitable” lands, and instituted the Law of Selective Immigration in 1845. Their targeted group would be the industrious Germans. The Second World War brought another wave of Germans. Therefore, it is not usually to pass through towns with Bavarian influenced architecture, German food on the menu, and Spanish spoken with strong German accents.
I began my climb across the Andes towards the border in the rain. As I climbed, it became sleet. Climbed some more and it became snow, then blizzard. I was “smarter” than my previous crossing, and better prepared, but nothing can make riding a motorcycle in a blizzard “pleasant”. Finally, I made it to the top of the pass, and the custom’s building. I was relieved, to say the least, but as my hands started to “thaw”, they become incredible painful, and I had to step out of line and whimper quietly to myself until it passed.
During my descent, the snow eventually stopped and the skies opened up to reveal blue again. Blue, but not exactly great weather. I would spend the next three days in the ski town of San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina waiting for the winds to die down.
Next on the map was crossing the Chubut River Valley. I would be replacing German-Chile for Welsh-Argentina.