This was written by Pam as I am to slow/lazy to do it. Write, that is!
Now, in Northern Chile, you can basically travel South or North on good roads and there aren´t too many choices to make beyond how far you want to travel, but as you get closer to Santiago, there are more people and more options in terms of highways. We were able to get off the PanAmerican and travel some smaller highways off the beaten path a bit, but still paved. The highway along the ocean towards Vina Del Mar travels through a bunch of ocean front towns, some of which are quite ritzy. It reminded me of driving the old Marine Drive through West Van. The ocean here is stunning- bright blue, surf crashing on the beach and the day (Christmas Eve) was beautiful and clear and hot. A very nice day to travel this road. We arrived in Vina to find they have... McDonalds!!!! We both scarfed down Big Mac meals in record time. Gotta hand it to McDs- they have excellent quality control worldwide. Hard to tell the difference between a Chilean Big Mac and a Canadian one....
We found a place in Vina but I was kinda blue being away from family at Christmas time, so we had to go out and drink beers, which reminded me of being home for the holidays and we chatted with a couple of families, one from the US and another from Scotland who we met. Scott also stocked up on empanadas and goodies since we weren´t sure how much would be open on Christmas day. We slept in until noon on Christmas day and if anything was closed for Christmas, it must have been in the am only because all the restaurants, anything on the beach front was open and the place was hopping. We had planned to do motorbike maintenance on Christmas day but ended up spending the most of the afternoon on the beach with the rest of the city- it was a perfect day. We finally dragged ourselves off the beach (mostly because we were too thirsty) and found some oil and started working on the bikes. We managed to get oil changed out of the KLR and adjust the valves on the DR(here's to field adjustable valves!), but started running out of daylight. We cleaned up and headed out for Mexican food with a couple of guys we met on the beach (one Aussie from Melbourne, one German)- they work for an international freighting company in a Chilean branch. They had just been transferred to the office and we couldn´t help but think what a great opportunity it would be to be transferred to Santiago. This part of Chile is really quite similar to being in Vancouver, with beaches and mountains all within reach and plenty of infrastructure to be comfortable.
We arrived the next day in Talca to get word of what was going on in SE Asia. First we heard 6,000 people dead and that was already quite shocking. We couldn´t quite drag ourselves away from CNN the next morning and stayed another day, and managed to get some laundry done and finish bike maintenance too (DR oil change and change KLR spark plug). The people at the hostal we stayed at were very nice- Scott needed a 13/16 socket to get his drain plug out and the owner of the hotel, who couldn´t speak any English, just pulled out his huge tool box and left it open for us to use what we needed. According to his son (who spoke pretty good English), his father was a bit of a backyard mechanic and watched the whole process with great interest, every time another part came off the bike, he was right there, checking it all out. Scott speaks no Spanish and the guy spoke no English, but Scott showed him what he was doing all through the process and there was no miscommunication.
From Talca, we headed for Concepcion, again via the backroad highways. We got a slow start that day, again with the CNN. Scott sniffed out an amazing vegetarian restaurant in Concepcion- amazing because it is really out of context with everything else here- they love their carne!! The next day, we ended up in a small town around 2pm and we were starving (you know, because of no meat for dinner the night before- I don´t know how you veg heads can survive). This time Scott located a great place filled with locals. In SA, lunch is usually the big meal of the day, followed by siesta, out of necessity since the meal is usually a huge chunk of meat. And the restaurants for locals don´t have una carta (in English, a menu), they serve a daily menu (in English, a set meal, with some options to vary the starch- you can either have potatoes or rice). But these meals are fresh and hot and this one did not disappoint. Dessert was a big bowl of fresh, ripe, juicy black cherries. Really unbelievable produce here (we had fresh peas and raspberries yesterday). We pressed on to Villarrica (difficult to do after a meal like that, without the siesta), where we are staying up in another cute cabana with kitchenette.
Villarrica is on the shores of Lago Villarrica, near Volcan Villarrica, and 25 km down the lake from Pucon, one of the most touristed places in Chile. We visited Pucon yesterday afternoon and it is like Whistler village in terms of contruction and the "vibe" and Villarrica is kinda like being in Alpine or Emerald or something- far enough away from the hustle and bustle but close enough to all the amenities and sights. We also rode up to the base of the volcano (which they ski on in Winter), but it was a bit overcast so we are going to try again today, earlier in the day because it looks like the view would be amazing and the ride up is nice (although we did it 2-up on the DR yesterday and that was way more fun).
We have been really able to take it easy this past week- this area of Chile is so similar to being in Canada, both in terms of the nature around us and the amenities available (like bank machines everywhere). It is nice and comfortable but starting to get a bit boring. However, we are getting ready to head back into the wilds soon. We will go to the Island of Chiloe in the next day or 2 and from there, take a 7 hour ferry ride to the start of the Carretera Austral, which is supposed to be a beautiful route on surfaced dirt roads and beyond that, ruta 40 in Argentinian Patagonia awaits.