Our seven-day sojourn in Chile’s capital was protracted because of having to stay put for parts to be replaced and spares to be shipped. Three weeks of languidly waiting around had come to an end. If there had been any quiet little moment of peace to savour about the late night drum beating, World Cup cheering, zoo-captive monkey howling city, it was upon reaching Cerro Santa Lucia. Smack in Santiago’s hustle and bustle, we chanced on an old park of steep stoned steps haphazardly lodged in a hill leading up to a stellar view. The hill was a remnant of a volcano 15 million years old.
We’d enjoyed and endured about as much snow as we could take in eight days – white sheets had fallen in a fierce Patagonian wind for a week. We’d also been scarred as much as the bleating goat had been scared out of its skin upon our Caviahue departure. The bikes were calling and it was a profound joy to be deposited out of the snow onto silky smooth roads again. Back onto Ruta 40, we cruised through the bland town of Chos Malal and unexpectedly, the main drag took us through a dramatic scene of volcanic dessert, crested caracara country and a steppe landscape whose rocky hillsides were tiered in reds, russets and dusky pink. What a contrast to Caviahue under the mantle of winter.
San Martin de los Andes was where the Ruta de los Siete Lagos (Seven Lakes Road) ended. As beautiful as this resort in the rain was, a joint visit with Jason to a friendly barber’s shop departing as two satisfied customers from the experience, coupled with our hostel room’s pre-installed ‘bum gun’ were the concluding highlights. Our en suite toilet came with a device, which when I kindly operated for Jason, his derriere got slightly more than it bargained for. A spurt of overly refreshing water gushed out at forty-five degrees reaching parts that a Heineken wouldn’t have a hope.
Pearl my bike is painted blue, a colour as calming as a Patagonian sky. However she’s built more for comfort than speed. Over the past few weeks in the saddle, Pearl and I have pretty much fused together to ride as a unit. It’s just as Lois Pryce described in Lois on the Loose after months in the saddle through the Americas – she felt herself transforming into some mythical Greek creature: half woman, half motorbike. It’s pure jubilation when you have this relationship with your bike, moulding comfortably as one. For me, there’s increasing trust and understanding of how to handle Pearl respectfully – if I keep it up, she may just get me all the way to Alaska. But what a daring distance to go until I can have strength in that conviction. Two months and three countries into South America, we had put just over 5,000 miles on the clock.
A few miles from Puerto Natales, we squeezed in a visit to a cave whose mylodon remains had been found opening up paleontological insights into the times of an extinct sloth around 14,500 years ago. It was an hour neatly filled. A few miles down the road, we zoomed past Devil’s Chair, a big rock of alleged geological interest situated not far from an area abundant with condors. A flight of condors all took wing from a steep hill making a rather striking spectacle, soaring above and gliding around in search of carrion. Unlike the cave, this place I wouldn’t have missed.
Leaving the calm surroundings of Puerto Natales and our bike-friendly Hostal Don Guillermo, four of us including Andrew we’d met in Ushuaia and his buddy Hilton set off in high spirits for some serious trekking among the last glacier strongholds in the world. A 10 day self-sufficient trip around the complete circuit of Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve boasting 227,000 hectares in the Andes. On arrival after three hours on the bus, we learnt that the full circuit was closed for the season; we’d have to be content with conquering the ‘W’ trail. Better to be over-prepared than under I thought, even if were carrying twice as much food as required in shoddy rucksacks – although it didn’t weigh our enthusiasm down. We’d just have to feast at every meal.